10 Best Things to Do in San Diego, California

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Uncover the 10 best things to do in San Deigo for the perfect trip to California’s Sunshine Coast.

San Diego is a place I have wanted to visit for so long and I can honestly say I LOVE it. It has such a young hip vibe and the scenery reminds me of Sydney, Australia (a place I also love). After spending a week in San Diego I have seen and done a LOT and will be coming back.

This list includes the best things to do in San Diego for adults – but kids could join most! Keep reading to discover the best things to do in San Deigo!

(Disclaimer: Some links in this post may be affiliate links, meaning if you click on the link and make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This is at no extra cost to you and you may even receive a small discount. See disclosure for more information.)

10 Best Things to Do in San Diego, California

Short on time?
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Top two hotels in San Diego
➡️ Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego
➡️ Pacific Terrace Hotel

Visit Mission Beach

Visiting Mission Beach is easily one of the top things to do in San Diego to see one of the city’s most iconic and beloved coastal destinations. This gem of a beach offers the perfect blend of sun, surf, and vibrant beach culture.

With its wide sandy shores and bustling boardwalk, Mission Beach is the perfect place to visit for those seeking the ultimate SoCal beach day. Relax on the beach, swim in the Pacific Ocean, or try beach volleyball on the courts along the boardwalk.

This is also the perfect place to go for a long walk along the oceanfront boardwalk, lined with shops, restaurants, and amusement parks. Or enjoy a meal with ocean views at one of the beachfront cafes or grab a snack from the various food vendors.

Go to Balboa Park

Balboa Park is a cultural oasis in the heart of San Diego, famous for its stunning architecture, lush gardens, and world-class museums. Visiting Balboa Park offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in art, history, and nature all in one place.

Explore the park’s iconic Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and beautifully landscaped gardens, including the picturesque Botanical Building and tranquil Japanese Friendship Garden.

Discover the park’s diverse array of museums, including the San Diego Museum of Art, the Museum of Photographic Arts, and the San Diego Natural History Museum, showcasing a wide range of exhibits and collections.

Explore the Historic Gaslamp Quarter

The Historic Gaslamp Quarter is a vibrant and lively neighborhood in downtown San Diego, known for its rich history, Victorian-era architecture, and vibrant nightlife. Visiting the Gaslamp Quarter offers a glimpse into San Diego’s past while providing a mix of dining, shopping, and entertainment options.

Wander along the Gaslamp’s charming streets lined with beautifully preserved Victorian buildings, now home to trendy boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants serving diverse cuisines.

Experience the area’s bustling nightlife scene with numerous bars, clubs, and live music venues offering entertainment late into the night. This is one of the top things to do in San Diego for a more cultural and unique experience.

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Relax on the Beaches

Visiting the beaches in San Diego is a must-do activity, offering stunning coastal scenery, golden sands, and perfect waves for surfing or swimming. Some of the best beaches in San Diego include:

  1. La Jolla Cove: Known for its picturesque cove, clear waters, and abundant marine life, making it ideal for snorkeling and kayaking.
  2. Mission Beach: A bustling beach with a lively boardwalk, perfect for sunbathing, beach volleyball, and people-watching.
  3. Coronado Beach: Voted one of the best beaches in the United States, Coronado Beach boasts pristine white sands and panoramic views of the iconic Hotel del Coronado.
  4. Pacific Beach: Popular among surfers and sun-seekers, Pacific Beach offers a laid-back atmosphere, with plenty of bars, restaurants, and shops nearby.
  5. Torrey Pines State Beach: Located beneath rugged cliffs, Torrey Pines State Beach is known for its natural beauty, hiking trails, and excellent surfing conditions.

Each beach offers its own unique charm and attractions, so be sure to visit a few to experience the diversity of San Diego’s coastal landscape.

Take a Harbor Cruise

Taking a harbor cruise in San Diego offers a unique perspective of the city’s stunning skyline, iconic landmarks, and picturesque waterfront. From the comfort of a boat, you can enjoy panoramic views of attractions like the USS Midway Museum, Coronado Bridge, and Seaport Village.

Harbor cruises also provide an opportunity to relax and unwind on the water, offering a peaceful and scenic escape from the bustling city streets while capturing unforgettable moments against the backdrop of San Diego’s coastal beauty.

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Discover Old Town San Diego

Visiting Old Town San Diego offers a journey back in time to the city’s Spanish and Mexican roots, providing a glimpse into its rich history, culture, and heritage. Here you can explore preserved adobe buildings, historic landmarks, and colorful streets lined with shops, restaurants, and museums.

The area is known for its vibrant atmosphere, with mariachi music filling the air and street performers entertaining passersby. Take a guided tour to learn about the neighborhood’s significance as the birthplace of California, or wander independently through its charming plazas and courtyards.

Sample authentic Mexican cuisine at local eateries, browse artisan shops for unique souvenirs and visit historic sites like the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, which features restored buildings, museums, and exhibits showcasing life in early San Diego.

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Drive the Coast

Driving the coast in San Diego offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, rugged cliffs, and scenic coastal landscapes, making it a memorable and scenic journey. The coastal drive allows you to experience the natural beauty of Southern California while enjoying the freedom of the open road.

Along the way, you can stop at several picturesque spots to take in the scenery, snap photos, and explore charming seaside towns and attractions. Some notable places to visit along the coast include:

  1. Cabrillo National Monument: Offering panoramic views of the ocean and the city skyline from atop Point Loma.
  2. La Jolla Cove: Known for its stunning coastline, tide pools, and abundant marine life.
  3. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve: Featuring dramatic cliffs, hiking trails, and stunning ocean views.
  4. Encinitas: A laid-back beach town with beautiful beaches, surf spots, and a vibrant arts scene.
  5. Del Mar: Home to upscale shops, restaurants, and the iconic Del Mar Racetrack.

Driving the coast provides an unforgettable opportunity to explore San Diego’s coastal beauty and discover hidden gems along the way.

Go to In-N-Out

Going to In-N-Out in San Diego is a quintessential experience for both locals and visitors alike. Renowned for its delicious and freshly prepared burgers, fries, and shakes, In-N-Out offers a taste of classic American fast food with high-quality ingredients and unbeatable flavors.

The chain’s loyal fan base appreciates its simple yet satisfying menu, featuring favorites like the Double-Double burger and Animal Style fries. Beyond the food, In-N-Out embodies a sense of nostalgia and tradition, with its retro-inspired decor and friendly service.

For many, a visit to In-N-Out is not just about grabbing a meal but also about enjoying an iconic dining experience that captures the essence of Southern California culture.

Explore La Jolla

Exploring La Jolla in San Diego is a must-do for its stunning coastal beauty, charming village atmosphere, and wealth of outdoor activities.

With its rugged cliffs, golden beaches, and crystal-clear waters, La Jolla offers breathtaking scenery and opportunities for snorkeling, kayaking, and wildlife viewing.

Here you can stroll along the picturesque coastline, visit the iconic La Jolla Cove, and explore the boutiques, art galleries, and cafes in the village.

Go Whale Watching

Going whale watching in San Diego offers an unforgettable experience to witness these majestic marine mammals in their natural habitat. During the whale watching season, which typically runs from December to April, visitors have the opportunity to observe the annual migration of gray whales as they travel along the Pacific coast.

Additionally, other species such as blue whales, humpback whales, and dolphins may also be spotted during the excursion.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is there anything fun to do in San Diego?

San Diego offers a ton of fun activities for visitors and locals alike. Here are just a few:

  1. Beach hopping
  2. Visit Balboa Park
  3. Explore Gaslamp Quarter
  4. Go whale watching
  5. Enjoy outdoor activities
  6. Visit USS Midway Museum
  7. Discover Old Town San Diego
  8. Indulge in craft beer
  9. Visit San Diego Zoo
  10. Take a harbor cruise
  11. Explore La Jolla
  12. Drive the coast
  13. Go to In-N-Out
  14. Explore Mission Beach
  15. Visit Cabrillo National Monument

Is San Diego famous for anything?

San Diego is renowned for its stunning beaches, world-class zoo, vibrant craft beer scene, rich naval history, and hosting Comic-Con International.

Is 3 days enough in San Diego?

While three days in San Diego allow for visiting many of its famous attractions and experiencing its vibrant culture, fully exploring everything the city offers may be challenging. Prioritizing must-see sights and activities can help maximize your time in San Diego.

Best Places to Stay in San Deigo

The best areas in San Diego are:

➡️ The Gaslamp Quarter offers nightlife and dining
➡️ Downtown for access to cultural attractions
➡️ La Jolla for upscale shopping and stunning beaches
➡️ Mission Beach for a lively boardwalk and outdoor activities

The two best hotels are Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Spa and Marina and Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego.

Travel Insurance

Getting travel insurance before you travel is a MUST. It’s the number one thing you should always pack before travelling that can save you a lot of money, time, and stress. With how crazy travel has gotten recently you need that peace of mind that no matter what happens there is something protecting you from losing out. I always travel with travel insurance and think everyone should.

I always travel with travel insurance and think everyone should. Below is my favorite travel insurer Safety Wings, enter your details to get a free quote!

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