San Diego is one of the most visited tourist destinations in America, and for good reason, it’s an oceanfront city with near perfect year round weather.
The city sits on the Pacific Ocean in Southern California.
With its warm, year round climate, 50 miles of sun soaked coastline and world famous attractions, San Diego is a top tourist destination.
Known for its dramatic San Diego skyline, beautiful beaches and exciting San Diego nightlife, visiting San Diego is a must.
Here are my best things to do in San Diego Southern California
Things To Do In San Diego
1. Famous San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo is located just north of downtown San Diego in the north-west corner of Balboa Park.
The 100-acre establishment is a celebrated attraction in San Diego county and houses one of the largest collections of rare and endangered animals in the world.
This famous San Diego zoo is just as dedicated to environmental research and conservation, as it is to showing off its animals, which makes it one of San Diego’s most important sites.
It’s recommended to spend a minimum of 3 hours exploring San Diego Zoo but with so much to see it makes a great day trip.
There is also the San Diego Zoo app that can help you plan your visit. You can discover dining options, activity schedules, add your must-see wildlife and much more with the GPS-enabled map.
Address: 2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101
2. Balboa Park
Balboa park has many other recreational attractions apart from San Diego zoo.
At a whopping 1,200 acres, stepping into the wondrous Balboa Park feels like escaping into paradise.
Named after the 15th century explorer, Vasco Nunez de Balboa, the park is the pride of San Diego County and a National Historic Landmark.
There are more than 16 museums, many performing arts venues and beautiful gardens and trails to enjoy.
It also has a Botanical House that contains 2,100 individual plants and is fronted by a pond with annual displays of lilies and lotuses.
Located in downtown San Diego, about 2 miles north of the city centre, Balboa Park is a great place for a stroll, bike ride or picnic.
To start your visit and to help you explore Balboa Park, it’s a good idea to stop at the Visitor’s Centre and grab a map and events calendar.
Balboa park is open every day of the year and admission to the general grounds is free, but several individual attractions charge fees.
Getting around the massive park is easy thanks to the free tram that provides access to Balboa Park museums and attractions and runs daily from 9am to 6pm.
Address: Balboa Park, 1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101
3. La Jolla Cove
This compact San Diego cove in La Jolla is one of the most photographed pieces of the San Diego coastline and with good reason as the scenery is breath-taking.
The Cove is protected as part of a marine reserve and underwater it is rich in marine life, making it popular with snorkellers, swimmers and scuba divers.
Being a natural park along the California coast, La Jolla Cove has lots of wildlife from the seals and sea lions sunning themselves on the beach and rocks, to the beautiful fish in the water.
The La Jolla cove is ideal for swimmers and the water visibility at the Cove can sometimes exceed 30 feet.
From its breath-taking sunsets and majestic sea lions, to seaside restaurants and kids activities, this beautiful setting offers a slice of the laid back La Jolla lifestyle for all to enjoy.
Address: La Jolla Cove, 1100 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, CA 92037
4. The USS Midway Museum
Located near the downtown San Diego waterfront, the USS Midway Museum pays tribute to the 200,000 sailors who served their country aboard the ship and gives visitors a look into San Diego’s history.
Commissioned in 1945, the USS Midway served in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm, before becoming the largest maritime museum dedicated to aircraft carriers and naval aviation.
At 300 meters long, the USS Midway is an enormous ship that is filled with fascinating stories and hands-on exhibits.
Admission includes a self-guided audio tour that brings Midway’s history to life and gives an insight to what it was like to live onboard a floating city at sea.
It is recommended that you bring your own wired earbuds or headphones to enjoy the Audio Tour during your visit.
The USS Midway Museum is one of the most interesting attractions in San Diego and visitors should leave at least 3 hours to explore this exciting San Diego Museum.
When visiting this San Diego attraction, tickets can be bought online in advance.
The museum does not have a dedicated parking lot but there is a parking area located on Navy Pier adjacent to the USS Midway Museum.
Address: USS Midway Museum, 910 N. Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101
5. The Gaslamp Quarter
The Gaslamp Quarter is a historic district located in downtown San Diego and includes 94 historic buildings, most of which were constructed in the Victorian era.
It is considered to be the historic centre of San Diego and is composed of 16 city blocks.
A good starting point for exploring the Gaslamp Quarter is at the arched entryway sign, on the corner of L Street and 5th Avenue.
The Gaslamp Quarter is also considered to be the heart of San Diego nightlife with more than 100 of the city’s finest restaurants, pubs, nightclubs, and shops.
A great place to visit for San Diego’s rich cultural offerings that includes beautiful architecture, theatres, art galleries, symphony halls, concert venues, live music and museums.
Address: The Gaslamp Quarter, Broadway to Harbor Drive 4th Ave to 6th Ave San Diego, CA 92101
6. Seaworld San Diego
Seaworld San Diego is an animal park, amusement park, oceanarium, outside aquarium and marine mammal park, in San Diego, California.
Located just off San Diego’s Mission Bay, it is spread across 190 acres in beautiful Mission Bay Park.
This brilliant attraction is known for its amazing animals, interactive exhibits, aquariums, rides and beautiful landscaping. It also runs education programs for all ages where visitors can watch presentations with the animals and learn about marine conservation.
This family friendly attraction also has thrilling rollercoasters, flumes, sky-high gondolas and more, with loads of rides for kids and adults, it makes a great day out for all the family.
This really is a must when you visit San Diego.
Address: 500 SeaWorld Dr, San Diego, CA 92109
7. Mission Bay Park
Mission Bay Park is one of the largest aquatic parks of its kind in the country and encompasses over 4,200 acres.
Mission Bay boasts 27 miles of shoreline, 19 of which are sandy beaches with eight locations designated as official swimming areas.
This popular outdoor destination is a complex of waterfront parks, public beaches and grassy, palm-lined hiking trails strung along the shoreline.
The east side of Mission Bay is where people go to enjoy jet boats and jet skis, and the western, seaward side attracts sailboats and sailboarders.
Public restrooms and showers are available and lifeguard stations are located in designated areas.
When you’re looking to explore San Diego, Mission Bay Park has great facilities including marinas, picnic areas, children’s play areas and paths for biking, roller-skating and jogging, making it one of San Diego’s most fun-filled spots to visit.
8. Old Town San Diego
The Old Town San Diego region is nestled in the heart of San Diego and contains 230 acres.
Created in 1769, Old Town San Diego was the first settlement in California history that had a mission and a fort.
This famous area is situated next to the State Park and has 32 historic sites, many shops, plenty of restaurants, and lots more.
A good San Diego itinerary would be to visit the Old Town Market first. This is a historical market, selling traditional gifts and all sorts of cultural items, in the heart of Old Town.
Then a ride on the Old Town San Diego Trolley or take a ‘hop on, hop off’ Old Town San Diego Trolley Tour that has 12 different stops so you can discover the area at your own pace.
9. Torrey Pines State Reserve
Torrey Pines State Reserve is 2,000 acres of coastal state park located on the cliffs above Torrey Pines State Beach in the community of La Jolla, in San Diego.
The reserve is dedicated to preserving the Torrey Pines tree and other indigenous wildlife in their native environment.
A coastal wilderness of pine forests, sandstone canyons and fresh San Diego air, the park has a series of well-kept hiking trails that wind along the cliffs offering breath-taking views of San Diego beaches and the Pacific Ocean.
There are easy, family-friendly paths and also more advanced trails for the adventurous. We think Torrey Pines provides a great walking and hiking experience for all levels.
10. Cabrillo National Monument Point Loma
The southernmost tip of Point Loma is where you’ll find the Cabrillo National Monument.
The statue depicts Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who, was the first European explorer to navigate the Californian coast.
Situated about 10 miles south-west of downtown San Diego visitors can enjoy magnificent views of the Pacific as well as seeing the Point Loma naval base.
It is also the access point to some of San Diego’s most impressive tide pools.
While you’re in the area, the Old Point Loma Lighthouse is another must-see. The lighthouse was built in 1855 and remains the highest point in San Diego.
The National Park Service has restored the inside of the original Point Loma Lighthouse to its 1880s appearance. There is an admission fee to visit but the park is open most days of the year.
Address: 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr, San Diego, CA 92106
11. San Diego Museum of Art
The San Diego Museum of Art was built in 1926 to fit in with Balboa Park buildings from the 1915-16 Exposition.
One of California’s best art galleries, it houses some of the worlds finest art in America’s Finest City.
The San Diego Museum of Art’s European Gallery is home to works from such artists as Goya, Rubens and Zurbarán and the beautiful façade at the entrance of the museum has detailed full-body sculptures of artists Velázquez, Murillo, and Zurbarán.
Open for visitors throughout the week except Wednesdays when it is closed all day.
There are lots of parking options available throughout Balboa park. The closest parking lot is located South and West of the Museum and just a short walk away.
Address: San Diego Museum of Art, 1450 El Prado Balboa Park, San Diego, CA 92102
12. San Diego Harbor
A list of things to do in San Diego is not complete until you visit San Diego Harbor.
The San Diego harbor is home to 14 acres of waterfront shopping, dining and live music entertainment. With plenty of bars and lounges in the area that offers happy hours and late-night cocktails.
A walk along the waterfront of the Embarcadero allows you to enjoy the sights of San Diego Bay. Highlights include the USS Midway, the Maritime Museum of San Diego that has 11 heritage boats and submarines, the World War II statue Unconditional Surrender, and Seaport Village.
San Diego bay is a natural harbor and home to loads of activities. If you want to get out on the water, take a San Diego Trip Harbor Cruise, this is a 2-hour ride that will take you the length of San Diego Bay and you can admire the San Diego skyline from the water.
There are also various dinner cruises, and whale, sea lions and dolphin watching tours. You could also rent a boat and tour San Diego Bay yourself then cruise up the shoreline until you reach Coronado Island.
Coronado Island has the beautiful Coronado beach with it’s iconic white-sand, it is a local gem that literally sparkles.
How many days do you need in San Diego?
Our recommendation is to plan a minimum of 3 days in San Diego.
This allows you to see the city centre and visit a few attractions in San Diego as well as enjoy the beautiful coastline. However, if you have more time, you can easily fill 5-7 days in San Diego and you’ll find plenty to do.
What are the best beaches in San Diego?
San Diego has a lot of beaches along this California coast.
To name a few: Mission beach features a seaside amusement park, bustling boardwalk, and wide sandy beach; Del Mar City beach, this two-mile beach is divided by a pair of beach parks and has picnic areas and play structures; La Jolla shores is a popular, all-day beach destination for families; Pacific beach has a wide sandy shore and a 3.5-mile waterfront promenade and Solana beach has excellent recreational opportunities for surfing, swimming, body-boarding and snorkelling.
Does San Diego have a professional baseball team?
The San Diego Padres are an American professional baseball team based in San Diego.
The San Diego Padres compete in Major League Baseball as a member club of the National League West division. Their stadium is Petco Park located in Downtown San Diego.
What are the nicest parks in San Diego for fun, relaxation and views?
Good weather equals plenty of park time in San Diego. Balboa Park, as mentioned before, is one of the best parks, it has numerous attractions within it including the Japanese friendship garden which is a twelve-acre Japanese garden.
Other parks include Belmont Park, a Premier Beachfront Amusement Park, and Presidio Park, situated on a hill overlooking Old Town San Diego, this park features 40 acres of green open space, picnic areas and spectacular views of the surrounding landscape, including the San Diego River Valley.