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19 Spontaneous Day Trips That Are Less Than 3 Hours Away From San Diego

It's time for some seasonal spontaneity!
19 Spontaneous Day Trips That Are Less Than 3 Hours Away From San Diego

This is what I hate about California: that it’s close to everything. And when I say hate, I mean despise - in a completely jealous, envious, typical Canadian-girl kind of way. Day trips within the state are a common adventure taken by the citizens of the Southern State, and in addition to exciting cities in the region, there’s also cities and towns only a few hours away in Mexico that make a top destination list.

From the glamour of Los Angeles to the charm of Ensenada, the position of San Diego provides great opportunity for those living and visiting there. Whether you crave a day trip that’s filled with adventure, relaxation, or maybe a little drive down a scenic route, we’ve compiled a list of places to pass through that are less than 3 hours from San Diego.

READ MORE: 13 San Diego Dates That Are Way More Fun Than You'd Think

La Mesa

Distance from San Diego: 20 minutes

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Why You Should Go: An upcoming metropolis in the region of Southern California, La Mesa is a relatively small and charming city in San Diego’s county. About 20 minutes from San Diego (depending on that infamous rush hour traffic), the civic motto has been coined the “Jewel of the Hills” and is deemed quite the hidden gem in the state.


La Jolla

Distance from San Diego: 29 minutes

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Why You Should Go: Known for its location along the rugged coastline, La Jolla is a seaside area only half an hour away from San Diego. With sweeping ocean views and fantastic food to get your snack on, this awesome region has sandstone canyons and various luxurious boutiques that are finished off with tide pools and sea top golf courses.


Lake Poway

Distance from San Diego: 40 minutes

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Why You Should Go: Nestled along the hills of Poway, a rural city in San Diego County, Lake Poway is an exceptional recreational area only 40 minutes away from San Diego. With options of fishing and boating, you can also go mountain hiking and enjoy a picnic filled with your own tasty dishes.


San Clemente

Distance from San Diego: 58 minutes

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Why You Should Go: Only an hour away from everyone’s favourite Pacific coastline city, San Clemente, part of California’s Orange County, is known for San Onofre and San Clemente state beaches. With various beach trails that offer epic sea and green park views, the city’s original Spanish-style architecture is one of the many reasons to visit - with it also being less than 60 minutes from San Diego.



Distance from San Diego: 59 minutes

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Why You Should Go: Under an hour from San Diego and known for the Tamarack Surf Beach, Carlsbad is a secluded Southern California city that includes the famous theme park, Legoland California. Along with rides, a water park and the Sea Life Aquarium, Carlsbad is a charming metropolis that is also a perfect day trip.


Mount Laguna

Distance from San Diego: 1 hour 5 minutes

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Why You Should Go: A small area in San Diego County, Mount Laguna is located almost 6,000 feet above the seal level in a Jeffrey pine forest. It is also only 1 one hour and 5 minutes from the city San Diego - making it perfect for a spontaneous day trip!


Puerto Nuevo

Distance from San Diego: 1 hour 28 minutes

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Why You Should Go: A community located in Rosarito Beach, a city in the Mexican state of Baja California, Puerto Nuevo is only an hour and a half away from San Diego and is known as the “Lobster Village” of Baja California.


Laguna Beach

Distance from San Diego: 1 hour 37 minutes

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Why You Should Go: A small coastal city in Orange County, an area not only famous for California’s “Real Housewives” series, Laguna Beach is known for various art galleries and beaches perfect for a day trip. With multiple beaches offering multiple features such as tide pools and boardwalk paths, and a popular surf spot coined as Aliso Beach Park. There are also numerous hiking trails through the city’s coastal canyons.


San Juan Capistrano

Distance from San Diego: 1 hour 37 minutes

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Why You Should Go: Set in Orange County, San Juan Capistrano is only an hour and a half from San Diego.


Mount Palomar Observatory

Distance from San Diego: 1 hour 46 minutes

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Why You Should Go: So this is a cool one. Located in San Diego County, about 145 kilometres southeast of Los Angeles, the Palomar Observatory is a famous 200-inch Hale Telescope and museum. One of the most well-sought out tourist destinations in Southern California, the observatory has been the largest telescope in operation for decades. Owned and operated by the California Institute of Technology, the observatory is almost two hours away from San Diego.



Distance from San Diego: 1 hour 54 minutes

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Why You Should Go: Personally speaking as a Canadian, it’s easy to get confused between Disneyland and Disneyworld. I mean, except for the fact that they’re on completely opposite sides of the country and feature quite a few differences in their parks, Disneyland is California’s go-to amusement park. Only two hours from San Diego, the park is the first of two theme parks built at the resort, which opened in 1955. The only park designed and built under the direct supervision of Mr. Walt Disney, this is definitely something you have to visit during a day trip!


Borrego Springs

Distance from San Diego: 2 hour 8 minutes

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Why You Should Go: Because you’ve definitely heard of Borrego Springs, and we all like being part of something known! Completely surrounded by Anza-Borrego State Park, the largest of California’s State Parks, the region is also occupied with some fun features in the desert and is only a little more than 2 hours from San Diego.


Long Beach

Distance from San Diego: 2 hour 18 minutes

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Why You Should Go: A coastal city and port in the state’s southern edge, Long Beach is only 2 hours and 18 minutes from the sunnyside of San Diego. With the waterfront Aquarium of the Pacific offering an epic shark lagoon and museums set in large gardens, Long Beach is definitely something to road trip to any day and time of the week.



Distance from San Diego: 2 hour 21 minutes

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Why You Should Go: A port city on the Pacific coast of Baja California, Mexico’s peninsula, Ensenada is a cultural center for Southern Californians who want to escape to their friendly neighborhooding country for a day. Along with potential whale watching and exciting hubs on the street, the city also has roots from a important historic past.



Distance from San Diego: 2 hours 25 minutes

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Why You Should Go: A famous and buzzing beach town within and around Los Angeles, the neighbourhood of Venice is known for its upscale commercial and residential pockets circulating the free-spirited boardwalk. Scattered with street performers, interesting murals, and a skate park and Muscle Beach outdoor gym, this trendy neighbourhood is only a 2 hour and half an hour drive from San Diego.


Hollywood Sign

Distance from San Diego: 2 hours 34 minutes

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Why You Should Go: Probably the most iconic and obvious sign of Hollywood (hashtag puns), the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles is something that I’m sure all Californianas have visited. More than just nine letters in big, white writing, the Hollywood sign is a dazzling introduction to the world of celebrities and A-list mega stars. While it’s an attraction that most locals and tourists of California have seen, it being a 2 hour and 34 minutes drive from San Diego is reason enough to visit it again.


Palm Springs

Distance from San Diego: 2 hours 36 minutes

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Why You Should Go: A city in the Sonoran Desert of Southern California (whatever that means, but it sounds awesome), Palm Springs is the ultimate vaca destination for those in the West Coast of the United States of ‘Murica. Known for its hot springs, dazzling hotels, golf courses and luxury spas, Palm Springs has impressed both tourists and locals with it’s amazing shopping district and modern architecture. In addition to hosting annual Coachella Valley Music Festival, the region also offers epic hiking, biking and horseback riding trails.



Distance from San Diego: 2 hours 44 minutes

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Why You Should Go: Almost three hours from San Diego, Pasadena is a city northeast of downtown Los Angeles. From shopping and dining districts to notable museums known for European and Asian art, this charming location is perfect for a day trip that involves everything drinking, eating and casual charm.


Joshua Tree National Park

Distance from San Diego: 3 hours

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Why You Should Go: So this one is kind of cheating since it’s not technically less than 3 hours away, but hey - does anyone play by all the rules whilst in their 20s?! The Joshua Tree National Park, a protected area in the state’s southern region, is covered with bristled Joshua trees and nestles around the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert.


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