The best road trips near San Diego take you to California’s unspoilt nature, quaint towns, and unique landmarks. Many of these destinations are about 1 to 3 hours from the city by car, so you’ll have plenty of time and energy to enjoy your weekend.

    The Southern California region boasts vast national parks with diverse terrains and exotic wildlife. With 300 annual days of sunshine, you’ll get to hike, bike, swim, and camp pretty much any time of the year. For those who prefer a more laidback retreat, the South California Wine Country has plenty of notable wineries with scenic views of the countryside. Enjoy a fun-filled weekend in California with these best road trips near San Diego.

    1

    Dana Point Caves

    Some of the largest sea caves in Southern California

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    The Dana Point Sea Caves are some of the largest caverns you’ll find in California. Hikers often come to explore these massive caves near Dana Point Headlands Beach in Orange County. The sight of strong waves crashing against the craggy rocks makes for great photo opportunities.

    It’s best to visit Dana Point Sea Caves at low tide. Several routes can take you to the caves, one of which is a flight of concrete stairs close to Ocean Institute. The roundtrip hike is about 1.2 miles. It can get rather slippery and rocky, so good hiking shoes are highly recommended.

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    2

    Pasadena

    A city known for Victorian and art deco buildings

    Pasadena, located at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, is a popular road trip destination near San Diego. Downtown Pasadena has many pretty works of street art, mosaic tile walls, and well-preserved buildings. Must-sees include City Hall, Wrigley Mansion, All Saints Episcopal Church, and Gamble House.

    Visit the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens if you want to immerse yourself in history and nature. The 120-acre complex has 16 themed gardens and an extensive art collection consisting of rare paintings, sculptures, and manuscripts. In the evening, the streets of Pasadena come alive with vibrant bars, diverse eateries, and buskers.

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    3

    Cleveland National Forest

    Diverse wildlife and dramatic scenery in Southern California

    The Cleveland National Forest covers an area of 460,000 acres in Southern California. It’s home to diverse wildlife species, including mountain lions, bobcats, mule deer, hawks, and turkey vultures. You’ll also find many facilities for outdoor adventures in the forest. Campgrounds are available at the Descanso, Palomar, and Trabuco Ranger District, with most overnight sites requiring a permit.

    Miles of hiking and biking trails meander through the vast forest, providing scenic views throughout your journey. For experienced hikers, the Cleveland National Forest is part of the long-distance Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. 

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    4

    Mount San Jacinto State Park

    A prominent recreational site in Riverside County

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    Mount San Jacinto State Park is a year-round recreational site for outdoor enthusiasts in Riverside County. It’s named after Southern California’s 2nd-highest peak, which towers at 10,834 ft above sea level. The area enjoys mild temperatures during summer, making it a favourite destination for hiking and camping. Permits are required for overnight camping.

    Mount San Jacinto State Park is only accessible by hiking or taking the Palm Springs Tramway. The latter is great for families and visitors with disabilities. The tramway takes you to Mountain Station, which sits at an elevation of 8,516 ft.

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    5

    Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

    Epic hiking through the Colorado Desert

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    The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park covers almost 600,000 acres of cactus-dotted plains with 12 designated wilderness areas. It’s the largest state park in California, covering 20% of San Diego County.

    Visit the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in late summer to enjoy a milder climate, especially if you're planning an epic hike through the Colorado Desert. There are 110 miles of trails with varying routes and difficulty levels. An easy hike is the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail, just north of the visitor centre. The 3-mile loop trail takes you to a palm oasis, where you can spot herds of bighorn sheep.

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    6

    La Tour

    A concrete tower on Victoria Beach

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    La Tour is a concrete spire connecting Victoria Beach with a clifftop estate owned by State Senator William Edward Brown. The 60-ft tower dates back to 1926, containing a stairway that becomes unusable during high tide.

    It’s also called Pirate Tower, after the estate’s second owner. During the 1940s, the retired naval officer would dress up as a pirate and hide coins between rocks for local kids to find. You can find La Tour at the northern end of Victoria Beach – it’s private property so you can only admire the structure from a distance.

    Dirección: 2713 Victoria Dr, Laguna Beach, CA 92651, USA

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    7

    Temecula Valley

    Wine tasting with valley vistas

    Temecula Valley attracts wine lovers with its award-winning vineyards, excellent restaurants, and picturesque rolling countryside. The graben valley is in western Riverside County, around an hour’s drive north of San Diego.

    Temecula Valley is widely known as the Southern California Wine Country, containing around 50 excellent wineries and vineyards. A must-visit is Oak Mountain Winery, which has the first subterranean wine cave in Temecula Valley. Award-winning wines are available for tasting at Lorenzi Estate Vineyards and Monte de Oro Winery. You can also take a hot air balloon ride for spectacular views of rolling hills, vineyards, golf courses and citrus orchards.

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    8

    Idyllwild

    The gateway town to natural escapes

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    Idyllwild is the largest of 3 communities in the San Jacinto Mountains, serving as a gateway to San Bernardino National Forest and Mount San Jacinto State Park. It’s an excellent town for weekend getaways, especially for those living in San Diego, Anaheim, and Los Angeles.

    Summer is a great time to visit Idyllwild, thanks to the consistently mild climate and unspoiled surrounding nature. Mountain biking and hiking are particularly popular – you'll find miles of scenic trails, some leading to the 2nd-highest peak in California. Rock climbing and bouldering routes are available at Idyllwild County Park, Tahquitz Peak, and Suicide Rocks.

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    9

    Joshua Tree National Park

    Vast desert landscape with twisted Joshua trees

    Joshua Tree National Park is a protected area straddling the Colorado and Mojave Deserts in Southern California. It’s known for its remarkable landscape of twisted Joshua trees and rock formations, which makes for excellent photo ops.

    Joshua Tree National Park is around 164 miles northeast of San Diego, making it a popular road trip option for those looking to get closer to nature. The 794,000-acre preserve has hiking trails and back-country camping opportunities. Light pollution is non-existent, so overnight camping and stargazing are must-dos in the park.

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    10

    Julian

    A small town with an Old West atmosphere

    Julian is a charming town in the Cuyamaca Mountains, around 60 miles northeast of San Diego. It was a bustling mining town in the 1870s, so you can join guided tours and pan for gold at real mines. The Julian Gold Rush Days is a fun-filled weekend event in April, featuring reenactments, a scavenger hunt, face painting, and games. 

    Julian’s Main Street consists of Old West shops, restaurants, and bakeries. It's also an apple-growing town, where you can enjoy some of Southern California’s best apple pies and ciders. Summertime sees nature lovers spending days at Lake Cuyamaca and Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve.

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