Great local drives:
Palomar Mountain Loop in Pauma Valley, CA Palomar Mountain offers a scenic lookout and one of the nation’s best observatories. Your trip begins on Highway 76 at Lake Henshaw. Continue on 76 to the East Grade Road, which takes you up Palomar Mountain to the famed Palomar Observatory.
North County Backcountry/Julian day trip: Start in Escondido around mid-morning and drive through Ramona on Highway 78. Be sure to stop at Dudley’s Bakery in Santa Ysabel where Highways 78 and 79 meet. Head north on Highway 79 for about 10 miles until you reach Highway 76. Turn left on 76 and watch for the East Grade Road turn-off to Palomar Mountain. It will take about an hour to go up and down the mountain. If you prefer, take Highway 76 through Pala and Pauma for a very scenic, leisurely winding road trip back to Interstate 15, which will take you south to Escondido again
Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego, CA (Point Loma) Portuguese sailor Cabrillo, first explorer from Spain, is recognized at this monument overlooking San Diego, for his discovery. A personal visit will long be remembered.
Mount Soledad in La Jolla: Drive up the hill, visit the memorial and enjoy 360 views of San Diego county
Idyllwild (Riverside County) Idyllwild is a nature-lovers oasis located in the San Jacinto Mountains above Palm Springs. At a mile high, residents and visitors enjoy an alpine forest abounding with wildlife. The seasons are lovely with the scent of lilacs in the air in spring, warm summers, vibrant autumn colors and snowy winters.
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is a state park in California, United States, located 40 miles east of San Diego in the Cuyamaca and Laguna Mountains of the Peninsular Ranges
Mount San Jacinto State Park The Mount San Jacinto State Park encompasses the weathered granite summit of Mount San Jacinto, which at 10,834 feet (3,302 m) above sea level makes this the second highest peak and mountain range in Southern California. It is accessible by the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and lies on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Palomar Mountain State Park The beautiful forest and mountain meadows of Palomar Mountain State Park are in northern San Diego County, high atop the west side of Palomar Mountain. Large pine, fir and cedar trees make the park one of the few areas in southern California with a Sierra Nevada-like atmosphere
Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge The Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge is located 40 miles (64 km) north of the Mexican border at the southern end of the Salton Sea in California's Imperial Valley. Situated along the Pacific Flyway, the Refuge is the only one of its kind, located 227 feet (69 m) below sea level.
Anza Borrego Desert State Park is a California state park located within the Colorado Desert of southern California, United States. The park takes its name from 18th century Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and borrego, a Spanish word for sheep. With 600,000 acres (240,000 ha) that includes one-fifth of San Diego County, it is the largest state park in California.
Palomar College’s arboretum, San Marcos Stroll through the Edwin and Frances Hunter Arboretum, Palomar College’s botanical garden. Trees, palms and bamboos from around the world are labeled, making the arboretum not only an area for the study of botany, but also a place to study, relax and bond with nature
Alta Vista Botanical Gardens, Vista s is a botanical garden located in Vista, California, in the United States. The mission of the gardens is to "bring together people, nature and art".
San Diego Botanic Garden, Encinitas formerly Quail Botanical Gardens, is a botanical garden in Encinitas, California, United States. At 37 acres, the garden includes rare bamboo groves, desert gardens, a tropical rainforest, California native plants, Mediterranean climate landscapes, and a subtropical fruit garden.
Southern California National and State Parks
A little farther away, these road trips will take several days. These parks are withing one day drive
Joshua Tree National Park is a vast protected area in southern California. It's characterized by rugged rock formations and stark desert landscapes. Named for the region’s twisted, bristled Joshua trees, the park straddles the cactus-dotted Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert, which is higher and cooler. Keys View looks out over the Coachella Valley. Hiking trails weave through the boulders of Hidden Valley.
Death Valley National Park straddles eastern California and Nevada. It’s known for Titus Canyon, with a ghost town and colorful rocks, and Badwater Basin’s salt flats, North America's lowest point. Above, Telescope Peak Trail weaves past pine trees. North of the spiky salt mounds known as the Devil’s Golf Course, rattlesnakes live in Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is in the southern Sierra Nevada east of Visalia, California. The park was established on September 25, 1890 to protect 404,064 acres (631 sq mi; 163,519 ha; 1,635 km2) of forested mountainous terrain. Encompassing a vertical relief of nearly 13,000 feet (4,000 m), the park contains the highest point in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney, at 14,505 feet (4,421 m) above sea level. The park is south of, and contiguous with, Kings Canyon National Park; the two parks are administered by the National Park Service together as the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. UNESCO designated the areas as Sequoia-Kings Canyon Biosphere Reserve in 1976