Driving from Los Angeles to San Diego
The drive from Los Angeles to San Diego takes you down Interstate 5 and the Pacific Coast Highway, along some of the most beautiful coastlines in the United States. Why view the Pacific Ocean from the car, though, when you could stop at a few scenic spots along the way? Rent a convertible from a neighborhood Enterprise branch, or the airport if your flying into town, and hit the road as you take this laid-back road trip from Los Angeles to San Diego. Be prepared for the open road by visiting our checklist of road trip essentials.
Drive time from Los Angeles to San Diego: approximately 3 hours
Distance from Los Angeles to San Diego: approximately 150 miles
Best car for this road trip: Convertible
1. Los Angeles
While you're in LA, be sure to take in some of the city's best sights. Start your day with a walk through Griffith Park, home to a distinctive observatory and one of the city's best views of the Hollywood sign and beyond. In a neighborhood nearby, you can visit the Chandelier Tree. A homeowner has decorated old sycamore tree in their front yard with numerous chandeliers. They're only lit between 6-10 pm, but the scene is still beautiful to see early in the morning, even it's a mere 10-minute pit stop.
Before you hit the road, stop by 189 by Dominique Ansel for a signature cronut – if you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it’s a delectable combination of a croissant and a donut – and a cup of coffee.
2. Huntington Beach
From LA, make your way south to Interstate 405 S, and follow it all the way to the Pacific Coast. Stop for an hour or so in Huntington Beach, which is also known as Surf City, USA. To learn more about the history of the sport, visit the informative International Surfing Museum, which showcases colorful surfboards and details the story of surfing's migration from Hawaii to California in the early 20th century. You can also head to the Huntington Beach Pier to watch local surfers in action or catch some waves of your own.
If you'd rather scope out the wildlife on dry land, head to the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. Here, you'll find upwards of 200 species of birds, which you can spot as you explore the many miles of walking trails.
3. Crystal Cove State Park
After a laid-back stop in Huntington Beach, make your way to California 1 South, which traces the Pacific Coast. You'll want to spend an hour or two at Crystal Cove State Park, perched right on the oceanfront in Orange County. Here, you'll find the ideal balance of ocean and forest. You can stroll along the 3.2 miles of beach, stopping to explore the tide pools and coves or take a dip in the Pacific. You can also hike or bike the many canyon trails nestled away in the park's 2,400 acres of wilderness.
When you work up an appetite, stop by the Beachcomber Café located in the Crystal Cove Historic District. Sit down to a lunch of salmon cobb salad or mahi-mahi tacos while enjoying the stunning ocean views.
4. San Juan Capistrano
The coastal views may be stunning, but this road trip has more to offer than beautiful scenery. Make your way south along California 73 to San Juan Capistrano, where you can explore one of California's most fascinating missions and discover how these sites shaped the state's history over 200 years ago.
Known as the Jewel of the Missions, San Juan Capistrano was founded in 1776, as the Catholic church's seventh mission in California. Today, visitors can tour what remains of the mission, including the bell wall, which features four original bells; the ruins of the Great Stone Church - largely destroyed in an 1812 earthquake; and the mission's gorgeous garden.
5. La Jolla
After following Interstate 5 for about an hour, you'll reach La Jolla, perched on the north side of San Diego. Though it's just minutes from San Diego, it's worthy of a stop, as it's home to some of Southern California's best restaurants and beaches.
To get a glimpse of this charming town, do a self-guided walking tour, and be sure to wander down Prospect Avenue, one of La Jolla's main shopping drags. Before you make your next move, check the sunset times. After all, you'll want to have a great view of the setting sun from one of the town's best beaches, such as La Jolla Cove or La Jolla Shores.
Plan dinner time around the sunset. Whether you dine before or after the sun sets, you won't want to miss a meal of Hamachi sashimi, Baja striped bass, and signature truffles at Nine-Ten.
6. San Diego
Once you've wrapped things up in La Jolla, get back on Interstate 5 and make your way south to San Diego. After such an exciting day, you'll be ready for a solid night's sleep. While you'll find great hotels all over the city, set your sights on the Embarcadero neighborhood. With several fun hotels and places to grab a nightcap, this is sure to be a winning choice.
The next morning, start your day with breakfast at San Diego's Liberty Public Market, which is home to tasty spots like the Smoothie Rider and Olala Crepes. For more of a sit-down brunch experience, head over to Café Chloe in the East Village, Civico 1845 in Little Italy, or Hash House A Go Go near Balboa Park.
After fueling up for the day, go for a stroll in Balboa Park, the expansive green space in the heart of San Diego that's home to dozens of museums, gardens, the world-famous San Diego Zoo and much more. Then wander through the Gaslamp Quarter and enjoy the classic Victorian architecture and historic atmosphere that makes San Diego so charming.
The drive from Los Angeles to San Diego may be relatively short, but there's so much to see and do along the way. Aim for an early start in LA and an overnight in San Diego to make sure you have ample time to take in the scenery and historic sites along the way.
LA to San Diego FAQs
What is the best time to go to Los Angeles?
April through May and September through October are great times to visit LA. Temperatures are ideal, with highs ranging from the low 70s to the low 80s. Smog levels are lower at this time compared to summer months. Crowds are also less dense, yet there are still plenty of fun events to check out.
What is San Diego known for?
San Diego is known for a plethora of beautiful beaches and its year-round pleasant weather. Popular attractions include the San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park. You’ll also find Old Town and Gaslamp Quarter, which are districts with live entertainment, shopping, and restaurants. With its proximity to Mexico, you’ll find a wide variety of Mexican cuisine in San Diego.
What is there to do in La Jolla?
If you love nature, La Jolla is the place for you. Be sure to visit:
- - Torrey Pines State Reserve, which is full of pine trees, trails, and a lagoon.
- - Birch Aquarium at Scripps, with 60 habitats of fish, sharks, and rays.
- - Mount Soledad, for a panoramic view of San Diego.