Skip to Content

21 Best Day Trips from San Diego, California

21 Best Day Trips from San Diego, California

San Diego is a city with a lot to offer. It has wonderful beaches, a buzzing nightlife scene, and impressive history. The city is also known for its diversity. 

It is a city of over 1 million people and has more than 100 miles of beaches. It’s a beach bum’s dream destination: perfect weather, lots of fun things to do, and a laid-back vibe. It is also a city that’s got it all. From the beaches to the museums to the shopping, you’ll be able to find something for everyone in this beautiful city.

If you’re looking for something fun but not too strenuous, consider taking a day trip out of town and return back home in the evening to rest. You’ll get to explore some new sights and relax in a new setting. Here are some of the best day trips from San Diego:

TLDR: Our Favorites in San Diego, CA

Best Day Trips from San Diego

1. Look into the art galleries in the Laguna Art Museum

Laguna Art Museum

Address: 307 Cliff Dr, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

In the middle between San Diego and Los Angeles, Laguna Beach is a popular location for art lovers and enthusiasts. There is a celebration of the area’s numerous local artists across the town. Everywhere you look, you’ll see street art, murals in stores and lampposts, and several art galleries and expositions.

Don’t miss the Laguna Work Museum while you’re in Laguna Beach, which houses a collection of art by Californians and art that depicts the story of the state. Visitors who are 12 years old or younger, as well as museum members, are not charged admission to enter the Laguna Art Museum. And general admission can be purchased here.

You can also embark on a treasure hunt across Laguna Beach with this guided virtual phone tour as part of your trips from San Diego. Solve puzzles and conquer tasks with your team while also learning about the history of the area.

2. Treat your kids to the Legoland Theme Park, Carlsbad

Legoland Theme Park

Address: 1 Legoland Dr, Carlsbad, CA 92008

At LEGOLAND California, a children’s amusement park, families with young children are guaranteed a fun-filled day of entertainment. LEGOLAND has a variety of large-scale Lego models, attractions, and shows as you roam around.

Additional attractions include a Marine LIFE Aquarium with hands-on displays and close-up views of sea creatures, including sharks, stingrays, and octopi; the LEGO CHIMA Water Park with aquatic-themed attractions like Soak-N-Sail pirate vessel and a Splash Zoo for children; and Legoland California Resort.

In addition to the LEGOLAND Hotel’s themed rooms, guests can also stay at the LEGOLAND Castle Hotel, which features an entertainment courtyard and a kid-friendly pool area.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to do in Orange County, CA

3. Ramp up your adrenaline at the San Diego SeaWorld Theme Park

San Diego SeaWorld Theme Park

Address: 500 Sea World Dr., San Diego, CA 92109, United States

SeaWorld San Diego is a huge amusement park and zoo located in the city of SD, California. The park first opened its doors in 1964 and has since become one of the most popular parks in Southern California.

It’s not so much a day trip from SD, but you need the whole day (or more) to make the most of this magical place.

The park features many rides for children and adults alike, including roller coasters like Manta and Kraken Unleashed, as well as water slides like the wave pool. It also features animals from around the world that you can observe while riding on boats or walking through animal habitats.

If you’re taking tours with children, they can enjoy the smaller rides and shows while parents enjoy the larger, more thrilling attractions. The park also has several restaurants that offer unique dining experiences while you are visiting SeaWorld San Diego with your family or friends.

4. Learn more at the USS Midway Museum

USS Midway Museum

Address: 910 N Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101, USA

The USS Midway Museum is one of the best things recommended for day trips within the area. It is also only 5 minutes away from downtown San Diego. Again, it’s not a day trip from San Diego per se, but you need the whole day to make the most of this incredible museum ship!

The USS Midway Museum is located on Coronado Island in San Diego, California. It was commissioned as a warship in 1945 and was decommissioned in 1992. The museum opened in 2012 and has been open ever since!

The USS Midway Museum has exhibits that tell stories about the history of naval warfare through the ages, including World War II and the Cold War. There are also interactive displays that allow visitors to try out different tasks like operating a radar system or piloting an aircraft carrier during an attack run on Pearl Harbor!

For easier access and a guided exploration within the establishment, you can book your tickets to this San Diego day trip here.

See Related: Best Things to Do in Calabasas, California

5. Go surfing at Mission Beach near downtown San Diego

Mission Beach

Going surfing at Mission Beach is a fun way to spend a day away from the heart of downtown San Diego without straying too far. Mission Beach is located about five miles south of downtown, which makes it a great place for an afternoon or morning spent on the sand as you enjoy the sun, surf, and sandy beaches.

The best thing to do is to go surfing at Mission Beach near downtown San Diego when the waves are big, and the wind isn’t too strong. The waves will be more powerful if there’s a strong wind blowing in from the east or west. The bigger the waves are, the better chance you’ll have of catching some good ones!

If you’re just getting started with surfing, don’t worry—it’s not as difficult as it looks! You can learn how to surf on your own by watching others’ videos (and even by buying books) or by researching local schools that teach surfing classes.

Make a tour part of your day trips from San Diego and try out beginner-level waves or even catch a large wave yourself if you’re feeling brave! The area is also very family-friendly, so it’s perfect for kids and adults alike.

6. Take a road trip from San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Take an early day trip. San Diego is another place to take a 160-mile drive to Joshua Tree National Park, which takes around three hours.

Drives from San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park can be accomplished by one of two main routes. In the first case, you’ll take Temecula all the way to Joshua Tree’s western entrance. The alternative option is to travel through Borrego Springs to the park’s south gate.

However, the Temecula route, which is closer to Los Angeles, is more likely to meet traffic than the Borrego Springs route, which is less likely to do so at any time. This road trip is possible at any time of year. There is a distinct advantage to traveling during the off-peak season.

Within the 3-hour drive, the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the Salton Sea, and the San Bernardino National Forest, as well as Escondido, Temecula, and Palm Springs, are all worthwhile rest breaks.

As for the park itself, spring and fall are the best times to visit because of the great weather and beautiful landscape, rappelling, rock climbing, and the park is large enough to prevent crowds on an average year.

See Related: Best Things to do in Guerneville, California

7. Roam around the San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo

Address: 2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101, USA

One of the best day trips in the area is a visit to the San Diego Zoo. Located in Balboa Park, the Zoo is home to over 3,700 animals from around the world. It is one of the world’s best zoos, and it’s not hard to see why: it has an amazing collection of animals, and the park is huge.

This place is a great way to see nature up close and personal, and you can even get up close with some of the animals yourself! You’ll be able to see monkeys, tigers, giant apes, giraffes, rhinos, and a wide range of exotic birds in their natural habitat.

There are many different exhibits that will keep your kids entertained for hours on end—from the sandy beaches to the rainforest, and there’s something for everyone at this terrific zoo!

There are several different ticket options available, ranging from individual tickets that cost depending on inclusivities, membership cards you can use for a year, and a gift card. You can easily spend the entire day here!

8. Enjoy a road trip from San Diego to Palm Springs

San Diego to Palm Springs

You can’t beat the California coast for day trips, and San Diego is one of the best places to get started. If you’re looking for a day trip from San Diego, California, you can’t go wrong with a trip to Palm Springs.

Palm Springs is known for its palm trees, and it’s easy to see why—the city is surrounded by palm trees! While you’re there, you can enjoy the natural beauty of the desert landscape, as well as all of the exciting things that make Palm Springs such a popular destination (like golfing and shopping).

The distance from San Diego to Palm Springs is 129 miles (207 km), and I n normal traffic, the travel should take around 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Between San Diego and Palm Springs are La Jolla, Carlsbad, Temecula, Escondido, Coronado, San Clemente, Riverside, Oceanside, and Encinitas. Greater Palm Springs, located less than an hour from Palm Springs and San Diego, is the most popular city on the route. All the places mentioned, in fact, have plenty of activities to get caught in.

Like what you are hearing? Check out these best restaurants in Palm Springs.

See Related: Visiting Tahquitz Canyon in Palm Springs, California

9. Feel the sun on your skin at La Jolla Shores and La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove

Address: La Jolla Shores, San Diego, CA, 92037, USA

If you’re looking for a day trip, without straying too far from downtown, that’s as exciting as it is relaxing, La Jolla Shores and La Jolla Cove are it. The area is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in all of San Diego County, with dramatic cliffs, sandy paths, and views of the Pacific Ocean from several vantage points.

You can choose from an array of activities—from hiking to surfing to swimming, or just lounging on your towel and taking in the sights. You’ll find plenty of places to grab a bite to eat or sip on a refreshing drink at any time of day or night.

10. Feel the Nature of San Diego Botanic Garden

San Diego Botanic Garden

Address: Quail Gardens Drive and Ecke Ranch Rd, Encinitas, CA 92024, USA

A day trip to the San Diego Botanic Garden is a great way to spend your time. There are no other children’s gardens quite like this one on the West Coast and you can spend the whole day here without getting too far from the city proper.

Discover the largest collection of bamboo in the country, as well as four kilometers of garden paths lined with blooming trees!

Here, the temperate climate is ideal for a wide variety of plants from throughout the world. In just 37 acres, our diverse scenery transports guests from a desert to a tropical rainforest.

An hour north of San Diego in Encinitas, California, where you can see unique bamboo groves and desert gardens as well as a rainforest and California native flora. The San Diego Botanic Garden has a variety of landscapes for all kinds of climates.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to do in Long Beach, California

11. Learn through a Whale Watching cruise in San Diego County

Whale Watching

If you’re looking for a day trip that’s sure to keep you on your toes, look no further than whale-watching tours in San Diego.

Whale watching is an incredible experience that allows you to get up close and personal with whales as they swim by. You’ll even get to see them breach—that’s when a whale bursts water out of its blowhole!

This is what makes whale-watching tours so special: not only will you get to see these amazing creatures, but the tour guides will share their knowledge about whales and how they interact with each other and their environment.

The best part about a whale-watching tour? It’s not just about seeing the whales; it’s also about learning from them.

The guides will tell you all about the history of whales, their diets, and what makes them tick. They’ll also give recommendations for what kind of gear or food might be best for different species. You’ll have an amazing time on this trip!

12. Travel across the border to Rosarito Beach

Rosarito Beach

Address: Blvd. Benito Juárez 31, Playas Rosarito, 22710 Rosarito, B.C., Mexico

The best day trips from San Diego, California, are all about getting out of the city and seeing a little bit of Mexico. One of the most popular vacation spots in Rosarito Beach.

Rosarito Beach is located on the southern tip of Baja California, just off of Mexico’s Pacific Ocean coast. Situated between Ensenada and San Diego, this area is known for its surfable waves and stunning views.

This beach is located about 60 minutes away from downtown San Diego and offers coastal views with clear blue water. Visitors can enjoy swimming, surfing, fishing, and other activities at this beach.

See Related: Most Exotic Places in California to Visit

13. Start your day with coffee at Tijuana

Tijuana

If you’re in San Diego and looking for something to do, why not make the short drive out of town and check out Tijuana City over the border in Mexico?

Tijuana City is one of the most visited places in Baja California, which is why we decided to write up this guide on what to do there.

This area is full of incredible food, art, and history. You can explore all kinds of things here—from museums to parks to monuments—and it’s a great way to spend a day.

You might want to start your day off with coffee at one of the local coffee shops in Tijuana City, like Container Coffee Roaster. It’s an amazing place with lots of different flavors and types of coffee drinks available. And if you’re looking for something to eat afterward, there are tons of options from street food vendors or even sit-down restaurants that serve up some delicious authentic Mexican cuisine.

14. Take a trek at the San Jacinto Mountains

San Jacinto Mountains

If you’re looking for a day trip that’s both fun and educational, there’s no better place than the San Jacinto Mountains.

The San Jacinto Mountains are located about an hour south of San Diego, California, and offer a wide range of activities to enjoy. There are plenty of hiking trails and paths ready for any visitor.

Whether you want to hike and explore the forest or just relax in the hot springs, there’s something for everyone here.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to do in Palm Desert, California

15. Relax at the Borrego Springs

Borrego Springs

The best day trip to Borrego Springs is one of the most exciting and adventurous ways to see the area.

Borrego Springs is located in San Diego County, about an hour and a half from San Diego. It’s a popular destination for people who want to explore the desert and its many attractions, including golf courses, hiking trails, and camping spots.

The town itself is small enough that you can walk around it in less than an hour. If you have time to spare, there are plenty of things to do here—from visiting museums or taking a tour of the historic Mission San Juan Capistrano to playing golf at one of several courses or riding horses on horseback through the desert brush.

If you’re traveling with children (or even if you’re not), be sure to take them out on some off-road trails in Borrego Springs so they can get some exercise while experiencing nature first-hand!

16. Hear the waves at the San Onofre State Beach

San Onofre State Beach

Address: San Onofre State Beach, San Clemente, CA, 92672, USA

This gorgeous stretch of coastline offers a variety of activities ranging from hiking and biking to swimming, bird watching, and more.

The best part? It’s all right there waiting for you! All you have to do is hop in your car and head north on Highway 101. Once you’re there, you can stop at the Visitor Center to get your bearings and map out where you want to go. Then it’s just a quick drive down the road until you get to the beach itself.

There are tons of ways to spend your time here—you can wander around its stunning landscape while taking in some fresh air or water views, or if you prefer getting back into nature by yourself—as long as it’s not too hot out—you can hike up one of its many trails for some peaceful solitude.

See Related: Best Family Hotels in San Francisco, California

17. Join a Wine Tasting Tour at the Temecula Wine Country

Wine Tasting Tour

Address: 28475 Old Town Front St, Temecula, CA 92590, USA

The Wine Tasting Tour at the Temecula Wine country is about 45 minutes from San Diego, California, and is one of the best wine-tasting tours in Southern California.

The Wine Tasting Tour at the Temecula Wine Country is a fun way to get acquainted with a region that’s receiving more and more attention from wine lovers all over the world. While you’re there, you’ll be able to sample wines from throughout California and even internationally, so there’s something for everyone.

Here, it’s not just about tasting—the tour includes a small tasting in addition to the guided tour itself. And second, it’s not just about learning about wine—you’ll also get a chance to explore the beautiful countryside around Temecula (and maybe even pick up some drinkable souvenirs along the way!)

Like what you are hearing? Check out these top things to do in Temecula.

18. Have an adventure at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Address: 200 Palm Canyon Dr, Borrego Springs, CA 92004, USA

If you’re looking for a day trip from San Diego, California, the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park should be on your list. It’s a desert full of beauty, history, and adventure. It’s also home to some of the best things to do on a day trip from San Diego.

There’s so much to do in this park that it’s hard to know where to start! The options range from hiking through cactus-filled canyons to exploring historical ruins in the park. You can drive an off-road vehicle and tour the place and even camp overnight in one of the many campsites located throughout the park!

The best part about visiting this desert is that you can do it all in one day—provided you have enough energy left in your body after hiking through some of its most challenging areas.

See Related: Best Things to Do in Malibu, California

19. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Address: 12600 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA

The Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a must-see for anyone visiting San Diego, California. It’s the perfect day trip from San Diego—and one you’ll never forget!

The reserve is home to a diverse array of plants and animals, including birds, lizards, geckos, cacti, and more. You can explore the park on foot or by bike; if you’re feeling adventurous, you can even hike up to the top of the Pinos Peak to get an awesome view of the park.

If you’re looking for something more active, there are plenty of activities available at Torrey Pines State Park—from walking on hiking trails and biking to horseback riding and bird-watching.

There’s also a museum on-site with exhibits about Native American cultures that lived in this area before Europeans arrived (including artifacts from prehistoric Native Americans). With all these things to do in the park, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t go today!

20. Paddle around the Lake Poway

Lake Poway

Address: 14644 Lake Poway Rd, Poway, CA 92064, USA

Paddle boats are the best way to explore the beautiful Lake Poway in San Diego, California. The lake is located just off of I-15 and has a number of public boat launch areas. There are also private boat launch areas available for rent.

The best part about paddle boats is that they are great for people of all ages. You can bring your kids or grandkids with you as well as any friends or family members who want to join! They’re also a perfect way to spend an afternoon after getting off work or before heading home from work.

The only downside is that it can get pretty windy around Lake Poway, especially during springtime when the weather starts warming up! If you want to make sure you get out on your paddle boat safely, we recommend keeping an eye on the weather report before heading out!

Besides the ample water activities, there are three hiking trails to select from in this San Diego day tour. Each of which is also good for cycling and horseback riding. There’s also an archery range if you’re looking for a real change of pace. Grassy places for the kids to run around, as well as a playground for the younger ones, are available at Lake Poway.

21. Explore the outer space at the Mount Palomar Observatory

Mount Palomar Observatory

Address: 35899 Canfield Rd, Palomar Mountain, CA 92060, United States

Since its founding in 1928, Mount Palomar Observatory has been a center for astronomical study in the Cleveland National Forest in northern San Diego County. It is home to the world’s biggest functioning telescope, the 200-inch Hale Telescope. An audio tour of the exhibition is also available.

Visitors come from all over the world to see the Observatory in Southern California, where it has become a major tourist attraction. You may bring a picnic and enjoy it on the grounds. The place also features a visitors center, an intriguing museum, and a gift shop.

See Related: Best Things to do in East Bay, California

Best Thing to do With Kids on a Day Trip From San Diego

As you know, San Diego is a great place to visit with the kids. There’s so much to do and see in this city that you can’t possibly fit it all into one trip! Here are a few fun things to do with your family on a day trip to San Diego:

Visit the zoo! You can take your kids to see animals from all over the world. The San Diego Zoo is always fun for families and offers something for everyone.

You can take a trip to the SeaWorld San Diego Aquarium. There’s something for everyone here—from sharks to penguins and everything in between!

Go on a hike with your kids. There are plenty of trails in this area, so you can find one that appeals to everyone in your group. They may not be as big as mountains or as steep as mountains, but they’ll still be challenging enough to give everyone an adventure!

Alternatively, if you are looking for things to do outside of San Diego with your adult kids, you can go to Temecula Wine Country for a relaxing environment and a tasty drink.

Bike and Car Rentals for day trips from San Diego

If you’re looking for a day trip from San Diego, California, you might be wondering what the best way is to get around. Cross out items on your places to visit in San Diego bucket list, by making a travel guide to the best places as a reference. While walking or biking can be great ways to explore the city, sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

You could try renting a car and taking advantage of all the sights and attractions San Diego has to offer. But if you don’t know how to drive, that won’t be very helpful! Fortunately, there are plenty of companies out there who will help you find a car rental that fits your needs.

One of the best options is kayak.com. This site offers both cars and motorcycles so that its users can find whatever type of vehicle they need for their travels. They also provide prices on everything from rental cars to motorcycles so that everyone can find something affordable without having to worry about cost at all!

FAQ

What are some fun things to do on day trips from San Diego?

The first thing you should do on your day trips from San Diego is go to the beach! You can drive or take the bus or train and get there quickly. There are plenty of beaches in the area, including Coronado, La Jolla, Del Mar, and Encinitas. Each one has its own unique charm and offers something special for everyone.

Day tours from San Diego also include venturing towards mountain peaks and day trips taking you to some of the most stunning viewpoints over downtown San Diego!

What are some of the best places to visit outside of San Diego?

If you’re looking for some things to do outside San Diego that offers a little bit of everything but outside the county, we recommend checking out Tijuana. It’s got great culture, interesting architecture, and incredible food.

What are day trips from San Diego by train?

The nearest railway station to Laguna Beach is in San Juan Capistrano. From San Diego, it is possible to reach Laguna Beach in a short amount of time by using the train.


Related Resources

Lock In Your Travel Now
Looking for Extra Travel Perks?
My favorite travel companion is The Platinum Card® from American Express, which gives me lounge access, Uber credits, upgrades, and plenty of other travel perks. If you want to find out the best travel rewards credit card for you, consider using CardMatch to instantly get matched to a travel rewards credit card that meets your travel needs.
Booking Flights

Use Skyscanner to book the cheapest flight possible. Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine as you can find flights around the globe and from every airline possible. You'll be in great shape to get the best price possible.

You must grab a free trial or join Scott's Cheap Flights Premium to get cheap flight alerts directly to your email inbox. My favorite cheap flight alert was 25,000 Delta SkyMiles to London non-stop.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It's a low cost way to ensure your travel plans go smooth no matter what's thrown at it. Use World Nomads to find the best policy for your travel schedule.
Book Your Accommodation
In order to capture the widest selection of properties and the best price, use Booking.com as they have the cheapest rates for guesthouses, hotels, luxury condos, B&Bs and so much more.
Want More Destination Ideas Direct to Your Inbox?
Be sure to join the ViaTravelers Newsletter for expert tips, tricks and inspiration for your next travel journey!