San Diego is America’s finest city for a reason. There’s so much to do just in the city alone, with its plethora of food options and excellent breweries, seaside hiking opportunities and all that terrific beach time. But if you’re able, you shouldn’t ignore all of the places waiting for you that are perfect for a San Diego day trip.
From historic mining towns to wine tastings, hiking opportunities to a little bit of glitz, these day trips have it all. Check out the 10 best day trips you should consider on your next visit to San Diego.
It takes just over an hour to get to Julian, but once you’re there it’s as if you’ve stepped back in time. The mountain town in the Cuyamaca Mountains has historical significance, as well, as the site of most of the gold rush activity in Southern California. If you’re there with the family, you can even pan for gold at the Eagle Mining Co.
If that’s not interesting enough, it’s also home to the best pie you’ll find in this corner of the country, thanks to the apple orchards that surround the town. You don’t need to try just one, but you should start with the most well-known among your options: Julian Pie Company. The pie’s in the cider, too, best attempted at Julian Hard Cider. Those fall flavors make this a perfect day trip come autumn, because you’ll be able to see the leaves changing there, as well. That’s a rare site in San Diego, home to perpetual sun.
Address: Julian, CA
Just over the border, a little over half an hour past Tijuana, you’ll come across the coastal Mexican town of Puerto Nuevo. This is the spot for indulging in delicious, fresh lobster without breaking the bank. Try it the local way; they fry it here. And don’t forget to wash it down with a cold Mexican beer or margarita. When in Mexico, do as the locals do!
Popular lobster spots while you’re there are Casa de la Langosta, Villa Ortegas and Angel Del Mar, but it’s hard to make a mistake here. Find the spot with the most people at any given time, grab an ocean view table and enjoy the food and the views. A good crowd likely means the eatery has some fresh catch to share with you.
As an added bonus, Puerto Nuevo is about 20 minutes south of Rosarito, another popular stop on a road trip into Mexico. On your way back into Mexico, you can relax on the beaches there, as it’s a well-known resort town in these parts!
Address: Puerto Nuevo, Baja California, Mexico
Get up early enough and you just might beat rush hour traffic into Los Angeles, an ambitious but doable day trip from San Diego. If you’re lucky, the trip should take up around two-and-a-half hours. You’ll likely still have to choose just an area or two once you’re there to make the trip most efficient, as traffic jams make it hard to get from point A to point B without wasting too much time.
If you’ve never been, by all means go the tourist route. Yes, the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard is cheesy. But it’s also a good time. Don’t miss the quintessential Los Angeles beaches of Santa Monica, Malibu or even Venice, for a bit more character, land of bodybuilders and quirk. Finish the day off with some California cuisine; Los Angeles is the Southern California food scene. Or, if you’re on a budget, explore the city’s food diversity in its ethnic enclaves. Koreatown is demographically diverse, but its food options are all Korean. It’s delicious.
Address: Los Angeles, CA
Also Read: Top 10 Amazing Places to Visit in California
You may not consider Southern California to be a mecca for wine, but it has a growing community of solid winemakers in Temecula, about an hour north of San Diego. The region is known for its variety, but tends toward Spanish, Italian and French styles. That means you’ll find lots of sangiovese, syrah and zinfandel on menus, among others.
A popular stop is the Briar Rose Winery for its fairytale vibes, in addition to its delicious wine. In between the tastings at the more than 30 wineries in the region, visit the historic Old Town square, and sample the olive oils. Temecula is all about local production, from its wines to its souvenirs to its dining.
Address: Temecula, CA
Speaking of wines, San Diego is also less than two hours away from Mexico’s premier wine-making region: the Valle de Guadalupe. In addition to award-winning wineries, many of which focus on blends, you’ll have access to some exciting Baja cuisine, including some of the best fancied-up tacos you’ll ever consume.
While a self-drive is certainly doable if you have a designated driver, Mexico wine trips are best enjoyed with a guide who knows the area well. That way, all you have to worry about is which wines to purchase as souvenirs; each person can cross the border with two bottles!
Address: Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico
Also Read: The Best Breweries in San Diego
If you’re looking for an adventure in the desert, Borrego Springs is about a two hour’s drive from the city. Outdoor enthusiasts will love the hiking opportunities at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. If you happen to be there during wildflower season, which is typically in early spring, try the Borrego Palm Canyon and Hellhole Canyon hikes. The second is poorly named; there’s nothing hellish about waterfalls and a canyon decorated in palm trees.
Address: Borrego Springs, CA
Idyllwild, a pretty idyllic spot for any nature lover, is just over two hours away from San Diego. If you’re not up for camping, there’s plenty you can do with your day in the San Jacinto Mountains. If you’re hiking, there are over 50 trails to choose from while you’re there, including a section of the Pacific Crest Trail.
For scenic views and some good exercise, try the Ramona Trail, 7.6 miles of elevation gain that pays off with generous views all around for sections where you’ll be climbing. The Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail is an easy five-mile forested path through the local wildflowers, and its turnaround spot is a perfect place for a picnic lunch. Wherever your explorations take you, just make sure you’re packing bug spray!
Address: Idyllwild, CA
Palm Springs is best enjoyed on a weekend, but if you’re motivated enough to beat morning traffic, you can make the trip from San Diego in a little over two hours. This is an adult destination, full of options for spas and relaxing in lazy rivers, gourmet shops and dining, and, if you’re a golfer, lots of opportunities to hit the links.
For views of the Coachella Valley, ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, a series of rotating tram cars that take you up to the Mt. San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness area. Once you’re there, you can take it easy and enjoy the views or tackle some of the trails that originate there. There are more than 50 miles’ worth.
Address: Palm Springs, CA
It’s not a list of day trips from San Diego if it doesn’t include Anaheim. And it’s not a visit to Anaheim if you’re not visiting Disneyland. Seriously, though. What else should you be doing in Anaheim? The drive to Anaheim can take up to two hours from San Diego, but you can cut that down by leaving before the morning rush hour.
You’ll want to get there as gates open anyway, as you’ll have a jam-packed day once you’re there. Plan ahead for this one, especially if you’re looking to experience Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
You should be making reservations for your visit there on the Disneyland app or on the relevant pages for each unique experience, so that you’re not shut out upon arrival.
Address: Anaheim, CA
For a more casual vibe that’s not quite as far as Los Angeles, Long Beach is a great alternative. If you time it right, you can usually get there in about two hours from San Diego. While you’re there, stroll Bluff Park for some stellar people-watching - it’s the city’s hub for outdoor yoga classes and other outdoor exercise - and a seaside path that includes a bronze statue of the Long Sailor. He stands as a tribute to others who have served and lost their lives in the sea services.
Another popular area is Naples, and it’s just what you’d expect it to be, a series of canals that open up into the bay and just beg you to imagine doing the same in Venice. It’s a great spot for paddle-boarding, a popular South California activity.
Address: Long Beach, CA