Last Updated on March 26, 2024 by Laura

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While San Diego is home to 70 miles of stunning shoreline and some of the best surfing beaches in the world, it’s also a great jumping-off point to visit the best of Southern California—and beyond. Here are the most amazing road trips from San Diego.

Fabulous Road Trips from San Diego

Catalina Island

65 miles / 1 hr. 15 min., plus ferry

It’s just a short drive then a ferry ride to Catalina Island. From San Diego, take the 5 Freeway north to Pacific Coast Highway and head west to Dana Point, where a scenic ferry will transport you to this island paradise. Catalina is one of California’s eight channel islands and is known for spectacular wildlife viewing, incredible dive spots, and outdoor recreation like ziplining, glass-bottom boating, and hiking. The hour-long ferry ride is also an adventure: Keep an eye out for dolphins or even a whale. >>Recommended hotels on Catalina Island

Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico

84 miles / 1 hr. 50 min.

You’ll need your passport to take advantage of the proximity to the Mexican border. Drive down the Baja Peninsula to Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico. First, bypass the busy Tijuana crossing and head east to Tecate. From there, you can pick up Highway 3 to get to Valle de Guadalupe. While most associate Mexico with cerveza, tequila, and mezcal, the coastal Baja soil is surprisingly well suited for wine making. Most of the region’s wineries, hotels, and restaurants are along Highway 3, known locally as “la Ruta del Vino.” Visit vineyards and tasting rooms and sample Malbec, Grenache, Syrah, and Tempranillo varietals, then check out chef-driven restaurants that elevate Mexican food to new levels.

Palm Springs

126 miles / 2 hrs.

From San Diego, take I-15 N and I-10 E to CA-111 and, with smooth traffic, you’ll reach Palm Springs in approximately two hours. Thanks to all its stylish hotels, vintage boutiques, golf courses, and luxurious spas, this resort city has long attracted a posh crowd. But there’s more to do than indulging when you’re in Palm Springs. Adventure-seekers will also get a thrill. Take a tram through Chino Canyon, rent an ATV and cruise through the desert plains, go horseback riding through the palm trees, or hike Mount Jacinto for incredible vistas. >> Recommended hotels in Palm Springs

Santa Barbara

134 miles / 2 hrs. 15 min.

Take a scenic drive north from San Diego along the coast, following I-5 N, CA-73 N, and I-405 N to beautiful Santa Barbara. This gem of a city along California’s coast is the ideal road trip destination for travelers seeking a small town with worldly charms. Come for the palm tree-lined streets, Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, botanical gardens, and picture-perfect beaches; stay for the world-class food-and-wine scene. >> Recommended hotels in Santa Barbara

Big Bear Lake

145 miles / 2 hrs. 51 mins.

From San Diego, take I-15 N and I-215 N to CA-330 N in San Bernardino. In just three hours, you’ll reach Big Bear Lake in the heart of the San Bernardino National Forest. It’s a four-season resort town, so you’re guaranteed to have fantastic outdoor adventures any time of the year. Think excellent fishing, hiking, and mountain biking when the weather is warm, plus snowboarding and skiing in winter. There’s also an attractive downtown with shops and restaurants open year-round. 

Joshua Tree National Park

164 miles / 3 hrs.

Straddling two deserts in California, Joshua Tree National Park is fabulously unique, with distinctive hiking, rock-climbing, and chances to see the namesake Joshua tree. (It is actually not a tree, but a yucca plant.) Accommodations includes campgrounds, a variety of quirky motels and vacation rentals, and a select number of traditional hotels. Even so, expect at least a 20-mile drive to the park. >> Recommended hotels near Joshua Tree National Park