Courtesy of The Parker Palm Springs
Rachel B. Levin

Los Angeles is a city with an enviable position, sitting smack in the center of some pretty stellar topography. Within a few hours by car (or boat!), you can literally go from the surf to the snow and from an island to a desert. So it's a wise idea to make some day-trip explorations here; pretty much any direction you head in will land you somewhere spectacular. To the south lie the stunning, art-inspiring beaches of Orange County. To the north, you'll find Central Coast wine country, with its undulating hills of vineyards set against the sea. A boat ride to the west brings you to the unspoiled nature of the Channel Islands archipelago. And to the east, you'll find the desert, with its dramatic arid landscapes and chic resort communities. Admittedly, it's hard to pick just one direction. But regardless of which way you go, be sure to check traffic reports before you hit the road. Otherwise your day trip might become a weekend escape!

Laguna Beach

If you're a lover of art and beautiful vistas, feast your eyes on this picturesque Orange County beach town. You'll find an exceptionally scenic stretch of coastline framed by gently rolling hills along with a robust collection of art galleries. It's especially popular in summer for the annual art festivals.

Santa Barbara

This idyllic gem just an hour and a half north of Los Angeles beckons day-trippers with a pristine coastline, atmospheric Spanish architecture, and wine-tasting rooms galore. While couples tend to especially appreciate the romantic setting, the beach and the historic Santa Barbara Mission also make it a great destination for families.

Palm Springs

Whip out your biggest sunglasses and put the top down: you're headed to the desert's most glamorous community. Palm Springs has been Hollywood's hot-weather playground since film stars began flocking here in the 1920s. Scope out the mid-century modern architecture, visit the hot springs, or enjoy a cocktail by the pool (your hotel is bound to have one).

Big Bear Lake

This mountain resort provides a tranquil retreat from the bustle of the city. In the winter, the alpine setting lends itself to skiing and snowboarding. In warmer months, you can go hiking, mountain biking, or boating on the expansive lake. Rustic Big Bear Village boasts cozy restaurants and unique boutiques.

Santa Catalina Island

For a nautical adventure, set sail for Avalon, the main city on this island just over an hour away from the L.A. harbor by boat. Shop on the charming streets, partake in water sports, or join a tour of the island's rugged interior to spot wildlife like buffalo and bald eagles.

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