Great local drives:

  • Double Peak Park in San Marcos, CA: in the heart of North County, drive to the top and enjoy a 360 view of North County, on a clear day you can see San Clemente Island and South all the way to Mexico

  • 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[2] 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.[1] With 600,000 acres (240,000 ha) that includes one-fifth of San Diego County, it is the largest state park in California.

    The park occupies eastern San Diego County and reaches into Imperial and Riverside counties, enveloping two communities: Borrego Springs, which is home to the park's headquarters, and Shelter Valley.

  • 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.