Best Day Trips from San Diego

Looking for an exciting day trip from San Diego, CA? From hiking up a mountain to the Temecula Valley Balloon Festival, our list has something for everyone.

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San Diego has sunny weather, gorgeous beaches, and a sleepier pace than the neighboring beach towns to the north. What’s not to like? Well, when you’re ready to venture off the sand and explore the surrounding area, you’ll find a huge variety of things to do just a hop-skip away. We rounded up six fabulous day trips from San Diego within two hours driving distance (traffic permitting, of course). All you have to do is gas up, hop in the car, and pick a destination.

Colorful red, pink, yellow, orange, and white ranunculus flowers at the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch

Spend the Day in Carlsbad

You don’t need to drive far to feel like you’re away from it all when you take a day trip from San Diego to Carlsbad. In fact, all you need is 45 minutes to discover the small-town charm of California’s “Village by the Sea.” When you visit, don’t miss the gorgeous 50-acre Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch. You’ll get to walk among the colorful ranunculus flowers while enjoying views of the coastline from the ranch’s hillside location.

Carlsbad has plenty of other top attractions, like the SEA LIFE Aquarium and LEGOLAND. For hands-on fun, visit the Museum of Making Music, where you can explore music and instruments from the 1900s to today. When you’re ready for a bite to eat, the city has plenty of restaurant options. If you’re a seafood lover, then try the Harbor Fish Café, a casual restaurant with patio dining that offers beautiful ocean views.

Hike the Laguna Mountains

Did you know you can go from the city to the forest in just about an hour? If getting some fresh mountain air sounds nice, then consider road tripping to Mount Laguna. Locals brag that this is the place to experience “Big Sky Country” In the city.

The Laguna Mountains tower at 6,300 feet at their highest point, and they offer many hiking trails with scenic overlooks. One of the most popular is the Sunset Trail, a loop accessible from Sunrise Highway. Along the 3-mile hike, you’ll see stunning views of downtown San Diego and the Pacific Ocean. If you can stay until nightfall, then check out the Mount Laguna Observatory, where you’ll enjoy some of the best stargazing in the area.

Colorful hot air balloons floating in the sky on a sunny day during the Temecula Village Balloon and Wine Festival.

Sail Your Way Through Temecula

Known for its annual Balloon and Wine Festival, Temecula offers a wide selection of attractions ranging from the antiques and art in Old Town Temecula to the glitz of the Pechanga Resort and Casino. If there’s one thing you must experience in Temecula — it’s the hot air balloon rides. Soar over the vineyards and get a new perspective on Temecula Valley from high in the sky year-round.

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Get Back to Nature in Idyllwild

This charming town in the San Jacinto Mountains is affectionately nicknamed, “Mile High Paradise.” Best of all, it’s only two hours away from San Diego, and is among the best day trips for nature lovers. Hiking, biking, rock climbing — you can do it all here. After working up an appetite with all the outdoor activity, you’ll find an eclectic dining scene to satisfy your hunger, which includes restaurants like:

  • Mile High Café, a family-friendly restaurant nestled in the mountains serving a mix of Korean and American food
  • Idyllwild Pizza, which dishes out gourmet pizzas in a relaxed atmosphere complete with an arcade
  • Tommy’s Kitchen, known for its Swiss-influenced diner fare during the day and European gourmet menu at night
  • Stargaze in Borrego Springs

    Spend just two hours driving to Borrego Springs, and you’ll feel like you’re in a different world. This calm desert community is known for its funky small businesses, lack of stoplights, and proximity to the state’s largest park, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. While you’re here, you can take a Jeep tour through the desert and see spectacular wildflowers. At night, plan to spend some time outside. Borrego Springs is a certified International Dark Sky Community, which means the conditions are perfect for stargazing.

    Evening view of Los Angeles city skyline and the Griffith Observatory.

    Experience Los Angeles

    Food, culture, entertainment, and iconic attractions bring millions of people to visit Los Angeles every year. A city with an entirely different vibe than San Diego, the “City of Angels” is an easy two-hour drive from San Diego. (Just avoid driving there during peak traffic times — trust us!) It’s packed with so much to do, see, and experience that you should choose only as much as you accomplish in a day — and leave the rest for future trips.

    Some top draws include Griffith Park and the Observatory, where you can enjoy stunning city views. Head over to the Santa Monica Pier for entertainment and stellar ocean vistas. Stroll down Hollywood Boulevard, or pay your respects at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The options are nearly endless.

    Where are your favorite day trip spots in Southern California? Share your photos by tagging us on Instagram.

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