15 Best Day Trips from Anaheim

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Anaheim, Orange County: the city known for being the location of California’s huge Disneyland Theme Park and the many resorts that go with it.

Once you are done riding roller coasters and doing all things Disney, there is much more to see and do in the surrounding areas.

Anaheim is perfectly located as a great starting point to visit the big Californian cities of Los Angeles and San Diego.

Just a day trip away is the high life of Hollywood or the famous Sea World of San Diego.

Even further south across the Mexican border, it’s possible to visit neighboring Tijuana for a real culture change.

Anaheim is the gateway to the spectacular Southern California coastline; there are beaches and boardwalks to discover and white sands to relax on.

Further away, the deserts of inland California beckon the really adventurous; with epic National Parks such as Joshua Tree State Park just a car ride away, but a whole world away from the city.

Let’s have a look at the best day trips from Anaheim:

1 . Catalina Island

Catalina Island, CaliforniaSource: Chris Grant / shutterstock
Catalina Island

Catalina Island has long been a tourist hot spot, since far back in the late 19th century when holidaymakers first started to travel to this beautiful offshore destination.

Since then, they just keep coming, primarily because it offers a spectacular escape from the mainland.

Just an hour by boat from the beaches near Anaheim, Catalina Island is the destination to visit for marine lovers.

You can snorkel and dive the coral reefs, with an abundance of marine life waiting to be seen in the waters.

If you’d rather stay dry, then there are semi-submersibles and glass-bottom boats travelling around the island to explore the coral too, and of course, there are plenty of sandy beaches to relax on.

2. Newport Beach

Newport Beach, CaliforniaSource: Grzegorz Czapski / shutterstock
Newport Beach

Newport Beach should be visited to see the huge waves that form offshore and smash against the coast.

If you are brave and experienced enough, it’s perfect for hardcore surfers, but even for non-surfers, the monumental sight of the powerful ocean at work is remarkable to see.

There are mile upon mile of pristine beaches to enjoy the surf from, and boardwalks lining the beaches provide an incredible setting to stroll along, with restaurants and bars aplenty providing scenic rest stops along the way.

3. Whale Watching

Whale Watching, Newport BeachSource: Kris Clifford / shutterstock
Whale Watching, Newport Beach

Newport Beach is the place to take a whale watching trip, being one of the few coastal destinations in the world where whales and dolphins can be seen year round.

Tours depart every day of the year, but the season in which you visit will determine which species of whale you are likely to see out in the wild.

Come between summer and autumn to witness the blue whale migration passing through.

These enormous marine mammals are simply humbling to see.

Visit between winter and spring, and you are likely to catch the gray whale migration; an equally unique experience to witness out on the ocean waves of California.

4. Huntington Beach

Huntington State Beach, CaliforniaSource: holbox / shutterstock
Huntington State Beach

Huntington Beach is one of many Southern California beaches, and like much of the coast, it’s a favorite with surfers looking to hit the huge waves found here.

Huntington Beach is also the site of the lengthy Huntington Beach Pier, originally built in 1904. It’s long – stretching almost 600 meters out into the water – and a walk along its length will give a great panoramic view of the crashing surf, the surfers riding waves, and long vistas down the entire coastline to the north and south.

You might even spot a few dolphins or even a whale far out at sea if you visit at the right time of day.

In fact, along the California coast there’s a good chance of spotting large marine mammals throughout the whole year.

5. Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach, CaliforniaSource: LagunaticPhoto / shutterstock
Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach boasts spectacular coastline and even more surfing and swells.

Rugged cliffs stretch far into the distance and land lovers can wander the wild hiking trails rather than jumping into the waves.

The beaches here aren’t long, but rather are framed by cliffs, forming coves and inlets that offer sheltered bays along the shore and that look utterly incredible from above.

Away from the coast, Laguna Beach town also has plenty of art galleries and an emerging cultural scene that’s the perfect place to spend a whole day exploring.

6. Hollywood

Hollywood, LASource: Checubus / shutterstock

No one should visit California and miss a trip to Hollywood; it’s simply iconic.

From Anaheim, tour companies can whisk you away on a day trip to the stars, taking in the movie studios and sets.

You might even get to see filming in action.

Tours can visit the famous and swanky areas where the stars live too, giving you an insight into the high life, before ending the day with a picture of the Hollywood sign high in the hills above LA; the perfect souvenir from a trip to California.

7. Universal Studios

Universal StudiosSource: Kamira / shutterstock
Universal Studios

While there are many film studios across LA and Hollywood, the most iconic of them all is Universal Studios.

Part theme park and part movie filming studio, it’s worth spending a whole day exploring the attractions and riding the roller coasters here, at the real original Hollywood studio.

8. San Diego

San DiegoSource: Dancestrokes / shutterstock
San Diego

San Diego is the southernmost point in California, and the second largest city in the state.

It’s where the United States meets Mexico head on, and across the border is the Mexican city of Tijuana.

San Diego has a long Spanish and Mexican history and is where cultures collide in this intriguing city.

It’s right on the coast too, offering beautiful beaches and Californian sunshine to visitors making the journey south from Anaheim.

9. San Diego Zoo

San Diego ZooSource: Chris Gotz / shutterstock
San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo dates back to 1916 and ever since its opening has been providing a place for visitors to see animals from across the world.

Thousands of animals are homed here, from all over the world, and it’s a vast place to experience a real wildlife adventure in the heart of San Diego.

10. Tijuana

Tijuana, MexicoSource: Denis Kabanov / shutterstock

If you continue travelling far south past San Diego, you hit the Mexican border; beyond that is the city of Tijuana, which is doable in a day trip from Anaheim.

Visitors can simply pop over the border, crossing here for the day before returning to California in the evening.

While it might be seen by some as a wild frontier city, Tijuana is full of bars, restaurants and shops catering to border crossing tourists looking for a bit of Mexican culture.

It is a safe place to enjoy for the day; just remember to bring your passport.

11. Palm Springs

Palm Springs, CaliforniaSource: Andrew F. Kazmierski / shutterstock
Palm Springs

Inland from the coastal scene, and a world away from the theme parks and movie studios, is Palm Springs.

This is where the desert begins, but in this wilderness there are hot springs, golf courses and spas to make desert life that little bit more comfortable.

You can take the aerial tramway at Palm Springs to experience the canyon and see epic views over the desert landscape that stretches for miles.

12. Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National ParkSource: fotogestoeber / shutterstock
Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is a huge area of wild desert landscape a few hours outside of Anaheim.

Known and named for the distinct Joshua Tree which is found in abundance within the park boundaries, it is a favorite with rock climbers and hikers looking to get out into the real desert.

It’s another world, unlike anywhere else, and the scenery could tempt you to spend more than just a day exploring this National Park.

13. Santa Ana

Santa Ana, CaliforniaSource: esfera / shutterstock
Santa Ana

Santa Ana is the largest of Orange County’s cities, and it is more Hispanic than anywhere else in the United States.

Spanish is the main language here, and a trip to Santa Ana is an immersion in Latino culture that you can’t find anywhere else in the country without crossing the border to Mexico.

This is where cultures collide and it’s an intriguing insight into Californian history.

14. San Bernardino

McDonald's, San BernardinoSource: Michael Gordon / shutterstock
McDonald’s, San Bernardino

Most people have eaten a McDonald’s burger at some point in their life, but few people will know that the first McDonald’s restaurant was opened in San Bernardino, a city near Anaheim.

A visit here will take you to the original site of the first ever McDonald’s, where it all began decades ago before sweeping across the globe.

There’s an unofficial museum at the site of the original fast food joint, and many McDonald’s fans will make the pilgrimage here to see the old advertising billboards and a slice of history in an off-beat city.

15. Slab City

Slab CitySource: Stephen Bures / shutterstock
Slab City

A trip to Slab City is the most unusual day trip possible from Anaheim.

Far out in the desert, this ‘city’ was once a military barracks, but has since been taken over by squatters, artists and anyone looking to live life off the grid.

It’s a bizarre community of artists and recluses, all of whom make up a unique cross section of people, far removed from the cities along the California coast.

Slab City might be off the grid, but it’s open to tourism, and visitors are welcome to tour around and even to stay.

There are no rules here; that’s the whole idea.

15 Best Day Trips from Anaheim:

  • Catalina Island
  • Newport Beach
  • Whale Watching
  • Huntington Beach
  • Laguna Beach
  • Hollywood
  • Universal Studios
  • San Diego
  • San Diego Zoo
  • Tijuana
  • Palm Springs
  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • Santa Ana
  • San Bernardino
  • Slab City