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Ultimate Day Trip from LA to San Diego

The Coronado Bridge in San Diego, CA at dusk

If you’re looking for a respite from all that snarling traffic and general chaos from the valley to the hills, Los Angelinos would do well to pack their bags, cobble a new playlist together, hit the Santa Ana Freeway south and retreat to the coastal beauty of San Diego.

At about 121 miles, this 2+ hour road trip takes about as much time as some rush hour commutes, but the payoff is so much more rewarding.

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  • Dining Dining
  • Entertainment Entertainment

Whoever coined the old adage that says, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey” must’ve spent some time on the open road headed for California’s southernmost city. There’s a lot more to do than play ‘I Spy’ or count out the state plates to make the time pass on this journey and we’re going to break it all down for you. To preface, these recommendations do not take into account whether you’re taking your sweet time. They are predicated on using I-5 as your main route, so take it for what it’s worth. Without any further adieus, lets get this show on the road!

Here is the not-so-definitive-but-cool-all-the-same list for The Unforgettable LA Road Trip To San Diego!

First, here are the must-see towns on the way and why


Before we start pulling over and stretching our legs, let’s at least wait until we hit Anaheim. If you’ve got the inclination or a car full of aspiring mouseketeers, spending the day in Disneyland might be in the cards. This is one of the most visited places in the world but if money or time are of concern, pop in a movie for the kids and just keep on truckin’.

Santa Ana/Orange County

Further south in Orange County, located in Santa Ana, is the far more accessible Bowers Museum of Cultural Art. As the county’s largest museum, it celebrates the finest art and culture from Asia, the Pacific Islands, Ancient Egypt and more including housing exhibits on loan from world-class museums and a great, interactive section specifically designed for kids.


Further down in Tustin you might want to check out the Marconi Automotive Museum where you can walk amongst an impressive 30 million dollar collection of some of the world’s rarest and sought after mechanical machines like the sapphire blue FX Ferrari, designed by Frank Williams of Formula 1 fame. You might’ve worked a healthy appetite by this point and you’ve got some legit options in the area that go beyond the kind of fare you normally get from a drive-thru window.


In Irvine, you can satiate your yearnings for Korean food with a visit to Seoul Haus. Burntzilla takes the hot dog game to new, delicious heights and the BackStreet Brewery makes a monster burger you can wash down with a variety of tasty craft beers.

San Clemente

With a full stomach, you’re ready to hit the road again for another 30 miles until you reach San Clemente and The Surfing Heritage Foundation to discover, understand and appreciate surfing as a sport, lifestyle and culture that is quintessential California.

Must-See Attractions Near San Diego

San Onofre State Beach, Carlsbad State Beach, The San Diego Botanic Garden and The Birch Aquarium At Scripps are all solid contenders as some of the best roadside attractions worthy of your travel time and dollar as you make your way to ‘America’s Finest City.’

Ok, you’ve arrived in San Diego, now what?

Sightseeing Tour Options

Now that you’ve rolled into town and are ready to seize the day, there is but one thing to do above all others. Whether you’re tight on time or taking things at your own pace, the very best way to immerse yourself in the history, culture and people of San Diego is by booking yourself an Old Town Trolley Tour.

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🔸Keep calm & trolley on 🚃🔸

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Here’s why:

For a comprehensive, fully-narrated experience that allows you to hop-on and hop-off at any time during the tour, it’s a personalized way to enjoy and discover this wonderful town! You’ll learn about the rich history of Old Town San Diego with a walk back in time at their museum. You’ll also get to browse over 40 different shops where you’ll see skilled artisans plying their trade along with some delicious dining options.

Is your visit to San Diego under a time crunch?

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Chilling out, maxing, relaxing all cool😎

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Another alternative worth investigating is a San Diego SEAL tour. This is the only land and sea tour of the city that provides visitors with a one-of-a-kind perspective on a trip that’s part tour and part amusement park ride. This tour covers just a few of the places found on the Old Town Trolley along with a few new ones and culminates with a dramatic splashdown into San Diego Harbor for the tour’s second leg. The SEAL is a specially designed amphibious vehicle that was inspired by the WWII era hybrid transport trucks responsible for bringing troops and munitions to and from shore, known affectionately as DUCKS.

Must Visit Locations

Off The Beaten Path – Hidden Gems


    Providing over 700 acres of natural magic – including trails and views of San Diego’s island, ocean and mountain regions – Elfin Forest leaves hikers and travelers wanting more after each visit.


    Enjoy a morning of food and fun while admiring the speed and grace of Del Mar’s horses. Dine al fresco, learn about all things equine and take in the sights of dynamic thoroughbreds as they warm up for their next encounter on the track.


    Head to La Jolla Beach to check out the beautiful architecture high above the Pacific Ocean. The entire property is dedicated to discovery, science, architecture, health, introspection and development. The facility welcomes visitors, provides tours and regularly hosts events.

When the day is done and the purples and oranges of a San Diego sunset signal the end of your journey, the city you were in just a few hours before will take on a whole new significance as it finds its way into your heart.

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