15 Best Day Trips from San Diego

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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San Diego is the definition of the Californian dream. Set on the Pacific coast of the United States of America San Diego has something for everyone.

A balmy climate, a thriving social scene and plenty of art galleries and museums to give you your cultural fix.

San Diego is just a stone’s throw away from beautiful beaches, bountiful national parks and other bustling cities too.

Once you have ticked everything off from your San Diego bucket list it’s time to look further afield.

Let’s take a look at the best day trips from San Diego that will hopefully inspire a little wanderlust.

1. Los Angeles

Los AngelesSource: Sean Pavone / shutterstock
Los Angeles

The City of Angels is a great city to explore in the space of a day.

Just 2 hours north of San Diego is the full time residences of some of the world’s biggest movie stars, sports heroes and business gurus.

On top of having the opportunity to walk shoulder to shoulder with the great and the good Los Angeles has so much to explore.

Griffith Park and Observatory are not to be missed and if you’re travelling with youngsters Universal Studios is a must-visit for sure.

If you are keen on shopping then make sure to make a beeline for Rodeo Drive.

2. Tijuana

Tijuana, MexicoSource: Denis Kabanov / shutterstock

San Diego is super close to the Mexican border and as such a day trip to Mexico is easily achievable, particularly to Tijuana.

Lying immediately south of California is Tijuana and is best known for it’s buzzing high street lined with bars and shops.

The highlight of a visit to Tijuana is the Tijuana Cultural Centre which is both an art museum and cultural exhibition centre.

Avenida Revolucion is the thriving hub of Tijuana and is the main tourist hub.

The Tijuana Wax Museum is a total novelty and good old fashioned fun for all the family, don’t miss their IMAX cinema shows.

3. Ensenada

Ensenada, MexicoSource: Creative Jen Designs / shutterstock

Crossing over the border is almost inevitable when taking a day trip from San Diego and a visit to Ensenada demonstrates exactly why.

This beautiful coastal down with a rugged and rocky shore line is truly picturesque.

The culture quickly changes when you hop over the border and a visit to Ensenada is a wonderful introduction to life in Mexico.

There are hundreds of classic Mexican cantina in Ensenada serving up traditional dishes for super affordable prices.

Dine with locals and ask them for their hints and tips on where to visit in the city to get the most authentic experience.

4. Palm Springs

Palm Springs, CaliforniaSource: Andrew F. Kazmierski / shutterstock
Palm Springs

Lying in the heart of the Sonoran Desert is the bustling metropolis of Palm Springs.

Family-orientated and open for all Palm Springs has a whole host of attractions to explore, the Zoo and Knott’s Soak City are great for children.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is not to be overlooked and offers a scenic ride through the canyon.

There are dozens of golf courses, spas and lavish hotels to enjoy in Palm Springs and an incredible shopping district.

Heading out of the city itself you’ll find a myriad of hiking routes through the beautiful Coachella Valley.

5. Puerto Nuevo

Puerto Nuevo, MexicoSource: permanently scatterbrained / Flickr
Puerto Nuevo

Set in Baja California is the community of Puerto Nuevo.

A village known around the world for it’s lobster hauls, it is the fish restaurants of this small community that are the real draw card.

These ladies and gentlemen know how to do justice to the meat, deep frying it to total perfection and serving it up with rice, beans and a strong Margarita, of course.

While in Puerto Nuevo you can marvel at the statue of Christ the Sacred Heart that towers 75 ft above the ground.

If you fancy a bit of adrenaline action hire yourself a quad bike down on Los Arenales before the sunsets.

6. Rosarito Beach

Rosarito BeachSource: David Brimm / shutterstock
Rosarito Beach

Rosarito Beach is one of the gems of Baja California and was, back in the 1920s, known as Mexico’s answer to Hollywood.

This thriving beachside town is blissfully relaxing and great fun.

If you want to simply relax on the beach and soak up the rays you totally can.

A popular pastime at Rosarito Beach is to race around on ATVs and leave sand clouds in your wake.

Rosarito Beach is the venue of the annual Baja Sand sculpture competition and artists leave their incredible pieces on display for long after the event has ended.

You’ll be amazed at the intricacy of the designs.

7. Carlsbad

Carlsbad, CaliforniaSource: pikappa51 / shutterstock

San Diego’s neighbouring city is Carlsbad and is best known for Tamarack Surf Beach and the Carlsbad Sea Wall.

If you enjoy exploring nature then a visit to the Batiquitos Lagoon would make a lovely addition to the day.

This wetland nature reserve with natural lagoon is not only very photogenic but abundant in native flora and fauna.

The biggest attraction to Carlsbad is Legoland California which is a fun, interactive day out for children and adults alike.

There are a number of scream-inducing rides and a fantastic swimming pool complex too.

8. Borrego Springs

Borrego SpringsSource: James Mattil / shutterstock
Borrego Springs

Borrego Springs is one of the most bizarre and unique places on earth.

Throughout the stark desert landscape you’ll find scatterings of grand artistic sculptures including and African elephant and a horse-drawn carriage.

A great photo opportunity and it certainly sparks the imagination.

If you are an avid photographer or stargazer perhaps a night trip, rather than a day trip, to Borrego Springs would be more appropriate.

There is a large community of stargazers and budding astronomers who congregate here to explore the skies at night.

It is simply breathtaking.

9. Mount Laguna

Mount LagunaSource: Jacob Reyes / Flickr
Mount Laguna

Should you be seeking to escape the city smoke and reconnect with nature then Mount Laguna is the place to head.

With countless hiking trails and spectacular natural landscapes to observe Mount Laguna is a real treat.

The Wooded Hill Nature Trails is great for those seeking a steady plod.

Should you want more of a challenge then heading to Foster Point will prove rewarding in terms of exercise and the view from the top.

In the winter months this spot is fantastic for sledding and even skiing.

Another great spot for avid stargazers, Mount Laguna has its own observatory.

10. Lake Poway

Lake PowaySource: Autumn Sky Photography / shutterstock
Lake Poway

Lake Poway is one of the closest nature reserves to San Diego and makes for a lovely full day, or even half day trip.

Come rain or shine there is something to explore and enjoy at Lake Poway.

It is possible to hire cute paddle boats to get out on the water and embrace the tranquility.

If you don’t fancy peacefulness then perhaps consider hiring a power boat and tear through the lake for a bit of fast-paced fun.

There are hiking trails aplenty and it is possible to go pony trekking at Lake Poway too.

On sunny days Lake Poway is the perfect place for a picnic.

11. Mount Palomar Observatory

Mount Palomar ObservatorySource: Joseph Sohm / shutterstock
Mount Palomar Observatory

Plonked on top of Mount Palomar is the impressive and educational Mount Palomar Observatory.

Home to the world’s largest working telescope budding astronomers will no doubt be making a beeline for the Mount Palomar Observatory once they’re finished in San Diego.

There is a visitors gallery that you are more than welcome to explore at your own pace.

The Mount Palomar Observatory has been pioneering astronomical research for many, many years and is a must-visit for anyone curious about the stars in the sky.

If you want a guided tour of the Mount Palomar Observatory make sure to time your visit on a Saturday or Sunday.

12. Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach, CaliforniaSource: LagunaticPhoto / shutterstock
Laguna Beach

Easily the most popular beachside destination in South California Laguna Beach is a wonderful place to spend a day.

The glistening golden sand spans an impressive 7-miles and is lapped upon by the ever rising and falling Pacific Ocean.

Those interested in watersports can hire a kayak or paddle board for the day and explore the many coves, caves and canyons that surrounds Laguna Beach at their leisure.

There are many companies offering guided tours of the area by kayak and through such tours you gain greater insight as to the history of Laguna Beach and the geography of the area as a whole.

13. La Jolla

La Jolla Shores, San DiegoSource: Dancestrokes / shutterstock
La Jolla Shores

A day trip to La Jolla is one of the easiest day trips from San Diego of all.

Lying just a 30-minute drive from San Diego’s Downtown is the popular seaside hotspot of La Jolla.

An amazing surf beach La Jolla will feature high on the must-visit list for any budding border.

Divers too will be quick to plan a trip to La Jolla for it is the starting point for trips heading out to many of the best diving spots along the California coastline.

A traditional seaside town, La Jolla is very family-orientated and there is good old fashioned fun to be had wherever you turn.

14. Pasadena

PasadenaSource: Steve Lagreca / shutterstock

For many Pasadena is simply the city setting for the hit TV show ‘The Big Bang Theory’ but there are so many more reasons why Pasadena is a must-visit.

The Norton Simon Museum is a big attraction for anyone interested in European and Asian art.

Gamble House too would be of great interest for many who enjoy the arts.

Famous for its Victorian and art deco buildings Pasadena is a mismatch city that is a joy to explore.

Old Pasadena is great for shopping and there are a heap of classic American diners to try.

15. Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National ParkSource: fotogestoeber / shutterstock
Joshua Tree National Park

The Joshua Tree National Park is one of the most interesting and varied landscapes in California.

Spend a day sizing up cactus and jumping from boulder to boulder.

Should you really want to get bouldering head to the Hidden Valley and set out on a real rocky adventure.

If you hike up to Keys View you can take in amazing views of the Coachella Valley.

With contrasting stark desert expanses and rugged rocky areas dotted with Joshua trees and hundred of cactus the Joshua Tree National Park is a must visit for any avid adventurer on a day trip from San Diego.

Remember to bring sturdy shoes and plenty of water.

15 Best Day Trips from San Diego:

  • Los Angeles
  • Tijuana
  • Ensenada
  • Palm Springs
  • Puerto Nuevo
  • Rosarito Beach
  • Carlsbad
  • Borrego Springs
  • Mount Laguna
  • Lake Poway
  • Mount Palomar Observatory
  • Laguna Beach
  • La Jolla
  • Pasadena
  • Joshua Tree National Park