Planning a day trip from San Diego? Here are some of the best spots to visit.
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!
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Last Updated: November 20, 2023
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 a 2-hour driving distance will be in Part II – Weekend Getaways!
400 Carlsbad Village Dr, Carlsbad, CA 92008, map
Distance: 35 mi / 35 min (map)
Things You Can’t Miss: Beaches, Flower Fields, LEGOLAND
What to Eat: Blue Ocean Robata & Sushi Bar, Campfire, Beach Plum Kitchen
Where to Stay: Search for Carlsbad Hotel Deals
2. Julian, California
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, Heroes Wood-Fired Pizza, Jeremy’s on the Hill
Where to Stay: Julian Hotels Deals
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!
3. Mount Laguna, California
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: The Pub at Lake Cuyamaca, The Outpost by Valley Farm, Descanso Junction Restaurant
Where to Stay: Search for Hotels and Rentals in Mount Laguna
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.
3rd St, Temecula, CA 92590, map
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!
5. San Juan Capistrano, California
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, Ramos House Cafe
Where to Stay: Search Hotel Deals in San Juan Capistrano
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.
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 Springs Hotel Deals
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!
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: FARM, Elmer’s Restaurant, La Bonita’s
Where to Stay: Search Palm Springs Hotel Deals
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.
2901 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262, map
Distance: 113 mi / 2 hrs (map)
Things You Can’t Miss: Mount San Jacinto State Park, Idyllwild Nature Center, Indian Vista Scenic Overlook
What to Eat: Red Kettle, Ferro, The Sunflower
Where to Stay: Search for Rentals and Hotels in Idyllwild
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.
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: Craft By Smoke & Fire, Detention, Reunion Kitchen + Drink
Where to Stay: Anaheim Hotel Deals
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!
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: Los Angeles Hotel Deals
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.
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: JT Country Kitchen, Sky High Pie, The Natural Sisters Cafe
Where to Stay: Search Joshua Tree Rentals and Hotels
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.
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, Ski Inn
Where to Stay: Search Hotels Near Salvation Mountain
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! Just avoid going in the summer. It was brutally hot and we had to keep retreating back to the car for some AC. We’re so weak!
Crossing the Border: We’re So Close to Mexico!
13. Tijuana or TJ, Mexico
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: Restaurante Caesar’s, Lion Fish, La Espadana
Where to Stay: Search for Tijuana Hotel Deals
Cross over the border and visit the largest city in Baja California. Peruse the shops, get some delicious food, 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 by 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 your surroundings, we believe it’s always a good time.
14. Ensenada, Mexico
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, Birrieria’s La Guadalajara
Where to Stay: Search Ensenada Hotels
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.
15. Valle De Guadalupe (Guadalupe Valley), Mexico
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: Carnitas El Alteno, Estragos, Restaurante Viena
Where to Stay: Search for Valle De Guadalupe Hotels and Rentals
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.
Map of the Best Day Trips from San Diego
Best Places to Stay in San Diego
Which of these destinations are on your travel bucket list? What’s your favorite day trip from the city?
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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, one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found 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.