Are you searching for the best small towns near San Diego? Read ahead for our top picks!
If you’ve been on the hunt for small towns near San Diego to visit this year, then you’ve come to the right place!
This carefully curated list of small towns near San Diego covers spots that are ideal for nature lovers, artistic travelers, and foodies!
So, whether you’re looking to take a day trip or want to spend a few days exploring, you’re bound to find somewhere on this list of small towns near San Diego to check out.
Now let’s dive in!
The Best Small Towns Near San Diego…
To kick off our list of small towns near San Diego, we have Carlsbad!
This charming sea town is approximately 35 miles from San Diego and is home to stunning beaches, flower fields, and a world-famous aquarium that’s home to over 6,000 marine creatures!
The fact that it’s one of the small towns near San Diego that’s right on the Pacific Ocean means you’ll get breathtaking vistas over the waterfront from several restaurants nearby.
If the gorgeous views weren’t enough to convince you to visit, Carlsbad is among the small towns near San Diego that are great for kiddos.
Not only is it home to LEGOLAND California (which has its own waterpark!), but there are so many outdoor activities that’ll let children blow off steam.
So, whether you’re on the hunt for hiking trails or the Batiquitos Lagoon salt marsh, this place has got you covered.
Seriously, it’s an amazing pick for charming small towns near San Diego!
Next on our list of small towns near San Diego, we have Chula Vista.
This spot is called “The Lemon Capital” by locals as it’s home to so many citrus trees and is incredibly scenic.
Once you’ve spotted a few lemon trees, you’ll want to hop on the Bayshore Bike Path to explore over 24 miles of stunning scenery.
Although you should spend most of your time enjoying the parks and beaches, it’s the food that makes this one of our all-time favorite small towns near San Diego.
The Mexican fare here is ridiculously authentic, with Tacos El Gordo and El Huevo Estrellado being two popular restaurants to check out.
Throw in a visit to Eucalyptus Skateboard Park and the Galley at the Marina, and you’ll have the perfect day on your hands!
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Next on our list of small towns near San Diego, it’s the Eastlake area.
Comprising of several neighborhoods (Eastlake vistas, Eastlake Trails, Eastlake Greens, etc) this little cluster of neighborhoods makes up a gorgeous option for small towns near San Diego.
With Lower Otay Lake right next door, there are so many beautiful reasons to visit this place, and live there too. If you spend your weekends in the great outdoors, this is a pretty gorgeous location to be based.
OK, so this is more of a beautiful suburb of San Diego, but it has some gorgeous nature right nearby, and remains close to the city – so it’s absolutely worth mentioning.
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Next on our list of beautiful small towns near San Diego, it’s the beachy Leucadia.
Leucadia is a great pick for anyone wanting that small town, beach vibe.
In Leucadia, you’ll find some lovely restaurants and cafes, as well as a good stretch of coastline too. The San Diego Botanic Gardens are also located here!
As you’d expect from a beachside town north of San Diego, you’ll find a really beach-centered lifestyle here, and most things here revolve around the coastline.
Including housing! Some of the most gorgeous homes in Leucadia are located right on the very scenic seafront.
If you’re looking for small towns near San Diego, then you should head to Spring Valley.
This quaint spot is just 12 miles from San Diego, making it perfect for a day trip from Downtown if you’re a fan of spectacular views and natural beauty.
Although this is a popular area to visit for an authentic spa experience, you’ll also want to spend time exploring Eucalyptus County Park (for a picnic!) and Bancroft Ranch House.
The Ranch House is a historic house museum that’s tucked away on Memory Lane and dates back to 1856.
It’s one of the many California Historical Landmarks, so it’s well worth a visit if you add this to your list of small towns near San Diego to check out.
Oh, and don’t forget to grab a coffee from Gladly Coffee and ice cream from Café Amor before leaving!
Next up on our list of small towns near San Diego, it’s Oceanside!
Not only is it just 38 miles from San Diego, but it’s a beautiful coastal town that’s perfect for beach days without the typical Downtown crowds.
You should spend time exploring Mission San Luis Rey, but it’s Oceanside Pier that takes the cake.
This incredible landmark runs for 1/3rd of a mile and is the longest wooden pier on California’s coast!
Whether you just want to look over the water or try your hand at fishing, the pier makes this one of the small towns near San Diego that’s worth visiting.
If you’re still looking for things to do, you can swing by the Oceanside Farmer’s Market for fresh produce or check out the funky California Surf Museum!
Anything goes if you add this to your list of small towns near San Diego to check out this year.
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The next spot on our list of small towns near San Diego belongs to Julian.
You’ll need to travel around 60 miles from San Diego to reach this spot, but the beautiful beaches, galleries, and restaurants are worth the trek.
It’s one of the cutest small towns near San Diego and is best known for its apple pie (thanks to the many apple orchards nearby!).
You can check out the Julian Pie Company for a buttery slice or head to one of the many breweries and cider-tasting rooms for a boozy pour.
Although it’s one of the small towns near San Diego that gets busy during the apple-picking season (obviously!), it’s pretty laid-back for the rest of the year.
When you’re not enjoying Julian’s apples, you can head to the Eagle & High Peak Minesor hike around William Heise County Park!
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Next on our list of adorable small towns near San Diego, we have Lakeside.
It’s approximately 21 miles from San Diego and is popular with hikers, bikers, and anglers all over the country.
It’s not one of the small towns near San Diego that we’d recommend for city lovers as it’s laid-back and most activities are centered around the lake.
But if you’ve been meaning to get into camping and enjoy the stunning views around Lake Jennings, then you’re bound to appreciate Lakeside!
If you get hungry during your trip, Lakeside Café & Bakery is the perfect place to visit for breakfast and lunch.
The cinnamon rolls are unbelievable and the fresh coffee is guaranteed to perk you up in seconds.
Talk about small towns near San Diego with tons of charm!
Encinitas is next on our list of scenic small towns near San Diego.
Encinitas is another beachside town, and this particular neighborhood has a really trendy vibe, with lots of young couples and families residing there.
You’ll find this little gem located about 25 miles north of San Diego, so it’s within fantastic distance for a day trip from the city, or a little weekend break away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Moonlight Beach is probably the most famous spot here, and can get busy during tourist seasons, but generally, Encinitas is a bit of a hidden gem! And a wonderful choice for gorgeous small towns near San Diego.
If you’re on the hunt for small towns near San Diego that are ideal for nature lovers, look no further than Alpine.
It’s technically a 720-square-mile park that’s popular with birdwatchers and hikers, but there’s more to this spot than first meets the eye.
As Alpine is one of the small towns near San Diego that’s tucked away in the Cuyamaca Mountains, you can expect sensational views of the Cleveland National Forest.
So, camping around here is seriously aesthetic.
Overall, Alpine is a great pick for small towns near San Diego if you’re looking for a mix of activities.
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Cardiff-By-The-Sea is our next suggestion for cute small towns near San Diego.
Cardiff-By-The-Sea (named after a beach town in Wales, Great Britain!) is located North of San Diego and is a fantastic spot for nature and beach lovers.
Cardiff-By-The-Sea is known for it’s fantastic surfing too – so you’ll find a really strong surfing community here!
There’s plenty of choices for food here too – but we recommend checking out Pacific Coast Grill!
You also have the San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center here, which is well worth a visit. Over all, this is a great choice for small towns near San Diego.
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Fallbrook is one of the most popular small towns near San Diego as it’s home to sprawling golf courses, art galleries, and beautiful nature walks.
If you’re an art fanatic, you should start your trip at the Fallbrook Art Center.
It’s the place in town for showcasing local artwork and even has a gorgeous restaurant called Café des Artistes if you need a break.
Then, you can head to Kenny’s Strawberry Farm for a spot of fruit picking or the Emerald Forest Bird Gardens if you’re fascinated by exotic birds.
Whatever you choose to do, this is one of the small towns near San Diego that’s packed with exciting things to do!
It’s among the small towns near San Diego that’s best visited during the summer, but you can also explore the Grand Tradition Estate and Gardens if things get chilly.
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Next on our list of small towns near San Diego, we have Idyllwild!
It’s around 100 miles from San Diego, so it’s slightly out of the way. But the wealth of outdoor activities and beautiful beaches make this one of the small towns near San Diego worth visiting.
And hey, it’s only 2 hours from Downtown each way!
In the minuscule town center, you’ll find a few quaint restaurants to fuel up at (The Town Baker is particularly good!).
But the hiking trails are the main reason to add this to your list of must-visit small towns near San Diego.
As you’re right in the middle of Mount San Jacinto State Park, you can explore upwards of 30 trails during your visit.
Along the way, you’ll spot local flora and fauna that set this place apart from other small towns near San Diego.
Next on our list of the best small towns near San Diego, it’s the rustic and charming Torrey Pines.
Torrey Pines is one of the smallest locations on this list of small towns near San Diego, but it’s still worth investigating and looking into!
In fact, if you’re into golf, we can promise you’ll be impressed with Torrey Pines Golf Course, which is one of the best in the area and has some insanely mesmerizing views.
Our final suggestion for small towns near San Diego is Coronado!
This is probably one of the closest small towns near San Diego as it’s just 6.7 miles from Downtown.
It’s an extremely popular spot for surfers as there are always excellent swells and surfing academies for beginners.
But if you’re looking for a relaxing trip, you can easily lounge around on Coronado Beach for your entire trip.
To dial things up a notch, why not pad your beach vacay with a trip to the USS Midway Museum or a visit to Moo Time Creamery for a delicious sundae?
Oh, and don’t forget to grab a cocktail at the famous Hotel del Coronado before heading back to San Diego!
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