Wondering what to do when you land up in San Diego for your vacation. No worries. Just scroll down to find out about 19 amazing things to do in San Diego.
When you land up in what is widely acknowledged as America’s finest city, there is indeed a lot to explore. One of the most diverse, vibrant, and fun cities of the United States, San Diego caters to everyone differently.
Having been passed from Spain to Mexico to America, San Diego shows a distinct impact of these cultures. It perfectly embodies the laid-back, slow-paced culture – away from the hustle of the major cities with the beautiful mild weather and long beaches adding to the charm of the city. But don’t let that fool you. The vibrant Downtown is famous for its crazy nightlife, mad adventures, and some mind-blowing events.
San Diego offers ideal weather for outdoor activities, natural sightseeing, vibrant nightlife, mouth-watering cuisine, and so much more. So, if you’re planning a trip to this city of Southern California, here’s me telling you how to turn it into an ideal vacation.
Buckle up for some of the most memorable things to do in San Diego when you land up here for a vacation.
1. Old Town San Diego
The first European settlement in California, this neighborhood is your ticket to time travel. The streets, the buildings, and the shops; all tell a story of the different times of California history, making it a must on your things to do in San Diego list. Boasting numerous historical sites, architecture, and art galleries, Old Town San Diego has preserved the cultural influence of Mexico and Spain, which makes it a sight to behold.
While you’re here, Old Town San Diego Historical Park is a must-visit for an insight into the past. It also hosts some annual events, such as the Cinco de Mayo celebration, which is hugely popular. Old Town San Diego will force you to put your foodie glasses on for some authentic Mexican cuisine. Also, drop by the Whaley House Museum for a certified haunted experience, and to top it all, take a stroll down the streets of Old Town San Diego for some amazing souvenir shops.
2. Downtown San Diego
The heart of the city, Downtown San Diego, serves as the financial hub of the city. Sitting in absolute contrast to the Old Town San Diego, this urban center of the city has a lot to offer, and that too to everyone’s taste. Housing major local headquarters of the city, San Diego county, federal government, and home to numerous tourist destinations, Downtown San Diego never sleeps.
Boasting the historic Gaslamp Quarter, the Maritime Museum, Seaport Village, Little Italy, and many more such tourist sites, Downtown San Diego offers memorable experiences. Be it the theatrical masterpieces at Balboa Theatre or the ecstatic nightlife and live music at clubs and bars, from stunning San Diego skyline to the calming San Diego Bay, Downtown San Diego is bound to be one of the most amazing things to do in San Diego.
3. Gaslamp Quarter
When you put your travel shoes on to explore San Diego, Gaslamp Quarter becomes an absolute necessity on the things to do in the San Diego itinerary. Widely known as the heart of the city, Gaslamp Quarter is now a metropolis and hub of entertainment, live music, dining, and shopping but has also managed to preserve the architecture of the late 19th century, which adds to the life of this place.
Spread over a massive area, Gaslamp Quarter is the social center of Downtown San Diego and beautifully balances Victorian architecture with the crazy nightlife it is famous for. The place is also known for some great restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and shopping centers.
Home to the iconic San Diego Comic-Con, Gaslamp Quarter also hosts major events throughout the year, so make sure to check the calendar for any specifics before you drop by.
4. San Diego Zoo
Widely known as one of the best zoos in the world and the most visited zoo in the United States, San Diego Zoo in San Diego’s love letter to nature. When visiting San Diego, a trip to the San Diego zoo is easily one of the most amazing things to do in San Diego.
Located in the famous Balboa Park, the San Diego zoo is spread over a massive area of 100 acres and boasts of an astonishing collection of mammals, birds, reptiles, and plants. The San Diego Zoo is acknowledged as one of the first zoos to have open-air exhibits and without any cage and will easily take more than your entire day to explore it to the fullest. The Safari Park, located an hour away, is also one of the largest and most famous tourist destinations and is referred to as the sister park of the San Diego Zoo and also one of the most fun things to do in San Diego.
The numerous exhibits at the San Diego Zoo are designed around natural habitats and hence are amazing to look at. Do opt for a bus tour here so that you can get a view of the San Diego Zoo and plan accordingly. Run by the San Diego Zoo Global, the San Diego Zoo offers behind-the-scenes and close-up animal experiences as well. Keep this in your things to do in the San Diego list, and drop by here to celebrate with the pandas, gorillas, koalas, rhinos, and many more.
5. La Jolla Cove
Lying just a few minutes away from Downtown San Diego, La Jolla Cove is an absolutely stunning ecological reserve in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego. Perfect for swimming, scuba diving, and snorkeling, this place is your gateway to San Diego’s beautiful marine life.
Known as the jewel of La Jolla, La Jolla Cove is famous for the California sea lions, but it also houses amazing marine diversity in terms of both sea animals and plants. Despite being one of the most popular tourist destinations and a bustling crowd due to the California sea lions, La Jolla Cove is bound to charm you with its distinct peace and laid-back approach to life.
You can always admire the seaside beauty and calmness while taking a stroll near the La Jolla Shores. The La Jolla Shores offers a fun experience for families as well. The area of La Jolla also provides you the luxury of watching the amazing coastlines along with San Diego’s skyline from rooftop decks. Be here to experience why it’s said to be one of the most beautiful things to do in San Diego.
6. Maritime Museum of San Diego
San Diego is an amazing retreat for anyone, even with a minor interest in museums. The city boasts of numerous museums, and one can easily spend their time exploring San Diego through them.
The Maritime Museum of San Diego, also known as the Floating Maritime Museum, in Downtown San Diego easily makes into the list of things to do in San Diego. Standing tall on the beautiful San Diego Bay, the museum offers a display of some of the most amazing sea vessels, including a few pirate ships as well. With a super friendly crew that is always ready to answer your questions, the Maritime Museum also allows you to wander at your own pace, soaking in the vastness and beauty of the boats, submarines, and ships.
The highlight of the museum is definitely the world’s oldest active ship – The Star of India at the San Diego Harbor and the deepest diving submarine – 555 USS Dolphin. Also, add the San Diego Harbor Tour to the menu here if you want to enjoy the Maritime Museum experience to the fullest and make your things to do in the San Diego list an absolute winner.
7. San Diego Bay
Visit San Diego, and it will always be incomplete without spending some time at the iconic San Diego Bay or the San Diego Harbor. This 12 miles long bay is spanned by the San Diego-Coronado Bridge and is home to ten museum ships.
With resorts and hotels adjacent to the Bay, activities ranging from sightseeing boat rides to commercial sport fishing are very popular. It also has a couple of islands in its northern part, namely Harbor Island and Shelter Island, that offer great restaurants and amazing views of the skyline.
Sitting just across the harbor, you can also visit Coronado Island. Home to the historic Hotel Del Coronado, this island town of San Diego has a lot to offer, from beaches to art galleries. Connected by the San Diego Coronado Bridge, the Coronado island is a must-see. San Diego Harbor Tours are iconic sightseeing cruises that make San Diego Bay one of the most amazing things to do in San Diego.
8. Point Loma
The tourist favorite peninsula is commonly referred to as the place ‘where California began. Located at its southern tip is the famous Cabrillo National Monument. It is in this monument’s area where we find the most iconic image of San Diego – the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, located at the face of San Diego Bay.
Open to the tourists as a museum, and the Old Point Loma Lighthouse makes for a majestic piece of architecture. You can also find the statue of Juan Cabrillo in the Cabrillo National Monument, the first European on the California coast, which is majestic o look at. The Old Point Loma Lighthouse offers an amazing view of the San Diego area and the Pacific Ocean around it as well.
Various marine activities are available to the east of the Point Loma peninsula, near the San Diego Bay, and to the west lies the Sunset Cliffs, where visitors drop by for watching the view. Apart from that, Point Loma also offers many hiking trails, and the famous Point Loma Tide Pools is an experience of a lifetime. All of this is absolutely why Point Loma and the Cabrillo National Monument should be on your things to do in the San Diego list.
9. San Diego Museum
An absolute treat for art lovers, the San Diego Museum of Art provides for a rich and vibrant artistic experience in America’s finest city. Boasting an insane amount of collections ranging from 5000 BC to 2012 AD, the museum will definitely leave you awe-struck.
Located in Balboa Park, the luxurious architecture of the San Diego Museum adds to the beauty of the place that houses art pieces of Spanish and Italian masters and Indian and American paintings and sculptures. The museum is also famous for the special events that it hosts, such as the fundraiser “Art Alive,” its annual flower exhibition where artworks are reimagined as flowers.
The gift shop outside the museum offers some great deals as well. The San Diego Museum is a place where art comes to life and is one of the most amazing things to do in San Diego.
10. Balboa Park
Spread over an area of 1200 acres, Balboa Park is San Diego’s most extensive tourist spot. Offering a varied experience to you, Balboa Park makes it impossible to be visited entirely within a day.
It houses a total of 17 museums (San Diego Natural History Museum, San Diego Air and Space Museum, San Diego Automotive Museum, and many more), several theatres, the Spanish Village Art Centre, the San Diego Zoo itself, and more than 15 gardens; including the Botanical Building as well. You can visit any of these or can opt for a show at the Tony Award-winning Old Globe Theatre as well.
The Balboa Park is your ideal picnic spot, combining several recreational activities with numerous dining options, food truck festivals, and gift shops within the park itself. Wander around here, take a bike ride, or enjoy the view; the Balboa Park is easily one of the most important and definite things to do in San Diego. Get the Balboa Park app to enhance your experience to the absolute best.
11. Mission Beach and Pacific Beach
Mission Beach and Pacific Beach are giant areas on the San Diego coastline, with Belmont Park as the border between them. Hugely popular among tourists, this should definitely make an appearance on your things to do in the San Diego list.
One of the few peaceful beaches for swimming and surfing in the San Diego area, Mission Beach and Pacific Beach is filled with sunbathers and the nearby boardwalk with cyclists and skaters. However, there also exists a stark difference between the two. Pacific Beach, being closer to the Gaslamp Quarter, is much more lively, rowdy, and filled with restaurants, bars, and nightclubs.
Mission Beach, on the other hand, offers a calmer and quieter beach experience and is ideal for families. The marine life here is also an addition to the beauty. So, whatever fits your personality, Mission Beach and Pacific Beach both are ready to offer you an amazing experience nonetheless.
12. Petco Park
Home to San Diego Padres, this magnificent baseball stadium is a must-visit when exploring San Diego. Regarded as one of the best baseball stadiums in the United States, Petco Park is not your ordinary place to just catch a game of baseball.
The stadium is also widely famous for concerts, soccer, and special events. But what makes Petco Park one of the most amazing things to do in the San Diego region is the food selection it offers. Mouthwatering burgers, fish tacos, hot dogs, BBQs are just some of the delicacies Petco Park is known for.
When you are here, the behind-the-scenes tour is a must, where you get to see the ins and outs of the Petco Park, the press box, the dugout, the Padres Hall of Fame, and more, making it one of the most cherished things to do in San Diego.
13. USS Midway Museum
The legacy and history that this magnificent marine vessel carries make the trip to USS Midway Museum one of the unique things to do in San Diego. Being a military town, The San Diego Bay houses many military bases, and the USS Midway Museum offers a peek into such places.
The longest-serving American aircraft carrier of the 20th century, the USS Midway houses many restored aircraft, admiral’s cabin, ship’s jail, 4-acre flight deck, and more than 60 such exhibits. One of the most popular San Diego tourist spots, the USS Midway Museum does offer lunch shops as well and requires to spare a few hours for it, owing to its size. Adding to this is the beauty of the view it offers, including the San Diego Bay Bridge.
Despite a great friendly audio guide, the highlight of the experience is to listen to the volunteer docents with their vast knowledge.
14. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
Lying west to the above-mentioned Point Loma Peninsula, Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is a surreal experience. Topping the list of things to do in San Diego for any photoshoot buff, this place offers a lot more than that.
Amazing views of the sunset with plenty of walking trails along the ocean, the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is your ideal spot for an evening walk, fishing, surfing, and couples photoshoot. Located along the coasts of the ocean, the place does get crowded in the evening, but it should never be a reason not to be here. Touted by some to be one of the most beautiful places in San Diego, the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park offers different versions of sunset depending on the weather you drop by, and all of them are equally enchanting.
Adjacent to the Ocean Beach, Sunset Cliffs Natural Park offers some hiking, and you can always enjoy some surfing here as well. Upon reaching Ocean Beach, you can dine on some great delicacies that the neighborhood has to offer.
15. La Jolla
This seaside upscale neighborhood offers beautiful beaches, amazing outdoor activities, and luxury hotels for stay as well. Home to the famous La Jolla Shores, La Jolla Cove, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, and Children’s Pool Beach, this place has many such tourist spots that will keep you hooked. These beaches are extremely rich in marine life, and you can watch the seals and sea lions from the cliffs at La Jolla Cove.
The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, in the Ellen Browning Scripps Park, is a beautiful art museum which too can be found in La Jolla. It also boasts of the La Jolla Music Society that puts up world-class performances for you to enjoy or stop by the La Jolla Playhouse for some memorable theatre experiences.
To top it all, you can dig into the amazing, mouth-watering seafood cuisine at La Jolla. With an immense variety in its cuisine, the stunningly beautiful Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier, and much more, it is bound to impress you and make it into your most exciting thing to do in the San Diego list.
16. Belmont Park
Any trip to San Diego has to go with a visit to Belmont Park. This beachfront amusement park houses San Diego’s iconic and historic Giant Dipper roller coaster along with the popular Beach Blaster, the Vertical Plunge, amongst numerable other fun rides, games, and activities. If you had had enough of the adrenaline rush, you could always switch to the arcades and some mini-golfing.
The Belmont Park also has some of the most popular snack shops with a southern California twist on them, such as Hot Dog on a Stick and the amazing tacos. The waterfront park also offers great shops to buy some San Diego-themed fun items along with swimsuits and beach equipment. Its proximity to Mission Beach allows you to have a dip in the Pacific Ocean as well after a tiring day, making it one of the most fulfilling things to do in San Diego.
17. Little Italy
Originally home to Italian and Portuguese fishermen, Little Italy is San Diego’s chic and lively neighborhood. Filled with the amazing influence of these cultures, the neighborhood gives you a variety of restaurants, cocktail bars, gastropubs, coffee shops, art galleries, and the festive Piazza Della Famiglia.
Little Italy hosts frequent events and festivals, which are an absolute joy for tourists. Famous local boutique shops line up in Little Italy, making the shopping experience a memorable one in this area of San Diego. The weekly Little Italy Mercato – a farmers market is also one of the prime attractions of the neighborhood of San Diego.
To know more about such an amazing farmers’ market in San Diego, click here.
Make sure to check your calendars to catch some amazing events at Little Italy and give it a spot on your things to do in the San Diego list.
18. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
San Diego’s favorite hiking destination, Torrey Pines Natural Reserve, offers beautiful views and plenty of trails to choose from. The Torrey Pines State Beach is another attraction that the reserve boasts of.
Apart from these, the scenic beauty of the Torrey Pines State Reserve is heart-pleasing and definitely worthy of a few clicks from your camera. Towards the south of the Torrey Pines State Beach, you can also find San Diego’s nude beach, namely Black’s Beach.
The amazing hiking experience that the Reserve provides can be enjoyed by everyone as the trails are of varying levels of difficulty, and if you want some long, relaxing walks, this place is perfect for that as well.
19. Seaport Village
This waterfront dining and shopping complex lies on the waterfront from the USS Midway Museum and should absolutely be on your list of things to do in San Diego. Allowing you the luxury of watching ships go in and out of the San Diego Harbor, Seaport Village is filled with numerous shops that will make your San Diego experience a memorable one.
The architecture ranging from Victorian to Mexican adds to the beauty of the Seaport Village that also has a diverse cuisine that attracts many tourists throughout the year. The village offers a sneak peek into the local marine life or the local San Diego county life in general and is known for catering to everyone’s taste.
So, there you go. These are a few of the places that must make to your things to do in the San Diego list. From staying at the historic Hotel Del Coronado to catching a play at Old Globe Theatre; from amazing hiking trails and tide pools to watching sea lions; from stopping by at the popular San Diego Zoo to a visit to the amazing San Diego Air and Space Museum, the city promises to give you an experience like none other.