Looking for a quick trip or a change of scenery? We’ve rounded up the best day trips from San Diego that offer everything from tours to outdoor activities and so much more.
Whether you’re visiting from out of state or seeking a getaway in your own backyard, there are plenty of destinations within two hours that showcase the best of California and beyond.
There’s a lot to enjoy in this neck of the woods – Click here to check out camper van rentals near San Diego to turn your day trip into an overnighter.
20 Incredible Day Trips from San Diego
1. Kit Carson Park
Distance from San Diego: 30 minutes / 28 miles
Located 30 minutes north of San Diego in Escondido, you’ll find the ever-charming Kit Carson Park, an enjoyable place to stretch your legs on a day trip from San Diego. There’s a lot to experience in this large California park, like exquisite hiking trails, three ponds to picnic by, a big arboretum, and sports courts. Reserve one of the park’s barbecues beforehand and bring along some meats to grill up for an unforgettable lunch.
2. Alta Vista Botanical Gardens
Distance from San Diego: 50 minutes / 43 miles
Have a hankering for natural beauty? The Alta Vista Botanical Gardens offer an impressive San Diego day trip with one of the most beautiful plant collections in the state. There are 16 different gardens, each with its own theme, like the Rare Fruit Garden, the Garden Labyrinth, the Culinary Herbs Garden, and the Mediterranean Garden, to name a few. It’s a captivating place to spend the day learning about native and exotic plants, with noteworthy photo ops throughout the entire property.
Distance from San Diego: 30 minutes / 19 miles
Head south of the border for one of the best day trips from San Diego. Only a hop and a skip from Southern California, Tijuana is a fun San Deigo day trip to soak in Mexican culture and indulge in firey cuisine. The city center is packed with captivating sights, museums, and attractions, along with plenty of street art to enjoy in a single day. Don’t forget your passport!
4. Los Angeles
Distance from San Diego: 2 hours 10 minutes / 120 miles
Of course, Los Angeles makes the cut as one of the best day trips from San Diego. If you’re visiting California, a cruise through LA is a must. Snap pictures under the Hollywood sign, stroll along Sunset Boulevard, or hit the skate parks lining Venice Beach. It’s also a great rainy day destination, home to some of the best museums in the USA, like the Getty and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
5. Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
Distance from San Diego: 45 minutes / 44 miles
Flee the bustle of the city with this day trip from San Diego. Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is only 45 minutes away, making it easy to reach if you feel like spending the day in nature. Hike for sprawling views from Cuyamaca Peak, the highest point in the park, or enjoy one of the other many trails weaving through the area. If you’re looking for a more relaxing San Diego day trip, this state park also has horseback riding, finishing, and impeccable bird watching, so remember to pack your binoculars.
6. Laguna Beach
Distance from San Diego: 1 hour 15 minutes / 80 miles
Coastal life is at its best in Laguna Beach, with miles of golden sand, turquoise water, and little coves to explore. Hop on a bike to ride the length of the coast, or rent a kayak and paddle out to nearby Seal Rock. Seeking wilderness? Head north to tramp around Crystal Cove State Park with insane points of view over the ocean. When you make it back to civilization, tour the many art galleries in the area, go shopping at the trendy boutiques, or continue on the coast to Newport Beach for even more stunning scenery.
Distance from San Diego: 1 hour 30 mins / 95 miles
The Happiest Place on Earth is one of the best day trips from San Diego since you can reach it in less than an hour and a half (if there’s minimal traffic). It’s the ideal choice if you’re visiting California with kids, though people of all ages find this iconic park magical and well worth the trip.
8. La Jolla
Distance from San Diego: 25 minutes / 14 miles
Tucked away in the northern area of San Diego, you’ll find La Jolla, one of the most charming places in California. La Jolla is teeming with things to do, from watching the seals to surfing the waves (great for all levels) to scuba diving and snorkeling around the plentiful reefs. When you’ve had enough beach time, stroll through downtown La Jolla for excellent restaurants or hit Girard Avenue to go antique hunting. Don’t leave the area without catching a sunset at the Cove!
Distance from San Diego: 1 hour / 59 miles
Old Town Temecula is particularly alluring, with live music coming from dozens of venues lining the main street. Not into the party scene? Pack your clubs and spend a day on the golf course, or enjoy panoramic views from a hot air balloon. Outdoor enthusiasts can go hiking, biking, or horseback riding in the adjacent hills and mountains to explore the area’s natural splendor. Temecula is a terrific place for a quiet weekend because of its lovely climate, welcoming locals, and variety of activities.
Distance from San Diego: 2 hours / 89 miles
Ensenada has a little something for everyone. This Mexican port town is a popular destination for cruise ships and acts as the gateway to Baja California. Sitting right on the ocean, there are a lot of coastlines to enjoy in Ensenada, along with some epic natural wonders like canyons, blow holes, and waterfalls. It is south of the border, so bring along your passport and spend a day wining, dining, and beaching in one of Mexico’s crown jewels.
11. Valle de Guadalupe
Distance from San Diego: 1 hour 45 minutes / 86 miles
Just up the road from Ensenada, you’ll find Valle de Guadalupe, one of the best day trips from San Diego for anyone looking to kick back and relax. It’s also a premiere destination for foodies since the area has attracted world-famous chefs, who concoct innovative dishes in the local restaurants. Come hungry and leave happy!
Distance from San Diego: 40 minutes / 35 miles
Rather stick close by? Carlsbad is only 35 minutes north of San Diego and is the holy grail for water activities. California surfing is at its best here, with long, rolling waves suitable for all levels. The beaches are pristine, and if you head inland, you’ll find gorgeous lagoons with lots of opportunities for hiking, biking, and birding. If you’re in search of a more relaxing day trip, hit the Carlsbad Mineral Water Spa and soak in natural hot springs.
13. San Deigo Zoo Safari Park
Distance from San Diego: 35 minutes / 32 miles
For the best family-friendly day trips from San Diego, it’s hard to beat the Zoo Safari Park. This place instantly transports visitors to Africa, with a whopping 1,800 acres to explore and Jeep safari rides to soak it in. Yes, you read that right, only 40 minutes away from San Diego, you can go on a realistic African safari and spot exotic creatures everywhere you look.
14. Holtville Hot Springs
Distance from San Diego: 2 hours / 130 miles
Keen to spend your day soaking in natural hot springs? Holtville is among the best day trips from San Diego, especially if you’re hoping to relax achy muscles or simply escape the city for a while. This place is a true oasis close to the Mexican border, where you can find two outdoor pools with temperatures floating around 103° Fahrenheit. They’re free to use since it’s on BLM land, and there’s camping nearby, which draws in hundreds of long term snowbirds fleeing the chilly winter up north.
15. Joshua Tree
Distance from San Diego: 2 hours 35 mins / 160 miles
Joshua Tree is a quick two-and-a-half-hour drive, making it one of the best day trips from San Diego. This bucket list destination draws people in from far and wide to experience the best of the California desert in a blissful paradise-like setting. Spend your day roaming the charming main street, visiting some of the quirkiest exhibitions in the country, or trekking through Joshua Tree National Park. There’s no shortage of things to do in Joshua Tree, so hit the road early so you can enjoy all the area has to offer.
16. Palm Springs
Distance from San Diego: 2 hours 15 minutes / 139 miles
Well-beloved by the rich and famous, resort town Palm Springs is a choice destination for a dose of luxury. As one of the best day trips from San Diego, expect fine dining, steamy hot springs, and even the odd celebrity sighting if you’re lucky. There are some incredible museums in the area (the Art Museum and the Air Museum, to name a couple) and a stunning botanical garden to visit if you’re after a more budget-friendly getaway.
17. Borrego Springs Slot Canyon
Distance from San Diego: 2 hours / 90 miles
Beat the crowds and head out early on a day trip from San Diego to the Borrego Springs Slot Canyon. This natural wonder sees a decent amount of people, so it’s imperative to arrive early to make the most of this enchanting area. Spend the day hiking through the walls of rock and dazzling geological formations. There’s some squeezing and scrambling involved, but overall it’s quite an easy way to experience the arid side of the California landscape and an unforgettable slot canyon.
18. Lake Poway
Distance from San Diego: 35 minutes / 28 miles
Lake Poway is basically paradise on earth, which is just as well, considering it supplies water to the surrounding areas. There are three hiking trails to explore, and when you feel like taking to the water, try your hand at paddle boards, row boats, or even fishing for trout. This is the perfect place to come for a picnic and an enticing choice for a San Diego day trip.
19. Catalina Island
Distance from San Diego: 2 hours 30 mins (driving), 1 hour ferry
If you don’t think of Step Brothers every time you see this island’s name, you’ve probably never seen the movie before. But jokes aside, Catalina Island is a sensational San Diego day trip, even if it is on the longer end of the travel times. This island is home to brilliant vistas and lots of wildlife spotting opportunities, not to mention all of the water activities imaginable, like jet skiing, parasailing, and scuba diving. Though for a more low-key day trip, explore one of the numerous museums or galleries, play a few rounds of golf, or eat your way through the Catalina dining scene.
20. Idyllwild-Pine Cove
Distance from San Diego: 2 hours 5 minutes / 113 miles
Make the most of California’s mountainous scenery from the Idyllwild Area. It takes about two hours to reach these mountains from San Diego, but it’s well worth it for the remote wilderness and break from the city hustle. Take in spectacular sights of the San Jacinto mountains and weave your way through fragrant pine and cedar trees. After exploring the backcountry, head into the small village to enjoy local shopping and hearty fare. It’s the ideal San Diego day trip to get away from it all and experience peace and tranquility you can only find in the mountains.
Camper Van Rental San Diego
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TB Outdoor Rentals offers campervans of all shapes and sizes with rigs that suit every budget. With everything you need to experience life on the road, there’s no better getaway than with a home on wheels.
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