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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 our region has to offer - our county spans from the Pacific Ocean to the mountain and desert environs to the eastern edge of the county. Within we have lots of places to visit and explore for an enjoyable day trip. Not necessarily "attractions" per se, many of these are just communities or places that are only familiar by their dot on Google maps or their presence on a freeway sign. Here are a few places that are well worth spending a day exploring.

1. Julian

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 we aren't usually exposed to. It gives us a chance to experience oak and pine forests and fresh mountain air. And when the occasional measureable snowfall does hit the county, Julian is where all the toursts head to play in the white stuff. Once a mining town, Julian is just a nice place to visit, 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.

2. Borrego Springs

When you think of the San Diego desert, most of us think of Borrego Springs. You know, when the TV weatherperson points out the 100+ degree temperature, it's always Borrego Springs. But how many of us have actually visited this desert town of 3,000 located in the far northeast corner of the Country? If you haven't, then you owe yourself the day trip: 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, and 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. And make sure you visit the Galleta Meadows Sculpture Garden.

3. Temecula

Even though it's just across the county line in Riverside County and home to many commuters who work in San Diego, Temecula is an unknown to those who don't make their home in this city of 100,000. But if you head north on I-15 just an hour away, you'll find yourself in Southern California's very own wine country. Over 30 wineries are easy accessible off Rancho California Rd. and 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, and Old Town Temecula, the historic center of town with over 640 antique dealers, restaurants and shopping. Old Town is a nice little surprise for visitors, and worth spending the day in Temecula.

4. Palomar Mountain

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 will find you at the summit, where you'll find forests, meadows, hiking trails and picnic areas to spend the day. And of course, 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 everythin

5. Fallbrook

Unless you live there, Fallbrook is a place only familar to many of us 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. But what you'l 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.

6. Mount Laguna

On those few days during the winter that the snow really falls in the County, it is Mount Laguna where the masses head up 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's 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, deep & 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.

7. San Clemente

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 63,000 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 75 miles an hour as we're heading to or from Los Angeles or elsewhere. But this seaside town is neither LA nor SD. It's a nice, laid back surfing town without the bustle of Newport and Huntington Beach to the north. And it also used to be the town where Richard Nixon spent his vacations - remember the Western White House, overlooking Trestles beach?

8. Tecate

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. And that's 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. But there really aren't no tourist attractions per se - the brewery doesn't have regular tours, from what I understand. But if you want to experience regular Mexican life, Tecate is an easy start. The famous Rancho La Puerta Spa and Resort is also located in Tecate.

9. Jacumba

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? How about because its the home of one of the only natural mineral hot springs near San Diego at the Jacumba Hot Springs Spa. Need more? How about 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.

10. Border Field State Park

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 U.S./Mexico 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, beach combing, hiking, horseback riding, and bird watching. You can actually follow the U.S.-Mexico border fence as it passes through into the Pacific Ocean.

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