18 Awesome Day Trips from San Diego

sunset in joshua tree national park california

Millenia is a great place to live for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that downtown San Diego (DTSD) is only 30 minutes away, and now even easier to access with the new Metro Rapid Transit System Millenia station right in the heart of our community. There’s plenty to do just steps from your door and in DTSD, but if you’d like to go further afield, SoCal delivers. Looking for something fun to do for the day? Check out our list of day trips from San Diego for lots of great ideas!

1. San Juan Capistrano

The site of one of the most beautiful mission buildings in the state, San Juan Capistrano is a small town with plenty to see and do. At the Mission itself, visitors can hire an audio tour guide for self-guided exploration of the 200-year-old site.

Other places of interest include California’s oldest neighborhood, the Los Rios District, and the gorgeous Capistrano Depot railway station. From June through September, there are free open-air concerts held every third Wednesday of each month in the Historic Town Center.

mission san juan capistrano

2. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park®

As California’s biggest state park, Anza-Borrego is over 1,000 square miles and spans 3 California counties. One of the park’s most famous attractions is the seasonal wildflower display that blooms in spring. There’s plenty to enjoy in other seasons too, from hiking the Pacific Crest Trail to biking and four-wheel driving. This state park also has the distinction of being one of the few places in the country where you can camp virtually everywhere you want to. If you love roughing it, you can pitch a tent anywhere. Or if you prefer, you can reserve a campsite at one of the campgrounds in the park.

sunset at anza-borrego desert state park

3. Borrego Springs

The town of Borrego Springs is unique for a couple of reasons.

  1. The nearby desert, dotted with one-of-a-kind sculptures that turn the landscape into something out of this world! A giant dragon that moves through the earth, a massive African elephant, and a horse-drawn carriage are just a few of the 130 art pieces you can see here.
  2. The amazing stargazing. It’s one of the best places in California to do it because Borrego Springs has a “dark sky” policy that minimizes night-time light pollution.

street in borrego springs california

4. Mount Palomar Observatory

The observatory on Mount Palomar makes for an impressive sight as you drive up the mountain, and it’s just as impressive inside. A fascinating visitor’s gallery makes the visit fun and educational whether or not there’s a budding astronomer in the family. Head to the observatory on a weekend day to take part in a guided tour.

5. Lake Poway

A popular day trip destination for Chula Vista locals, Lake Poway is one of the city’s closest nature reserves. Whether you want to get active or have a picnic and enjoy the scenery, there’s plenty to see and do. Explore miles of hiking trails, or try pony trekking to take in this glorious landscape on horseback. Hire paddle boats to enjoy some peaceful time on the lake, or hire a power boat for more fast-paced fun!

6. La Jolla

A trip to La Jolla is one of the most popular day trips from San Diego. Several stunning beaches, perfect for surfing, plus diving hotspots, restaurants, shopping, and more, make this a great day trip for any family. Head to Windansea Beach for surfing and scenery, La Jolla Cove for swimming, snorkeling and diving, and La Jolla Shores for sunbathing and relaxing!

paintings along walkway in la jolla california

7. Legoland Resort

Legoland is a fantastic family-friendly day trip, with:

  • More than 60 rides and attractions
  • A water park
  • The SEA LIFE® aquarium

Carlsbad also has some fantastic beaches, where you can try kayaking, surfing, scuba diving and fishing, plus over 50 miles of hiking trails for all fitness levels. There’s enough to do here for several days. Why not make it a weekend vacation?

legoland california entrance

Credit: Jim Moore

8. Laguna Beach

This is SoCal’s most popular destination for beach trips, with seven miles of golden sand and the gleaming blue of the Pacific Ocean. There’s a great variety of activities to be found up and down Laguna Beach. Take a guided kayak tour, or rent a paddleboard or kayak and go it alone.

During the summers, you can enjoy the Sawdust Festival, with art classes and exhibits of glassblowing, jewelry-making, pottery, and more, and Pageant of the Masters, an incredibly unique production where people recreate famous works of art—live. Best of all, there is a free trolley that runs along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) from dana Point to downtown Laguna.

silhouette of man at sunset on laguna beach

9. Mount Laguna

Despite the name, Mount Laguna isn’t anywhere near Laguna Beach, but it’s another great day trip from San Diego! There are miles of hiking trails to enjoy. Beginners can head to the Wooded Hill Nature Trails for a fun low-stress walk, while the hike up Foster Point is great for those who want a bigger challenge. Head to Mount Laguna in the winter for sledding and skiing, if the weather permits.

10. Palm Springs

This beautiful, busy city is located in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, and it has a great bunch of attractions to check out. Knott’s Soak City®, a waterpark, offers the chance to cool off and have fun on hot summer days. Along with the Zoo, there’s also the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, perfect for a scenic trip with stunning views of the canyon below.

palm trees in front of mountains in palm springs california

11. Joshua Tree National Park

One of California’s most fascinating landscapes, this national park is well worth exploring. From hiking up Keys View to bouldering in the Hidden Valley, there’s a range of fun ways to enjoy the outdoors. If you prefer to keep things more relaxed, you can always enjoy a desert walk in the Joshua-tree-studded desert the park is named for.

sunset in joshua tree national park california

12. Julian

This historic Gold Rush-era town is around an hour east of San Diego and offers a wide range of activities. Start off with a guided tour of the town or a historical carriage ride. Take a guided tour of one of the old goldmines, and hear stories about this era of California history. Other activities in Julian include:

  • Horseback riding
  • Fishing on Lake Cuyamaca
  • Hiking at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Visit Julian in the fall to try apple pie from the famous Julian Pie Company, a must for all pie-loving visitors!

hill over water julian california

13. Wildlife Research Institute, Inc

If you head to Julian in January or February, stop along the way to check out the Wildlife Research Institute Hawk Watch in Ramona! It happens every Saturday during the first two months of the year, in all kinds of weather. This morning event provides you with a very rare and special opportunity to see majestic hawks and other raptors up close and in their natural habitat. The event includes an educational talk and Q&A session, followed by a birdwatching session with the chance to see bald eagles and other wildlife.

Note: The Hawk Watch takes place at Begent Ranch, a private residence, not at WRI headquarters. Make sure to check the address before you head out!

hawk with fall leaves in background

14. Temecula Valley

Take a break from the beaches and head inland to Temecula Valley, one of California’s winery hotspots! There are some beautiful vineyards and wineries to visit in this region and plenty of delicious wines to try. If you prefer a guided tour, you can sign up for a Grapeline Wine Tour of the region. Or for a self-guided experience, download the Temecula Wine Country App for Android or iOS to choose the perfect route.

South of the Border

For residents of Millenia, these locations in Mexico are just as convenient for day trips as many locations in Southern California! When you live so near the border, you have the option of amazingly gorgeous beaches and other fun destinations in a whole different country. Just be sure to pack your passport or PASS Card!

15. Avenida Revolución

This is Tijuana’s main tourist center, a lively, busy, colorful place. The streets are lined with shops, restaurants, and bars. There’s music everywhere, and something interesting to see in every glance. Avenida Revolución is also the perfect place to pick up souvenirs and local artisan crafts. You can find everything from leather goods to glass sculpture and stained glass, paper mâché figurines, and colorful traditional Mexican clothing.

16. Puerto Nuevo

Head across the border to Puerto Nuevo, a village down in Baja California. For seafood lovers, this is the place to go! The village is famous for its epic lobster catches and for the many fish restaurants that offer fresh, delicious seafood.

17. Rosarito Beach

Another hidden gem in Baja California is this small but busy beachside town that was once billed as the Mexican Hollywood. The beach is a great place to relax and enjoy the sun, but if you feel like getting active, you can rent an ATV for dune riding! In August, Rosarito Beach hosts an annual sand art festival that attracts over 20,000 people every year. If you prefer to avoid the crowds, head down after the event, as most sand artists leave their work on display once it’s all over.

18. Ensenada

Gorgeous beaches, sun, and surfing, diving, and whale-watching can keep you busy on a day trip to Ensenada. An equally popular option is a tour of the nearby Guadalupe Valley wine country, a burgeoning region that’s quickly becoming famous for its wonderful vintages. And then there’s the food! Ensenada is well-known as a foodie destination, in particular as the birthplace of the fish taco. Sample one—or three!

Southern California Is Full of Surprises!

From gorgeous, wide-open parks and deserts to amazing beaches and high mountains, California’s landscape is simply stunning. Whether you love the outdoors or prefer more relaxed leisure time, there are many ways to pass the time and have fun while you do it. And with Mexico only a few miles away, there’s an almost limitless range of options for awesome day trips from Millenia.