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4 Best Day Trips From San Diego, California (That Aren’t Theme Parks)

In this article, I want to share with you my favorite day trips from San Diego.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in San Diego in the past few years and absolutely love this city. But, I also love going on day trips outside of the city and there are plenty of opportunities for that around here.

So whether you live in San Diego or are just visiting, I highly recommend checking out these easy day trips from San Diego.

Also Read: What to Do in San Diego and the Best Rooftop Bars in San Diego

These Are My Favorite Day Trips from San Diego:


1. Visit a Few Wineries in Temecula Valley

day trips from San Diego, California: Temecula valley

San Diego day trips: wine tasting in Temecula

day trip from San Diego: Temecula valley
image source: Europa Village – day trip from San Diego
best day trips from San Diego: Temecula valley
image source: Wilson Creek Winery – day trips from San Diego

Temecula is located about an hour’s drive from San Diego.

It might not be a world-famous wine region but especially if you don’t have time to make it to Napa Valley, Temecula is a great alternative. And, it’s one of the more popular day trips from San Diego.

Most vineyards here are small, family-run businesses and many wines have won awards.

Almost all of Temecula’s wineries are located right off of Rancho California Road making this a very convenient wine tasting trip.

So just drive down Rancho California Road and stop at any winery that looks appealing. But, even if you decide to stop at the first winery you see, do drive past the others because driving past the vineyards and checking out the different styles of properties is a great sight.

My favorite wineries in Temecula are Wilson Creek Winery and Europa Village.

All wineries offer tasting options and bottles to take home. Or just order a glass of wine, grab a seat and take in your surroundings. Not all wineries offer food, so if you arrive around lunchtime you might want to stop at a restaurant first.

Tip: most wineries close at 5pm so don’t arrive too late! Also, check the weather before you go and if you can, plan your trip to Temecula on a sunny day so that you can enjoy the scenery and outdoor seating that most wineries offer.

One Final Note About a Day Trip from San Diego to Temecula

When I first visited Temecula I expected to get a tour of the winery.

A walk around the vineyard, a tour of all the wine barrels that are used, some information about how the wine is bottled, etc. That, as far as I am aware, does not happen in Temecula.

You can walk around the vineyards yourself, but the wineries are essentially tasting rooms and restaurants where you can enjoy the wine and talk to knowledgeable staff if you want to know more about the production.

2. Go Gemstone Mining at the Oceanview Gem Mine & Pala Chief Mine

trips from San Diego: gemstone mining

Great day trips from San Diego: gemstone mining

San Diego day trips: gemstone mining

day trip from San Diego: gemstone mining
day trip from San Diego: gemstone mining

Even many San Diegans don’t know this, but only an hour’s drive from the city, and not far from Temecula, there is a gemstone mine that is still actively used!

Due to safety regulations, unfortunately, as a visitor you aren’t allowed to enter the mine and chop away at some rocks.

But maybe this is even better: they do the chopping for you and you just get to see if in between all these rocks you can find some hidden gems…

A Perfect Day Trip from San Diego, Especially with Kids!

After a short explanation of how to use the tools they give you to go through the pile of rocks and sand, the fun begins.

It was a steep learning curve for me I have to admit as I didn’t know anything about gemstones. What looked like a pile of rocks from a distance turned out to be filled with all sorts of smaller and larger bits of color: white, pink, blue, green and even black gems we found within minutes!

And it’s true, the more time you spend here, the more of an eye you develop for it: where at first every rock looked pretty and interesting to me, after half an hour (and with the help of the staff who are clearly all very passionate about gemstones) I knew that this is a tourmaline, that is quartz and that is just clay…

best day trips from San Diego: gemstone mining

Apart from screening for gems, the staff will also happily take you down to the entrances of the mine to show you where the action really happens.

It’s a great experience to learn about how gemstone mining first started here, how new areas are explored and what mining really entails these days.

Before you go, do take a look inside their little shop. Apart from having beautiful jewelry made out of their gemstones here, it is also interesting to see how much the gems you are screening for can be worth!

trips from San Diego: gemstone mining

If you want to do something different and learn something new, with or without kids, this is a great day trip from San Diego!

Tip: they are open on Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays only, from 10.30AM – 3PM. Make sure you get there early to enjoy as much mining as you can! And do bring sunscreen and a hat: you are in the desert, it does get hot!

For more information go to Oceanviewmine.com

3. Eat Apple Pie in Julian

Day trips from San Diego: visit Julian

San Diego day trips: eat apple pie in Julian

Best day trip from San Diego: visit Julian
San Diego day trips: eat apple pie in Julian

Julian is an adorable, historic gold mining town located in the mountains, approximately 60 miles (97km) east of San Diego.

Julian was a booming hub during California’s gold rush, and still retains much of the charm and atmosphere of those times.

If I think Wild West, this is the type of town that comes to mind. And coming from modern and fast-paced San Diego it is like having gone back in time…

Julian & Apple Pie

These days Julian is well-known for its numerous apple orchards and hence, its numerous apple pie bakeries.

So you can’t possibly visit Julian without trying its apple pie!

Julian Pie Company, on Julian’s Main Street, seems to be most people’s absolute favorite and my recommendation. It can get busy so do be prepared to wait in line for this famous apple pie! They sell over a dozen varieties of apple pie here, both by the slice and the pie.

Being Dutch I, of course, had to go for the Dutch apple pie. And no, I still don’t see what’s Dutch about this pie but it was definitely delicious so I am more than happy to claim it as being Dutch 😉

The center of Julian is only about three blocks long and four blocks wide so it’s easy to explore this town in a matter of hours. Julian’s Main Street is lined with quirky and nostalgic shops selling classic candy, antiques, jewelry, and more.

If you have never been to a classic American diner then definitely do check out Miner’s diner with its famous vintage soda fountain.

Pop into The Julian Cider Mill for some delicious cider. Besides cider, this small cider pressing operation also sells honey, nuts and other delicious products. And best of all, they let you taste most of it in the store! If you happen to visit during apple season (roughly September through December), you can witness the pressing take place first hand and go home with the freshest cider you have probably ever tasted!

And if you want to hang around a bit longer Julian also offers a few cute wine tasting rooms you might want to check out.

With its charming shops, famous pies, and a picturesque drive that only takes a little over an hour, Julian is a popular day trip from San Diego all year round.

Tip: stop at lake Cuyamaca on your way to or from Julian. It’s a beautiful spot and offers completely different scenery to what you see around San Diego.

4. Get a Taste of Mexico in Tijuana

day trips around San Diego: Tijuana, Mexico

best day trips from San Diego: Tijuana
best day trips from San Diego – spend a day in Tijuana

San Diego is located right on the border with Mexico.

Just across the border, you find the typical border town of Tijuana. Tijuana is by no means Mexico’s prettiest city but it offers good shopping, a number of nice bars & restaurants and delicious tacos!

Going to Tijuana is actually one of my favorite day trips from San Diego. It is easy to get to Tijuana and you get to experiences a different country for just a day!

Now some San Diegans might tell you not to go to Tijuana because it is so dangerous, but that is based on what it was like 5 or 10 years ago. Tijuana has changed a lot and made a real effort to clean up and offer more to tourists.

For more information about how to get to Tijuana and what to do on this day trip from San Diego, read: Where to go & What to do on a Day Trip to Tijuana

One Additional Option for a Day Trip From San Diego

If you love island life and a laid-back vibe, check out Catalina Island!

It’s a good day trip from San Diego or make it a weekend trip if you want more time on the island. This Catalina Island Day Trip Guide tells you everything you need to know.

Looking for Weekend Trips from San Diego?

3 weekend trips from San Diego
3 perfect weekend trips from San Diego

If you want to escape the city for more than a day I highly recommend visiting Big Bear Lake. It’s one of my favorite weekend trips from San Diego!

This cute mountain town offers skiing in winter and hiking and water sports in summer. And it will make you forget all about hectic city life for a few days.

For more information read my article: What to Do on a Weekend Trip to Big Bear Lake

Or if you are in California to see the state’s main attractions then do take a short trip to Los Angeles to check out LA’s must-sees.

And even Las Vegas is within driving distance from San Diego (believe me, I’ve done it several times) or only a short and cheap flight away.

Check out my Complete Guide for Things to Do in Vegas. It includes a lot of tips for what to do when you are not a big gambler.

You can find timeshares to rent in California based on your budget online and book your desired place to fully enjoy your vacation in San Diego. Make sure to plan your trip and book in advance, at least a month early of your scheduled vacation.

Also Read:


Map of the Best Day Trips from San Diego


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These are some of the best day trips from San Diego, California. Plus recommendations for weekend trips from San Diego.

Sanne Wesselman

Author: Sanne Wesselman
A traveler, wanderer, digital nomad, and entrepreneur. Owner of marketing company A to Z Marketing.
I spend most of my time living and working abroad and use this website to share "the good, the bad and the ugly" of traveling and living abroad. Visit the About Me page for more info.

5 thoughts on “4 Best Day Trips From San Diego, California (That Aren’t Theme Parks)”

  1. I have been in San Diego 3 times already and it never cam to mind to look beyond city limits. This is very helpful for my next trip in summer.

  2. Love hearing about new places like this especially when It’s a bit off the beaten path ! I’ve been to California several times but never been in the South part nor to San Diego. The wine country in the city of Temecula seems to be a beautiful place to be. Julian looks like a surprising mountain town which makes a great day trip… and not only for the Apple Pie 🙂

  3. Haha! That’s a nice title. Good to see a different view, leaving out the theme park. Being a wine lover, Temecula valley would be my top thing!

  4. WOW! Gemstone mining sounds awesome! We would definitely love to do that! We visited San Diego twice but never stayed there long enough to explore the city in depth. So next time we’ll try to spend a week there and eventually cross the border to Mexico!

  5. The gemstone mining sounds really interesting.. It would be fun learning about the stones too and how to identify them.. Good to know that safety regulations are in placed too.. Tourists/ guests may get too caught up with ‘mining’ and cause problems..


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