With 266 days of sunshine each year, it’s easy to see why San Diego is a hot spot for travelers. Add in 70 miles of coastline, lush urban parks, and some of the country’s most famous resorts, and it’s clear why San Diego attracts visitors from all over the world and has been dubbed “America’s Finest City.”
It would be easy to fill a week simply by staying in the city of San Diego, but the surrounding area also offers plenty of attractions. So if time permits, here are several awesome day trips to consider.
1. Relax On The Beach In La Jolla
If you really love the beach and don’t want to venture too far outside of San Diego, then La Jolla is the perfect day trip.
Start your day at the Torrey Pines Gliderport and watch the colorful paragliders float over the Pacific Ocean and up and down the coast. There’s a cafe here if you want to grab a cup of coffee or a snack. If you enjoy hiking, try out one of the trails that start next to the gliderport.
To enjoy kayaking, snorkeling, or diving, head to the La Jolla Ecological Reserve, a vast underwater preserve that protects seven sea caves, kelp forests, and abundant marine life. For an organized tour, or to rent equipment, check out La Jolla Dive, located just two blocks from the ocean.
One of the most entertaining sights in the area are the sea lions and seals at La Jolla Cove. You’ll likely hear them even before seeing them. Walk down the ramp or climb the steep stairs and have a seat on the sand to watch these marine mammals playing, napping, and fishing.
2. Pick Apples In Julian
If you’re visiting in the fall, then Julian is a terrific day trip. Located about an hour northeast of San Diego, this tiny town is well known for apple picking and the resulting apple pies. Apple Star Orchard, Calico Ranch Orchard, and Julian Farm all offer fruit picking along with other activities like wagon rides, petting zoos, and axe throwing. Be sure to check each website before visiting since picking seasons vary at each orchard.
Julian Pie Company is the place to go for delicious pies made from apples harvested at their own orchard. This family-owned business has been in operation since 1989, and today it’s run by the founders and their children and grandchildren. Even if you’re not able to visit in the fall, you can still enjoy hot apple pie à la mode.
Other activities in and around town include panning for gold at Eagle Mining Co., learning about wolves at the California Wolf Center, or antiquing at Wynola Junction Antiques & Collectibles.
3. Explore Laguna Beach
Further up the coast — about an hour and 20-minute drive — is the artistic seaside community of Laguna Beach. Founded by Plein air painters in the 1880s, this upscale town is full of art galleries, secluded coves, and ocean view restaurants.
To combine a trip to the beach and exercise, head to Thousand Steps Beach in South Laguna. The descent to the beach is easy and the views are spectacular, but the return trip will be challenging. Fortunately, there are only 218 stairs, not a thousand.
This is definitely an art lover’s town. Be sure to visit the Laguna Art Museum, well known for its collection of southern California artists. Throughout the town, there are more than 100 art galleries featuring a wide variety of styles.
4. Admire The Flowers In Carlsbad
Each spring, the city of Carlsbad explodes with color as the ranunculus bloom at The Flower Fields. From March to May, 50 acres of flowers can be explored along with an antique tractor ride, historic poinsettia display, sweet pea maze, and more. Be sure to visit early in the day to avoid crowds. Allow about 40 minutes for the drive.
Then head to the Carlsbad Village, a charming stretch of boutique shops, hotels, galleries, and restaurants. A highlight here is Barrio Glassworks where daily glass blowing demonstrations are offered.
Take a stroll on the sand at South Ponto Beach, South Carlsbad State Beach, or Tamarack Beach. All three are popular with surfers, so if the conditions are right, you’ll likely see some riding the waves. If you’ve always wanted to learn to surf, this is a great place to do so. SoCal Surf Lessons for anyone ages 5–75.
For a special dinner, make reservations at Campfire, recently awarded the Bib Gourmand by Michelin Guide. Their specialty is everything cooked over fire whether it be grilled, smoked, or roasted. Don’t leave without ordering s’mores for dessert.
5. Go Wine Tasting In Temecula
With nearly 50 wineries in and around Temecula, it’s an oenophile’s dream come true. This could easily be a destination of its own, but a day trip is a great introduction to one of California’s top wine regions and it’s just an hour northeast of San Diego.
Start at Callaway Vineyard & Winery, a place many describe as offering the best view in Temecula. Head into their tasting room to sample their wines or make a reservation for a memorable meal at Meritage. Continue on to Leoness Cellars, a family-owned winery that consistently produces award-winning wines. Here you can select from wine tastings or tours of the estate.
When you can’t drink any more wine, it’s time to visit Old Town. You’ll feel like you’re on the set of a western movie as you stroll the boardwalk past rustic buildings. Browse through the boutiques, have a drink, or sit down for a meal.
If you’re visiting early in the morning, you’ll likely see hot air balloons floating up into the sky. Book your hour-long balloon ride with California Dreamin’ and appreciate views of the valley from above. The experience includes breakfast and champagne.
6. Be A Kid At Disneyland
If you’re traveling with kids, then Disneyland should definitely be on the list. But even if you’re kid-free, it’s still a fun day trip from San Diego. Just be sure to get an early start to make the most of your day in the parks. The drive from San Diego will take about an hour and a half.
You’ll have the choice between Disneyland and California Adventures, or both, if time and budget permits. Disneyland is home to the classic rides like It’s A Small World, Peter Pan’s Flight, and Space Mountain. California Adventure is well known for Soarin’ Around The World, Tower of Terror, and California Screamin’. Be sure to check the schedule for parades and fireworks which are a highlight of any visit.
If you love Disney, but don’t really care about rides, the shopping and entertainment district, Downtown Disney, is a nice alternative. Here you’ll find restaurants, bars, ice cream shops, and stores selling all the character merchandise.
7. Soak Up The Heat In Palm Springs
Getting to Palm Springs will take longer — a bit over 2 hours — but it’s definitely worth it for the views of the San Jacinto Mountains and the retro architecture along Palm Canyon Drive. Shopping along this main street features upscale vintage shops, art galleries, and funky boutiques.
Head to the Palm Springs Art Museum featuring excellent exhibits of both local and international artists. In the vicinity of the museum are several large public installations that should not be missed.
Hiking enthusiasts will enjoy the trails at Indian Canyons which are surprisingly lush thanks to an underground aquifer. Trails range in length from 1–12 miles and are suitable for all experience levels.
If you’re looking to get up into the mountains, take a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Depending on the time of year, there may be snow at the top. Or explore the thousands of energy-generating windmills on a Palm Springs Windmill Tour.
8. Hit The Trails In Joshua Tree
The longest drive time of the bunch, a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park will take 3 hours. But the wide-open spaces dotted with spiky Joshua trees and enormous rock formations will make the trip worth it.
Start at the visitor center to learn about the park’s history as well as its flora and fauna. And if you’re planning to hike, get some trail recommendations from the volunteers or rangers on duty. Two easy trails are Hidden Valley and Barker Dam, both good options if time is limited or if you’re traveling with kids.
Some of the instagrammable sites include Skull Rock, Heart Rock, Arch Rock, Keys View, and the Cholla Cactus Garden.
There are no services in the park, so be sure to bring everything you need for the day including plenty of water. When you get hungry, head into the nearby towns of Joshua Tree or Twentynine Palms.
Pro Tip: Coming from San Diego, you can drive to the west or south entrances. Drive times are comparable, however, each entrance has its advantages depending on the hikes and sights you choose. Drive time within the park can be slow, so be sure to do some research in advance to determine which entrance is right for you.
For even more opportunities to take in all that San Diego has to offer: