The Best National Parks Near San Diego

Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree | © Alex Rhee / Unsplash
Photo of Daisy Dobson
13 July 2020

San Diego is best known for its beaches, parks and a warm climate to enjoy it all in. Our local insiders have done the sweaty work for you and found the best National Parks near San Diego for you to hike to your heart’s content.

Cabrillo National Monument

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Cabrillo Statue, Cabrillo National Monument, Point Loma, San Diego, California, United States of America, North America
Cabrillo Statue, Cabrillo National Monument | © robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo

San Diego’s only designated National Park is worthy of your time, no? Overlooking San Diego Bay, the Cabrillo National Monument honours Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European to set foot on the West Coast of the US. Find the lighthouse and take the two-mile self-guided tour to see the best of the area and boost your steps for the day. Look out for tide pools and marine life on the west side of the park. Recommended by local insider Lauren Rogers

Torrey State Pines Beach

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Torrey Pines State Beach in San Diego, California, USA.. Image shot 2009. Exact date unknown.
Torrey Pines State Beach in San Diego, California, USA. | © Chad McDermott / Alamy Stock Photo

Coastal California at its very finest, the Torrey Pines State Beach feels like a hidden gem. Hike the trails to get there and take in the panoramic views of the ocean in front of you. If you don’t fancy the walk through the nature reserve, park the car nearby and make the short walk to the beach. Picnic blanket and bottle of fizz practically obligatory. Recommended by local insider Lauren Rogers

Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park

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Wander through the historical ranch and former home of Hollywood actor Leo Carrillo. On weekends a well-informed guide will show you around, sharing the history of the estate and the area. The tours are the only way to get inside the buildings but if you prefer a self-guided walk there is plenty to see as you roam the well-maintained land. Look out for gorgeous hand-crafted buildings and antique windmills entwined with the stories of California’s past. Not quite a national park but our local insider couldn’t resist including this place. Recommended by local insider Lauren Rogers

Joshua Tree National Park

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Rugged rock formations and stark desert landscapes characterise the Joshua Tree National Park. Spend the day hiking amongst the boulders on Arch Rock Trail, rock climb at Echo Cove and experience the sunset at Key View. A stop at the Cholla Cactus Garden to see the forest of ‘jumping’ cactus is a must! As National Parks go this one is truly special and not to be missed when visiting San Diego. Recommended by local insider Hebah Bukhari

Mojave National Reserve

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Joshua Trees in the Mojave Desert in the Mojave National Preserve, San Bernardino, CA
Joshua Trees in the Mojave Desert in the Mojave National Preserve, San Bernardino, CA | © Planetpix / Alamy Stock Photo

Mojave has long been giving Californians the peace and solitude that only a giant desert can bring. Huge swathes of sand dunes stretch into the distance, wildflowers bob in the breeze and the blessed silence is golden. It’ll take a while to explore the 1.6 million acre park so don’t attempt it in a day. Our local insider recommends finding the long-abandoned mines and homesteads dotted across the canyons. Campers are welcome at the camping grounds but of course, do your research before you head off. Recommended by local insider Hebah Bukhari

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

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