15 Popular Day Trips from San Diego

15 Popular Day Trips from San Diego

How often have you told yourself that you wanted to travel more but then followed that up with a list of excuses of why you can’t? I know that used to be me before we moved to the west coast.

It can be tricky to coordinate a multi-day trip or an overseas trip, but you still have 52 weekends to go out and explore. With local adventurer, we’re constantly conditioning ourselves to see with new eyes instead of seeking new lands, so that we don’t take our home for granted like we did while living in Atlanta. There’s so much to see that’s just a short drive away!

15 Popular Day Trips from San Diego.

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Last Updated: May 11, 2020

15 Popular Day Trips from San Diego

We put together a list of great day trips from San Diego organized from the shortest driving distance to the longest. Anything longer than 2 hour driving distance will be in Part II – Weekend Getaways!

Carlsbad, CA, map

Distance: 35 mi / 35 min (map)
Things You Can’t Miss: Beaches, Flower FieldsLEGOLAND
What to Eat: 
Blue Ocean Robata & Sushi Bar, Jeune et Jolie, Cafe Elysa
Where to Stay: Four Seasons Aviara (luxury), Staybridge Suites Carlsbad (mid-range), Home2Suites Carlsbad (budget), Search for Airbnbs

Beachesflower fieldsLEGOLAND, or food, there is plenty to explore in Carlsbad. The Museum of Making Music is a nice hidden gem, and the short drive gives you plenty of time to explore.

Carlsbad Flower Fields (Beautiful Flower Fields You Must See in Southern California) // localadventurer.com

2. Julian

2225 Main St, Julian, CA 92036, map

Distance: 60 mi / 1 hr 10 min (map)
Things You Can’t Miss: Apple Picking, California Wolf Center, Eagle and High Peak Mine
What to Eat:
Julian Pie Company, Mom’s Pie House, Miner’s Diner and Soda Fountain
Where to Stay: Mountain Lodge (luxury), Apple Tree Inn (mid-range), Julian Gold Rush Hotel (budget), Search for Airbnbs

Everyone talks about these Julian Pies! I’ve heard that Julian can feel very touristy, but it’s a popular destination for San Diegans. You can visit Julian Pie Company where the pies are made, eat some pie, and then bring some home for later (along with the apple cider, because it’s delicious too). We made a pit stop here for gas once when everything was closed, so we’ll have to go back when apple picking season starts up again!

Julian (15 Most Popular Day Trips from San Diego).

10678 Sunrise Hwy, Mt Laguna, CA 91948, map

Distance: 55 mi / 55 min (map)
Things You Can’t Miss: Sunrise Highway, Laguna Mountain Visitor Center, Laguna Mountain Recreation Area
What to Eat:
Pine House Cafe & Tavern, Blue Jay Lodge, Descanso Junction Restaurant
Where to Stay: Search Rental Cabins or Search for Airbnbs

Spend some time outdoors and take in the fresh air. Hike, explore, or take the scenic drive on Sunrise Highway. During the winter, there will be snowfall, which opens up the activities to sledding and cross-country skiing. There is also an observatory there for stargazing.

Mount Laguna California (15 Popular Day Trips from San Diego).
Photo: Christian Ronnel / creative commons

3rd St, Temecula, CA 92590, map

Distance: 60 mi / 57 min (map)
Things You Can’t Miss: Hot Air Balloon Ride, Wine Tasting, Old Town Temecula
What to Eat:
Bottaia Winery, The Restaurant at Ponte, E.A.T Marketplace
Where to Stay: Ponte Vineyard Inn (luxury), South Coast Winery Resort and Spa (mid-range), Home2 Suites Temecula (budget), Search for Airbnbs

You can visit the wine country, hit the golf courses, spend the afternoon in old town, or hop on a hot air balloon and see the vineyards from the sky like we did!

Temecula (15 Popular Day Trips from San Diego).

5. San Juan Capistrano

26801 Ortega Hwy, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675, map

Distance: 67 mi / 1 hr (map)
Things You Can’t Miss: Mission San Juan Capistrano, Los Rios Historic District, Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park
What to Eat:
Trevor’s at the Tracks, Sol Agave, Bad to the Bone BBQ
Where to Stay: Sea Horse Resort (luxury), Best Western Capistrano Inn (mid-range), Courtyard by Marriott (budget), Search for Airbnbs

Grounded in a history of Native American culture, the city of San Juan Capistrano offers a lot of rich history. You can visit the historic Mission, hike the surrounding trails, or spend time in their quaint downtown. One of my girlfriends actually got married here, and it’s somewhere I’ve been meaning to revisit and explore on my own.

San Juan Capistrano (15 Popular Day Trips from San Diego).
Photo: Sharon Mollerus / creative commons

200 Palm Canyon Dr, Borrego Springs, CA 92004, map

Distance: 86mi / 1 hr 50 min (map)
Things You Can’t Miss: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Galleta Meadows, Slot Canyon
What to Eat:
Carlee’s Place, Coyote Steakhouse, Red Ocotillo
Where to Stay: Borrego Valley Inn (luxury), Borrego Springs Resort & Spa (mid-range), Palm Canyon Hotel (budget), Search for Airbnbs

This two hour drive will take you to a different world. You will find art sculptures scattered throughout the desert. But if you wait until the sun goes down, it’s a designated International Dark Sky Community, so you get amazing star gazing and astrophotography here!

Borrego Springs (15 Popular Day Trips from San Diego).

2901 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262, map

Distance: 137 mi / 2 hrs (map)
Things You Can’t Miss: Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, Palm Springs Art Museum, San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm
What to Eat:
Chef Tanya’s Kitchen, Del Rey, Lappert’s Premium Gourmet Ice Cream
Where to Stay: Sparrows Lodge (luxury), The Palm Springs Hotel (mid-range), Fairfield Inn & Suites (budget), Search for Airbnbs

This is probably the most popular getaway for Southern Californians. Palm Springs offers glamorous pools, hot springs, stylish hotels, golf courses, and spas. It’s the perfect playground for adults. I feel like I might be the only one left who doesn’t have a photo in Palm Springs lounging in a donut or swan float! Another trip that we’re planning for fall, since we’ve been spoiled by SD weather.

Most Colorful Hotel - The Saguaro Hotel Palm Springs CA USA.

54270 Pine Crest Ave, Idyllwild, CA 92549, map

Distance: 113 mi / 2 hrs (map)
Things You Can’t Miss: Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness, Idyllwild Nature Center, Indian Vista Scenic Overlook
What to Eat:
Red Kettle, Ferro, The Town Baker
Where to Stay: Search for Cabins or Search for Airbnbs

This quaint town has over 50 trails to explore in the San Jacinto Mountains. You can even glamp here if you want to spend the night.

Idyllwild (15 Popular Day Trips from San Diego).

1313 Disneyland Dr, Anaheim, CA 92802, map

Distance: 95 mi / 1 hrs 25 min (map)
Things You Can’t Miss: Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Downtown Disney
What to Eat:
Anaheim Packing District, The Catch, Kaiba Japanese Restaurant
Where to Stay: Residence Inn (mid-range), Hyatt House (mid-range), Wyndham Anaheim (budget), Search for Airbnbs

Release your inner child and visit Disneyland! Since San Diego is close enough, we can even pick up an annual pass. If you don’t want to drop a lot of $$$, you can still explore Downtown Disney and the Anaheim Packing District (the new it place). If you do make it into the park, here’s a guide to 39 foods you need to try at Disneyland!

Disneyland (15 Popular Day Trips from San Diego).

453 S Spring St, Los Angeles, CA 90013, map

Distance: 120 mi / 1 hrs 55 min (map)
Things You Can’t Miss: Griffith Observatory, Venice Beach, Silver Lake
What to Eat:
The Pie Hole, Yu Chun, Porto’s Bakery & Cafe
Where to Stay: The NoMad Hotel (luxury), InterContinental Downtown (mid-range), The Tangerine (budget), Search for Airbnbs

Venice Beach, Silver Lake, and the Griffith Observatory are just a few places to explore and stay during your time in LA. There is plenty to do, see, and eat, and you could probably visit every weekend for the entire year and still have new things to do. We visit at least once a month and have hardly made a dent on our LA list.

Los Angeles Griffith Observatory (15 Popular Day Trips from San Diego).

6554 Park Blvd, Joshua Tree, CA 92252, map

Distance: 160 mi / 2 hrs 30 min (map)
Things You Can’t Miss: Arch Rock, Cholla Cactus Garden, Keys View
What to Eat:
Pie for the People!, Crossroads Cafe, Joshua Tree Coffee Company
Where to Stay: Holiday Inn Express (mid-range), Best Western (mid-range), Travelodge Inn (budget), Search for Airbnbs

There is plenty of outdoor activity for any level of fitness at JT. You can hike, rock climb, or just drive through this beautiful national park. It’s a great park for car camping or glamping in your airstream if you happen to get one of those rare spots.

Joshua Tree National Park (15 Popular Day Trips from San Diego).

Beal Rd, Calipatria, CA 92233, map

Distance: 150 mi / 2 hrs 30 min (map)
Things You Can’t Miss: Salvation Mountain, Salton Sea State Recreation Area, Painted Canyon Road
What to Eat:
Buckshot Deli & Diner, Town Pump Steakhouse, Virginia’s Casita
Where to Stay: Best Western (mid-range), Brawley Inn (mid-range), Calipatria Inn and Suites (budget), Search for Airbnbs

Can you imagine dedicating your entire life to one art piece? See Leonard Knight’s lifelong project to create something that displays “God is Love.” Also, visit Salton Sea while you’re there. The surface is 234 ft below sea level!

Pro Tip: Don’t go in the summer. It was brutally hot and we had to keep retreating back to the car for some AC. We’re so weak!

Salvation Mountain (15 Popular San Diego Day Trips).

CROSSING THE BORDER: We’re so close to Mexico!

13. Tijuana or TJ

Paseo de los Héroes 9350, Zona Urbana Rio Tijuana, 22010 Tijuana, B.C., Mexico, map

Distance: 19 mi / 20 min (map)
Things You Can’t Miss: Tijuana Cultural Center, Playas de Tijuana, El Popo Market
What to Eat:
Estación Federal, Casa Fortuna, Brasa Taqueria
Where to Stay: K Tower Boutique Hotel (luxury), Hotel Palacio Axteca (mid-range), Real Inn (budget), Search for Airbnbs

Cross over the border and visit the largest city in Baja California. Peruse the shops, get some delicious good, or just people watch. I hear mixed opinions about TJ. Some people say it’s a scary place, while other people tell me they go every other weekend and those other people are overreacting.

When we visited, we didn’t feel scared at all, so I wouldn’t be hindered from visiting from other people’s comments. Plus, we all might have different travel experiences and we also see through different lenses. As long as you keep an open mind and are aware of you’re surroundings, we believe it’s always a good time.

Tijuana (15 Popular Road Trips from San Diego).
Photo: Alejandro Cabrera / creative commons

14. Ensenada

Lázaro Cárdenas 1421, Bahia Ensenada, 22880 Ensenada, B.C., Mexico, map

Distance: 88 mi / 1 hr 50 min (map)
Things You Can’t Miss: La Bufadora, First Street, Riviera of Ensenada
What to Eat:
La Guerrerense, Tacos Fenix, Mantou
Where to Stay: Ojo Azul Resort (luxury), Hotel Coral and Marina (mid-range), Holiday Inn Express (budget), Search for Airbnbs

Have some of the most delicious fish tacos in the city where it originated. Then head over to visit the largest blowhole in the world. That pretty much sums up the whole city.

Ensenada (15 Popular Day Trips from San Diego).

15. Vall3 de Guadalupe

Carretera Principal 276, 22750 Valle de Guadalupe, B.C., Mexico, map

Distance: 82 mi / 1 hr 55 min (map)
Things You Can’t Miss: Xecue Vinicola, Monte Xanic, Casa Magoni
What to Eat:
Fauna, Las Güeritas, Taqueria La Principal
Where to Stay: Hotel Hacienda Guadalupe (luxury), Entrevalle Hotel Boutique (mid-range), Rancho El Matalote (budget), Search for Airbnbs

Valle de Guadalupe is called the Napa Valley of Mexico. They offer a great wine scene for a fraction of the price, and wine tasting is available year round.

Valle de Guadalupe (15 Popular Day Trips San Diego).
Valle de Guadalupe (15 Popular Weekend Trips from San Diego).
Photos: Rebeca Ancondo / creative commons

Most of these places are destinations we’ve already been to, but we still have a few planned in the near future! Have you been to any of these destinations? If you’re not from the socal, start putting a list together for your own city and share it with us in the comments below! :)

Map of Best Day Trips from San Diego

Which of these destinations are on your travel bucket list What’s your favorite day trip from your city?

See More Ideas for San Diego

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“Discovery consists not of seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes” – M. Proust

Esther + Jacob

Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, which is one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found both near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.

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