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18 Best San Diego Day Trips for a Fun-Filled Adventure (2023)

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Looking for the best San Diego day trips? You’re in the right place!

San Diego, California, is a coastal city known for its beautiful beaches, vibrant downtown, and unique culture. It’s the perfect destination for a weekend getaway or day trips from nearby cities. From nature hikes to urban exploration, there’s something for everyone around San Diego!

In this blog post, you’ll find some of the best day trips from San Diego that will take you to stunning sights and serene spots around the area. So buckle up, and let’s explore some of these amazing destinations.

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San Diego Day Trips

La Jolla

Seals relaxing on rocks by the water.
View of the ocean.

A day trip from San Diego to La Jolla offers a fun-filled day in a picturesque coastal town. Located just 13 miles from downtown San Diego, the drive from San Diego to La Jolla takes approximately 20-30 minutes, depending on traffic. While you can take the bus or a train, the quickest way to travel is by car.

A day trip from San Diego to La Jolla is not complete without visiting La Jolla Cove, known for its stunning cliffs, clear waters, and abundant marine life. La Jolla Cove lies within the San Diego La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve, making it an ideal place for swimmers, snorkelers, kayakers, and scuba divers to view the local marine life.

For those who don’t want to get in the water, head to the Cave Store, where you can descend into an old smuggler’s cave to check out the view. 

Another one of the best things to do in La Jolla is to enjoy a leisurely stroll along the coastline, where you will see seals, sea lions, and a variety of birds sunning themselves on the rocks.   

After exploring the coastline, head a couple blocks inland to Prospect Street, where you will find upscale boutiques and art galleries. Wandering around Prospect Street is a terrific way to work up an appetite before heading to one of the many delicious restaurants in La Jolla, such as Richard Walker’s Pancake House, Puesto La Jolla, Eddie V’s, or George’s at the Cove, where the views are stunning! 

Contributed by Michelle Steinhardt of The Trav Nav

Book a Loa Jolla Sea Kayaking tour here!

Cabrillo National Monument

Exterior of a white lighthouse next to an American flag.
Point Loma Lighthouse in Cabrillo National Monument near San Diego. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Visit Point Loma Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse in California and one of the first lighthouses on the Pacific Coast.

Built in 1855, Old Point Loma Lighthouse sits 400 feet above sea level, offering majestic views across the harbor to San Diego. No longer in operation, the lighthouse was restored by the National Park Service in 1985, and open to the public to tour, 

Learn about how the lighthouse keeper and his family lived. Climb the spiral staircase to the top of the lighthouse. Be sure to see the impressive display about how a lighthouse works and about light sources.

Plan to visit the lighthouse at low tide to take advantage of the impressive tide pools at Cabrillo National Monument. Appropriate clothing and shoes should be worn.

The park is open from 9 am – 5 pm, all year.

A National Park Pass must be purchased at the entrance. The cost for a private vehicle is $20. A per person fee is $10.

Getting there from San Diego:

The lighthouse is located in Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma a short 30-minute drive (12 miles) from San Diego. During the week, Route 84 bus service is available with hourly stops at the Visitor Center. The bus does not stop at the tidal pool area.

Contributed by Wendy of Life’s Incredible Journey

Temecula

Close up of berries growing on a plant.

Temecula is one of the best day trips from San Diego, especially for wine lovers. It is located about 60 miles or an hour’s drive away. It is not possible to get there by public transportation, so you will need a car to drive there. 

Once there, the main thing to do in Temecula is to go wine tasting. The area has over 40 wineries and has produced wine since the 1700s. The main types of wine include Italian, French and Spanish varietals. 

The best winery you cannot miss in Temecula is Robert Renzoni. They do a lot of Italian-style wines. For Disney lovers, you will want to stop at Briar Rose and it has storybook vibes. Other fun wineries to visit include Avensole, Bel Vino, Europa Village, Leoness, and Masia de la Vinya. 

Outside of wine tasting, it is worth stopping in Old Town Temecula. This is where you will find a ton of restaurants and kitschy shops. On the weekends they usually have a farmer’s market. 

Food wise, Small Barn is the best place to go for a delicious dinner or Public House for brunch. Many of the wineries also have amazing restaurants such as Leoness and Bolero at Europa Village.

Contributed by Francesca of Homeroom Travel

Book a Temecula wine country tour from SD here!

Encinitas

Food with veggies in a bowl.
Green sign that says Encinitas.

If you’re looking for a quick and easy day trip, the laid-back beach town of Encinitas (located in North San Diego County) is the place to be. While it may be relatively small, there’s no shortage of fun things to do in Encinitas

Right along Highway 101, there’s plenty of boutique shops, eateries, cafes, and bars. Grab a casual lunch at The Taco Stand before heading across the street to enjoy a beer at Culture Brewing Co. 

From there, you can take the short walk over to Moonlight Beach to lay out in the sun and jump in the ocean. You can also enjoy the beautifully landscaped property at the Self-Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens, or take a quick drive over to San Diego Botanic Garden and stroll through the four miles of trails. 

Encinitas is located about 26 miles north of Downtown – by car it will take you around 30 to 45 minutes, depending on traffic. Besides driving, one of the easiest ways to get to Encinitas is via train. From the Santa Fe Depot Station, the ride to the Encinitas Station (which is conveniently located in the heart of town) on the Coaster Commuter Rail is just under an hour.

Contributed by Kyra of Sea to Sequoia

Book an Encinitas food tour here!

Los Angeles

Sign that says Hollywood is on rolling hills.

Located just 2 hours and 116 miles from San Diego up the coast is Los Angeles. If you’ve never been, it’s a fantastic day trip from Dan Diego and because there are so many once-in-a-lifetime things to do in Los Angeles, the city worth visiting!

To get to Los Angeles, you’ll likely want to drive although there are privatized buses available like Greyhound and Flixbus. Driving a car allows for more flexibility, especially once you’re in Los Angeles because the city is quite spread out and notorious for poor public transportation.

During your day trip to Los Angeles, be sure to have a game plan as to what you want to do for a day. There are so many incredible museums, activities, and attractions that it can be hard to narrow it down, but here are some suggestions.

A favorite is Griffith Observatory. Not only is the museum phenomenal and free, but the views of the city are unparalleled. Plus, you can see the Hollywood Sign from Griffith Observatory, so you can cross that off your bucket list.

For art-lovers, be sure to visit one of the cities acclaimed museums like LACMA, the Broad, or the Getty.

Other ideas include visiting Santa Monica Pier including the amusement park, eating at Grand Central Market, and strolling the beautiful gardens at the Huntington Library.

Contributed by Alanna of Periodic Adventures

See the top landmarks of Los Angeles on this tour!

San Clemente

View of a town from above by the water.

Located less than 1 hour away from San Diego, San Clemente makes a perfect weekend getaway. Unlike a popular road trip to Baja California, a getaway to San Clemente doesn’t require a passport, and you don’t need to battle tons of traffic like if you were going to LA.

San Clemente is only 59 miles north of San Diego, and the drive is a straight shot along Interstate-5. The best way to get from San Diego to San Clemente is by driving a car, but you can also use public transportation. Amtrak runs a train from San Clemente Pier Amtrak to San Diego twice a day, and you can also take a bus between the two cities, with tickets costing around $10.

If you want to get cheap tickets between two cities, book them online through Greyhound, as they often sell out fast.

Remember that while public transportation is always an option, your trip will take longer if you take a bus or train. A standard train ride lasts around 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Once you get to San Clemente, you will enjoy wide golden beaches, gorgeous hiking trails along the Pacific Ocean, and one of the most pretty piers in Southern California.

If you plan on spending a couple of days in San Clemente, make sure to visit some of the popular landmarks in the area like Casa Romantica, hike San Clemente Coastal Trail, and check out Del Mar Street that’s home to many boutique shops and restaurants. To see the highlights of the town, take the San Clemente Trolley, which stops at the most popular places in town. 

Contributed by Daria of Explore Baja California

Redlands

Bikes parked outside of a library made of red brick.

Another lovely day trip from San Diego is to Redlands. This small yet picturesque town is located about 107 miles away and is a great getaway from the hustle and bustle of busy San Diego.

In terms of transportation, the best way to reach this smaller town is via car, which takes around 1 hour and 45 minutes. However, it may take longer depending on if you encounter morning rush hour traffic.

And despite being a charming town that’s a bit under the radar, there’s a wide array of activities and places to visit. For example, you can visit the Smiley AKA library, which is known for its beautiful architecture and rich history that dates back to the 19th century.

Afterward, you can hit up the winding trails around Prospect Park, a popular spot among locals for picnics and taking in the views of the city from up high. Or, if you’re looking to do a bit of retail therapy and grab a bit to eat, check out the shops in the downtown area. You’ll find lots of restaurants, clothing stores, and quirky shops! All in all, if you’re keen on exploring a lesser-known spot, be sure to consider Redlands.

Contributed by Kristin of Global Travel Escapades

Joshua Tree

Pathway leading through a desert.

While in San Diego, you have to consider taking a day trip to Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree is one of the more underrated National Parks that offers scenic and unique landscapes. The park is made up of two deserts and is surrounded by giant boulders, which are very popular for rock climbing, and Joshua Trees. This park is also known for its unbelievable unobstructed views which makes for amazing stargazing opportunities. 

Some of the best stops and hiking trails to add to your itinerary include Hidden Valley Nature Trail, Skull Rock, and Cholla Cactus Garden for beautiful sunset views. 

Joshua Tree is located in Twentynine Palms, which is Northeast of San Diego. The best way to access the park is to drive. The drive from San Diego is about 160 miles which will take around 3 hours – so it is best to start your day very early.

There is no public transportation in the park unless you go on a guided tour.

While Joshua Tree is open all year round, the best time to visit is between November and April. Temperatures range from 35°F to 71°F, which makes the weather comfortable to walk in. 

With that in mind, the climate here is dry and sunny with little shade coverage. You should wear cool clothing and pack additional sunscreen and plenty of water.

Contributed by Sam Opp of Find Love and Travel

Book a scenic tour of Joshua Tree here!

Disneyland

Bright teacup ride in Storybook Land.

Disneyland makes for one of the best day trips from San Diego. 

Disneyland is a world-renowned theme park that offers a truly immersive and magical experience for all ages.  While at Disneyland you can see the iconic Sleeping Beauty Castle, ride thrilling rollercoasters such as Space Mountain, or take a gentle boat ride through the Pirates of the Caribbean or It’s a Small World.

Disneyland also offers many shows and parades with your favorite Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, the Disney Princesses, Disney Pixar characters, Star Wars characters and more!

There are many great reasons to visit Disneyland while you are in San Diego.  Disneyland’s proximity to San Diego makes it a convenient day trip without the need for extensive travel or an overnight accommodation.  And once you’re there, you’ll be surrounded by a magical atmosphere that makes you feel like you’re in a different world.

The best and quickest way to get to Disneyland from San Diego is by car.  Disneyland is approximatley 94 miles and a 1-hour 22-minute drive from San Diego.  For those without a car in San Diego, you could take a train to San Diego via Amtrack.  This route takes a little over 2 hours but would make fun a fun adventure. 

Contributed by Kim of Traveling Swansons

Book your Disneyland California tickets here!

Legoland

Giraffe made out of legos
Skeleton band made out of legos

Just 35 miles north of San Diego in Carlsbad, Legoland California Resort is a great spot for families and those who are young at heart. The rides and attractions at this Lego-themed park were designed with 2-12 year old children in mind, but teens and adults will find plenty of ways to enjoy themselves too.

Legoland California includes more than 60 rides with everything from gentle train rides for tots to roller coasters for thrill-seekers. In addition, there are attractions such as Miniland USA featuring Lego models of major US landmarks,  live-action shows and meet and greets with characters from the Lego movies. The Legoland resort also includes an onsite water park and an aquarium with hands-on animal encounters (separate ticket required for both).

The easiest way to reach Legoland from San Diego is to drive. Parking at Legoland California is currently $30 per day.

There is plenty of food available in the park, including Legoland’s signature apple fries, but you can save money by bringing in water and small snacks.

Check the Legoland website for the most current information about rides, opening hours and admission prices.

Contributed by Adrienne of Destinations & Desserts

Book your LEGOLAND California tickets here!

Carlsbad

Colorful flowers with an ocean in the background

Carlsbad is a great day trip from San Diego that has something for everyone. From downtown San Diego you can drive the 35 miles in about 45 minutes or take the train which takes about an hour and a half. 

With seven miles of stunning Pacific Ocean coastline, anyone who enjoys beach activities will love this seaside town. The long stretches of sandy beach are perfect for swimming, surfing, and skim boarding.

There’s a strand along the shore for long walks and a paved path above with spectacular views.

Just a couple of blocks away, Carlsbad Village offers lots of local shops and all kinds of eateries, bars, breweries, and wine tasting establishments. If you’re just there for the day, there are a number of happy hours in Carlsbad for an early meal before heading back. 

In the spring, don’t miss the Carlsbad Flower Fields. You can see the acres of gorgeous blooms from the freeway, but you can do better. If you don’t want to spend the entrance fee, you can still get a terrific view by parking on Armada  Drive. There are even a few view points that get you closer. 

For families, of course, there’s Legoland. But then you’ll miss the rest of this wonderful town!

Contributed by Denise of Chef Denise

Long Beach

View of a city skyline with palm trees near the blue water

For a great day trip to take from San Diego, head north to the beautiful city of Long Beach.

Long Beach is located about 115 miles away from San Diego and takes just under two hours to get there by car. Fortunately, there are enough interesting things to see and do in Long Beach that it makes the drive well worth it!

No trip to Long Beach is complete without swinging by the Queen Mary.  The Queen Mary was a working ship from 1936 to 1967.  Today it’s retired and permanently docked in Long Beach.  You can take a tour of Queen Mary or even stay in a hotel room onboard!  Whether you step foot onto the ship or not, seeing it is a must.  

Another popular place to visit in Long Beach is the Aquarium of the Pacific.  This is the largest aquarium in Southern California and it houses 12,000 animals!  *Note that tickets are timed and can easily be purchased online.*

For a little shopping, strolling, eating and a great atmosphere to take in, stop by Shoreline Village.  Shoreline Village is a beautiful outdoor shopping area located right on the water.  It’s colorful buildings and beautiful views are well worth a visit.

Enjoy your time in beautiful Long Beach!

Contributed by Chelsea of Adventures of Chels

Palm Springs

Palm trees on a field near the mountains

Palm Springs, the Southern California desert hotspot, makes for a wonderful day trip from San Diego. About 141 miles away, Palm Springs is about a 2.5-hour drive from San Diego in normal traffic.

Although there is bus service between the two cities, you’ll want to rent a car to maximize your sightseeing time.

And start early, because there are many wonderful things to do in Palm Springs, from hiking in a desert oasis to touring the cool mid-century modern architecture (so many colorful doors for Instagram photos!).

Hiking in Indian Canyons or Tahquitz Canyon is a great way to start your day outside of summer. The oases feature beautiful California palms and other desert flora.

Then head to downtown Palm Springs for lunch at one of the many topnotch eateries, followed by pool time at a resort. Many resorts offers day passes!

Later in the afternoon, take a biking tour of the celebrity homes and mid-century modern buildings and homes. If you pose for photos in front of the famous colored doors, be respectful!

If you enjoy gardens, Moorten Botanical Garden or the Sunnylands Center & Gardens make for delightful exploration. Or you can browse the stores and art galleries along Palm Canyon Drive.

Finish your day with a fun pizza dinner at Birba’s or book a table at the acclaimed Workshop Kitchen + Bar.

Contributed by Dhara of Roadtripping California 

Book a Palm Springs Aerial Tramway ticket here!

Universal Studios Hollywood

People walk around a sign that says Universal Studios
Editorial credit: V_E / Shutterstock.com

Visiting Universal Studios Hollywood is an excellent day trip from San Diego as it is only 130 miles and around 2 hours by car. The best way to get there is by driving from San Diego. Universal Studios is one of the most famous theme parks in California. It offers a wide range of attractions and entertainment options for visitors of all ages. From thrilling rides to immersive shows, there is something for everyone to enjoy.

Movie lovers will love the Studio tour, which takes you behind the scenes of a real working movie studio and allows you to see famous sets and soundstages. You can also learn about the movie-making process and even encounter some special effects along the way. The park has several thrill rides based on popular movies and TV shows. From the high-speed adventure of Jurassic World – The Ride to the immersive journey of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the rides provide an adrenaline rush and transport you into the worlds of your favorite films. 

Food options are plentiful at Universal Studios Hollywood, with a variety of restaurants scattered throughout the park. Whether you’re in the mood for a quick snack or a full meal, you’ll find something delicious to suit your taste.

Whether you’re a film buff, a theme park enthusiast, or simply looking for a memorable experience, Universal Studios Hollywood has something for everyone.

Contributed by Anu Agarwal of Destination Check-Off

Book your Universal Studios Hollywood ticket here!

Laguna Beach

People standing on rocks by the water

Laguna Beach is one of the best day trip from San Diego with tons of amazing natural beauty, and a relaxed coastal atmosphere. Located approximately 80 miles north of San Diego, the drive typically takes around 1.5 to 2 hours, making it an easy day trip.

The quickest way to reach Laguna Beach is by car. However, if you prefer not to drive, you can take the train! Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner offers service between San Diego and Laguna Beach, allowing you to enjoy scenic coastal views along the way. Tickets are around $40.

Laguna Beach is famous for its pristine beaches, picturesque coastal cliffs, summer art festivals, and charming downtown area. Take a leisurely stroll through Heisler Park, enjoy the scenic views, and discover the delightful boutiques, art galleries, and eateries in Downtown Laguna.

Start your day by visiting the Laguna Art Museum, which showcases a diverse collection of local California artwork. The museum’s exhibitions highlight the rich artistic heritage of the region with over 3600 works from the 19th century to the present day.

Next, head straight to one of the best beaches in Laguna Beach, Treasure Island Beach. Located in front of the Montage Resort, this spot is renowned for its stunning tide pools.

These natural wonders offer a glimpse into the fascinating marine life that inhabits this stretch of coast. You can spend hours exploring the tide pools, observing the colorful sea anemones, starfish, and more.

Remember to tread carefully and respect the environment while enjoying this unique coastal ecosystem.

Laguna Beach offers the perfect taste of life in Orange County and makes an ideal day trip from San Diego.

Contributed by Sydney of Sydney to Anywhere

Book a fun Laguna Beach kayaking tour here!

Malibu

Green juice by the water
Two girls sit by the ocean

A day trip from San Diego to Malibu is a fun summer road trip to add to your list! Clocking in at roughly 155 miles or 2.5 hours, it is one that you will want to start bright and early! Don’t fret though- the drive is absolutely stunning and relatively easy! You can take the scenic view and cruise down Highway 1 or hop on the freeway to make things a bit faster. There are also buses, but most of them only run to LA and not to Malibu itself

Once in Malibu grab a delicious lunch right on the pier at Malibu Farms. This restaurant is not only delicious but offers up the best views of the beach and cliff side homes. Another great place to check out is Malibu Wines which is situated up in the canyons and is an eclectic little spot. 

If you are looking for a beach, you do not want to miss out on El Matador State Beach. Trust me when I say you will not regret it. It is arguably one of the best beaches in all of Southern California!

Contributed by Marisa of The Daydream Diaries

See Malibu with a guide on this food, wine, and beach tour!

Tijuana

People on both sides of a fence by the water

While you may not be able to reach the gorgeous beaches of La Paz on a San Diego day trip, you can still get a taste of life across the border by visiting Tijuana. 

The San Diego/Tijuana border crossing is the busiest border crossing in the world, which can result in long wait times for drivers. For the smoothest border crossing experience, walk across the border. You can park on the U.S. side or take the trolley from downtown San Diego straight to the border crossing.

Overall, the trip to the border should take about thirty minutes via car or forty minutes via public transportation. 

Once you cross the border, you can take Uber wherever you want. Be sure to read up on safety in Tijuana neighborhoods before visiting, but generally, one of the best places to visit is the beach. 

Near where the border wall meets the Pacific Ocean, you can sip margaritas and cervezas while watching the waves crash into the shore. This area is also great for street food and shopping. 

It’s important to note that Tijuana is the fifth largest city in Mexico and gets a lot of mixed press. As most border cities are, Tijuana is complicated. Persecuted migrants from Central America travel to Tijuana hoping to plead asylum and enter the U.S. Meanwhile, smugglers bring drugs, arms, and trafficking victims across the border. Yet, with everything that happens at the border, many Americans and tourists travel to Tijuana for day trips and vacations. 

Before traveling to Tijuana, be sure to research the situation online and try to talk to locals in San Diego who travel to Mexico frequently. 

Contributed by Annie of Your Friend the Nomad

Have a guide by your side on this Tijuana walking tour from San Diego!

Ensenada

Street food being cooked

Embarking on a day trip from San Diego to Ensenada offers coastal beauty, cultural immersion, and cheap tacos that taste delicious.

By private vehicle, expect the 88-mile journey to take two hours, and since you’re crossing a border, you’ll need a valid passport.

Arriving in Ensenada in picturesque Baja California, you have many choices for activities. The Mercado Mariscos, aka the Ensenada Fish Market, offers the freshest seafood near the waterfront. If you choose to purchase, nearby restaurants will cook it for you.

If you prefer to explore beyond the downtown area, a trip to La Bufadora is a must. It takes a 45-minute drive on the Ensenada Lazaro Cardenas (Hwy 1) to reach La Bufadora, a world-famous marine geyser.

If you visit during high tide, you can witness the blowhole shooting water 100 feet into the air. At the blowhole, a street of local booths offers cheap souvenirs and a chance to sample authentic Mexican food.

Stop by Lidia’s Taco Grill, where tacos cost USD 2, made with the freshest ingredients.

If you’re a wine connoisseur, Ensenada offers a myriad of vineyards. You can either head to a nearby winery or enjoy wine tasting downtown. The Valle de Guadalupe produces numerous Baja wines, and many you can purchase for under USD 10.

Contributed by Karen from Forever Karen

Visit Ensenada with a guide on this San Diego day trip tour!

Final Thoughts: Day Trips from San Diego

There are so many fun San Diego day trips. No matter where you choose to go, you’ll have the best time. Don’t forget to pack your camera and sunscreen!

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