14 Must-Do Day Trips Near San Diego

We know what you’re thinking, “Why would I ever leave San Diego?!” and we completely agree. However, one of the best things about living in San Diego are all the great spots surrounding the city we call home.

So fill up your gas tank, pull out your favorite mix CD from high school, and take a day trip to one of these destinations.

Don’t worry, San Diego will be ready to welcome you with open arms when you return.

1. Julian

Travel time: 1 hour

The pie alone is worth the drive out to Julian, but when you throw in a gold mine tour, brewery visit at Julian Beer Co., tarot readings and more, this historic mountain town is the perfect day escape.

The winding stretch of Highway 78 will make you feel like you’re traveling back in time and arriving in Julian will confirm it. This tiny town’s main road may only be four blocks long, but there’s no shortage of things to do and stores to wander in.

2. San Clemente

Travel time: 45 minutes

Situated in the middle of Los Angeles and San Diego, this charming Spanish-inspired town offers plenty to see and eat. Walk down Avenida Del Mar, the main shopping street, and find your way to the pier.

Whether you choose to relax at the beach or find yourself a spot to drink at Fisherman’s on the pier, San Clemente is the perfect place to reset and rejuvenate.

3. Anza-Borrego Desert and Borrego Springs

Travel time: 2 hours

As the largest state park in California, there’s plenty to explore in Anza-Borrego no matter what time of year it is.

Sprinkled through the town of Borrego Springs are over 130 intricate metal sculptures of every creature you could imagine — from elephants to dragons. Each rust-colored sculpture is impressive on its own, but we recommend making a day wandering to find them all.

As an International Dark Sky Community, you’ll find no stoplights in this small town, but you will find plenty of places to stargaze when it gets dark.

4. Temecula

Travel time: 1 hour

Temecula can be enjoyed with your feet on the ground or in a hot air balloon — a popular activity in this wine town.

With over 40 vineyards, there’s no shortage of wine you can sample, provided you aren’t driving. Don’t skip over Old Town or its wooden boardwalks, and for the more athletically inclined, Temecula is home to some great golf courses.

5. San Juan Capistrano

Travel time: 1 hour

In 1796, work began on a large stone church with the vision that it would be the most magnificent mission in all of California.

Today, Mission San Juan Capistrano is known as the “Jewel of the Missions” and the town itself is just as charming with its Spanish Architecture. Although the Great Stone Church was mostly destroyed in the great earthquake of 1812, the tour of the Mission still provides stunning garden views and a fascinating history.

Take time to explore the rest of the town — there’s even a traditional British tea house.

6. Idyllwild

Travel time: 2 hours

If you’re looking to unplug, this small town nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains is the place to do it. Removed from the SoCal bustle and filled with picturesque A-frame cabins, Idyllwild has over 50 trails for hikers of all different skill levels.

Spend the day among the pine trees taking in the sweet cedar smell or wander around town and check out the shops — you can even find a jerky store that sells everything from alligator to kangaroo jerky.

7. Mount Laguna

Travel time: 1 hour

You don’t have to get up at sunrise to take the Sunrise Highway to Mount Laguna, but you won’t be disappointed if you do. As San Diego’s only alpine forest, this is a popular area for camping and overnight adventures, but there are still plenty of day hikes available.

You’ll come across several viewpoints on your drive, our recommendation is to pull over at every single one.

8. Los Angeles

Travel time: 2 hours

For anyone who gets too overwhelmed by the commotion and traffic of LA, a day trip is an easy way to take in some gems of the city without too much sensory overload.

We recommend arriving early in the morning to avoid traffic and starting with brunch because what is LA without brunch? When your stomach is full, check out one of the many museums, peruse the local shops in Venice, or hike a trail in Griffith Park.

9. Joshua Tree National Park

Travel time: 2. 5 hours

Named for the twisted, bristled Joshua trees, you can hike, rock climb, or simply drive and take in the scenery in this desert dream. At nearly 800,000 acres, this park straddles the Mojave Desert and the Colorado desert — two different landscapes and elevations, which create a unique, contrasting ecosystem.

If you’ve got time to spare, bring some blankets for when the sun goes down — Joshua Tree is perfect for stargazing.

10. Glamis and Imperial Sand Dunes

Travel time: 2 hours

The Imperial Sand Dunes are a whole other planet. Literally — it’s the filming location for Tatooine in Return of the Jedi. While you may not come face to face with the Sarlacc on your visit, you can rent a dune buggy, motorcycle, ATV, or even a horse to wander around these spectacular sand dunes.

11. Salvation Mountain and the Salton Sea

Travel time: 2.5-3 hours

A 28-year art installation in the making, Salvation Mountain is the creation of Leonard Knight and is now frequented by equal amounts of people and feral cats. What started as a small monument made of dirt and painted cement is now a sprawling, vibrant mountain complex complete with a yellow brick road.

Nearby is Salton Sea, California’s largest lake, which was created entirely by accident. Situated 234 feet below sea level, the Salton Sea has a fascinating history and even though the white sand beach is actually dead fish bones, it’s still worth a visit — if only to see what an apocalyptic town looks like.

12. Tijuana

Travel time: 30 minutes

Tijuana gets mixed reviews, but at There San Diego, we’re always ready to cross the border for a Tijuana adventure.

From Telefonica Gastro Park to street tacos to the plethora of mezcal tasting to Tijuana’s underrated craft beer scene, there is plenty to satisfy your taste buds. Known for their art and design, there’s no shortage of museums, galleries, and design shops to check out!

13. Ensenada

Travel time: 2 hours

Home of the fish taco — need we say more? Well, no, but we’re going to anyway.

This coastal city boasts plenty of delicious food to indulge in all day long. When you’ve had your fill of tacos and ceviche, relax at the beach, go sea kayaking, horseback riding, or get on one of the several outdoor excursions possible in Ensenada.

If you aren’t ready to leave after the sunset, you’re in luck — the nightlife here is not to be missed.

14. Valle De Guadalupe

Travel time: 2 hours

Known as the Napa Valley of Mexico, Valle de Guadalupe offers a low-key, authentic wine tasting experience. With over 100 wineries and counting, there are plenty of places to quench your thirst whether you opt for one spot or join a tour for some variety. While Valle is less commercial than its northern counterparts, the food scene is bustling — it’s not uncommon to enjoy a tasting while watching a Michelin-starred chef prepare your dinner.

See you there!

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