San Diego Scenic Drives (Panoramafahrten)

Top 5 San Diego scenic drives

From sandy beaches to oceanfront boulevards, find the best drives in San Diego.

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The County of San Diego, in the southwestern corner of California State, is a popular destination for travelers ready to dive deep into the SoCal vibe. This is the birthplace of cruising — and honestly, what car enthusiast has never dreamed of driving along oceanfront boulevards in the golden rays of the Pacific Coast sunset? But San Diego road trips offer much more. One will find a wide choice of the best scenic drives in San Diego thanks to the region’s diverse topography, with more than seventy miles of coastline, snow-capped mountains in the northeast, and flood plains, canyons and mesas in between.

San Diego scenic drive #1: Point Loma – where it all began

What better place to start road trips from San Diego than Point Loma, where the maritime explorer of the West Coast, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, first set foot? At the southern tip of the peninsula the Cabrillo National Monument commemorates the landing and provides an excellent starting point. It’s also worth visiting the historic Old Point Loma Lighthouse, and this part of the peninsula is the best position to watch the migration of tens of thousands of grey whales every spring.

If you don’t want to think too much about the route, it’s most convenient to follow the 59-mile Scenic Drive from here and loop through the charming sights and scenic views of the City of San Diego.

San Diego Scenic Drive Point Loma San Diego Scenic Drive Ocean Beach San Diego Cabrillo National Monument San Diego Mission Bay Aquatic Park

San Diego scenic drive #2: From surfers’ paradise to clothing boutiques and yoga studios

Driving north from Point Loma on the shore you’ll reach Ocean Beach, the funky surfers’ town that boasts a vintage SoCal beach vibe. The neighborhood, like the rest of the county, is imbued with Latin heritage, which is particularly prominent here. Surf shops, taquerias and micro-breweries line the bohemian streets, which locals also enjoy visiting.

Right next to Ocean Beach is the water wonderland, called Mission Bay Aquatic Park — a playground for water sports enthusiasts and the biggest park of its kind in the United States. Everything from sups to sailing boats has its place here, and of course SeaWorld San Diego, one of the world’s leading marine-life parks. It’s not surprising that fifteen million tourists come here every year. This place definitely deserves a stop during your San Diego road trip.

Pacific Beach, dubbed P.B. by the locals, is the choice when it comes to parties, nightlife and bonfires on the beach. This 3-mile-long stretch of beach is popular among free-spirited college students and surfers, but its more relaxed northern parts are enjoyed by vacationing families too. A few steps away from the ocean on Mission Boulevard, one will find a nice selection of bars, restaurants, clothing boutiques and yoga studios as well.

San Diego scenic drive #3: Jewel by the sea, La Jolla

The best way to kick off road trips from San Diego is an early start at one of La Jolla’s specialty coffee bars. The seaside La Jolla area is located at the northern part of the city. It’s a cultural and artistic hub, home to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and many scientific and educational institutions. Spectacular rock formations encircle some of California’s best sandy beaches, from which La Jolla Cove is a good spot to see California sea lions basking on the rocks.

Early risers can also start their San Diego road trip with a brief sunrise drive to the highest point of La Jolla, on Mount Soledad. Towering above the city, this 822-foot (250-meter) hill offers a 360-degree view of San Diego and the Pacific Ocean.

If you’re looking for a more relaxed environment to inhale the Pacific breeze, or to see how the shores of San Diego looked to the early settlers, then the Torrey Pines Natural Reserve is the place to go. As the name implies, the critically endangered Torrey pines can be found here.

San Diego scenic drive #4: Art in the desert – Salton Sea

Looking for something special on your San Diego road trip? Only 2.5 hours away from the Pacific shore in San Diego is the stinky and toxic Salton Sea, a once-favored holiday resort in the ‘50s and ’60s. The remnants of these formerly glamorous lakeside communities are now popular tourist destinations for those looking for uniquely odd attractions.Following its fall and almost total destruction in the 1970s, Salton Sea has come back onto the travelers’ radars in recent years. The abandoned lakeside settlements have been invaded by alternative, off-the-grid lifestyle communities and hippies. The lifeless space is now filled with their artwork and was turned into a one-of-a-kind open air exhibition. The most famous of these is Salvation Mountain, a three-story-tall mountain built by one man over 30 years. The colorful artwork is dazzling in the desert, and it’s an interesting sight for non-religious travelers too.

 Don’t miss these places, if you’re around Salton Sea:

  • Slab City
  • East Jesus
  • Bombay Beach
Palm Springs
Palm Springs, a city in the Sonoran Desert of southern California, is known for its hot springs, stylish hotels, golf courses and spas. It’s also noted for its many fine examples of midcentury-modern architecture.

San Diego scenic drive #5: Hollywood of the desert – Palm Springs

At the other end of the scale, Palm Springs, the little Hollywood of the desert, still retains the charm of the ‘50s and ‘60s, and attracts many with its hot springs, spas, golf courses and clean, mid-century-modern architecture. Palm Springs was once home to celebrities like Sonny Bono, Frank Sinatra, Clark Gable, Carry Grant and JFK.

Love road trips? San Diego to Palm Springs via Salton Sea is a nice day trip, with lots of unusual sights and varied scenery. With only a little detour the route winds through one of the best drives in San Diego, the 24-mile Sunrise Scenic Byway starting from Pine Valley on County Road S-1. And once you’re around Palm Desert, don’t miss the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway from desert floor up to the mountain forests of Idyllwild. It’s only an hour’s drive if you can resist stopping to enjoy the spectacular scenery at every corner.

Finish your San Diego scenic drive: Embarcadero and Harbor Island

Embarcadero, the vibrant, lively waterfront of the city downtown, is a good choice to set as a final destination after a day behind the wheel. Just lean back in one of its numerous seaside restaurants at sunset, and enjoy the culinary highlights of Southern California. When it comes to relaxation and seafood dinners, Harbor Island also has plenty to offer. The narrow, man-made peninsula is an ideal place to enjoy the city lights by night with a cocktail in hand and to look back on your San Diego road trip.

San Diego Scenic Drives

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