Ah day trips! The perfect way for you and your crew to get out of town without the stress that comes from packing and budgeting for a full family vacation. From national parks to quaint mountainside towns, we’ve rounded up the best day trips to take from San Diego the next time wanderlust strikes. Read on for ten nearby destinations you should start crossing off your bucket list!
One of the best things about living in San Diego is that you’re surrounded by beautiful “vacationesque” destinations that are just a hop on the freeway away. Venture north to Carlsbad and enjoy everything from flower fields to a music museum. Oh, it also happens to be home to the ever-popular, brick-stacking mecca that you may have heard of — LEGOLAND. So whether you want to eat and play the day away in Carlsbad Village or watch your minifigs squeal with delight as they ride and splash their way through your local/epic amusement park, this village by the sea is the perfect day-cation destination.
Travel time: approximately 30-45 minutes
Eureka! A day trip destination where you and your kiddos can learn about California’s history, pan for gold and enjoy a heavenly slice of apple pie. Now, that’s a drive worth taking. The entire township of Julian, established during the 1870’s gold rush, is dedicated a historical district. Your little 49ers can pan for gold and gems at The Julian Mining Company, grab a burger and shake from Miner’s Diner and then indulge in a slice of pie from local’s favorite Julian Pie Company. Day tripping this fall? Be sure to check out our apple-themed adventure guide before you go.
Travel time: approximately 1 - 1 1/2 hours
Nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains, the quaint town of Idyllwild is just two hours away but feels like a complete escape from the hustle of the city or the buzz of the suburbs. Choose to get your wiggles out on one of the many hiking trails or take your little tree huggers to The Idyllwild Park Nature Center where they can learn about all kinds of native plants and critters and go on instructor-led forest walks. The village center is filled with gift shops, art galleries and restaurants for your post-hike enjoyment.
Travel time: approximately 2 hours
Grab your little Galileo and head for Palomar Mountain. Not only is the area home of the famous Palomar Observatory and its giant 200 inch Hale telescope, it also boasts 15 protected acres for picnics, fishing and camping–– so even though you’ve only traveled 70 miles from downtown San Diego, you’ll feel like you're deep in the Sierra Nevadas.
Travel time: approximately 1 hour 25 minutes
Yes, traveling just 20 minutes is considered a day trip as long as you commit to being in vacation mode while you're there. Visiting La Jolla with your tribe for the day could be fully therapeutic. The beaches are gorgeous and there’s tons to do and see, click here to see why this beauty of a town gets our seal of approval. So, put the chore list down, pack up the car and make a beeline for this gem of a town.
Travel time: approximately 20 minutes
Calling all nature lovers! The Laguna mountains are one of the richest in natural beauty and only an hour drive from San Diego. The peak elevation is 6,273 feet above sea level and although there’s never enough snow for skiing, San Diego kiddos will happily declare it ‘best in snow’ if they happen to arrive after a snowfall. During the rest of the year it’s a great place for hiking, picnicking or just taking in the gorgeous views.
Travel time: approximately 1 hour
San Juan Capistrano
Get schooled in Native American Culture with a family field trip to the City of San Juan Capistrano. A visit to Junipero Serra Mission offers an inside look at early adobe barracks, Friar’s quarters and the original Stone Church. The grounds and the gardens are breathtaking and the perfect backdrop for that insta-worthy daytrippin’ photo. Click here for more on what to do and see in the adobe-orable town of San Juan.
Travel time: approximately 1.5 hours
While an impromptu trip to Coachella may not be in the cards this spring, that doesn’t mean a spur of the moment trip to Palm Springs can’t be just as fun. One of the most popular getaways for San Diegans, Palm Springs offers tons of fun for the whole family. From flying high in the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to a trip to The Living Desert you can easily spend a day soaking in the sun and beauty of Palm Springs.
Travel time: approximately 2.5 hours
Joshua Tree National Park
Get an early start, crank up some U2 and drive out to Joshua Tree National Park. As National Parks go, it’s not as big as Yosemite or Death Valley, but it’s less than a three hour drive and most definitely a bucket list worthy adventure. The scenery is captivating and your mini hikers will get to see everything from skull rocks to cholla cactus forests. Just remember that it’s desert hiking and plan accordingly.
Travel time: approximately 3 hours
Big Bear Lake
Our closest mountain resort is an ideal day trip during any season. 145 miles northeast of San Diego, the altitude peaks up to 9,000 feet, so it’s great for skiers, snowboards and even those who just want to escape for the day and play in the snow. Summer day trips to Big Bear Lake are equally special as it’s the ideal spot to unplug and enjoy the great outdoors. Hiking, fishing and biking are all options, as is a trip to The Big Bear Alpine Zoo, the Discovery Center or the historic Big Bear Lake Village shopping center.
Click here for our guide to enjoying Big Bear with your family.
Travel time: approximately 2.5 hours
Where’s your favorite place to take a trip close to home? Share in the comments!
––Aimee Della Bitta