How to Plan Day Trips in San Diego Like a Pro

(Photo: Pexels.)

Short Journeys to Southern California Memories

So many instantly-recognizable locations, so little time. We’ll help you choose a day trip out of San Diego, so that you can leave here confident that you’ve seen and done more than the ordinary.


Carlsbad certainly makes for one of the easiest trips, as well as one of the most richly rewarding for photographers: Not only does it only take half an hour to arrive, but it’s home to the Flower Fields, 50 acres of extraordinary color set on the hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Visit those first (they’re open from now until May) and then head next door to always fun LEGOLAND California. We also highly recommend the Museum of Making Music, a more adult alternative for those fascinated by the art of instruments.

46 min (29.9 miles)

San Juan Capistrano

Imbued with Native American and colonial Spanish history, this small city is home to an expertly-preserved 18th-century mission. Housing Liturgical and Native American Collections, the Mission is a terrific place to learn about the region’s complex history, as well as look at plein art art reproductions from the Irvine Collection and see a home for nesting swallows in the East Corridor. Docents offer guided tours of the Mission every 45 minutes, starting at 11 AM, and no reservations are required.

1 h 11 min (61.6 miles)

Salvation Mountain and Salton Sea

A testament to real vision, Leonard Knight’s labor of love is one of the most essential American roadside attractions. Adorned with the proclamation “God is Love,” this visionary environment was inspired by Navajo structures, and has attracted fascination for almost 30 years. It can be seen in 2007’s Into the Wild, and there was a documentary about Leonard himself released in 2015. Also in the area, Salton Sea is 234 ft below sea level, and located directly on the San Andreas Fault. Pro-tip: You’re better off making this stark landscape a winter, spring, or fall destination, as it’s oppressively hot here during the summer.

2 h 37 min (159 miles)

Palm Springs

A pilgrimage point for lovers of mid-century style, Palm Springs is all geometric breezeways, shaded verandas, and pristine pools. With its artistic vibe, and one of the world’s premier collections of Modernist architecture, a Palm Springs day trip is by far one of the coolest things within reach of San Diego. Visit as many of the historic houses as possible, check out the Palm Springs Art Museum, or take the tram to the top of Mt. San Jacinto.   

2 h 23 min (141 miles)

Want to consult with some locals about tips and tricks for a San Diego excursion? Our staff have a plethora of go-tos. Let us know what you’re thinking, and we’ll get you on the road to something fantastic.