12 Best Day Trips from San Diego

San Diego is perfectly located for day trips. Just a short drive from the city and you’re met with countless charming towns to explore on the Pacific coast, nature reserves, and valleys dotted with vineyards that produce some of the finest wines in the country!

Another perk of going on day trips from San Diego is that you can get across the border to visit Tijuana Mexico in no time! Picture yourself sampling tequila and tacos under the sun, just a stone’s throw away from home – it’s got to be one of the coolest day trips from San Diego.

Whether you’re looking for fun in the sun, historical sites, or spending time with nature there are abundant options for one day getaways.

Here are 12 of the best day trips from San Diego.

Day trips near san diego

1.   La Jolla Beaches

La Jolla translates to “the jewel” from Spanish, and it’s not hard to see why the town was given this name.

This coastal town has plenty of beaches you can come and explore, and adventures like kayaking through caves below ocean cliffs await.

Spend the morning lounging on the sandy white beach and cooling off in the sea, then browse the town’s boutique shops and dine at a local restaurant later on.

Two of the best beaches are La Jolla Shores Beach and La Jolla Cove, the latter is popular for scuba diving!

2.   Mission San Juan Capistrano

You might not have heard about Missions before, especially if you’re not a history buff. A Mission is an old building that was historically used by Spanish colonists to convert Native Americans to Christianity.

The Mission San Juan Capistrano may not have the purest origins, but it is fascinating to visit and very beautiful.

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The Mission is more than 200 years old, and it’s home to the Serra Chapel, the oldest in-use building in California, that still hosts services today.

Day trips near san diego

Visit the historic landmark and museum of Mission San Juan Capistrano

3.   Idyllwild

Wanting to escape the city and get out into nature? Then come and spend the day at Idyllwild.

This little mountain town nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains is about two hours’ drive away from San Diego, and it’s surrounded by countless hiking trails.

Some of the most popular spots surrounding Idyllwild are the gorgeous Lake Fulmor and Mount San Jacinto State Park.

4.   Catalina Island

Catalina Island is one of the California Channel Islands and it’s a cool place to visit in California.

If you’re an adrenaline or adventure junkie, you’re going to love this San Diego day trip! The island is renowned for a whole array of extreme sports, from jet-skiing to parasailing and zip lining.

The island’s beaches are a great place to relax and soak in the soothing coastal views for the day, and if you’re feeling curious you can dive into the water and explore the kelp forests offshore.

Day trips near san diego

Make it an island day trip to Catalina from San Diego for an adventurous day

5.   Carlsbad

Carlsbad is just forty-five minutes away from San Diego, making it an easy and convenient day trip from the city.

It’s home to a gold sand beach, Tamarack Beach, as well as three lagoons and LEGOLAND!

There’s something for everyone at Carlsbad, so it’s the perfect destination for families who struggle to agree on what to do.

You can surf, scuba dive, go fishing off the Carlsbad jetty, hike in the hills, and wildlife watch! And we haven’t even started to mention all the things you can do in town…

6.   Palm Springs

The desert landscape of Palm Springs heavily contrasts with San Diego’s coastal charm.

It’s hard to believe they are less than three hours apart from one another and you’ll find a ton of things to do in Palm Springs.

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There are lots of tours from Palm Springs that go into the canyons and Coachella Valley Preserve, taking you deep into the gorgeous landscape around the city.

Take a guided hike in the Palm Canyons. And visit the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum to learn about the Indigenous people that have lived on this land for thousands of years.

Other must-do activities include hopping on the Palm Springs Tramway to get the best panoramic views of the city from above and hiking in the pine forest.

Next go strolling through the Moorten Botanical Garden that showcases lots of desert flora. And finish up with shopping and a quick bite on Palm Canyon Drive.

Day trips near san diego

Take a drive to Palm Springs to explore the vibe someplace new

7.   Borrego Springs

Borrego Springs isn’t very well known, even though it’s under two hours’ drive away from San Diego.

There are loads of recreational opportunities on offer in Borrego Springs, from exhilarating 4×4 rides through the desert to tranquil nights star gazing.

The town is within the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park that boasts dozens of hiking trails suitable for all levels.

Start off on the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail. Make sure you don’t leave without driving along the Borrego Springs Road and spotting as many of the Galleta Meadows Metal Sculptures as you can!

8.   Temecula Wine Tasting

The Temecula Valley in California offers scenic and laid-back wine tasting tours.

You’ll be delighted to know that more than 50 varieties of wine are made in the region, and there are more than 35 wineries you can sample them at – so whatever your taste, you’ll find the perfect wine tasting adventure for you.

There are countless tours on offer, and some start in San Diego (saves you worrying about how to get home). Most visit more than one winery, and you can also rent a bike and explore independently.

Day trips near san diego

Visit wine country in gorgeous Temecula California – only about 1 hour from San Diego

9.   San Clemente

Fancy a beach-day? San Clemente is a gorgeous ocean town that has a four-mile-long stretch of beach where you can splash, sunbathe, and surf.

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Stroll along the sand, dine on fresh seafood, and catch a sunset from the San Clemente Pier – the perfect beach escape from San Diego.

10.   Tijuana

Just 20 miles away from San Diego and you’re in Tijuana, Mexico! That’s right, you can get out of the United States on your day trip.

The town will give you a chance to practice your Spanish and you’ll get to see a different culture and way of life.

You’ll want to visit gorgeous buildings like the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (the town’s cathedral) that mixes neoclassical and colonial architecture.

And don’t miss the Tijuana Cultural Center in the Zona Rosa district, less than two miles from the US border!

Day trips near san diego

While in San Diego why not head over to Mexico to spend a day in Tijuana!

11.   Palomar Observatory

Just an hour and a half drive away from San Diego, at the top of the Palomar Mountain there is a pioneering observatory, the Palomar Observatory.

Astronomers gather round and learn all about why, thanks to astronomy, the sky really isn’t the limit!

12.   Torrey Pines

The Torrey Pines State Reserve is a largely untouched nature reserve that has everything from stretches of coast and lagoons to extremely rare Torrey pine trees.

Nature lovers and hikers will love it here! There are countless hiking trails, like the Canyon Rim and Elfin Trail.

You can also come wildlife watching; you might even catch sight of the dolphins and grey whales that migrate past the Torrey Pines State Reserve.

Day trips near san diego

Torrey Pines State Reserve is a beautiful one day trip from San Diego

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30 Cool Stops on Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

10 Fun Things to Do in Oakland California

7 Beautiful Beaches Near Carpinteria

Day Trip to Joshua Tree from Palm Springs

Ultimate Guide to Visiting Palm Springs

Visit the Giant Redwoods at Muir Woods

Day trips near san diego

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About the Author: Tung Chi