There’s no coast like the West Coast! From the number one city with the best craft breweries to sunshine on average 266 days out of the year, we’ve compiled the most incredible list of things to do in San Diego, California.
San Diego is a bustling metropolitan city in the southernmost part of coastal California. With 31 beaches and an incredible variety of food, there is no shortage of things to do around the area.
Whether you’re a long-time local or a first-time visitor, we’ve got all the best ideas for how to spend your time in San Diego.
This list has everything from free things like hiking and enjoying the sunset in some of the best spots to family-friendly activities like Belmont Park.
San Diego is a beautiful place to travel to if you’re someone who loves the outdoors. The weather makes it possible to be outside almost every day of the year. Who can beat that!?
It’s no secret that San Diego is one of the most desired cities to live in in the United States.
- Free Things to do in San Diego
- Things That Cost Money
- Family-Friendly Things to do
- San Diego Night Life
Free Things to do in San Diego
Balboa Park is probably the best place to visit in San Diego and deserves a spot at the top of your itinerary. This goes for anyone! It’s a great place for solo travelers to families because of its different offerings.
This 1200-acre park is home to 17 museums, meaning it has something for everyone. Don’t forget the beautiful botanical gardens that are free to walk through.
If you’re a local, you might not know about free admission to museums on Tuesdays! The different museums offer free entry for San Diego residents on rotating Tuesdays. Just bring your ID with you to verify your home address.
Things inside the park:
- Museum of Us
- Japanese Friendship Gardens
- Rose Garden
- Natural History Museum
- Spreckels Organ Pavillion
- Timken Museum
These are only a few of the things available within Balboa Park. You can find more information here.
Seaport Village is a must if you’re a first-time visitor looking for things to do in San Diego. It’s right on the water, looking out to the Coronado Bridge, making the views breathtaking.
There is plenty to do in Seaport Village with all the available restaurants and shops. There is even a little secret koi pond hidden amongst the restaurants!
If you’re lucky, you will also see seals in the bay. Seaport Village is a great spot to take kids while traveling with your family.
If you’re headed down to Seaport Village, you might as well walk or bike along the Embarcadero. The Embarcadero allows you to see several ships docked at the port, including the USS Midway Museum and the Maritime Museum.
You can enjoy the portside pier on the Embarcadero, grab a margarita at Carnita’s Snack Shack, and watch the boats in the harbor. Many cruise ships dock along the Embarcadero, so it’s an excellent place to do some people-watching.
There are endless amounts of trails suitable for people of all fitness levels. Hiking in Southern California is unlike hiking anywhere else. There is so much to see and such a variety of terrain.
From hiking Torrey Pines to climbing Stonewall Peak, there is a hike out there in San Diego for anyone.
- Cowles Mountain
- Torrey Pines
- Potato Chip Rock
You haven’t experienced San Diego if you haven’t visited the beach! With 31 beaches to choose from, there is a beach for everyone, including dogs!
Do be warned. The water is typically chilly all year round, and on those days that it does warm up, the stingrays make their debut. Be sure to shuffle your feet in the sand to avoid being stung!
- Dog Beach – Ocean Beach
- North Beach Dog Run – Coronado
- Fiesta Island
- Del Mar Dog Beach
North Park is one of the many neighborhoods surrounding balboa park. This neighborhood is worth strolling through as it is home to many shops and restaurants.
In 2012, Forbes included North Park on their list of America’s best hipster neighborhoods. If that sounds like your cup of tea, we recommend visiting North Park on your list of things to do in San Diego.
- The Mission
- The Smoking Goat
- Common Stock
Hillcrest is a neighborhood known for its diversity and inclusivity. This lively San Diego area is a neighborhood with a large LGBTQ+ community, many locally-owned businesses, and plenty to do and see.
If you’re looking for an area with robust nightlife, then Hillcrest is one of your best options.
- Taste of Denmark
- Tommy Bahama
- Barrel and Board
- Hillcrest Farmers Market
Take a stroll down Park Avenue in University heights to see all the shops and restaurants this cute little neighborhood offers. University Heights is also home to Kairoa Brewing Company, a favorite amongst locals. It’s pretty hard to beat with its rooftop views and family-friendly environment.
If you’re looking for some outdoor space for a game of frisbee, or a spot to picnic, then Trolley Barn Park is the place for you.
- Parkhouse Eatery
- Meraki Cafe
- Kairoa Brewery
The most bustling area of San Diego will have to be the Historic Gaslamp Quarter. Located in the heart of San Diego, the Gaslamp Quarter is home to several different restaurants, bars, and clubs.
Several parking lots offer all-day parking, so you don’t have to worry about circling the streets until something opens up. On the weekends, Market and Fifth Avenue are closed to traffic so that pedestrians can stroll freely.
There are also many festivities planned throughout the year in the Gaslamp Quarter. From Mardi Gras to a Gaelic Carnival called ShamROCK, be sure to check for special events depending on what time of year you plan to visit.
- Ghiradelli Ice Cream
- La Puerta
Ocean Beach is a classic California beach city with the most relaxed vibes and people. If you want to experience an authentic surfer town, you will get that in Ocean Beach.
Newport Avenue is a famous street in Ocean Beach with a prominent nightlife. There are plenty of rooftop bars and breweries to choose from.
If you are looking for a place to swim and sunbathe, Voltaire Street Beach will be your best option. At the north end of the beach is the Ocean Beach dog beach making this beach one of our favorite spots!
Point Loma has so much to offer and is often looked over by vacationers. While there are no actual beaches in Point Loma, the cliffs make it a great place to look out onto the Pacific Ocean and watch the sunset.
The Cabrillo National Monument is located in Point Loma, where voyager Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo landed on the West Coast of the future United States in 1542!
Check out the Point Loma Lighthouse and historic bunkers while you’re out there. Point Loma is full of rich San Diego history.
Top Attractions in Point Loma
- Liberty Station
- Tide Pools
- Sunset Cliffs
- Point Loma Lighthouse
Get a feel for San Diego’s rich history by exploring Old Town. Also known as the birthplace of California, Old Town was first settled in 1769.
Old Town is home to several museums and even the haunted Whaley House. They do ghost tours at night and have plenty of kid-friendly daytime activities. Stop for a margarita in Coyote Cafe, and enjoy live music at Fiesta de Reyes.
Top Attractions in Old Town
- Cosmopolitan Hotel
- Whaley House
- Heritage County Park
Pacific beach is a lively place to explore in San Diego. With a beautiful boardwalk fit for riding beach cruisers or roller skating, Pacific Beach is a great place to go if you want to have some fun outdoors.
The actual beach is spacious, so you won’t have to worry about arriving too early to find a spot. There are plenty of bars and restaurants to check out, so the food options are almost endless.
Pacific Beach is a large college town that attracts a rather large crowd, so do be wary when bringing kids down there at night.
Torrey Pines State Reserve is a must-see if you’ve never been before. Take a hike up on the cliff sides before meandering down to the beach to find a spot for sunbathing.
One unique thing about the Torrey Pines sand is that it is riddled with tiny mica flecks. You’ll catch a glimpse of these gorgeous gold flecks sparkling in the water in the sunlight.
There are many parking spots right along the beach off Highway 1 and two additional parking lots at the north and south ends of the beach. The street parking is free, but the lot parking will cost you upwards of $10 for the day.
Torrey Pines Gliderport
You don’t have to go paragliding or hang gliding, but the Gliderport is a fun spot to watch the various gliding activities! Grab a sandwich and make it a picnic out at the picnic tables while you watch people take to the skies.
The Torrey Pines Gliderport overlooks Black’s Beach. This is California’s most famous nude beach! If you like to let it all hang out and aren’t particularly shy, then Black’s Beach might be something you’ll want to add to your list. Just be aware that if you plan on taking your family to Black’s beach, you know what type of beach it is!
Speckle’s Organ Pavillion
Did you know San Diego is home to the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ? Well, now that you have some trivia for your next family gathering, don’t be afraid to mosey on down to the Speckle’s Organ Pavillion. Not many tourists know about this one!
Enjoy a free concert every Sunday of the year starting at 2PM. They play pieces ranging from classical to contemporary. During the summer months, there are concerts every Monday night beginning at 7:30PM. These concerts are generally less crowded and much cooler to sit through during the evening.
Hike up to the top of Mt. Soledad via the Soledad Mountain Trail. It is a 0.8-mile loop with relatively moderate terrain and elevation gain. You will have spectacular views from the top that look out over beautiful La Jolla.
If hiking is not your thing, you can also access the giant cross at the top of the mountain by driving up.
La Jolla Cove
It’s no secret that La Jolla has some of the most beautiful beaches in the state of California. It is one of the destinations that should be on top of your list!
From La Jolla Cove, you will have access to snorkeling, kayaking, and sunbathing. This is also a great beach to see the seals, especially in the winter during pupping season. The cove is relatively small, so if you plan to do some sunbathing here in the summer, be sure to go early to grab a spot.
Another beautiful part of La Jolla is Sunset Cliffs. If you’re looking for one of the best spots to watch the sunset, this will be the place to be. Watch the sunset from the sidewalk on top of the cliff, or take the stairs down to the beach with a blanket and picnic basket in hand.
Hotel Del Coronado
Coronado is a must-see when visiting San Diego for the very first time. The island is beautiful and quiet, a nice contrast to the bustling downtown.
The Hotel Del has been open since 1888! A popular destination for celebrities past and present, you will quickly see why the hotel is a desirable vacation spot. The beach is rather broad, so there is plenty of room. The Hotel Del also has several restaurants, beachside bars, and firepits to use.
Barrio Logan is one of the more underrated spots in San Diego. This neighborhood is the center of Mexican American culture in San Diego, with lots of colorful murals to view and cuisine to try.
Barrio Logan also has several of San Diego’s many craft microbreweries, Mexican, Asian, and Italian cuisine, and more.
When making a trip to Barrio Logan, Chicano Park is a must-see. Chicano Park was developed after many Mexican-American homes were demolished for the Coronado Bridge. After the loss of around 5,000 homes, the city promised the community residents a park. It took rallying together and protesting to convince the city to follow through on its promise and build the park the community deserved.
Today, you can visit the 8-acre park and view the murals depicting the protest scenes and other struggles and conflicts the Chicano community faced.
There are several weekend farmers’ markets throughout San Diego County. If home-grown organic produce and homemade soaps, candles, and recipes are something you fancy, then a farmers market tour will satisfy that need!
Where to Visit:
- Little Italy – Saturday 8AM-2PM
- Hillcrest – Sunday 9AM-2PM
- Horton Square – Friday 11AM-3PM
PCH Scenic Drive
The best way to see San Diego from North to South is to take a scenic drive down PCH. Pacific Coast Highway is famous for its beachside views! You can take PCH and Highway 101 from Oceanside to La Jolla. Some of the places you’ll pass through on the way include Carlsbad, Encinitas, Solana Beach, and Del Mar.
If you’re looking to escape to a small mountain town with some of the best pie around, make a trip up to Julian. Julian is only a little over an hour away from Downtown San Diego making it great for a small day trip.
For a longer trip, try renting a cabin in Julian or go during the winter to escape to the snow after a big storm. Julian also has plenty of wineries and even a small zoo. This little mountain town is also a gorgeous place to go hiking and camping in the spring or summer.
Solana Beach Design District
Solana Beach is one of the wealthier areas of San Diego. Take a walk down Cedros Avenue to view the various interior design stores and art galleries. There are several consignment shops along this street, so there is something for everyone to look at.
Don’t forget to mosey on down to the beach to check out the gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean.
Things To Do In San Diego That Cost Money
The Padres have certainly picked up their game this past couple of years! If baseball is something that interests you go downtown and grab some wings and beer at Bub’s before heading to the ballpark.
Petco Park is one of the more beautiful baseball stadiums in the United States. You can get anything from a domestic beer and a hotdog to a craft cocktail and some of the best food in San Diego.
Petco Park also hosts other events, such as Monster Jam, Concerts, and yoga!
Del Mar RaceTrack
General Admission to watch and bet on horse races is $6 a ticket. If horse racing is something you’ve never seen, but want to do, then the race track offers the perfect opportunity. Before the races, they will bring the horses out for everyone to get a close-up view of the beautiful beasts.
Then, head to the betting box to place your bets on horses! It sure is thrilling when you think you almost won!
Duffy Boat Ride
Grab a group of friends and book yourselves a Duffy boat! Bring snacks and drinks as you putt around Mission Bay. The Duffy boat is entirely self-driven, so you can take it wherever you please around the bay.
Grab an up-close view of Seaworld from the water, and spot many seals lounging on the buoys tied down throughout the bay. You can bring a group of up to 10 people. Don’t forget to bring a Bluetooth speaker, although some boots have a plug-in for your phone.
Take a whale-watching tour from San Diego, and be sure to spot pods of dolphins! Depending on what types of wildlife decide to present themselves for your tour, you may be lucky. You will almost always get to see a pod of dolphins. If you’re lucky that day, you will definitely see some whales!
You should check depending on what season you will be in town. Depending on the time of the year, different whales will be expected to be in the area depending on their migration schedule.
Humpback Whales: all year
Blue Whales: summer months (May-Aug)
Humpback Whales: (Dec-Mar)
Kayaking from La Jolla is a great physical activity that immerses you more in the ocean and nature. If you go kayaking from La Jolla, you will paddle around the rocky, cave-riddle cliffsides where the seals enjoy hanging out.
If you plan on coming to San Diego in the summer, then kayaking through La Jolla is a fantastic way to spend your time and one of our top recommendations. You will be taken on a guided tour, so there’s no need to worry about self-navigation, which can seem daunting if the Pacific Ocean is unfamiliar to you.
Mission Bay is a beautiful place with calm waters for paddle boarding. Because the bay is so huge, you will have plenty of options to decide where to paddle to. Hop on Groupon to find the best deals of the day.
Most paddleboard and kayak rentals are first-come, first-serve, so don’t wait too late to make a move, especially if it’s on the weekend. Get there early to reserve a paddleboard or kayak.
La Jolla Cave Store
The cave store offers tours to a secret cave tunnel carved into La Jolla’s cliffs, which bootleggers used back in the day. At least, that’s what the folklore says! The cave store also offers snorkeling and kayaking tours of the other caves in La Jolla. This is an excellent activity for the avid explorer.
San Diego may not seem like wine country, but it is. Temecula is a day trip away to see some of the sprawling wineries and try California’s finest wines. Grab a hotel or Air BnB up there to make it a fun weekend getaway.
You will get to go to various wineries and try all sorts of wines and cheeses that go with them.
- Callaway Vinyard and Winery
- Vindemia Vinyard and Winery
- Europa Village and Wineries Resort
Craft Beer Tours
San Diego is the Mecca when it comes to craft beer. The craft beer industry has exploded since its introduction in the 1960s. Trying different microbreweries around San Diego is a fantastic way to support small and locally-owned businesses.
You can take yourself on a self-guided tour or pay to have a guide and sit back and relax.
Breweries to visit:
- Modern Times
- Ballast Point
- Thron Street
- Fall Brewing
- Pure Project
- Pizza Port
If you seek thrills and aren’t too afraid to jump out of an airplane, skydiving in San Diego is a must! Go Jump Oceanside offers a skydiving experience unlike any other in San Diego. You get spectacular ocean views on the long ride down.
Skydive San Diego is another notable skydive business with a solo certificate program if that’s something that interests you.
Sit back and relax on a guided harbor cruise. Sometimes it’s nice to let someone else take over while you sit in the passenger seat and let the wind flow through your hair. Flagship SD is the company to go to if this is the experience you are looking for. They have several different types of boat rides, including a “Spirits at Sunset” cruise.
Are you bringing your family with kids to San Diego? San Diego is a great family-friendly vacation destination and a top destination for many. Here are some of the several opportunities for families that are available in San Diego
Lego Land is located in Carlsbad and is a perfect place to take young children. They have a hotel and aquarium for convenience and more to see. Theme parks are almost always a fan favorite! The tame rides here are perfect for families with young children.
Lego Land has several rides, play areas, and attractions, making it perfect for taking your kids to have a fun time.
SeaWorld is another family-friendly attraction in San Diego, with aquariums, rides, and restaurants. It is a great educational trip for kids to learn about ocean wildlife.
While SeaWorld has been in the news about its controversy regarding wildlife, legislation has prevented them from taking on new large ocean animals. SeaWorld works on animal rehabilitation with its income from tickets so you can go guilt-free.
Belmont Park is a beachfront amusement park in San Diego. No entry fee is required to go inside and see the attractions it offers. From its famous wooden Giant Dipper coaster to carnival games and mini-golf, there is plenty to do with children inside Belmont Park.
Since Belmont Park is beachfront, don’t miss out on the opportunity to take a walk down the boardwalk. You could also rent bikes to cruise up and down the coast.
San Diego Zoo
San Diego Zoo is one of the top-rated zoos in the nation. With around 650 species of animals, the zoo is enormous and will take you almost a full day to see the entire thing. Ticket proceeds go towards rehabilitating wild animals. The good news is parking for the zoo is free and plentiful!
There are tons to see and enjoy, from giant pandas to polar bears and flamingos. When you’re tired of walking, take a ride on the Skyfari ariel tram to see the whole place from above.
The Safari Park is tied to the San Diego zoo and allows the wild animals tons of room to roam. This park is an excellent place to see exotic animals up close that you wouldn’t usually have the chance to see.
The Safari Park is a little pricier than the zoo but offers a unique experience. The zoo website does offer multiple park tickets for a bundled price, so that may be the best bang for your buck.
Located down on the Embarcadero is the USS Midway. This giant WWII vessel is full of history and learning experiences. On the flight deck, you have the chance to explore tons of historical aircraft.
Veteran volunteers are posted throughout various parts of the ship willing to answer questions and enlighten you on their experience in the military. The USS Midway is one of my favorite destinations in San Diego.
Does your family have a fascination with ships and boats? The Maritime Museum is a fantastic educational place to explore with the family. The Maritime Museum has several ships and even a submarine to explore.
They also have the famous Star of India, the world’s oldest active merchant ship. If that isn’t impressive, then I don’t know what is!
Now, it’s no Monteray Aquarium, but the Birch Aquarium located in San Diego is impressive, with over 5,000 species of fish. Tickets are reasonably priced, and the aquarium offers several educational opportunities. If you find yourself around La Jolla Cove, the aquarium is a place to stop by.
If the ocean is a new experience for you and your family, you would most definitely benefit from taking a surf class! Get in touch with how local Californians spend their time by learning your way around the surfboard.
If you don’t want to take a whole class, plenty of shops rent out surfboards and bodyboards so you can try them on your own.
Carlsbad Flower Fields
The flower fields in Carlsbad are huge gorgeous fields filled to the brim with Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flowers. This is a relaxing activity to take the family to. There is usually a live band and some snack items available for purchase.
Mosey down through the rows of flowers for some perfect family photo opportunities. The flower fields are open from March-May, making this destination great for spring break.
Sesame Place is relatively new, having opened in April 2022. With regular rides and a water park, this is a great place to bring young kids.
Things to do at Night
Sand Diego has a pretty poppin’ nightlife. If you’re traveling with friends or your partner, or if you can drop the kids off somewhere for the night, here are a few suggestions for you!
American Comedy Co
One of the best things you can do to experience the nightlife in San Diego is to hit up the American Comedy Co located near Gaslamp. Plenty of famous comedians have catered to the patrons at American Comedy Co, including Bobby Lee, Doug Benson, and Whitney Cummings, just to name a few.
The Balboa Theater is located in Gaslamp District in Downtown San Diego. At the Balboa Theater, you can see plays, ballets, comedy acts, and more. Check the calendar for the time you plan on going to see if there’s anything that interests you!
San Diego Civic Theater
The San Diego Civic Theater is interconnected with the Balboa Theater mentioned above. They typically showcase traveling broadway shows such as The Lion King and Hamilton! If you’re a theater enthusiast, it’s definitely worth checking out what shows will be playing at the time of your visit.
San Diego Dinner Cruise
Book a San Diego Dinner Cruise with Flagship SD. This is the best way to see the sunset on the water. Have some drinks and delicious food as you cruise around San Diego Bay. This one is definitely for couples or friends who appreciate a good time.
Old Town at Night
Yes, this is the second time Old Town makes it on this list! We just had to mention it again because it’s a great spot for night activities. Old Town is known for its spooky Ghost Tours, which you should definitely check out if you like paranormal things.
If paranormal doesn’t pique your interest, then try visiting Casa De Reyas, tucked in a back corner. They typically have a live band during busy hours. This makes it a wonderful place to grab a margarita and some dinner.
Seasonal Things to do in San Diego
The San Diego Gulls are a minor hockey team located at Pechanga Stadium in Point Loma, San Diego. The hockey season usually runs from October to April, so if you’re ever in town during that time, it’s worth making a visit.
Ticker prices are generally very low, with the average ticket price being under $20, making this an easy and affordable activity. Don’t miss out on $2 beer on Friday night home games! It’s definitely a steal!
Del Mar Fair
The fair is open every summer, usually from early June to early July. Only one month to plan a visit! At the fair, you will enjoy lots of carnival rides and good fried food.
That’s not all the fairgrounds do, however. Check the calendar to see what other events they have during different parts of the year. From pumpkin patches to haunted houses, there’s almost always an event happening at the fairgrounds.
From March to April, you can expect to see California’s state flower, the poppy, on full display. There are several places around Southern California you can go to see these Golden State goodies.
- Anza-Borrego State Park
- Walker Canyon, Lake Elsinore
- Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
- Joshua Tree National Park
Please remember to be environmentally conscious when you decide to visit the super bloom. Stay on designated trails, and observe with your eyes only. Remember to leave the lands in better condition than when you first arrived!
Well, folks, that pretty much sums up our list of best things to do in San Diego. With that, we have hardly scratched the surface. There is so much to see in do in the beautiful city of San Diego that you won’t even have enough time to enjoy everything!