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Popular day trips include the beaches and inland towns of "North County" (as locals call the part of San Diego County north of the I-5/I-805 junction), as well as our south-of-the-border neighbor, Tijuana. All are less than an hour away.

If you have time for a longer trip, you can explore some distinct areas (all within 2 hr. of the city), such as the wine country of Temecula; the gold-mining town of Julian, known for its apple pies; and the vast Anza-Borrego Desert. Whichever excursion you choose, you're in for a treat.

Northern San Diego County

The string of picturesque beach towns that dot the coast of San Diego County from Del Mar to Oceanside make great day-trip destinations for sun worshipers and surfers. Be forewarned: You'll be tempted to spend the night.

Getting There -- Del Mar is only 18 miles north of downtown San Diego, Carlsbad about 33 miles, and Oceanside approximately 36 miles. If you're driving, follow I-5 N.; Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encinitas, Carlsbad, and Oceanside all have freeway exits. The northernmost point, Oceanside, will take about 45 minutes. The other choice by car is to wander up the old coast road, known as Camino del Mar, "PCH" (Pacific Coast Hwy.), Old Hwy. 101, and County Hwy. S21.

From San Diego, the Coaster commuter train provides service to Solana Beach, Encinitas, Carlsbad, and Oceanside; and Amtrak stops in Solana Beach -- just a few minutes north of Del Mar -- and Oceanside. The Coaster makes the trip a number of times (6:30am-7pm) on weekdays and four times on Saturday; Amtrak passes through a dozen times daily each way. For the Coaster, call tel. 800/262-7837 or 511, or visit www.transit.511sd.com; check with Amtrak at tel. 800/872-7245 or www.amtrak.com. United Express departs from Los Angeles and flies into the McClellan Palomar Airport (tel. 760/431-4646; www.sdcounty.ca.gov), 3 miles east of I-5 in Carlsbad.

The Happiest Side Trip on Earth

Disneyland and its sister park, California Adventure, are less than a 2-hour drive away up I-5 in Anaheim. It's an exhaustingly long excursion, but you can make it up and back in a day. Transportation choices include taking Amtrak train service (tel. 800/872-7245; www.amtrak.com) to the Anaheim station, then catching the Anaheim Resort Transit route 15 bus right to the park; or leave the driving to a bus tour like Gray Line (tel. 800/331-5077; www.sandiegograyline.com).

If a day trip seems a bit overwhelming, there's no shortage of places to lay your head, including the sprawling Disneyland Hotel and Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa; they are almost as much an attraction as the parks themselves. You can get info for both at tel. 714/956-6425 or at www.disneyland.com.

A single-day, single-park ticket costs $76, and $68 for ages 3 to 9; park-hopper and multiday discounts are available. For park info, call tel. 714/781-4565 or go to www.disneyland.com. For details on accommodations, dining, and shopping in the area, contact the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau at tel. 714/765-8888 or www.anaheimoc.org.

North County Inland

The coastal and inland sections of North County are as different as night and day. Inland you'll find beautiful scrub hills, citrus groves, and conservative ranching communities where agriculture plays an important role.

Rancho Santa Fe is about 27 miles north of downtown San Diego; from there the scenic Del Dios Highway (S6) leads to Escondido, 32 miles north of San Diego. Nearly 70 miles from the city is Palomar Mountain in the Cleveland National Forest, which spills over the border into Riverside County.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.