Visiting California without going to San Diego would be like biting into a soft pancake but without the syrup… something is definitely missing. Perhaps the beauty of the city’s natural bay, the quality of its historical heritage, the richness of its parks, or perhaps the mild weather year-round. And when you know that it only takes a weekend to enjoy it all at once, it would be wrong to deprive yourself of it.
San Diego is often overlooked when traveling to California. Located in the far south of the Golden State, San Diego has a warm climate and year-round sunshine. The slower atmosphere, outdoor culture, and warm locals make San Diego a perfect sunny getaway. Discover one of America’s largest zoos, sail at sunset, stroll the historic avenues and hike some steep cliffs. Watch whales, dolphins, and an abundance of sea lions while basking in the sun. Relax and enjoy discovering the best of what San Diego has to offer.
San Diego is by far our favorite city in the US. If we could, we would move there right away. (For those who are reading this post and has an offer for us to move to San DIego, please contact us, NOW ! haha)
Here is our take on the 10 best places to visit in San Diego (it is going to be hard to decide on the top 10 places, as there are so many great things to do in San Diego) .
1. Visit the Jewel of San Diego, La Jolla
If you want to go snorkeling, swimming or diving, La Jolla is the place to be. If you can stand the colder waters, you can swim and dive with colorful fish and seals in abundance. This is not a beach for sunbathing as there is very little sand, a bunch of seaweed, crabs and starfish.
La Jolla cove is amazing for watching sea lions in their natural habitat , and has lots of picnic and lifeguard areas. You go to this area at your own risk, so be careful with wildlife. If you prefer to stay out of the water, you can hire a kayak and explore the cove. To admire breathtaking landscapes, observe wildlife and relax, head to the incredible underwater park of La Jolla Cove!
If shopping is your thing, head to Girard Avenue, as la Jolla is also a chic district which includes a number of luxury boutiques as well.
Finally head to La Jolla Shore for a relaxing time at one of the nicest beach in San Diego. Walk on the Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier for a great instagram shot.
2. Visit Coronado Island
In addition to hosting the famous Hotel Del Coronado, Coronado Island also offers incredible beaches, shopping and unique views. Drive or take the ferry from the city and discover paradise (living there, would be a dream come true). Bury your feet in the sand of the hotel beach and do not miss the opportunity to see the man with the sand castles, who has been building castles along this beach for over thirty years. Take a stroll along the pier enjoy an ice cream and chat with the friendliest people who love to share their stories of the city. This quaint little town is full of shops, galleries and restaurants.
Get out of the bustling city of San Diego to discover this treasure. We highly recommend to stay on Coronado Island, while you visit San Diego. Hotel Marisol Coronado, was such an amazing place, close to the beach, free breakfast, free bicycle rental and very nice staff. We can’t recommend enough to stay at this beautiful hotel. Book your stay at Hotel Marisol Coronado.
3. Visit the stunning Balboa Park and visit San Diego Zoo
The urban cultural center called Balboa Park is home to more than 485 hectares of museums, restaurants and the San Diego Zoo. Hop on the free tram that links the free parking lot to the center of Balboa Park, where you can visit the information center to learn more about what is going on in the park during your stay.
Choose from over 15 museums, including the Human Museum, the Space Museum and even a Dinosaur Museum. Stroll among Japanese gardens, roses and cactus. There is no shortage of things to see and do and the hardest part will be figuring out what you can and can’t do in a day. Balboa Park, the essence of San Diego, is a must-see in the city.
Home to nearly 800 species, including pandas, the San Diego Zoo is known as one of the most beautiful in the world. It would be difficult to spend less than half a day there for anyone, regardless of age. So you could spend half of your day at Balboa Park, and the other half at the Zoo.
4. Go whales watching from Mission Beach
The period between December and the end of April corresponds to the peak of migration of gray and blue whales, fleeing the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean for Baja California, where they will give birth to their young. Whale watching trips are organized from several wharves in San Diego – Mission Bay being considered the best.
It is also the ideal place to practice water sports such as kayaking, stand-up paddleboard or jet skiing. If you are looking for a more relaxing place, you will enjoy the endless promenade along the fine sandy beach of Mission Beach, west of the bay. You can rent an electric scooter, to visit the area around Mission Beach, a great way to spend half day at least.
5. Surf at Pacific Beach
A very popular beach. On Garnet Avenue you will find shops, restaurants, bars and nightclubs. The neighborhood is young and very lively, especially in the evening. Pacific Beach is certainly one of the best spot to surf in San Diego. So rent a surfboard in the many rental shops in the area, and enjoy what California is all about!
6. Hike at Torrey Pines State Reserve
Want to hike a bit during your San Diego tour? Then head to the Torrey Pines State Reserve, an 800 hectare coastal park with 13 km of trails. Hike oceanfront trails along the beach or follow the cliffs that overlook the water. Keep an eye out for whales during the migration months or schools of dolphins playing in the waves.
Torrey pines are also a reason to visit this park. These are the rarest pines to grow in North America, and this reserve is the only place in the world where this subspecies grows. Bring enough water, a camera and make sure you eat before getting there because no food or drink (except water) is allowed on the reserve.
Just before Torres Pines, you can stop at Black’s beach, from the cliffs you can admire the best Sunset in California (no kidding). The view overlooking the ocean is absolutely stunning.
7. Spend the weekend at Seaport Village and take a selfie in front of the Unconditional Surrender Statue
Seaport Village is a complex of shops and restaurants, located by the waterfront in downtown San Diego. At weekends, the place comes alive and brings together a good number of shows and street concerts.
If you walk a little further, you will see this famous Unconditional Surrender Statue located in Tuna Harbour. At most times of day and night couples can be found under the statue doing their best to re-enact the kiss. Wait there long enough and you might catch a couple or two come by to renew their vows.
8. Visit the USS Midway Museum
Right besides the Unconditional Surrender Statue, you will see the USS Midway. The USS Midway Museum is the most visited naval museum in the world, and offers a self-guided tour through the 50 years of world history of this aircraft carrier.
Plan to spend a few hours to discover the 60 exhibitions offered by the museum. Exhibitions range from dormitories to the captain’s cockpit, including the ship’s prison, and 29 restored planes and helicopters. Pilot a flight simulator, shoot a short film, get on a helicopter or talk to one of the volunteer guides who can share their personal stories with you. Find out how the sailors lived on board, in their quarters below or on deck, and visit the upper deck to admire the helicopters and planes.
Interactive exhibits and interior tours are ideal for children; but leave your strollers in the car because there are several stairs and ladders to climb. Go back in history and discover this floating marine city.
9. Party at Gaslamp Quarter
Are you going to visit San Diego and looking for a place to go out and party? Then head to Gaslamp Quarter! With its 200 restaurants, bars and various concerts, this once infamous district has now become one of the friendliest places in the city.
Completely renovated, you will fall in love with its gas lampposts and its Victorian buildings, green spaces, theaters, street shows, lively bars… You will love it!
10. Take a look at Mexico from Point Loma
Point Loma is a peninsula facing San Diego. After walking along a huge military cemetery, we have come to the end! We first took a walk along the steep cliff where we can see tide pools. Going all the way up, you arrive at the Cabrillo Monument which overlooks the city. Very nice view of the whole bay and Mexico, which is barely 25 km from the city.
San Diego is located just south of the West Coast of the United States, very close to the Mexican border. With more than 1.3 million inhabitants, it is the eighth city in the country, and also one the most visited city on the American West Coast. Its ideal weather and its long white sand beaches promise you moments of absolute relaxation.
For the curious, the city is full of attractions of all kinds, traditional neighborhoods, museum or even incredible parks! The historic birthplace of California, San Diego, is a city that has a lot to offer, and in which there is no risk of being bored. Its surroundings are just as attractive and interesting to discover! We are big fan of San Diego.
Where to stay in San Diego?
Here is our top recommendations on where to stay in San Diego. Nicknamed “America’s most beautiful city”, San Diego is considered by Californians to be an almost sacred territory: and for good reason, “America’s Finest City” is the historic cradle of the state, since it was the first place visited by Europeans on their arrival on the coast.
Here is our tips on finding your accommodation and to decide where to stay in San Diego.
1. Coronado Island
Coronado Island is connected to the rest of the city of San Diego by a bridge; it includes many luxury hotels bordering the beach on one of the most beautiful coastline in the world. Typical Californian cycle paths run along the coastline and give you access to the various places of interest on the island: restaurants, bars, shops but also views of the sunset. If you have the time during your visit to Coronado, discover the fabulous Hotel del Coronado, in a spectacular Victorian style, an architectural marvel planted in this renowned seaside resort.
During our stay, we decided to choose Hotel Marisol Coronado. The hotel was such an amazing place, close to the beach, free breakfast, free bicycle rental and very nice staffs. We can’t recommend enough to stay at this beautiful hotel. Book your stay at Hotel Marisol Coronado.
2. San Diego Marina
Located just by the bay of San Diego, the Marina is a place not to be missed under any circumstances. Not surprisingly, there are many hotels where you can find a place to stay in San Diego right by the sea, but there are many other points of interest on site: a splendid waterfront, where you can visit the USS Midway Museum, an aircraft carrier now accessible to tourists, as well as many sculptures. Here you can admire the “Unconditional Surrender”, the famous work of John Seward Johnson, inspired by a photo celebrating the end of the Pacific War in 1945 . The Marina is the area located on the shore of San Diego Bay and in which you can admire the many yachts moored at the port, an atypical shopping center and the Maritime Museum of the city.
3. Old Town
The Old Town San Diego State Park includes many historical buildings suh as the Casa de Estudillo, one of the most beautiful homes in California from the 19th century. This district is absolutely essential to visit and very well located for all your sight seeing.
- Best things to do in California – here
- Discover San Francisco – here
- Most amazing surf spots in California – here
- Los Angeles, a must see in California – here
- Santa-Barbara, our favorite city in the US – here
- Carme-by-the-see, the beauty of California – here
- Full guide for the perfect road trip on Highway 101 – here
- Monterey, a city full of charm – here
- ROMANTIC DATES IN CALIFORNIA: 10 Best Date Ideas: here