From stunning natural wonders to quirky roadside attractions and a bucolic backcountry with dramatic topography, San Diego’s diverse landscapes and neighborhoods make it the ultimate summer road trip destination. Check out these four epic roadways in San Diego, along with the best places to stop, to live out your SoCal road trip dreams.
Coastal Cool – Highway 101
No highway better captures the laidback, beachside vibe of San Diego and its surf heritage than Historic Highway 101. Hugging 70 miles of sun-soaked coastline from Oceanside to La Jolla, a road trip along Pacific Coast Highway links some of SoCal’s coolest beach towns like La Jolla, Del Mar, Encinitas and Carlsbad. Views of sandy beaches and beautiful cliffs make this iconic highway a bucket list adventure.
A classic beach community. Oceanside marks the beginning of the 101 in the north and is home to some of California’s widest beaches, historical landmarks and a distinct SoCal surf culture.
The charming “Village by the Sea,” Carlsbad was named after a famous spa in Karlsbad, Bohemia and boasts family-friendly attractions and outstanding shopping.
Known as “Surftown USA,” Encinitas is one of the best surf spots in the world. Beyond surf, this coastal hot spot is also a sanctuary of relaxation and botanic wonders.
This quaint coastal town lures surfers and beachgoers, as well as art and music lovers and savvy shoppers.
Since the legendary days of Hollywood’s golden years, Del Mar has been the destination of choice for movie stars, as well as fairgoers and those who enjoy betting on the ponies.
Spanish for “The Jewel,” La Jolla is a scenic seaside enclave with a wonderful array of world-class arts and culture, attractions and stunning natural wonders.
Head for the Hills – Highway 80
Traversing 150 miles between San Diego and Yuma, Arizona, Historic Highway 80 winds through the scenic, chaparral-covered rolling hills of San Diego’s East County. Along this nostalgic route there are several charming towns and roadside wonders worth exploring:
Olaf Wieghorst Western Heritage Center
This center in El Cajon pays tribute to artist Olaf Wieghorst. Olaf, the “Dean of Western Art,” lived in San Diego for more than 40 years. The museum exhibits dozens of his paintings portraying the 19th century American West, including cowboys, Native Americans and settlers.
Jacumba Hot Springs
Soak in the scenery and soak in the natural hot springs at Jacumba Hot Springs. This small oasis features two pools of mineral water high in sodium, calcium and magnesium, believed to have healing properties for the body.
Mountain Splendor – Highway 79
Highway 79 begins in the East County town of Descanso and continues 45 miles north to Warner Springs. This road trip is the perfect way to explore San Diego’s charming mountain communities.
Lions, Tigers & Bears
For a roaring good time, head to Lions, Tigers & Bears in Descanso. As a non-profit rescue facility, this animal sanctuary is dedicated to providing a safe haven for abandoned and unwanted animals. It is home to exotic big cats, wild bears and more. The animal reserve allows animals to live out their lives in a safe and caring environment while also educating the public about some of nature’s most magnificent wildlife. Tour reservations are required.
The quaint mountain town of Julian, founded during the Gold Rush of 1869, is famous for mouth-watering apple pies and cider from local orchards. Stroll along the charming Main Street of Victorian and enjoy Old West architecture. Shop at antique shops, a general store, and dine at country-style restaurants and bakeries. There’s also gold panning at the Eagle and High Peak Gold Mines, wine tasting at Menghini Winery and David Lewis’ fascinating Historical Tours of Julian.
Miles of Smiles – 59-Mile Scenic Drive
In town for only a day or two and want to see as many sites as possible? Take the 59-Mile Scenic Drive – the ultimate road trip for an overview of San Diego. This beautiful iconic drive is marked every quarter mile by blue and yellow signs depicting a white seagull. The route encompasses a good portion of the city’s most outstanding attractions and neighborhoods. It can be covered in about three hours. Here are some major points of interest along this milestone route:
The downtown Embarcadero is lined with fun bayfront attractions and activities, including Waterfront Park, the Maritime Museum of San Diego and USS Midway, harbor tours and whale watching excursions aboard Hornblower and Flagship Cruises, and shopping at Seaport Village and The Headquarters at Seaport.
History buffs can enjoy Old Town San Diego State Historic Park and the Junipero Serra Museum on Presidio Hill, the first European settlement on the U.S. West Coast (founded in 1769). Old Town was San Diego’s first “downtown” and the birthplace of California. Festivities will take place throughout 2019 as Old Town celebrates its 250th anniversary.
America’s largest urban cultural park (called the “Smithsonian of the West”), Balboa Park features 17 museums set amidst ornate Spanish-Colonial style buildings, performing arts venues like the Tony Award-winning Old Globe Theatre, lush gardens, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.