San Diego Day Trips Attractions Things to Do

Day trips near san diego

If you’re looking for something to do this weekend, here are our top picks for day trips in and around San Diego, California.

Day trips near san diego

1. La Jolla 7 Sea Caves

Enjoy a guided kayak tour along the coast of La Jolla’s famous seven sea caves. This family-friendly adventure is popular with both locals and tourists. Chances are you might get a little wet, but it’s all part of the fun. Tour groups can paddle inside Clam Cave, the largest of the seven caves, depending on the tide and the wave’s size.

A trip to the seven sea caves should be on your San Diego bucket list if you want a fun way to spend the day.

Day trips near san diego

2. San Diego Harbor Cruise

A San Diego Bay Cruise is a great way to start any trip to San Diego. Get acquainted with the city onboard a comfortable multi-level passenger ship. Indoor and outdoor seating is available, and an area expert narrates the cruise.

Cruises depart from downtown San Diego near the USS Midway aircraft carrier. Both one or two-hour cruises are available. Highlights include amazing views of the San Diego skyline, an up-close look at substantial naval ships, and sailing under the Coronado Bridge.

Day trips near san diego

3. Old Town San Diego

History buffs will want to take in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. Covering nine square blocks, Old Town State Historical Park showcases the period from 1821 to 1872. Points of interest include California’s first schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, the state’s first newspaper office, and Seeley Stable Museum.

Admission and parking are free, making Old Town San Diego State Historical Park a fun, affordable day trip destination. Nearby attractions include Old Town Model Railroad Depot (free admission) and Heritage County Park, a neighborhood of restored Victorian homes.

Day trips near san diego

4. San Diego Zoo Balboa Park

San Diego Zoo offers a full day of family fun. Arrive early because this zoo is enormous. Located in Balboa Park, a short drive from downtown San Diego the zoo covers over 100 acres. Getting around the zoo is made more accessible by a gondola lift called the Skyfari and double-decker buses making four stops.

Plan on walking several miles and visiting all the exhibits at the zoo. If all this sounds too much, a 40-minute guided tour bus lets you see most of the park while seated. You can easily spend an entire day here visiting all of the exhibits.

Day trips near san diego

5. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Torrey Pines State Park is a beautiful wilderness reserve in San Diego County. If you are a nature lover, it’s one of the wildest stretches of land on the Southern California coast! With over 2,000 acres of untouched land, the reserve has long stretches of beachfront and a fantastic lagoon home to migrating birds.

Day trips near san diego

6. Julian California

Julian’s historic gold mining town is located in the mountains 60 miles east of downtown San Diego. Once a booming hub during California’s gold rush, this rustic but charismatic hidden gem retains much of those times’ charm and atmosphere.

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Julian is a popular year-round day trip. Although the apples are the biggest draw to Julian regarding other fun, there is plenty to do.

Day trips near san diego

7. Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Cuyamaca park contains many different climates, terrains — mainly made up of a woodland oak forest, with a few pine trees and several meadows with seasonal creeks– historical sites (both Indian and Californian), and loads of adventure.

The park contains many different climates, terrains — mainly made up of an oak woodland forest, a few pine trees, and several meadows with seasonal creeks– historical sites (both Indian and Californian), and loads of adventure.

Day trips near san diego

8. San Diego Botanic Garden

San Diego Botanic Garden is a 35-acre paradise of garden trails featuring flowering trees, plants from all climates worldwide, desert to tropical, and the world’s most extensive bamboo collection.

The four-mile trail is divided into 24 separate gardens by climate. You will witness one of the world’s most diverse collections of plants. As you walk through canyons and hillsides, observing the habitats, many hidden nooks offer a chance to sit and relax.

Day trips near san diego

9. Oceanside California

When it comes time for a beach getaway, Oceanside is a must-see destination. Located in San Diego County, within minutes of countless attractions nearby San Diego but gives you a place to unwind and enjoy the small beach town atmosphere.

No trip to Oceanside is complete without a stop at the California Surf Museum. Opened in 1986, it celebrates surfing history in California with exhibits, films, and participation in local events.

Day trips near san diego

10. San Elijo State Reserve

San Diego’s County San Elijo State Preserve is a great place to get out and enjoy nature. Cool ocean breezes make the preserve a perfect year-round day trip destination. Annie’s Canyon trail features mushroom caves and a passage through a narrow slot canyon that ends with a ladder you must use to climb out of the canyon.

The star of the San Elijo State Reserve is the beautiful lagoon and surrounding pockets of shallow pools. As you walk the trails through the park, you will see the blue slips of water that give the park its trademark “wetlands” classification.

Day trips near san diego

11. Mission Trails Regional Park

Mission Trails Regional Park is just a few miles from downtown San Diego. The park has nearly 6,000 acres of hills, valleys, and open areas and is a popular destination for locals and out-of-town visitors.

One of the more exciting things to see in the park is the Mission Dam. Built across the head of Mission Gorge, the 244-foot-long dam was used to supply water to Mission San Diego de Alcala.

Day trips near san diego

12. San Diego Mission Basilica De Alcalá

San Diego Mission Basilica De Alcalá holds the proud title of being the first California Mission built along the West Coast. But beyond its incredible historical significance, the mission boasts a vibrant and active role in San Diego’s community.

Founded in 1769 by Father Junípero Serra as the first of the twenty-one missions that make up the California Mission Trail, San Diego de Alcalá is the Christian religion’s birthplace on America’s West Coast.

Day trips near san diego

13. Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo Monument is an easy drive from just about anywhere in San Diego. Located on a southward-jutting finger of Point Loma, the small park is an oasis of nature and military history. The monument commemorates the landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo at San Diego Bay in 1542. Trails lead down to some of the best tidepools in San Diego.

Aside from the lighthouse, museum, and tide pools, there is the Coast Defense Exhibit, another tiny museum covering the history of Fort Rosecrans, which encompasses the park.

Day trips near san diego

14. Mission San Luis Rey Oceanside

Mission San Luis Rey de Francia is one of the most beautiful in California. Mission San Luis Rey is the largest of the California missions and is adorned with a wooden dome.  One of the most exciting mission structures is called the Lavanderia. It served as an open-air laundry, a bathing site, and a place to wash clothes.

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Mission San Luis Rey museum is open for self-guided tours daily, Monday-Friday, 9 am – 5 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 10 am – 5 pm. The Last time begins at 4:30 pm.

Day trips near san diego

15. Vista Antique Tractor Museum

Operated year-round, the museum has nearly 1,000 volunteers helping to maintain and repair the equipment. A weaving room and a blacksmith workshop are on the grounds, where visitors can watch artisans hard at work. Tractor shows are held biannually in June and October.

The weaving exhibit features historic looms from the Civil War era up to today’s contemporary technology. It showcases a variety of spinning and weaving artistries, many of which are woven on-site.

Day trips near san diego

16. Carlsbad Flower Fields

Carlsbad’s seasonal flower fields are an impressive sight open for public viewing from March 1 through Mother’s Day each year. Expect lots of people on the weekend, so plan on getting to the flower fields early.

The Carlsbad Flower Fields highlights include a Miniature Rose Garden, Sweet Pea Maze, the American Flag of Flowers,1,500 square foot Poinsettia Display, and acres of beautiful flowers.

Day trips near san diego

17. Borrego Springs Sculptures

Borrego Springs offers many rewards no matter what time of year you visit. But remember that the summers are usually the warmest, with temperatures soaring into the triple digits.

One of the town’s most unusual attractions is Galleta Meadows Estates. A collection of original, welded steel sculptures includes extinct animals, farmworkers, saints, and cacti.

Day trips near san diego

18. San Diego Maritime Museum

The Maritime Museum of San Diego is much more than a collection of old sailing vessels and is a fun place for the family day trip. Activities include whale watching, kayaking, historic San Diego Bay tours, and adventure sailing trips.

The ship collection includes eight vessels, three of which are: The Berkeley (1898), the first propeller-driven steam ferry. The USS Dolphin (1968) reported being the submarine with the deepest dive, and the Californian (1984) a replica of a mid-century revenue cutter.

Day trips near san diego

19. Escondido California

Established in 1888, Escondido is the Spanish word for “hidden valley.” Still, it’s no secret that today the city is home to some of San Diego County’s major tourist attractions, beautiful wineries, craft breweries, fine arts and theater, and numerous outdoor activities.

With a beautiful year-round climate, Escondido is the perfect place for a Southern California day trip. Restaurants, cafes, and galleries adorn the city’s charming historic downtown, which has become a more visited place over the past few years. Escondido is a city located in Northern San Diego County along Interstate 15.

Day trips near san diego

20. Balboa Park San Diego

Balboa Park features 15 museums housed in the park’s ornate 20th Century structures built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. Balboa Park is the cultural centerpiece of the city of San Diego.

It will probably take more than a day to take in Balboa Park’s many museums and attractions. So plan a “wild” trip, and take all that Balboa Park offers, including a day at the San Diego Zoo.

Day trips near san diego

21. Leo Carrillo Ranch Carlsbad

Leo Carrillo Ranch is a 27-acre historic park with hand-crafted adobe buildings, windmills, and many other historic structures. On weekends free tours are given. Plan on spending 1 – 2 hours exploring the ranch. Carlsbad has several other attractions to round out your day trip. Legoland, Carlsbad Flower Fields, Carlsbad Outlets, and some fantastic beaches.

Self-Guided walking tours of the building’s exteriors and park grounds are available during regular park operating hours. A free brochure is available at the parking lot, visitor center, and Hacienda.

Day trips near san diego

22. Mount Palomar Observatory

High above the bustling suburban sprawl of San Diego city life, Palomar Mountain Observatory is a welcome break to travelers trying to escape the hustle and bustle of other parks that are often overcrowded.

Palomar Mountain Observatory is home to four revolutionary telescopes that have helped scientists and astronomers discover new and exciting stars that comprise our Milky Way Galaxy galaxies and other galaxies beyond ours as asteroids, comets, and quasars, which take billions of light-years to reach Palomar Observatory.

Day trips near san diego

23. Bates Nut Farm

Bates Nut Farm is tucked away in an oak-filled valley near Valley Center, California, making a great family day trip. Finding the farm is all part of the adventure for first-time visitors to the nut farm.

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Bates Nut Farm has retained its rural atmosphere because it is 3 miles off the main road. When you turn Valley Center Road onto Woods Valley Road, you travel to the farm under a canopy of oak trees.

Day trips near san diego

24. La Jolla San Diego

La Jolla’s soft sandy beaches are ripe with activity, so you’ll likely be able to find some way to enjoy your favorite water sports – surfing, snorkeling, kayaking, or even kiteboarding. The best view in La Jolla is atop Mount Soledad. During dusk, visitors will view amazing watercolor sunsets.

Some other ways to spend time visiting La Jolla include exploring the area’s museums and landmarks or playing golf at one of the country’s most attractive municipal courses.

Day trips near san diego

25. Del Mar California

Del Mar, California, is known for its beautiful beaches, Torrey pine trees, and breathtaking canyons sprinkled with hillside homes. The two square miles of Del Mar is recognized as one of San Diego County’s finest neighborhoods.

Del Mar is an ideal getaway for people wanting a seaside community with charm, excellent shopping, and various top-rated restaurants.

Day trips near san diego

26. Mission Beach San Diego

A boardwalk borders two miles of pristine oceanfront on this friendly community’s ocean and bay sides. The main strip through town is Mission Boulevard. At Mission Blvd and West Mission Bay Drive, Historic Belmont Park is an amusement park to delight the teens.

You will find an eclectic mix of people as you tour the community. You will see everything from artsy types to fashionistas in designer sunglasses. A healthy dose of middle-aged professionals keeps things well-rounded.

Day trips near san diego

27. Carlsbad-by-the-Sea Day Trip

Vacationers traveling to and from San Diego often overlook the lovely seaside community of Carlsbad. With its many beautiful offerings, Carlsbad offers a full day of fun. Attractions include LEGOLAND, Carlsbad Village, the Flower Fields, and one of the most beautiful coastlines in Southern California.

Located in the northern part of San Diego County, Carlsbad is the perfect spot for those looking for a more relaxing beach trip but who want to be close enough to San Diego to enjoy all it offers.

Day trips near san diego

28. Ocean Beach San Diego

Ocean Beach neighborhood of San Diego is home to an eclectic group of residents, from aging hippies to young families, all of who have a strong sense of pride in their neighborhood. As the locals call it, a day trip to Ocean Beach (or OB) is a fun adventure for the whole family.

Take a walk on the pier, enjoy the world’s best hamburger at Hodad’s, or take your four-legged friend for a walk along the dog beach.

Day trips near san diego

29. Coronado Island

Coronado is more than just a San Diego beach town. The village of Coronado is charming to stroll in as it offers numerous boutiques and dining options. If shopping is one of your favorite activities, you won’t be disappointed with collecting shops on Orange Avenue. Pick up trinkets, and apparel, browse the pro shop or take in an antique shop.

A tour or other attractions might be fun to round out your time in Coronado. You are beginning at the Museum of History and Art among the tours and attractions available in the Heritage Tour.

Day trips near san diego

30. Rosarito Beach Mexico

The seaside community of Rosarito Beach is roughly 30 miles south of San Diego in Baja, California, Mexico. Interstate 5 provides a scenic thoroughfare to the border, where travelers can continue via Highway 1 for the remainder of the trip.

Rosarito Beach possesses plenty of Old World charm and provides visitors with an escape rich in culture and complete activities. Enjoy world-class surfing, rent a jet ski, and indulge in authentic Baja cuisine.

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References

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About the Author: Tung Chi