Last Updated July 16, 2019 7/16/2019

California Road Trip: San Diego to Los Angeles Travel Guide

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There are a ton of things to do in San Diego, including an internationally-renowned zoo and theme parks, endless stretches of pristine beaches and much more. If you plan to travel from the city to Los Angeles, about 120 miles north, you’ll also find plenty to do along the way. In fact, you might even want to stick around and spend a night or two in some of these great spots.


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La Jolla Beach and cove in La Jolla
Beach and cove in La Jolla

La Jolla

La Jolla is often considered part of San Diego, but it’s actually located just north of San Diego proper and is home to popular attractions. While it may be close, it’s really a must stop, if only for the opportunity to gaze at the multi-million dollar homes atop the stunning seaside cliffs that overlook postcard-perfect beaches. At La Jolla Cove you can watch the sea lions, and if you have the time, rent a kayak to explore the impressive natural arches. The town itself is filled with upscale shops, outstanding restaurants, wine bars and craft brew pubs.

Carlsbad Beach scene in Carlsbad, California
Beach scene in Carlsbad, California


Carlsbad, about 35 miles north of California, is a beautiful laid-back beach town with seven miles of powdery sands and a wide range of activities to enjoy. Carlsbad State Beach is one of the most popular. Ideal for families, you can swim, kayak, dive, windsurf or beach comb. The four-mile paved Carlsbad Seawall is a path that follows the state beach, great for walking and cycling, and in town are restaurants and cafes along with some eclectic surf shops.

San Clemente San Clemente, Calif.
San Clemente, Calif.

San Clemente

About 30 minutes further north, San Clemente is home to the world famous surf break in the Lower Trestles area at San Onofre Surf Beach. Just watching the surfers ride the waves makes it worth a stop, with pros often here practicing some seriously insane aerial maneuvers. You can also visit the pier for fine ocean-view dining or enjoy a stroll down Avenida Del Mar to browse the unique boutiques that sell everything from gifts and souvenirs to clothing.

San Juan Capistrano Mission San Juan Capistrano, California
Mission San Juan Capistrano, California

San Juan Capistrano

Head slightly inland from Dana Point, just, 7.5 miles from San Clemente, and you’ll discover this historic town that’s home to one of California’s most beautiful missions. Learn about the area’s multi-cultural history while exploring the over 200-year-old San Juan Capistrano Mission, and the Los Rios District, the state’s oldest neighborhood with carefully-preserved original adobe homes. The downtown area is home to fine art galleries, taquerias and old-school western bars.

Dana Point Brydes Whale off Dana Point
Brydes Whale off Dana Point

Dana Point

Venturing back to the coast, Dana Point has lots to offer visitors. If you’ve had your fill of the beach, head to the harbor and explore the many restaurants, cafes and boutiques, or embark on a whale watching excursion in this so-called “Whale Capital of the West.” Boats don’t have to travel far before the creatures come into view here, and it’s a frequent happening all year-round. The harbor offers other fun options too like kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals along with deep sea fishing tours.

Laguna Beach Crystal Cove, Laguna Beach
Crystal Cove, Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach

Often referred to as the prettiest beach town in Southern California, Laguna Beach is less than 8 miles from Dana Point. An art enthusiasts’ haven, it features countless art galleries, an art museum, and hosts multiple art festivals, like the weird Pageant of the Masters, where costume-wearing volunteers strike poses to mimic old master paintings and the summer-long Festival of Arts. If you’re ready to visit the beach, at the north end of town Crystal Cove State Park is home to 3.5 miles of uninterrupted, unspoiled coastline edged by waters so striking clear, and in varying shades of vibrant blue, that you might think you were in Hawaii.

Newport Beach Newport Beach Bay
Newport Beach Bay

Newport Beach

Another 20 minutes north along Highway 1 is swanky Newport Beach with its yacht-filled marina. Most famous among non-Californians as the setting for the popular television drama “The OC,” it’s also a great stop on your drive. There are a ton of things to do, making it worth spending a night or two if you’re so inclined. You’ll find a fantastic old-fashioned seaside amusement park with a Ferris wheel, arcade games, and traditional carnival-type fare. If you want to explore Balboa Island, you can hop on the car ferry from Balboa Pier. This picturesque village feels like you’ve stepped into a quaint east coast town, famous for its frozen bananas that make it worth the trip alone. You can also take a stroll around its 1.6-mile boardwalk which follows the island’s shoreline and check out the mom-and-pop shops along Marine Avenue.

Disneyland Disneyland Park in Anaheim, Calif.
Disneyland Park in Anaheim, Calif.


Just 18 miles north-east heading inland, is Disneyland Park. Located in Anaheim, this is a place where Disney movies and characters come to life. It offers fun for both kids and adults with two separate theme parks, Disneyland and California Adventure, which features a shopping and entertainment district. Both have a wide range of rides and shows, and the chance for little ones to meet some of their favorite characters in person, from Mickey and Minnie to Ariel and Snow White. You’ll really need more than a day to experience it, so check out some of the top hotels nearby.

Queen Mary, Long Beach The Queen Mary, Long Beach
The Queen Mary, Long Beach

Queen Mary, Long Beach

Just before you reach Los Angeles proper, a little over 25 miles west of Anaheim, Long Beach is home to the legendary Queen Mary ship. During World War II, she served as the largest and fastest troopship. After retiring she was transformed into a hotel and restaurant. She’s also famous as one of the most haunted places in the country, and her haunted tours. Arrange your trip to arrive on a Sunday for  Royal Sunday Brunch if you can, it’s considered the best in Southern California with over 50 authentic dishes served in the elegant Grand Salon. Or just enjoy a drink in the Observation Bar and Art Deco Lounge – the ideal spot for a sunset over the ocean.

Los Angeles Los Angeles
Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Once in Los Angeles, settle in for a while because you’ll have a long list of activities and attractions to choose from. Visit Griffith Park, one of the largest urban parks in the entire country, home to the Los Angeles Zoo, a Greek theater, an equestrian center, the Griffith Observatory and impressive views. You can stroll the Hollywood Walk of Fame, put your own hands into the famous handprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, window shop on Rodeo Drive, visit museums, take in the myriad of nightlife options on Sunset Strip and so much more.

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