I think the most scenic route would be to start by taking Interstate 8 east about 40 miles (64 km) to Sunrise Highway, then turn left onto Sunrise Highway and take that north through Laguna Mountain Recreation Area, to where it intersects with Highway 79 north, and turn right on that and go 6 more miles to Julian. The alternate would be to take Interstate 8 east ro 79 north and drive through Cuyamaca Rancho State Park then on to Julian, but that park was devastated by the Cedar Fire of 2003 and is only slowly recovering, and it not nearly as forested as it was before. Laguna Mountain Recreation Area hasn't had a major fire since 1970 so it is still heavily forested and is a pretty drive. Also, there are great views of the deserts on the right at many spots along Sunrise Highway. http://lagunamountain.com
Parking along Sunrise Highway requires the National Forest Adventure Pass, so if you stop for anything longer than a quick glance at the views, you will need that pass which you can buy for $5 at the store at Laguna Mountain Lodge. There is a view point on Highway 79 just after you turn off from Sunrise Highway, and that viewpoint does not require any parking fee or pass.
The town of Julian was a gold-mining area and is now an apple-growing area and the buildings have been preserved to look mostly like they looked 100 years ago. I think the best apple pie is at Apple Alley Bakery, so I would get a whole pie to go from there. You can take tours to old gold mines. http://julianca.com
Before leaving Julian you will have to make a major decision of which route to get to Palm Springs: mountain or desert route. If mountain, take Highway 78 west from Julian to Santa Ysabel, then Highway 79 north from Santa Ysabel through Warner Springs, Sunshine Summit, and Aguanga, then at Aguanga take Highway 371 east through Anza to Highway 74 east to Palm Desert then take Highway 111 north through Cathedral City to Palm Springs.
If you took that route you could stop at Mission Asistencia Santa Ysabel, a small “satellite” mission of the chain of 21 main missions. It has a picturesque graveyard, and three days before your trip that graveyard will be filled with hundreds of candles on Dia de los Muertos, but unfortunately you’ll miss that. There is another tiny church further north on Highway 79, over 200 years old, and you can go into it, but I can’t remember the name of it.
A possible side alternate route would be to take Highway 74 west instead of east, past Lake Hemet and north on Highway 243 to Idyllwild, another mountain village. You could eat or drive up to Humber Park and see Tahquitz Peak which is a huge rock used by southern California rock climbers before they go on to Yosemite National Park. Then continue on Highway 243 north from Idyllwild, down the mountain to Interstate 10 and take that east to Palm Springs.
If instead you chose a desert route to get from Julian to Palm Springs, you would take Highway 78 east from Julian, down the Banner Grade to the desert floor, and a possible route through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park if you want to visit that park. http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=638 or desertusa.com/anza_borrego/du-abpmain.html for more information. Also in the Borrego Springs area are more than 100 metal sculptures. http://www.desertusa.com/borrego/bs-art.html
From Anza-Borrego you can either go east on Highway 78 for a relatively flat, straight route to Highway 86, or a more scenic but also more winding and hilly route by taking S22 east from Borrego Springs to Highway 86. If you are really lucky you might get a glimpse of the wild bighorns sheep (borregos) which the area is named for. In any case I would not bother stopping to look at the Salton Sea, which I was very disappointed in. Continue north on Highway 86 to Indio. At Indio you could stop for a date shake at Shields Date Garden. Then take Interstate 10 west to Palm Springs.
Any of these routes are going to take more time than simply taking Interstate 15 north from San Diego to Interstate 10 east to Palm Springs. But they will offer more scenery and variety. If you were to take Interstate 15 you drive would be through cities and suburbs and would be pretty dull, though you would get to Palm Springs sooner.
Wow. Tough choice.
bw92116's mountain route over the Sunrise Highway to Julian is one of my favorite drives in the San Diego area.
It's very peaceful and scenic, and I just love listening to the wind whistle through the pine needles on top of Mt. Laguna. And Julian is a quaint little town with some really good apple pie (my preference is Julian Pie Co.).
But if you take this route, plan on it being an all-day trip. The Google Map above shows almost 4 hours of pure driving time, and that really doesn't account for the many stops you'll likely make along the way.
bw92116 is also correct in that the drive from SD to Temecula on I-15 is rather unremarkable.
However, Temecula has Old Town Temecula and the Temecula wine region.
Old Town Temecula has a number of shops and restaurants, and if you travel one exit beyond the CA 79 exit to Rancho California Road and go east, you can drive for a good 4-6 miles or so into the wine country, passing a dozen or so vineyards along the way.
If you do stop in Old Town Temecula, the Public House was a restaurant that had excellent food (the Goat Toast pannini appetizer was amazing and could have been a meal in itself!). Nearby was Villa de Callabro, a small shop that had wine and olive oil tastings. (I had never done an olive oil tasting before, and they had quite a few varieties that were quite surprising.)
Hart Winery was a small winery that had a $10 tasting (six wines) and you got to keep the glass, but there were plenty of others, too. (Europa was $15 and you didn't get the glass.)
The driving time on this route is about an hour less, but, again, you'll probably spend the better part of the day if you stop along the way.
So, if you want pure mountain scenery for the whole trip, take bw92116's first suggestion. But if you want to mix it up with some wine country, then go through Temecula (the second half of that trip follow's bw92116's route, which I have not yet driven).
Thank you both for the great information. You've sold me on the route through Julian. Maybe we will see Temecula's wineries on our way back to San Diego.
You'll enjoy the trip.
If you do come back through Temecula, you may want to consider heading over to the coast for a drive along the Coast Highway through Carlsbad and the charming beachfront communities of Leucadia, Encinitas, and Del Mar.
There is some highway construction along CA 76 beween Temecula and Oceanside that may slow you down a little. Two weeks ago I made the drive without a problem around 3 PM. A few weeks before that, traffic was heavy and slow a little later in the afternoon.
You can also continue on through La Jolla and Pacific and Mission Beach back toward downtown if you wanted.
Plenty of public beaches along the way to pull over and watch the sun set over the Pacific... (Remember, Daylight Saving Time Ends at 2 AM on Sunday, 4 Nov., so that will make sunset occur right around 4:50 PM.)
If you find yourself getting tired or bored, you can pretty easily head a mile or two east to hop back onto I-5 south into San Diego.
Just a suggestion... Enjoy!
If you take the freeways from Palm Springs to Laguna Beach, it's about 2 hours of pure driving time (doesn't account for traffic or stops):
The other option might be to resume the scenic part of your trip and backtrack the way you came in to Palm Springs, to take CA 74 to the coast:
Doing that turns the trip from PS to LB into a 3.5 hours of pure driving time.
I haven't personally driven either route, so I can't give you first-hand knowledge of the scenery or traffic conerns.
Note that the U.S. Marine Corps base, Camp Pendelton, occupies a large chunk of the coast from San Clemente to Oceanside. It's probably best to use I-5 for that segment of the trip. Once in Oceanside, you can either continue into San Diego on I-5 or follow the Coast Hwy route through Leucadia, Encinitas, Del Mar, and La Jolla that I suggested earlier.
It's about 1.5 - 2.5 hours of pure driving time from LB to downtown SD depending on whether you stay on the Interstate or use the Coast Hwy.
To maximize your day with the short daylight...
8:30 AM Dep PS, take the freeways to LB
11:00 AM Arr Laguna Beach.
3:30 PM Dep Laguna Beach
5:00 PM Arr La Jolla (will likely have to take I-5 the whole way to make it there by that time.
Depending on whether you want to see La Jolla in the remaining daylight or twilight, will dictate how much time you want to spend in LB and how much time you use to dawdle down the coast.
Interestingly, the Temecula version:
May only get you to La Jolla half an hour to an hour earlier:
8:30 Dep PS
10:30 Arr Temecula
3:00 PM Dep Temecula
4:00 PM Arr Oceanside
4:30 PM - 5:00 PM Arr La Jolla (I-5 vs. Coastal Hwy)
So I guess it just depends on your priorities.
I guess the other question I would have to ask, now that I think about this, is what do you plan on doing in Palm Springs?
Because if you take the scenic route through Julian, you probably won't arrive until mid to late afternoon. That leaves not much daylight time for exploring.
And if you have to leave Palm Springs early the next morning to do your coastal return through Laguna Beach...
You may find that you like Palm Springs enough to spend half (or more) of Friday there and may have to forego the Laguna Beach option. (It's about a 2.5 - 3 hour trip from Palm Springs to San Diego on the Interstates.)
Can you drive through Julian, visit Palm Springs, head over to Laguna Beach, and drive the coast? Sure. But to make that happen you won't have a lot of quality time in each destination. If that's okay, go for it! It's your vacation... :-)
I grew up in Temecula and love it there! The Temecula Olive Oil Company sells amazing products! Across the street from there is Rosa's CANTINA (not to be confused with Rosa's Tortilla Factory. I love their 2 tacos special with rice beans and a drink. They do all of our family catering. So yummy! Have a great trip.
Thanks so much for responding Zed1958 and MunFam. We'll be staying 4 nights in Palm Springs before driving back to La Jolla. Maybe we should skip Laguna Beach and instead drive to Temecula, then down the coast at Oceanside, since we'd like to stop at Carlsbad and Torrey Pines on our way to La JollaEdited: 10:52 pm, October 30, 2012
Glad to help out. Not sure where I got the notion you were driving up one day and returning the next. Silly me. :-)
If you're hoping to see Torrey Pines in daylight, then it's probaby best to skip Laguna Beach and go through Temecula. (Just curious... Are you interested in the Torrey Pines State Reserve or the golf course, or both?)
If you take CA 76 to Oceanside and then down the coast, to Torrey Pines, that trip will take a minimum of 1.5 hours without traffic and stops.
To have any chance of seeing Torrey Pines in the daylight, I'd leave Temecula no later than 1 PM.
Of course, one other option would be to reverse this trip altogether. Instead of driving to Julian on the way TO Palm Springs, drive through it on your return from PS.
You could leave San Diego early in the morning and drive up through La Jolla, Torrey Pines, Carlsbad, and then cut inland to Temecula. Spend 3-4 hours in Temecula, and then in very late afternoon near sunset, drive the 2 hours to Palm Springs. (Yes, you'll arrive in the dark, but you'll be there for 4 days.)
On your return from Palm Springs, you can leave early in the morning, and have all day to drive the scenic mountain route through Julian and Mt. Laguna / Sunrise Hwy.
That would take a lot of pressure off of trying to fit so much into your last day, and you'll be able to see the things you want before the sun sets at 5 PM.
Another great option! We leave tomorrow. Thanks again!