When you first travel around San Diego, you may find yourself wondering: Is it a big city? A sleepy beach town? An outdoor adventure destination?
It turns out it’s all three wrapped in one, with vastly different possible experiences. As the locals say, wherever you want to go is just a 20-minute drive away. Here are a few fun things to do in San Diego.
San Diego is considered a big city, although it is a much more relaxed one than New York, LA, or Chicago. But, it is also considered a beach town! Within that 20-minute drive, you can find every kind of terrain fit for any type of outdoor adventure (except a snowy mountain one). And even the mountains are only an hour from the city. It’s got distinct neighborhoods with adorable and quirky coffee shops, delicious international food options, piano bars, playhouses, and lots and lots of great tequila to taste and delicious tacos to much on. It’s got indigenous history and European history and US military history, it’s got an excellent and beautifully laid out zoo, and it’s appeared in quite a few movies. And even within each of those categories, it’s got incredible diversity: it’s got beaches for relaxing, beaches for hiking, and beaches for exploring.
But you’ve only got a weekend. How do you decide what to do and what to ditch? What do you do with just one short weekend in San Diego?
Don’t stress! We are here to help. Here’s what we’re going to do: we’ll give you a plan for how to sample a little bit of all of this: the neighborhoods, culture, and history; the beaches and outdoors; and the food.
Since everyone has different preferences for just how much time they want to spend being active, eating, and feeling sand between their toes, we’ll include options that adapt this itinerary to your preferences. We start these days with biking or hiking (you choose how long), and you can always add more walking later in the day.
No matter where you ultimately go, make sure to pack hats, sunscreen, water, and snacks—plus an extra layer. The air is cool when the sun disappears.
Here’s what we suggest you do in a weekend in San Diego.
Image by @jupiterimages via https://www.freeimages.com
Saturday: Bikes and beach in Coronado, the USS Midway, and Lunch in Little Italy
One of the top things we like to do during weekends in San Diego is head OTB (the local acronym for over the bridge) to Coronado—and we’re not alone, so we suggest trying to get there before the midday and afternoon crowds.
If you drive, you’ll get to go over the gorgeous arched Coronado Bridge. If you prefer the ferry, you can pick it up from Broadway Pier or the Convention Center (both right near the Trolley line). Here are things you can do:
- Have a nourishing breakfast at The Henry or Parakeet Cafe.
- Meander by the historic Hotel Del Coronado (note that this is 1.5 miles from the Coronado Ferry Landing, so if you’re ferrying over, allow time to walk, take the 904 bus, or simply rent a bike from a shop closer to the ferry landing). The Hotel Del is known for its gorgeous Victorian architecture and for being a beachfront hotel. See if you recognize the exterior of the hotel from Some Like it Hot.
- Rent a bike: Hollands Bikes & Beyond near Ferry Landing opens at 9:30AM. Wheel Fun Rentals near the Hotel Del opens at 9:00 am. It’s easy to bike around Coronado, which is a small pseudo-island. You can bike among the many gorgeous homes, gardens, and parks. For a longer ride, go for as long as appeals along the nearly flat 19-mile out-and-back Bayshore Bikeway on the Silver Strand—the narrow stretch of beach that connects Coronado to the mainland. Enjoy views of the beach, the boats, the birds, and downtown San Diego—and perhaps see some Navy SEALS training as you pass their base.
For lunch, head back over the bridge or on the ferry and check out options in the following neighborhoods:
- Little Italy: Saturdays are Farmers Market days till 2:00 pm. Stroll and eat Italian favorites on India Street or Mexican flavors at King & Queen Cantina. For a waterfront view over lunch, eat at Portside Pier. Use the Little Italy Insider’s Guide for more in-depth information on San Diego’s top dining neighborhood and to figure out if you need reservations.
- East Village: San Diego’s largest urban neighborhood, with galleries and varied food options, including fantastic vegan tacos at Lola 55).
- Seaport Village (if you’re looking for views rather than neighborhoods, this overlooks the water and has an abundance of shops and galleries).
- Old Town: This is your spot for lots of great Mexican restaurants. Grab a margartia, munch on some delicious tacos, and roam the beautiful and bright Spanish neighborhood.
After lunch, consider what pulls you:
- Visit Balboa Park and stroll among the gardens. While there, you can check out one of the many museums or the large, beautifully designed San Diego Zoo.
- Spend the afternoon visiting the USS Midway Museum and the Maritime Museum. Allow at least 2 hours to tour the naval aircraft carrier exhibits and planes. Get tickets for the USS Midway Museum in advance at midway.org. Last admission is at 4:00 pm, and the museum closes at 5:00 pm. Afterward, head on to the Waterfront Park, just a short walk from the Maritime Museum.
- Visit La Jolla Cove and wade through the Pacific Ocean waters of the La Jolla shores or head on to the boardwalks of Mission Beach or Mission Bay Park at Mission Bay. Belmont Park is just a short distance away. Take the roller coaster or the all-time classic carousel—just hold on to your lunch while you speed through the air. Finally, a trip to Seaworld San Diego. The Park still draws in the crowds.
- Coronado Island is just across the Big Bay if you’re near downtown San Diego. This San Diego beach‘s pristine waters and sights are a big draw for tourists and wealthy San Diegans. It is often called the “crown jewel of the San Diego waterfront.”
- Head to Petco Park to watch the San Diego Padres play ball.They may or may not win, but watching Manny Machado play is still a treat.
- Take a Little Italy Vino! Vino! Tour! This takes place at 3:00 pm, Saturdays only! This walking tour includes the history of Little Italy, wine tasting at a local wine bar and winery and delicious pasta & wine at a local Italian restaurant. It’s a great way to explore the neighborhood while sampling delicious wine!
In the evening, you might:
- Have dinner at a restaurant recommended by your tour guide.
- Have an after-dinner stroll at the San Diego Harbor and watch the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
- Head over to the Gaslamp for an excellent evening of dining, dancing, and live music! Check out this Insider’s Guide to the Gaslamp Quarter for more things to do!
- Check out the event calendars at one of these live music venues: the Music Box; the new, stunning concert venue on the water, Rady Shell at Jacobs Park); Cafe Sevilla (which has a flamenco dinner show every Saturday); or the House of Blues.
- If you’ve got a few hundred dollars to spare, stay the night at the iconic Hotel del Coronado. This historic hotel is a gem and has been around for over 130 years!
Sunday: Cabrillo National Monument, plus a historic brunch in the Gaslamp or Old Town
Image by @nephelem via https://www.freeimages.com
The Cabrillo National Monument is a national park right in San Diego. Located at the tip of the Point Loma peninsula, it’s got incredible views of downtown San Diego, the San Diego Bay, Shelter island, Coronado, Tijuana, and the Coronado Islands (in Mexico). At the right times of the year, you can see whales in the distance on the Pacific side. Options:
- Keep it simple and visit only the area surrounding the visitor’s center.
- Add on the hikes close to the visitor’s center, including by the lighthouse.
- Drive to the lower hiking path as well and visit the tide pools. If you choose to do this, check out the tide chart in advance and target a time within two hours of low tide.
The park opens at 9:00 am and is about a 25-minute drive from Old Town, Little Italy, or the Gaslamp.
When you envision what you’d like to do during your weekend in San Diego, do you see yourself soaking in nature and views or happy to learn about the sites, take fantastic photos, and hit the next stop? Depending on your plans, after Cabrillo, you can head back to Downtown or Old Town to catch a historic and tasty local food tour:
- You can catch the Brothels, Bites & Booze Tour at 2:00 pm, a boozy brunch tour of the Gaslamp Quarter: Hear scandalous stories of San Diego’s past in its former red light district and sample food and drinks at three restaurants with a fourth stop for dessert. Tours are also available at 11:00 am and at 5:30 pm.
- In Old Town the Tequila, Tacos & Tombstones Tour is every day at 4:30 pm! You’ll learn how San Diego came to be in Old Town, the birthplace of California. Hear about its Spanish missionaries, and listen to ghost stories and mariachi music over tacos and tequila. This tour includes two stops for tequila & tacos, a third stop for a sampling of Mexican street food and a fourth stop for a fresh churro!
As you wind down your trip, take a moment to appreciate all you managed to see and do in a single weekend in San Diego.
Then, tell your friends!