Sunny San Diego draws vacationing families with its excellent weather, beaches and major tourist attractions like SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo. While it is California’s second-largest city, its laid-back beach vibe is a welcome alternative to hectic LA to the north. San Diego vacations make for affordable family getaways due to the availability of cheap flights. And some of San Diego’s best attractions will cost you next to nothing to enjoy.
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Its fabled beaches are free to enter, as too are many of its fantastic hiking trails. The mountains and valleys of San Diego County can boast some of the most scenic walks and hikes on the West Coast. If you and your family love the outdoors, but have had your fill of the beach, its time to pull on those walking shoes, get out of your San Diego hotels, and hit these scenic hiking trails.
Double Peak Trail
Suitable for walkers of all ages and fitness levels, the Double Peak Trail offers participants great views of the North County area. This trail starts at Discovery Lake Park and is a 5-mile round-trip, with numerous opportunities to rest along the way. Allow three hours to make it to the summit and back to your car. From the 1,644 ft. summit you can see San Marcos, Vista, Carlsbad and Encinitas, and on a clear day, all the way to downtown San Diego. Make a day out of it and pack a picnic lunch, as there are picnic tables. There is also a small play park for the kids.
This route is possibly the most popular hiking trail in San Diego County. This is a quick hike that is 3 miles long and will take you only two hours to complete. Located just west of El Cajon, the Cowles Mountain trail is notable for its excellent views. The vegetation grows close to the ground and there are no trees to obstruct the stunning vistas.
Palomar Observatory Trail
Located east of San Diego, this moderate mountain trail includes spectacular views of the Medenhall Valley and access to Palomar Observatory. The trailhead is in the Palomar Observatory Camping Ground. This 4-mile round-trip should take you about three hours to complete and is suitable for families with young children. Besides the gorgeous forested setting and the views, the highlight is the world-famous Palomar Observatory. As far as public access goes, visitors can tour the observatory themselves, but there are guided tours available on Saturdays and Sundays from April through October. Dress warmly for the observatory. The interiors are kept at nighttime temperatures.
The Cuyamaca Peak Loop
If you and your family are looking for a hike that is a bit more challenging, consider the Cuyamaca Peak Loop. This trail is located near the mountain town of Julian. This little town is quite famous for its apple orchards. If you are in San Diego in October, know that Julian puts on quite the apple festival, with local diners and cafes serving up yummy slices of fresh-baked apple pie. To get to the summit of Cuyamaca Peak you have several routes to choose from: Conejos Trail; Azalea Glen Loop Trail; West Side Trail; the Azalea Springs Fire Road. Cuyamaca Peak is the second-highest peak in San Diego County at 6,512 feet and you and your family will be rewarded with great views of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and Cleveland National Forest.
Remember to bring lots of water to keep you and your family hydrated. The sun can be punishing in sunny San Diego, so don’t forget sun protection like sunscreen, hats and sunglasses.
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