Written by Danielle Directo Meston
From beautiful beach hikes to family-friendly street fairs, San Diego and its environs provide plenty to explore on a budget. For young couples, families with young children or empty nesters seeking a quick getaway, here are four great spots that are just a gas tank (or less!) away from home.
2800 E. Observatory Rd.
Why Go? Though Hollywood’s Walk of Fame tends to be one of Los Angeles’ main attractions, the 4,310-acre Griffith Park is by far the City of Angels’ biggest star—literally. Hikers enjoy stunning views of the city on trails leading up to the Griffith Observatory, where a perfect view of the Hollywood sign offers great photo ops.
Must Do: Explore Griffith Park and check out the Old Zoo Picnic Area, site of the original Los Angeles Zoo, where visitors can monkey around in the abandoned animal cages.
Insider Tip: If you plan to hike up to the observatory, arrive early and park along Fern Dell Drive (just off Los Feliz Boulevard) at the Fern Dell Nature Museum/Picnic Area, where the observatory trail begins. The uphill hike can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on your pace. Otherwise, there’s free parking at the observatory, but arrive early to find a good spot.
The Fine Print: The observatory’s hours are Tuesdays to Fridays from noon to 10 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Closed Mondays.)
4600 N Virginia Rd.
Why Go? Get a glimpse of ranch life during the Victorian era in Long Beach’s Bixby Knolls neighborhood. Explore the Monterey-style adobe structures built in 1844, admire the historic landmark’s gardens (including majestic Moreton Bay fig trees) and see thousands of textiles, artifacts and more that tell the story of California in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Must Do: Visitors rave about the Living History Tours, where docents in character tell the story of the site through the eyes of Mrs. Bixby and other significant people from the ranch’s past. Visitors also suggest bringing cash to buy organic, gourmet jams made from the garden’s own fruit.
Insider Tip: Food is allowed only in the designated picnic areas.
The Fine Print: Hours are Wednesdays to Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.; the site is closed on major holidays. Admission is free.
12600 N. Torrey Pines Rd.
Why Go? Breathtaking ocean views, spectacular surrounding cliffs and a range of flora and fauna make the Torrey Pines State Reserve the perfect hiking spot. Picturesque (and kid-friendly) trails lead visitors through a range of scenery, from sandstone formations to panoramic views, and even offer sightings of gray whales and bottle nose dolphins in the waters below during the winter.
Must Do: Visit on a weekend and join the free guided nature walks, which begin at the Visitor Center at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Head inside the center—a historic 1920s-built adobe—to see exhibits on the natural reserve’s history, wildlife, geology and more.
Insider Tip: Early birds can find free or metered street parking along the beach; otherwise, on-site parking is available for $15. While food isn’t allowed in the reserve, picnickers can instead enjoy their meal on the beach.
The Fine Print: The reserve is open every day of the year from 7:15 a.m. to sunset; Visitor Center hours are daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the summer and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the winter.