San Diego’s One-Tank Wonders.

By Posted in - North America & Travel Blog on August 29th, 2011


A seagull flying over the Salton Sea in California.

For San Diego travelers and families planning their Labor Day vacations, the rising gas prices could not have come at a worst time. Luckily, the city’s unique proximity to the mountains, international border and desert make San Diego a great hub for one-tank wonders.

Whether you want to take day trip or a weekend getaway, these three backyard locations–Salton Sea; Tecate, Mexico; and Palomar Mountain–are all only one tank of gas (round trip) from San Diego.

Salton Sea

Part ghost town, part snowbird retreat, the Salton Sea is a decaying paradise just west of Anza-Borrego Desert in Imperial County. Developed as a resort community in the late 1950s, the Salton Sea drew its fair share of celebrities, including The Rat Pack and The Beach Boys, before its untimely demise in the 1970s due to a rising sea and salinity levels. The once budding shoreline communities were abandoned or never completed and recreational activities diminished.

Bombay Beach sign in Salton Sea, California.

Despite being California’s largest lake and having a salinity level higher than the Pacific Ocean, the Salton Sea is rarely used for water activities or boating, mainly over confusion surrounding pollution levels in the sea. Now a days, it’s more popular with bird watchers–more than 400 species have been documented in the area–and photographers drawn to the post-apocalyptic feel of the once flourishing resort communities–Salton Sea City, Bombay Beach, North Shore–situated along the sea’s salt encrusted shoreline.

Palomar Mountain State Park

Boasting a Sierra Nevada-like atmosphere, Palomar Mountain State Park is an ideal getaway for travelers of all ages. Located in northeastern San Diego County, the state park covers nearly 2,000 acres. It’s highest peak is High Point, which sits at an elevation of 6,140 feet. In addition to hiking, camping and trout fishing at Doane Pond, Palomar Mountain is also home to the Palomar Observatory and the Hale Telescope. Visitors can tour the observatory daily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at no charge. Because the tours are self-guided, I recommend downloading this free podcast from the observatory’s website (, which will help guide you through the observatory.

Tecate, Mexico

In between Tijuana and Mexicali is Tecate, the Cinderella of Baja California border towns. The quite nature of the city, known mainly for its production of Tecate beer, is more akin to the atmosphere and culture found in small towns throughout Mexico. Situated in the hills 40 miles east of San Diego, small bakeries, restaurants and markets line the streets and Zócalo (main square) of Tecate. However, for many visitors, the main draw is the city’s famous brewery. Set in the middle of the city (walking distance from the border), the Tecate Brewery offers free tours (in English and Spanish) of its storied factory.

For day trips to Tecate or its brewery, I recommend paying a few dollars to park in one of the lots on the American side of the border, and then walking across. Keep in mind that unlike traveling to Baja through the San Ysidro border crossing,  the Tecate border crossing is not open 24 hours; it operates between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. daily. Tecate Brewery tours are by reservation only. From the U.S. 011+52 (665) 654-9490 or (665) 654-9478 or
*Please remember all photos on this website, unless otherwise noted, are copyrighted and property of Beers and Beans Travel Website, Nariko’ s Nest Weddings & Bethany Salvon. Please do not use them without my permission. If you do want to use one of them please contact me first. Thanks!

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(17) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • Mica -

    August 29, 2011 at 8:17 am

    I’ve heard about the Salton Sea from a friend who stayed there but not the other two places. Next time we’re on the west coast we’ll be sure to check them all out. One tank destinations are great because gas is so pricey over there! (Compared to FL)

  • Andi of My Beautiful Adventures -

    August 29, 2011 at 9:27 am

    I used to live in SD right on the border and would cross over about once a month! I love that part of the world there. That 1st pic is AWESOME!!!

  • Morgan -

    August 30, 2011 at 7:09 am

    We love San Diego, if you stay downtown, mission valley, or Old Town and are willing to take public transit, you can get almost every where (you’ll have to drive to Sea World).

    • Bethany -

      August 30, 2011 at 12:28 pm

      I know, I never made much use of the transit system when i lived there because we were usually living in a beach area which made it tough. But I have taken it from Old Town to the border a couple times. 🙂 @Morgan,

  • Christy @ Ordinary Traveler -

    August 30, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    I think I’ll have to make a trip to the Salton Sea. I still haven’t even made it to Anza Borrego!

  • Erica -

    August 30, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    Boo. Labor Day loses all meaning when abroad… well, now that I think of it, many things do.

  • Kelsey -

    September 1, 2011 at 11:24 am

    What a great idea! I should do one of these for DC.

  • Cassandra -

    September 2, 2011 at 3:29 am

    Sounds worth a visit. I like beaches cause I’m a swimmer. I definitely have Salton Beach at my list of places to visit this month. Thanks for sharing this post. 🙂

  • Leigh -

    October 26, 2011 at 8:34 am

    Love the title – I was thinking aquariums not gas tanks.

    Friends have just moved to San Diego so I have an excuse now to visit. I’ll have to keep this post in mind for when I go – and I love the idea of a day trip to Mexico.

  • Sophie -

    October 26, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Tecate sounds oddly alluring.

  • Andrea -

    October 26, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    It’s great to have so many awesome destinations so close!

  • Italian Notes -

    October 27, 2011 at 1:00 am

    Why haven’t I thought of making San Diego my holiday destination before?

  • Bethany -

    October 27, 2011 at 4:47 am

    @Italian Notes, San Diego is a great place to visit, because unlike LA, it is really easy to navigate around between the city and beach areas. Additionally, its location makes it a prime spot for ocean, desert and mountain activities. -Randy

  • Bethany -

    October 27, 2011 at 4:51 am

    @Andrea, Yeah, it is a really great place, in part because of its diverse climate. When I first moved to San Diego, I used to surf in the morning and then snowboard in the afternoon, which was pretty cool. -Randy

  • Bethany -

    October 27, 2011 at 5:04 am

    @Sophie, Oh, it is! Tecate is a really good time. Good food, cute, safe atmosphere and, of course, the brewery!

  • Bethany -

    October 27, 2011 at 5:07 am

    @Leigh, Ha! I never though of that, but could totally see how you might think that. Yes, that is the perfect reason to go to San Diego. Where at in San Diego do they live? We used to take a lot of day trips to Baja, so if you ever go and need advice, just ask! 🙂 -Randy