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Best Day Trips On A Budget Near Los Angeles

Beach Ventura 610 header
(credit: Desiree Eaglin)

Southern California is full of riches in its hundreds of hamlets for everyone to enjoy. That means even those of us who are not on a free-spending budget will be able to embrace the Golden State's storied outposts, all easily negotiated during a day trip out of Los Angeles on any given day. So, head in any direction and you'll run into territory ready to enchant no matter how little money you're prepared to let go. That said, following are five places definitely worth your attention, time and time again.

Santa Barbara, California
(credit: Thinkstock)

Santa Barbara
500 E. Montecito St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93103
(805) 966-9222

At first blush, Santa Barbara may seem to be too much of an upscale community to enjoy on a stringent budget, but that's simply not true. This rarified haven situated on the Pacific and located about 2.5 hours north of Los Angeles offers plenty of activities that won't break the bank. For starters, this town's zoo offers hours of excellent experiences with various beasts for the entire family, up to and including feeding the giraffes who dwell here. Before you go, pack up a picnic to enjoy on the beach before heading home after the glowing sun sets over the horizon.

Ventura Pier
(credit: Desiree Eaglin)

Ventura Visitors & Convention Bureau
101 S. California St.
Ventura, CA 93001
(800) 333-2989

About an hour's drive from the City of Angels, Ventura makes for an inexpensive getaway replete with natural and historical diversions sure to be savored. Bikers, take your two-wheeler along on this day trip so you're already equipped to discover the many bike trails provided in and around this Central California coastal town. Meanwhile, upon your approach to Ventura, keep a lookout for fruits and vegetables being harvested and sold at sale prices in the immediate area. Talk about as fresh as fresh can be.

Catalina Express 1

Catalina Express
400 Oceangate, Suite 300
Long Beach, CA 90802
(800) 481-3470

Some 22 miles off the coast of Southern California, Catalina Island can be reached via Catalina Express for free -- if it's your birthday. If it's not and you want to go anyway, for a guaranteed good time without spending more than you can afford, take this very reasonably priced service anyway. The seaworthy trip alone will promise a breezy time getting away from it all, all for the price of a ticket to a destination that offers plenty of free experiences, from hiking the local terrain to touring the main town of Avalon, a small but special place where golf carts rule the road.

Related: Local Best Boutique Hotels in Los Angeles

solvang village 300
(credit: Solvang)

Solvang Conference & Visitors Bureau
1639 Copenhagen Drive
Solvang, CA 93463
(805) 688-6144

Can't afford a ticket to Holland but hankering to enjoy what the Dutch have to offer? Direct your vehicle north from the City of Angeles for about 135 miles and you'll be rewarded by running into Solvang, a cool town with northern European flair. The streets are scented with fresh-baked goods straight out of the old country and many restaurants serve cuisine similar to what is served in The Netherlands -- and that's just the beginning of what very cheerful Solvang has to offer.

Joshua Tree National Park
(credit: Thinkstock)

Joshua Tree National Park Oasis Visitors Center
77485 National Park Drive
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277
(760) 387-5500

If out-of-this-world hiking, climbing, flora and fauna excite you, don't miss Joshua Tree located not far down the freeway from elite and glamorous Palm Springs. This popular place plunked down in the middle of the desert is a terrific outpost in which to spend the day soaking up nearly all nature has to offer in just this single section of California. From seemingly surreal rock formations to more palm varieties than you ever thought possible, never-ending treats courtesy of Mother Nature can be inspected by you at leisure and, ultimately, captured on your camera to enjoy whenever you so desire.

Related: Best Cheap Long Weekend Trips Near Los Angeles

Los Angeles freelance travel writer Jane Lasky, contributes to publications such as Travel + Leisure, Vogue and Esquire. Her weekly sojourning column ran in 40 newspapers for 20 years. Jane is anything but an accidental tourist. Check out her articles on

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