One of the best things about San Diego is the fact that you can be in the mountains, desert, and the beach all within a few hours of each other year round. The city is centrally located between multiple climates, and the weather never gets too harsh for sightseeing. So, pack a picnic lunch and a roadmap – we’ve rounded up the five best day trips in San Diego! These are all quick drives (no more than a couple hours) to nearby getaways that are perfect for a weekend outing.
The town of Idyllwild is tucked away in the San Jacinto mountains. Set among tall pines, sweet smelling cedars and legendary rocks, it has definitely stayed true to its ‘small town roots.’ Locally owned shops and restaurants are all you will find here, and it’s the perfect spot for a quiet getaway with a loved one or the family. Escape the traffic jams and noisy city life with with some outdoor time – there are great day hikes, places to camp and go horseback riding, cute little cabin rentals, and even some backcountry treks for overnight hiking journeys. There are a few quick drives from the town center of Idyllwild to some beautiful vantage points of the entire valley. Grab a map from one of the visitor centers and explore! Getting there: The drive to Idyllwild takes anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours. There are some smaller, windy mountain roads, but the scenery is gorgeous and there are a lot of spectacular photo-ops along the way.
Tropical beaches, brilliant blue water, and relaxation await on this quaint little island off the coast of Dana Point. The town of Avalon is packed with gourmet restaurants, day spas, great shopping, and various outdoor and ocean activities. If you’re looking for real adventure, go ziplining, parasailing, diving, snorkeling or seatrekking, kayaking, hiking or biking, or discover the wild side of Catalina’s interior and search for the famed island buffalo. Glass bottom boat and undersea semi-submersible tours are also available.
Getting There: The Catalina Express boat departs daily from Long Beach, San Pedro or Dana Point (this is the most popular route; Dana Point is just an hour’s drive from San Diego) to Avalon; the boat ride is an hour long, so total travel time to and from Catalina is about 3 hours.
SEE ALSO: Top 5 Places To Camp in San Diego
3. Temecula Wine Country
If you head north on I-15 for an hour, you’ll find yourself in Southern California’s very own wine country. Over 30 wineries are easy accessible off Rancho California Rd. and sampling the wines of Temecula makes for a fun day trip. That isn’t all there is to do – there are several golf courses, outdoor activities, and of course, Old Town Temecula, the historic center of town with over 640 antique dealers, restaurants and shopping. Old Town is a quaint little area full of old-school charm and well worth checking out after a long day of sampling some of the area’s finest wines. Plan a self-guided tour, book a guided excursion complete with transportation, or make a weekend of it and stay overnight at one of Temecula’s many lodges or hotels.
Getting there: Head over to the I-15 North and get off at the Rancho California Road exit. The trip should be about an hour’s drive each way (depending on traffic).
About an hour’s drive from San Diego, Lake Cuyamaca is a picturesque 110-acre lake in a beautiful Oak and Pine forest, surrounded by Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Stocked with over 38,000 lbs. of trout annually, the lake offers amenities for the whole family, including camping, cabins, boat rentals, spectacular fishing, picnicking and hiking – and you can rent or buy any needed fishing gear or bait you need at the tackle shop next to the restaurant/store. And don’t miss the wonderfully authentic German restaurant with a great deck overlooking the lake!
Getting there: Head out of San Diego on I-8 (you’ll notice a change in elevation that creeps over 4,000ft in 30 miles) and then hop on Hwy 79 towards the Lake, a windy road complete with breathtaking views as you pass a few small mountain towns along the way. Cuyamaca Rancho State Park will greet you on either side of the road as you get about a third of the way to to the towns of Julian – our next day trip destination!
Mountains, apples, trees, and fresh air – that’s what the quaint mountain town of Julian is all about! Located 60 miles northeast of San Diego, Julian is a small town that offers Southern Californians a taste of the rural, mountain lifestyle that we aren’t usually exposed to and a chance to experience oak and pine forests and fresh mountain air. Once a mining town, Julian is now a nice, relaxing place to visit; you can roam the small village center and shop and eat or take in the surrounding scenery by hiking or horseback riding. Those feeling more adventurous can trek down into and tour two different mines in the area. And don’t forget to pick up some famous Julian apple pie on your way out.
Getting there: The drive to Julian involves some windy roads and is incredibly scenic. There really is no ‘best’ time to go; each season possesses its own type of beauty there, especially the winter if you like the snow! Total traveling time is about an hour and 15 minutes each way.
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