4 Days in Joshua Tree National Park


Joshua Tree National Park is full of not only Joshua Trees but also canyons with hidden palm oases, towering rock formations and other unique flora.  

Forty Nine Palms Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park
Forty Nine Palms Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park

This National Park is where the Mojave and Colorado Deserts meet.  The Mojave, or high desert, on the northern side of the park is where you will find the iconic Joshua trees.  The Mojave desert is the only place in the world where these unique trees live.  The Colorado, or low desert, on the southern side of the park also has distinctive vegetation including, but not limited to, the thorny and plentiful Ocotillo plant. 

Wall Street Mill Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Wall Street Mill Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

We truly enjoyed our time hiking and exploring in Joshua Tree National Park.  We hope our guide helps you find experiences you will love in the park as well.  The first part of this post is a 4 day guide to exploring Joshua Tree National Park. The second part of this post goes over the logistics of visiting the park, including how to access Joshua Tree National Park and where to stay around the park.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you  


Day 1: Hike Ryan Mountain, Cap Rock and Hidden Valley Trails


Hike Ryan Mountain

3 miles round-trip, 1,000 feet of elevation gain

Ryan Mountain, Joshua Tree National Park
Ryan Mountain, Joshua Tree National Park

Ryan Mountain is an exhilarating uphill hike that leads to panoramic views of the park.  This trail was the most challenging hike we did in the park, due to the quick elevation in a short distance. However, it is well worth the effort.  We did this hike in about 1.5 hours but recommend budgeting at least 2 hours depending on how quickly you hike.

Ryan Mountain Trail Views, Joshua Tree National Park
Ryan Mountain Trail Views, Joshua Tree National Park

Looking for great hiking boots?  Here are links to the ones we’ve used for 6+ years and highly recommend: Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots 


Hike Cap Rock Nature Trail 

0.3 miles round-trip, 39 feet of elevation gain, loop

Cap Rock Nature Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Cap Rock Nature Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

After hiking Ryan Mountain, head to the nearby Cap Rock Nature Trail. This trail leads you through pretty rock formations and foliage with many informative signs along the trail to teach you about both.

The Cap Rock Nature Trail is the most inclusively accessible trail we did in the park. It is appropriate for all fitness levels as it is very short and flat. 


Hike Hidden Valley Nature Trail

1.0 mile round-trip, 114 feet of elevation gain, loop

Hidden Valley Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Hidden Valley Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

Next, head to Hidden Valley Nature Trail. This trail brings you through a unique ‘hidden valley’ surrounded by rock formations on all sides with lots of pretty trees and scrubs in it. The foliage that grows in the hidden valley is so extensive because of how the rocks on the outside of the valley protect the it from the wind and drain in ample water into the area as well.

Hidden Valley Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Hidden Valley Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

This trail offers some of the best views in the park for very minimal effort. There are also many signs along the path to identify and educate you on the different plants and wildlife throughout the valley. 


Day 2: Hike Forty Nine Palms Oasis, visit Skull Rock and Hike Wall Street Mill/Barker Dam Trails


Hike Forty Nine Palms Oasis

3.0 miles round-trip, 636 feet of elevation gain, out & back

Forty Nine Palms Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park
Forty Nine Palms Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park

This was one of our favorite trails in the park as it was relatively short and quickly led you to a beautiful palm oasis.   We set out on this trail just after sunrise and would highly recommend starting at this time as we were the first people on the trail and only saw about 5 other people in total throughout our hike.

Forty Nine Palms Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park
Forty Nine Palms Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park

On this trail, you hike up for the first half of the out hike and then down into the oasis.  This hike did not feel overly strenuous given that the elevation gain was broken up between the out and return journey, making for a rewarding yet relaxing hike.


Stop at Skull Rock

Skull Rock, Joshua Tree National Park
Skull Rock, Joshua Tree National Park

Next, head to Skull Rock, which is located right off the road. You can quickly park on the side of the road to see this rock that truly resembles a human skull.  Alternatively, you could also hike the associated nature trail around the rock that is approximately 1.7 miles in total with minimal elevation gain. 


Hike Wall Street Mill & Barker Dam Nature Trail

Wall Street Mill is an out & back trail that is 2.4 miles round-trip with 23 feet of elevation gain & Barker Dam Nature Trail is a loop trail that is 1.3 miles with 63 feet of elevation gain. 

Wall Street Mill Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Wall Street Mill Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

After stopping at Skull rock, head to the Wall Street Mill and Barker Dam Trails. Both hikes are relatively flat and easy to complete.  On both of these trails, there are MANY Joshua trees for you to adore.  Both of these trails also have many signs along the way to teach you about the flora and animals in the area. 

Wall Street Mill Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Wall Street Mill Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

The Wall Street Mill trail brings you to an abandoned mill that previously processed gold in the late-1800s. Conversely, the Barker Dam trail takes you past petroglyphs and a previously functioning cattle dam. 

Barker Dam Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Barker Dam Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

We recommend combining these two hikes as you can park at Barker Dam lot or Wall Street Mill lot to access both.  We parked at the Wall Street Mill lot and our hike was, in total, about 3.6 miles round-trip with little to no elevation gain. 


Day 3: Hike Lost Palm Oasis, visit Cholla Cactus Garden and Hike Arch Rock Trail


Hike Lost Palm Oasis

7.4 miles round trip, 1,026 feet of elevation gain, out & back

Lost Palm Oasis trail is located on the southern side of the park, which is at a lower altitude and is part of the Colorado Desert so the flora looks a bit different here. 

Lost Palm Oasis Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Lost Palm Oasis Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

This hike has a decent amount of elevation gain but it doesn’t feel overly strenuous as it is spread out throughout the hike.  We found the pace and effort of this hike to be quite pleasant. 

Lost Palm Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park
Lost Palm Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park

After 3.4 miles, the trail ends but you are not yet at the Oasis.  You can see the oasis from atop the rocks but you have to scramble down to get to it.  After you reach the sign that indicates the trail goes no further, go to the left to scramble down into the palm oasis and/or hike up to the right for the best birds-eye view of the palm oasis. We enjoyed relaxing in the oasis, which we had completely to ourselves, before making our return journey. 


Stop at Cholla Cactus Garden 

Cholla Cactus Garden, Joshua Tree National Park
Cholla Cactus Garden, Joshua Tree National Park

After hiking to Lost Palm Oasis, stop at Cholla Cactus Garden. Here, you can take a short walk through an area completely FILLED with Cholla Cactus, a unique type of cactus not seen elsewhere in the park.  This destination is a quick stop but definitely worth it to see these cacti that stretch as far as the eye can see. 


Hike Arch Rock

1.2 miles round-trip, 88 feet of elevation gain, out & back 

Next, head to the Arch Rock Trail. This is a short hike, with minimal elevation gain, to a unique rock arch that also takes you through some other interesting looking rock formations along the way. This arch is not as impressive as the ones we’ve seen in Arches National Park (see Arches National Park Quick Guide) but the rock formations here were nonetheless neat to see. 

Arch Rock Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Arch Rock Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

Note: Make sure to pay attention to the signs and turn right once you cross the street here otherwise you will end up on the California Riding/Hiking Trail accidentally (like we did).  We were not paying attention and followed a hiker in front of us, assuming they were going to Arch Rock as well.  Remember to always independently verify when hiking and to look at the signs even if you think you know where you are going. See What you can Learn from our First Backpacking Trip for more on independent verification. 


Beware: To access all the spots on today’s itinerary, you will drive on the windy Pinto Basin road that may provoke motion sickness (see…coming soon, How to Prevent Motion Sickness while Traveling) 


Day 4: Hike Lost Horse Mine Trail  


Hike Lost Horse Mine 

6.4 miles round-trip, 1000 feet of elevation gain, loop

This loop trail is very peaceful and offers varying views throughout. We recommend hiking this loop in a clockwise manner so that you do all the elevation gains in the first half of the hike. The second half of the hike is then much easier as it is pretty much flat.  

Lost Horse Mine Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Lost Horse Mine Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

The first half of this hike, you will climb towards the Lost Horse Mine, an old preserved gold mine. During this climb, you will be afforded vast desert views.  The second half of the hike, you will be on a mainly flat part of the trail and see some of the largest Joshua trees in the park.  We liked seeing how variable the Joshua trees are in size depending on where you are hiking in the park. 

Lost Horse Mine Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Lost Horse Mine Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

Alternatively, you could hike to the Lost Horse Mine as an out and back hike, 4 miles total round trip. However, we recommend hiking this as a loop because you will see more variety on the loop trail and the second half is a relatively easy hike. 


Relax or Return Home

Spend the rest of your day relaxing, as well did, or fly out later this evening home. 


Logistics


How to Access Joshua Tree National Park 

Fly into Los Angeles, Las Vegas or San Diego to access Joshua Tree National Park.  Los Angeles Airport is a bit closer (30 minutes closer) than the latter two but we chose to fly into Las Vegas because we were also visiting Death Valley National Park on this trip and this airport worked out better for us logistically. See our Two Days in Death Valley National Park guide if you want to add this onto your adventure too. 

Also, LAS is typically less expensive for us to fly into than LAX.  For the best flight deals, see our 5 Ways to Save on Flights post and/or become a member of Scott’s Cheap Flights, a flight subscription service we use and love.  Use this link for a FREE 2 week trial of Premium Scott’s Cheap Flights

Another option is to fly into San Diego, which is about 3 hours from Joshua Tree National Park. For more information on visiting San Diego and great hiking in the area see San Diego, California Quick Guide.


How this Itinerary is Set-Up

While visiting Joshua Tree, we did one ‘highlight’ (more challenging/stunning views) hike per day and then one or two shorter hikes afterwards to see as many trails as possible. We also strategically planned this itinerary to see things close together in the park on the same day to optimize travel times. 


Where to Stay

Set up your home base in Twenty Nine Palms, Joshua Tree or any of the other surrounding communities in/around Yucca Valley. Wherever you book, make sure you are on the northern side of Joshua Tree National Park, as this is where most the attractions/trailheads in the park are located. 

Landers Airbnb outside of Joshua Tree National Park
Landers Airbnb outside of Joshua Tree National Park

We choose to stay in Landers, about 30 minutes Northwest of the park, to allow us to book a more economical Airbnb with a lot of outdoor space.  We loved our Landers Airbnb and highly recommend it.  It was the perfect spot to unwind after our mornings hiking in Joshua Tree National Park.  We particularly loved spending our afternoons reading in the hammocks here.  Use this link to get up to $65 off your first Airbnb.


We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Joshua Tree National Park.  Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

Two Days in Death Valley National Park


Death Valley National Park is the largest US National Park in the lower 48 states.  Do not be fooled by the name ‘Death Valley’ as this park is full of colorful and unique features at almost every turn.  From the Badwater Basin Salt Flats to Artists Palette to Mosaic Canyon to Ubehebe Crater, you will not be disappointed with the variety of stunning sites this park has to offer.  Also, if you are a Star Wars fan, you will recognize many of the sites from Episode IV and VI as both had scenes filmed here.  

Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley National Park
Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley National Park

This National Park is more family and non-hiker friendly than most of the other National Parks we have visited.  Most of the impressive scenery in the park can be accessed via driving and a relatively short walk. 

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park

We were pleasantly surprised with how much we enjoyed Death Valley National Park and hope our guide to exploring it helps you enjoy it just as much as well. The first part of this guide is our two day guide to visiting Death Valley National Park. The second part of this guide is a logistics section that includes how to access the park and where to stay.  

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you


Day 1: Badwater Basin, Natural Bridge, Artist Drive, Devil’s Golf Course, Zabriskie Point, Dante’s View, Salt Creek Interpretive Trail and More


Visit Badwater Basin 

1 mile, flat, out & back

Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park
Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park

Badwater Basin is an area full of unique looking polygon shaped salt flats that is unlike anything we have seen before.  These salt flats are also located at the lowest elevation in North America at -282 feet below sea level. 

Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park
Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park

You can briefly walk out onto these salt flats but we recommend walking out almost a mile to get the best views of them.  The further out you are, the better appreciation you get for the vastness of these formations that seem to stretch on endlessly. We visited at sunrise and would highly recommend this time as well because there were few other people at Badwater Basin at this time and the lighting was fantastic. 


Hike Natural Bridge Trail 

1 mile round-trip, 180 feet of elevation gain, out & back

Natural Bridge, Death Valley National Park
Natural Bridge, Death Valley National Park

Next, on the Natural Bridge Trail, you hike up through a canyon to a natural bridge rock formation.  This short hike is pleasant, fast paced and only about a 5 minute drive from Badwater Basin.  You should have no problem accessing the trailhead on the unpaved road leading up to it in a sedan, but be mindful that the road may be in worse condition if there has been any recent rain. 


Artist Drive

Artist Drive, Death Valley National Park
Artist Drive, Death Valley National Park

After visiting Natural Bridge, head to Artist Drive. Artist Drive is a nine mile one-way road through various multicolored and eroding hills. The Artist Palette viewpoint is the main attraction on this drive.  You can see this viewpoint from the pullout but we highly recommend walking around the Artist Palette area to get even better views and picture opportunities.

Artist Palette, Death Valley National Park
Artist Palette, Death Valley National Park

Artist Drive is beautiful whatever time of day you visit (we visited late morning) but afternoon lighting is said to make colors the most dramatic.  Parts of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope were filmed in this area as well.


Devil’s Golf Course

Stop next at Devil’s Golf Course, which is a vast collection of jagged salt spires, named so because “only the devil” could play golf on such a rough surface.  On a hot day, bring your ear to the ground to listen to the salt crystals make a popping noise as they expand/contract.  

Devil's Golf Course, Death Valley National Park
Devil’s Golf Course, Death Valley National Park

Note: This destination is a quick, 5 minute stop to view the area as there is no hiking or walking trail here.  To access Devil’s Golf Course, it is only a very short drive off the main road. 


Hike Desolation Canyon 

3.6 miles round-trip, 600 feet of elevation, out & back

Desolation Canyon, Death Valley National Park
Desolation Canyon, Death Valley National Park

The trailhead to this hike is located less than 10 minutes up the road from Devil’s Golf Course. This hike is through a narrow canyon before leading to a ridgeline with vast views of Death Valley.  Views on Tatooine in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope were filmed here. This canyon was neat to see and very peaceful (we saw only 2 other hikers on it) but we would not rate this hike as a must do.  However, it is along the way and if you have time, it is worth checking out.  Also, be mindful of where the trail leads as we got off the trail for a short distance thinking we were on the correct path.


Optional Add-On: Hike Golden Canyon Loop 

4.3 miles loop, 850 feet of elevation gain

This hike offers colorful canyon views and can be accessed from the Golden Canyon Trailhead or at Zabriskie Point.  We chose not to do this hike because you can get very similar, if not the same, views of the Golden Canyon area from Zabriskie Point.  Instead, we chose to hike Desolation Canyon as outlined above.  


Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park
Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park

Next stop at Zabriskie Point that offers stunning views overlooking golden colored badlands. This spot is beautiful anytime of day but most popular at sunrise and sunset. 


Drive Twenty Mule Canyon 

Twenty Mule Canyon, Death Valley National Park
Twenty Mule Canyon, Death Valley National Park

After visiting Zabriskie point, head to Twenty Mule Canyon. This canyon is a 2.4 mile unpaved one-way road through colorful badlands.  You may recognize the landscape here from Jabba the Hutt’s Palace in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. This trek is not a must-do either, but it is along the route we took and another iconic Star Wars spot. To add this drive, at most, will only take 10 extra minutes. 


Dante’s View 

Dante's View, Death Valley National Park
Dante’s View, Death Valley National Park

This location is the highest viewpoint in the park overlooking the Panamint Mountains and Badwater Basin.  Dante’s View was used in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope as an overlook spot of Mos Eisley.  From our research, it offers one of the best sunrises in the park but we opted to see the sunrise at Badwater Basin instead as it is, in our opinion, the most unique place in the park. 


Hike Harmony Borax Works Trail 

0.4 miles round trip, 50 feet of elevation gain, loop

Harmony Borax Works Trail, Death Valley National Park
Harmony Borax Works Trail, Death Valley National Park

Next, stop at this Borax Mine Site where you travel back in time to see where 20-Mule Team Wagons began their 165 mile journey south to the Mojave Railroad Depot to deliver borax salt.  This spot is a good place to stop for families as it is a brief walk around the mining site with interesting artifacts and information. 


Hike Salt Creek Interpretive Trail 

0.5 miles round-trip, flat, out & back

Salt Creek Interpretive Trail, Death Valley National Park
Salt Creek Interpretive Trail, Death Valley National Park

On your last stop of the day, visit the Salt Creek Interpretive Trail. This unique boardwalk trail goes through a marsh that is home to rare and resilient pupfish.  We did not see any pupfish on our walk but see if you do!  It is neat to see this water source in the very dry and desolate Death Valley desert. 


Tip: Budget more time at each spot (other than Devil’s Golf Course) than you would think. 

There is up to a mile one-way walking at each of the sites to get to the best viewpoints.  However, this walking is relatively fast-paced, flat and easy.  Due to this park mainly requiring only light walking, it is a great park for families with young children, in comparison to some of the other parks we have visited, as there is a lot to see but not a lot of strenuous hiking required to do it. 


Day 2: Mesquite Sand Dunes, Mosaic Canyon and Ubehebe Crater


Visit Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes 

2.0 miles round trip, 185 feet of elevation (depending on how many dunes you climb), out & back

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park

These impressively large Sand Dunes can be viewed from the parking lot but we recommend trekking out onto the dunes to see some of the less visited (and with less footprints) Sand Dunes.  We recommend visiting at sunrise or sunset for the best views, least amount of people and best lighting.  We visited at sunrise and only saw 3 other people.  These sand dunes reminded us of the ones we saw in the Sahara but not as large or expansive (see Top 3 Morocco Experiences for more on the Sahara). Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope filmed scenes here as these are the sand dunes of Tatooine. 

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park
Fun facts about the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes:

#1 These sand dunes can get up to 200 degrees on the surface in the summer.  Most creatures only come out at night, even in the winter months, and otherwise stay in their underground dens.

#2 Sand is everywhere in the desert but sand dunes only occur in places where there is wind, something to stop the wind and a large supply of sand.  You will not find sand dunes anywhere else in the park. 


Hike Mosaic Canyon 

4 miles round-trip, 1,200 feet of elevation gain, out & back 

Next, hike the Mosaic Canyon trail. This trail was our favorite hike we did in Death Valley National Park.  This canyon is filled with slick rock narrows as well as uniquely colored and patterned rocks. 

Mosaic Canyon, Death Valley National Park
Mosaic Canyon, Death Valley National Park
Tip: Beware scrambling required. 

After 1.25 miles, the trail becomes a bit unclear and confusing as you need to start scrambling.  Look for arrows on the ground (made of rocks) to help point you in the right direction. These arrows are the only real markings/directions on the trail.  

Mosaic Canyon, Death Valley National Park
Mosaic Canyon, Death Valley National Park

Note: To access this trail you have to drive on an unpaved road for about 2 miles.  It is passable in a sedan but you have to drive on it pretty slow as it was more uneven than any other of the unpaved roads we traveled on in this park. Again be mindful of road conditions if there has been recent rain.

Looking for great hiking boots?  Here are links to the ones we’ve used for 6+ years and highly recommend: Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots


Visti/Hike Ubehebe Crater

1.5 mile loop hike, 500 feet of elevation gain, loop 

Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley National Park
Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley National Park

After hiking Mosaic Canyon, head to Ubehebe Crater. This large volcanic crater is very impressive to see in-person.  It is 600 feet deep and a half mile across.  You can simply drive up to this crater or hike around it.  We recommend hiking around it as you’ll get different views of the crater and see the little Ubehebe Crater as well. 

Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley National Park
Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley National Park

The drive to this spot is about an hour from the Stovepipe Wells or Furnace Creek areas.  The drive goes by fast though as you’ll see lots of interesting rock formations and scenery along the way. 


Optional: Stovepipe Wells or Furnace Creek Visitors Center.  

If looking for somewhere to get food in the park, stop at Stovepipe Wells or, if you are looking for some more history on the park, visit the Furnace Creek Visitor Center.  We opted to relax at Airbnb this afternoon but both of these activities could easily be added onto this day. 


Drive Home or Continue onto Joshua Tree National Park

Drive back to Las Vegas (or your point of origin) tonight or tomorrow.  Another option is to drive southwest through part of the Mojave Desert, like we did, to continue your adventure and explore the iconic Joshua Tree National Park (see Four Days in Joshua Tree National Park).


Logistics 


How to Access

To access Death Valley National Park, fly into Las Vegas, which is about 2 hours from the closest town, Beatty, to easily access the park.   

For the best flight deals in and out of Las Vegas, see 5 Ways to Save on Flights and/or subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights to have the best deals sent right to your inbox.  Use this link for a FREE 2 week trial of Premium Scott’s Cheap Flights


Where to Stay

Set-up your home base in Beatty.  It is about a 30+ minute drive (depending on where you are going in the park) into Death Valley National Park from this town. We highly recommend our one bedroom Beatty Airbnb as it was cozy yet very comfortable and with a full (small) kitchen.   Use this link to get up to $65 off your first Airbnb  

Beatty is an eclectic town of about 1,000 people that is home to the largest candy store in all of Nevada, Death Valley Nut & Candy, (which also sells delicious homemade ice cream that we most certainly enjoyed) and several small restaurants.  There is a Family Dollar in town but this store only sells the very basic things so if you plan to cook your own food and need groceries, make sure to buy them in Las Vegas before driving to Beatty (like we did). Otherwise, you will be SOL.  


For Best Experience, Arrive the Day Prior

We recommend arriving in Las Vegas the day prior to starting this trip as the first day is full day and you will want to start your trip into the park before Sunrise.  Another option is to visit all the spots on our two day itinerary in one VERY full day but we do not recommend this as it will involve A LOT of driving and you will not have time for really any hiking. 


We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Death Valley National Park.  Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

San Diego, California Quick Guide


Palm Canyon Trail, Anza Borrego State Park

San Diego is one of our favorite places in the US. We always say, if cost of living was no proragative, we would move to San Diego in a heartbeat.  The weather is almost always perfect, the hiking trails are endless and the food is delicious.  We recommend spending at least 5 days here, plus or minus depending on how much hiking you want to do.  Here is our quick guide on visiting San Diego, California.  


What to do in San Diego


Hike Potato Chip Rock

Potato Chip Rock (left), Views from Potato Chip Rock (right)

An approximately 8 mile out and back hike with a little over 2,000 feet of elevation gain.  You hike around a small lake then through some grassy and desert areas before reaching Potato Chip Rock (rock that literally looks like a potato chip). Pictures do not do this rock justice.  While on it, you feel like you are suspended in the air.  It’s exhilarating! 

Tip: Hike to Potato Chip Rock on a weekday to avoid crowds.  The trail and rock tend to be quite busy on the weekends.  We loved our weekday hike here. 


Visit La Jolla 

La Jolla

La Jolla is a picturesque small coastal town with lots of different restaurants and shops.  It is fun to walk around the small downtown area here.  Our favorite part of visiting here was La Jolla Cove where you can get up close to sea lions.  You can also rent kayaks to use in this area. 

Visit La Jolla Website


Hike Cowles Mountain

This 3 mile out and back hike gives you panoramic views of San Diego once you reach the summit.  The trail can get pretty crowded, with it being so close to the city, so plan on hiking here early to avoid crowds. 


Walk along Mission Beach & Pacific Beach Boardwalk

Pacific Beach Boardwalk

Both Mission Beach and Pacific Beach Boardwalk are nice to run/walk on. Leave your headphones out to enjoy the sound of ocean waves and seagulls.


Day Trip to Anza Borrego State Park

Borrego Palm Canyon, Anza Borrego State Park

This desert and state park is about 2 hours northeast of San Diego.  We hiked the Borrego Palm Canyon trail here. On this trail, you hike several miles through the barren desert before coming upon a palm canyon.  It is pretty neat to see this palm canyon in the middle of the desert. Make sure to take in the different cacti and wildlife (we saw mountain goats) along the way. Additionally, this park has a nice visitor/education center and other trails to choose from. 

Anza Borrego State Park Website


Tip: Another day trip (or overnight trip) you could take from San Diego is to Joshua Tree National Park.  This is about 3 hours from San Diego and has even more great hiking and scenery.  See Four Days in Joshua Tree National Park for more information on this park.


Visit USS Midway Museum 

USS Midway Museum

Natalie is not a museum person like Sam, but she really enjoyed the USS Midway Museum.  The USS Midway is a naval aircraft carrier turned into a museum and is located in the heart of downtown San Diego at Navy Pier.  It is really cool to see how service members lived on this ship–you get to see the living quarters, ship hospital, cafeteria, etc.–as well as the aircrafts housed on the carrier. 

USS Midway Website


Visit Coronado Island

Coronado Island is located just across the bay from Downtown San Diego. Coronado is well-known for it’s beaches, shops and restaurants. Make sure to visit the famous Coronado Resort while you are here.


Explore & Hike Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve  

This natural reserve has many different short trails along the coastline with stunning overlooks.


Where to Eat in San Diego


Lighthouse Ice Cream

Here you can get homemade waffle ice cream sandwiches that are absolutely delicious. We got fresh blueberry waffles as the outside of our sandwiches and would highly recommend this. 

Lighthouse Ice Cream


Woody’s Breakfast and Burgers

This casual American restaurant is right on the waterfront of Pacific Beach.  The funky furniture at the restaurant makes it a unique spot to enjoy waterfront dining views. 


Point Loma Seafoods

Marina Views from Point Loma Seafoods

Fresh seafood market, with the best Calamari sandwiches, located right on the water.  

Point Loma Seafood


The Fish Market

Located right off of Navy Pier and south of the USS Midway.  We enjoyed lunch on the patio overlooking the water and USS Midway.  The atmosphere and fresh seafood were both great. 

The Fish Market 


Puesto

Delicious speciality tacos and refreshing cocktails.  The atmosphere is really fun but laid back.  Our friends who live in Los Angeles recommended it and drove down from LA to meet us here for dinner. 

Puesto


Where to Stay in San Diego


Bahia Resort Hotel

This resort offers beachside rooms on Mission Bay.  It is tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the main city.  We loved this location for exploring the nearby Pacific Beach as well as for jogging around Mission Bay in the mornings. There simple rooms are spacious and the location as well as the price are on point.  

Bahia Hotel


We hope this post helps you plan your trip to San Diego.  Anything else you’d add to our guide?  We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment! 

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned