14 Fun Day Trips from San Diego

San Diego is one of the prettiest cities in California, but the area surrounding San Diego, is stunning as well! While on a trip here, you don’t want to miss taking some fun day trips from San Diego. 

I recently returned to San Diego for a third trip and had an amazing time! My husband and I were able to explore some of the prettiest surroundings that this special part of Southern California has. From beaches to mountains to exploring cities, there’s tons of great day trips from San Diego you can take. 

This list goes by distance from downtown, with the closest places listed first and furthest toward the end. It includes areas considered part of San Diego that are a special community with regional and state-wide significance that retain their own small-town character and civic pride.

la jolla cliffs san diego
inside la jolla sea cave

1. La Jolla

20 minutes

La Jolla is one of the most popular places near (technically in) San Diego to visit and for good reason! La Jolla is a coastal community very close to downtown San Diego known for its rugged coastal line, small town feel, and sea life that can be seen year round.

Grab breakfast at The Cottage, check out the many art galleries, hike along the coast on the Coastal Walk, and get out on the water! There’s plenty here to keep you busy on a day trip from San Diego!

Last, while you’re in La Jolla, make sure you go kayaking in La Jolla Cove into the sea caves there (we kayaked with Everyday California and couldn’t recommend them enough!). On our trip, we saw dolphins, sea lions, and lots of other fish. You can also snorkel, paddle board, or rent a surf board through Everyday California at 50% off if you take a tour with them! Of course, rentals are great through them, even without a tour.

La Jolla is also a great place to stay while visiting San Diego if you prefer a coastal vibe to the city.

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cabrillo national monument light house san diego
point loma tide pools san diego

2. Cabrillo National Monument (Point Loma)

20 minutes

Point Loma is a beautiful and historic peninsula in San Diego, well worth a visit during a trip to San Diego! The highlight of Point Loma is Cabrillo National Monument and the coastal beaches and cliffs to explore.

Cabrillo National Monument is part of the US National Park system and commemorates the landing of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, the first European to set foot on the West Coast of the United States. 

This park is open 9 am to 4:30 pm and visited by passing through the Navy Station before paying a $10 fee to enter. There is an incredible view of San Diego from the monument and on a clear day you’ll see a 360 view of what feels like all of Southern California and Northern Mexico! 

Consider hiking from the lighthouse to the tide pools on the new ocean view trail or you can drive down to the tide pools and hike from there.

While here, don’t miss the tide pools and visiting Sunset Cliffs cave. Timing for both of these is important because you cannot get to the caves or enjoy the sea life in the tide pools during high tide. Plan the time of day you’d like to visit in advance!

tiajuana

Photo by DAVID NIETO on Unsplash

3. Tijuana

30 minutes

 Tijuana is just across the boarder and very easy to visit from San Diego, as long as you’ve brought your passport! It is a vibrant city with a rich cultural scene, lively nightlife, and numerous attractions to enjoy on a day trip.

While in Tijuana, explore the vibrant art scene in the cultural district, which includes galleries, museums, and performance spaces. Don’t miss the street art and murals scattered throughout the area. You can also head to Avenida Revolucion, which is full of shops, restaurants, bars, and great street vendors. 

There are also several beaches near Tijuana to explore. Playas de Tijuana is right in Tijuana and has a scenic boardwalk great for biking, taking a stroll, and enjoying the views. A short drive away, you’ll find Rosarito Beach, known for its water sports and vibrant nightlife.

san diego zoo safari park animals
San Pasqual Valley winery near san diego

4. San Diego Zoo Safari Park + Wineries

40 minutes

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is an 1800-acre zoo in the San Pasqual Valley area of San Diego, California, near Escondido. It is one of the largest tourist attractions in San Diego County and definitely worth a visit! 

This is not your traditional zoo. The safari park offers really unique experiences like the balloon safari, Africa tram, zipline safaris, and walk-through safaris. You get to be up close and personal with the animals in this huge park. They even offer a roar and snore safari, where you can sleep just outside the African Savannah exhibit, too, which is so unique! As someone who has been on two safaris, this is as close as it gets without actually going on one, I’d say.

Nearby, in San Pasqual Valley, you’ll find some lovely wineries, too. It’s the perfect way to end a day of walking and enjoying yourself. We chose to stop at Orfila Vineyards & Winery, which had amazing red wines and great views.

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four moon spa carlsbad near san diego
carlsbad state beach cliffs near san diego

5. Carlsbad 

30-45 minutes

Carlsbad makes a great day trip offers a lot of different activities whether your traveling with your family or on your own. It’s home to LEGOLAND California Resort, Carlsbad Flower Fields (seasonal in spring), and pristine beaches. Carlsbad Village offers quaint shopping and dining options too.

While on the way back to San Diego, consider checking out Encinitas too. Four Moons Spa for an incredible massage, facial, or yoga session. The spa and staff are lovely, and you’ll enjoy their special tea blends before or after a massage in their gardens for extra relaxation! Fish 101 has amazing fresh seafood at a great price.

We stayed in Carlsbad during our trip to San Diego, and it was a great spot for our trip! We loved being near the beach every day, taking our bike cruisers along the cliff sides, and the relaxed feel here. 

waterfall in cuyamaca state park
hiking in cuyamaca state park

6. Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

50 minutes

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is a state park in inland San Diego County, Southern California, United States, located 40 miles east of the San Diego metropolitan area. The day fee is $10 and the hiking here was beautifu. Lovely meadows, waterfalls, woodland forests with pines… There are over 100 miles of trails which accommodate hikers, bikers, and equestrians. 

This is great to pair with Julian (later on this list) since Julian is just a short drive from this state park. We hiked Green Valley Falls and it was beautiful! Bring your towel and swimsuit to jump off the rocks and cool off in the falls.

temecula

Photo by Jim Witkowski on Unsplash

7. Temecula

One hour

Temecula is located in the desert, just about an hour from San Diego. It offers a variety of activities for all kinds of travelers, especially those who enjoy wine! It has a laid back atmosphere that people love, making it a chill day trip.

While in Temecula you have to visit some of the wineries in the Temecula Wine Valley. California has a lot of lesser known wine regions that are still worth a visit and this is one of them! Temecula is one of the most varied wine regions in the state as far as the number of wine varietals it produces.

If you’re traveling with a mix of people who like different styles of wine, you’ll find it all here. A few I’d suggest are Wilson Creek Winery, Ponte Winery, and South Coast Winery Resort & Spa.

Old Town Temecula, with its historic buildings, plenty of art galleries, and antique stores, is also worth a visit. It’s been preserved from the 1800s and offers fun for everyone.

The last (and arguably coolest) thing that Temecula is known for is hot air balloons. The views of the valley and vineyard are stunning! If you don’t want to go into the air, head to a winery like Carter Estate Winery where you’ll likely see balloons overhead!

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cleveland national forest

Photo by Sarah Sheedy on Unsplash

8. Cleveland National Forest

One hour

Named for President Grover Cleveland, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the executive order creating this forest on July 3, 1908 (unlike Cleveland, Ohio). This area has many different beautiful hikes and contains portions of the famous Pacific Crest Trail hike that spans from Southern California to Washington State.

There are several different scenic hiking trails here, from mountain views to waterfall escapes. If you’re visiting in the summer, this area can be extremely hot with little cloud cover, so be prepared with plenty of water and check trail conditions ahead of time! Check out their website for the best trails and conditions.

swimming at beach in laguna beach at sunset
swimming at beach in laguna beach during sunset

9. Laguna Beach

One hour 15 minutes

Laguna is a coastal town in Orange County known for its beautiful coastline. It has some of my favorite beaches near Los Angeles, but it also makes a great trip from San Diego for a day!

Some of my favorite beaches in Laguna are 1000 Steps Beach (check out the sea saves and tidepools here), Victoria Beach (look for the tower), and Pearl Street Beach. The unique beaches, tide pools, and few tourists make these beaches the perfect spot to relax.

In addition to beaches, Laguna also has a great art scene and plenty of art galleries with various local and international artists on display. Ocean Avenue and Forest Avenue are particularly popular for shopping and dining!

visiting high peak mine in julian
downtown historic julian

10. Julian

One hour 30 minutes

Julian is a charming mountain town that started off during the gold rush with several mines closeby. Today, it continues to thrive as a charming town due to the apple orchards and tourists who visit the historic town. 

Visit a gold mine on a tour, taste apple pies from the competing pie shops in town, and visit a local orchard while here. This is a great spot to visit in conjunction with hiking in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park if you don’t want to hike all day!

The historic downtown is fun to go shopping in for homemade goods, support local artists, and find unique souvenirs. This town gets crowded on the weekends with others on day trips, so finding parking may take a few minutes, but you’ll have a blast!

disneyland

11. Disneyland

One hour 35 minutes

If you’re like me, you love the Disney magic that is found in their parks! Disneyland is in Anaheim about one hour and 35 minutes from San Diego. It is the original Disney park and was world’s first-ever theme park of its kind, that opened in 1955. 

Disneyland is a long day trip, but totally possible from San Diego! The park is much smaller than Disney World, but is comprised of many different lands including Main Street, U.S.A., Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, New Orleans Square, Critter Country, and Mickey’s Toontown.

Each land features a unique blend of attractions, shows, and dining experiences that transport visitors to different worlds and eras. Iconic rides like Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion, along with parades, fireworks, and character meet-and-greets, make Disneyland a magical destination for families and fans of all ages.

valle de guadalupe

12. Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico

Two hours
 
About an hour’s drive from Tijuana, this wine region is known for its beautiful vineyards and wineries. It’s an excellent day trip for wine tasting and gourmet dining. The valley is surrounded by mountains on three sides and absolutely beautiful.
 
Because of it’s unique location, cool ocean air comes inland to form a Meditteranean microclimate with hot days and cool nights. This makes it great for visitors and keeps the temperatures mild, but is also great for the wine. It’s home to over 150 wineries and a great day trip from San Diego year round.
standing in front of venice beach life guard stands
hollywood sign in los angeles

13. Los Angeles

Two hours

Los Angeles has so many amazing things to do on a day trip. Famous for Hollywood, Griffith Observatory, Santa Monica Pier, and so much more, there are endless things to do here.

If you’re taking a day trip to LA, I’d recommend starting your morning in Venice Beach on Melrose Ave for breakfast. From there, continue driving on to see Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood sign. Loop down to Hollywood to see the Walk of Fame and Chinese Theater.

In the afternoon, head to either downtown LA to visit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and La Bria Tar Pits or head to Santa Monica for some beach time. Finish off your day with dinner and drinks either in downtown LA or in Santa Monica.

hiking in joshua tree

14. Joshua Tree National Park

Two hours 45 minutes

The last of our day trip suggestions is Joshua Tree National ParkIt’s characterized by rugged rock formations and stark desert landscapes. Named for the region’s twisted, bristled Joshua trees, the park straddles the cactus-dotted Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert, which is higher and cooler. It’s a very cool and unique national park!

Joshua Tree is in the desert, and days can be extremely hot. However, with proper planning ahead, you’ll do great! There are also lots of shorter hikes in Joshua Tree that you can do in a relatively short amount of time, making it great for a day trip.

Although the park is spread out, you can easily see a lot in a day. Make sure you check out the many unique cactuses and rock formations throughout the park. My favorites are Cholla Cactus Garden, Skull Rock, Arch Rock, and Hidden Valley.

I hope these San Diego day trips have given you inspiration for your next trip! You’ll love anywhere around San Diego that you get to explore. It’s truly such a beautiful area of California worth exploring. 

Meghan

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