Even though San Diego is a prominent vacation destination in its own right, sometimes you might want to travel beyond lovely Southern Californian beaches and renowned amusement parks. Fortunately, amazing cities and attractions are situated within one to three hours away from San Diego. Head inland to enjoy wine tasting, theme parks, and hot air balloon rides, or drive north of Pacific Coast Highway to experience a wide variety of quaint beach communities. After settling into your San Diego vacation rental, venture out for a great weekend trip at any of these nearby destinations.

1. Temecula

city hall
Source: Flickr/Prayitno

A weekend in Temecula is a weekend of lazy relaxation, great wine, and gentle beauty. Just 60 miles north of San Diego, Temecula is one of the premier wine-making areas of Southern California. Head to wineries like Briar Rose for a tasting session, or book a winery tour with Grapeline Wine Tours so you don’t have to worry about who will be the designated driver. Get up early one morning to enjoy a spectacular flight over Temecula’s gorgeous hillsides in a hot air balloon, since this region is also SoCal’s center for ballooning.

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2. Santa Monica

Santa Monica pier
Source: Flickr/Pedro Szekely

Sure, San Diego has world-class beaches, but a weekend about 130 miles up the coast in Santa Monica is about far more than the Pacific Ocean- although you may enjoy a view of it from the window of your vacation rental. Head to the Third Street Promenade for high-end shopping and strolling, and stop to enjoy the street musicians and giant Chia-pet style dinosaur fountains. The Santa Monica Pier is home to a small midway and amusement park with traditional carnival rides and a Ferris wheel that lets you see for miles. Stroll down the path that connects Santa Monica’s beaches to the quirkiness of Venice, with a stop at Muscle Beach to show off your pull-up prowess. In the evenings, Santa Monica offers you some of the top restaurants in all of Southern California. Check out the offerings at Milo & Olive, Rustic Canyon, and Farmshop.

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3. Huntington Beach

huntington beach pier
Source: Flickr/Henrique Pinto

Head to Surf City itself for a fun weekend on the sand. Only 90 miles up the coast from San Diego, Huntington Beach beckons you to a weekend splashing in the waves. Learn to surf with lessons from Wave Huggers or the Banzai Surf School, and bring your dog to a pet-friendly vacation rental to let him have the fun of playing in the waves himself on some of HB’s dog-friendly beaches. Pop in to the International Surf Museum to learn a little more about this challenging sport, and then stop for tacos and beer at Pacific Highway.

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4. Carlsbad

legoland
Source: Flickr/wiredforlego

Just a quick 35 miles up the coast lies Carlsbad, an ideal weekend destination if you’ve got your kids with you. Head straight to Legoland to enjoy a theme park that lets you express your own creativity. Your kids will enjoy building race cars and robots out of Lego, and you can marvel at the incredible details in the recreated city scenes in Miniland. Enjoy some apple fries as you work your way around the park, and don’t let the little ones miss the chance to drive real, working cars. If high-end shopping at a discount makes your weekend great, don’t miss Carlsbad Premium Outlets, and enjoy the beautiful flower fields during spring and summer.

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5. Balboa Island

Balboa island
Source: Flickr/Brian Sterling

Book a vacation rental on Balboa Island, just 85 miles up the coast, to enjoy relaxation with a nautical feel. You’ll feel all the pressure slipping away as you stroll around the perimeter of this charming island, only three blocks wide; stop at Dad’s for a frozen banana or a Balboa bar (ice cream dipped in chocolate and toppings before your eyes) as you stroll. The Balboa Peninsula, with its wide beaches, challenging surf breaks, and Fun Zone with carnival rides and games is just a five-minute ferry ride away. Take a quick detour off the Island to Fashion Island to enjoy shopping for labels seen on the poshest runways.

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6. Anaheim

Christmas parade
Source: Flickr/HarshLight

Just 90 miles north of San Diego, Disneyland awaits you for a weekend of fun. Save big by booking a vacation rental in Anaheim rather than checking into one of the park’s pricey hotels, and choose a location close to the park’s gates so you can be first in line in the morning. A Park Hopper ticket lets you visit both Disneyland and California Adventure. Use an app that gives you real-time information on the wait times for your favorite rides, and don’t miss the parades and special shows, like Fantasmic, that show why Disneyland is truly the happiest place on Earth.

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7. Laguna Beach

laguna beach
Source: Flickr/Don Graham

Laguna Beach in south Orange County, is well-known as both an artists’ colony and a resort destination, and at just 80 miles from San Diego, it’s an ideal weekend getaway. Book a vacation rental with an ocean view, or head to the little public beach that’s right in the middle of town to enjoy the waves before enjoying a yummy lunch at The Cottage just across the street. If you’re weekending during the summer, book tickets ahead of time for the famed Pageant of the Masters production in Laguna Canyon, or browse the Sawdust Festival just up the street to enjoy work by local artisans.

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