Consider this a warning: If this is your first time visiting San Diego, there’s a strong chance you may never want to leave this amazing city.
San Diego is one of the most beautiful places in the world. With its beautiful weather and stunning beaches, it’s no wonder that so many people flock to this sunny city every year. But San Diego is more than just a beach town – it’s also home to some of the best views in the country. From an afternoon at Sunset Cliff to the shoreline of La Jolla, there are plenty of places to enjoy stunning panoramic views of the city and the surrounding area. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach vacation or an exciting adventure, San Diego has something to offer everyone.
There’s so much to see and explore here, it would be near impossible to cram it all into one trip. That said, it’s worth trying for this truly magnificent city. Here’s our list of the 15 best things to do in San Diego:
1) Spend an afternoon exploring Balboa park
Balboa Park is a must-see for any visitor to San Diego. This expansive urban park is home to a wide variety of attractions, including museums, gardens, and theaters. Visitors can stroll through the beautiful gardens, admire the architecture of the Spanish Colonial Revival buildings, or learn about the history of California at one of the museums. There’s also a zoo, a carousel, and a number of restaurants and cafes. With so much to see and do, Balboa Park is the perfect place to spend a day exploring.
Our next two items on this list are actually all things you can find in Balboa Park!
2) Enjoy the Cherry Blossoms while strolling through the Botanic Gardens (springtime activity!)
Conveniently located in Balboa Park, the Botanic Garden is a stunning place to visit if you happen to be in San Diego in the springtime. The gardens come alive with color as the cherry blossoms begin to bloom.
The blossoms are delicate and beautiful, and they infuse the air with a sweet fragrance. Seeing the cherry blossoms is an unforgettable experience, and it’s one that everyone should have at least once in their lifetime. If you find yourself in San Diego in the spring, be sure to add the Botanic Garden to your list of places to visit. You won’t regret it!
3) Visit the San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo is one of the most popular tourist destinations in California. Another entry on our list that is situated in Balboa Park, the zoo is home to over 3,700 animals from more than 650 species.
Visitors can see everything from African lions and gorillas to Komodo dragons and pandas. In addition to its impressive collection of animals, the San Diego Zoo is also known for its lush landscaping and beautiful gardens. With so much to see and do, it’s no wonder that the San Diego Zoo is one of the most popular tourist destinations in California.
4) Hike through Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve
With absolutely breath-taking views of the Pacific Ocean, hiking through Torrey Pines Nature Reserve is truly an unforgettable experience.
The reserve is home to a stunning variety of plants and wildlife, and the views are simply incredible. The trails wind through towering pines, lush meadows, and along cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Whether you’re looking for a challenging hike or a leisurely stroll, there’s a perfect trail for everyone. And be sure to keep your eyes peeled for wildlife; the reserve is home to deer, coyotes, eagles, and more. So what are you waiting for? Pack your hiking shoes and head to Torrey Pines Nature Reserve for an adventure you’ll never forget and easily one of the best things to do in San Diego.
5) Watch the sun go down at Sunset Cliffs
Perched atop the majestic cliffs of Point Loma, sunset cliffs offers breathtaking panoramas of the Pacific Ocean. But there’s more to this natural wonder than just its stunning views.
As the sun begins to dip below the horizon, the cliffs come alive with a dazzling display of color. The fiery reds and oranges of the setting sun are reflected off the water, creating a truly magical scene. Every evening, visitors gather to watch the sun go down, and there’s normally some surfers below that can provide some entertainment.
It’s easy to see why this is one of San Diego’s most popular attractions. Whether you’re a local looking for a relaxing way to end your day or a tourist searching for an unforgettable experience, sunset cliffs is sure to exceed your expectations.
6) Spend the day at Mission or Pacific beach
Mission Beach and Pacific Beach are two of San Diego’s most popular beach communities. Visitors can find a wide variety of things to do in both neighborhoods, from swimming and sunbathing to shopping and dining.
Mission Beach is home to Belmont Park, a historic amusement park that features rides (Giant Dipper Roller Coaster being the most famous), games, and restaurants. Pacific Beach is known for its lively nightlife scene, with a variety of bars and clubs located along Garnet Avenue.
Both beach communities offer stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, making them ideal destinations for a day of fun in the sun.
7) Take some time to explore the Gaslamp Quarter
The Gaslamp Quarter is a vibrant and historic neighborhood in the heart of San Diego. Filled with Victorian-style architecture, lively nightlife, and unique shops and restaurants, the Gaslamp Quarter offers something for everyone.
Visitors can explore the neighborhood on foot, taking in the sights and sounds of this one-of-a-kind district. Or, they can enjoy a meal or a drink at one of the many Gaslamp Quarter restaurants and bars. No matter what you’re looking for, you’re sure to find it in the Gaslamp Quarter.
8) Check out Cabrillo National Monument
Cabrillo National Monument is one of my favorite places to visit in California. Situated on a peninsula in San Diego Bay, the monument offers stunning views of the ocean, the city skyline, and nearby Coronado Island.
It’s also a great place to learn about the history of California and the United States. The monument commemorates the landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who was the first European explorer to set foot on what is now California.
The Visitor Center features exhibits on Cabrillo’s voyage and the history of San Diego. There are also several hiking trails that wind through the park, offering opportunities to see native plants and animals. Whether you’re interested in history or just looking for a beautiful place to enjoy , I highly recommend Cabrillo National Monument.
9) Spend some time in Old Town San Diego
Old Town San Diego is a charming neighborhood with a rich history. Visitors can explore the area’s many museums and shops, or simply enjoy the atmosphere of this beautiful place.
There are plenty of things to do in Old Town, making it the perfect destination for a day trip or longer vacation. Museum-lovers will appreciate the numerous art and history museums, while shoppers can browse the unique shops and boutiques. And of course, no visit to Old Town would be complete without enjoying a delicious meal at one of the area’s many excellent restaurants.
10) Rent bikes and explore Coronado Island
Coronado Island is known for its sandy beaches, luxury hotels (specifically Hotel del Coronado), and quaint shops, and you can get there by either driving across the beautiful San Diego-Coronado Bridge, or a by taking a 15-minute ferry ride across the bay.
Once you’ve arrived, there’s no better way to explore Coronado Island than by bike! There are numerous rental shops where you can rent bikes of all sizes and styles, suitable for both adults and children. And with miles of flat, scenic trails to explore, it’s the perfect activity for a sunny day.
Whether you’re riding along the shoreline or through the historic district, biking is a great way to see the sights and get some fresh air. Just be sure to wear a helmet and obey all traffic laws. With a little planning, renting a bike is a fun and easy way to enjoy all that Coronado Island has to offer.
11) Get an Exciting History Lesson aboard the USS Midway
The USS Midway Museum is a must-visit for anyone interested in American history or maritime culture. Located in downtown San Diego at Navy Pier, the museum is housed on a real aircraft carrier, the USS Midway.
Visitors can explore the ship from stem to stern, learning about the daily life of the crew and getting a firsthand look at the technology that powered one of the United States’ most important naval vessels. In addition, the museum features a number of interactive exhibits, allowing visitors to experience what it was like to serve on board the Midway. From the flight deck to the engine room, the USS Midway Museum brings history to life and offers a truly unique experience.
12) Another Fantastic Museum – Check out the Maritime Museum of San Diego!
The Maritime Museum of San Diego is a public museum located in San Diego, California. The museum is dedicated to preserving the maritime history of San Diego and the surrounding region.
Visitors can explore the museum’s collection of historic ships, including the USS California, the USS America, and the Star of India. The museum also houses a library with over 10,000 books and documents related to maritime history. In addition, the museum offers a variety of educational programs for all ages. The Maritime Museum of San Diego is a great place to learn about the rich maritime history of California.
13) Take a Cruise Around the San Diego Bay!
A San Diego Bay Cruise is the perfect way to see the city from a different perspective. From the deck of the ship, you can enjoy unobstructed views of the skyline, the harbor, and the gorgeous California coast.
The cruise also gives you the chance to see some of San Diego’s most iconic landmarks, such as the Coronado Bridge and Point Loma. Plus, there’s always the chance of seeing some marine life, such as dolphins or sea lions. Whether you’re a local or a visitor, a San Diego Bay Cruise is an enjoyable and informative experience.
14) Try Snorkeling or Kayaking in La Jolla Cove
La Jolla Cove is one of the most popular spots for snorkeling and kayaking in Southern California.
The cove is located within a marine reserve, which helps to protect the area’s ecosystem. The water is typically calm and clear, making it ideal for exploring the underwater world. Visitors can often see a variety of fish, coral, and other marine life.
In addition, the cove is also a popular spot for whale watching. During the winter months, gray whales can often be seen migrating along the coast. Whether you’re an experienced snorkeler or just getting started, La Jolla Cove is a great place to enjoy the underwater world.
15) End your day with dinner and dessert in Little Italy!
There’s nothing quite like a good meal to end a long day. Fortunately, Little Italy in San Diego has no shortage of great restaurants to choose from.
Whether you’re in the mood for pizza, pasta, or seafood, you’ll be able to find something to satisfy your hunger. And of course, no visit to Little Italy would be complete without indulging in some delicious gelato or tiramisu – Salt and Straw was my favorite when I was there!
So next time you’re looking for a good meal and a sweet treat, be sure to head on over to Little Italy!
16) Explore Del Mar
Del Mar is a picturesque beach town located just north of San Diego. With its wide stretches of white sand and crystal-clear water, Del Mar is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the California sunshine.
The town also offers a variety of shops and restaurants, as well as a lively nightlife scene. Visitors can explore the charming downtown area, marvel at the beautiful ocean views, or simply spend a day lounging on the beach. No matter how you choose to spend your time in Del Mar, you’re sure to create memories that will last a lifetime.
17) Feeling Adventurous? Go paragliding at Torrey Pines Gliderport
Looking for an adventure? Why not go paragliding at Torrey Pines Gliderport? Located in right next to the scenic cliffs of Torrey Pines State Park, the Gliderport offers some of the best views in the area. And, you don’t have to be an experienced paraglider to enjoy the experience – the Gliderport offers tandem flights for those who want to give it a try. So what are you waiting for? Come on out and enjoy the ride!
18) Catch a Padres Game at Petco Park
If you’re looking for a fun and affordable way to spend an afternoon or evening, catching a San Diego Padres game at Petco Park is a great option! Located in the heart of downtown San Diego, Petco Park is just a short walk from many popular attractions.
The stadium itself is clean and modern, with great views of the field from all seats. And, of course, the food is excellent – you’ll find everything from hot dogs to sushi at the concession stands. Best of all, tickets are very reasonably priced, especially if you purchase them in advance. So whether you’re a baseball fan or just looking for a fun day out, catching a ball game is a great option!
Recap of Best Things to Do in San DIego:
- Balboa Park
- Botanic Gardens
- San Diego Zoo
- Torrey Pines Nature Reserve
- Sunset Cliffs
- Mission and Pacific Beach
- Gaslamp Quarter
- Cabrillo National Monument
- Old Town
- Coronado Island
- USS Midway Museum
- Maritime Museum of San Diego
- San Diego Bay Cruise
- La Jolla Cove
- Little Italy
- Del Mar
- Torrey Pines Gliderport
- Petco Park
Where to next?
Looking for more of an outdoor adventure? Check out Denver!
Enjoy history, nightlife and culture? Check out Philadelphia!