9 Best day trips from San Diego – mountains, deserts & beaches

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San Diego County, in California. Here are some of our absolute favorite day trips from San Diego.
Let’s explore a different side of San Diego.

How often have you told yourself that you want to travel more? Most probably more often than not. However, that thought is usually followed by a list of excuses as to why you can’t. 

One of the popular ones being, “I don’t have money for this”. Don’t let that thought stop you – check out these simple, yet efficient tips to save money for your next trip

You can see and do a lot in just a single day trip from San Diego, California. Think of its sunny beaches, green mountains, extensive deserts, quaint towns, theme parks, and spectacular vineyards. 

Those of us visiting San Diego County are lucky with the large number of choices we have of places to visit and explore. Here are some of my absolute favorite day trips from San Diego.

 

Popular day trips around San Diego

Whether you’re on vacation or a local resident here looking for new things to explore, the ideas below are worth updating your road trip song playlist for. 

 

  • The San Diego Zoo

A tiger in the San Diego Zoo.
Me-ow!

Located in Balboa Park, the zoo is one of the city’s biggest attractions. Each year it welcomes over five million visitors. Each person excited to explore the 100 acres of exhibits and habitats.

The San Diego Zoo is home to over 3,700 rare and endangered animals. It also has an extensive botanical collection with over 700,000 plants. 

No matter what time of the year you visit, there’s plenty to do at the zoo. From taking guided tours to witnessing impressive animal shows and encounters.

If you’re looking for a great way to spend the day outdoors, a visit to the San Diego Zoo is perfect for the whole family, or even by yourself.

Tip: excited to go to the zoo but not looking forward to paying the full price? Find out how you can get San Diego Zoo tickets at a discounted price. 

 

  • Beer tasting on the Hops Highway

Hops Highway is located about 35 miles north of downtown San Diego. This stretch of road is home to dozens of craft beer breweries and taprooms. Every beer lover’s dream. 

If you are unclear about where to start your beer journey, don’t worry. Check out this list dedicated to all the San Diego craft beer breweries

Just be sure that before you embark on your craft brewery tour you have a designated sober driver. Or make sure to go as part of a tour so that they can drive you around.  

Book your beer tour here: San Diego Craft Brewery Tour

If you like craft beer have a look at our guide to the best breweries in New York and be inspired for another trip.

  • Wine tasting in Temecula

Wine tasting in Temecula makes up for one of the best day trips from San Diego.
Wine tasting? Count me in.

Is beer-drinking not your thing? No stress, I have you covered. Just drive about 60 miles north of San Diego and you’ll hit Temecula. A smaller city that is known for its wonderful wine, marvelous vineyards, and fun-packed wine tours. 

With over 30 wineries that are easily accessible, sampling wines of Temecula makes for a great day trip from San Diego. However, for those that are less interested in wine, Temecula has more to offer. 

There are fine golf courses, outdoor activities, and Old Town Temecula – the historic center of town. You will find an abundance of restaurants, shops, and cute antique deals here. It is definitely worth spending some of your day here. 

Check prices for wine tours here: Temecula Wine Tour with Tastings and Lunch

 

  • Julian Mountain

The tree-covered mountain town of Julian is known for its gold panning and apple picking. Located 60 miles northeast of San Diego, this town allows you to get a taste of the rural, mountain lifestyle. 

Once a mining town, you can now roam the small village center and enjoy its shops and surroundings. Those looking to do something active can enjoy a stunning hike or horseback ride in the mountains. 

Before your day comes to an end, don’t forget to pick up some famous Julian apple pie.

 

  • Hike in the Anza Borrego Desert
The Anza Borrego Desert is a great escape from the city and one of the best day trips from San Diego for stargazing.
Just imagine the beautiful night sky over here.

Looking for some peace and quiet in the middle of nowhere? The Anza Borrego Desert is a great escape from the city. As it’s California’s largest national park, there are tons of beautiful hiking trails for you to explore. 

The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is also known for its stargazing. Come nighttime and you have stunning views for stargazing, some of the most stunning views of the stars. The park is an official night sky community, meaning that the park and village actively work together to protect dark night skies over the southern California desert.

Don’t forget to buy your Travel Insurance!

We use World Nomads and SafetyWing. Just click on the name of the company and book your insurance now. If you need more information, read our Travel Insurance Guide here.

 

  • Palomar Mountain 

At 6,142 feet, it is one of the highest places in San Diego County. A scenic 70-mile drive will take you from downtown San Diego to the summit. Here you will find forests, meadows, hiking trails, fishing spots, and beautiful picnic areas. 

It is also home to the Palomar Observatory which hosts the giant  200-inch Hale telescope. You can take a tour of the magnificent dome and learn how the telescope was created and built. 

 

  • La Jolla Shores Beach

Surfer at La Jolla Shores Beach, which is one of the best places to take surf lessons in San Diego.
La Jolla Shores Beach 🏄

Wanting to spend a day at the beach? Floating around in the water and bathing in the sun? Then La Jolla Shores Beach is the perfect place for you. It’s the largest stretch of flat sand we have, which means there is plenty of space for everyone, even on crowded days.

The ocean here is typically excellent for swimming. But those looking for more action can find it on the north side, where surfing is allowed. It’s one of the best places to take surf lessons in San Diego. The way the reef is formed causes waves to break in a gentle manner.  

Book your surf adventure here: 1.5-Hour Surfing Lesson

 

  • Mount Laguna

Located right off the Sunrise Highway, roughly an hour’s drive east from San Diego’s city center, is Mount Laguna. An ideal location for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and reconnect with nature. 

With countless hiking trails, for both beginners and the more experienced, the spectacular landscapes make it a real treat.

If you happen to visit during the winter months, be aware that the area does get snowfall a couple of times a year. When it does snow, you are able to ski, go sledding, and hold a snowball fight.

 

  • Tijuana, Mexico 

Tijuana sign, in Mexico. Only a 30-minute drive from downtown San Diego, Tijuana is a great place to consider when looking for a San Diego day trip idea.
Bienvenido a Tijuana!

This Mexican town is located just over the border and only a 30-minute drive from downtown San Diego. As such Tijuana, Mexico, is a great place to consider when looking for a San Diego day trip idea. 

Visiting Tijuana is a great opportunity to experience the Mexican culture. You can expect to find quaint shops selling souvenirs and street vendors lining the boulevards. Be prepared to “negotiate” for the best price and don’t be shocked when children and adults ask you for a dollar or two.

While exploring and sightseeing Tijuana make sure to stop at the Tijuana Cultural Center. It is both an art museum and a cultural exhibition area. Avenida Revolucion is also worth a visit, as is the tourist center of the area.  

Check prices: 5-Hour Tijuana City Sightseeing Tour

 

Final thoughts on the best San Diego day trips

A beach in San Diego, California, USA. Surrounding the city there are nature escapes, historic towns, vineyards and many day-trip opportunities.
Such a lovely place.

So, that concludes the list of my favorite places around San Diego for a day trip. Even though it’s not your average city, whether you are a local or a tourist, you might get the urge for a change in scenery. 

And who could blame you when surrounding the city there are historic towns, vineyards, nature escapes, and an opportunity to easily get another stamp in your passport. 

I’ve tried to include activities suited to a wide range of tastes, budgets, and interests. Now there is only one thing left to do and that is to book your next trip to San Diego. 

 

Looking for more travel tips to the United States? Read our guides to USA here!

 

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The best day trips from San Diego are waiting for you. Ideas of what to do around San Diego, California, USA. Inspiration for all types of travelers and residents, from beer and wine tasting to outdoor activities and beaches near San Diego, we covered it all. We also recommend some unique tours to add to your San Diego day trip. #sandiego #sandiegocalifornia #sandiegodaytrips #sandiegodaytripsideas #sandiegothingstodo

 

Image credits:
Image 1 by Daniel Guerra, Image 2 by Jessica Weiller, Image 3 by Kelsey Chance, Image 4 by Ethan Dow, Image 5 by Casey Horner, Image 6 by Gautam Krishnan, Image 7 by MontyLovall on Unsplash.

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