The Best Day Trips From San Diego, California

Temecula Valley and all of its wineries make for an excellent day trip from San Diego
Temecula Valley and all of its wineries make for an excellent day trip from San Diego | © Lisa Top / Alamy Stock Photo
As well as being a fascinating destination in its own right, San Diego is the gateway to Orange County beaches, old-time gold rush towns, luxurious spa resorts and so much more. In short, everything that makes California brilliant is at your doorstep. If you’ve got enough time to spare in San Diego, get out and about by trying these tips from Culture Trip’s local insiders.

The Pony Room at Rancho Valencia

Boutique Hotel
A 30-minute drive from San Diego is the resort Rancho Valencia, a perfect quick escape from the bustling city center. If you’re looking for an overnight trip, a stay in one of its rooms with access to the spa will leave you feeling pampered. The Mediterranean buildings and beautiful grounds can be enjoyed by a visit to resort bar-restaurant the Pony Room. Popular with San Diego residents and day-tripping tourists alike, the Pony Room serves all of your rustic American favorites alongside a menu of high-end wines, cocktails, craft beer and 100 types of tequila. Come on a Thursday evening for live music al fresco. Recommended by local insider Lauren Rogers
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Julian

Natural Feature

Escape to the tranquility of the Cuyamaca Mountains with a day trip to Julian, an outdoorsy town dating back to the 1870s gold rush. Explore the history of the area further with a visit to an old gold mine, or sample some of Julian’s famous apple pie. Alternatively, get outdoors with a hike or picnic, or engage in a range of activities at Fort Cross Old Timey Adventures. If you’re looking for something unique, try camel riding at Oasis Camel Dairy. Recommended by local insider Lauren Rogers

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Del Mar Racetrack

Sports Center
Horses leave the starting gate at the beginning of the race.
© NaturaLight - No Release Needed / Alamy Stock Photo

Del Mar Racetrack is located just across from the beach. It’s a beautiful setting for horse racing, with a casual, laid-back atmosphere that sets it apart from stuffier venues. On a standard race-day you can usually turn up at the door, buy a ticket, grab a local beer and start getting the bets in – though do check if you’re in town for a major event. Events such as the opening day or the Breeders’ Cup are super popular and you’ll need to buy tickets in advance. Check out the summer concert series hosted here for an evening out. Recommended by local insider Lauren Rogers

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Coronado Island

Architectural Landmark
The sun sets over a rocky portion of Coronado Beach on Coronado Island
© Max Herman / Alamy Stock Photo

Take a trip over the bridge or go via ferry for views over San Diego Bay to Coronado Island – a military base with a quaint coastal downtown. A day trip here offers plenty in the way of beach-based fun, shopping, dining and (if you’re in the mood for pampering) luxury spas. Hire a bike to explore more of the island’s attractive streets, charming period homes and coastal attractions, or keep it low-key with a casual wander and some window-shopping. Recommended by local insider Lauren Rogers

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Temecula Valley

Winery, Natural Feature

In just under an hour’s drive from the center of San Diego, you can reach Temecula Valley, home to some of California’s most famous and well-regarded wineries. A horseback tour with Wine Country Trails by Horseback is a peaceful and unique way to explore the beauty of the vineyards and take in the scenery. Tours start and end at the Maurice Car’rie Winery & Vineyard. You’ll need to make a reservation to make sure they can accommodate you. Make the most of your visit to Temecula by staying overnight or make it a weekend break to explore further. Recommended by local insider Hebah Bukhari

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Huntington State Beach

Natural Feature

Spend a day by the water with a trip to local favorite Huntington State Beach. About 1.5hr from central San Diego, it’s a popular haunt for surfers, so if you’re determined to catch some waves Cali-style on your trip, Huntington’s a great place to do it. The 3.5mi (5.6km) stretch of sandy beach also offers plenty of space for swimming, fishing, picnicking and sunset strolls and is rated as one of the best beaches in the US. Join Huntington Beach locals for a day in the sun. Recommended by local insider Hebah Bukhari

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San Clemente Pier

Architectural Landmark

Take a trip into Orange County with a visit to the beachside city San Clemente. The pier is a famous city landmark and offers stunning views of the ocean, particularly at sunset. The Pier Bowl neighborhood surrounding the landmark offers plenty of other attractions to visitors too. Take a walk around the area to explore typically Californian palm-lined streets and Spanish-style architecture. Recommended by local insider Hebah Bukhari

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These recommendations were updated on July 13, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.