What to do in San Diego: A complete guide
San Diego is often forgotten when traveling in California. Located at the southernmost end of the Golden State, San Diego has a hot climate and sunshine all year round. The slow-moving atmosphere, outdoor culture, and friendly locals make San Diego a perfect sunny getaway. Discover one of the largest zoos in America, sail at sunset, stroll along the historic avenues and hike the steep cliffs. Watch whales, dolphins, and an abundance of sea lions basking in the sun. Relax and enjoy discovering the best that San Diego has to offer.
1. San Diego Zoo
You can not miss the famous San Diego Zoo. Home to more than 3,700 animals, including the magnificent panda, this zoo offers more than just animal watching. With more than 40 hectares to explore, plan to spend a whole day visiting it. Hike on the hilly trails, jump on the guided tour bus or choose an aerial view from one of the two cable cars. The San Diego Zoo offers a multitude of additional experiences for animal lovers. You can choose to have breakfast with koalas, make a private two-hour tour with pandas, or even a hike at sunset. Enjoy lunch on a tree-lined terrace, sip a beer at the Lost Forest zoo brewery, or allow yourself a fun cake at Poppy’s Patio at Discovery Outpost. From lions to tigers and grizzlies, this zoo will delight young and old.
2. National Monument Cabrillo
In 1542, the first European to set foot on the west coast of the United States of America set foot in the park of the national monument of Cabrillo. In addition to discovering the history of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, the 16th-century explorer after which the park is named, this park offers a host of other things to do. Hike the trails along the rocky intertidal zone at low tide to discover tidal pools filled with hermit crabs or head to the gray whale watching area from December to May to watch these giants pass by. Visit Loma Lighthouse, one of the iconic lighthouses on the west coast that has been restored to reflect 19th-century life. Take some pictures of the beautiful views of San Diego Bay and Coronado Bridge. After exploring this beautiful park, head to Sunset Cliffs National Park for a spectacular sunset, our next attraction.
3. USS Midway Museum
The USS Midway Museum is the most visited naval museum in the world and offers a self-guided tour through the 50-year history of this aircraft carrier worldwide. plan to spend a few hours to discover the 60 exhibitions offered by the museum. Exhibits range from dormitories to the captain’s cockpit, through the ship’s jail, and 29 restored planes and helicopters. Pilot a flight simulator, shoot a short film, get on a helicopter or talk to one of the volunteer guides who can share their personal stories with you. Discover how sailors lived aboard, in their neighborhoods under or on deck, and visit the upper deck to admire helicopters and planes. Interactive displays and indoor tours are ideal for children, but leave your strollers in the car as there are several stairs and ladders to climb. Go back in history and discover this floating marine city.
4. Gaslamp Quarter
The historic heart of San Diego is the next attraction to visit during your city break. The Gaslamp Quarter is an eclectic collection of shops and restaurants that spans 16 blocks. Stroll the streets and admire the Victorian architecture, discover the unique shops or grab a stool in a local restaurant to listen to excellent concerts. Discover showcases filled with blown glasses, visit an art gallery or attend a theater show; there is no lack of entertainment in this area. The nightlife is the best in the city: enjoy the red carpet clubs and private cabins, and watch celebrities; they all offer exceptional sets, sounds, and services. Whether you visit Gaslamp by day for shopping and dining, or at night to party until dawn, this area will not disappoint you.
5. Petco Park
Located just a stone’s throw away from Gaslamp, Petco Park Stadium is home to the Padres, San Diego’s baseball team. Whether you love baseball or not, Petco Park is well worth a visit. Get a pair of $ 10 tickets and watch the beach match behind the center field. Yes, the beach. An area full of sand and bleachers that is not the conventional way to witness nine rounds of bats, but where else can you admire a baseball game while sitting in the sand? Petco Park is also famous for its behind-the-scenes tours, with access to the press gallery, bench, bullpen, luxury suites and more. Visits take place all year long, even on match days, and this attraction deserves a place at the top of your list. Encourage Padres from the beach or grandstands and enjoy views of downtown San Diego.
6. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
After your visit to the Cabrillo National Monument, head to Sunset Cliffs National Park, one of the best spots in the city to watch the sunset. Comprising 27.5 hectares of the national park, this rugged shoreline abounds with sheer cliffs, caves, and miles of ocean. Head to the steep stairs to explore caves and secluded beaches or walk along the dirt tracks behind the rails for breathtaking views of the city. The parking areas are along the path but arrive before sunset to find a place. Bring your camera to photograph the sun setting over the blue waters of the ocean, rolling waves, and cliffs.
7. Visit Coronado Island
In addition to hosting the famous Hotel Del Coronado, part of Marilyn Monroe’s famous film ‘Some Like It Hot’, Coronado Island also offers incredible beaches, shopping, and unique views. Drive or take the ferry from the city and discover paradise. Bury your feet in the sand of the beach of the hotel and do not miss the opportunity to see the man with sandcastles, who built castles along this beach for over thirty years. Take a stroll along the pier with ice cream and chat with the friendliest people who love to share their stories of the city. This picturesque little town is full of shops, galleries, and restaurants. Get out of the bustling city of San Diego to discover this treasure.
8. State Reserve of Torrey Pines
Want to do some hiking while visiting San Diego? Then head to the Torrey Pine State Park, an 800-hectare coastal park with 13 km of trails. Hike on oceanfront trails along the beach or follow the cliffs that overlook the water. Keep an eye out for whales during the months of migration or dolphin beds playing in the waves. The Torrey pines are also a reason to visit this park. These are the rarest pines to grow in North America, and this reserve is the only place in the world where this subspecies grows. Bring enough water, a camera and make sure to eat before arriving because no food or drink (except water) is allowed in the reserve. Once you have completed your visit, head down to Jolla Creek, our next attraction in San Diego.
9. La Jolla Cove
If you are visiting San Diego for snorkeling, swimming or diving, La Jolla Creek is the place to go. If you support the colder waters, you can swim and dive with leopard sharks, colorful fish, and seals galore. This is not a beach for sunbathing because there is very little sand, a lot of seaweed, crabs and sea stars. La Jolla Creek is amazing for watching sea lions in their natural habitat and has a lot of picnic areas and lifeguards. You go to this area at your own risk, so be careful with wildlife. If you prefer to stay out of the water, you can rent a kayak and explore the cove. For breathtaking scenery, wildlife viewing and relaxing, head to the incredible underwater park of La Jolla Creek!
10. San Diego Sand Castles
You have not experienced a real San Diego beach before having taken a sandcastle building lesson! The San Diego Sandcastles Company offers the best construction lessons of such castles for all ages and all year round. The experience focuses on fun while providing a different experience; the instructors are knowledgeable, friendly and offer something unique. The instructors will guide you through the techniques and tips of sandcastle architecture to help you build the tower of your dreams. The children, adults, and grandparents will be delighted with this experience, and the hardest thing will be leaving your incredible sculpture at the end of the day. Book well in advance and spread your sunscreen during this extraordinary experience.
11. Balboa Park
The urban cultural center known as Balboa Park is home to over 485 acres of museums, restaurants, and the San Diego Zoo. Jump aboard the free tram that connects the free car park to the center of Balboa Park, where you can visit the information center to learn more about what’s happening at the park during your stay.
You can choose from a variety of Balboa park exhibits. Choose from over 15 museums, including the Museum of Man, the Space Museum and even a Dinosaur Museum. Stroll among the Japanese gardens, roses, and cacti. Take a ride on the original carousel dating from 1910 that still offers the game of brass ring. There is no shortage of things to see and do, and the hard part will be determining what you can and can not do in a day.
12. Sail with San Diego Sail
This activity is rated as one of San Diego’s best attractions, so do not miss it. San Diego Sail offers all types of sailing experiences from intimate sailing at sunset to sailing lessons and whale watching excursions. With the promise of wine, beer, snacks, and a friendly and knowledgeable crew, Sail San Diego is the company for your sailing desires. The Rum Runner cruise is a popular option that includes a 3h30 cruise with many stops in pubs and bars along the way. For 10 weeks in summer, San Diego hosts the annual Beer Cans Summer Racing Series, a competition among the best sailboats. You can even admire these races aboard a sailboat. Whether you’re looking for romance, adventure or fun, sailing in San Diego is a must.
13. Eat a fish taco
If there was a list of culinary experiences to be enjoyed in San Diego, eating a taco of fish would be at the top. Legend has it that Ralph Rubio was the first American ever to eat a fish taco during a surf trip to Baja in the 1970s. When he returned home, he started a small stall in Mission Bay selling tacos of fish. Thus was born the frenzy surrounding fish tacos. Rubio is still today the most popular place to eat a fish taco but is certainly not the only option. Wherever you go in San Diego, you’ll find a Food Truck, a street stall, or a restaurant selling fish tacos. We recommend that you test several. You can also venture to discover the best taco fish in all of San Diego … hope you’re hungry!
14. Rent a board
Whether it’s a surfboard, a long-skate or a stand-up paddleboard, San Diego offers loads of board rental options. You can go long skating on walks along the beaches or stand-up paddle on the ocean to explore marine life. Try surfing, rent a board and venture out on the waves on your own or take a surf lesson at the cool local shops. Pack a bath towel and jersey, and head to the nearest beach, ocean, and sun to see how San Diego locals prefer to spend their days off. There are a lot of beaches along the coast; do a little research to find the one that suits you best.