The Best Places to Visit For the Day In and Near San Diego County

One of the great things about living in San Diego is the diverse offerings that the region has to offer -- San Diego county spans from the Pacific Ocean to the mountain and desert environments on the eastern edge of the county. Within we have lots of places to visit and explore for an enjoyable day trip. Here are a few places that are well worth spending a day exploring in and around San Diego County. 

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    It's true -- you might find snow in Julian, just an hour from San Diego.
    ••• It's true -- you might find snow in Julian, just an hour from San Diego. Gina Tarnacki

    Mountains. Apples. Snow. Clean air. It's what the mountain town of Julian is all about. Located 60 miles northeast of San Diego, Julian is a quaint mountain town that offers Southern Californians a taste of the rural, mountain lifestyle that city dwellers aren't usually exposed to. It provides a chance to experience oak and pine forests and fresh mountain air. When the occasional measureable snowfall hits the county, Julian is where all the San Diego locals head to play in the white stuff. Once a mining town, Julian is now a nice place to visit where you can roam the small village center and shop or take in the surrounding scenery by hiking or horseback. And don't forget to pick up some famous Julian apple pie.

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    Anza Borrego State Park in Borrego Springs
    ••• Anza Borrego State Park in Borrego Springs. David Kiene/Moment/Getty Images

    When you think of the San Diego desert, does Borrego Springs come to mind. If not, it's time for a visit. Here's what you'll find on a day trip there: spectacular desert vistas on the drive to the town, desert wildflowers and wildlife, and some nice desert resorts and golf courses. It's no Palm Springs, but maybe that's good. A visit to Borrego Springs means a slow, relaxing visit to a town with no stop light and surrounded by the 600,000 acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Also make time to visit the Galleta Meadows Sculpture Garden.

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    If you head north on I-15 just an hour away from San Diego, you'll find yourself in Southern California's very own wine country: Temecula. Located just over the county line border in Riverside County, Temecula is an easy jaunt for San Diegans and once there you'll find over 30 wineries that are easily accessible off Rancho California Road. Sampling the wines of Temecula makes for a fun day trip, but wine isn't all that's available in Temecula. There are fine golf courses, outdoor activities, plus Old Town Temecula, where you'll find the historic center of town with a plethora of antique dealers, restaurants and shopping. Old Town is a nice little surprise for visitors, and worth spending some time in during your day in Temecula.

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    Palomar Mountain Valley glows in sunset
    ••• Ron_Thomas / Getty Images

    At 6,142 feet, Palomar Mountain is one of the highest places in San Diego County. Located in the northern part of the county, it is best known as the home of the famous Palomar Observatory and its giant 200-inch Hale telescope. A scenic, 70-mile two-hour drive from downtown San Diego will get you to the summit, where you'll find forests, meadows, hiking trails and picnic areas to spend the day. And as mentioned, there is the Observatory, where you can take a tour of the magnificent dome and learn how the giant telescope was built in this remote area. There are also campgrounds and small lodges for those of you who decide that a day trip just isn't enough time to see everything.

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    Unless you live there, Fallbrook is a place only familar to many San Diego locals because it's pointed out by the local TV weather persons in the nightly broadcast. But you'll also notice that Fallbrook is located in the northern reaches of San Diego County, just before Riverside, a few miles off the bustle of Interstate 15. So, if you want to visit this town of 30,000, you have to make an effort to get there. It's worth it though since what you'll find are some of the most picturesque scenery in the county: steep hillsides with avocado and citrus groves, shady oak trees and winding, scenic roads. Known as the Avocado Capital of the World, Fallbrook also has a quaint village where you can spend the time dining or shopping, making it well worth the day trip.

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    On those few days during the winter that the snow really falls in southern California, it is often Mount Laguna where the masses head to take in some winter fun. It might only be a little over an hour to the sunny beaches of the Pacific Ocean, but it feels a world away. At the peak, the elevation reaches 6,273 feet above sea level and the terrain ranges from grassy meadows with small lakes and lush forest areas to desert peaks on the east rim. The snowfall is never enough for skiing, but that's OK. During the rest of the year, the mountain is a good place for hiking and biking and just taking in the spectacular views, especially of the desert to the east.

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    A sunset surf session at San Onofre State Beach in San Clemente, California.
    ••• Matthew Micah Wright / Getty Images

    It might seem a bit strange to suggest a day trip to San Clemente, which is just an hour north along I-5, since we have our own local beach communities. But a trip to this city of 65,000 just over the San Diego County border in Orange County is just far enough to feel like you're visiting someplace new. And you probably are, because the closest many of us come to San Clemente is zipping by at 70 miles an hour as we're heading to or from Los Angeles or elsewhere. But this seaside town is neither LA nor San Diego. It's a nice, laid back surfing town without the bustle of Newport and Huntington Beach to the north. 

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    Located some 45 miles from San Diego, off of SR94 between Jamul and Campo, is another Mexican border town, Tecate, that is a lot more laid back than Tijuana. In comparison, Tecate is downright sleepy compared to Tijuana. This may be a good thing if you want to take a day trip to experience Mexico without the hustle, something more akin to small town Mexico. Cross the much quieter border crossing and you'll enter the town that the famous beer is named for. You'll find delicious restaurants and a relaxing ambiance, plus the famous Rancho La Puerta Spa and Resort.

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    So, why would you want to spend your day driving out to the middle of nowhere to a town that sports a population of 500 people? Well, maybe because Jacumba is the last community in San Diego County before you head into the flat desert agricultural land of Imperial County. Not enough reason? Here's another one -- it's also the home of one of the only natural mineral hot springs near San Diego at the Jacumba Hot Springs Spa. Need more? There's Desert View Tower, a stone lookout built in the 1920s that gives you a spectacular desert view. If that's not enough reason, there's De Anza Springs Resort, a family campground resort -- and it's clothing optional. Yeah, a nudist resort. Yep, all this in Jacumba.

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    Border Field State Park

    A fisherman standing on a beach with a cast line into big surf at Border Field State Park in San Ysidro, California.
    ••• Trina Dopp Photography / Getty Images

    Border Field State Park is on the very southwestern corner of the United States and 15 miles south of San Diego. Border Field is located within the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve, an important wildlife habitat. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was concluded on February 2, 1848, officially ending the Mexican-American War. The border monument, number 258, can be viewed on top of Monument Mesa. The park provides restrooms, picnic areas, barbecues, horse corrals and interpretive displays. Visitors enjoy surf fishing, ​beachcombing, hiking, horseback riding and bird watching. You can actually follow the U.S.-Mexico border fence as it passes through into the Pacific Ocean.

Updated by Gina Tarnacki on July 20, 2016.