A Guide to the 5 Best Neighborhoods to Visit in San Diego

San Diego is home to vibrant neighborhoods, from Little Italy, Downtown San Diego, Point Loma, North Park, Old Town, Carmel Valley, Scripps Ranch, Torrey Hills, Cortez Hill and more!

If you haven’t made a trip to visit San Diego,  you’re missing out on one of the best places to visit in the country! Enjoy 70 coastal miles of quaint and quirky beach towns as well as an average annual high of 75 degrees. In addition to catching some rays and waves, San Diego neighborhoods are ripe with opportunities to explore the rich culture and tourist attractions that make up America’s Finest City! To help plan your trip, we’ve rounded up some of the best places to see in San Diego.

#1 LITTLE ITALY

San Diego, Little Italy

Once home to generations of Italian families who made their living through the thriving tuna fishing industry,  Little Italy is now the go-to spot to take advantage of dining al fresco at old-school trattorias, modern Italian restaurants, urban wineries, art galleries, and the iconic Piazza della Famiglia European-style piazza in the heart of Little Italy. It’s one of the best neighborhood to experience authentic Italian fare.

With so many culinary hotspots to explore, take advantage of the full Little Italy experience by joining us for a walking tour full of food, fun, and Italian flare or our Little Italy Vino! Vino! Walking Tour!

A few of our recs:

  • Little Italy Farmer’s Market: Enjoy local produce and peruse the gourmet creations and handiwork of California artisans every Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and every Wednesday from 9:30am to 1:30pm, year-round, rain or shine. 
  • Wine and Beer Tasting: not much tops wine and beer tasting … except doing so surrounded by the chic Little Italy! Here are a few of our faves for each!
  • Vino Carta: A small, family-owned wine retailer and tasting room that sources their wines globally from small, sustainable wineries. If you’re a red (girl/guy/person), definitely take the time to sip on the Pettinella 2018 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Italy. Is your motto, “Yes way, rose?” If so, try out the Domaine de Fenouillet 2021 Rosé from Ventoux, France!
  • Pali Wine: Enjoy fine wine and a good time! At Pali, you have a wide selection to choose from and you can take your glasses to the rooftop and challenge your friends to some Yahtzee, or get a little wild playing Cards Against Humanity!
  • Ballast Point: If you like a crisp and bright beer, a malty taste, or hops and more hops, Ballast Point has you covered with tastings or pick a fave and drink a keg! Like your beer a little fruity? Try their smooth Aloha Scuplpin IPA — complete with Brux Trois yeast, refreshing notes of mango, pineapple and guava.
  • Mikkeller San Diego: Try up to 18 different drafts at this Euro-Cali fusion tasting room. Claim the throne by sipping on the Iron Throne Wit and enjoy a modern take on a classic wheat beer … all the way from Copenhagen! 
  • Craft cocktails at San Diego’s iconic Craft & Commerce: “Ooh La La!” No really, that’s the name of just one of the amazing craft drinks here! Sip on a drink that comes on strong complete with gin, white port, ambrato vermouth, zirbenz stone pine liqueur! You can’t go wrong with any drink here!
  • Classic and modern Italian food: No need to book a flight, you’ve got the taste of Italy in the heart of Downtown San Diego. Here are a few must-try places!
    • Sorrento: Enjoy rustic Italian flavors in a farm-to-table experience with sweeping views and cafe-lined piazza. One of the must-try items on the menu is the Tono In Agrodolce (Ahi tuna filet, sesame seed crust, caramelized onions, cherry tomatoes, balsamic vinegar reduction.)
    • Barbusa: Enjoy a modern take on Sicilian cuisine! They’re known for their Sicilian meatballs, Caraccio, made with short ribs, shallots, caciocavallo, lemon and microgreen; and Piselli Carbonara, with handmade fettuccini, sweet peas, caramelized onions, pancetta, and farm fresh egg yolk. If you’re a pizza lover, they’ve got you covered with handcrafted pizza! 
    • Bencotto: One of our favorite local spots! Bencotta makes over 1,000 lbs of hand rolled pasta each week along with light house-made sauces (the Pink Pancetta Sauce is our favorite).  They even serve a not-to-be-missed tableside “Cheesewheel Pasta” where you get to choose your pasta type that is tossed in a giant 60 lb cheesewheel right at your table – mouthwateringly good!

#2 HISTORIC GASLAMP DISTRICT

San Diego, historic Gaslamp district

The historic Gaslamp Quarter is known for its nightlife, but many don’t realize that it has a very colorful past as one of the most prominent red-light districts in the West. Now, the Gaslamp is 16.5 walkable blocks boasting 100 historical Victorian era landmarks converted to hotels, bars, restaurants, clubs, museums, shops and more. The collision of old and new and a bit of a scandalous past is what gives this part of town its charm and makes it truly one of the best places to see in San Diego. 

Explore the Gaslamp Quarter’s history and satisfy your inner foodie with a walking history tour of San Diego’s thriving “New Town” on our Brothels, Bites and Booze tour! 

If you want a night in the Gaslamp to celebrate — whether it be a birthday bash, bachelor or bachelorette party, corporate event, or you’re just someone with a ton of friends, we also offer private group tours for 10+ people for the Gaslamp and beyond!

A few of our recs:

  • Rooftop lounges: Enjoy a San Diego sunset or scope out the city lights from one of Gaslamp’s many rooftop lounges. Some of the best ones include The Nolen, Altitude, and Rustic Root!
  • Live music: There are many opportunities to hear live music at Gaslamp! A few places we recommend checking out are Patrick’s, Cafe Sevilla and Whiskey Girl!
  • Dinner is served! Here are a few of our favorite Gaslamp eateries!
    • Meze Greek Fusion: A taste of Greece in the Gaslamp! Enjoy Greek fusion food and tasty Greek wines!
    • Madam Bonnie’s: Located in the historical Hotel Lester, Madam Bonnies specializes in rotisserie-style dishes, wines, beers and libations!
  • It’s Brunch Time! The Gaslamp has many brunch spots that are not only delicious, but also great for the ‘Gram! After all, the phone eats first!
    • Lazy Hippo: this spot is open every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 9 a.m. for brunch! Whether you’re in the mood for a stack of pancakes or a Bloody Mary, Lazy Hippo has you covered!
    • Cafe 21: Come grab a bite here while you can! Brunch is every morning, first come first serve … and they do sell out! You can’t go wrong with the Lamb Kufta Omelette or the Tiramisu Pancakes!
    • Brian’s 24: To say this place is Instagram worthy is an understatement. To say their breakfast is delicious is also an understatement! As you look around at the chic pink spot, feast on the Traditional Souffle Pancakes, the Black Beauty Waffle, a Salmon Omelet or Vegan Matcha Pancakes to name a few!

#3 OLD TOWN

San Diego, Old Town

Out with “New Town” … and in with “Old Town”! When you visit Old Town San Diego — also known as the Birthplace of California, you are transported back in time to where some of the early Spanish missionaries called home. 

The many preserved historic buildings and museums of Old Town San Diego State Historic Park pay homage to the early days of San Diego. Walk by old adobe ranch homes including the iconic Casa de Estudillo, a schoolhouse, graveyard, and one of only two officially designated haunted houses in California — the Whaley House.  You can also explore Junípero Serra Museum in Presidio Park, which is one of the most familiar landmarks in San Diego, recognized as the site where California began. 

Old Town is known for its authentic Mexican cuisine, tequila and margaritas, and live mariachi music that can be heard throughout the bustling streets. All of these things combined make it one of the best places to see in San Diego.  Want to taste the flavors of California’s first town? Join our signature tour for a night of authentic food tastings, traditional cocktail samplings, and fun!

A few of our recs:

  • Come for the Cinco de Mayo Party: Coming to SD on May 5? Check out this en fuego event with entertainment for the whole family- live music, traditional dance performances, local food vendors, festive drink specials and authentic artwork crafted by talented local artisans.
  • Check out a show at the Cygnet Theater: Cygnet Theater has been performing high-caliber shows at the 246-seat Old Town Theatre in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park since 2008! Check out their page to grab tickets!
  • Hungry? Here’s a few of the best spots to grab a bite in Old Town!
      • Cafe Coyote: A mainstay restaurant in Old Town, enjoy traditional Mexican dishes, delicious margaritas, and fresh tortillas with your meal the traditional way — a mano (by hand).
      • Casa De Fred’s: Fred’s is known as a “funky and festive” Mexican-American fusion restaurant. Enjoy traditional flavors mixed with northern flare and a vibrant atmosphere.
      • Old Tequila Factory: A charming hillside retreat overlooking historic Old Town San Diego. Enjoy delicious margaritas and authentic Mexican food, giant margaritas, music and a view of Old Town to Mission Bay!
  • Cheer for the San Diego Padres: Petco Park is 4 miles away from the Old Town. So why not grab a hotdog and some brewskies? From there, it’s just a few minutes to Balboa Park.

#4 LA JOLLA

San Diego, La Jolla

A trip to San Diego would be incomplete without a visit to La Jolla, which many tout as one of the best places to see in San Diego. The first stop for visitors who love marine life is La Jolla Cove. Enjoy a waterfront walk with views of rocky cliffs where you can see sea lions, seals, a variety of fish and tourists from all over the world. It is an iconic stop on your San Diego trip to take in the unique scenery, blue waters, and wildlife. 

Traverse Pacific Beach in the south, the Pacific Ocean shoreline up north to Torrey Pines, and finally, in Del Mar

At La Jolla Shores, you can spend a beach day with friends or family and stroll to one of the many local shops to grab a bite to eat or an ice cream cone. There are a wide variety of businesses that do kayak rentals or tours, surf lessons and so much more! 

In addition to the beaches, here are a few other gems to check out:

  • Amazing art galleries: Just a stone’s throw from the beach, La Jolla has a wide variety of art galleries to visit on your trip to San Diego! A few must-sees are the stunning photos taken by the renowned Peter Lik at Lik Fine Art La Jolla, Legends Gallery of La Jolla (which pays homage to Dr. Seuss), and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego to explore San Diego through the prism of modern art.
  • A meal with a view: La Jolla is teeming with restaurants with stunning views! 
    • Brockton Villa: This restaurant began its journey in 1894 as one of the first cottages built along the hillside of La Jolla Cove and was converted to a restaurant in 1994. They are known for their world-famous Coast Toast (French toast prepared like a souffle!).
    • George’s at the Cove: This critically acclaimed restaurant has a million dollar view on their Ocean Terrace. Dine on some California classics and sip cocktails overlooking the Pacific. 
    • The Mediterranean Room: Soak up the ocean view and Mediterranean vibes within La Valencia Hotel at The Mediterranean Room! They have an all-new menu inspired by the Cali coast and seasonally-driven, locally-sourced ingredients. Brunch is every Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.!
  • 360 Degree Views at Mount Soledad: For many decades, people have traveled from all over to take in not only panoramic views of all of San Diego from Mount Soledad’s lookout, but you can also take in the stories of men and women who have fought for our country at Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial. 

#5 Mission Bay and Mission Valley (MISSION BAY AND MISSION VALLEY)

San Diego, Mission Bay

Mission Bay is a laid-back sea-side neighborhood full of fun and life. It is home to SeaWorld San Diego, Mission Beach, and Belmont Park. For great food and the best place people-watch, head to Mission Beach. Plus, it’s an 8-mile drive from Mission Beach to Mission Valley. Mission Valley is the place to shop, eat and golf! Head to the San Diego Zoo for some family-friendly fun or catch a game at San Diego State University‘s Snapdragon Stadium. 

For a taste of San Diego’s International Restaurant Row, head to India Street in Mission Hills. Sample the sandwiches at Rubicon Deli, named San Diego’s Best Sandwich Award winner. 

San Diego is a town that has no shortage of amazing neighborhoods to visit — there are so many, you might not make them all in one trip! We’d love to be part of your experience checking a few of the best places to see in San Diego off your bucket list. Contact us if you have any questions about our Signature Tours around San Diego neighborhoods. See you soon and stay classy, San Diego!