9 Bucket List Road Trips From L.A. For That Well-Deserved Getaway

Angelenos love driving. We drive everywhere.

Angelenos love driving. We drive everywhere. And that’s because we have so many great destinations within driving distance from L.A. to visit! From Palm Desert to San Francisco, there’s a wide range of landscapes and vibes you can choose to drive to.

But of course, this being L.A. traffic is no joke. Always check traffic reports and plan the times you’ll be driving accordingly with the main freeways you’ll be taking.

Otherwise, sit back, relax and have fun cruising up and down the coast!

1. San Francisco: 382 Miles/5.5 Hours on I-5 N, 9 Hours on US-101 N

Driving to San Francisco from Los Angeles or vice versa is the classic pilgrimage which all travelers are destined to make when visiting California. Everyone says it only takes 5 hours to get from one place to the next. But realistically it’s only 5 hours for fast drivers, 6 hours for standard drivers and 8 hours for slow drivers.

Most Californians choose to take the straightforward route on the I-5 N, which is literally a straight path to San Francisco. It can get boring staring at the same flat agricultural landscapes and cows for 6 hours on the 5. This is why many travelers choose to drive along the 101 highway instead. US-101 N has a lot more pit stops and interesting sights to see but is about 40 miles longer and takes an average of 9 hours.

2. San Luis Obispo: 182 Miles/3 Hours on US-101 N

Going to San Luis Obispo (aka SLO) is also a pretty straightforward road trip on the 101 N. SLO is a super underrated destination between San Francisco and L.A. but people absolutely love going to this lovely city in the Central Coast. It’s got a perfectly warm climate, vineyards, beaches, mountains and more.

The drive is particularly lovely as the 101 N takes you along the coast through Santa Barbara and Pismo Beach. Depending on how fast you drive, it shouldn’t take more than 3-4 hours to get to SLO from L.A.

3. Santa Ynez Valley: 125 Miles/2.5 Hours on US-101 N

We all know how much Wendy Hung LOVES Santa Ynez Valley! Dreamy and golden Southern California wine country is only two-and-a-half hours away from the big city!

Have your own “Sideways” adventure and drive through colorful vineyards and mountains, drinking your way through all the wineries, restaurants and art galleries. Stopping by for a boozy rendezvous in Santa Ynez Valley is most def worth the detour on your way to San Luis Obispo!

4. Santa Barbara: 95 Miles/1.5-2 Hours on US-101 N
Ojai: 82 Miles/1.5 Hours on US-101 N

Everyone in Santa Barbara loves their lives. And how could they not love living in this sunny, Spanish and romantic city in Socal? The drive to Santa Barbara on the 101 N is probably the most scenic and breezy one too. It’s a quick one-and-a-half drive down the coast through Malibu from L.A. Feel free to pop into Ojai while you’re down there as well. Ojai is a cute little town full of quirky hippies, art and boutiques.

Beware of traffic on weekdays though. The 101 is never a joke during traffic time so plan the times you’ll be going and coming back accordingly!

5. Joshua Tree: 128 Miles/3 Hours on I-10 E

Feel like going camping in the desert? Joshua Tree is a popular camping destination for Californians all over. In the same direction as Indio and Palm Desert, Joshua Tree National Park boasts beautiful desert landscapes with bizarre trees and rock formations. Just take the I-10 E and then hop onto CA-62 E for the last 30 miles.

6. Palm Springs: 107 Miles/2 Hours on I-10 E

Who doesn’t dream about cruising over to the ultimate swanky, mid-century destination that is Palm Springs? Full of stylish poolside hotels and villas designed from the days of the Mad Men era, this paradise is just a little under 2 hours away from Los Angeles.

Going to Palm Springs is a breezy ride on the I-10 E for just a little over 100 miles. But the I-10 is one of L.A.’s freeways with the most traffic in both directions, so it’s tricky to plan when to start driving. Try to avoid going on Friday when everyone else is getting off work or on Sunday afternoon when everyone is coming back from the weekend.

7. Phoenix: 372 Miles/5 Hours on I-10 E

Did you know that Phoenix is only a 5 hour drive away from Los Angeles? Because most Angelenos definitely don’t realize that there are other states right next to us. It’s almost the same distance to San Francisco, just to the east.

Phoenix is a fun road trip when you’re craving something completely unique and different. The Sonoran Desert landscape gives Arizona a strong sense of place and swanky Scottsdale always offers luxurious leisure at hot temperatures.

As usual, the I-10 is a tricky freeway to hack. Track traffic updates for construction or road blocks before you plan your trip to and from Phoenix!

8. Las Vegas: 270 Miles/4 Hours on I-15 N

There’s nothing more glorious than getting out of work on a Friday and impulsively deciding to drive to Vegas for the weekend. Just because you live in L.A. and you can. There are tons of Angelenos who basically live in Las Vegas every weekend because it’s so close.

The simplest way to get there is to take 210 E and hop onto I-15 N until you see the bright lights to Mandalay Bay greeting you. The L.A.-Vegas traffic is horrendous though and seems to be getting worse as time goes on. Don’t expect to not hit traffic if you’re going back and forth during the weekend. Either leave extremely early in the morning or after midnight.

9. San Diego: 120 Miles/2 Hours on I-5 S

You think Angelenos have it good and sunny, wait until you visit our neighbors down south. People seem to get even more beach time in San Diego than L.A.

Thank goodness beautiful La Jolla Beach is only 2 hours away from the city. You get to hit the I-5 S and drive all the way down the coast with views of the ocean. Most parts of the I-5 are chill in between the cities, depending on the time of day and you can only imagine how bad traffic gets between the two on the weekend. Plan, plan, plan and try to leave mid-day way before or after 5 pm if possible!

Photos: Nadia Cho

Have you ever road tripped to or from Los Angeles? Share with us in the comments.

Nadia Cho

Communications Associate

Nadia reps Team JST traveling the world in search of exclusive features and online via JST's social media platforms. You can find her exploring metropolitan cities or lounging on tropical beaches.

Jetset Times in your inbox

Sign-up for our newsletter

By signing up, you agree to our Privacy Policy and European users agree to the data transfer policy.