The Best San Diego Day-Trips

As someone who loves to travel and experience the outdoors, San Diego is a blessing.  Not only is it surrounded by  amazing beaches, but it has a ton of destinations nearby for the occasional getaway.  Below is a roundup of some of the nearby locales you can explore in a day or so- all within a 3 hour drive. Refresh yourself and get out there!

Balboa Park

  • Balboa Park is home to most of San Diego’s museums, covering all sorts themes and hosting various interactive events.  Stop by on a Tuesday for free admission.   
  • Take a stroll through the Botanical garden and marvel at the flora and fauna 
  • Catch a play at the Old Globe Theater
  • Enjoy a nice dinner at the picturesque Prado.  Located in the heart of the park, you can enjoy their Californian fare as well as excellent happy hour deals. 


  • Hit the world-famous beach and walk the length.  On one end is the historic Hotel Del Coronado where Marilyn Monroe famously filmed Some Like it Hot, and on the other is a dog beach where you can watch and play with all sorts of dogs in the outdoors. 
  • After the beach, stop by MooTime to grab a scoop of handcrafted ice cream
  • See a movie at the Vintage Village Theater and enjoy the old-school luxury, velvet curtains, and black light murals of iconic San Diego landscapes
  • End the day with a drink at the Hotel Del Coronado and watch the sunset

La Jolla

  • Rent a kayak and explore the seven La Jolla sea caves
  • Hike along Torrey Pines Nature reserve, see the lagoon and miles of unspoiled California beaches 
  • See the sea life at Birch Aquarium
  • For a more authentic wildlife viewing, stop by La Jolla Cove and see the sea lions sleeping on the beach.  

Tijuana (45 min)

  • Lucha Libre Friday: head to the local sporting arena and enjoy a cheap ticket to an authentic Mexican wrestling show.  See grown men dressed in shiny, themed costumes throw themselves at each other.  Packed with comedy and theatrics, it promises to be a great time.  
  • Take part the food renaissance Tijuana is going through right now and visit all the hottest restaurants below the border.  
  • Check out any of Turista Libre’s tours for an authentic and creative take on south-of-the-border tours.  Their savvy and sustainable trips are a great introduction to Tijuana and it’s culture.

Lake Poway (1 hour)

  • Knock out a San Diego favorite and hike Potato Chip Rock.  A 6.6 mile hike, it takes approximately 3-4 hours and is considered to be pretty tough.  Bring plenty of water!

Julian (1.5 hours)

  • With the numerous orchards in area you can go and pick your own apples
  • Without question, you have to stop by the Julian Pie Co., where the apple pies are iconic!
  • The town is adorable, so take some time to walk down the main drag and explore the eclectic shops and see the local wares
  • Just a short drive away is Oasis Camel Dairy where you can buy camel products (camel’s milk soap, chocolate, etc.), as well as feed and ride camels.  
  • Grab a drink at Julian Hard Cider to catch a different take on the San Diego Craft Beverage scene

Temecula (1.5 hrs)

  • Temecula is well known for their wine tasting and horseback tours.  Check out Saddle Up Tours to ensure your funds are going to a good place. 
  • For an amazing view and unique experience, consider taking a Hot Air Balloon Tour
Borrego Springs (2 hours away)
  • See the Anza-Borrego Springs State Park flower blooms between February and March.
  • Tour the area to see the 130 full-sized metal sculptures by local artist, Ricardo Breceda. They can be found primarily on Galleta Meadows, which is private property but has been opened up to display the statues to the public. The most popular sculpture is a 350 ft serpentine dragon.  You can find a map of the sculptures here.
  • Borrego Springs is California’s only International Dark Sky Community, which means they work to protect the skies from light pollution, making it an ideal location for stargazing.  Night Sky Tours available.

Salvation Mountain & Slab City (2.5 hrs) 

  • See Salvation Mountain, an outdoor, explosively-colorful religious tribute in the desert, created with the dogma that “God is Love.”  Featured on National Geographic, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not?, and the Discovery Channel.   
  • Check out the unique camping ground of Slab City and see it’s ‘East Jesus,’: an outdoor art museum featuring Burning Man-inspired pieces.  

Idyllwild (2.5 hr drive)

  • Much like Julian, Idyllwild is nestled in the mountains and has small, eclectic shops befitting the mountain community
  • Go hiking among the pines; Suicide Rock and the Tahquitz Peak hike are the most popular.  The hike to Suicide Rock is slightly easier, but both have a good bit of elevation and take about half a day.  There are also numerous bike trails in the area, as well as bike rental shops.
Palm Springs (3 hours)

Joshua Tree (3 hrs)

  • Joshua Tree is characterized by a stark desert landscape, large rock formations, cacti, and the bristled Joshua trees.  A great place to go camping, climbing, and hiking.

Finally, there’s the ever-popular Los Angeles and Disneyland.  Get out there and start exploring!

Hayley Eyer is the Events & Communications Intern in the Development department of Outdoor Outreach.  She loves travel, SUPing, and cooking. She is currently pursing her Masters in Business Administration at San Diego State University. 

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