The 7 Best Southern California Day Trips From Anaheim

If an alien, or someone born yesterday, were to ask me what Anaheim was, I would tell them exactly two things:

  • Anaheim is home to Disneyland (and a host of other theme parks)
  • Anaheim is THE BEST base from which to explore Southern California

The former is obvious to most non-newborn humans, but the latter I think most people are sleeping on… which is why I decided to write this blog post on the best day trips from Anaheim!

day trips from anaheim

 

But really, Anaheim is the best city to stay in if your plan is to explore as much of Southern California as you can without having to constantly change accommodation. It’s more affordable and easier to get around than all of the day trip destinations included in this post.

And looking at the map below, you can see it’s literally right in the middle of things, located just inland from the Orange County coastline – which makes it easy and efficient to day trip to non-coastal destinations. 

 

day trips from anaheim ca

 

Most of the day trips from Anaheim included in this post are within a 30 minute to 1.5 hour drive. HOWEVER, be prepared for the notorious Southern California traffic no matter where you go!

Even if you don’t hit traffic one way, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll hit it going the other way – so just expect traffic and then you won’t be thrown if and when you do have to deal with it. It’s part of the SoCal experience :)

READ MORE IN THIS POST: 7 Things To Do At Anaheim That AREN’T Disney

Palm Springs

Distance from Anaheim: 95 miles / 1.5 hour drive (without traffic)

Palm Springs is a hip desert city located due east of Anaheim. It’s known for several things, including its midcentury-modern architecture, hot springs, spas, and golf courses. It also serves as a base for Coachella, the popular annual music festival held in the nearby valley.

anaheim day trips

My #1 tip for visiting Palm Springs is to avoid summer! We visited in July and it was 100+ degrees every day, which made it difficult to muster up the energy to do anything other than lay under an umbrella by the hotel pool.

Speaking of hotel pools, my #2 tip is to stay overnight in Palm Springs, rather than visit on a day trip from Anaheim. I mean, I did include it in this blog post, so it absolutely can be done as a day trip outside of summer. But I think part of the magic of Palm Springs is staying at one of its many aesthetic hotels and hanging out by the pool. It’s a whole vibe.

day trips from anaheim

But don’t worry – if you do opt to visit on a day trip, there are plenty of things to do in Palm Springs in a day:

Things to do in Palm Springs

  • Hotel Day Pass – A number of hotels in Palm Springs offer day passes to non-guests who would like to spend the day lounging by a vibey pool. This is a great way to get the hotel pool experience without actually staying overnight in Palm Springs. The Ace Hotel would be my top pick if I were to visit Palm Springs on a day trip from Anaheim.
  • The Spa at Sec-he – Spend the day hopping from sauna to steam room to plunge pool and relaxing in the sacred mineral waters at Sec-he. There are even a few other ways to relax at this spa, including the zero-gravity vibration chairs and the halotherapy salt caves. It’s $99 for a Taking of the Waters Day Pass at the spa.

day trips from anaheim ca

  • Architecture Tour – The best way to peep the iconic architecture in Palm Springs is to take a tour around the city. Palm Springs Mod Squad runs both exterior and interior tours of homes around the city, which start at $75/person for a 90 minute tour.
  • Aerial Tramway – Ride the world’s largest rotating tram car over scenic Chino Canyon to Mt. San Jacinto State Park. At Mountain Station (elevation 8,516 feet), there are restaurants, observation decks, a museum, a gift shop, and dozens of hiking trails to explore. A round trip ticket costs $31/person.
  • Tahquitz Canyon – Want to immerse yourself in nature? Hike the Tahquitz Canyon Trail (1.8mi RT) just outside of Palm Springs. Highlights include a 60 foot waterfall and some rock art.

day trips from anaheim

BOOK THESE ACTIVITIES IN PALM SPRINGS & JOSHUA TREE

 


Joshua Tree National Park

Distance from Anaheim: 115 miles / 2 hour drive (without traffic)

Joshua Tree is another 40 miles inland from Palm Springs, so it can be done either as a day trip from there or as a day trip from Anaheim.

day trips from anaheim
Photo by Josh Carter on Unsplash.

Another destination to visit outside of summer, Joshua Tree National Park is an incredible hiking mecca offering picturesque desert vistas and rugged rock landscapes. If you visit on a day trip from Anaheim, you can easily fill the day with several short and easy walks around the park.

Things to do in Joshua Tree

  • Hidden Valley – 1 mile loop walk
  • Cholla Cactus Garden – 1/4 mile loop through a garden filled with human-sized cacti
  • Keys View Lookout – amazing views over the valley, ideal for sunset
  • Arch Rock Nature Trail – .3 mile loop walk

best beach near anaheim

Newport Beach

Distance from Anaheim: 20 miles / 30 minute drive (without traffic)

Fellow millennials yearning to live out their OC dreams, this Anaheim day trip’s a must-do for you!

Spend the day ogling Newport Beach’s gorgeous homes and beaches. Whether you explore by boat, bike, or foot, there’s so much beauty to see here. In addition to the ocean, there’s also Newport Bay which opens up even more options for exploration.

anaheim day trips

Things to do in Newport Beach

  • Newport Beach Pier – An iconic landmark of the town.
  • Whale watchingEast Meets West Whale Watching does 2 hour whale and dolphin watching boat trips for $89/person.
  • Cycling – Rent a bike and you’ll be able to cover more ground while exploring Balboa Peninsula and Balboa Island ($25 for the day with Newport Beach Bike Rentals, which is located on Balboa Peninsula very close to the ferry to Balboa Island).
  • Stand-up paddleboarding / Kayaking – Rent a SUP or kayak for $20/hour from Paddle Board Newport Beach (on Balboa Peninsula) and paddle around Newport Bay.

best beach near anaheim

  • Pirate’s Cove Beach – A small, somewhat hidden beach directly east of Balboa Peninsula, tucked just inside the bay. This might actually be the best beach near Anaheim – it looks like it was plucked right out of Australia!
  • Mansions – The nicest homes in Newport Beach are up in the hills. Type Pacific Crest Drive into Google Maps and you’ll find plenty to ogle in that area.

BOOK THESE ACTIVITIES IN ORANGE COUNTY

 


Laguna Beach

Distance from Anaheim: 25 miles / 30 minute drive (without traffic)

If you watched The OC, there’s a very good chance you also watched Laguna Beach. Therefore, if I include Newport on this list of day trips from Anaheim, then I feel like Laguna needs to be on here as well.

best beach near anaheim

Laguna Beach has more of a village vibe than Newport, and it’s a super popular summer holiday destination (thanks in part to the TV show, I’m sure). Between all of the cute shops and stunning little beaches, it’s easy to see why so many people love it here. This is a place to go to relax and enjoy the natural scenery.

Things to do in Laguna Beach

  • Shopping – Walk up and down the main street in town and pop into any of the dozens of boutiques, which range from clothing to surf shops to fine art and more.
  • 1000 Steps Beach – Quite possibly the best beach in Laguna, and definitely the best beach near Anaheim that I’ve seen so far. There’s a steep set of stairs leading down to the beach (not quite 1000), but it’s very worth the effort to reach this gem of a beach.

best beach near anaheim

day trips from anaheim


day trips from anaheim

Los Angeles

Distance from Anaheim: *minimum* 26 miles / 30 minute drive (without traffic)

Having stayed in both Anaheim and Los Angeles, I can confirm that doing LA as a day trip from Anaheim is an excellent idea. That way, you avoid having to deal with cross-city traffic and expensive accommodation in LA.

anaheim day trips

day trips from anaheim

There are so many things to do in Los Angeles that you really can’t go wrong. I recommend sticking to one area (i.e. either the coast OR Downtown/Hollywood) so that you can make the most of the day and not have to spend half of it in the car.

Things to do in Los Angeles

  • Universal Studios – If all the theme parks around Anaheim have left you wanting more, head up to Universal Studios in north LA
  • Venice / Santa Monica – Walk the canals, boardwalk, and Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, then check out the Santa Monica pier
  • The Getty Center / Getty Villa – Two beautiful complexes with distant views of the coastline. Between the architecture, the gardens, and the onsite art, the entirety of both properties is a feast for the eyes.

day trips from anaheim ca

day trips from anaheim ca

  • Hike to the Hollywood Sign or Runyon Canyon – two very popular hikes in LA
  • Malibu – Enjoy LA’s most glorious stretch of coastline (recommended: El Matador State Beach).
  • Erewhon – There’s a reason why this absurdly overpriced health food market is such an institution in LA. The good thing about only visiting LA for the day is that you can enjoy your $20 Hailey Bieber smoothie guilt-free knowing it was a one-time splurge, rather than a daily habit. My Erewhon indulgence of choice? The vegan Mexican salad (insert drool-face emoji here).

anaheim day trips

BOOK THESE ACTIVITIES IN LOS ANGELES

 


Catalina Island

Distance from Anaheim: 20-30 miles / 30-40 minute drive (without traffic) to Newport Beach or Long Beach, then 1 hour 15 minutes on the ferry

Catalina is a popular day trip from Anaheim or anywhere in Orange County. Ferries run from Long Beach, Newport Beach, and Dana Point and take just over an hour.

best beach near anaheim
Photo by Emma Svalstad via Unsplash.

There are plenty of water sports on offer at Catalina, but really the best way to spend a day on the island is to just relax on the beach and go for a wander around town (Avalon).

Things to do in Catalina

  • Explore Avalon by golf cart or e-bike – along with the shops, be sure to check out the residential cottages and historic buildings around town
  • Rent a kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or jetski
  • BeachesDescanso Beach Club makes for a great base from which to spend the day 

 

best beach near anaheim
Malibu.

San Diego

Distance from Anaheim: 95 miles / 1.5 hour drive (without traffic)

Last but not least on this list of day trips from Anaheim: San Diego!

best beach near anaheim
Photo by Earthly Beauties on Unsplash.

San Diego sits on the coast just south of Orange County and easily merits a dedicated trip of its own; however, it can also work as a day trip option.

There’s plenty to do in California’s southernmost major city, but you honestly might be tempted to do nothing more than spend the day at one of San Diego’s beautiful beaches and sample some of the best Mexican food in the country (did you know it’s less than a half hour drive to the border?). 

Things to do in San Diego

  • San Diego Zoo – One of the biggest and best zoos in the world
  • Balboa Park – Not just a park, but a 1200 acre cultural destination. It includes 17 museums as well as a myriad of restaurants, gardens, and events.
  • La Jolla Cove – A sheltered and extremely picturesque beach backed by sandstone cliffs and oft frequented by sea lions and snorkelers.
  • Gaslamp Quarter – A neighborhood in downtown San Diego popular for its bars, shops, and historic hotels. You can book food tours and even a true crime tour here.
  • Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve – The perfect place for a hike with ocean views

BOOK THESE ACTIVITIES IN SAN DIEGO

 

 

Thank you to Visit Anaheim for gifting us a 3 night stay in Anaheim. Note that all opinions expressed here and elsewhere on this blog are my unbiased own, and are uninfluenced by any gifts or incentives I may receive.
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Best Day Trips From Anaheim, California
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Best Day Trips From Anaheim, California