60 Fun-Filled Things To Do In San Diego, California

The San Diego area is so much more than laidback beach vibes, sun, and surf.

And hey, I’m not complaining, those are all very dreamy characteristics of any city! What many people don’t know is that SD is also a metropolitan city, so if you’re looking for a healthy dose of urban culture traditionally found in bustling cities, San Diego’s got that for you!

From the historic Gaslamp Quarter to the waterfront of San Diego Bay, from beach towns to breweries, and hiking to kayaking– the sheer amount of things to do in San Diego is unreal. No matter what your interests are or what neighborhood you end up in, there is no shortage of things to do in San Diego.

Traveling to San Diego as part of an extended vacation or even just for a weekend? We’ve got you covered on your perfect San Diego itinerary. Here are some of the best things to do in San Diego, CA!

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SAN DIEGO IN A NUTSHELL

Here’s a quick overview of all the useful info you need to plan an awesome trip!

  • When To Go: Any time of the year! We recommend spring or fall for fewer crowds, cheaper accommodations, and pleasant weather. Summer is also excellent for beaching and hiking, but it’s high season so expect pricier flights and hotels!
  • Where To Stay: The US Grant ($$$) – Kimpton Hotel Palomar San Diego ($$) – Staypineapple, Hotel Z, Gaslamp San Diego ($)
  • Nearest Airport: San Diego International Airport (SAN)
  • How to Get Around: You will need a car. We recommend using Rentalcars.com to find the best deal.
  • Must-Do’s: Visit Balboa Park and its plethora of museums, spend a day (or even two!) at the world-renowned San Diego Zoo, take the kids to LEGOLAND California, and visit ALL the beaches you can, including Coronado Beach, La Jolla Cove, and Mission Beach.
  • Before You Go: Buy all your theme park tickets in advance and make reservations to restaurants you plan to go to, if possible. San Diego attracts travelers from all over the place during all of its seasons, so you’ll want to make sure your trip is all squared away before actually getting there.
  • Money-Saving Tip: To save yourself lots of money on park tickets, tours and excursions, consider picking up either a San Diego CityPASS or a Go City San Diego digital attraction pass.

Planning your trip to SD? Save on travel costs by booking your accommodations through this platform! Their ‘no prepayment’ and ‘free cancellation’ features are unbeatable.


WHY VISIT SAN DIEGO, CA?

There are so many reasons why you should visit San Diego. Where do I even start?

  1. Simply amazing weather all-year-round. With very few rainy days in the year, you can bet there will be decent to amazing weather during your visit. In the winter months, the weather ranges from the 40s (low) to mid-60s (high). Summers are wonderfully warm, with average highs in the mid-70s. You’ll get the occasional “June Gloom” (cloudy, overcast skies with cool temperatures during the late spring and early summer) but it’s nothing unbearable.
  2. Simply amazing beaches at every turn. You must hit up a beach at least once during your trip–there’s a perfect beach for every type of traveler! Black’s Beach is popular with nude sunbathers and surfers, while Pacific Beach is great for its youthful atmosphere. Mission Beach is a family favorite and Coronado Beach is perfect for swimmers that like easygoing, lapping waves. And that barely even scratches the surface!
  3. The beer culture is unmatched. Well, with the exception of Portland, OR. San Diego has got the craft brew lifestyle down. The craft beer experience is massive in this region, with more than 150 breweries in existence. There is even a signature style here, the West Coast-Style IPA! If you enjoy beer, don’t miss it.
  4. The food scene is unique and delightful. Among many other things, SD is known for its unique cross-border flavor, Cali-Baja fresh cuisine. Try a California burrito or fish tacos while you’re in town! Not interested in that? Don’t worry, there are many other restaurants that have mastered the rest of the cuisines out there.
  5. San Diego is filled to the brim with California history. San Diego is considered the birthplace of California (as the first Spanish settlement was established in 1769 in Old Town SD). Many historic buildings in Old Town San Diego have been preserved, and you can still tour the missions in the area today!
  6. It’s easy to find nightlife in San Diego. If you’re looking to party, drink, sing, or dance, you’re in the right place. You’ll always find the party at the Gaslamp Quarter, Pacific Beach, or Hillcrest.
  7. The amount of outdoor adventures you can partake in is endless. From hiking at Potato Chip Rock or Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve to kayaking at Mission Bay or La Jolla Sea Caves to boating on the San Diego Bay, there’s really something for everyone.
  8. The world-renowned zoo is in San Diego. Animals. Need I say more?

WHAT TYPE OF TRAVELER IS SAN DIEGO BEST FOR?

San Diego is a great destination for a humong-o variety of travelers, including:

  • Beach Lovers: San Diego is known for its beautiful beaches, and there are plenty of options to choose from. Some of the best beaches to visit include La Jolla Cove, Coronado Beach, and Mission Beach.
  • Families: San Diego is such a family-friendly destination with its many theme parks! Some of the best things to do with kids include visiting the San Diego Zoo, Legoland California, and SeaWorld San Diego.
  • Outdoor Enthusiasts: Not a beach bum? Not a problem! Some of the best non-beach outdoor spots to visit include Potato Chip Rock, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, Balboa Park, and Mission Trails Regional Park.
  • Foodies: SD has a thriving food scene, with plenty of options to satisfy any palate. Some of the best places to eat include the Little Italy neighborhood, the Gaslamp Quarter, and ALLL the breweries and seafood restaurants in La Jolla.
  • Beer Lovers: The craft beer culture here is crazy! San Diego has become increasingly popular for its locally-crafted brews and is now home to over 130 breweries (and growing!).
  • History Buffs: San Diego has a rich history. While you’re here, you’ll definitely learn a thing or two about California’s history and its association with Mexico. Some of the best places to visit include the USS Midway Museum, Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, and the Cabrillo National Monument.
  • Art and Culture Lovers: Expect plenty of museums, galleries, and theaters to explore. Some of the best places to visit include the San Diego Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, and the Old Globe Theatre.
  • Nightlife Seekers: It’s poppin’ in SD at night — no matter if you’re looking for casual or bougie upscale vibes. Some of the best areas to visit include the Gaslamp Quarter, Pacific Beach, and North Park.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT SAN DIEGO, CA?

Because San Diego is located in sunny Southern California where the weather is mighty fine all year long, there really is no bad time to visit SD. I know, I know, some people can’t stand that answer. But it’s true — San Diego is visitable all year long!

However, if you’re looking for specific seasons for the best time to go, I’d recommend a visit during the spring (March to May), summer (June to August), or fall (September to November) when the weather is mild and the crowds are smaller.

During the spring and fall months, the temperatures are comfortable, with average highs in the mid-60s to mid-70s Fahrenheit (18-24 degrees Celsius), and there is less rainfall than in the winter months. The spring months are also a great time to see the blooming wildflowers in the nearby Anza-Borrego Desert State Park!

  • Bottom Line: If sightseeing is your main objective (as opposed to beaching), these seasons are the best time to go.

Summer (June to August) is also amazing. This is the peak tourist season in San Diego, with warm temperatures and plenty of sunshine. It’s the best time of year to visit if you want to hit the beaches or enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, surfing, and kayaking the La Jolla Sea Caves!

Having said that, this is the busiest time of year, with larger crowds and higher prices for accommodations and attractions. However, the summer months are also a great time to visit the beaches and enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, surfing, and kayaking.

  • Bottom Line: If hitting the beaches and spending time in the water are your main objectives (as opposed to visiting theme parks or sightseeing around town), summer is the best time to go.

Winter (December to February) is considered the off-season in San Diego, with cooler temperatures and occasional rain. However, the winter months are still a great time to visit for those who want to avoid the crowds and enjoy lower prices on accommodations and attractions! Winter is also the best time to see the migrating gray whales off the coast of San Diego.


TRANSPORTATION: HOW TO GET TO SAN DIEGO, CA

There are a few different ways to get to San Diego, CA depending on where you’re coming from. All of them make traveling to San Diego pretty darn convenient! The transportation method you choose depends on your where you’re coming from and what your budget is.

Coming from out of state or internationally?

  • Fly into San Diego International Airport (SAN). Flights may likely be a bit more inflated compared to flying into LAX, but once you land, you’ll be literally minutes away from Downtown San Diego.
  • Fly into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Flights are usually cheaper flying into LAX than SAN since LAX is a larger airport. From LAX, simply rent a car and drive down to San Diego (120 miles).

Coming from Los Angeles?

  • Drive – it’s about 120 miles from city center to city center (2 hours)
    • Tip: Be sure to depart at a strategic time to avoid LA rush hour traffic! Aim for before 10am or after 8pm for the least amount of traffic. If you drive during rush hour, the trip could take upwards of about 4 hours
  • Amtrak – operates trains from Los Angeles to San Diego hourly (2h 54m)
  • Bus – like Greyhound, Megabus, etc. Cheapest option, best for budget travelers who don’t want to drive (3 hours)
  • Fly – this is the priciest option and I would not recommend it over the above options (50 minutes)

Coming from somewhere else in CA but don’t want to drive?

  • Fly – Either fly direct to SAN, or fly into LAX and drive 2 hours the rest of the way there.
  • Amtrak operates trains from various cities in CA to San Diego. Take a peek at their site to see if there’s a stop/direct route near you.
  • Bus – like Greyhound, Megabus, etc. Cheapest option, best for budget travelers who don’t want to drive.

TRANSPORTATION: HOW TO GET AROUND SAN DIEGO, CA

Need a rental car for your trip? To find cheap rental cars, I recommend using Rentalcars.com. Their search tool is one of the best I’ve found!

  • Drive – Having a car to explore San Diego is crucial if you want to get out and explore past the downtown area. There are lots of freeways in SD and the sights you want to see may have some decent mileage between them. Not only will you get to your destination faster with a car, but you’ll also be able to stow things in your trunk (such as surf/beach gear, picnicking supplies, hiking boots, etc.) Either come in your own car or rent one.
  • Public Transportation – San Diego and its surrounding areas have affordable public transit systems that include trolleys, buses, trains, and shuttles. Find more about each of these transit systems here.
  • Rideshare Apps – San Diego is serviced by both Uber and Lyft. Download your preferred app and easily request a ride to and from your destinations. (I like Lyft.)

MAP OF THINGS TO DO IN SAN DIEGO, CA


BEST THINGS TO DO IN SAN DIEGO

Downtown San Diego and its neighboring districts are sprawling with sights, sounds, culture/history, attractions, restaurants, and bars. So let’s start there!

EXPLORE AND DINE IN LITTLE ITALY

This vibrant cultural neighborhood is one of a kind and a must-visit landmark in Downtown San Diego. In my opinion, it sits above the rest of the other Little Italys I’ve been to in the USA!

San Diego’s Little Italy has so much going on, no matter what day it is or what time it is. This neighborhood is filled to the brim with a grand assortment of restaurants (both traditional and modern), art galleries, and a great Saturday farmer’s market. What you’ll find here is a number of great Italian restaurants, bakeries, wine bars, and even boutique shopping.

During dinner time, the neighborhood really comes alive and becomes the perfect spot for al fresco dining, taking a stroll, and even people watching. Some of my favorite eateries here include Barbusa, Civico 1845, and Queenstown Public House.

For dessert, head to Pappalecco for authentic gelato and one of the best blueberry muffins ever made. Little Italy is also the site of ArtWalk, the largest art festival on the West Coast.

VISIT THE GASLAMP QUARTER

18 Exciting Things To Do In Downtown San Diego - Gaslamp District - Travels With Elle

The Gaslamp Quarter is another one of those lively, must-see neighborhoods in San Diego. This 16-block Victorian neighborhood is a San Diego destination for dining, bar hopping, and pure entertainment.

If you’re looking for fine dining, looking to meet up with friends or want a night out on the town, Gaslamp is for you. Though the Gaslamp Quarter is classified as a historic district, the sheer number of entertainment and nightlife options here is as up-to-date as you can get.

Aside from the many restaurants located here, you’ll find a number of rooftop bars, pubs, clubs, art galleries, theaters, and music halls. Not only is it home to the San Diego Symphony, but it is also home to the San Diego Film Festival which takes place every fall.

Looking for a rooftop bar option with stellar views? Visit the Altitude Sky Lounge. Looking to go dancing or clubbing? Head to Omnia Nightclub. And if you’re here in the morning or early afternoon, make sure to grab some coffee and bagel sandwiches at Spill The Beans!

Don’t miss out on the chance to EAT in the Gaslamp District!

Explore the best eats in the Gaslamp Quarter on a walking tour with an expert guide who’ll give you the rundown on the district’s popping restaurant and bar scene. On this 2.5-hour culinary walking tour, you’ll sample delicious dishes at several eateries, sip drinks, and learn about the rich history of the district (including interesting stories about the early ‘women of the night’ and where they worked).

CATCH A COMEDY SHOW

As with any major city, comedy shows are a staple. There are several comedy clubs in San Diego that you could check out while you’re in town, including:

  • The Comedy Store: a popular comedy club located in La Jolla that features a variety of stand-up comedians and comedy shows.
  • American Comedy Co.: located in the Gaslamp Quarter
  • National Comedy Theatre: an improv comedy theater located in the Midtown area that features family-friendly shows and interactive performances.

Be sure to keep an eye out on their events calendar for shows that pique your interest!

DINE AT LIBERTY PUBLIC MARKET (LIBERTY STATION)

Liberty Station, San Diego

If you love food halls, then you’ll have to add Liberty Station and Liberty Public Market to your list of places to visit. Liberty Station, formerly the Naval Training Center, is a repurposed landmark with strong historical significance.

Over the years, the Navy gradually wound down activity at NTC and officially closed in 1997. The grounds gradually transitioned into what it is now, a center for shopping, dining, history, and arts.

Liberty Public Market is the main highlight here, which makes for a great spot to hang out for lunch or dinner. It’s essentially a large food hall that hosts a wide variety of different restaurants, bakeries, shops, and breweries.

Meandering through the food hall is always a ton of fun since there are so many food and drink options available at your fingertips. If you like beers and gardens (and beer gardens), Stone Brewing has an awesome outdoor dining space located here, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens.

When you’re done eating or picnicking, take a stroll, and explore historic landmarks as you wander the spacious courts and plazas. All in all, Liberty Station is a great place to grab a bite to eat and spend a few hours outdoors.

VISIT THE SAN DIEGO ZOO

18 Exciting Things To Do In Downtown San Diego - San Diego Zoo - Travels With Elle

You can’t take a trip to San Diego and not visit this world-renowned zoo! The San Diego Zoo is not only one of the best zoos in the country but in the entire world.

With a safari park, an arboretum, an aviary, and various spacious habitats for its thousands of different animal species, the zoo is an amazing place to spend a day or two.

Located among the many other museums and attractions in Balboa Park, the zoo is easily accessible from Downtown San Diego. Just so you get a sense of how big the zoo is, it spans 100 acres and houses more than 3,700 rare and endangered animals. Once you leave a habitat with a plan to come back later, it might actually be too far to walk back to!

There are plenty of restaurants throughout the park as well as a good amount of beer stations for those of you who want an afternoon pick-me-up.

Plan to spend at least a half-day at each park to get the full experience, which includes shows and animal presentations. And yes, there are two separate parks!

Only have one day to dedicate to the park? Not a problem. There’s a skip-the-line ticket for a 1-day admission to the zoo as well. Trust me, the line at the entrance can be a beast on any given morning. And it’s no wonder since this is a world-famous zoo!

SPEND THE DAY AT THE SAN DIEGO ZOO SAFARI PARK

Cheetah San Diego Zoo Safari Park - Safaris In The USA - TravelsWithElle

No, this is not a repeat of the last item. Yes, there are two separate zoo-related parks in San Diego!

Let me explain. The San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Safari Park are both popular attractions in San Diego, but they offer different experiences for visitors.

At the 100-acre San Diego Zoo (in Balboa Park), you get to see the diverse collection of animals, many of which are not present at other zoos in the United States.

The Safari Park, on the other hand, is located in Escondido and covers 1,800 acres of land. It’s inspired by the Serengeti Plains in Africa and the Asian plains and has a completely different layout, with large open spaces and natural habitats for the animals. The Safari Park focuses more on large African and Asian animals, such as elephants, rhinos, and giraffes.

By far the standout attractions at the Safari Park are the safari experiences, including the Africa Tram, which takes visitors on a guided tour through the park’s large open habitats, and the Caravan Safari, which offers a closer look at the animals and allows visitors to feed some of them.

Want to experience both parks? This skip-the-line ticket allows you to spend two days at the San Diego Zoo, or split your time between the Zoo and the Safari Park!

STROLL THROUGH OLD TOWN SAN DIEGO

Old Town San Diego, CA - Travels With Elle

Old Town San Diego is a great place to stop and stroll around for a few hours. This area features acres of Mexican heritage, historical sites, colorful shops, eclectic restaurants, and more.

It’s known for its historical buildings, as it features a train museum, the El Campo Cemetery (houses lots of historic gravesites from the 1800s), and the Whaley House (one of only two officially designated haunted houses in California).

The Junípero Serra Museum in Old Town’s Presidio Park is also one of the most familiar landmarks in San Diego, recognized as the site where California began. Shopping and eating in Old Town is also a lot of fun!

Don’t miss Old Town Marketplace, an open-air courtyard, home to a variety of carts and shops that sell handcrafted goods traditional to the Mexican culture.

Looking for food and history all bundled up into one stellar tour? Coming right up! Taste your way through Old Town San Diego during this historical tour with culinary samplings. Tequila, tacos, and tortillas included. What more could you ask for on vacation?

TAKE A TROLLEY TOUR

18 Exciting Things To Do In Downtown San Diego -Trolley Tour - Travels With Elle

Spend an hour in Downtown San Diego and I assure you you’ll see one of these bad boys rolling through the streets.

Riding the trolley car is one of the most traditional (yet still convenient) ways to get oriented and acquainted with all of the many landmarks Downtown San Diego has to offer. Once onboard, the driver narrates the history of the area you’re passing through.

Choose your own adventure as you get on and off the trolley at any of the 12 stops (including the Gaslamp Quarter, the San Diego Zoo, USS Midway and the Cruise Ship Terminal, Little Italy, etc.)

The trolley tour is a ton of fun, and the perfect solution to exploring during hot, sunny days. You can get off anytime you please to explore a different downtown district, then when you’re ready to move to the next one– jump back on the trolley!

Added perk: you’ll get some fantastic coastal views during your ride (the trolley runs down Harbour Drive down to Seaport Village).

Join the trolley tour at several stops in Downtown including at Seaport Village, the Embarcadero, and in the Gaslamp Quarter. Tickets come with unlimited hop-on, hop-off privileges so you can create your own itinerary on your own time.

BALBOA PARK & MUSEUMS

Balboa Park is a 1,200-acre urban oasis, known as the home to nearly 30 museums and cultural centers, including the world-famous San Diego Zoo. No visit to San Diego is complete without a trip to this jam-packed wonderland!

Just a short walk or trolley ride from Downtown, the park is one of the largest urban green spaces in the entire country and completely worth visiting.

Many of the park’s attractions, such as the Desert Cactus Garden and the Zoro Garden, are free to the public. A few paid attractions worth considering include the San Diego Museum of Man, The San Diego Automotive Museum, The Natural History Museum, and the San Diego Model Railroad Museum.

👉 Pro Tip: If you plan to tour many of Balboa Park’s museums, consider buying the Balboa Park Explorer Pass, which gets you into 16 attractions for $67. There’s also the Go City San Diego digital attraction pass, which gets you access to 50+ attractions for one set price. I personally LOVE the Go City San Diego pass because of how much choice you have!

If you don’t want to visit museums or spend money here, no problem. You can opt to take a stroll through the park and check out the Organ Pavilion and the botanical gardens dotted nearby. 

Honestly, there are so many walking trails here. Might I recommend the 4.5-mile Balboa Park Loop? Should you choose to walk this urban loop trail, it will be a great few hours spent in San Diego.

TAKE THE KIDS TO LEGOLAND CALIFORNIA

Legoland California - Things To Do In San Diego

LEGOLAND California is a theme park located in nearby Carlsbad, which is about 30 miles north of San Diego. If you’re looking for yet another kid-friendly excursion, this is a great idea!

The park is themed around the popular Lego building blocks and features a variety of rides, attractions, and exhibits that are designed to inspire creativity and imagination.

One of the highlights of the park is Miniland USA, which features miniature Lego replicas of famous landmarks and cities from around the United States. Visitors can see the Golden Gate Bridge, the Las Vegas Strip, and other iconic locations, all made out of Lego bricks. It’s all way too cute.

The park also features a variety of rides and attractions that are designed for young children, such as the Duplo Playtown, which features play areas and rides for toddlers, and the Lego Ninjago Ride, which allows visitors to use hand gestures to control the ride.

Overall, if you’re looking for a fun theme park to spend a day while in SD, Legoland is a top contender. You’ll want to buy your LEGOLAND tickets in advance here!

VISIT THE SAN DIEGO MUSEUM OF ART

The San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park is home to an impressive collection of art from around the world, spanning several centuries and genres.

Among the European art, you can see works by famous artists such as El Greco, Rubens, and Van Dyck. On the American art front, you can see works by American masters such as John Singer Sargent and Winslow Homer.

The museum’s Asian Art collection includes works from China, Japan, Korea, and India and features all kinds of ceramics, sculptures, and textiles. There’s also a ton of contemporary art as well as decorative arts (furniture, glassware, and ceramics) to enjoy.

JAPANESE FRIENDSHIP GARDEN

The Japanese Friendship Garden is located in Balboa Park, but worth calling out an activity in itself. This serene garden has been open for 100 years and will transport you to Japan as soon as you step in. Perfect for those who have no plans to visit Japan anytime soon!

This garden is more special than other Japanese-inspired gardens because it was made as an expression of friendship between San Diego and its sister city in Japan, Yokohama! Enchanting Japanese gardens, koi ponds, and bonsai trees line the winding paths of this unique area.

Once you’ve had a chance to fully explore the garden, spend a few moments on the tea pavilion and soak up that California sun. There is an admission fee, but very well worth it for such a calming experience in the middle of a bustling city.

VISIT THE EMBARCADERO

Waterfront, San Diego - Travels With Elle

Located adjacent to Downtown San Diego along the bay, San Diego’s Embarcadero is chock-full of maritime history complete with historic ships and museums, as well as a fishing harbor, cruise ship terminal, and tons of lively restaurants and shops.

Another notable thing to do at the Embarcadero (other than enjoying museums) is to hang out at The Waterfront Park, which is a great place to picnic on the grassy lawn, while the kids enjoy the various splash and play zones and water fountains. The Waterfront Park also hosts regular outdoor events including a weekly Farmer’s Market and various festivals.

Want to get out on the water? Consider a dinner cruise, Sunday champagne brunch cruise, or my personal favorite thing to do on the water– a speed jet boat ride on San Diego Bay!

The exciting jet boat ride is a ton of fun and you will definitely get wet (perfect for those hot summer days). I’ve done it twice thus far and have had so much fun both times! It’s an attraction that my bestie and I love to bring SD first-timers to.

MARITIME MUSEUM OF SAN DIEGO

18 Exciting Things To Do In Downtown San Diego - Embarcadero - Travels With Elle

Want to feel like a pirate or a captain of an old-timey ship? Then I recommend you visit the San Diego Maritime Museum!

If you love old ships and submarines, you’re in for a treat. There is a massive exhibition of antique ships at the Maritime Museum of San Diego waiting for you.

This collection of fully restored vessels date back to the mid-1800s, with even a fully functioning replica of a Spanish Galleon from 1542.

One of the highlights of the museum is the Star of India, which is the world’s oldest active sailing ship. The museum also features several other historic ships, including the HMS Surprise, featured in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, and the Berkeley, which is a steam ferry that was used in the early 20th century.

USS MIDWAY MUSEUM

USS Midway Museum - Things To Do In San Diego

Visitors to San Diego’s USS Midway Museum have a unique opportunity to explore one of the most iconic aircraft carriers in American history. The USS Midway served in the U.S. Navy from 1945 to 1992, and is now permanently docked in San Diego as a museum.

Visitors to the museum can explore the ship’s many decks and compartments, including the flight deck, hangar deck, and engine room.

One of the highlights of the museum is the opportunity to see 30+ restored aircraft on display, including fighter jets, helicopters, and more. You can also learn about the history of naval aviation and the role that the USS Midway played in various conflicts, including the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm.

In addition to the exhibits and displays, the museum offers a variety of interactive experiences and activities, such as flight simulators and virtual reality experiences! If you don’t feel like walking through and learning all about the naval history yourself, you can also take guided tours of the ship, led by knowledgeable volunteers who share their personal experiences and stories of life on board the USS Midway.

Pro Tip: Because this is one of SD’s most popular attractions, you’ll want to get your skip-the-line tickets in advance so you can save time/avoid the crazy lines when you get there!

TUNA HARBOR DOCKSIDE MARKET

Love all things seafood? Then check out this super cool place to shop for fresh seafood! The Tuna Harbor Dockside Market is an open-air seafood market offering consumers fresh-caught seafood direct from local fishermen and vendors.

If you happen to be in San Diego on Saturday, make sure to catch the weekly market in the morning. Some stalls sell fresh tuna, some sell lobster and shrimp, while others offer uni (sea urchin) and crab. For people who prefer cooked seafood, this is available at the market as well.

BASEBALL AND CONCERTS AT PETCO PARK

Baseball lovers, this one is for you. If you happen to be here on the right day, you can catch a home game of the San Diego Padres baseball team at Petco Park.

Spectators not only get to enjoy the game but, depending on where they are seated, they get to enjoy fantastic views of Downtown San Diego and the San Diego Bay.

Aside from baseball, Petco Park also hosts other sporting activities as well as music concerts.

SPANISH VILLAGE ART CENTER

Want to take a break from urban exploration with some shopping and dining? Seaport Village is a huge shopping complex filled with dining options, unique stores, and free live music. The best part? You can enjoy all of this while enjoying waterfront views!

Make sure to wear comfortable shoes as there are over fourteen acres of shops, boutiques, art galleries, and eateries to wander through.

After shopping, enjoy a glass of wine at the San Pasqual Wine Tasting Room or fill up on fresh seafood dishes from Marion’s Fish Market overlooking Coronado.

TAKE A FOOD AND BEER TOUR

18 Exciting Things To Do In Downtown San Diego - Beer Tasting - Travels With Elle

San Diego has become increasingly popular for its locally-crafted brews and growing food scene. Due to the growth of the vibrant homebrewing community, San Diego County is now home to over 150 breweries. That’s quite a lot of choices for a pint!

Some local favorites include Ballast Point Brewing Company, Stone Brewing, Eppig Brewing, Karl Strauss Brewing Company, and Modern Times Beer. But this is just barely scratching the surface.

It would be hard to try all of the top restaurants and breweries all on your own, so why not maximize your food and beer tasting with a tour?

VISIT NORTH PARK

Over the last decade, North Park (situated north of Balboa Park) has really grown into the trendy, hipster neighborhood of San Diego. Here, you will find many eclectic art galleries, a great food and drink scene, and many laidback breweries.

Head to 30th Street and University Avenue to experience the taste of North Park—you’ll be greeted with taquerias, sushi joints, ice cream shops, cafes, and many brunch spots. For beer lovers, North Park is home to Modern Times Brewery and a few other craft breweries.

Aside from the food and brews, North Park is dotted with indie boutiques which are sure to pique your interest if you like shopping! Be sure to soak in the really cool artwork here too!

North Park San Diego, California

Looking for other things to do in North Park?

A weekly farmers’ market takes place at North Park Way on Thursdays. Every second Saturday, the neighborhood also hosts an evening art walk where guests can visit over a dozen art galleries and enjoy outdoor entertainment.

HILLCREST FARMERS MARKET

Hillcrest Farmers Market - Best Things To Do In San Diego, California

I’ve been to a lot of farmers markets all throughout the state of California, and the Hillcrest Farmers Market remains one of my favorites! It’s massive!

Spread across a bustling neighborhood in San Diego, the Hillcrest Farmers Market is a treasure trove of local flavors, artisanal crafts, and community spirit.

From the moment you step into the market, the vibrant atmosphere will suck you in! Stalls and booths line the streets, showcasing an incredible variety of fresh produce, organic delights, and gourmet treats.

You’ll find a large handful of artisan vendors selling everything from hammocks to fruit-resin earrings to fermented sauces, candy apples, and much more!

The food is even more impressive. You can get chili lemonades, coconut water straight from a coconut, mango sticky rice, pozole, tamales, Vietnamese iced coffee, pupusas, Thai food, Hawaiian lunch plates, and so much more!

This is one of my favorite farmer’s markets to attend because of all the culture and diversity that the market offers.

Another thing that makes the Hillcrest Farmers Market so exceptional is its scale. This is not just your average market; it’s a sprawling celebration of all things local. With rows upon rows of vendors, there’s always something new to discover!

LITTLE ITALY FARMERS MARKET

The Little Italy Farmers Market, held every Saturday, stands out as one of the premier farmers markets in San Diego. Nestled in the heart of the charming Little Italy neighborhood, this market is an energetic and bustling hub of local flavors, artisanal crafts, and friendly vibes all rolled up into one massive market!

What sets the Little Italy Farmers Market apart is its perfect blend of high-quality vendors and their diversity. As you enter the market, your senses will be mindblown at the array of stalls showcasing an abundance of farm-fresh produce, gourmet treats, handmade crafts, and more.

Whether you’re seeking ripe, seasonal fruits or unique handcrafted gifts, the Little Italy Farmers Market offers an eclectic selection — so eclectic that you’re sure to find something you want to buy!

After you’ve browsed the market’s offerings, you can easily explore the surrounding boutiques, cafes, restaurants, and art galleries, making it a complete outing in downtown San Diego!

GO ON A WHALE WATCHING CRUISE

Whale Watching Tour - Best Things To Do In Santa Cruz Monterey - TravelsWithElle

Whale watching season peaks in January and February, when thousands of gray whales migrate south to the warm water, where they give birth to their calves. If you want a closer look at all of this action, various charter boats and cruises host whale-watching excursions you can join.

Below is a highly-rated whale watching tour you can book:

  • San Diego Whale Watching CruiseGo whale watching from San Diego aboard a replica of a historic sailing schooner that won the world’s first America’s Cup sailing competition in 1851. Throughout your cruise, your expert guide shares informative commentary about gray whales, dolphins, and other marine animals, along with details about the US Navy sites you pass by!

PUNCH BOWL SOCIAL SAN DIEGO

Looking for things to do in San Diego that don’t include sight-seeing? Punch Bowl Social in San Diego presents an all-encompassing entertainment experience that brings together a variety of activities for an unforgettable outing.

With stylish bowling lanes, a diverse collection of arcade games, and private karaoke rooms, it’s a hotspot for groups of friends looking for a fun night out! Shuffleboard and ping pong provide friendly competition, while the outdoor patio offers a relaxing space to enjoy San Diego’s pleasant weather.

The on-site gastro diner offers a wide selection of comfort foods and creative menu items, complemented by a hefty selection of craft cocktails and local beers.

GET BREAKFAST / COFFEE AT THE INVIGATORIUM

The Invigatorium - Things To Do In San Diego California

The Invigatorium is as whimsical as it is tasty. This café is decked out in dinosaurs and features a mosaic dragon on the wall. Be prepared for ALL the whimsy that comes with a meal here!

This is a partnership between brewery and coffee roaster Modern Times, and local restauranteurs in the East Village — it’s essentially two small eateries in one.

If you’re in the mood for breakfast tacos, get one here! They’re great. Also, try the Lavender London Fog latte.

GRAB DRINKS AT NOBLE EXPERIMENT

Noble Experiment - Things To Do In Downtown San Diego California

Noble Experiment is one of the many speakeasy-style bars in San Diego. While there are lots of others, you can choose from, none deliver so far above and beyond the novelty quite like this swanky yet cozy cocktail lounge hidden in the back of a burger restaurant!

To get in, you’re going to have to look for the hidden door by the stack of kegs. Once you’re in, tuck into a plush leather booth next to the wall of golden skulls and get to sippin’ on the best craft cocktails in the city!

Reservations are almost always a must so be sure to call ahead to secure your spot.

CATCH A PLAY OR BROADWAY SHOW

When it comes to enjoying a play, an opera, or other performing arts show in downtown San Diego, there are several excellent venues to consider. The San Diego Civic Theatre and the Balboa Theatre stand out as two top choices for experiencing captivating performances.

The San Diego Civic Theatre, located in the heart of downtown, is a premier venue known for hosting a wide range of Broadway shows, concerts, ballets, operas, and more.

Equally impressive is the historic Balboa Theatre, a cultural gem nestled in the Gaslamp Quarter. This beautifully restored theater boasts a rich history and a cozy atmosphere that makes it feel like you’re getting to enjoy an exclusive movie available to a handful of others.

In addition to these two prominent venues, you might also want to explore other options such as the Lyceum Theatre and the Spreckels Theatre, both of which offer a mix of entertainment, including plays, concerts, and dance performances.

SAN DIEGO SPEED BOAT ADVENTURES

San Diego Speed Boat Adventures
Courtesy of Viator

San Diego Speed Boat Adventures gives you the chance to don your captain’s hat and embark on a thrilling self-driving speedboat adventure – one of the most exhilarating activities to partake in while in San Diego.

Imagine the rush of being at the helm of your very own vessel, zipping through the harbor’s sparkling waters. And here’s the best part: you don’t need to be a seasoned sailor to navigate these boats! With a steering wheel that feels just like a car and a simple throttle mechanism with three positions, it’s an accessible and adrenaline-pumping experience for anyone who wants to try!

You can choose to leisurely cruise, allowing the sights to unfold at a gentle pace like a lazy houseboat. Or, if you’re up for an adrenaline-charged escapade, throttle up and zoom across the water with the speed and agility of a jet ski!

Throughout your water adventure, you’ll be treated to sights such as the Navy Ships and Star of India standing proud, the USS Midway aircraft museum, and the Coronado Bridge gracefully spanning the horizon.

THE NEW CHILDREN’S MUSEUM

Traveling to San Diego with the kids? The New Children’s Museum is going to be a fun one for the kids!

This museum is a haven of creativity and imagination nestled in the heart of downtown San Diego. It’s a must-visit destination for families seeking a hands-on experience that blends art, play, and learning all into one fun afternoon! If you’re looking for an unforgettable day with your kids, this museum is the answer.

Here’s a taste of what types of exhibits await you and your children:

  • “Wobbleland”: An exhibit that challenges balance and coordination as kids navigate a whimsical landscape that’s delightfully unsteady.
  • “Sketch Aquarium”: A digital wonderland where children’s drawings come to life and swim alongside their aquatic companions on a large screen.
  • “Whammock!”: An interactive hammock-like structure that encourages cooperative play, imagination, and relaxation.
  • “Tinker Lab”: A hub of creativity where children can experiment with materials, tools, and ideas, fostering a love for hands-on learning.
  • “No Rules…Except”: A multi-sensory experience that invites kids to explore and engage with unusual textures and materials, encouraging sensory discovery.
  • “Rain House”: An exhibit that allows kids to manipulate the flow of water, teaching them about the fundamental forces of nature in a playful manner.

ATTEND COMIC-CON INTERNATIONAL

If your trip dates just so happen to coincide with the dates of Comic-Con, you need to celebrate — and then you need to go!

Comic-Con is an annual convention that takes place in San Diego and is one of the best things to do in the city for fans of pop culture, comics, and entertainment. The epic convention is held over four days and attracts over 130,000 attendees from around the world. It’s so popular that tickets usually sell out way in advance!

During Comic-Con, visitors can attend panels and presentations featuring celebrities, artists, actors who play your favorite superhero, and creators from the worlds of film, television, comics, and gaming.

One of the highlights of Comic-Con is the cosplay, or costume play, where attendees dress up as their favorite characters from movies, comics, and TV shows. The convention also features screenings of upcoming movies and TV shows, as well as autograph signings and meet-and-greets with celebrity guests.

Truly, there are SO many photo ops and chances to see (and even meet) your favorite figures in the world of comics!


THINGS TO DO IN SAN DIEGO (GREATER SAN DIEGO AREA)

Now that you’ve gotten the downtown activities out of the way, let’s see what else the rest of San Diego has in store for you. I’m excited for you. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much there is to do beyond downtown SD!

VISIT OTHER VIBRANT NEIGHBORHOODS

Hillcrest San Diego, CA - Travels With Elle

There are so many diverse neighborhoods within San Diego, each with its own culture and quirks, and it would be a shame to not spend some time exploring a few of them!

A few notable neighborhoods worth a stroll or a few hours of exploration include North Park, Hillcrest, and Pacific Beach.

INTERESTED IN EXPLORING ADDITIONAL SAN DIEGO NEIGHBORHOODS? CHECK OUT MY SAN DIEGO NEIGHBORHOOD GUIDE HERE! 

PACIFIC BEACH

Pacific Beach San Diego, CA - Travels With Elle

Pacific Beach is one of the more lively, yet laid-back beach towns located within San Diego. Year-round, you’ll often find people surfing, relaxing, picnicking, and posting up in one of the many restaurants and bars here. My favorite lunch spots include Leilani’s CafeKono’s Surf Club Cafe, and Costa Brava.

In addition to all the shops and eateries in the area, Pacific Beach also features a nice little pier, which is a great place to enjoy a California sunset!

If you’re looking for things to do after dinner, consider staying in PB because there’s a buzzing nightlife scene here, particularly along Garnet Avenue.

CORONADO BEACH

Coronado Beach San Diego California

The dreamy town of Coronado is located on a nearby island comprised of beach hotels, resorts, and restaurants. Make the short two-mile journey over the Coronado Bridge or take the ferry to get here, the beach is a must-see!

Really! You’ll be greeted by one of the best beaches in California, perfect for those who like calm waters and fine sands with speckles of what looks like gold in it!

Coronado Beach, San Diego - Travels With Elle

The main entertainment hub, which hugs Orange Avenue, is filled with shops and restaurants, as well as the famous Hotel Del Coronado.

Coronado Island San Diego - Travels With Elle

If you’re in the area earlier in the day (which I recommend as parking tends to fill up by mid-morning on weekends), head over to The Henry for a casual sit-down brunch or grab some delicious coffee and pastries to enjoy on the beach.

STAY AT THE HISTORIC HOTEL CORONADO

Hotel Del Coronado - Best Things To Do In San Diego, California

Staying at the Hotel del Coronado is an iconic experience that encapsulates the timeless charm and luxury of the San Diego area. This historic beachfront resort, often referred to simply as “The Del,” with its distinctive red-roofed turrets and Victorian architecture, has graced the picturesque shores of Coronado Island since 1888.

For travelers who are looking to experience the Hotel del Coronado without staying overnight, there are several ways to enjoy the property! These include:

  • Historic Tours: The Hotel del Coronado offers guided historic tours that delve into the resort’s rich past, sharing stories of its famous guests, architectural details, and historical significance.
  • Sunday Brunch: The Hotel del Coronado is renowned for its lavish Sunday brunches, which are open to both guests and the public!
  • Eating There: The hotel features a range of dining options, from upscale restaurants to casual beachfront cafes. Enjoy a meal or afternoon tea on the oceanfront terrace, backdropped by the hotel’s iconic silhouette!
  • Shopping: The Hotel del Coronado offers a variety of shops that showcase unique gifts, souvenirs, and luxury items. Exploring these shops provides an opportunity to bring a piece of the hotel’s elegance home with you.

KAYAK OR SUP AT MISSION BAY

If you’re looking for some time with the water or just some time in the outdoors, look no further than Mission Bay! From kayaking and standup paddleboarding to water skiing, sailing, kite surfing and everything in between, Mission Bay is a one-stop-shop destination.

On land, families can stroll, bike, picnic, or barbecue with the bay as a serene backdrop. Ski Beach a hot spot for family parties, casual picnics and beach bonfires, while Santa Clara Point hosts the Aquatic Center, offering water sports rentals and instruction.

If you’re looking for kayak or SUP rentals, check out Aqua Adventures Kayak & Paddleboards.

CATCH THRILLS AT BELMONT PARK

Belmont Park - Best Things To Do In San Diego CA
Courtesy of Viator

Belmont Park is a historic amusement park located in the Mission Bay area of San Diego. Just like Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Northern California, it’s a nostalgic California experience, reminiscent of traditional thrill parks that Americans enjoyed in the early 1900s.

This small ocean-front amusement park is hard to miss, thanks to the massive wooden roller coaster called Giant Dipper. In addition to the main attraction, there are also other attractions including Tilt-a-Whirl, bumper cars, rock-climbing, mini-golf, an arcade, and a carousel.

More into food/drink than rides? They also have 69 beers on tap and monster waffle cones!

TORREY PINES STATE NATURAL PRESERVE

Torrey Pines Natural Reserve, San Diego

Located north of Downtown San Diego, this 1,750-acre oceanfront reserve features sweeping ocean views, dramatic coastal bluffs, and an all-around memorable day outdoors. The reserve provides outdoor enthusiasts miles and miles of trails through pine forests and sandstone canyons as well as a 4.5-mile state beach to enjoy (Torrey Pines State Beach).

Torrey Pines State Natural Preserve is open 365 days/year and there an admission fee for each car entering the area ($10-$25 per vehicle, demand-based pricing). Once you get out to explore, you’ll realize that the admission fee was totally worth it.

SUNSET CLIFFS

sunset cliffs, san diego

Sunset Cliffs is hands-down the most popular area at dusk for travelers and locals alike. Why? For the sunsets, of course! Sunset Cliffs rewards visitors with panoramic ocean views that are absolutely breathtaking with the ongoing sounds of waves crashing onto rocks.

Part of the neighborhood overlaps with Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, a 68-acre reserve known for its sea caves, rock formations, and seaside bluffs. If you happen to be there during super low tide, you can actually walk out to the Sunset Cliff’s sea cave!

Local Tip: Pack a picnic and get there 1.5 to 2 hours before sunset. Otherwise, you may have trouble finding parking. The earlier the better!

GO TO THE SAN DIEGO COUNTY FAIR

The San Diego County Fair is a big deal down here! This annual event is held at Del Mar Fairgrounds and has a long history — it was first held in 1880, and today, attracts well over a million visitors each year (making it one of the larger fairs in the USA).

The fair typically runs for four weeks, from late May to early July. Like any other county fair, you can expect a range of attractions, including carnival rides, games, and food vendors. There are also several exhibitions and competitions, such as livestock shows, art exhibits, and culinary contests.

One of the highlights of the fair is the entertainment, which includes live music, comedy shows, and other performances. Another highlight? All the fair food! Be sure to sample some of the fair’s famous food, such as deep-fried Oreos, funnel cakes, and turkey legs!

MYSTIQUE DINING OF LA JOLLA

Mystique Dining of La Jolla is a unique and immersive dining experience that offers a fun and entertaining evening for guests. This is the perfect activity for you if you love magic!

The experience takes place in a private dining room in La Jolla, where guests are treated to a multi-course meal before participating in an evening of magic presented by the best magicians in the world!

Your parlour-style dinner experience includes salad, choice of entrée and a dessert presentation that alone is worth coming to see. Once dessert is cleared, your experience is capped by 45 minutes of award-winning stage magic by the most renowned magicians in the world!

If La Jolla’s too far for you, you can head to The Prestige Magic Lounge & Showroom in San Diego instead! Both promise a great meal with a heavy side of impressive magic.

KATE SESSIONS PARK

Nestled in San Diego, Kate Sessions Park is a spot that only the locals know about. Expect nothing less than a perfect blend of nature and awe-inspiring vistas!

Named after horticulturist Kate Sessions, known as the “Mother of Balboa Park,” this park pays homage to her love for landscape design. It’s a versatile destination appealing to various visitors: nature enthusiasts can revel in the park’s open spaces and native plantings; families and pet parents can relish the massive grounds for games and picnics; couples can share intimate moments against a backdrop of panoramic bay views; and photographers find their muse in the kaleidoscope of colors during sunset.

The park’s elevated position offers sweeping views of Mission Bay, the Pacific Ocean, and the cityscape, particularly mesmerizing as the sun sets! To make the most of this enchanting spot, consider packing a picnic for a sunset dinner, and then venture to a nearby restaurant to extend the evening after basking in Kate Sessions Park’s natural beauty.

SPRUCE STREET SUSPENSION BRIDGE

If you’re more into hidden gems rather than the large, main attractions, this one is for you. Located in the residential Bankers Hill neighborhood (close to Balboa Park), the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge is an awesome historical structure that you can enjoy even today.

You only really need about 30 minutes here, so if you’re in the area, make a pit stop to walk across.

Parking is in a residential neighborhood, so please be respectful and enjoy it mindfully! Location address: Spruce St 1st Ave, San Diego, CA 92103

DEL MAR RACETRACK

The Del Mar Racetrack is a fun time if you’re interested in horse races that’ll get your heart pumping with excitement. The track holds about 8 to 12 races daily between the months of July to September.

The best day to visit is Opening Day, where visitors wear elaborate costume hats and dress to impress. Throughout the season, they also host other events like food truck fairs, beer festivals as well as a summer concert series. General admission tickets are $8. 

Be prepared for loud cheering, boozy cocktails, and dapper attire!

👉 Pro Tip: The Del Mar Racetrack sometimes offers free admission or happy hour specials on certain days! Check out their events calendar to stay on top of all the latest deals.

SHOP IN DEL MAR

Pigment One Paseo, San Diego CA

One Paseo is San Diego’s destination for the most highly curated mix of restaurants, shopping, and wellness. Relax and stroll the beautiful urban village while perusing independent boutiques and popular lifestyle brands.

You can eat at one of the many restaurants here, as well as enjoy a beer or two at Harland Brewing Co. A few of the eateries include North Italia, Cava, The Butchery, Juice Crafters, Blue Bottle, Salt and Straw Ice Cream, and Shake Shack. The best part about One Paseo, there is a ton of outdoor space for relaxing and enjoying your meals al fresco!

LA JOLLA COVE

La Jolla Cove, San Diego - Travels With Elle

La Jolla Cove is an upscale seaside village that is located a quick 20-minute drive from downtown San Diego. First, walk through Prospect Street to browse locally-owned shops and dine at a variety of restaurants. Next, walk along Coast Boulevard for breathtaking photo-ops with the seaside cliffs.

Then, stop by Children’s Pool to sit with sunbathing seals! They are truly a sight to see, and the fact that you get to be so up close to them is awesome. At any point during your time at La Jolla Cove, you can hang out at Ellen Browning Scripps Park, a grassy area ideal for picnics and catching a sunset. So don’t forget to bring a blanket/towel! 

Local Tip: During late summer in the months of August and September, leopard sharks make an appearance in the cove. You can actually snorkel with them here, which is a very unique experience to have in California.  

EXPLORE LA JOLLA

Anytime I head to La Jolla, I’m immediately in a calmer and happier state. The weather is always great and the air is always fresh!

La Jolla sits right along the coast, just north of Pacific Beach. Though only a few minutes away from the center of SD, the ambiance change will make you feel like you’re a world away.

The amount of outdoor activity you can do here is endless— you can rent bikes and ride around the spectacular houses or along the coastline, relax at the beach, kayak through sea caves, take a surf lesson, hang out with the sea lions at La Jolla Cove, go whale watching, or even snorkel with whale sharks (in the late summer)!

Looking for a beer break from all the exploration? Head to The Public House La Jolla. Feeling hungry? Try one of the many restaurants situated between Prospect St. and Pearl St. If you like art, take some time to check out the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

If you’re in the mood for a hike, head to the nearby Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve— you won’t regret your time enjoying these untouched, coastal bluffs.

BLACK’S BEACH

Black’s Beach is a famous clothing-optional beach below the glider port parking area on Torrey Pines Mesa. This beach is one of our favorites in San Diego, as it sits along a portion of the rocky and beautiful La Jolla coastline. It has also become a beloved surf spot for locals!

It does take some effort to get here, which is why we love it (due to its accessibility, it’s a much calmer beach than some of the more popular ones in SD such as Pacific Beach or Mission Beach).

There are multiple routes to get to the beach, but they all involve a bit of rock scrambling and a steep climb.

Local Tip: Pack light–getting up the hill back to your car is much more challenging than coming down, especially after a full day in the sun.

HIKE POTATO CHIP ROCK

Potato Chip Rock - Things To Do In San Diego

Potato Chip Rock is one of those Instagram-famous hikes, featuring a curiously thin, potato chip-like rock formation. It is located outside of San Diego in Poway, and to get here, you’ll have to commit to hiking a total of 7.6-miles roundtrip.

The Mount Woodson trailhead starts at the end of Lake Poway Road at Lake Poway and offers hikers a challenging trail up to the famous potato chip boulder and Mount Woodson Summit.

A word of warning, this hike is a leg-burner but makes for a great workout! The hike is very exposed to the sun, so remember to bring plenty of water and sunscreen.

BIRCH AQUARIUM AT SCRIPPS

Birch Aquarium at Scripps - Things To Do In San Diego

With a visit to the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, located on the campus of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the wonders of the ocean and learn about marine life through interactive exhibits and displays!

One of the highlights of the aquarium is the Kelp Forest exhibit, which features a 70,000-gallon tank filled with live kelp and a variety of fish and other marine creatures. Visitors can watch as leopard sharks, giant sea bass, and other species swim among the kelp, and learn about the importance of this ecosystem to the ocean’s health. This is such a magical spot within the aquarium, so be sure to linger here a bit longer!

Other exhibits at the aquarium include the Tide Pool Plaza, where visitors can touch and interact with various sea creatures, and the Hall of Fishes, which features a variety of fish and other aquatic creatures from around the world. The aquarium also offers daily feedings and talks, where visitors can learn more about the animals and their habitats.

CABRILLO NATIONAL MONUMENT

Cabrillo National Monument - Things To Do In San Diego

Cabrillo National Monument is known for its epic lighthouse and tide-pooling opportunities. The park is located on the Point Loma peninsula in San Diego, and is named after Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European to explore the west coast of the United States.

One of the highlights of the park is the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which was built in 1855 and served as a beacon for ships entering San Diego Bay. Visitors can explore the lighthouse and learn about its history and the lives of the families who lived there.

The park also features several hiking trails that offer scenic views of the ocean and the surrounding landscape, including the Bayside Trail and the Coastal Trail.

Another popular attraction at the park is the tide pools, which are home to a variety of marine life, such as sea anemones, starfish, and crabs. If you do decide to go tide pooling, be careful and respectful of the fragile ecosystem!

👉 Pro Tip: If tide-pooling is a must for you, find out when low tide is before solidifying your itinerary to visit Cabrillo National Monument.

EXPLORE THE BARRIO LOGAN DISTRICT

Barrio Logan - Things To Do In San Diego California

For a nice little dose of culture and history, I invite you to spend a few moments of your travel itinerary exploring the Barrio Logan Cultural District in San Diego. From the historic Chicano Park to its bustling Logan Avenue business district, this neighborhood is steeped in San Diego’s bi-national ethos.

A visit to Barrio Logan promises an enriching experience filled with art, culture, food, and more!

To make the most of your time in the area, start your journey at Chicano Park, where freeway overpasses serve as canvases for colorful murals – the largest concentration of Chicano murals in the world.

Then, explore Bread & Salt, an experimental arts center that’s always got cool contemporary exhibitions on display. When hunger strikes, head to ¡Salud! for delectable Northern Mexican street food with a Chicano twist.

Finally, quench your thirst and enjoy inventive coffee creations at Por Vida Collective before ending the day at Border X Brewing — a super neat spot for savoring craft beers inspired by Latin flavors. You can even enjoy live music and street tacos in this family- and pet-friendly space!

If you’re in SD during the right time, don’t miss the Barrio Art Crawl, held the second Saturday of the month.

SAN DIEGO CHILDREN’S DISCOVERY MUSEUM

If you’re traveling to SD with kids, then you’ve gotta add the San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum to your travel itinerary!

The San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum is a fun and educational destination designed to inspire curiosity and creativity in children located in Escondido — about 30 miles north of downtown San Diego.

One of the highlights of the museum is the outdoor Discovery Garden, which features a variety of interactive exhibits that allow children to explore nature and learn about the environment. The kiddos can plant seeds in the garden, explore a worm bin, and learn about the importance of pollinators like bees and butterflies!

Inside the museum, there are a variety of exhibits and play areas that are designed to engage children’s imaginations and encourage learning. The Imagination Playground is a popular exhibit that features large foam blocks that children can use to build structures and create their own play spaces. The museum also has a variety of exhibits that focus on all things STEM, such as the hands-on Innovators LAB.

But that’s not all! The museum offers a variety of educational programs and events, such as story time, art classes, and science workshops. You can also host birthday parties and other special kiddie events here!

TAKE A TOUR OF STONE BREWING (FREE TASTINGS)

Interested in learning more about the beer brewing process? Stone Brewing offers a 45-minute tour of their 55,000 square-foot space in Escondido, California. For about $15 per person, you get an expert led tour with a free tasting at the end.

Each ticket includes a souvenir tasting glass and four 4oz samples of Stone core and specialty beers.

TAKE A HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE OVER TEMECULA VALLEY

Hot Air Balloon Temecula Valley - Things To Do In San Diego

Fancy a ride in the sky? If you’re celebrating a special event in SD or just want to do something a little different, then a hot air balloon ride over the Temecula Valley wine country is the thing for you!

Temecula is located about an hour north of San Diego, and is known for its award-winning wineries and beautiful scenery.

The hot air balloon ride typically begins early in the morning, just as the sun is rising, and lasts for about an hour. On your excursion, you can watch as the balloon is inflated and then climb into the basket for a peaceful and scenic flight over the vineyards and hills of the Temecula Valley!

The valley is home to over 40 wineries, and visitors can see the rows of grapes and the sprawling estates that produce some of the best wines in California! The views are especially breathtaking during the fall, when the leaves on the grapevines turn vibrant shades of red and orange.

After the flight, enjoy a champagne toast and even a light breakfast!

VISIT THE SAN DIEGO BOTANIC GARDEN

The San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas is a serene destination that showcases a diverse collection of plants and gardens from around the world. The garden is located on 37 acres of land and features over 4,000 plant species, making it one of the largest botanical gardens in ALL of California!

One of the highlights of the garden is the Hamilton Children’s Garden, which is designed to engage and inspire children to learn about plants and nature. The garden features a variety of interactive exhibits, such as a tree house, a butterfly garden, and a vegetable garden, as well as a variety of play areas and educational programs.

Another popular area of the garden is the Tropical Rainforest area, which features a variety of exotic plants and trees from tropical regions around the world. Other gardens not to be missed are the Australian Garden, the Mediterranean Garden, and the California Native Plant Garden. 

TRY BAJA STYLE FISH TACOS

Featured on countless menus across town, SD’s fish tacos (battered and fried whitefish fillets, cabbage, pico de Gallo, crema, lime, all topped on fresh corn tortillas) are a must.

To start you off, I recommend you hit up TJ Oyster Bar, LOLA 55, Oscar’s Mexican Seafood, or Kiko’s Place Seafood. Once you’ve had a taste of the fish tacos at these beloved establishments, you’re on your own journey to see if you can find other fish taco joints that can top these iconic spots!

GET TACOS EL GORDO IN CHULA VISTA

Tacos El Gordo Chula Vista - Best Things To Do In San Diego, CA

One of the absolute must-do experiences in Chula Vista is indulging in the mouthwatering delight that is Tacos El Gordo. Let me tell you, this place is nothing short of iconic!

From the moment you arrive, the aroma of sizzling meat, the sound of fresh tortillas being pressed, and the lively atmosphere (and confusing lines for first-timers) will captivate your senses. Tacos El Gordo isn’t just a place to eat; it’s a pilgrimage for taco enthusiasts!

As you wait in line (and trust me, the line is well worth it), you’ll witness the skilled staff expertly crafting tacos with speed, precision and passion. The menu boasts an array of options, from succulent adobada (a must) to tender cabeza, lengua, carne asada, and lots more.

The tacos are served street taco style, allowing the flavors of the meats to shine. When they ask you “with everything?” the answer should be YES (unless you have allergies)!

EXPLORE THE REST OF CHULA VISTA

Once you’ve indulged in the taco feast of your dreams, there’s still so much to explore in Chula Vista before you head back to San Diego. Here are a few recommendations for how to spend your afternoon.

Start by taking a stroll down Third Avenue in downtown Chula Vista. This vibrant street is lined with charming boutiques, cafes, and local shops. It’s a great place to pick up unique souvenirs and experience the local culture.

If you’re looking for a tranquil escape, head to the Chula Vista Marina. Enjoy a leisurely walk along the waterfront, watch boats bobbing in the harbor, and relish the serene views of the bay.

If you’re traveling with family or seeking some water-based fun, Aquatica San Diego is a fantastic option. This water park offers thrilling water rides, lazy rivers, and plenty of entertainment for a day of splashing around.

For a dose of wildlife and education, visit the Living Coast Discovery Center. This nature center is home to a variety of animals native to the San Diego Bay area and offers interactive exhibits and educational programs.

And if you’re up for a hike, head to Mountain Hawk Park. This scenic park offers trails with varying levels of difficulty, providing a chance to enjoy nature and views of the surrounding area.

DAY TRIP TO TIJUANA, MEXICO

Tijuana Mexico- Things To Do In San Diego

A day trip to Tijuana from San Diego offers visitors a chance to explore a vibrant and colorful city that both in another country and is rich in culture and history! Gone are the days where you have to cringe at the sound of “Tijuana”– it’s actually an up-and-coming destination now!

On your day trip, you can start by exploring Avenida Revolución. This historic street is the heart of Tijuana’s tourist district and is lined with shops, restaurants, and bars galore.

From there, head to Mercado Hidalgo — this colorful market is a great place to sample local foods and buy souvenirs! Be sure to try traditional Mexican dishes like tacos and tamales, as well as browse for handmade crafts and textiles when you’re not chowing down on classic Mexican eats.

And if SD’s beer scene wasn’t enough for you, then go to Tijuana Brewery, a craft brewery that offers a variety of locally brewed beers and a lively atmosphere.

For dinner, go to Caesar’s Restaurant, a historic restaurant famous for inventing the Caesar salad, or Telefonica Gastro Park! This outdoor food park features a variety of food trucks and vendors that offer a range of cuisine, from Mexican street food to gourmet burgers.

👉 Pro Tip: If you decide to head to Mexico for the day, bring your passport! San Diego is located only 17 miles from Tijuana, but despite being so close to each other in distance, gone are the days when Americans could cross the border into Mexico and return by simply showing their driver’s license. For the last decade, US Customs and Border Protection has required Americans to show a valid passport to return home after a day of taco tasting and margarita drinking in Mexico.

DAY TRIP TO JULIAN

Calling all you foodies! If you’re in the mood to leave SD for some baked good, I recommend you take a day trip to the nearby city of Julian, known for its SCRUMPTIOUS apple pies!

A day trip to Julian from San Diego offers a chance to explore a charming mountain town that is known for its apple orchards, historic buildings, and scenic beauty.

For a quickie dose of history, pop into the Julian Pioneer Museum to learn about the history of Julian and the surrounding area, with exhibits on mining, farming, and the town’s early settlers.

Then, stop by Julian Station, a marketplace that features a variety of shops where you can sample local wines, craft beers, and gourmet foods as well as browse for handmade crafts and gifts.

From there, it’s time to focus your time and attention on why you really came — the apples! Start at Julian Cider Mill, a family-owned business that has been making apple cider and apple products for over 30 years. While you’re here, sample the cider and buy souvenirs to bring home such as apple pies, apple butter, and other yummy treats.

For more pies, go to Julian Pie Company or Mom’s Pie House. These wildly popular bakeries are known for their delicious apple pies, of course!

Traveling with kids? They’ll like Eagle Mining Co.’s historic gold tours of the underground tunnels and exhibit on old mining equipment!

If you have more time, head to Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve for some hiking!


WHERE TO STAY IN SAN DIEGO, CA

Where To Stay in San Diego for First-Time Visitors: Downtown San Diego

Downtown San Diego is great for first-timers simply because of its proximity to everything. Being minutes from the airport and with easy access to public transportation, you’ll get a great intro to SD by staying in this area.

The prime location puts you within a few blocks of the Gaslamp Quarter, home to some of the city’s best dining, shopping, and entertainment. A few blocks west of downtown is the Waterfront and Seaport Village. A few blocks northeast of downtown lies Balboa Park, where some of the best museums and the San Diego Zoo are located. Expect lots of skyline views and restaurants galore!

  • For a more luxurious stay
    • The US Grant – a Starwood Luxury Collection hotel that was built by the son of President Ulysses S. Grant over 100 years ago. Work out at the hotel’s fitness center, dine in the hotel’s signature restaurant, or even relax with an in-room massage. The rooms look and feel so luxurious.
  • For a moderately priced, stylish option –
    • Kimpton Hotel Palomar San Diego – Boasting a rooftop pool and bar and an on-site restaurant, this luxury design hotel features stylish guest rooms with an on-site fitness center. Nightlife in San Diego’s vibrant Gaslamp District is a 1-minute walk away.
    • Hotel Indigo San Diego – Gaslamp Quarter – This Gaslamp Quarter hotel features unique guest rooms with contemporary amenities. Rooms have hardwood floors and plush bedding. The hotel’s onsite restaurant is open for breakfast and dinner with stunning views of the city.
  • For budget-conscious travelers

Pro Tip: Be on the lookout for overnight parking fees when staying at a downtown hotel. Parking rates at even budget hotels can be high. If you’re traveling with young kids and need a bathtub, pay attention to the bathroom descriptions, as many guest rooms are shower-only.

Where To Stay in San Diego for Families: Mission Bay or Coronado

You will most likely be hitting the beach when you’re in San Diego. If you’re looking to be by the beach, check out Mission Bay or Coronado.

Mission Bay has sandy shores, picnic areas, a calm bay, water sport opportunities, and harbor cruises. It’s also close to SeaWorld.

  • For a more luxurious stay
    • The Catamaran Resort & Spa – You can expect tropical landscaping and elegant decor. Every room has a patio or balcony, and with a pool, jacuzzi, and bike rentals, these amenities make this hotel a convenient and luxurious stay!
  • For a moderately priced option –
    • The Dana on Mission Bay – Located 0.6 mi away from SeaWorld San Diego and 1 mi away from San Diego’s Mission Beach. The hotel features a waterfront contemporary restaurant, 2 outdoor pools, 2 hot tubs and a pool bar.
    • Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Spa and Marina – Affordable rooms with great views of the bay and the ocean. There is also a lagoon-style pool with a waterslide that is popular with families.

Coronado, consistently named one of the top beaches in the country, makes an ideal location for lodging, if you can afford to pay a little more. It’s great if you want proximity to downtown and Balboa Park (10-minute drive) without having to actually stay downtown (parking there can be really annoying).

If that sounds like you, there is really only one hotel you should be considering!

  • Hotel del Coronado – A historic, full-service beachfront resort and a 4-star Curio Collection by Hilton property. Definitely the ideal hotel for a more luxurious stay with a charming Victorian-style atmosphere!

Where To Stay in San Diego for a Romantic Getaway: La Jolla

A stay in La Jolla grants you sweeping coastline views, stunning beaches, and a beautiful mountain backdrop. Not only will you have lots of shopping, beaching, swimming, and snorkeling opportunities, but you’ll get to enjoy some pretty amazing sunsets.

  • La Valencia Hotel – A beautiful Mediterranean-style hotel that offers luxurious accommodations, lush tropical courtyards, Spanish mosaics, and ocean views.
  • Lodge at Torrey Pines – Offers expansive public spaces with modern furniture and fireplaces, as well as a poolside cabana and restaurant with views of the coast.

ANNUAL/LOCAL EVENTS IN SAN DIEGO, CA

  • San Diego Restaurant Week (January) – With more than 180 participating restaurants to choose from, you can enjoy some great discounted prix-fixe two course lunches and three course dinners.
  • San Diego Museum Month (February) – offers 50% off admission at over 30 member museums throughout the month of February.
  • San Diego Chinese New Year Food and Cultural Fair (February) – 2 day festival celebrating Chinese New Year; eat traditional food, shop for Chinese handicrafts, enjoy live entertainment.
  • San Diego County Fair (May) – San Diego’s county fair is the largest fair in California, offering a variety of food, entertainment, exhibits, rides & games.
  • Comic-Con (July) – held at the San Diego Convention Center in Downtown San Diego
  • 4th of July – Big Bay Boom (July) – the largest fireworks display in the county.
  • Del Mar Horse Racing (July to September) – Experience the magic of horse racing at the Del Mar Racetrack!
  • Miramar Air Show (September) – This three-day event is the largest military air show in the U.S. Experience an amazing lineup of military and civilian performers, including the world famous U.S. Navy Blue Angels.
  • KAABOO San Diego (September) – A 3-day music festival event that combines rock-n-roll music and tastemaking events.
  • Kids Free San Diego (October) – Kids will get free admission to attractions, meals on the house and tons of other great perks throughout the city.
  • Beer Week (November) – A 10-day celebration of local, craft beer with multiple events happening across the county.
  • Wonderfront (November) – 3-day music, culinary and arts festival held at the waterfront of downtown San Diego from Broadway Pier to the Embarcadero Parks.
  • San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival (November) – Featuring dozens of culinary events celebrating wineries, craft beer and spirits, as well as local chefs and nationally recognized celebrities.

ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST: SAN DIEGO, CA

  • Smartphone UV Sanitizer and Charger | Our phones gather all the grime and bacteria we touch throughout the day, and then they are stored in warm, dark places like purses and pockets, which make for great breeding grounds for bacteria to grow. They are the third hand we never wash, but should! Using a UV sanitizer such as PhoneSoap on a regular basis will help keep germs and illness at bay.
  • First Aid Kit | It’s always good to carry a first aid kit around with you when traveling. Road trips make it easier to do this since all you need to do is toss it in the trunk!
  • Hiking Boots | If you plan on hiking, bring well broken-in boots with good ankle support and good traction. My all-time favorites are the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Boots. They’re one of the lightest boots in its class, very durable, and provide out-of-the-box comfort, which is extremely important if you want to prevent blisters from the start.
  • Hiking Socks | If hiking, make sure you have a good pair of cushioned wool hiking socks. For extra toe protection and to prevent blisters from developing from skin-to-skin contact, go with a pair of Injinji toe socks.
  • Adventure Sandals | Tevas and Chacos are my go-to brands for multipurpose summer sandals. If you’re planning on having an adventurous day or two, you should definitely consider getting adventure sandals — comfortable for long-distance walking, safe for submerging in water, and super durable.
  • Walking Shoes | One pair of closed-toed shoes (walking shoes or running shoes) is always crucial for any trip. These are the ones that I’ve been traveling around with the longest; they are super light and breathable. I can even walk 15+ miles in them before getting sore feet!
    • For women: Adidas Cloudfoam runners are classic-looking and ultra-comfortable.
    • For men: ON Running Shoes have risen in popularity, and for good reason! They are comfortable as heck, my boyfriend loves his pair.
  • Puffy Jacket | If you’re traveling in the fall or wintertime, you’re going to need layers for this coastal weather, which tends to get pretty cool nights. You have a lot of options here, but I personally have the North Face Thermoball, and it’s kept me warm throughout my many years of adventuring!
  • Daypack | I’m a fan of the Osprey Daylite Daypack. Even when I’m not hiking! It has ample room for all the snacks and water you’ll need, as well as for your camera and the safety essentials for the hike.
  • Sunhat | Sun protection is key for any California destination.
  • SPF 30+ Sunscreen (For Face) | COOLA sunscreen is my new go-to facial sunscreen. My face doesn’t feel sticky or goopy, which is so important for feeling comfortable when you’re out and about in hot or humid areas. I tend to not go below SPF 30 in hot and sunny climates.
  • Sunscreen (For Body) | Applying sunscreen to your body is absolutely necessary for sunny destinations like the West Coast. Even if it’s overcast and cloudy, the UV index can be very high, so be sure to apply whenever you’re outdoors.
  • Hand Sanitizer Hand sanitizer gel or wipes are a must any time you’re going to be in contact with surfaces many other people have touched. Never leave your hotel room without it! And if you do happen to forget it, remember to wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
  • Body Wipes / Feminine Wipes | Feeling a bit gross after a hike or bike ride but don’t have the time to shower right in that instant? Just whip out one of these body wipes for a quick refresher. The feminine wipes I like are infused with cucumber and aloe. Trust me, you will feel and smell so much better. Always good to have a few handy in your travel bag.
  • Travel Towel | These are light and quick-drying, which is exactly what you need in hot climates. They are super useful especially if you plan on having beach days. This one is a great option.
  • Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures… the last thing you want is to be driving along with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
  • Soft Hydration Flask | Stay hydrated throughout the day with a water bottle that can go anywhere with you—and fold up when not in use. I love the packability of these bottles!

And there you have it. I hope this guide has helped you plan your next trip to San Diego! What are some of your favorite things to do in San Diego?

READ MORE:

10 Best San Diego Neighborhoods To Visit

18 Exciting Things To Do In Downtown San Diego, CA

La Jolla Sea Caves: How To Kayak San Diego’s Caves

San Diego CityPASS vs Go City: Which Is Better?

My Favorite Travel Booking Resources

These are my favorite companies to use when planning out a new trip itinerary. The sites/companies listed here typically have the best overall value, offer deals, beat out other competitors, and offer great customer service when needed.

  • WayAway | This site compares flight ticket fares from hundreds of agencies. You’re going to get the best prices on the market, at least $10 lower than those on Skyscanner, Kayak, and Priceline.com. The best part is? The WayAway Plus membership. With the membership, you’ll get up to 10% cash back on airline tickets, hotel bookings, car rentals, and other travel services.
    • DEAL ALERT! Use code ‘travelswithelle’ for 10% off WayAway Plus.
  • Booking.com | Honestly, this is my go-to accommodation booking site. This site has free cancellation and no prepayment required on reservations which is huge for me. It also has amazing abilities to filter accommodation options by rating and price. Honestly, it’s shaved off so many hours of endless research for me and has made booking hotels and other accommodations a breeze.
  • Viator | Viator is a huge online marketplace for all things tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, ATV tours, sailing trips, walking tours, hot air ballooning, and more.
  • Go City | Go City offers great value-for-the-money attraction passes in various destinations around the world. Whenever I want to play tourist in a city, I always check to see if Go City operates in that city. The money you can save with this pass is unreal (as opposed to buying admission tickets for various attractions separately).
  • SafetyWing | SafetyWing is by far one of the best travel medical insurance for travelers as they’ve got a large network and offer both short-term and long-term coverage. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those heading abroad.

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