The great thing about visiting San Diego is there are plenty of things to see and do within the city limits. What do you do when looking for a little more than a Central San Diego itinerary can provide? When the appetite for adventure kicks in, there are plenty of options for hitting the open road for a day trip from San Diego.
Day Trips From San Diego You Will Love
One of the unique aspects of San Diego is that within an hour or two of the city, you can be in the deserts, mountains or on the beach and waterfront. As a resident for over 20 years, I have enjoyed numerous day trips, often turning them into weekend trips. Here are twelve of the best day trips from San Diego to satisfy any visitor.
Julian is one of the closest day getaways, a historic former mining mountain town with a Main street downtown full of shops and eateries. It's one of my regular trips for its wine, beer, and cider options. While any season is a great time, fall brings festivals, and winter can bring snow for visitors in the area who aren't used to enjoying snow. Make sure to indulge in a piece of apple pie made from locally grown apples.
This mountain town, at 6,000 feet elevation, is a two-hour drive from San Diego, where numerous outdoor activities exist, such as fishing, rock climbing, and hiking. The real treat is enjoying the hipster downtown at the heart of Idyllwild. Vintage, thrift, and crystal and gem shops are among the choices for perusing and shopping. Small cafes and restaurants, including Idyllwild Brewery and Middle Ridge Winery, are popular stopping points.
3. Mount Laguna
Just 20 miles southwest of Julian and easily accessible from Interstate 8 out of San Diego, Mount Laguna boasts more outdoor adventure. Situated on the edge of the Cleveland National Forest with close access to the Pacific Coast Trail, tranquility is a major attraction. There's also an outstanding Observatory from which to view the night sky. Camping is one of the best ways to turn this into a weekend stay, and the options are plentiful to do so.
4. Borrego Springs/Anza Borrego State Park
This day trip to the desert East of San Diego should not be missed. The town of Borrego Springs is small but features thrift shopping and eateries. As an official Dark Sky community, star gazing is at a premium here and is one of my favorite pastimes. Summer months are usually best avoided due to extreme heat, but catching the Super Bloom in early Spring is a highlight.
There are options for every style and budget to make it a weekend stay. These include camping, RV parks, glamping retro RV rentals, and motels and hotels. I've tent-camped, gone glamping in a retro trailer, and used a motel, and you can't go wrong with any of those choices.
The Temecula region is about an hour north on the inland side and is known for its wine country offerings. Check out Old Town Temecula for a very doable and enjoyable day trip, known for its history, shopping, and eateries. I have created my own wine country tours and have gone along with organized tours such as Grapeline. Tours can either start from Temecula or to and from San Diego.
6. Campo/Lake Morena
Although still part of San Diego County, visitors will feel a world apart from the hustle and bustle of city life. Lake Morena County Park sits at a 3,000-foot elevation south of the Laguna Mountains. As an outdoor lovers paradise, camping, hiking, kayaking, and fishing are leading attractions. You may also encounter hikers along the Pacific Coast Trail.
7. Baja California, Mexico
One of the unique aspects of San Diego is its proximity to the Mexican border, where beaches, shopping, and tacos and margaritas await. The food and hospitality in Baja are the reasons to consider this trip. One can stay nearby in Tijuana or venture further south to Rosarito, Ensenada, and the Valle de Guadalupe wine region. There are ways to take public transit taxis and hire a private driver or tour guide for those who don't want to drive.
Note: This day trip requires more planning and documentation than the other trips. Be sure that all visitors have a valid passport the car has the proper insurance for Mexico, and plan ahead for a potential long wait at the border upon the return.
8. Dana Point
Dana Point features a host of things to do on any day trip, including beaches, shopping, and dining. In addition, the Dana Point Harbor is a great starting point for whale watching, fishing, kayaking, and other water activities. In addition, a trip to the Ocean Institute will teach visitors all about sea life.
9. San Juan Capistrano
This historic city, 66 miles north of San Diego, is a must-do for any history lover. One of the main attractions is the San Juan Capistrano Mission, known as the birthplace of Orange County. In addition, is, the Los Rios Street Historic District packed with great restaurants, quaint shops, and art. It's an easy 90-minute train ride on Amtrak's scenic Pacific Surfliner, perfect for a car-free day.
10. San Clemente
It's one of the shortest day trips just an hour north of San Diego. Known as a surf haven and for its historic pier, this coastal city also features boutique shopping, restaurants, and beach hiking. One of the highlights here is a stop at Pedro's Tacos, a staple since 1986. A visit to Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens, the former home of the city's founder, features stunning views of the city and coast from above.
11. Long Beach/the Queen Mary
Nested in between Orange County and Los Angeles, it is the perfect medium of both. Long Beach has 8.5 miles of coastline and is about 110 miles from San Diego. There's more than just the beach, though, as a visit to the Queen Mary and the Aquarium of the Pacific are great for any family member. There are many places to stay to make it a weekend getaway, including aboard the Queen Mary, which operates as a floating hotel.
Disney and theme park lovers can make a day trip to Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure Park a day trip from San Diego. It's 95 miles by car, or you can take the train to Fullerton and then a shuttle bus to the entrance. It would be better to spread this across two days for the ultimate experience if attempting both parks. Ample resorts, hotels, and motels are available to make it a great weekend–or longer–getaway.
Adventure awaits no matter which direction you head out on the road from San Diego. The day or weekend trip options are abundant—from mountains to deserts, beaches, water sports, and more. There is enough to experience in each location to make a return trip enjoyable. Choosing where to go might just be the hardest part.