Renowned for its wonderful climate and 70 miles of stunning beaches, here’s some of the best things to do in San Diego.
1. Balboa Park
Balboa Park, covering 1,200 acres, is one of North America’s most iconic and largest urban parks. As one of the top tourist attractions, it’s a definite ‘must-see’ of things to do in San Diego.
This large cultural oasis is home to museums, theatres and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. As well as lots of open spaces, beautiful gardens, fountains, monuments and some pretty awesome buildings.
In fact, there’s actually lots to see just walking around this large park, before you even start going into the museums/theatres etc. In addition, the park has scheduled events such as festivals, tours and concerts all year round.
Furthermore, with cafes and restaurants dotted around the park, you’ve got all the facilities you need to spend as long as you want exploring everything this amazing park has to offer.
Balboa Park is a public park and free to enjoy 24 hours a day. However, some of the venues within the park will have admission fees.
So be sure to bear this in mind when planning your San Diego itinerary.
If you’re interested in learning more about the park, the Walking Tour: Balboa Park with a Local Guide is a good option.
2. La Jolla Cove
Located on the western edge of the north coastal region of San Diego, La Jolla Cove is another top tourist attraction.
This small cove has a beautiful beach that is surrounded by sandstone cliffs. The area is also protected as part of a marine reserve, making it popular with snorkelers, swimmers and scuba divers.
In fact, a popular activity that is suitable for beginners, is the La Jolla: Guided Snorkeling Tour. Discover what’s recognised as one of the best places in the world for snorkeling.
However, another reason for La Jolla Cove’s popularity is the famous resident population of wild California sea lions.
They can usually be found lounging together on the rocks or swimming along the stunning shoreline. (Pacific harbour seals can also be found here a little further along.)
Facilities near the beach include showers and toilets, as well as a permanent lifeguard tower staffed from 9am to sunset daily.
Even if you just go to see the captivating antics of the sea lions, visiting the beautiful La Jolla Cove is one of the best things to do in San Diego.
3. Gaslamp Quarter
Dating back to 1850, the Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego spreads over a 16 block neighbourhood. This vibrant area at the heart of the city has something to offer for everybody.
There’s a mix of chain and independent restaurants as well as bars, hotels and shops. With local boutiques and national retailers selling everything from crafts, books, clothes and accessories to bikes.
It’s also known for its lively nightlife. With clubs and cocktail lounges as well as theatres offering a diverse mix of shows including music, comedy and drama.
In addition, it’s listed as a historic district with 94 historic buildings, most of which were constructed in the Victorian style. Many of these stunning buildings are now home to restaurants, shops, entertainment venues, and nightclubs.
For more information about this historical area, the Gaslamp Quarter Frontier History Walking Tour is perfect.
This is an exciting area to visit at any time of the day and has to be on the list of best things to do in San Diego.
4. Walk Newport Avenue
Located on the west coast, between Sea World and San Diego Navy Base, is the town of Ocean Beach. Here is where you will find the eclectic shopping area of Newport Avenue.
Covering almost 3 blocks, it’s home to hotels, bars, cafes, eateries and every sort of shopping experience you could wish for.
Shops on Newport Avenue sell all sorts, including antiques, sea shells, T-shirts, surfboards, skateboards, shoes, clothes and more.
Lined with palm trees and with the ocean close by, colourful Newport Avenue gives off a chilled coastal vibe.
The perfect place to just walk and soak in the surroundings. Or grab a coffee and do some people watching.
5. Surf At Ocean Beach
Surfing is undoubtedly one of the most popular activities and best things to do in San Diego.
Ocean Beach is great place for beginners learning to surf as the water is pretty shallow but you don’t have to paddle out far to reach the breaking waves.
There are plenty of surf schools and shops where you can rent a surfboard for the day. As well as book lessons if needed.
North of the Ocean Beach Pier is the best place for beginners as that’s where the waves are more gentle. South of the pier is where the more experienced surfers head and where you will find much larger waves.
In addition, Ocean Beach also has lots of facilities including showers and toilets along with lifeguards making it an ideal spot for surfing.
6. S3 Coffee Bar
If you’re looking for a choice of drinks and snacks in friendly and quirky surroundings, S3 Coffee Bar in Mission Square Center ticks the box.
It’s a great spot to get some unique photos, with a 2D corner where everything is white with black line drawings. As well as a phone booth you can actually step into.
As well as the 2D area there’s a bright pink neon sign, a lush greenery wall and some sumptuous pink velvet chairs. The perfect place to get some arty insta shots!
You’ll find all your normal coffees on offer along with some specialities including the likes of dirty chai, honey rose latte and vanilla lavender latte. As well as various chocolate drinks and a selection of teas and iced drinks.
They also offer a delicious, all day breakfast selection of things like granola yoghurt cup, avocado toast, superfood bowls and much more.
Open from 6.30 am (7.30 am at weekends) this is the perfect place for breakfast/brunch. Or even lunch, as after 10am there is a menu of tasty soups and melts.
7. Spruce Street Suspension Bridge
Tucked away in the residential Bankers Hill neighbourhood is the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge. This charming, hidden gem had to make the list of best things to do in San Diego.
A pedestrian walkway, it spans 375ft over the Kate Sessions Canyon. Offering spectacular views of the canyon 75 feet below.
Built in 1912, it allowed locals to cross over one of the many urban canyons in San Diego that isolated the developing neighbourhoods. Thus giving them access to the newly built streetcar lines on Fourth and Fifth Avenues.
In recent years, Spruce Street Suspension Bridge has become a secret, serene spot that is loved by locals as well as any tourists who get to hear about it.
Walking over the bridge might not be advisable for anyone who is nervous of heights. Also, suspended over the canyon, the bridge is known to swing slightly with strong gusts of wind.
However, if you’re up for it, this is definitely a great spot to visit.
8. Ho Chi Minh Trail
Located in the town of La Jolla, 20 minutes north of downtown San Diego, the Ho Chi Minh Trail is a unique canyon hike down to a secluded beach.
This unique trail only covers about half a mile (0.8km) but it’s certainly not your normal beach path!
It covers pretty varied terrain and requires a few different techniques to complete it, including scrambling over rocks and manoeuvring through rocky canyons.
However, there are some spectacular views along the way and you have the reward of the beautiful, secluded Black’s Beach at the end of the trail. As well as a great feeling of achievement!
Black’s Beach is a quiet beach attracting mainly surfers and nudists. The surfers head to the south of the beach for the best waves and the nudists tending to stay north of the Glider Port Trail.
So, you could spend some time enjoying the beach before returning via the Ho Chi Minh trail or one of the easier routes back up!
If you love a challenge and hiking unusual trails, then Ho Chi Minh Trail is one of the best things to do in San Diego.
9. Sunset Cliffs
Sitting between Point Loma and Ocean Beach, Sunset Cliffs is a 68 acre natural park. It comprises of sandstone cliffs that stretch along the Point Loma Peninsula.
As its name suggests, this is definitely one of the best places in San Diego to catch an amazing sunset.
This area of natural beauty includes rugged cliffs, arches and sea caves. As well as spectacular, panoramic views across the Pacific Ocean.
There is also a popular, family-friendly 3 mile hike along the shoreline. Mostly flat, it offers interesting cliff formations and coastal arches along the way.
However, if watching a sunset is your plan, arrive well before sunset is due. Give yourself time to park, walk to the cliffs and find a spot to sit down and take-in the breathtaking views.
Whether you want a gentle hike or the perfect spot to watch sunset, Sunset Cliffs is a must-visit of things to do in San Diego.
10. Eat, Eat, Eat
One of my favourite things to do when travelling is try out different foods and San Diego has a great choice of eateries. Here’s a couple of my favourites:
La Puerto Mexican
If you are looking for really good Mexican food, La Puerto Mexican is your place. You’ll find this eatery located in downtown San Diego, with one also recently opening in Mission Hills.
As you walk in, this trendy urban restaurant/bar wraps you in deep rich colours and low lighting. Creating a warm and friendly ambience, which is only made better by the hospitable staff and delicious food.
On offer are tasty tacos, flautas, shrimp quesadilla and lots more delicious Mexican food, including veggie and vegan options. As well as a selection of speciality drinks with, of course, some great tequila and freshly squeezed margaritas.
This is proving to be one of the most popular restaurants in San Diego for good reason. Furthermore, if you’ve seen and love the American programme ‘Cheers’, you’ll definitely love the vibe of La Puerto Mexican!
OB Noodle House
If you are a lover of Asian food, then OB Noodle House in the bohemian Ocean Beach neighbourhood offers a menu full of Asian fusion cuisine.
If you believe in the old adage ‘always eat where the locals eat’, then this family run restaurant is definitely where to go.
Don’t let the casual exterior and interior of the restaurant with its wall murals and corrugated metal roof put you off, this is the ‘real deal’.
Using authentic Asian cooking techniques, as well as fresh ingredients and spices imported from their country of origin, the flavours are amazing.
From Saigon fried rice to crispy tiger shrimp and Vietnamese crispy egg rolls you will be spoilt for choice. (The menu also includes plenty of vegan and vegetarian options.)
Open from noon until late, it’s a good option for lunch or dinner. Be aware though, that due to its popularity and no reservations policy, you might have to queue…… but it’s worth it!
If you are real foodie, you might like the San Diego: Guided Secret Food Tour. Get to sample cuisine with influences ranging from Mexico, Asia, and Italy.
Where To Stay In San Diego
Situated in La Jolla, California town centre, this boutique inn offers spacious Balinese inspired rooms with well-equipped kitchens, fireplaces and Pacific Ocean views.
It offers a daily deluxe continental breakfast. Free Wi-Fi, a flat-screen cable TV, an iPod docking station and a work desk are available in all of the unique rooms at Pantai Inn.
Rooms feature custom made wood-carved furnishings and Indonesian artwork.
The contemporary kitchens come with a microwave, a refrigerator and tea and coffee-making facilities and offer reverse osmosis filtered water and ice makers.
The Monsaraz San Diego, Tapestry Collection By Hilton features a fitness centre, garden, a terrace and restaurant in San Diego.
Featuring a bar, the 4-star hotel has air-conditioned rooms with a private bathroom.
The accommodation offers a 24-hour front desk, an ATM and luggage storage for guests. Every room has a TV, and certain units at the hotel have a balcony.
Guests at The Monsaraz San Diego, Tapestry Collection By Hilton can enjoy an American breakfast.
Located 1.6 km away from San Diego’s scenic Shelter Island and San Diego International Airport, Sunrise Inn San Diego features guest rooms with free WiFi.
Free parking is provided to guests. Each room at this motel features a cable TV with film channels.
Rooms include a safety deposit box, a microwave and a mini-refrigerator.
A front desk is available from 7 am to 11:00 pm to assist guests of Sunrise Inn San Diego. Vending machines are available on site.
For more places to stay in San Diego, you can check the latest prices on Booking.com.