A San Diego staycation is my secret weapon for getting away from it all when I’m short on time or money, as I’m a local myself.
While I love traveling worldwide—and weekend getaways in California — I’ve also had some of my most memorable vacations right here close to home…cutting out drive time and plane time in favor of more beach time, hikes, and sampling new restaurants.
Here’s where to go for a vacation that makes you feel like you’ve stepped into an exotic locale without squeezing into the middle seat to get there…
- Staycation San Diego
- 1. Coronado Island for Relaxed Island Life
- 2. La Jolla for Oceanfront Living
- 3. Temecula for Wine Tasting
- 4. Del Mar for Village Life
- 5. Balboa Park for Culture
- 6. Mission Beach for Sun and Fun
- 7. Encinitas for a Mellow Vibe
- 8. Julian for Dark Skies and Apple Pie
- 9. Gaslamp Quarter for Nightlife
- 10. Carlsbad for Good Eats
Staycation San Diego
1. Coronado Island for Relaxed Island Life
Why I love it: Just over the bay, beautiful Coronado Island feels like a world away! You can either drive over the bridge or take the ferry. It makes an ideal San Diego country vacation.
It’s a walkable little town with stately historic homes and elegant gardens surrounded by some of San Diego’s very best beaches.
Silver Strand Beach offers 7 miles of sandy beach and the best sunset views on the island. It’s perfect for windsurfing, stand up paddleboarding, and just plain relaxing…just one of the reasons Coronado Island is one of the best staycations in San Diego.
Things to do on Coronado: One of my favorite activities on the island is bicycling. There are some wonderfully scenic trails here.
Recently, we rode the 14 mile out-and-back Silver Strand bikeway on our e-bikes. You could also do a loop around the island (6 miles) or ride the 24 mile Bayshore bikeway.
Stop at the iconic Hotel Del for drinks. Paddle the bay in a kayak or head to one of the five white sand beaches here. Slow down and enjoy island time…conveniently close to home!
Top tip: Stop at Nado Gelato to sample some of the best gelato around. Yes, there will be a line out the door…but hey, you’re on island time now, right?
Where to stay: Stay in a beautiful Spanish bungalow just off Orange Avenue. You’ll enjoy an easy walk to the beach, shops, restaurants and more from this renovated gem with playful tiling.
Review: “We really enjoyed staying at Cody’s place. The bungalow is across the street from a grocery store and within walking distance of a juice bar, coffee shops, and some nice restaurants (try The Henry). —Victoria
2. La Jolla for Oceanfront Living
Why I love it: La Jolla is one of my all-time favorite spots for a San Diego staycation. It’s less than a half hour from my home but I feel like I’ve been transported to oceanfront nirvana!
When you window shop the cute little boutiques and dip into art galleries here, it feels like everything is draped in magenta-colored bouganvillea, sweeping ocean views, and all the time in the world.
Things to do in La Jolla: Look for anemones at the Shell Beach tidepools. Have dinner or a drink at George’s at the Cove.
Kayak the sea caves in La Jolla Cove. Take a family hike in nearby Torrey Pines State Park or visit the Birch Aquarium.
Top tip: One of the best things to do on a staycation in La Jolla is to wing by the La Jolla Open Air Farmer’s Market on Girard for delicious food to go, fresh produce, and local artisans selling everything from soft Turkish towels to scented soaps.
Where to stay: If you’re with a group, stay at an oceanfront beach cottage and watch the sunset over the ocean from your private terrace.
It’s perfect for up to 8 guests (three bedrooms) and comes with a jacuzzi.
Review: “Location, location, location. This delightful 3 bedroom home is in a perfect location. There is no better spot to watch and hear the waves crashing the shore, or to walk along the waterfront.” —Robert
Check prices and availability here. Or read more here for other options on La Jolla Airbnbs.
3. Temecula for Wine Tasting
Why I love it: Temecula is still on my list! My last two wine tasting adventures have been south of the border in Valle de Guadalupe.
But I need to get to Temecula just up the road. With nearly 50 wineries sprawling across rolling hills and valleys, Temecula winemakers produce Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.
In short, it’s perfect for a romantic San Diego staycation or gathering with friends.
Things to do in Temecula: In addition to wine tasting, you can go hot air ballooning, horseback riding, and wander antique shops in “Old Town.”
The Pechanga Resort & Casino is here. Spas abound.
Golfers love Temecula too. In short, it’s the perfect destination for both a romantic San Diego staycation or gathering with friends.
Top tip: Eat at the Goat & Vine for gourmet pizza. Patrons rave!
Where to stay: If you’re with a group, stay at the Calle Cabernet Vineyard Retreat. Watch the balloons float by from this tranquil oasis with memorable hilltop views.
Review: This Casita turned out to be the ideal location. We felt as though we were transported to Italy and it was so close to all of the vineyards. — Jennifer
Check prices and availability here.
4. Del Mar for Village Life
Why I love it: Del Mar is Spanish for “by the sea” and so it is. This tony little town is coastal village life at its best.
It’s a beautiful place for a quiet retreat with beaches, cycling, and fining dining opportunities galore.
I’ve been enjoying Del Mar for decades. When you consider the sophisticated feel of the village and the vibrance of small town life by the sea, it’s no surprise that movie stars from Hollywood have been heading here throughout the ages.
Things to do in Del Mar: Del Mar is, of course, home to the Del Mar Race Track which hosts all manner of fun events, including the annual Del Mar Fair in June (one of my favorite local happenings).
If you’re looking for relaxing things to do in San Diego, bring your pup to frolic at Dog Beach.
Have a picnic at Seagrove or Powerhouse parks. Check out Free Flight, the exotic bird sanctuary.
Top tip: Head to Del Mar Plaza. It’s a smorgasboard of top tier dining options with an ocean view!
Where to stay: Del Mar can be a bit pricier than other San Diego staycations due to the limited availability of Airbnbs here, but if you’re staying in Del Mar, you’ll want to be beachside, right?
Stay at this charming oceanview beach cottage. This beautiful Cape Cod-style two-bedroom features a gourmet kitchen, three luxurious baths, and allows you to walk everywhere you need to go. (One of my favorite features of a staycation.)
Review: “Wow. Just wow. Such a beautifully designed space, close to all the charm of Del Mar, yet so super peaceful with the ocean just out the door. You can actually smell the sea.” — Julie
5. Balboa Park for Culture
Why I love it: Balboa Park is San Diego’s largest urban cultural park and it is an absolute crown jewel of the city.
With acres of gardens, stunning architecture, fantastic museums, and a world-famous zoo, it definitely deserves more of your time.
Beyond the zoo, there are 17 incredible museums here to explore. From natural history and ancient autos to orchids and the WorldBeat Center, there’s something for everyone.
Things to do in Balboa Park: Balboa Park is so much more than the San Diego Zoo and museums. I love watching artisans fire glass vases in Spanish Village.
This colorful courtyard houses more than 200 local artists, photographers, printmakers, fiber artists, and more.
Then there are all the live performances. Take in a puppet show…hear the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ at Spreckels Organ Pavillion … or enjoy Shakespeare under the stars at the Old Globe.
Top tip: Looking for romantic staycation ideas in town? Enjoy a meal on the patio at beautiful El Prado right in the park. (It’s also one of my favorite places to take out-of-town guests.)
Where to stay: Stay in Hillcrest near the park in a gorgeous Zen apartment. Relax in your private jacuzzi, decompress under the rain shower, and sleep in Egyptian cotton sheets. This place has it all.
Review: “This is a great place for couples to get away or a nice staycation! This place has stellar amenities and was really clean.” —Scarlett
6. Mission Beach for Sun and Fun
Why I love it: If you want to feel like a tourist in your own town, head directly to Mission Beach! With miles of oceanfront, this is a classic SoCal boardwalk beach town.
It’s a great place for roller blading, whale watching, surfing, diving, and fishing. Whenever I’m in Mission Beach, I truly do feel like I’m on vacation.
In fact, it feels like a party. You’ll find plenty of fun bars here and nightlife. Plus, just off the coast is a diver’s paradise with a series of shipwrecks to explore.
Things to do in Mission Beach: My favorite thing to do in Mission Beach is cycling the Mission Bay bike path.
It’s 12 miles to make the full loop around the bay. We tried our new e-bikes out here a few weeks ago and it was so fun!
You could also spend a day at Belmont Park, riding the Big Dipper and taking The Plunge into the freshwater pool here.
Sea World is right here too. Take a surfing lesson. Or golf at the Mission Bay Golf Course.
Top tip: Rent a bike! It’s the best way I know to spend a few hours soaking in all the sights here.
Where to stay: Steps from the sand, of course! While it’s often windy on the other side of the bay, Mission Beach feels protected for beachy fun.
This cute three bedroom cottage is just minutes from the best of San Diego.
It’s got a gourmet kitchen, two queen beds and bunk beds in the third bedroom. You’ll love enjoying a morning coffee on the porch here.
Review: “The best part for our family was being steps away from the bay beach so that our kids could just run out and play.” — Mark
Check prices and availability here.
7. Encinitas for a Mellow Vibe
Why I love it: This is my hood! While I technically live in Carlsbad, I’ve been exploring Encinitas—Leucadia as it’s known to locals—for decades.
The vibe here is hipster but also mellow. There’s plenty of high-end homes sprinkled along the coast here but you might not guess at the million-dollar ocean view.
I love the Surfing Madonna, a mural on Encinitas Boulevard painted by locals a while back. Nearby Seaside Market is my favorite place to buy gourmet goodies.
And The Cardiff Kook—a surfer statue—on the coast never fails to disappoint.
He’s dressed up daily to celebrate everything from teen birthdays to Breast Cancer Awareness Week. It’s a local tradition!)
Things to do in Encinitas: Walk the downtown 101 section here. You’ll find trendy bars, Vegan restaurants, and boho boutiques.
Surf with locals at Swami’s…and while you’re there visit the beautiful meditation gardens.
Garden lovers should also make time for the San Diego Botanic Garden. Join a vollebyall game at Moonlight Beach or take a long walk at low tide.
Top tip: Grab breakfast at Pannikin. It’s a converted train station from yesteryear and is oozing with old-timey ambiance. If you like your coffee with a side of seagulls, this is the place!
Where to stay: Stay at Moonlight Beach—the jewel of Encinitas—steps from the sand in a breezy two bed/two bath penthouse beach pad.
This place is quiet and offers great walkability to the best of Old Town Encinitas.
Review: “The best Air BNB experience we have EVER had! This location is absolute PERFECTION!” —Brandon
8. Julian for Dark Skies and Apple Pie
Why I love it: In just over an hour, you can be in San Diego’s premier little mountain town in the Cuyamaca Mountains.
It’s not fancy…it’s a quaint little town perfect for hiking and stargazing, wedged between coastal San Diego to the west and Anza Borrego Desert to the east.
If you want to feel like you’ve escaped to the country, Julian is the perfect spot for a staycation.
Breathing the mountain air here and settling into the slower pace is just so rejuvenating and relaxing.
Things to do in Julian: Julian, of course, is famous for its fall festivals and apple, but it’s a great escape year-round. Take the kids gold panning.
Head out on a hike. Go apple picking. Check out the arts and crafts scene. Julian is home to untold numbers of artists, writers, musicians, and photographers.
Top tip: This is dark sky country! Julian is part of the one percent of the U.S. that can observe the Milky Way. There are year-round dark sky events, tours, and talks to enjoy here.
Where to stay: If you’re looking for the perfect San Diego staycation, stay at Majestic Julian Lodge, a two bed/three bath mountain hideaway that can accommodate up to five guests.
Review: “You cannot ask for a better place to stay. There are multiple decks and a huge property to get multiple views of the beautiful views of Julian.”
9. Gaslamp Quarter for Nightlife
Why I love it: San Diego’s vibrant Gaslamp Quarter is in the heart of the city and is so named based on the distinctive gas lamps that used to line San Diego’s streets.
Here, Victorian buildings stand next to skyscrapers.
When I’m craving the energy of quirky cocktail lounges or live theater, there’s no better place to be. Plus, the restaurant scene is top notch here!
Things to do in Gaslamp: It’s all about the night clubs and cocktail lounges here! Head over to Altitude Sky Lounge, Marriott’s rooftop bar, to watch the sunset over the bay.
Horton Plaza, San Diego’s most famous outdoor mall is currently being renovated for tech office space, but historic Spreckels Theatre is still one of the best places to take in a show.
Top tip: Good eats abound here. Try Burger Lounge or La Puerta for ambiance with your tacos.
Where to stay: If you stay in this upscale condo luxury unit, you’ll walk to the best of the Gaslamp. And, it even comes with a coveted parking place in a covered garage.
Review: “This place was great! In the heart of gaslamp and walking distance to Petco Park. Parking and check-in was easy!”
10. Carlsbad for Good Eats
Why I love it: I live in Carlsbad. And Carlsbad has something for everyone. There’s the cute walkable village…which has had a renaissance of dining options in recent years and beautiful beaches galore along seven miles of coastline.
Leo Carrillo Ranch is a unique and wonderful place to explore. There’s free-roaming peacocks even!
Things to do in Carlsbad: With kids, head directly to Legoland. Visit the Flower Fields in March or April for photo opps in massive fields of colorful blossoms.
Head to the Forum for upscale shopping or to the Carlsbad Outlets for designer deals. The burgeoning brewery scene is hot here.
Top tip: Have a meal at Campfire in the village. With sophisticated cocktails and wood-fired fare, it’s one of my favorite restaurants!
Review: “Had another wonderful stay in this lovey home away from home! Came back for the wonderful views and just steps from the beach for our relaxing morning walks.” —Charlyn
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