Santa Monica beach. Photo by Downtowngal.
Santa Monica: one of the most attractive seaside towns in the Los Angeles suburbs with pleasant architecture and a calm, friendly atmosphere and massive beach.
Disneyland: the first and best Disneyland is half an hour south of downtown – if the traffic is willing. Children love it and so do some big kids, but be prepared for long queues for rides unless you go in the evening.
Universal City: another great theme park but movie-based wherein you get attacked by Great White sharks or giant anacondas while being quietly chauffeured past tranquil lakes; run by Universal Studios it’s an hour north of LA.
Getty Centre: Bus #761 takes you out to the staggeringly modernist and free (tho’ car parking is not) Getty Centre in the Santa Monica mountains, the one-billion-dollar designed Richard Meier arts centre whose dramatic views are only marginally less spectacular than its contents, from Louis XIV furniture to works by Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Man Ray.
Malibu: home of the seriously rich with some superb beaches it’s worth a drive along the coast road for the views and also the best place round LA for surfing. Malibu Lagoon is also a bird sanctuary with some excellent nature trails and walks.
Santa Barbara: Two hours north west of LA up the Pacific Coast Highway (busy and not especially scenic on this stretch), affluent Santa Barbara has some excellent beaches (though no surf), stunning, low-rise, adobe-village architecture and a typical laid-back Californian vibe.
Catalina Island: Southwest of LA and reached by boat from the Harbor Area, Catalina Island lies some 20 miles off the Californian coast. There are good beaches, hotels, superb hikes and mountain bike trails on an island where cars are restricted, most people get around by golf buggy.