Bust out of Balboa Park: 5 weekend getaways from San Diego

December 15, 2015                 5m read time
Stephanie Mee

It doesn’t get much better than San Diego. Perfect weather year round. Gorgeous beaches. Endless outdoor activities. But even paradise can become mundane if you live there. If you’re an S.D. local looking to shake up your routine, we’ve got five easy getaways for you. Play hard or relax in a whole new setting—either way you’ll come home recharged.

1. Sip Fine Wines in Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico

The Valle de Guadalupe in Mexico, 2 hours south of San Diego LlaneM

The Valle de Guadalupe in Mexico, 2 hours south of San Diego



Just two hours south of San Diego lies Mexico's Valle de Guadalupe, a wine growing region that has been creating a buzz over the past few decades with their high-quality wines. The first people to realize the region’s potential for viticulture were Jesuit priests in the 18th century, but it was only after Hugo D’Acosta opened his winery, Casa de Piedra, in the 1990s that the area really took off. Now you will find vineyards left and right, many with charming B&Bs and world-class restaurants onsite.

While in Valle de Guadalupe, stay at the scenic La Villa del Valle, where each of the six gorgeous rooms look out over vineyards, lavender fields, and olive groves. Next door you'll find the Vena Cava winery, where husband and wife team Philip and Eileen Gregory make organic sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon. Check out Finca La Carrodilla for biodynamic wines, and stop in Alximia or Viñas de Garza for great blends. Of course, you’re probably going to need some great food after all that wine, so make your way to the elegant Corazon de Tierra for contemporary cuisine or Laja for fresh farm-to-table fare.

2. Stargaze in Joshua Tree

Tent under the stars in Joshua Tree  nate2b

Tent under the stars in Joshua Tree 




Joshua Tree may only be a three hour drive from San Diego, but it seems like a whole other world. Named after the twisted spiky trees that grow here in abundance, this national park is the meeting point of two unique desert ecosystems (the Mojave and Colorado), which means that the landscape consists of surreal granite monoliths, deep canyons, and rocky rolling hills. Here you can pitch a tent under wide open skies and wake up early to watch the sunrise before heading off to do some hiking, mountain biking, or rock climbing.

You can also participate in fun field courses offered by the Desert Institute like photography, oil painting, science courses, and “how-to” courses that cover topics like how to survive in the desert, how to identify animal burrows, and how to navigate with a map and compass. Rangers at the park also offer guided tours about the unique geologic features, the wildlife in the park, and the history of the area.

3. Pamper Yourself in Palm Springs

Indian Wells Golf Course in Palm Springs Indian Wells

Indian Wells Golf Course in Palm Springs

Indian Wells


All it takes is one day of touring the luxurious hotels and spas, precisely-mowed golf courses, and chic restaurants of Palm Springs to see why this desert city is a favorite weekend escape for celebrities and So-Cal socialites. Your day here could include a long leisurely brunch at the Workshop Kitchen + Bar, a round of golf at the Indian Wells Golf Course, and a rejuvenating spa treatment at The Spa at Desert Springs. Finish off the day with a swim under the stars in your own private pool at a suite in La Quinta Resort & Club or book a few nights at the Ace Hotel & Swim Club for a modern Palm Springs experience.  

However tempting it may be to sit by the pool all day, you would be missing out on some great adventures if you didn’t get out and explore. The Big Morongo Canyon Preserve and Coachella Valley nearby are great for hiking and rock climbing, while the Indian Canyons are fabulous for bird watching. Explore old gold mining trails with Adventure Hummer Tours, or soar high above the landscape in a hot-air balloon with Balloons Above.

4. Explore Vast Canyons in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego State Park in California, a 2 hour drive from San Diego Anton Foltin

Anza-Borrego State Park in California, a 2 hour drive from San Diego

Anton Foltin


Anza-Borrego is California’s largest state park and just a two-hour drive from downtown San Diego. Spread out over 600,000 acres, the park has a vast array of interesting natural features, including deep canyons, seas of wildflowers, and globular sandstone concretions. The park is also famous for its wildlife—past and present. Bighorn sheep, mountain lions, and coyotes currently call the park home. Prehistoric fossils of mammoths, saber-tooth cats, and even sharks have also been found here.

The best time to visit Anza-Borrego is between October and the end of May, when you can camp out and hike around at the Tamarisk Grove Campground. For an easy walk, try the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail, which leads to a shady palm tree oasis. The Hellhole Canyon is a much more difficult trek with some rock scrambling required, but the cool waters of Maidenhair Falls will be a much-deserved reward. Hit the Blair Valley trails to check out large stones with pictographs that were drawn by the Kumeyaay people thousands of years ago. Capture the gorgeous desert landscape with a photography tour with Borrego Jeep Photo Adventures, who will drive you through popular spots like Fonts Point and Slot Canyon in a rugged 4x4 jeep.

5. Live the Mountain Life at Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake just 2 hours from San Diego Kara Brugman

Big Bear Lake just 2 hours from San Diego

Kara Brugman


Located about a two and a half hours from San Diego and reached via winding Highway 18, Big Bear Lake gets about 100 inches of snow every season, making it a popular ski town. Beginner skiers and boarders usually make their way to Snow Summit where there are long meandering trails and a Family Park with easy jumps and rollers. More serious sliders can head to Bear Mountain for its steeper terrain and huge park with tricky rails and boxes. Bear Mountain is also home to the only superpipe in Southern California.

During the summer, outdoor enthusiasts head here to hike and mountain bike along the network of trails that radiate out from the lake. The trails include easy walks like the Woodland Trail with 20 posted stops as well as more challenging treks like the Cougar Crest Trail with its varied terrain. Of course, you could also spend your days cooling off at the lake doing some stand-up paddling, wakeboarding, or parasailing. Fishing is another popular pastime here, as the the lake is open to anglers year round.

Stephanie Mee

Stephanie Mee is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Bali, Indonesia. Her work has been featured in numerous magazines, newspapers, and websites, and she is constantly on a mission to seek out new stories and adventures. In addition to being an avid wordsmith, she is also an incurable foodie and wanderluster.

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