17 Amazing Road Trips That Are An Easy Drive From San Diego

We’ve been hunkered down for too long – it’s time to make some fun plans, and a road trip may be just the ticket! Lucky for us, there is no shortage of amazing road trips that are a short drive from San Diego.

So fill up your gas tank, load up your favorite playlists, grab that perfect road trip partner, and take a road trip to one of these destinations.

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. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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!

12. 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.

13. 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.

14. The Central Coast!

Travel time: 8 hours

The drive up the coast is easily one of the most beautiful drives in America. You get to witness SoCal turn into NorCal right before your eyes. We recommend making a few pit-stops along the way for views and food but even without stopping you will surely be able to capture the beauty of the central coast. Monterey is the top of the central coast and a must-visit when in the area, and they have great events planned for the summer!.

15. Yosemite

Travel time: 8 hours

If you live in California and haven’t been to Yosemite yet, a road trip is the best way to visit this popular national park. Take the coast for an even more exciting trip — it will take a few extra hours but the views and attractions are worth it. On the way you won’t want to miss these beautiful cities: Santa Barbara, Lompoc, and once you make it to Yosemite, you have even more ground to explore and make unforgettable memories in one of California’s most beautiful national parks.

16. Mammoth

Travel time: 7 hours

If you live in SoCal, a trip to Mammoth is a typical winter getaway but what most people don’t realize is just how beautiful Mammoth is all year round. If you love spending time in the outdoors, you will love this little town because they have so much to offer no matter the season. Take advantage of the beautiful weather and all the outdoor activities available during the summertime. You can camp or find an Airbnb in the heart of Mammoth close to shops and restaurants. Plan to spend a day taking in the beautiful lakes. Whether you decide to spend the day hiking or you prefer a day lounging on a boat, Mammoth offers something for your entire crew!

17. Vegas baby!

Travel time: 6 hours

Ditch the flight and experience the desert drive to Sin City. Make sure your AC is cranked up and plan your route beforehand. If you don’t mind the extra hour, add Joshua Tree to your route for beautiful desert landscapes and see the unique Joshua trees.  Once you arrive, drop your bags in your hotel room and make your way to the casino before you head to the pool for some well-deserved R&R.

See you out there, San Diego!

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