These Day Trips Are Driving Distance From LA & Perfect for Families
The ride is as pretty as some of these destinations.
EDITOR’S NOTE: You don’t need a week-long vacation to make some new family memories. In fact, the smaller moments (and adventures) can be so much more memorable. That’s why we partnered with the all-new Toyota Sienna to create The Re-Route, a series of articles and videos that center on sharing the things you love with your kids, including your favorite hike or tacos.
Angelenos may be the luckiest families in America, with year-round Mediterranean weather and hundreds of socially-distanced playscapes within a couple hours’ drive. With so many options, choosing your own adventure for the day is the hardest part. Whether it’s hunting for ghosts and riding the railroad at a spooky silver-mining town, petting baby goats and plucking raspberries at a family farm, or munching on ebelskivers and riding horses in a quaint Danish village, getting away is as easy as hopping in the car.
Point Dume is an ideal beach for a casual afternoon tossing a Frisbee with the fam, and this promontory juts out into the Pacific Ocean as if inviting whales to come say hello. From December to May, they do, as gray whales on the epic journey from the Arctic to Mexico and back stop by. When you hear shouting from fellow beachgoers, hike up on the bluff with the kids and look for the gray bodies covered with barnacle spots and their telltale flukes with S-shaped edges. When those tiny bellies start craving lunch, head to nearby Lily’s Malibu for casual Mexican-American or D’Amore’s for pizza.
Drive time: 45 minutes
Check out a funky mountain town’s artsy scene
This outdoorsy town two hours east of LA is known for its hiking trails, including many kid-friendly ones like the popular, dog-friendly Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail and the short-and-sweet Lake Fulmor trail, which offers incomparable water views. If your toddlers are too heavy to sling into a backpack, though, head for Idyllwild’s main drag, where you can relax and listen to music on Adirondack chairs outside Higher Grounds Coffee Shop, take the kids to a pottery class at Earth ’N’ Fire, or browse outdoor art at Artspresso Gallery. When you’re ready to eat, opt for a gourmet treat: Korean stone bibimbap bowls up in a rustic mountain tavern called Mile High Cafe.
Drive time: 2 hours
Munch on waffle crisps and butter rings in a quaint Danish village
The Santa Ynez Valley is full of family gems, but Solvang takes the cake with its unique Danish village. From provincial wood buildings to its four windmills, this town offers plenty of great photo ops. Stop by Solvang Restaurant for town-famous ebelskivers, the spherical, fruit-filled Danish pancakes that will woo your kids into walking just a bit more. Though, if they’re too tired to walk, task Vino Vaqueros with finding you a four-legged equine friend on which to canter away into the sunset. Or you can hop on some wheels — the options here are varied, including bikes, Segways, and even a town trolley. In the summer, you can watch a play under the stars at the Solvang Festival Theater. If you’ve got time, you can even head over to Ostrichland USA so the kids can gawk at the furry beasts.
Drive time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
When it comes to day tripping with the family, your wheels are just as important as what’s on the itinerary. The all-new Toyota Sienna was designed with this in mind: there’s plenty of room for everyone thanks to available second-row super-long-slide captain’s chairs, a rear-seat entertainment center made for movies, and outlets* for powering up on the go. With available all-wheel drive and sport-tuned suspension, you’ll have just as much fun behind the wheel as they’ll have in the backseat.
*Do not exceed 1500W. See Owner’s Manual for additional limitations and details.
Zip through the mountains on a bike or a line
Every parent in LA knows that Wrightwood is the spot for snowplay, but there’s more than snowball fights and hot cocoa awaiting you when it’s no longer a winter wonderland. Ziplines at Pacific Crest offers a verdant view of the San Gabriel Mountains, while Wrightwood eBikes lets you tour the area without letting your youngest tot lag behind. Every Friday, the Wrightwood farmers market pops up from 4 pm to 7 pm with the freshest local produce. Head to Grizzly Cafe for hot sandwiches or Mile High Pizza for kid-approved pies. If you’ve got your heart set on acai bowls and vegan breakfast burritos, Bigfoot Bowls is calling your name. During snow season, be sure to check the Wrightwood Snowplay page so you know what traffic up to the mountain is like before you go.
Drive time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Your little John Wayne and Mattie Ross will grin from ear to ear for the camera when they set eyes on this charming former mining town in the Calico Mountains. Kids will be eager to traipse all over town exploring the Calico Mystery Shack, the Maggie Mine, the Odessa Railroad, and the Gold Panning Adventure. This silver rush town went bust just 12 years after being established, but its inhabitants still live on today as spooky local legends, like that of Tumbleweed Harris, the last marshal of Calico, who wanders the boardwalk with his long white beard and rangy frame, and the mournful Lucy Lane, who haunts her general store in a long black lace dress. When you’ve exhausted the town, tuck into hearty fare like chicken-fried steak and buffalo burgers at Calico House Restaurant near the gate, or dine on retro eats at Peggy Sue’s ’50s Diner.
Drive time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Skip Santa Barbara in favor of local flavor
Santa Barbara, with its big commercialized malls and restaurants, has less to offer your kids than the comparatively tiny town of Carpinteria next door. You can also plan an eco-educational afternoon birdwatching and hiking at Carpinteria State Beach, or admire the loud seals and their baby pups at the Carpinteria seal preserve and rookery. While the Tomol Interpretive Play Area is currently closed, you can still work up a sweat with a ride up a section of the Rincon Bike Trail, which follows the Pacific. When you’re done, head to Nutbelly for kid-friendly fare like pizza and Jamaican Rasta soup.
Drive time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Soak up Southern California’s mini Lake Tahoe
Tiny tots and big kids alike will love the town’s quaint, strollable main drag full of shopping and restaurants, green grassy areas, and a huge lake with ducks to gawk at. Parents will love Heaps Peak Arboretum and Wildhaven Ranch for the glut of eco-adventure and biological education. And if it’s a hot day, get out on the water for a boat tour at Lake Arrowhead Queen or splurge on some water skiing lessons at McKenzie Water Ski School. You can also visit the nearby bike trails at Skypark at Santa’s Village, a Christmas-themed amusement park that has plenty of year-round activities from pedal cars to ziplines.
Drive time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
You may have noticed the dozens of Instagrams of kids splashing in tidepools and spelunking in shallow caves at Leo Carrillo State Park, a beloved family spot 30 miles northwest of Santa Monica along the Pacific Coast Highway. From canyon streams to offshore reefs, rugged backcountry trails to abundant flora and fauna, Leo Carrillo is a junior biologist’s dream come true. Kids can spot rabbits, bobcats, scrub jays, and acorn woodpeckers, amongst plenty of other animals. Bring your surfboards and boogie boards to catch the waves or just go for a hike: the Leo Carrillo Beach Trail is most easily accessible for the littlest feet — though you might not schlep the whole five miles — but the more elevated Yellow Hill Trail will offer better views of gray whales, wildflowers, and the aforementioned birds. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to Neptune’s Net just a few miles up the PCH, where you can share clam chowder in a bread bowl, fish & chips, and fried seafood baskets.
Drive time: 1 hour
Underwood Farms is beloved to LA families for its Halloween hayrides and pumpkin patches, but it also serves as a summer gem full of berries and frosty treats. This Ventura County delight offers educational farm tours and its Animal Center houses baby goats, baby chicks, ponies, alpacas, emus, sheep, bunnies, and birds, some of which can be petted during non-COVID times. If your mini-me has never seen Brussels sprouts growing on a tall stalk or pulled a golden carrot from the soil, this is a special treat. Throughout the summer, little ones can pluck tiny strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries, and in late summer, kids can even pick their own Roma tomatoes.
Drive time: 45 minutes