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Day-tripping from San Diego up the California coast

Beach with palm trees
 
Let’s talk day trips from San Diego. It’s no secret that it’s difficult to get to many of San Diego’s best sights without a car. I’d definitely recommend renting one if you’re there for fun, and if you’ve already got the wheels, then you’re in luck—there’s plenty OUTSIDE the city that you can see within an hour’s drive, too. Read on to see my picks for how to spend a day along the coast, but be warned—this post is FULL of sea lion spam!! 😉
 

HIT THE FARMERS’ MARKET

If you’re hitting the road on a Sunday, make the La Jolla Open Aire Market your first stop. It’s a huge farmers’ market featuring produce, flowers and wares, but you’ll also find plenty to eat there for breakfast (or lunch, depending on when you start your day!). 

Flowers at the farmers market
Turnips at the farmers market

Golden retriever
Strawberries at the farmers market

SEE THE SEA LIONS

If you’re an animal lover, this stop will be the highlight of your day—or maybe even your trip. You’ll find hundreds of sea lions lounging on the shore—just follow the crowds and you’ll find them!

Sea lions on a cliff

Sea lions by the beach
Sea lions by the ocean
Two sea lions putting their noses together
Large and small sea lion

Did I mention there are adorable baby sea lions there, too?!

Baby sea lion on a rock
Baby sea lion sleeping
Baby sea lion close up
Mother and baby sea lion
Big sea lion spooning baby sea lion

EXPLORE THE SEA CAVE

For something a little different, head to the Sunny Jim Sea Cave, where you can access a unique view of the ocean via a tunnel and some stairs. It can be a little dark and damp, but rest assured that it’s nothing too strenuous. To visit the La Jolla’s sea caves from the other side, you can also rent kayaks!

Door to sea cave
View of the ocean from the cave
Rocky cliff and kayakers from above

Make sure to spend some extra time walking around the area before you leave for some spectacular coastal views and local flora.

Pink and green plant
Green plants in front of the ocean
Purple flowers
Flowers in front of cliffs and ocean

VISIT THE PIER

After La Jolla, drive as far north as you’d like. Encinitas and Carlsbad are worthy stops, but my favorite is Oceanside, which will put you exactly one hour’s drive from San Diego with the La Jolla stop. If it’s warm enough to swim, the beach is beautiful, but even if it’s not, there’s plenty to see. You can walk along the pier for some great views of the shore and catch plenty of surfers and fishermen in action, too. Make sure to hang around for sunset; California has some of the best. 

Boardwalk on the beach
Surfer in the waves
Fishermen on the boardwalk
Surfer riding a wave
Surfer riding a wave
Colorful buildings on the beach

STOP FOR DINNER

On the way back to San Diego, stop back in La Jolla for plenty of dining options. My picks are Whisknladle or Masala Street for something a little more casual. 

Restaurant interior

Bowl of curried corn soup
Two chairs at the bar

MILES MATH

Did you know you could earn frequent flier miles by renting a car? The major U.S. carriers (see: United, American, Delta) offer miles for renting with their partner companies. Sometimes booking through airlines can turn out to be more expensive, so I don’t do it every time. But oftentimes airlines will send out promos offering bonus miles for a rental, which can make this a great route to go. 

Several credit cards also come with perks you can use while renting a car, as this article breaks down well. And when spending on gas, make sure you’re using a credit card that earns a bonus; in my case, that’s the Citi Premier.

For more on earning and using points and miles to travel for free, check out the 52 Cities free resource library or register to join me on my next live masterclass! And for more San Diego inspo, here’s my city guide a list of the city’s cutest coffee shops.

Have you driven along the California coast? What was your favorite part? Any other favorite day trips from San Diego? Let me know in the comments! >>

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Day-tripping from San Diego up the California coast The Ultimate San Diego day trip A La Jolla day trip What to do, see and eat

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