Spring Break Road (& Ferry) Trips from San Diego

Spring break is right around the corner. If you want a quick and inexpensive getaway, there are tons of fun destinations close to home. From a drive up the coast for ocean-views and West Coast beaches to turning inland towards the mountains for hiking, or out to the desert for flashy kid-friendly Vegas shows, pontooning on the lake, rock climbing in national parks or even an island escape that’s just a 90-minute ferry ride away—a fun-filled vacation is waiting just around the corner. Now all you have to do is pack your bags, get your favorite playlist or podcasts ready and head out of town for a much-needed family escape.


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Coastal Views

Drive the iconic Highway 1 all the way up to Morro Bay on the Central Coast, or pick one or several spots along the way to stop at for a night or two. Alternatively, the train runs up the coast to Santa Barbara and is one of the most scenic ocean-side train routes. Along this route, you’ll find ocean-view Ferris wheels, old Mission churches, hikes, quaint little beach towns and of course those iconic West Coast beaches. Great spots to spend your time would be in San Juan Capistrano or Dana Point (1 hour), Laguna and Newport Beach (2 hours), Santa Monica (3 hours), Santa Barbara (4 hours), Pismo Beach or nearby SLO (5 hours) and Morro Bay (6 hours).

Distance: approx. 1-6 hour drive from San Diego

Central Coast
Online: visitcalifornia.com

An Island Getaway

Aimee Della Bitta

Looking for an island escape that promises adventure, Mediterranean-style views, and a hefty dose of relaxation without months of planning or international travel costs? Hop on a 90-minute ferry ride from Dana Point Harbor to Catalina Island where sandy shores, sea lions, and plenty of family-friendly activities await. From oceanfront beach clubs to ziplining adventures, the options for making memories are limitless on this small but magical island. Check out our ultimate guide to visiting Catalina Island with kids for everything you need to know about how to get there, where to stay and what to do. 

Distance: approx. 1-hour drive from San Diego, plus a 90minute ferry ride from Dana Point

Catalina Island
Online: visitcatalinaisland.com/

Cool Mountain Air

Kerry Cushman

Get back to nature in Big Bear with some family hiking, camping and s’mores by the campfire. Not a camping family? There are plenty of cabin rentals available, but book them now if that’s your plan. If Big Bear is full, look nearby in Running Springs because it’s just 30 minutes away and halfway to Lake Arrowhead for another popular mountain retreat. Snow lasts until mid-March, but if your Spring Break is later on there’s still plenty to do. Check out rescued forest animals at the Alpine Zoo, ride the Miss Liberty paddle-wheel boat around the lake and find fun for the whole family at The Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain with go-karts, mini-golf, bobsleds (dry or snow) and an arcade. Bring your wheels, bikes, scooters, skates or blades and hit the Alpine Pedal Path for a 2.5 mile paved flat trail around the lake. Hiking is the most obvious activity in the mountains, but you can also glide through the trees on a zipline with Action Tours.

Distance: approx. 3 hour drive from San Diego

Big Bear Visitor Center
40824 Big Bear Blvd.
Big Bear Lake, CA 92315
800-424-4232
Online: bigbear.com

 

Desert Sun

Palm Springs is the ultimate playground for Spring Break and it’s very kid-friendly. Top recommended places are the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, the Children’s Discovery Museum (re-opening to be announced in 2022) and the Palm Springs Air Museum. For water play, you’ll want to plan a day at the Aquatic Center for a water slide and splash park fun. Adventurous kiddos will thrill on a desert jeep tour, horseback riding or a bus tour of the Windmill Turbines that will answer all their questions about those big white spinning things. Take a hike at Tahquitz Canyon to see the 60-foot waterfall or take a day trip out to Joshua Tree National Park for some great hikes, easy nature walks and cool rock formations (Skull Rock and Heart Rock are most notable).

Distance: approx. 3 hour drive from San Diego. (TIP: Stop at the Cabazon Dinosaurs on your way to or from for a truly unique roadside pit stop.)

Palm Springs Visitor Center
2901 N Palm Canyon Dr.
Palm Springs, CA
Online: visitpalmsprings.com

Related: Our Favorite Things to Do in Palm Springs with Kids

 

Float on the Lake

Let your worries fade as you float the day away on a pontoon boat on Lake Havasu. You’ll find boat rentals around English Village near the London Bridge, along with shops, restaurants and those red British phone booths for cute photo ops. Kids will have fun hiking at Sara’s Crack; which is a slot canyon with rope climbing, ladders and bridges to cross over. Head to Rotary Park for a fun playground that has beach and trail access along the water. Try to find all 27 Lighthouse replicas stationed all over; visible from both land and water. If you need a break from the heat, head to the indoor City Aquatic Center for water slides, swimming and splash park fun.

Distance: approx. 5-hour drive from San Diego (TIP: Drive in from the south to cross over Parker Dam for the views)

Lake Havasu Visitor Center
42 English Village
Lake Havasu City, AZ 
Online: golakehavasu.com

 

Be Dazzled in Vegas

You may not have thought to bring kids on a Las Vegas vacation, but if you plan it right you can have the best time. Hotels in Vegas are one of the best things to experience, with some having water parks (MGM Grand), exploding volcanoes (The Mirage), a wildlife habitat with waterfalls and exotic birds (The Flamingo), gondola rides (The Venetian) and even a shark reef aquarium (Mandalay Bay)! Vegas is known for its shows, so definitely check out some kid-friendly ones like Cirque Du Soleil, David Copperfield’s Magic Show, Xavier Mortimer has a fun Dream Maker show and the Excalibur has a Tournament of Kings dinner show. Kids will also love the Discovery Children’s Museum for hands-on fun and the 5-acre amusement park at Circus Circus.

Distance: approx. 5.5 hour drive from San Diego

Visit Las Vegas
Las Vegas, NV
Online: visitlasvegas.com

 

“Rock” Out in the Parks

Zion National Park in southern Utah is one the best National Parks in the U.S. For this reason, you can’t usually drive into the park from March-September. If you don’t get to the Visitor’s Center before 8am, park in the nearby town of Springdale and take the shuttle. Once at the Visitor Center, you can take their 9-stop hop on/off shuttle bus. Some kid-friendly hikes to put on your itinerary are: The Grotto Trail, Weeping Rock Trail, Lower Emerald Pool (walk behind the waterfall!) and the Riverside Walk is nice and cool with waterfalls and lush hanging plant life. Ask for the Junior Ranger Activity Books to complete and return for your kids’ badges and cute induction ceremony.

Distance: approx. 7.5 hour drive from San Diego

Zion National Park Visitor Center
1 Zion Park Blvd., State Rte 9
Springdale, UT
Online: nps.gov/zion

 

Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon in Northern Arizona is quite a sight to see and should be on everyone’s bucket list. Spring and Fall are the best times to visit for fewer crowds and better temps. With many access points to choose from, the West Entrance is the closest and stick to the South Rim; which has more paved pathways and is more family-friendly. Aim to arrive before 8 am to get a parking spot, walk around, stamp your National Parks Passport Book and walk out over the canyon on the see-through Skywalk if you’re brave enough! Kids can complete Junior Ranger Activities for their badge here too. Get back in your car and take the 23-mile Desert View Drive for jaw-gaping views of the canyon and the Colorado River; there are scenic viewpoints all along this route to pull over so the driver can safely look around too.

Distance: approx. 7 hour drive from San Diego

Grand Canyon Visitor Center at Kaibab Rim
20 South Entrance Rd.
Grand Canyon, AZ 
Online: nps.gov/grca

 

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