Nestled right on the West Coast, San Diego is one epic place to visit in California. With gorgeous beaches, historic districts and enough foodie spots to fill any tummy, it’s the kind of city that’s perfect for a long weekend trip. In fact, there are so many epic and best things to do in San Diego that I’d suggest an even longer one.
Yes, San Diego has an amazing history to explore, but it’s also basked in oodles of sunshine! Trust me, coming from a Brit, that’s a big deal!
Not only that, it’s the kind of city that’s diverse enough to please everyone. What I mean by that is that there’s a little bit of something to suit all tastes. From watersports to world-class museums – you name it, San Diego’s got it!
So, to make your trip a little easier, I wanted to jot down a few gems that I totally love. This way, you can focus on enjoying the city and not getting bogged down with any tedious planning.
Take a look, below, at the best things to do in San Diego. Have an epic time in California.
1.) Point Loma
So, let’s start with a little history, Point Loma was the very spot where Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo first landed in 1542. Although almost 500 years ago, it was this very landing and subsequent settlement that gave birth to the whole of California!
With totally gorgeous views over San Diego and the Pacific Ocean make this place popular to visit, especially around sunset when the orange hues takeover. It’s so picturesque and well worth a gander.
If you fancy something a little more energetic, head on one of the hiking trails that criss-cross the area. The tip of the peninsular at Cabrillo National Monument is perfect for this; with the Bayside or Point Loma Tidepool trails being the top ones to join.
Also, once at the Cabrillo National Monument, you can learn about Cabrillo’s “Voyage of Discovery”. It’s really interesting.
Of course, don’t forget to visit the nearby Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which you can tour if you’d like.
Finally, if you want to head out on the search for whales and dolphins, then book this San Diego whale-watching cruise. Blue whales often call this area home during their migrations and it’s well worth heading out for a few hours. We loved it.
2.) Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá
There are 21 missions currently spread over the California Coast, but Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala was California’s first-ever mission.
Way back, when San Diego’s early history was marred with disputes between the Native Indians and the incoming colonial Spanish troops. You can learn all about these disputes and the wider Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala which is so incredible to see.
Today, visiting this National Historic Landmark is one of the best things to do in San Diego if you love history. Once here, you can join a guided tour around the mission, stroll through the gardens and visit the historic church.
Afterwards, take a drive over to Mission Trails Regional Park and join the Oak Canyon Waterfall.
It’s such an oasis, you wouldn’t even think you were still in the city. Though, remember, this is typically a seasonal trail and one you should prepare for.
Oh, and be sure to book these incredible tours, below; especially before arriving in San Diego. This way, you won’t be disappointed if you arrive and all the tickets sell out!
3.) Balboa Park
With a heap of Spanish Revival buildings and over 350 species of hand-selected plants; Balboa Park is one of the best things to do in San Diego where you can actually spend days exploring!
Here, you’ll find everything from the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Man, and the San Diego Museum of Art that are all too good to miss.
Honestly, you could spend days in each of these alone!
Afterwards, stroll through the many gardens of Balboa Park and explore the stunning trails that line the park itself.
Along the way, you’ll likely come across the iconic Botanical House, too. It’s home to over 2,000 plants inside!
Finally, don’t forget to visit the stunning Japanese Friendship Garden. They have the most incredible koi and enviable bonsai that I really wanted to take home! They’re amazing.
4.) Old Town San Diego State Historic Park
Not too far from the airport, the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is a spot you can’t miss.
Here, you can step back in time and take in the mix of Mexican and American cultures within the buildings themselves. Think of Old San Diego as a small Mexican pueblo that slowly grew into a large community within the 1800s. This is what you’ll get to experience; well, a little bit at least.
Nowadays, it’s also filled with sunny patios, foodie spots, art studios, and quaint craft stalls all around the Old Town.
You can even enjoy Mariachi music and check out a blacksmith shop as you stroll along.
5.) USS Midway Museum
Permanently stationed at San Diego’s Embarcadero, the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier has been transformed into a huge museum that you can book tickets to and visit.
It served the Vietnam War soon after being commissioned in 1945, and now it has retired to be the largest museum featuring naval aviation history.
Once here, you’ll be able to book this incredible self-guided audio tour, and listen to snippets of real experiences as told by the people who served the USS Midway. Not only that, but there are also lots of hands-on opportunities; from testing simulators to wandering through the galley, engine room, sleeping quarters, and brig.
Just be sure to grab your tickets before arriving; this way, you won’t be disappointed if they all sell out.
Though, if you’re not interested in military history, or boats, you might wanna give this a miss.
6.) Little Italy
Where do I start? Okay, so Little Italy is always a great idea to visit when in San Diego.
Filled with typical Italian pastry shops and restaurants abound Little Italy, and you can spend all day shopping and dining in this neighbourhood.
Walk along India Street to get a taste of authentic Italian recipes – Civico 1845, Buon Appetito, and Barbusa are just some gems you’ll want to gorge within.
On Saturdays, you can stroll through the farmers’ market and pick up some organic and regional goodies.
Afterwards, take a stroll over to the nearby Maritime Museum of San Diego that’s right on the shorefront.
7.) La Jolla Cove
La Jolla Cove is a living testament to the powerful force of the ocean. It sounds cheesy but I always get a sense of awe when seeing how the ocean shapes the rugged coast. La Jolla Cove is no exception.
Within a vast ecological reserve, La Jolla Cove is home to a variety of wildlife including loads of seals.
Once here, you can head out boating or kayaking if that takes your fancy. Alternatively, hire a bike and follow the trails around the cove that are just so gorgeous.
For a trail, head over to the Salk Institute Beach trail and explore the wider area around Black’s Beach, too.
You’ll also find some epic views from the Gilderport Trail near Torrey Pines – it’s stunning.
After a few hours at the beach, stroll past Seal Rock and visit the, nearby, Museum of Contemporary Art. It houses thousands of exhibits and is an art lovers’ dream spot!
8.) Mission Beach
Mission Beach is the picture-perfect neighbourhood of an ideal San Diego town.
While the sun-kissed beach is often what draws in the crowd to Mission Beach, there are many epic things for you to see and enjoy.
You can have a lazy day sunbathing or sightseeing, or you can choose a more active itinerary with surfing and swimming.
Don’t forget to check out Belmont Park as well; this retro seaside amusement park is so much fun. The wood rollercoaster is everything!
9.) Gaslamp Quarter
With a heap of art galleries, restaurants and watering holes, the Gaslamp Quarter is one of the best things to do in San Diego in the early evening.
After dark, neon signs light up and the Victorian buildings come to life with a mix of; arts, culture, and entertainment that’s well worth a gander when in the city.
Now, there are too many individual bars to mention in the Gaslamp Quarter but take a stroll through the area and see which ones take your fancy. Just remember to take it slow, you will get tipsy!
10.) San Diego Harbor Cruise
For a totally lovely panorama of the San Diego coast and skyline, hop aboard a San Diego Harbor Cruise.
This will give you a new perspective of the city and on a warm day, you can even see some seals and sea lions sunbathing along the shore.
Though, my favourite is the whale and dolphin watching tours they run (typically at Pier 2).
11.) Sunset Cliffs
True to its name, Sunset Cliffs is a magical sight at dusk. Though, saying that, it’s totally gorgeous at any time of the day – especially when the sea is nice and calm.
The neighbourhood is totally great but what makes it truly special is its coastline; especially at sunset.
Adjacent to the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, it’s one of the best things to do in San Diego to chill out while watching the sunset.
If that’s your thing, head to Sunset Cliffs Cave. It’s totally stunning on a clear day – you won’t wanna miss it!