1. La Jolla
Only 14 miles from San Diego, the La Jolla coastline has numerous outstanding beaches in pristine natural settings.
Windansea Beach is a beautiful surfing site with strong waves that are best tackled by experienced surfers. This beach is often utilized for wedding photography and is famous for its stunning sunsets.
Take a guided kayak trip at La Jolla Shores to explore the magnificent La Jolla Sea Coves and search for stingrays and the brilliant orange Garibaldi fish.
Take a stroll along the beautiful La Jolla Coast Trail and catch a glimpse of the seals and sea lions. At La Jolla Cove, you can spend some time hanging on the beach while getting a closer look at these beautiful animals! The Birch Aquarium is a great place for families to visit, it exhibits a wide array of marine life, from rare weedy seadragons to colorful tropical fish.
For a more private and calm ambiance, go to Black's Beach, located near the University of California, San Diego campus and accessible through La Jolla Shores Beach via a rugged hillside walk. This quiet beach, protected from the wind by sheer cliffs, is great for relaxing and nature hikes. Clothing is not required on the northern section of Black's Beach.
Art enthusiasts will admire the globally famous collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (700 Prospect Street).
Downtown La Jolla is filled with excellent locations to explore. Prospect Street, Pearl Street, and La Jolla Boulevard, in particular, feature an abundance of restaurants, cafés, and shops, while Girard Avenue is home to several retail businesses as well as some unique antique and home décor enterprises.
Tourists can also take a self-guided tour of the Murals of La Jolla, an impressive creative project that features outdoor murals painted on buildings throughout the city.
Best time to visit: The months of the middle year provide quite pleasant weather with moderate-high temperatures. These months get the least precipitation, with around 0 days every month. June – August is La Jolla's biggest tourist season, therefore hotels and other accommodations may be more expensive than normal.
Driving distance and time: La Jolla is at a distance of 14 miles, roughly 20 minutes drive from San Diego.
2. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, with its gorgeous hiking trails, is one of the best day trips from San Diego for nature enthusiasts.
The Guy Fleming Trail is a short, simple trek that provides an excellent introduction to the park.
The half-mile circle Parry Grove Trail, located north of the visitor center, is quieter than the Guy Fleming Trail but still offers lots of seaside vistas and attractions.
Another popular trek in Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, the Beach Trail leads directly to Torrey Pines State Beach. Torrey Pines State Beach is a beautiful sandy beach ideal for strolling, picnicking, sunbathing, surfing, and watching hang gliders.
Take a short detour on the Yucca Point Trail to see one of the prettiest views at the park from the Yucca Point Overlook, where you’ll find panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.
The 2.5-mile Broken Hill Trail is one of the longest walks in Torrey Pines State Reserve and is accessible through a half-mile walk from the upper day-use parking lot. Halfway down the walk, you'll come to a branching in the route. One path goes to the Beach Trail, from where you may descend to the beach, while the other goes to the Broken Hill Overlook.
High Point Trail is more of a Stairmaster workout than a walk. You must ascend 300 feet to reach Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve's highest point — the summit of High Point Trail.
The reserve protects the uncommon Torrey pine, which is found only in this region and in the Channel Islands. The breathtaking environment has weathered sandstone rock formations that seem to be from another universe.
Best time to visit: Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a great destination any time of year.
Driving Distance and time: Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is around 15.8 miles, a 20-minute drive from downtown.
3. Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
If you want to spend the day outside, bring a picnic lunch and visit Cuyamaca Rancho State Park! The park has picturesque landscapes, including trees, rivers, and meadows, as well as opportunities to see birds and animals. From spring through autumn, you'll see a variety of wildflowers, and in the autumn, the leaves' colors are spectacular.
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park has approximately 100 miles of trails and is ideal for hiking, horseback riding, and biking. Bring your binoculars, as this area has been said to be home to over 200 kinds of birds! If you're traveling with little children, the one-mile Indian Trail is quite level and follows a creek.
Consider the Stonewall Peak Trail for picturesque scenery. Alternatively, the fairly challenging Juaquapin Trail offers stunning views and the possibility of seeing animals. The Cuyamaca Peak Trail ascends 1,700 feet to the park's highest point, providing panoramic views of the deserts, the ocean, and Lake Cuyamaca, which is close down the road if you want to go kayaking.
Best time to visit: Fall is the best time of year to visit Cuyamaca Rancho State Park when leaves are changing colors and the temperatures are near perfect.
Driving distance and time: La Jolla is at a distance of 43 miles, roughly 45 minutes drive from San Diego.
With two lovely gardens, magnificent beaches, a tranquil nature preserve home to dozens of bird species, and a walkable center, Encinitas is an ideal day trip from San Diego.
Visit the San Diego Botanic Garden, one of the most magnificent botanical gardens in the state of California. Four miles of walking routes wind their way through themed plant exhibits.
The park is home to a wonderful collection of palms from across the globe and the largest bamboo collection in the nation. The Self Realization Fellowship Hermitage & Meditation Gardens are well worth a walk since they provide wonderful views of the lake.
Birders and wildlife enthusiasts will appreciate the neighboring San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve, which is home to over 300 kinds of birds. Swami's Beach is a pleasant stroll at low tide, or you may see the surfers from above. Downtown Encinitas is densely packed with cafés, shops, and restaurants and is an excellent walking area.
Best time to visit: The perfect time to visit Encinitas is from June through November when temperatures are comfortable and rainfall is minimal.
Driving distance and time: Encinitas is at a distance of 26 miles, roughly 30 minutes drive from San Diego.
Rosarito, a Mexican tourist town situated on the Baja California Peninsula between Tijuana and Ensenada, is home to a variety of stunning beaches. However, there are other enjoyable activities available here! Surfing, scuba diving, jet-skiing, ATV rides, and ziplining are all available to adventure junkies.
The Local Artisan Market has hundreds of stores selling handmade goods. Explore the winding passageways for apparel, leather, Talavera ceramics, blankets, and jewelry.
Plaza Pabellón is home to clothes stores, restaurants, and coffee shops. And don't forget about the furniture. Rosarito is home to carpenters, iron artists, and sculptors, all of which have showrooms filled with one-of-a-kind furniture.
However, did you know that there is a film studio located here? Baja Studios was originally developed in the 1990s for Twentieth Century Fox's Titanic and is now a self-contained production complex with some of the world's biggest stages, scenery shops, dressing rooms, and shooting tanks. It covers over 46 acres and has over 3,000 feet of coastline for shooting.
Popotla, a little fishing village located only 10 minutes south of downtown Rosarito, is a must-see for anybody visiting this region of Mexico.
Best time to visit: The best time to visit Rosarito for general outdoor tourist activities is between mid-June and mid-October, with the third week of August being the peak.
Driving distance and time: Rosarito is at a distance of 32 miles, roughly 45 minutes drive from San Diego.
Julian, a little mountain town, is one of the most popular weekend escape spots from San Diego. Julian, located in the Cuyamaca Mountains, is especially popular in the fall when visitors can pick their own apples and learn how to make cider at an adjacent orchard. However, fall definitely is not the only time of year to enjoy this charming town!
In 1870, gold was found in Julian, although mining operations lasted just around 30 years. Today, guided tours of local gold mines are available, as is gold panning. Boat rentals are available at nearby Lake Cuyamaca, ranging from kayaks to pontoon boats. There are several hiking paths to explore on foot, horseback, or bike.
In town, go along the main street and explore the many art galleries and boutique shops for locally created arts and crafts, antiques, and even old-fashioned confectionery. You could even catch a live concert by one of the area's musicians. Taste local wines and hard ciders, dine at locally-owned restaurants, and taste a piece of Julian apple pie!
Best time to visit: Julian is a great destination any time of year.
Driving distance and time: Julian is at a distance of 60 miles, roughly an hour and 15 minutes drive from San Diego.
7. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a magnificent treasure trove of stunning desert landscapes, lush oasis, birds and wildlife, spring wildflowers, and even large outdoor sculptures. It is one of the coolest day trips from San Diego you can do.
The Spanish term "Borrego" translates as "sheep," and the other half of the park's name relates to Juan Bautista de Anza, a Spanish explorer who traveled this isolated desert in 1774.
Begin your visit in the lovely Visitor Center, where you may get information on activities and wander the property's tiny walks for a quick introduction to the local flora. The Slot and Wind Caves are both great walks in the park, but you can also take the easy-to-access Borrego Palm Canyon Trail, which has an oasis and the possibility of seeing bighorn sheep.
Anza-Borrego is California's biggest state park, covering more than 600,000 acres, so there is much to see and do. Ricardo Breceda's colossal sculptures of ancient animals provide for fantastic picture opportunities, and the spring wildflower bloom in Anza-Borrego may be breathtaking.
Best time to visit: Winter and early spring are the finest times to visit Anza Borrego.
Driving distance and time: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is at a distance of 73 miles, roughly an hour and 35 minutes drive from San Diego.
Carlsbad is a great day trip destination for people who wish to relax on the lovely beaches and visit the many parks and museums.
Carlsbad is a popular Southern California vacation for families with children due to its proximity to Legoland. The theme park is home to more than a dozen attractions, including roller coasters, as well as a water park, and several interactive play zones.
The flower fields of Carlsbad Ranch come alive in the spring, with carpets of ranunculus blooming in shades of red, pink, white, and yellow. Bloom often starts in March and peaks in early April. South Carlsbad State Beach is a must-see for beach lovers: the almost five-mile stretch of beautiful sand is ideal for family fun and water sports.
For history aficionados, a visit to Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park is a must. Bring your camera to capture images of the adobe ranch's peacocks! Museum enthusiasts may visit the GIA Museum which features gems and jewelry or the Museum of Making Music, which features historical musical instruments and music from various eras.
Best time to visit: Summers are nice and winters are moderate, making the city an excellent year-round visit.
Driving distance and time: Carlsbad is at a distance of 35 miles, roughly 40 minutes drive from San Diego.
9. Palomar Mountain State Park
Palomar Mountain State Park is situated on Mount Palomar's western flank. The park has stunning pine woods and alpine meadows reminiscent of the Sierra Nevada and is an excellent day trip from San Diego for anybody who enjoys the outdoors, especially in the summer.
There are numerous miles of hiking trails in the park, and Doane Pond is a popular place for trout fishing and photography. Drive to Boucher Lookout or stroll the Boucher Trail to the observation deck for spectacular views. Additionally, make sure to trek to the historic Boucher Hill Fire Tower's summit.
Additionally, travel to the adjacent Palomar Observatory for a self-guided tour of the 200-inch Hale Telescope (or a guided tour, if one is given during your stay!). For many years, it was the biggest telescope in the world. You cannot see through it, but just viewing it is amazing!
Best time to visit: The best time to visit the park between April and September.
Driving distance and time: Palomar Mountain State Park is at a distance of 62 miles, roughly an hour and 20 minutes drive from San Diego.
10. Laguna Beach
While Laguna Beach is a delightful beach location with seven miles of stunning coastline, it also offers a range of outdoor activities. Therefore, if you like spending time in nature, make your way to Laguna Beach!
With over two dozen beaches and coves in Laguna Beach, you're sure to discover the perfect place for swimming, surfing, snorkeling, diving, stand-up paddleboarding, or tide-pooling. Beaches like Thousand Steps and Treasure Island encourage exploration and play.
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park has a diverse network of hiking routes ranging in difficulty from easy to severe. The renowned Laurel Canyon Climb is 3.6 miles round trip and leads to a seasonal waterfall. Enjoy the blossoms in the spring and keep a lookout for wildlife!
Consider one of the Alta Laguna Park trails that begin at the Top of the World parking lot and offer breathtaking views of the lake. If you like mountain biking, there are various off-road trails to explore.
If you appreciate street art, you'll love strolling around Laguna Beach and enjoying over 100 public art installations, including murals, sculptures, and signage.
The JoAnne Artman Gallery (326 North Coast Highway) is home to an award-winning collection of museum-quality art from both public and private collections. The Laguna Art Museum (307 Cliff Drive) focuses on California art created by indigenous artists or on a theme related to state history.
Best time to visit: The months of April to May and September to October are ideal for visiting Laguna Beach.
Driving distance and time: The distance is 80 miles, and it takes around an hour and 15 minutes to drive from San Diego.
Idyllwild, California's lovely mountain town, is surrounded by breathtaking landscape and provides for an ideal day excursion into nature. As the entryway to Mount San Jacinto State Park, the town may be combined with a visit to the park if you start early.
Numerous hiking and mountain bike paths allow for the exploration of the forest areas around the town. The Idyllwild Nature Center, located on California Highway 243, mixes displays on area nature and fauna with hiking trails.
If you prefer a flat, easy hike out in nature, head to Lake Fulmor.
Mount San Jacinto State Park has around 30 hiking trails ranging from moderate to tough, and many give beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and desert valleys. Downtown Idyllwild has a few quaint shops and art galleries, as well as numerous excellent restaurants.
Idyllwild Regional Park is 200 acres in size and has five hiking trails. The park, which is located on the outskirts of town, is an excellent location for meeting with family or friends.
Are you set for a wine tasting? On North Circle Drive, the Middle Ridge Winery specializes in premium wines.
The Idyllwild Arts Academy provides instruction in a variety of disciplines, from contemporary dance to basket weaving. The public is welcome to attend their summer concerts and art displays.
Best time to visit: June is the best time to visit Idyllwild due to the moderate daytime temperatures and the proper quantity of moisture in the air.
Driving distance and time: The distance is 113 miles, and it takes around an hour and 45 minutes to drive from San Diego.
Temecula is well-known for its wines, golf courses, and festivals, which combine to make it one of the most sophisticated and pleasurable day excursions from San Diego.
Hike across the spectacular Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve or around Vail Lake in search of animals and birds. You may also go biking or horseback riding, or if you arrive before sunrise, you may go ballooning over the valley.
If you're eager for a long hike, the Dripping Springs Trail in the Agua Tibia wilderness is well worth the effort. The trail is 13.2 miles long and ascends around 3,000 feet. It's best to hike it in the spring to view the wildflowers and in the autumn to watch the leaves change color.
Explore Temecula's Old Town. Temecula's shopping district is a pleasure to stroll around even if you have no intention of purchasing due to its charming old-fashioned architecture and ambiance.
Visit the Native American Pechanga Resort & Casino, the state's largest casino, which also has golf.
Best time to visit: Though Temecula is a great destination any time of year, the best time to visit Temecula is from April to November.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 58 miles, and it takes around an hour to get there from San Diego.
This bright beach town in Baja California is the second-largest cruise ship port in Mexico. Ensenada's picturesque port and waterfront location make it a popular tourist destination. Bear in mind that you will need your passport for your day trip south of the border!
The region around Ensenada is renowned for its excellent sandy beaches and mountains. Mountain riding, hiking, and rock climbing are popular activities in the two national parks around Ensenada.
Additionally, there are activities in the Ensenada area like surfing, fishing, kayaking, and scuba diving.
If you travel during the winter, make a reservation for a whale-watching excursion. For the winter, California grey whales migrate to the seas of Baja California, where they may be seen on trips to the Bay of Todos Los Santos.
A must-see is a visit to La Bufadora, the world's biggest underwater blowhole. Even if you miss the blowhole in action, the sights provide an excellent picture opportunity.
Avenida Lopez Mateos is lined with vibrant dresses and ponchos, as well as hats and jewelry. Additionally, go down the Malecon, the waterside promenade, where you can view the large Mexican flag flapping in the air. It's very lovely here around sunset! Dine at a beachfront restaurant while listening to mariachi music.
Best time to visit: The best time to visit Ensenada is October-April.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 89 miles, and it takes around two hours to get there from San Diego.
14. Crystal Cove State Park
Crystal Cove State Park in Orange County, with its more than three miles of coastline, outstanding tide-pooling, and spectacular hiking, is an amazing day trip from San Diego.
Crystal Cove State Park has 18 kilometers of hiking trails with skill levels ranging from beginner to strenuous. Lower-elevation trails meander through woodlands and along seasonal Moro Creek. Binoculars are recommended if you like bird watching.
Moro Beach is a lovely place where you may take a stroll along the beach, rent a kayak, or try bodyboarding or stand-up paddleboarding.
Alternatively, take the short trail at Reef Point down to Scotchman’s Cove. Or walk the Pelican Point coastal bluff trail: enjoy the water views and look for wildlife.
There are swim and dive locations in Crystal Cove: Moro Beach and Muddy Creek are excellent swimming spots.
Additionally, Crystal Cove has a variety of tidal pooling areas. Bring your wetsuit if you like to snorkel or scuba dive in the protected underwater area.
Additionally, this park offers mountain biking and equestrian riding.
Best time to visit: The ideal time to visit is fall. The weather is perfect and there are fewer crowds.
Driving Distance and time: Crystal Cove State Park is around 86 miles, an hour and 20 minutes drive from San Diego.
15. San Juan Capistrano
San Juan Capistrano, anchored by its ancient Spanish mission, is a must-see for those who appreciate history and culture. However, the city also offers fantastic shopping and restaurants, making it an ideal day trip from San Diego.
Founded in 1776, Mission San Juan Capistrano is called "the Jewel of the Missions" and is surrounded by lovely gardens ideal for wandering.
You may take a self-guided audio tour of the museum's chambers and historic displays, as well as see Father Junipero Serra's, Serra Chapel. Additionally, explore the Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano, which has a Spanish-designed Grand Retablo.
Take a stroll around the Los Rio Historic District, where you can view some of the colonial era's original adobe dwellings. Visit the O'Neill Museum, which was erected in the late nineteenth century and was formerly home to renowned citizen Jose Dolores Garcia.
While seeing the ancient sites, be sure to stop by the stores offering exquisite local arts and crafts!
Driving Distance and time: San Juan Capistrano is around 67 miles, an hour's drive from San Diego.
Oceanside, a delightful coastal getaway with magnificent sandy beaches and a small-town ambiance, is an excellent day trip from San Diego at any time of year. O'side, as residents call it, has historic landmarks and a bustling waterfront, in addition to fantastic picture opportunities and a plethora of enjoyable activities.
Visit South Oceanside's commercial sector, which is home to unique local stores where you may explore for gifts. Additionally, the region is home to a slew of excellent restaurants.
You may meander around Oceanside Harbor's adorable New England-style village. You may do whale viewing or stand-up paddleboarding from here. It's an excellent location to see the sunset!
Harbor Beach is another excellent walking location. The jetties provide an excellent vantage point for photographing the Oceanside Pier, which juts out about 2,000 feet into the sea.
History aficionados will enjoy the museum and gardens of Mission San Luis Rey, one of the last Spanish missions established in California, while art enthusiasts will appreciate the Oceanside Museum of Art.
Best time to visit: Oceanside is a great destination any time of year.
Driving distance and time: Oceanside is at a distance of 38 miles, roughly 40 minutes drive from San Diego.
17. San Clemente
San Clemente, a seaside city with a delightful little town ambiance, might be a refreshing getaway if you're seeking for a laid-back day in the sun. San Clemente's magnificent beaches, bordered by sandstone cliffs, and Spanish architecture will captivate you.
T Street and San Clemente State Beach are two excellent beaches for sunbathing. Take a whale watching tour or participate in water sports.
The San Clemente Beach Trail offers excellent views of the Pacific Ocean, easy access to the beach, and views of the lengthy San Clemente Pier. Another popular spot for walking and seaside eating, as well as sunset viewing, is the pier.
Casa Romantica Cultural Center & Gardens, once the residence of Ole Hanson (founder of San Clemente), is a must-see for its gorgeous architecture and landscapes. It is located on the hills and offers views of the pier.
Enjoy the benefits of shopping on Avenida Del Mar. Enjoy wine or craft beer samples, as well as delicious cuisine at nearby eateries.
Best time to visit: San Clemente is a great destination any time of year, while travelers prefer the months of April through September, then December through February to avoid the Eastern winter.
Driving distance and time: San Clemente is at a distance of 60 miles, roughly an hour's drive from San Diego.
While families with children may consider Disneyland one of the best day trip ideas from San Diego, adults will also find much to do. One day is insufficient to enjoy all of Disneyland's rides and attractions, but if you're prepared for a long and thrilling day, you can fit quite a bit into a single visit.
Arrive a bit early if you want to try some of the popular rides during the day. Explore Fantasyland, which has popular attractions such as Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, the Mad Tea Party, and It's A Small World.
Enjoy Tomorrowland's Space Mountain and the brand-new and very popular Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
Riding the Disneyland Railroad or the Mark Twain Riverboat is a great way to see the park. Choose between Splash Mountain, Jungle Cruise, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, or the Matterhorn in the evening.
Visit Pirates of the Caribbean and New Orleans Square for lunch. Take photographs of Sleeping Beauty Castle!
Driving distance and time: The distance is 97 miles, and the drive time from San Diego is around one hour and 35 minutes.
19. Palm Springs
Palm Springs, with its desert canyons and bustling downtown, is one of the best day trips from San Diego to another city.
If you like trekking, go to Indian Canyons: the Murray Canyon trail is 3.7 miles long and leads to a stunning waterfall. The two-mile Andreas Canyon trail is particularly gorgeous since it follows a stream and is blanketed in wildflowers throughout the summer. Coachella Valley Preserve, situated just outside of town, is home to a plethora of hiking tracks.
Another breathtaking natural site is Mount San Jacinto, a 10,000-foot snow-covered summit accessible by aerial tram. From the 8,500-foot drop-off point, the views of the desert below are stunning.
Palm Springs, despite its distant setting, offers an astonishing array of cultural activities and events. The Palm Springs Art Museum has an extraordinary collection of American, Native American, and Western American art, as well as Mesopotamian artifacts.
The Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture & Architecture Center is located in a nationally designated historic site and is a must-see for anybody who appreciates mid-century modern architecture.
Best time to visit: The best time to visit Palm Springs is between January and April when the weather is the most hospitable.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 140 miles, and it takes around 2 hours and 10 minutes to get there from San Diego.
20. Los Angeles
Los Angeles is filled to the brim with attractions and activities! Today, Los Angeles is a culturally diversified metropolis with a reputation as America's creative capital. Visitors will discover a vibrant culinary scene, excellent shopping, world-class museums, and family-friendly activities.
Sunseekers visiting to enjoy the pleasant weather and beaches will discover a plethora of activities and unique districts.
Visit the TCL Chinese Theatre, walk along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, then trek or horseback ride to the renowned Hollywood sign.
If you stroll through Griffith Park, you may also visit Griffith Observatory, which offers spectacular views of Los Angeles. Alternatively, you may spend a portion or the whole day at Universal Studios.
If you're a beach enthusiast, spend the day at Santa Monica or Venice Beach, where you may stroll down the boardwalk or along the bluff in addition to spending time on the sand or in the sea. Sunset at the Santa Monica Pier is an excellent way to round off the day!
If you're a museum or garden enthusiast in Los Angeles, you're spoilt for choice: select a few destinations for a leisurely visit in combination with some shopping and food.
Best time to visit: The perfect time to visit Los Angeles is during the months of March, April, September, October, and early November, when temperatures are normally warmer and the city is less congested than during the summer. June, July, and August are the busiest months for tourists.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 120 miles, and it takes around 2 hours to get there from San Diego.
New to our blog? Check out these guides to learn more about other popular day trips in the United States!