The Best Weekend Getaways from San Diego This Winter
Charming mountain towns, desert escapes, and Baja California adventures.
San Diego can feel like the promised land: the weather is always perfect, the people are always happy, and there’s a seemingly endless number of restaurants, breweries, and cultural events that pop up every weekend. That said, variety is the spice of life, and especially during the winter, we find ourselves pining for something different—like snow-capped mountains, cozy fireside lodges, and hikes amid towering pine trees. Lucky for us in Southern California, we can experience all that and more with just one short drive out of town. And for those who want to swap San Diego sun for more sun, we’ve got options for you, too.
If you’re looking to break up your routine in town, here are eight getaways for everything from wine tasting to desert hiking and camping. And if you’re not looking to break up your routine in town, well, we’ve got you covered there too. As always, plan your weekend trips with safety in mind, pack a mask and hand sanitizer so you’ll return home with nothing more severe than a hangover, and double-check your destination—you don’t want to arrive only to find it’s been closed.
Driving distance from San Diego: Two hours
There’s no better time than winter to take a road trip to the desert and admire spiky Joshua Trees that look straight out of Dr. Suess’ imagination. Joshua Tree National Park should be your first stop, with more than 1,200 miles of craggy rock formations and stunning landscapes that give way to the most epic sunsets. There are countless trails to explore, but make sure you pull over for Skull Rock, a 1.7-mile trail that features a skull-shaped rock formation, and Lost Horse Mine, a moderate four-mile hike where you can learn about the area’s Gold Rush history. Joshua Tree is home to a thriving artist community, with one-of-a-kind attractions like the World Famous Crochet Museum, the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum, and Integatron, a geometric dome that was designed to maximize the sonic experience of sound baths. Thanks to an abundance of hippie-dippie residents, you can satisfy just about any dietary requirement in Joshua Tree, from veggie-friendly spots like Natural Sisters Cafe and Sam’s Indian Food & Pizza (try the curry pizza!) to classic diners like Crossroads Cafe and Country Kitchen. Make a pit stop at Old West-inspired honky tonks like Pappy and Harriet’s and Joshua Tree Saloon when you need to whet your whistle.
Where to stay:Find an Airbnb near Joshua Tree.
Driving distance from San Diego: Three hours
If you want to see snow, but have no interest in skiing or snowboarding, consider a trip to the small, unincorporated town of Idyllwild that sits in the San Jacinto Mountains. There are no ski resorts, which results in a calm winter season without the hordes of tourists you’ll find at Big Bear or Mammoth Lakes. As the long-time home of an internationally acclaimed Idyllwild Arts Foundation, there is no shortage of locally-owned galleries, including Artspresso and Mountain Pottery, or visit during the annual Art & Wine Walk to take part in art exhibitions, film screenings, wine tastings, and more. While we certainly wouldn’t blame you for holing away in your cabin and enjoying all of your meals fireside, there are several worthwhile dining options in town, like Swiss breakfast spot Tommy’s Kitchen and Korean-owned Mile High Cafe, where a hearty oxtail soup appears on the menu during the winter. Take advantage of hiking trails that are accessible year-round or try your hand at climbing with Vertical Adventures, which hosts rock climbing classes and guided climbs in the area.
Where to stay: Find an Airbnb near Idyllwild.
Driving distance from San Diego: 30 minutes
San Diego’s culinary scene continues to delight us with exciting restaurant concepts, but sometimes you need to shake things up a little. If you’ve been craving something just a little extra, you’re in luck, because with a passport, a 30-minute drive, and a border crossing, you’ll find a culturally diverse, homegrown food destination that rivals any up-and-coming neighborhood. From hip new pop-ups to gourmet sit-downs and a thriving craft beer industry, you’re in for an amazing experience in Tijuana.
A must-visit is Avenida Revolución in Zona Centro, where you’ll find several craft breweries within walking distance, including Telefonica Gastro Park, a central craft brewery, and Cervecería Lírica, surrounded by a variety of food stalls in a welcoming open space. On the other end of the spectrum, Javier Placencia’s Mision 19, gives you an upscale experience and offers both regular and vegan tasting menus.
Where to stay:Find an AirBnb near Tijuana.
Driving distance from San Diego: 75 minutes
While some wine snobs may still scoff at the wines of Southern California in favor of the grapes of Napa or even Paso Robles, the vineyards of Temecula Valley have established a reputation over the last decade for producing fantastic syrahs and cabernets.
With more than 40 vineyards throughout the region, you can find something to satisfy any tasting desire, from lavish, over-the-top wine resorts like South Coast Winery to smaller, mom-and-pop operations like Doffo Winery (which just so happens to feature a fascinating collection of vintage motorcycles). Any time of year is great for a visit, though it's particularly picturesque during the annual Balloon and Wine Festival at the end of May. For the easiest, most chill tour ever, hop aboard an authentic, fully-restored 1914 San Francisco cable car and enjoy gorgeous, open-air views of wine country without the hassle of driving. Temecula Cable Car Wine Tours offers a five-hour adventure to three local wineries that includes lunch, as well as private and seasonal tours.
Where to stay:Find an Airbnb near Temecula.
Driving distance from San Diego: 75 minutes
If spending the equivalent of your monthly rent isn’t your idea of a good time, visit Julian, a family-friendly getaway that doesn’t involve endless standing in line or maxing out your credit card. A small, historic gold mining town in the mountains of the far eastern reaches of the county, Julian is renowned for its fall harvest season—specifically, its apple harvesting season from September through late October. While you can’t pick them fresh off the trees during the winter, you can still buy a fresh apple pie from Julian Pie Company and Mom’s Pie House or enjoy some cider at Calico Cidery and Julian Hard Cider.
Julian is also popular with hikers as a portion of the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail cuts through the Cleveland National Forest just south of town. Three Sisters Falls is a highly trafficked trail that can be hiked year-round and features a waterfall among other natural sights. Visit the California Wolf Center for an awe-inspiring educational day among the wolves, or head to the Oasis Camel Dairy Farm to try decadent milk soaps, bath bombs, and lotions that utilize camel milk.
Where to stay:Find an Airbnb near Julian.
Driving distance from San Diego: Four hours
“Solvang” means “sunny field” in Danish, and one stroll through the town will help you understand why it's rightfully referred to as the Danish Capital of America. The small town in the Santa Ynez Valley was intentionally constructed to replicate traditional Danish architecture styles (you bet your butt there’s windmills), and has remained a tourist attraction for its fantastic bakeries, as well as its famed Danish Days folk celebration at the end of each September, which, in normal times, famously includes an aebleskiver eating contest. If competitive apple pastry eating contests aren’t quite your thing, make sure you stop by during the holiday season for Jule Fest, the closest thing you’ll find to Europe’s holiday markets in Central California. There’s also the renowned Garagiste Wine Festival in late February, which showcases up-and-coming wineries from across the state. Frequently cited as one of the best wine festivals in the country, Garagiste only allows wineries that produce less than 1,500 cases of wine each year into the festival, to ensure the festival stays true to its artisanal roots.
Where to stay:Find an Airbnb near Solvang.
June Lake / Mammoth Lakes, California
Driving distance from San Diego: Six-and-a-half hours
Big Bear Lake is generally too packed and too much of a traffic nightmare to really feel like a mountain getaway, so instead, pack your bags and prepare for a longer haul on the drive up to June Lake and Mammoth Lake, two gems of the Eastern Sierra. The drive up 395-North is replete with great stops along the way—Schat’s Bakery and the Burger Barn in Bishop are always worth a visit—and each town offers a different version of the classic mountain town getaway. Mammoth, as more of a destination resort town, offers world-class skiing and snowboarding; while June, which has more of a small-town vibe, is home to some of the best fly-fishing in the state. Stop by the Ohana food truck at June Lake Brewing for some incredible Hawaiian food while you’re there, or take in the happy hour at Roberto’s for killer margaritas and duck burritos.
Where to stay:Find an Airbnb near June Lake.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada
Driving distance from San Diego: Five hours
Everyone in San Diego knows the traditional recipe of a Vegas getaway: Make an impromptu trip one weekend, spend way too much money on drinks at various clubs and pool parties, pretend to be invincible by drinking no water all weekend, and then limp home with a vicious hangover, lighter wallet, and killer sunburn. After a while, that kinda loses its appeal, but if you look just a few minutes outside of Sin City, you’ll find the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and its abundance of outdoor activities. With thousands of climbing routes of all difficulties found throughout the Conservation Area’s 198,000 acres and fantastic hiking and remote camping, it’s a great getaway into nature found in an area where most wouldn’t think to look. Even if you’re not much into outdoor sports, the stargazing at Red Rock Canyon is second to none.
Where to stay:Find an Airbnb near Red Rock Canyon.