The best day trips from San Diego are just a short drive away!
Spanish conquistador Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was the first European to step foot on the West Coast of the modern-day United States over 500 years ago. The beautiful land that he first set his sight on was later to become the famous city of San Diego, the “Plymouth of the East” as some call it.
While the Spanish left their historical footprint on this gem of Southern California, the footprints you’re most likely to find on the beaches now are from tanned surfers and other beachgoers. San Diego is still hanging loose as one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the United States given its perfect year-round weather, beautiful beaches, breathtaking nature parks, and vicinity to some gnarly day trips.
Below you will find 8 of the most essential day trips from San Diego. All of these locations can be reached with a 2 hour or shorter drive from the city, making them perfect for day trips or for weekend getaways from San Diego. Let’s get into it!
Table of Contents
Essential Day Trips From San Diego
This sprawling nature park gives a glimpse of what the San Diego region looked like before European settlement. A 25-minute drive from downtown San Diego means that this reserve is a bit far from the city, but worth it. You can find 1,750 acres of natural beauty, including the Torrey Pine, a rare tree endemic to the region. There are 8 miles worth of hiking, a preserved salt marsh, coastline views and winding badlands.
Locals prize this location for its beauty and views but it can get packed quickly. What makes it extremely attractive is that the trails are accessible even for first-time hikers given that some trails are less than a mile long. Of course, you’ll probably want to see more than one trail.
Yeah Tijuana is a typical gringo day trip destination. But there’s a reason for it.
Urban legends suggest that Tijuana comes from Spanish “Tía Juana” (Aunt Jane). It’s suggested that a woman by that name gave refuge to travelers, however, no records exist of this person. Instead of all of this, people in Southern California just call this Mexican border city TJ for short. Well, what is there to do in good ol’ TJ? Plenty.
You can walk around Avenida Revolución, check out the small shops, buy a sombrero and get your picture taken. If you want to dive deeper, you can go to an authentic market like Mercado Hidalgo. Flex your Spanish skills by haggling with vendors while you’re at it. Into the cultural side? Check out the Centro Cultural Tijuana where you can find regular cultural events. And of course, this is your chance to try some authentic Mexican food – comida auténtica Mexicana.
All of the above makes Tijuana a prime, and super easy, day trip from San Diego.
Less than two hours from San Diego inside of Mexico’s Baja California is this beautiful and affordable coastal city. Referred to by locals as the “Cinderella of the Pacific”, Ensenada is packed with beauty and surprises.
What is there to do? Well, as this is a port for many cruise ships touring the Americas, there happens to be many points of interests and day tours. You can go riding through the Baja Bandidos Horseback Trail to see the beautiful region with your trusty steed. If the sea is your thing, try deep-sea fishing. You can catch some nice fish or a glimpse of a dolphin or grey whale! On that wet note, you can check out the Bufadora Kayak Tour which will take you to see a natural marine geyser.
And of course, food and drink. Mexican food is second to none, as we all know. Delve into the local cuisine by going to an open-air fish market or local canteen to find authentic tacos. If you want a little more guidance, you can try the Taste of Mexico tour! Ensenada is also known for its beautiful wine country – one of the best in the Americas. You can also find Mexican craft beer, sporting both mom-and-pop brands and sophisticated microbreweries.
Besides the city itself, San Diego County is a marvel. Larger than the State of Delaware, the county has climates and terrain ranging from coastal to alpine. While most think of the beach when San Diego is mentioned, not as many people know about the Laguna Mountains. Here you will find hiking trails cutting through peaks ranging from 4,000 to 6,000 feet high.
The most famous trail you’ll find in this range, which is actually part of the Cleveland National Forest, is the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). This trail covers the area of the range, however, the Sunset Trail shares much of the same ground with less distance. The Sunset Trail is a 3.2 mile round trip, which means it’s a great trail for beginners.
Of course, you might try something more extreme – like climbing a mountain! And what’s a better mountain to climb than Mount Laguna itself? Unfortunately, you can’t do that because it’s covered with equipment like an observatory and radio towers. However, there are plenty of other great peaks such as Garnet Peak. If it’s the right time of year, you could also play in the snow in these California mountains. Who would have thought?
For nature lovers, this is the quintessential weekend getaway from San Diego – so pack your tent and hiking boots!
The block-builders bastion, this 128-acre family theme park has everything a Lego fanatic could ever want. Being only about 34 miles from the city also makes it a great day trip from San Diego.
Legoland has over 60 interactive rides and countless other events and activities. making it a perfect day trip from San Diego. Moreover, there are over 30,000 Lego models made from roughly 62 million bricks – about 71 metric tons of Legos. To put it plainly: yes, Legoland is what you’re expecting. But while the rides are quite tame and child-oriented, it’s not just a park for children – Legoland is for fans of all ages.
Kids will enjoy the rides and activities while older fans will find inspiration in the simplicity and beauty of the park’s many sculptures. Also, don’t worry about stepping on a rogue Lego piece – the park is well taken care of.
Playas de Rosarito
Another entry on this list from Mexico, Rosarito Beach is a picturesque coastal town. What makes it great is its compact nature; the town center is only a block from the beach! One thing to do while at the beach is rent an ATV and ride around, soaking in the ocean breeze. Rentals last for about half an hour and cost roughly 20$. If you’d rather go natural, opt instead for a horse! That’s right, you can also find yourself a horse to ride on the beach. Once you finish frolicking, you can go up to the Muelle de Rosarito – the town’s fishing pier.
Back in town, there’s Blvd. Benito Juárez, the town’s main street contains a variety of shops, restaurants, and stunning street art. If you’re looking to find more contained art – check out Ugi Fine Art Studio. The town also has a spa, called the Casa Playa spa, if you’re looking to treat yourself. Don’t be fooled, however, prices here are a bit steeper than you might expect in Mexico.
Despite its cutesy charm, you can also find a vibrant nightlife/bar scene. Places like Acua Bar & Mar, La Cazeuala del Mole and Papas and Beer sling drinks like no other. With all of this in mind, Rosarito is definitely one of the best romantic getaways from San Diego!
While everyone is set on Sonoma and Napa as far as the California wine scene goes, it’s Temecula that really shines. The lack of pretentiousness and try-hardness is something you’ll really appreciate if you try these reds and whites. Temecula is also the most romantic weekend getaway near San Diego one can imagine.
Just 60 miles north of downtown San Diego, this uncovered gem has all the beauty of the northern wine country minus the crowd. One unique (and highly Instagrammable) activity is the California Dreamin’ sunrise hot air balloon ride. On this excursion, you’ll get to see the Temecula Valley from over 1,500 feet up. Now that’s a buzz that doesn’t even need a drink. You’ll have to get up early for this one, so watch out!
There are plenty of great places to eat and shop, too! Old Town Temecula also boasts small shops selling antiques, souvenirs, and delectable food. Local companies, such as the Temecula Olive Oil Company and Temecula Lavender Co., sell their wares to keen shoppers. Every Saturday you can catch a farmer’s market selling fresh produce and other assorted items.
Yes, that’s right – the city of Angels. While Los Angeles deserves its own allotment for exploration, it’s also a great weekend getaway from San Diego. With plenty to do, LA won’t disappoint and making it a trip from San Diego means escaping the bustle afterward.
Go to Disneyland in Anaheim if you’re looking for great family fun. Check out Hollywood Boulevard, find your favorite celebrity star and then go to town on some selfies. Bike around Venice Beach and hit the food trucks after you get winded. Walk the famous Santa Monica pier. The options are endless in LA! If you would like to delve right into the heart of the Best Coast, LA is surely the place you want to see if only for a short while.
While you’re at it, you can also check other hot spots in the greater-LA area including places in Orange County.
So there it is, a brief outline of 8 Great Day Trips from San Diego. Check out our other articles on Southern California if you’re interested! As always, be sure to let us know if you take up our recommendations in the comments. Safe and happy travels!