San Diego is known for many things. The scenery is magnificent, the locals are extremely friendly people and the weather is always great. Oh, and don’t forget that food! While there are many things to do in San Diego for tourists, one thing that visitors to the city should not forget to do is to get out of town on some day trips. There are some wonderful places to visit and things to see and do outside of San Diego.
Overall, California is a stunning place to visit. There are so many incredibly beautiful places to visit throughout California, and the area around San Diego is home to many of these iconic places. Here are our picks for some of the best day trips from San Diego.
1. Beaches in La Jolla
La Jolla is known for its magnificent beaches, breathtaking ocean view and the majority of activities you can take part in, including sunbathing, water-sports or strolling along the endless shoreline. This place is only 22 miles away from San Diego and you can either visit it on your own if you rent a car, or you can hop on one of the many buses that stop in downtown San Diego.
La Jolla offers visitors various beaches all of which are unspoiled and extremely quiet. Windansea Beach is great for the more adventurous among you wishing to experience some great surfing opportunities thanks to its powerful waves. If you want to snorkel or go diving, you can visit the La Jolla Cave. On the other hand, if you wish to spend the afternoon swimming and sunbathing, there is no better place than La Jolla Shores. A wide, sandy and quiet beach with calm waters is the key element of this area.
2. Whale Watching Tour/ Harbor Cruises
During the migration season, you can go on a whale watching tour and have the opportunity to watch some beautiful whales and their babies from very close. The whales, both the grey and blues species, come to lagoons of the California Coast in Mexico. The trip will allow you to see migrating whales, and other marine life, as well. Apart from the two major species of whales mentioned above, you may be lucky enough and spot some other unique whales, like an orca or a finback whale.
If you wish to enjoy a cruise on the bay, along with the whale watching tour, then you can reserve a place for one of the many harbor cruises that are held daily. Luxury whale watching ships with an open-air observation deck and a professional local guide promise to make this experience unique and well-worth your time and money.
3. Visit Los Angeles for a Day
The city of Los Angeles is only a two-hour drive from San Diego. You can visit the city by car or via the scenic coastal train that departures daily from San Diego. Known for its vivid atmosphere and being one of the largest cities in the world in terms of culture, arts, and history, the city of LA is exactly what you have heard about on TV. Celebrity Homes, The Walk of Fame, Beverly Hills, Hollywood… all awaiting you for a visit.
Los Angeles is also, known for its night-life and exclusive bars. Griffith Park and Observatory should not be missed and if you are traveling with your kids, you may want to make a short stop at Universal Studios.
4. Palm Springs
Palm Springs is a well-known desert resort city in California. The resort lies about 136 miles northeast of San Diego and it is the perfect blend of midcentury and modern life. Whether you wish to explore the city and its unique architecture or you just wish to enjoy a cocktail next to a sparkling pool, Palm Springs has you covered.
Downtown Palm Springs hosts the popular Palm Springs Art Museum where you can browse works by Picasso and Warhol. For the outdoor adventurers, there is the option of visiting the Indian Canyons, where miles of trails blend with palm trees and crystal-clear waterfronts. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway takes you higher into the San Jacintos and enables you to admire some wonderful views of the valley below.
5. Joshua Tree National Park
If you are a nature lover, you should not miss the opportunity to visit Joshua Tree National Park. The park is situated about 164 miles away from San Diego. A variety of plants and animals and surreal geologic features constitute this unique natural environment. Nicknamed J-Tree by locals, this place offers visitors some great sunset views and some panoramic sightseeing of Mount San Jacinto.
You can go on the four-mile hike trip and reach the Lost Horse Mine. There, you will have the chance to learn some interesting facts about the history of the park and its famous gold mining ruins. Alternatively, you can go on a walking tour to the Keys Ranch. If you hike up to Keys View, you’ll be able to admire some spectacular view of the Coachella Valley.
6. Visit Carlsbad
Carlsbad is the neighboring city of San Diego. Only a 45-minutes drive from San Diego and easily accessible by train, bus and taxi, Carlsbad is known for its Sea Wall and Tamarack Surf Beach. However, the biggest attraction in this city, suitable for the whole family is the popular Legoland. This huge theme-park offers a variety of rides and attractions, including impressive slides, pirate vessels, wave pools, and an interactive aquarium.
If you choose to go on a day trip to Carlsbad, do not miss visiting the nearby Batiquitos Lagoon Trail, as well. The trail offers visitors a series of activities, including bird watching, running, hiking and walking. Don’t forget about the amazing food tours in Carlsbad as well.
7. Temecula, California
About 58 miles from San Diego and accessible by bus or car, Temecula is a historic city surrounded by vineyards and rolling hills. Visitors typically choose this destination for its unique cuisine and variety of activities, including hiking, biking, and most importantly, hot air ballooning. However, the true hallmark of Temecula is the series of wineries it consists of. More than 30 wineries lie across the city of Temecula and are responsible for the production of some award-winning wines.
Different types of grapes, varying from cooler-climate ones, like Chardonnay to warm-weather varieties, including Grenache, are all cultivated in the wineries of Temecula and await visitors for a taste. You can stroll along the huge surface of those wineries and see the thousands of flowers, including some spectacular roses that grow there, as well.
8. Julian, California
The historic town of Julian is located about 62 miles east of San Diego. You can easily visit this Gold Rush city by car, tram, bus, taxi or Uber. The traditional atmosphere surrounding this city, its old buildings and horse-drawn carriages make this otherwise quiet city a highly-visited tourist destination. Julian is known for its fresh-baked apple pies and at the end of each September, the Julian Apple Days Festival is held. The festival attracts families and includes some great events, including games for kids, singing, dancing and a lot of tasty apple pies awaiting you for a bite.
Julian is also, popular for its California Wolf Center. This center is dedicated to offering wild wolves a place to live safely. Visiting this center requires renting a car and the road can be a bit rough and difficult to navigate at times. However, when you reach your destination, you will be excited to watch some rare grey wolves from nearby. Lastly, do not miss the opportunity to visit the Julian Farm and Orchard where you can take part in the gathering of strawberries, raspberries, pumpkins and of course apples.
9. Ensenada, Mexico
A day trip to Ensenada is definitely worth your time when you visit San Diego. Only 100 miles from the city of San Diego, this seaside town is considered Mexico’s second-largest port. Luxury spas, high-class restaurants, and golf courses can be found across the town. For the outdoor adventure enthusiasts, the city offers a variety of stunning beaches and activities like kayaking and scuba diving are well worth a try.
Instead of driving yourself to Ensenada, you can go on an organized tour and have the chance to learn some of the histories of this place, as well. Although many compare Ensenada to the city of Tijuana, mainly because both cities offer tourists a taste of Mexico, Ensenada is a quieter and more peaceful place, ideal for every type of tourist, compared to the much fussier Tijuana.
10. Mountain Scenery and Hiking in Idyllwild
About a two-hour drive and easy day trips from San Diego lies a picturesque mountain village, named Idyllwild. Ideal for hiking and strolling along, this place lies in the heart of a pine forest. A lot of different trails are available for you to follow depending on your physical structure and available time. The scenery is magnificent and the clean breathing air is gonna make you wish to spend another day in this peaceful natural environment.
The town of Idyllwild offers visitors some great restaurants and shops where they can purchase some local goodies or artworks. In August, the city becomes the center of the ”Jazz in the Pines” music festival.
11. Mission San Juan Capistrano
San Juan Capistrano is considered one of the most interesting missions in San Diego and for good reason. It is situated in a lovely natural setting only 66 miles north of the city and it’s surrounded by a unique landscape full of rolling hills and palm trees. Although the mission is partially in ruins, visitors can still admire the traditional Spanish architecture and the delightful gardens where you can stroll along listening to the pleasant sound coming from chirping songbirds.
The church of Mission San Juan Capistrano is the oldest one in California and it is still in use. The site is fully accessible to tourists and there is also, the option of going on a guided tour. Before you take your leave, do not forget to visit the museum and appreciate some great historical reenactments. Visitors can reach this beautiful destination in 3 ways: by car, train or bus. The cheapest and easiest way to reach San Juan Capistrano is by car, but you can still use a bus or train departing from San Diego. The journey lasts about 1h 30m.
Which Day Trips Do You Want to Take from San Diego?
With so many available day trips from San Diego, it is only natural that you may feel a bit overwhelmed when trying to decide what day trip to take. The key thing to keep in mind is how much time you have, transportation, and your personal interests. There are plenty of things to do outside San Diego for food lovers, history buffs, wine enthusiasts, hikers, surfers and more! But whatever you do, be sure that you enjoy your visit to San Diego and the nearby area to its fullest!