San Diego County is as large as the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined, so there's a lot of ground to cover. In addition to mixing and matching one-day and two-day itineraries, the following suggested three-day itineraries are perfect for exploring the more outlying areas of San Diego, home to scenic mountains, deserts and a picturesque 70-mile coastline.
Historic Highway 101, linking La Jolla to Oceanside, is a scenic drive hugging the San Diego coast. In three days visitors can discover a number of beach communities reflecting the sun-kissed Southern California lifestyle:
- Day 1: La Jolla sights and Del Mar, home of the Del Mar Racetrack ("where the turf meets the surf") and upscale shopping at Del Mar Plaza along Camino Del Mar
- Day 2: Solana Beach, home of Cedros Design District, a hip, unique enclave of home furnishing stores, galleries and designer studios, and Encinitas, home of tranquil San Diego Botanic Garden and Swami Beach, made famous by the Beach Boys’ song “Surfin’ USA"
- Day 3: Oceanside, home of Mission San Luis Rey (the largest California mission, called the "King of the Missions"), California Surf Museum, Oceanside Pier and picturesque Oceanside Harbor
Find out more information about Historic Highway 101.
The city of Carlsbad, located along the coast in San Diego's North County, has so much to offer that you can easily spend three days exploring the scene:
- Day 1: LEGOLAND California, including the adjacent water park and aquarium
- Day 2: Golf and a luxurious spa treatment at the Park Hyatt Aviara. Afternoon shopping at the Carlsbad Premium Outlet Stores and downtown Carlsbad Village. Dinner at Bellefleur Winery & Restaurant
- Day 3: Museum of Making Music, a unique interactive journey through a century of musical instruments. Then visit The Flower Fields of Carlsbad California, open seasonally in the spring, or check out the incredible jewels at the Gem Institute of America (free but reservations are necessary)
San Diego's Inland North County is a beautiful and diverse region of wide-open valleys, rolling hills and mountains. Many popular attractions and activities can be found here, including:
- Day 1: San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido (formerly known as the San Diego Wild Animal Park) and the historic Palomar Observatory on Palomar Mountain, housing one of America's largest telescopes. At night, enjoy gaming action at Harrah’s Rincon Casino in Valley Center
- Day 2: Other Escondido attractions, including Queen Califia's Magical Circle, artist Niki de Saint Phalle's largest American sculpture garden with nine whimsical large-scale works; Welk Resorts San Diego, featuring a Broadway-style theater and the "bubbly" Lawrence Welk Museum, and the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, where top-name performers grace the stage nightly
- Day 3: The famous Bates Nut Farm in Valley Center (just north of Escondido), featuring fresh delicious nuts, candies and dried fruits, as well as a popular farm zoo; wine tasting at the award-winning Orfila Vineyards, and a romantic, sunset hot air balloon ride with A Balloon Adventure by California Dreamin'.
San Diego's East County has varied terrain, ranging from rolling hills and mountains to the expansive desert. Following is a suggested three-day tour:
- Day 1: Golf at the rustic Barona Creek Golf Course in Lakeside or Sycuan Golf in El Cajon, shopping at the popular Viejas Casino and Outlet Center in Alpine and then nighttime gaming fun at Sycuan Casino in El Cajon
- Day 2: Julian, San Diego's historic gold mining town in the Cuyamaca Mountains, known for its famous apple pies and cider, quaint village setting, antique stores and charming bed & breakfast inns
- Day 3: Borrego Springs, San Diego's pristine desert getaway town located in the middle of the 600,000-acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Each spring the park boasts a breathtaking wildflower display. In town, shop in the art galleries and sample delicious ruby red grapefruits and figs
San Diego's South Bay, encompassing south San Diego Bay and the cities of Chula Vista and Imperial Beach, is also the gateway to Mexico. A suggested three-day itinerary includes:
- Day 1: Chula Vista attractions, including U.S. Olympic Training Center, the first warm weather, year-round Olympic training facility in the United States; SeaWorld's water park Aquatica, open during summer, and the Sleep Train Amphitheatre, a state-of-the-art outdoor concert venue
- Day 2: The Living Coast Discovery Center (formerly known as the Chula Vista Nature Center) features aquariums, a shark and ray petting pool, bird-watching platforms, aviaries and hiking trails in the marshlands of San Diego Bay. Catch the sunset while dining oceanfront at Sea180 Coastal Tavern in Imperial Beach.
- Day 3: Daytrip to Tijuana, Mexico