Best Scenic Drives Near San Diego

Vista of Route 74

San Diego is close to snowy mountains, pristine beaches, wild deserts, and everything in between, leading to some spectacular drives worth taking a vacation for. Luckily, living in San Diego means that you don’t need to use up any of your vacation days to see these spots, so get your car ready to enjoy these best scenic drives near San Diego.

Palomar Mountain Loop

Get a spectacular view of Southern California and one of the world’s very best observatories at the same time with this hour-long loop drive. Begin your trip on the Palomar Mountain Loop at Highway 76 in Lake Henshaw, continue on until you head up the mountain on East Grade Road, and then take head down the steep west side of the mountain. The scenery on this drive is amazing— make sure to pay attention to the road, since it’s one of the most technically challenging drives in the country. And make sure to stop at Mother’s Kitchen for a bite or a cold drink.

Old Highway 80

Old Highway 80 was the I-8 before the I-8 even existed. Take a trip back through time by driving Old Highway 80, which has all the charm of Route 66, but none of the crowds. This drive takes you through the backcountry of eastern San Diego to see coastal hills, wild desert, and mountain pines. You’ll go through the small towns of Jacumba, Pine Valley, and Descanso, which are full of charm and make for great pit stops. Make sure to check out the Desert View Tower at the Imperial County line as well!

Palms to Pines Scenic Byway

This one is for the desert lovers. The Palms to Pines Scenic Byway only takes about 90 minutes to drive, but provides desert scenery and views unlike any other. The route starts in Banning and winds its way through the Cleveland National Forest (the “pines” part of its name) before taking a scenic dive into the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree National Park (the “palms” part of the drive). Be sure to stop along the way in Idyllwild and the San Jacinto Wilderness Area for great hiking trails. (And make sure your A/C is in working order!)

Rim of the World Scenic Byway

You’ll never want to take another route to Big Bear again after you take the Rim of the World Scenic Byway. This 107-mile stretch of road takes you from the LA Basin up the mountains to Big Bear Lake (about a 4-hour drive). All the way you’ll wind through beautiful mountain scenery and get sweeping views of Southern California below. Plus, at the end of the drive you’re rewarded by being in beautiful Big Bear. A large portion of the drive really makes you feel like you’re on a rim, so make sure to drive safe on this road.


These four drives will really make you appreciate living in San Diego, and if you don’t live here now, you’ll want to afterward. Before you go, make sure your car is ready for the trip by bringing it into Convoy Auto Repair for a complete car check up. You’ll be out in no time and ready to take on the best drives San Diego has to offer.  

Image: Flickr via shastared

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