Ultimate Guide to Visiting San Diego, CA

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Advisor - Nadia Bess
Curated By

Nadia Bess

  • USA

  • California

  • San Diego

  • Beaches

  • City Travel

  • Domestic Travel

  • Coastal

  • Relaxation

  • West Coast

Ocean along coastline with pink and purple clouds
Curator’s statement

San Diego’s laid-back locals, temperate sunny weather, beautiful beaches, lively food and drink scene, many neighborhoods with different personas and numerous family-friendly attractions mean that any type of traveler could entertain themselves in San Diego. One of my favorite weekend trips is to take the train down the coast and spend time on the beach and enjoying all of the excellent restaurants in San Diego.

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Where to stay in San Diego, California

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Things to do in San Diego, California

Ocean and coastline on a cloudy day

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park: As the name suggests, this is a great place to watch the sunset over the ocean. While there, stop at the Cabrillo National Monument to see fantastic views of the San Diego skyline over the water. 

La Jolla Cove: Kayak into the sea caves and hang out with sea lions. Afterwards, take a dip in the crystal clear waters in the cove or go snorkeling to see the beautiful kelp gardens and plentiful sea life. Afterwards, visit Birch Aquarium to learn more about the sea life you just encountered. 

Balboa Park: This park is over 1,000 acres and contains multiple museums, including the Air & Space Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the Automotive Museum, the famous San Diego Zoo, a Spanish Village, a dog park, trails and gardens. 

San Diego Safari Park: An offshoot from the main zoo, this park allows animals to roam in large enclosures similar to their natural habitats. Jump on a safari truck and observe the animals in different environments than normal zoos. Don’t miss the cheetah run! 

Go hiking: San Diego is beautiful and has a variety of terrain that offers endless hiking options! There are many trails available in the area so ask your concierge about the best ones close to you at your experience level. A popular one for those looking for photos for the ‘gram is Potato Chip Rock (Mt. Woodson trail, 7.5 miles RT, challenging). Torrey Pines is another local gem if you would like ocean views while you hike or Annie’s Canyon for a cool slot canyon! 

Hang out at the beach: The county has beaches all the way up the coastline but some of the most popular are Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, La Jolla and Pacific Beach. Consider taking a paddle boarding lesson to really experience the water like a local. Or, do as the locals do, and hike down to Blacks Beach to watch the surfers (and occasional nudists). 

Visit Coronado Island: An easy drive on a bridge across the bay from the Gaslamp Quarter, this peninsula is not actually an island but it’s still full of charm! Peek into the historic Hotel Del Coronado and grab some ice cream or caffeine at the food market on the bottom floor. Afterwards, watch the surfers and hang out on the beach, stroll the boutiques on the main street or rent a bike or ebike to tour the adorable houses and numerous scenic photo spots.  

Brewery Tour: San Diego has numerous craft breweries and almost just as many brewery tours available. You can get driven around to breweries via fire truck, trolleys, pediwagons, a party bus and more! Looking to just visit one? There are over 150 options depending on your taste but some of the most popular include Mikkeller, Rincon Reservation Road Brewery, Eppig Brewing Waterfront Biergarten, Kairoa Brewing Co, Viewpoint Brewing, Modern Times and many more! 

Carlsbad Flower Fields: If you are visiting during spring, this spot in North San Diego County is a must see! These fields have over 50 acres of ranunculus in rows of bright colors, in addition to designs. The site also has a garden store, a bird aviary, a sweet pea maze, an orchid house, a poinsettia greenhouse, a U-pick blueberry patch and more! Go early in the day; it gets busy when the fields are in bloom.

Day Trips from San Diego

Tour the wineries in Ramona or Temecula.

Head to Julian in early fall for apple picking, apple treats and festivals.

Drive to Anza Borrego State Park during the spring for wildflower galore.

Take a trip up to Orange County and visit Disney Land!

Places to eat & drink in San Diego, California

Tortillas on a white kitchen towel in a pan next to a cast iron tortilla press

Places to Eat in San Diego

Liberty Public Market: This hip food market in an old military building offers options for everyone, as well as outdoor seating. There are also trendy shops and galleries.  

Coasterra: Beautiful property surrounded by water offering modern Mexican cuisine. 

Harumama Noodles + Buns: Stylish spot for modern Asian cuisine, including sushi and ramen. 

Bencotto: Little Italy has a lot of Italian restaurants but this spot is one of the best. Creative Italian cuisine is served, including handmade pasta and the Insta-famous pasta made in a 60lb cheese wheel. 

Casa Guadalajara: Authentic Mexican restaurant in Old Town with handmade tortillas and live mariachi music. 

Hodad's: With a location in Downtown and one by the beach, this location offers giant burgers, in addition to shakes and sides. 

Sushi Ota: Excellent sushi and omakase tasting menus in a modest location near Mission Bay. 

The Grass Skirt: This fusion spot offers fun decor, unexpected Polynesian dishes and creative tiki cocktails in elaborate themed glasses. Share a punch bowl with friends but beware — they are more potent than they taste!

Great Maple: In a city with numerous fantastic brunch options, Great Maple’s two locations stand out and offer unique dishes you haven’t tried elsewhere. The elevated diner fare, unique Bloody Mary and mimosa offerings and homemade donuts make it very popular so expect a wait or try to snag a reservation in advance. 

Wayfarer Bread & Pastry: This pastry shop is in line with those you’d find in Europe and absolutely delicious. They are most well-known for the croissants, which come in many creative flavors, but their bread is also stellar. 

Extraordinary Desserts: With two locations, this is a fun after dinner spot with a large variety of delicious desserts to try. 

Churros El Tigre: Just North of the border of California and Mexico, at Las Americas Premium Outlets, the best churros in San Diego are served out of an unassuming stand in the middle of the mall. They offer a variety of churro options and sizes, including some with ice cream. Make sure to order a side of cajeta, their super thick caramel-like sauce. There will be a line on weekends. 

Bars, Coffee Shops & Taprooms in San Diego

Wolfie's Carousel Bar: Sip cocktails at a bar built into an old traditional carousel. 

Raised By Wolves Cocktail Bar: This is the spot for spirit aficionados. They have an extensive list of rare spirits and also create inventive cocktails for consumption. The hidden entrance makes the journey to your cocktail a fun one! Advanced reservations required. 

Mikkeller Taproom Little Italy: An outpost of the European brewery, Mikkeller produces world-class beer. 

Carruth Cellars Wine Garden: Enjoy a wine sampling at this tasting room with a patio within a garden. 

Vin De Syrah: Speakeasy style bar with a hidden entrance and eclectic decor. 

Better Buzz Coffee Roasters: With multiple locations throughout San Diego, this trendy coffee shop serves creative caffeinated beverages, açaí bowls and sandwiches.

Need to Know

For more California travel inspo, check out my Orange County guide: Best Things to Do in Orange County, California.

Advisor - Nadia Bess

Travel Advisor

Nadia Bess

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