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Affordable & Fun Spring & Summer Day Trips in California

It’s May! Spring is in full bloom and the gradual reopening of our local communities continues. The weather is still mild in most places and there are many wonderful sites to go and visit. We hope you consider making a day trip or two this summer with your family. We've highlighted some of our favorite day trip locations to give you the inspiration to get up and go - whether you're in Central, Northern, or Southern California!

Central California - Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo, & Solvang

Pictured above, the Danish-style buildings of downtown Solvang, California.

Two of the Central California destinations here, Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo, are relatively near one another, with 15 miles between them. Solvang is approximately 35 miles north of Santa Barbara, and it's 65 miles south of San Luis Obispo.

  • Morro Bay - A visit to Morro Bay should definitely include a visit to the Morro Rock. The Morro Rock is part of a chain of nine volcanic peaks that extend from San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay known as the Nine Sisters. If you want to truly enjoy the great outdoors, consider an overnight adventure camping at Morro Bay State Park or at Montaña de Oro State Park, just 6 miles southwest of Morro Bay. If you plan to let your kids pick out some souvenirs, stop by the world-famous Shell Shop in Morro Bay, owned for 55 years by the Thomas family, it's a great place to find some fun and affordable shell keepsakes.

  • San Luis Obispo - This Central California college town is a great place to stop and play! There are so many highlights here, but I can't get serious without also mentioning something silly to see -- Bubblegum Alley, which kids will love and hate at the same time! A visit to the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is always a solid start for those interested in the history of California, plus you get to see where the San Luis Obispo Creek flows through the charming town. You can also stroll the walkway by the creek. If the kids feel like staying in and watching a movie, you can always pile in the car for drive-in at the Sunset Drive-in, one of the last drive-in theatres in California.

  • Solvang - Located 35 miles North of Santa Barbara, Solvang is commonly known as The Danish Capital of America. Early Danish settlers wanted to maintain their heritage by building everything in the Danish style, and that style has been preserved. This makes it a truly unique and wonderful small-town adventure for families to enjoy! Check out this blog post from Travel Smart to learn more about exploring Solvang. Solvang is also home to the Santa Ines Mission. The Mission offers self-guided tours daily from 10:00 am to 2:30 pm. It's an affordable stop at $6 per person over age 12. Children aged 12 and under are admitted free.

Coastal Southern California - Laguna Beach, Malibu, San Diego & more!

The Orange County day trip destinations here (Corona Del Mar and Laguna Beach) are approximately 50 miles from Los Angeles and 60- 80 miles from San Diego, San Bernardino, and Riverside Counties. Leo Carillo Beach in Malibu is 50 miles from Los Angeles and 70 miles from Orange County. Of course, none of these mileage estimates account for traffic, so time your day trip to avoid traffic by going at non-peak times.

  • Corona Del Mar - A visit to Sherman Gardens can be an all-day event! Read more about this amazing two-acre botanical gardens gem at this excellent blog post by Daytrippen. Grounds are open daily from 10:30 am to 4:00 pm during Spring, and admission is $5 per person. Extended hours begin in June.

  • Laguna Beach - Heisler Park is a world-class beach park, right off PCH, with access to Main Beach and Las Brisas, a Laguna Beach landmark. Visit Heisler Park during a spring weekday for easy access to parking along the top of the bluff and walk the sidewalk that hugs the coastline for great views. There's plenty of grass at this park for picnicking. When you've finished walking the top of the park, then follow one of the staircases down to explore the amazing tide pools. Plan your visit during a low tide to be able to walk out onto the tide pool rocks and really explore marine animal life. Read more about Heisler Park, including parking info, here. Laguna Beach Art Festivals will open in July and run through September, so you can plan a visit there during the busy summer season, too.

  • Leo Carillo State Beach - This inviting beach park off PCH in Malibu is a part of the larger Leo Carrillo State Park and includes a long stretch of outstanding beachfront perfect for swimming and playing in the surf and picnicking. The beach is divided into two distinct beach areas, north beach, and south beach. Access to either beach area is gained through parking areas on the Pacific Coast Highway or from inside the Leo Carrillo State Park Campground.

  • San Diego - Bring the whole family (and maybe even the pups!) to walk along the 3-mile length of the Pacific Beach to Mission Beach Boardwalk. Enjoy the sights and sounds of vendors, artists, cafes, eateries along the way. There are many places along this walkway and its adjacent, beautiful sandy beaches that are dog-friendly. For more dog-friendly beaches in San Diego County, check out this blog post from La Jolla Mom.

Historic Northern California - Auburn, Sacramento, Truckee & More!

The day trip travel times in this section may vary widely based on your location. If you live in or near Sacramento you're probably familiar with Old Town Sacramento, and it's not too far to travel to (10-20 minutes depending on where you live). But Auburn, Grass Valley, and Nevada City are approximately 35 miles, and 65-70 miles from Sacramento, respectively. Truckee is the furthest from Sacramento, at 100 miles. However, Truckee isn't that far from North Lake Tahoe (12 miles) or South Lake Tahoe (45 miles) - both popular spring and summer destinations for those who live near Sacramento. If you happen to be traveling to Lake Tahoe this spring or summer, definitely consider swinging over to Truckee.

  • Historic Downtown Truckee - with Truckee Thursdays, Summer Street Festival, set to reopen this summer, this is a great destination to visit on a summer road trip through the Sierras or while visiting Lake Tahoe. Download the downtown Truckee walking map before you go.

  • Nevada City - Less than 4 miles from Grass Valley, Nevada City shares an events calendar with Grass Valley, as well as local history and heritage.

  • Old Sacramento State Historic Park - Many museums remain closed in Old Town Sac due to Covid-19 but the layout and preservation of old buildings, historic sites, including train cars out on display, is remarkable and charming. Kids and adults alike will enjoy a stroll through this 1850s business district. Visit this Old Town Sacramento page for updated information about businesses that are open and reopening.

San Juan Capistrano - Mission San Juan Capistrano & Los Rios District

San Juan Capistrano (SJC) is home to the Mission San Juan Capistrano, often referred to as the Jewel of the California Missions. If you're learning about the history of the Missions in California, this town is a must-see. The historic Los Rios District in SJC is considered one of the oldest neighborhoods in all of California and it offers much to see and explore, including the sweet farm animals of Zoomars. SJC is in South Orange County, 35 miles from parts of North Orange County, and 60-70 miles from Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, and San Diego Counties. Of course, these mileage estimates don't account for traffic, so time your day trip to avoid traffic by going at non-peak times.

  • Visit the San Juan Basilica Church - Designed in honor of the original SJC Mission church that was destroyed in the earthquake of 1812, this church was built in 1986. In the year 2000, Pope John Paul II declared the church a Basilica and it was also designated a national shrine. It's become a pilgrimage center for visiting Catholics from around the world.


Wherever your travels take you, remember to have fun together! It's more about the journey than it is the destination. Happy road-tripping, everyone!


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