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.
Places to visit in and around San Diego
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.
Mission San Diego de Alcalá, San Diego First built of the 21 missions. The centerpiece is the church with its distinctive three-tiered belltower, old-looking and authentic in design though most dates only from the 1930s, when the then partially ruined building was extensively restored. In front is a small, well established garden containing flowers and blossoming bushes - a photogenic scene, and the mission is a popular place to visit.
Mission San Luis Rey de Francia. Oceanside The second mission northwards. The buildings are quite imposing, centred around a large church made in the traditional Spanish colonial style with a gleaming white appearance as if recently repainted. To one side lies a large enclosed quadrangle lined with colonnades and containing a lawn and gardens including, of incidental interest, the oldest pepper tree in California. A cemetery dating from 1780 occupies ground at the other side while the land in front of the church has ruins of other historic structures principally barracks, kilns and an aqueduct. The frontage is bordered by examples of Californian desert plants including several huge yucca while in front is an large parking area with extensive lawns, a good place for a picnic.
Mission San Juan Capistrano The mission was the seventh to be established, in 1776, and has remained in active use ever since. It is one of the most popular in terms of visitation and has extensive buildings including a church and chapel, barracks, warehouses, a cemetery, a jail, an industrial center (ruined) and various rooms used as museums, with exhibits of both the history of the mission and Spanish settlement in California. The adobe Serra Chapel is the oldest building in the state and contains a gold covered altar originally from Barcelona in Spain which is thought to be over 300 years old. The mission has one large enclosed central courtyard and other associated gardens, all with flourishing trees, wildflowers, cacti and succulents, fountains and statues, and several hours could be spent exploring all the different areas.
Balboa Park, San Diego Ever changing. Always amazing. Where culture, science, and nature collide, Balboa Park is home to more than 16 museums, multiple performing arts venues, lovely gardens, trails, and many other creative and recreational attractions, including the San Diego Zoo. With a variety of cultural institutions among its 1,200 beautiful and lushly planted acres, there is something for everyone.
Southern California National Parks and Monuments
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
Cabrillo National Monument (San Diego) Cabrillo National Monument offers a superb view of San Diego's harbor and skyline and includes Old Point Loma Lighthouse, a San Diego icon since 1854.
Come experience the national parks! On five days in 2019, all National Park Service sites that charge an entrance fee will offer free admission to everyone.
Mark your calendar for these entrance fee–free dates: