San Diego has a lot to offer, but when you’ve had your fill of surf and sun, it’s worth remembering that there’s a lot to see and do outside of San Diego proper, from wine tasting to a mini Mexican getaway. So, if you’re looking for something to enhance your San Diego experience, here are the area’s best day trips.
While some concern linger over Mexico’s socio-political situation, a Tijuana day trip is not to be missed. The town offers plenty for the party scene from local dives to trendsetting bars and clubs, but Mexico’s industrial hub is also a storied city with world renowned music, the Zona Centro’s historical sites dating back centuries, and street food that will make you go weak at the knees. Just be sure to budget a little extra time at the border crossing (don’t worry, there are some great vendors there), and don’t forget your passport.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
It won’t take you far from the sun, but if there’s a noteworthy contrast to San Diego’s famous surf, it’s the stunning desert landscapes just an hour to the east. Anza-Borrego is home to some of the best hiking in the area, with vistas of red cliffs rolling out in front of mountains and once-in-a-lifetime sunsets. Open from dawn til dusk, a visit to the park can show you the best things you’ll see that day in the morning, and still have you back in the city before dinner.
An hour to the north of San Diego, Temecula is like any other suburban town. There’s a mall, a movie theater, and a cutsy main street that’s perfect for taking grandma antiquing. Oh yeah, and there’s 30+ wineries all located within about a 10 mile radius of one another. If you’re going to Temecula, go there for the wine. Tours and tasting run day and night, and several vineyards also have fine dining restaurants and world-class spas on their site. In the summer, Shakespeare is performed in the vines. In the winter, seasonal activities light up the hillsides. All year round, hot air balloons take flight and the wine keeps flowing. Just remember to take the trolley while you’re tasting – a fun and safe way to get between tasting rooms.
Some people might say calling Catalina a day trip is a bit of a stretch, with an hour up the coast to Dana Point before another 2 hour ferry ride to the island. It’s worth it, though. Avalon is the main city and jumping off point on Catalina, where adventurers can set up scuba or snorkeling trips, or take a glass bottomed boat to see the area’s reef and shipwrecks. For the landlubber, the Catalina Casino offers a movie theater and local museum set in a gorgeous art deco building. Zip Line and cruise the island’s ridges in its center, all while still having a tranquil ferry ride for relaxing as you head back.
If you’re willing to go down a bit further across the border, some two to three hours to the south is the port city of Ensenada. It’s an off-roading hotspot, home to the best surfing in Baja, and just minutes to the north of La Bufadora, one of North America’s largest marine blowholes, frequently spouting over 100 in the air. Ensenada also has a thriving port with fantastic fish markets and great fishing if you want to catch your own. It’s also a place to whale watch (maybe even see one of the local great white sharks), and is the true home of the fish taco.