San Diego offers a ton to do of its own, from beautiful beaches to world-class attractions like the San Diego Zoo. Enjoying the outdoors here is possible year-round with the city’s abundant sunshine. Still, while you’re here, you won’t want to miss taking at least one or two day trips. In fact, you can even explore another country with Mexico just 20 miles south.
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Tijuana is just a 30-minute drive from San Diego (plus border crossing time), drawing many weekend visitors as well as day-trippers to experience the city’s festivals, artisan markets and delicious food. While Avenida Revolucion is a famous street for bar-hopping, there are lots of family-friendly things to do here, including sitting on a “Zonkey,” a donkey painted with stripes made to look like a zebra, a tradition that started decades ago to make the animals stand out in black-and-white photographs. The oldest square in Tijuana, historic Plaza Santa Cecilia hosts a lively open-market with mariachi music, unique shops selling everything from silver jewelry and clothing to pinatas and hammocks, along with a wide range of eateries.
Only an hour southeast of San Diego is the small border town of Tecate, a Pueblos Magicos, or Magic Town, a place notable for natural beauty and historical significance. Mingle with friendly, welcoming people while browsing the handcrafted goods at souvenir shops, and dine to your heart’s delight at one of the many taco stands, bakeries and seafood markets. The town’s bread is a highlight, cooked in brick ovens and then fresh and ready in the morning at several bakeries. Miguel Hidalgo Park serves as the main gathering place in town, with benches and tables scattered among trees, flowers and fresh herbs, a perfect spot for a picnic.
Only two hours north of San Diego, Los Angeles offers a long list of attractions that can be explored in a day trip. Just a few options include mingling with the rich and famous while shopping on Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive, visiting the country’s largest urban park, Griffith Park and Observatory, checking out the La Brea Tar Pits, one of the world’s most famous ice age fossil excavation sites and spending the day at Universal Studios. Just a few of the other options include checking out the sights in Hollywood, like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and Santa Monica Pier, home to an amusement park with the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel, an aquarium and a 1922 Carousel that was featured in the 1973 classic, “The Sting.”
A two-and-a-half-hour drive to the heart of the Coachella Valley desert region is the popular resort town of Palm Springs. Renowned for its spas, sunshine and golf courses, it offers lots to do on a day trip. Visit the Living Desert, a 1,200-acre wildlife and botanical park, or take the aerial tramway up to the 8,515-foot summit of Mount San Jacinto. Here you’ll have access to over 50 miles of hiking trails, as well as the chance to dine at the Peaks Restaurant while taking in gorgeous panoramic views.
Three hours from San Diego and you’ll feel as if you’ve entered a whole new world in Joshua Tree National Park. The landscape is dotted with bizarrely-shaped plants indigenous to the region, including its namesake Joshua tree, as well as ginormous boulders that rise hundreds of feet into the sky, providing a photographer’s, hiker’s, and a climber’s dream. The village of Joshua Tree itself is an artists’ enclave and hosts several highly rated eateries.
Less than two hours south of the city, Ensenada, Mexico also makes a great day trip. It has a scenic Malecon along the oceanfront and a wide range of outstanding and affordable eateries, including a fabulous local seafood market famous for its fish tacos. There are lots of stalls for buying souvenirs, while the town’s history museum, Museo de Historia de Ensenada, offers the chance to learn more about the area’s history with a focus on the indigenous people.
Less than two hours away is one of California’s most popular attractions, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park. You can get a good overview of Disneyland on a day trip, riding the Monorail that circles the park. For those with little ones, enjoy rides like It’s a Small World and Dumbo, while bigger kids and the kid-at-heart will enjoy Big Thunder Mountain Railroad the Matterhorn, Space Mountain and many others. Of course, everyone will enjoy meeting famous characters like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy.
Rosarito Beach, Mexico
Less than an hour south across the Mexico border you can be relaxing or playing on a beautiful Baja beach. Rosarito Beach offers miles of sands for enjoying activities like diving, snorkeling, surfing and paddleboarding. On land, you can go horseback or even camel riding. There are ATV tours, zip lines, and of course, lots of great restaurants for fueling those active pursuits.
San Juan Capistrano
A day trip to the historic town of San Juan Capistrano will bring you to one of California’s most beautiful missions. Learn about the town’s multi-cultural history while exploring the more than 200-year-old Mission San Juan Capistrano. The Los Rios District is the oldest neighborhood in the state and features carefully-preserved original adobe homes. During the summer, on the third Wednesdays of June, July, August, and September there are free open-air concerts in the Historic Town Center Park.
Temecula Valley, less than 90 minutes from San Diego, is known for its vineyards, offering the opportunity to taste and tour over 30 different wineries. In historic Old Town Temecula, the Old Town Front Street is lined with a collection of impressive late 19th-century buildings. It’s also an antique lover’s delight, with countless antique stores, and hosts a variety of unique boutiques, art galleries and specialty food retailers. For an especially unforgettable experience, take a hot-air balloon ride for a bird’s-eye view from above.