San Diego itself is an awesome city both to live in and to visit, but one of the best things about it is all of the awesome places to explore nearby. Southern California is one of the few places in the world where the beach, the desert, the mountains, and the forest are all just a short drive away.
Quick trips are the perfect way to explore the numerous and eclectic California towns, hidden wine country, and countless state and national parks near the city.
As a San Diego local, here are some of my favorite weekend getaways from San Diego!
Oh, and be sure to bookmark all my San Diego travel guides before we dive in:
Table of Contents
- 23 Best San Diego Weekend Getaways
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Santa Barbara
- Palm Springs
- Santa Ynez Valley
- Catalina Island
- Las Vegas
- Death Valley National Park
- Los Angeles
- Big Bear Lake
- Mammoth Mountain
- Santa Monica
- San Luis Obispo
- Sequoia National Park
- Anza Borrego Desert State Park
- Big Sur
- Valle de Guadalupe
- Yosemite National Park
- Laguna Beach
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23 Best San Diego Weekend Getaways
Joshua Tree National Park
Distance from San Diego: 3 hours | Google Maps | Destination Website | Where to Stay in Joshua Tree | 👉 Search Hotels in Joshua Tree National Park on Booking
Just a few hours drive northeast of San Diego, located in the Greater Palm Springs area, lies the stunning desert landscape of Joshua Tree National Park. Nature lovers will have an unforgettable weekend roaming the abundant hiking trails, admiring the Dr. Seus-esque Joshua Trees, and taking in the spectacular views.
My favorite way to experience the park is camping under the incredibly clear, starry sky. This is one of the best camping spots near San Diego, after all! If you prefer a bed, though, there are also several hotels and resorts nearby.
Visiting Joshua Tree during Spring, when the desert flowers bloom, bringing vibrant colors to the park, or in summer for the best stargazing. Get planning now with Victoria’s guide to the best things to do in Joshua Tree.
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Santa Barbara is a historical beach village turned vibrant college town situated on California’s central coast.
If you want a weekend with a healthy balance of enjoying the outdoors and shopping, eating, and drinking, then Santa Barbara is exactly what you’re looking for! The lively downtown area is nestled in picturesque rolling hills and sits atop a picturesque sandy beach known for great surf.
Book a boutique hotel to make it a romantic weekend getaway from the city. It’s a great San Diego date idea!
⛱️ Read Next: 23 Best Beaches In San Diego
Palm Springs is truly an oasis in the desert, especially for San Diegans looking for a change of scenery for a weekend! The town is one of the most popular weekend trips from the city, and with its countless all-inclusive spa resorts, world-class golf courses, and trendy downtown area, there’s no question why.
👉 Pro Tip: If you’re feeling up venturing away from the pool, check out the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the world’s largest rotating tramway that showcases panorama views as it rises over 8,000 feet up the cliff walls of Chino Canyon.
Santa Ynez Valley
Nestled in the rolling scenic hills near Santa Barbara, the Santa Ynez Valley is best known for its world-class wineries. There’s no need to make the long trip up to Napa Valley’s wineries when Santa Ynez is less than five hours away from San Diego. Plus, it’s still off the radar for many tourists so you’re guaranteed a laid-back, intimate weekend in one of the area’s small boutique hotels.
Catalina Island is a little slice of heaven in the pacific ocean, 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles. The main town, Avalon, is a dreamy resort town overlooking a picturesque marina and is the perfect setting for a California romantic getaway.
Catalina is an especially awesome destination for water-lovers as it’s reportedly one of the best snorkeling and diving destinations in Southern California. Check out some of the awesome tours offered in Catalina.
To get to Catalina from San Diego, you’ll drive to Dana Point where you’ll take an hour-long ferry ride on the Catalina Express. Be sure to consult Victoria’s guide to the best things to do on Catalina Island before you go!
Chances are you’ve heard of Las Vegas, the party capital of the US known for its neon lights, opulent hotels, and flashy casinos. If you’re craving a weekend of extravagant wild nights and gambling, then you truly can’t top the many fun things to do in Vegas!
The city is famous for bachelor and bachelorette parties, but you don’t need to wait for one to enjoy Sin City when it’s only a 5.5 drive from San Diego (though the drive home may be quiet and slightly painful).
Travel Lemming has a local writer in Las Vegas, Isabelle. Bookmark her guides for insider local tips. You’ll especially want to see her post on the best places to stay in Vegas.
Death Valley National Park
Despite its ominous name, Death Valley is a destination you won’t regret visiting, though you’ll definitely want to avoid it in the summer months. At its hottest, the desert National Park is known for registering the highest temperatures on earth, which is pretty impressive, especially if you aren’t there to experience them.
Instead, visit in the fall or spring to experience the otherworldly scenery that will have you believing that you’ve traveled to another planet.
Los Angeles is the city of dreams and inspires the imagination of people all over the world. And we’re lucky enough in San Diego close enough to go enjoy the city of stars for the weekend.
You’ll need plenty of weekend trips to experience all the many LA attractions, but the most iconic sights are the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Beverly Hills, the Hollywood sign, Manhattan Beach, Venice Beach, and Universal Studios. For panoramic views of the city, check out the Griffith Observatory.
Big Bear Lake
Lying only 3 hours northeast of San Diego just past San Bernardino, Big Bear offers the closest Skiing and Snowboarding to San Diego. The small mountain town, which perches on the edge of a picturesque lake, has a quaint village whose streets are lined with gift shops, boutiques, and restaurants.
The main attraction in Big Bear, however, is the snow! Big Bear Mountain Ski Resort offers 26 lifts and 55 runs between two mountains, Snow Summit and Bear Mountain. Snow Summit is known for its terrain parks (half pipes included), canyon terrain, backcountry, and beginner areas. Bear Mountain tends to attract a more traditional ski crowd.
👉 Pro Tip: For a unique Southern California tradition, try to complete the 3 Ss (Surf, Skate, and Snow) in one day!
For San Diego’s avid skiers and snowboarders, Mammoth Mountain is a must-visit winter destination. With a summit at 11,053 feet that receives an average of 400 inches of snow each year, Mammoth is recognized as a world-class alpine skiing mountain.
While Mammoth is undoubtedly best known for winter sports, it would be a mistake to overlook Mammoth for a summer weekend trip when the snow melts to reveal crystal clear blue pools and lakes amongst the mountain peaks.
📅 Read Next: What Month is Best to Visit San Diego?
Santa Monica is an eclectic beach town just west of downtown Los Angeles whose unique vibrance and colorful culture are irresistible. You could easily spend a fun weekend visiting some of the neighborhood’s iconic sights, including the Ferris wheel that sits atop the Santa Monica Pier and the historic muscle beach, the birthplace of the fitness boom in the 30s.
Make the drive up or take the Pacific Surfliner Amtrak train to enjoy the views of the coast on your way up.
🏖️ Read Next: 21 Best Beaches in Southern California
There’s something special about cozy California mountain towns that inspire peace and serenity, and Idyllwild is one of them. The small town is only a couple of hours drive Northeast of San Diego, and is nestled in the alpine forest high up in the San Jacinto Mountains. This is a great weekend trip for nature lovers who want to spend their days exploring the forested hiking trails and looking for wildlife. It can be done as a San Diego day trip if you’re tight on time, but staying overnight is ideal.
For an awesome stay, check out the gorgeous and idyllic Grand Idyllwild Lodge.
The Temecula Valley is one of San Diego’s best-kept secrets and most accessible romantic weekend getaways. Southern California’s very own wine country is only an hour outside of San Diego. Things to do in Temecula include scenic wineries, gorgeous resorts and spas, and top-tier golf courses.
For a truly one-of-a-kind experience enjoy wine tasting during the day and go hot air ballooning for an unforgettable sunset (search for tours here). I also love Old Town Temecula, which celebrates the old western roots of the town and features shops selling local artisanal wares, restaurants, and local breweries.
San Luis Obispo
Found on the panoramic central coast between LA and San Francisco, San Luis Obispo is a charming destination and one of my favorite weekend getaways. Because San Luis Obispo offers such a variety including historic sites, such as Mission San Luis Obispo, rugged coast, rolling hills, wineries, and trendy downtown, it’s gaining well-deserved popularity as a vacation spot.
You really can’t go wrong spending a weekend enjoying the town’s beautiful landscapes, secluded beaches, great hiking, and fantastic wineries. Check out Henry’s guide to the best places to stay in San Luis Obispo to plan your trip.
👉 Where to Travel in 2022: Check out our full list of the Best Emerging Travel Destinations for 2022 ( San Luis Obispo made the list!).
Sequoia National Park
Distance from San Diego: 6 hours | Google Maps | Destination Website | 👉 Search Hotels in San Sequoia National Park on Booking
California’s claim to fame is its numerous incredible national parks and Sequoia National Park is one of the best! The park is famous for its giant sequoia trees, and walking through forests of these ancient towering creatures is a one-of-a-kind experience.
When you’re there, make sure to pay a visit to General Marshall, which, at 52,508 cubic feet, is the largest tree in the world!
There are plenty of hotels to choose from near the park, but the Sequoia Resort is my favorite!
Anza Borrego Desert State Park
Want to trade the San Diego cityscape for some wide-open desert skies? Lucky for us, the undeveloped expanse of desert called Anza Borrego Desert State Park is only a couple of hours away.
Anza is one of my favorite weekend trips because it’s so accessible and is an awesome place to camp. While there are a couple of established campsites, my preference is to find the perfect isolated spot in Bureau of Land Management land where you can set up anywhere you want for free.
👉 Pro Tip: My favorite spot to camp is off the access to Font’s Point. Hike to Font’s Point for sunset for a breathtaking view.
Julian is a tiny mountain town perched high in the Cuyamaca Mountains and is famous for its apple pies. It’s hard to believe the small town is just a short drive from the city and is one of my all-time favorite weekend trips from San Diego when I want to escape the city. The gold rush town sprung up in the 1870s and today, you can pan for gold and tour the historic infrastructure from the gold rush.
The quaint village looks like it hasn’t changed much since the 1800s and has kept all of its historic charm. Be sure to pay a mandatory visit to Mom’s Pie House–you likely won’t be able to resist the glorious smell of baked goods wafting out of it.
It’s tough to find any stretch of undeveloped coast in California, let alone 90 miles of it, which is what makes Big Sur so special. And the scenery is totally breathtaking. Standing on one of Big Sur’s rugged cliffs high above the pacific ocean with a nose cold from the sea wind is an experience I wish on everyone.
There are tons of places to hike and explore along the coastal route that runs through the region, but the must-see locations are McWay Falls, a waterfall that empties onto a sandy beach, and the purple sand at Pfeiffer Beach.
San Diego’s proximity to Mexico means it’s as simple as driving across the border to enjoy the flavor and culture of Baja California. The seaport town of Ensenada is just a short 2-hour drive from the city and offers rich culture, fresh seafood, and bustling nightlife fueled by cheap beer and strong tequila that will guarantee a fun weekend.
Ensenada also sports rugged coasts and a variety of outdoor activities to choose from. Whale watching is offered from November to February, or go kayaking, horseback riding on the beach, and mountain bike riding year-round! Check out the top tours in Ensenada.
Valle de Guadalupe
While Mexico is mostly celebrated for its national beers and tequilas, the country also boasts a rich wine culture, concentrated a couple of hours from San Diego in Valle de Guadalupe. When I visited the region I didn’t know what to expect but the impressive vineyards and wineries scattered throughout the dusty Baja landscape were magical.
The wineries range from extravagant and modern, to quaint and picturesque, to laid-back. For the full experience, I recommend a guided winery tour.
Lake Tahoe is a nature lover’s paradise hidden in the Sierra Mountain range and is well worth the long drive from San Diego. During the cold months, the lake town turns into a snow-covered winter wonderland with access to all of the snow sports you could dream of. In summer, the lake warms up and the whole town feels like a summer camp.
When I was a kid my family would do annual trips to Tahoe and they were always the highlight of my year. Now I go with groups of friends and have a blast and can’t recommend this destination enough for anyone and everyone!
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Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is one of the most iconic national parks in the U.S. and is known for its spectacular vistas, challenging hikes, and the famous Half Dome peak. There’s no shortage of activities in the natural area including hiking, camping, river rafting, and rock climbing.
Many avid outdoorsy people and nature lovers travel from around the world to visit Yosemite, but luckily enough, San Diegans can visit the park for a quick weekend.
👉 Read Next: Best Hikes In San Diego
Laguna Beach is a beautiful beach town in Orange County, halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles, and whose art scene makes it an unbeatable destination for art lovers.
The village boasts countless art galleries and expositions all within walking distance, and the town is truly an art exhibit itself with murals and street art displayed on most paintable surfaces.
While you’re in Laguna Beach, don’t miss the Laguna Art Museum, which collects and curates art by California artists or art that tells the history and life of the state. For more, see our list of all the best activities in Laguna Beach.
Weekend trips are an awesome way to get a change of scenery, explore new places to go in California, and come back feeling refreshed and inspired!
These are some of my favorite weekend getaways from San Diego but there are most certainly more so leave a comment with your favorite getaway destination!
If you want to escape the city but a weekend is too long, check out my list of day trips from San Diego!
And be sure to check out all my San Diego travel guides:
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