Top 31 Things to Do in San Diego

A Comprehensive Guide to the Top San Diego Attractions and Activities

San Diego at a Glance

Famous for its sweeping sandy beaches, Mexican cuisine, and National Parks, San Diego is a laid back city on the south pacific coast of California. Thanks to its natural warm climate, the city can be visited year round with hot summers and mild winters. And, when that famous California fog does roll in over the Pacific, it rolls right back out again.

Thanks to its proximity to the Mexican border, San Diego is home to some of the best Mexican food around. Prepare your taste buds for a gastronomic experience involving fish tacos and freshly rolled burritos; all knocked back with a cold corona. The grungier the Mexican restaurant looks, the better.

This relaxed dining style carries on to the beaches where tourists and locals alike spend the morning and afternoon soaking up the sun, enjoying the surf and hitting the bars, cafes and food trucks. So whether you’re here for a day or visiting for the week, be prepared to relax into the San Diego lifestyle of Californian living.

How Much Time Do You Need to See San Diego?

To explore San Diego’s history, culture and nightlife at a leisurely pace we suggest spending three days in the city. Thanks to San Diego’s excellent public transport links you’ll be able to zip around the area in no time. If you want to explore the surrounding area and coastline further, then add on an extra day and consider hiring a car.

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Free Things to Do in San Diego

There’s plenty of free things to see and do in and around the city from museums with free entry to street entertainers in the downtown district. Take a look at our itinerary below which contains eight attractions in San Diego that are absolutely free.

Balboa Park
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Inside this urban cultural park sits 1,200 acres of lush green grassland. You’ll also find walking paths, museums, several theatres and manicured gardens. This national historic landmark is a great way to kick start any trip to the city.

La Jolla Cove
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La Jolla Cove is a picturesque cove and inlet located just a 20 minute drive north of the city. Surrounded by soft sand beach and rocky cliffs the cove is a desirable spot by day for its kayaking, snorkeling, and diving. Come evening, head here to watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

Old Town San Diego
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Old Town is the historic heart of San Diego and is considered the birthplace of California. Dating back to 1769 the area has a strong history with Mexico and, as such, it’s probably one of the best areas in town to sample tasty Mexican delights. Wander around the learn about its development back in the 18th century.

Timken Museum of Art
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Located in Balboa Park, this fine art museum offers free admission all day, every day. With a vast collection of European and American Art, dating back over 700 years, the museum provides a cultural and historical insight into some of the world’s greatest artists.

Presidio Park

When you’re on a budget picnics are always good and where better to enjoy one than in the public city park of Presidio. Located just an eight minute drive north of Balboa Park, Presidio Park provides a more intimate setting with manicured lawns and shaded palm trees.

Seaport Village
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Seaport Village is a waterfront shopping and dining complex in downtown San Diego that provides free entertainment for all the family. Wander along the harbor edge stopping to watch street performers as you go or simply take a seat on the grassed areas and enjoy a spot of people watching.

Gaslamp Quarter
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Gaslamp Quarter is a historical district covering 16 ½ blocks of neighborhood in downtown San Diego. The area is considered one of cities greatest attractions as is packed with Victorian era- buildings, a budding nightlife and fine al fresco dining. The area is easily accessible by public transport and can be explored entirely on foot.

Moonlight State Beach
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Further north of the city, just 30 minutes drive, sits Moonlight State Beach. This vast beach is a great place to let the kids run wild and burn off some energy. Pack some beach games and a picnic before taking to the sands for an afternoon of sports and soaking.

Map of Free Things to Do in San Diego
Map of free things to do in San Diego

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1-Day Itinerary in San Diego

If you’re only in the city for a short amount of time, then take a look at our one-day itinerary below which covers all the must-see sights ensuring you experience the best of San Diego before you leave.

Mission Bay Park
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Mission Bay is the largest water park of its kind offering an array of ocean front water sports from jet skiing to paddle boarding. Aside the waterfront is a grassed park area, the perfect spot to watch people in action on the water or to take a walk along one of its jogging trails.

Maritime Museum of San Diego
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The Maritime Museum opened in 1948 and now contains one of the largest collections of sea vessels in the United States. Head here early to beat the crowds and take a tour of the vessels making sure you spot the Star of India, the oldest active ship in the world.

Liberty Public Market
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Located in Liberty Public Station, the Liberty market brings together international cuisine and culture under one roof thanks to its array of local food vendors, beverage stalls, and artisan craft tables. You’re dining needs will surely be satisfied as there’s an array of cuisine to enjoy including fresh oysters, lobster rolls, pressed- juices and crème brulee cheesecakes to go.

Boat Trip
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To take the city in from a different angle, head out on a San Diego harbor cruise. Spend an hour chugging down the calm waterways taking stock of your surroundings from the observation deck of a beautiful yacht.

Old Town State Historic Park
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Old Town State Historic Park commemorates the early days of the city and is home to many historical buildings dating back to 1870. This California historical landmark is the perfect spot for an afternoon stroll for a break from the exhilarating hubbub of the city.

Sunset Cliffs
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After a day of exploring the best of San Diego, it’s time to put your feet up over at Sunset Cliffs. Head here in the early evening to catch the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean, the perfect end to your time in the city.

La Jolla Playhouse

After catching the sunset head to La Jolla Playhouse to let the evening entertainment begin. The playhouse sits in the University of California, San Diego campus and boasts an array of independent productions throughout the weeks. Check their website before you visit to see what’s on.

Map Things to Do in San Diego With 1 Day
Map of things to do for a one-day itinerary in San Diego

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2-Day Itinerary in San Diego

When it comes to San Diego, the more days spent here the merrier. If you’ve managed to land two days in the city, then take a look at the itinerary below which includes eight attractions to visit during your stay.

San Diego Zoo
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Penguin, leopards, and lemurs galore, San Diego Zoo is a great way to start your morning. Children and adults alike will delight at the animal experiences available from breakfast with the penguins to a cable car ride over the lion’s den.

Black’s Beach
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This secluded nudist beach sits just 20 minutes north of San Diego and is home to walking trails, great surf, and inviting soft sands. Surrounded by high sandstone cliffs, the beach is an ideal sunbathing spot.

Las Cuatro Milpas
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Thanks to its proximity to the Mexican border, San Diego is home to some of the best Mexican cuisine in the United States. Las Cuatro Milpas Mexican take-out has a long line and a short menu, a tell-tale sign of a great eatery. If you can outstand the queue, expect to enjoy fresh burritos and tasty tacos to go.

Birch Aquarium
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Birch Aquarium boasts spectacular ocean views and is home to over 5,000 fish living in 60 habitats. Time your visit to witness a fish feeding, a tank dive show or an aquarium talk before getting lost amongst the deep blue.

USS Midway Museum
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Experience life at sea aboard one of the many vessels docked at the USS Midway Museum. This military and aviation display is perfect for all the family, spend an hour or two exploring the restored aircraft and ship exhibits on a self-guided audio tour.

Cabrillo National Monument
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Cabrillo National Monument sits at the southern tip of Point Loma Peninsula just south of Sunset Cliffs. The monument commemorates the landing of Cabrillo, the first European expedition to set foot on the West Coast. Visit the surrounding park to visit the picturesque lighthouse and low tide pools.

San Diego Museum of Art
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This fine art museum sits amidst others in Balboa Park and showcases an extensive collection of Spanish art. The museum provides a rich and diverse cultural experience for all thanks to its educational programs, art lectures, and world renowned exhibits.

Map Things to Do in San Diego With 2 Day
Map of things to do for a two-day itinerary in San Diego

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3+ Day Itinerary in San Diego

Three days in San Diego will see you swinging from State Parks to Wildlife Refuges and back in time for a quick surf lesson at Ocean Beach. Below is our itinerary suitable for a three-day or more stay in the city.

Torrey Pines State Reserve
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2,000 acres of natural coastal park make up the picturesque Torrey Pines State Reserve located just 20 minutes north of the city. Enjoy miles of unspoiled beaches, coastal lagoons and nature trails amidst the pine trees.

Mt. Laguna

If you have a spare day take an hour drive east to Mt. Laguna, a forest area with panoramic views. Outdoor lovers will delight at the hiking and biking trails and, once atop Mt. Laguna, the views back over the treetops are breathtaking.

Surf Lessons
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Head down to Ocean Beach for a private or group surf lesson suitable for beginners and pro’s alike. Whether you’re looking to make memories as a family or you’re riding solo, San Diego Surf School is one of the leading schools in Southern California.

Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

15 minutes south of central San Diego sits Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, a bird watching paradise. Established to protect endangered species the wildlife refuge is now home to over 200 species of birds including red knots, shorebirds, and savannah sparrow.

Coronado Island
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Coronado Island is a resort city just across the bay from downtown San Diego and is accessible from the mainland by public transport or ferry. The island is home to the famous Hotel de Coronado alongside charming streets, boutique shops, and fine eateries. Spend an afternoon relaxing on the sands here or rent a bike to tour the island.

Torrey Pines Gliderport
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If you consider yourself an adrenaline junkie, or you’ve got a bucket list to tick off, head to Torrey Pines Gilderport. This aviation center is the take off point for an array of excursions including paragliding, hang gliding, and tandem flights.

Whale Watching
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The shores of San Diego are home to an array of aquatic species including blue whales, humpback whales, and bottlenose dolphins. Head out on a whale watching tour, available year round, to spot the migrating beasts as they glide along the Pacific Ocean.

Loungesix

Located on the roof of Hotel Solamar, Loungesix is a modern rooftop bar in the Gaslamp Quarter. In the summer, pool parties are all the rage here as swanky looking waiters hand out delicious cocktails to revelers as the resident DJ fills the evening air with the sound of summer.

Legoland California
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Just a 40 minute drive north of San Diego sits Legoland California, an outdoor theme park, and aquarium that provides no ends of fun for the little ones. Cool off at the waterpark on the raft river, train like a ninja at Ninjago World and explore ancient Lego tombs at the Land of Adventure.

Map Things to Do in San Diego With 3+ Day
Map of things to do for a 3+ day itinerary in San Diego

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Parting Words

San Diego is a fascinating city with no ends of food to be eaten, beaches to be visited and museums to be toured so strap on your walking shoes and start learning your California slang. And, if your visit is part of an epic all American road trip down the west coast, then San Diego is really going to make your trip.

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