San Diego Vacation Ideas: Scenic Drives

San Diego’s coastal beauty is known the world over. With this much sun, sand, and natural beauty, it’s no surprise. One of the best ways to take it all in is by going for a scenic drive. It’s also one of the most quintessential California activities. Roll the windows down, turn the music up, and let that Southern California sea breeze blow your cares away.

59-Mile Scenic Drive

If you want an overview of everything San Diego has to offer, the 59-Mile Scenic Drive is a great place to start. This looping route makes its way through the most iconic beach destinations (Torrey Pines, La Jolla, Point Loma, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach) and around both bays (San Diego Bay, Mission Bay), and provides gorgeous views of Mexico, the surrounding mountains, and the downtown skyline. The full drive takes about three hours and can easily be broken up into smaller sections. Its coastal setting also makes it easy to access. Check out the full itinerary on the official San Diego website, or simply follow the blue-and-yellow seagull signs marked “Scenic Drive.” 

Palomar Mountain Loop

If you’re staying in San Diego, you’ll probably be spending plenty of time on the coast. For a change of scenery, drive along the Palomar Mountain Loop. The route begins on Highway 76 and heads up Palomar Mountain to the impressive Palomar Observatory. The drive takes about an hour, but allow plenty of time for stopping at local shops and seizing spectacular photo opportunities. From central San Diego, the whole trip covers about 150 miles.

North County Backcountry

Another one of the diverse landscapes to explore here is northern San Diego’s beautiful Backcountry. This desert region provides a stark contrast from the Pacific coast. Start in Escondido and drive along Highway 78, stopping at Dudley’s Bakery, in Santa Ysabel, for some old-fashioned treats. Take Highway 79 to Highway 76, before taking Grade Road up Palomar Mountain. Head back to Highway 76 and continue through the largely Native American communities of Pala and Pauma, before hopping back on Interstate 15 and returning to Escondido. From central San Diego, the trip spans about 170 miles.

Sunrise Scenic Byway

If you’re visiting in the spring and summer, consider taking the Sunrise Scenic Byway. The beautiful drive winds through Laguna Mountain Recreation Area and along the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. Drive roughly 50 miles east out of the city on I-8 until you reach Pine Valley. The Sunrise Scenic Byway branches off just after the town and takes you up to the top of Mount Laguna, before connecting back with Highway 79. Drive south through Cuyamaca State Park to reconnect with I-8. If you start in central San Diego, the full route is around 120 miles.

Considering San Diego’s climate — perfect weather every day — you can enjoy these scenic drives any time of year. If you aren’t in San Diego, check out the accommodations at Holiday Inn San Diego Bayside and make your driving dreams a reality.