Horseback riding may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of things to do in San Diego. But once you’ve saddled up and explored the area’s natural landscapes, you’ll understand what a unique and wonderful experience it is to see this Southern California city via horseback. Whether you’re a first-time rider or an avid equestrian, San Diego offers plenty of places where you’ll be able to ride to your ability while navigating your way through nature trails and sandy beaches.
If you’ve ever dreamed of horseback riding along the Pacific Ocean, you can make that dream a reality at Surfside Ranch, located 15 miles south of downtown San Diego. Choose from a 30-minute or one- or two-hour Beach Adventure experience to ride along the water’s edge. Keep an eye out for dolphins, seals, and waterfowl as you trot along the shoreline. One of the perks of riding with Surfside Ranch is that the horses are delivered to Border Field State Park, so that you can spend your time at the beach rather than having to ride your horse to and from the ranch. Inland trail rides and sunset beach outings are also available.
Address: 2225 Hollister Street, San Diego, CA 92154
Also located 15 miles south of downtown, Pony Land San Diego offers horseback riding tours through the Tijuana River Valley Nature Preserve, complete with lush greenery and glimpses of area wildlife. Spot exotic migrating birds on the Riverbed and Jungle Ride or watch the sun go down on a majestic Sunset Ride. You’ll be led through the nature preserve before riding along the beach at sundown on the return trip. Pony Land also offers individual horseback riding lessons with experienced trainers.
Best Horseback Riding Experience for Beginners
Rancho El Camino Equestrian may not offer trail rides, but it is home to six riding arenas and would be the perfect place to start building horseback riding experience under the guidance of professional trainers. Private and semiprivate riding lessons are available for both teens and adults. Children’s lessons are also offered, in addition to camps and birthday parties. The riding school has taught thousands of students and is located near Del Mar and Rancho Sante Fe in San Diego County, a location that Rancho El Camino Equestrian has called home for more than 25 years.
Address: 13998 Old El Camino Real, San Diego, CA 92130
Best Horseback Riding for a Picnic
Riders of all experience levels are invited to saddle up with the San Diego Trail Company, where guides will pair you with a horse that complements your ability, size, and temperament. There are trails designed for riders still building confidence and expertise, in addition to a selection of more challenging trails for seasoned riders. What sets the San Diego Trail Company apart is the opportunity to hop down from your horse and enjoy a picnic while surrounded by the beautiful natural landscapes and scenery of Poway, dubbed “The City in the Country.” Picnic baskets, complete with snacks and drinks, are available for purchase for morning and afternoon rides, as well as a s’mores bar.
Address: 14875 Mina De Oro Road, Poway, CA 92064
Nestled in the heart of San Pasqual Valley, Escondido’s Bandy Canyon Ranch is the complete package for visitors looking for a luxury getaway with a country feel. Not only does The Ranch at Bandy Canyon offer guided trail rides across 144 acres of Eucalyptus tree–lined land, but you can also choose from a selection of rustic, chic cabins so that your outdoor adventures are just steps away. Take advantage of the pool and spa after a long ride through wooded trails, visit the petting zoo, or end your night in style with a horse-drawn carriage ride.
Address: 16251 Bandy Canyon Road, Escondido, CA 92025
Best Horseback Riding Experience for Scenic Trails
Located over an hour northeast of downtown San Diego, Warner Springs Ranch Resort is home to Warner Valley Horse Riding Stables, where novice and experienced riders can take advantage of trail riding programs year-round. A staff member leads all of the ranch’s 90-minute trail rides, which cover a variety of terrains and feature diverse wildlife, including deer, coyotes, bobcats, and hawks. Couples can even book a Continental Picnic for Two as part of the guided trail ride. [Note: Warner Springs appears to have closed since Covid but has kept its horseback experiences going.]
Address: 31652 California 79, Warner Springs, CA 92086
Now that you have a better understanding of your horseback riding options in and around San Diego County, be sure to explore all of the area’s incredible natural attractions. California is home to the most national parks in the country, making it the perfect launchpad for an unforgettable outdoor adventure. If you’re interested in seeing the rest of the animal kingdom up close and in person, the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park are among the most popular animal experiences anywhere. Of course, San Diego is also the penguin capital of the country, so penguin lovers will feel right at home here with the city’s favorite flightless birds.