Day Trips from San Diego

San Diego is known for it’s breathtaking sunsets, picturesque views and endless summers, right? Well yes, but there is another side to Southern California that most visitors don’t know about. This side of San Diego has a rustic backdrop of mountains and desert terrain.

Growing up in South Florida, I constantly craved a three dimensional landscape. When I first moved to San Diego, I spent the majority of my free time soaking up the coastline. The Pacific Ocean is captivating. It took me awhile to start venturing into the east side of San Diego county, and boy did I discover what I was missing out on! I quickly found a new love exploring the less traveled parts of Southern California. It became a way to escape the masses and find peace and solitude in the mountains.

There are tons of day trips you can take to explore the countryside or desertland of San Diego. Today, I will tell you some of our personal favorites here at Nancy’s Vacation Rentals that, I am sure, will spark your adventurous outdoors side.

Julian-Nancy’s Top Pick
Volcan Mountain Preserve- 5 mile round trip hike – pet friendly
Trailhead: 1209 Farmer Road, Julian, CA 92036

If you are looking for an adventurous day trip in the countryside, check out one of Nancy’s personal favorites, Julian. Julian is a small town that has tons of character and lots of charm. From it’s historic gold rush mountain town and being home to the best apple pie company, you will fall in love instantly. The drive out to Julian is scenic, with rolling hills of countryside. As you drive deeper into a rural landscape, you will pass by lemon farms on the left and vineyards on the right. It’s approximately an hour to an hour and a half away from anywhere in San Diego County, so sit back and enjoy. The trailhead is just a few miles outside of town, but you will feel like you are thousands of miles from civilization. The trail climbs to about 5,300 feet in elevation, so make sure you wear your layers. Depending on what time of year it is, there could be snow at the top. On a clear day, you will witness spectacular 360 degree views from the desert to the coast at the summit. Make sure you take the Five Oaks trail instead of the fire road. Once you get back to town, stop by the Julian Apple Pie Company for a slice of pie, or visit one of the many wineries for a tasting on your drive out!

Thats my shepherd Layla on Mt. Volcan.

Potato Chip Rock, Mt. Woodson- 7.5 miles – Pet Friendly
Trailhead: Mt Woodson Rd, Ramona, CA 92065
The quintessential Potato Chip Rock hike is a local and tourist favorite.  The trail has become famous from visitors posting their adaptations atop the Potato Chip Rock. This well-groomed trail starts with an unforgivingly steep climb to the top.  Once you get to the top, you will be rewarded with an unforgettable background and, of course, you will find the thin potato chip like rock that gives this hike it’s infamous name.  Hopefully the line to take pictures on this infamous rock isn’t too long!  Make sure you #potatochiprock on your social media posts, and don’t forget to tag #nancysvacationrentals, too!

  I am taking a picture of visitors taking a picture on the infamous potato chip rock.

Slot Canyon-.8 miles
Trailhead: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Springs, CA 92004

  • I sometimes forget that San Diego is a desert oasis!  This day trek into the desert will make you feel like you’re days away from the ocean. The drive to Anza Borrego is a spectacular part of the journey.  Along the roadside you will find 130 various metal sculptures of prehistoric mammals, fighting horses, a komodo dragon, ancient elephants, and an extravagant 350 foot serpent.  Off of the two lane highway, there will be a turnoff to the footprint trailhead.  Be prepared for a bumpy ride as you go off roading on the dirt road to the slot.  slot canyon is a narrow canyon that is formed by the wear of water rushing through the rock. Park and climb down into the canyon.  As I walked through the narrow caves, I experienced a quiet, eerie feeling.  The silence was deafening, yet peaceful at the same time.  During the summer, temperatures can reach well above 100 degrees, so bring plenty of water. 

 The view from above the slot canyon.

​ Inside the dark slot canyon.

You have to go off roading to get up close pictures of the metal sculptures.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve- 3 mile hike
Trailhead: 12600 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, CA 92037
This is my go to hike when friends or family come to visit, but you have to leave the fur babies at home for this one.  Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve sits on 2,000 acres of land that has been preserved since before San Diego was developed. lt remains one of the wildest stretches of land on our Southern California coast!  The trail starts at the parking lot, and there is a quick uphill climb to the top.  Once you get to the top, you can choose which trail you want to take to the bottom.  This view will leave you speechless, it is absolutely amazing!  The trail comes to an end on the beach and you can choose to walk north back to the parking lot or head south to Black’s Beach.  But be careful if you brought the kiddos because this portion of the day might become X-rated quickly!  Black’s Beach is one of a handful of California’s nude beaches.

 Our very own Bree at the beach right below Torrey Pines.  

View from the top of Torrey Pines.

Visiting San Diego is like reading a timeless book or watching a classic movie over and over again – the more you visit, the more you discover.


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