Growing up in San Diego and having a passion for travel, I have spent many years taking day trips and weekend trips to all of the places on this list. Southern California has so much to offer families from the beach to the desert and from the city to the mountains.
#1 Catalina: The Catalina Express departs daily from San Pedro, Dana Point, and Long Beach. Infants (under 2) cost $5 round trip. Children (2-11 years) cost $58-$60 depending on the port, and adults (12-54) cost $73.50-$75.50 depending on the port. They also have pricing options for Seniors 55+, surfboards, bikes, and special package upgrades. And for 2017, there is a special birthday promotion where if you travel on your birthday you can get TWO roundtrip adult tickets for the price of one! All of the details are on their website.
When you get to the island, you can spend the day or stay the night! If you like being on land, there are shops, restaurants, golf, mini golf, a zipline an aerial adventure park, camping, biking, hotels, a casino, and more! If you like being on water, there are boat, fish, and dolphin tours, a glass bottom boat, kayaking, paddle boarding, scuba diving, snorkeling, and more!
It is 65 miles to Dana Point, 113 miles to Long Beach, and 122 miles to San Pedro from Downtown San Diego.
#2 Palm Springs: One of the most popular things to do in Palm Springs is the Ariel Tramway. Travel to the top and eat at one of their two restaurants at an 8,500 elevation. The tram travels just under 2 miles to the top but it only takes 10 minutes. In addition to the breathtaking views and restaurants, there are also observation decks, a natural history museum, hiking trails, a gift shop, and more!
Palm Springs also is home to the Wet & Wild water slide park, many golf courses, various museums, and is nearby the famous Cabazon outlets! On your way there or on your way back, stop to shop and tour the Windmills.
And if you want to spend the night there are numerous resorts to choose from. Our family favorite is the Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa. Their pool has a lazy river and a beach sand area for kids.
It is about 139 miles from Downtown San Diego and an 1-2 hour drive, depending on traffic and where you live in the county!
#3 Temecula: Southern California’s wine country has so much to do! Go wine tasting at any of the 40 wineries in the area and check out my post on the top 3 family friendly wineries. You can also spend the afternoon in Old Town Temecula having lunch and shopping at an array of restaurants and shops, playing at the indoor playground called Child’s Play, or explore the Pennypickle’s Workshop, Temecula’s own children’s museum, where children of all ages learn and discover science through play.
If you want something more low key, you can picnic and feed the ducks at the local Duck Pond or go to the park and splash pad. There is even The Alpaca Hacienda where you can tour the grounds and pet and feed multiple alpacas and llamas! Have some money to spend? Take your chances at The Pechanga Casino or go on a hot air balloon ride over the vineyards at sunrise!
It is about 59 miles from Downtown San Diego and an hour or less drive, depending on traffic and where you live in the county!
#4 Los Angeles: I used to live in LA for 10 years and there is so much to do, you definitely would need more than a day or even a weekend to do it all. But it’s so close, you can make multiple trips throughout the year to hit everything on your list. One of my favorite places is the Griffith Observatory. The views of the entire city are spectacular day or night and it is also right next to the famous Hollywood sign, which is a prime picture spot! There are also some fabulous hiking spots in the canyons that have beautiful views of the city as well. My favorite is Runyon Canyon Park. There is also Universal Studios, The Getty Museum and Getty Villa in Malibu, the La Brea Tar Pits, Santa Monica Pier and 3rd Street, The Hollywood Bowl, LA Zoo, Farmer’s Market and The Grove shopping center, Dodger Stadium, Staples Center and LA Live and multiple museums that you can search for here. You may even see a television show being taped or shop on Melrose Ave, sightsee on Venice Beach, or see a football game at the Coliseum or Rose Bowl.
It is about 120 miles from Downtown San Diego and an two or three hour drive, depending on traffic and where you live in the county!
#5 Anaheim: Probably the first thing you think of when you hear this city’s name is Disneyland, Disney’s California Adventure, and Downtown Disney. And yes, those are all in the city of Anaheim. But did you also know that nearby there is a Medieval Times, Pirate’s Dinner Adventure, Knott’s Berry Farm & Soak City, Adventure City (an amusement park for children 1-9) and The Great Wolf Lodge, which includes an indoor water park? Nearby are also the Discovery Cube and the Pretend City Children’s Museum.
It is about 96 miles from Downtown San Diego and an hour or two hour drive, depending on traffic and where you live in the county!
#6 Long Beach: Not many people think to spend the day in Long Beach but it’s one of my favorites! It is the home of The Aquarium of the Pacific, The Queen Mary, and Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden! Plus you can go dolphin and whale watching and spend the day on the oceanfront downtown and have your pick at excellent restaurants and shops! If you travel there in April (7-9) you can attend the Grand Prix of Long Beach! The Aquarium of The Pacific is my favorite in Southern California and you can become an annual member and frequent anytime you want. The Queen Mary is another family favorite. You can tour the ship, dine at the restaurant, or even stay the night!
It is about 113 miles from Downtown San Diego and a two hour drive, depending on traffic!
#7 Julian: If you’ve never been to Julian, hop in the car and drive there now! It is such a cute, quaint town with lots of small shops and restaurants. They often have events on the weekends year round and if you go in the winter, you may see some snow! Julian is known best for their apples and apple pie so it is a must to have a piece when you go. And if you stay for lunch, my favorite place to eat is the Julian Café. September is a good time to go apple picking, and if you end up staying the night, there is camping nearby as well as some bed and breakfast lodging options.
It is only 62 miles from Downtown San Diego and about 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes commute, depending on traffic and where you live in the county.
#8 Idyllwild: This is a little small town gem that not many people know about. Just a short drive from San Diego, you can walk around this small mountain town and eat at a local restaurant, shop, hike, mountain bike, rock climb, and play in the snow if you go there in the winter. There are a few darling ice cream shops, coffee shops, gift shops, and even a movie theatre that plays one movie at a time – and it’s usually a child friendly movie. If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle and want to spend some quiet time away, there are some great cabin rentals, too!
It is about 112 miles from Downtown San Diego and a two hour drive, depending on traffic!
#9 Joshua Tree National Park: If you love the outdoors and want a great place to hike or even camp, this is the place. If you are going to hike or camp I suggest Jumbo Rocks Campground. You can also go on a nature walk, go horseback riding, mountain biking, rock climbing, and more.
It is about 160 miles from San Diego and a three hour drive from downtown San Diego, depending on traffic!
#10 Big Bear Lake: There is so much to do in Big Bear all year round. Most locals frequent Big Bear in the winter time to go sledding, skiing, snowboarding, or simply just to play in the snow! The town is home to many shops, restaurants, candy, coffee and ice cream shops, as well as a plethora of hotels, cabin rentals, and campsites. In the summertime, it is a great place to see the fireworks on the 4th of July. You can also go hiking, golfing, parasailing, horseback riding, fishing, bowling, boating, and biking.
It is about 145 miles from Downtown San Diego and a 2-3 hour drive, depending on traffic and where you live in the county!
So which of these day trips will you be taking next? Tag us so we can see what you are up to!