Located right on west coast, San Diego is an epic a place to visit in California. With beautiful beaches, historic districts and enough gourmet places to fill every belly, the city is one that is perfect for a long weekend trip. In fact, so many epic and best things can be done in San Diego that I would suggest an even longer one.
Yes, San Diego has an amazing history to explore, but it also enjoys sunshine! Trust me, a Brit is coming, that’s a big deal! 😉
And not only that, it is a kind of city that is diverse enough to satisfy everyone. By that I mean there is something small that suits every taste. From water sports to world-class museums – however, San Diego has figured it out!
So, to make your trip easier, I wanted to write down a few gems that I totally love. This way you can focus on enjoying the city and not get bogged down in tedious planning.
Check out the best things you can do in San Diego below. Have fun in California.
1.) Point Loma
Let’s start with a little history, Point Loma is exactly where Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo first landed in 1542. Although almost 500 years ago it was this landing and later settlement that gave birth to all of California!
With absolutely beautiful views of San Diego and the Pacific Ocean make this place popular to visit, especially around sunset when they take on orange shades. It is so picturesque and worthy of gander.
If you like something a little more energetic, head to one of the hiking trails that cross the area. The top of the peninsula at the Cabrillo National Monument is perfect for that; with the Bayside or Point Loma Tidepool trails best joined.
Also, once at the Cabrillo National Monument, you can learn about Cabrillo’s “Journey 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 wish.
2.) Missionary Basilica of San Diego de Alcalá
Currently, 21 missions are spreading across the California coast, but Mission Basilica of San Diego de Alcala was the first mission in California.
Long ago, the early history of San Diego was marred by disputes between Native Americans and incoming colonial Spanish troops. You can find out all about these disputes and the wider Basilica of the Mission of San Diego de Alcala, which is so amazing to see.
Today, visiting this national historical landmark is one of the best things to do in San Diego if you love history. When you arrive here, you can join the guide around the mission, walk through the gardens and visit the historic church.
Afterwards, drive to Mission Trails Regional Park and join Oak Canyon Falls.
It’s such an oasis, you wouldn’t even think you’re still in town. Although keep in mind that this is usually a seasonal trail and that you should prepare for.
3.) Balboa Park
With a bunch of Spanish renaissance buildings and over 350 species of hand-picked plants; Balboa Park is one of the best things to do in San Diego, where you can actually spend your days exploring!
Here you will find everything from the Natural History Museum, the Museum of Man and the San Diego Museum of Art that are too good to miss.
Honestly, you could spend days in each of them alone!
Afterwards, stroll through the many gardens of Balboa Park and explore the stunning trails that surround the park itself.
Along the way, you will probably come across the cult Botanical House. Over 2000 plants live in it!
Lastly, don’t forget to visit the stunning garden of Japanese friendship. They have the most amazing koi and enviable bonsai I really wanted to take home! They are amazing.
4.) Old Town San Diego State Historic Park
Not far from the airport, San Diego State Historic Park is a place you can’t miss.
Here you can go back in time and bring a combination of Mexican and American culture into the buildings themselves. Imagine old San Diego as a small Mexican pueblo that slowly grew into a large community in the 1800s. You will experience this; well, at least a little.
Today it is also filled with sunny terraces, gourmet places, art studios and unusual stands throughout the Old Town.
You can even enjoy Mariachi music and visit the smithy while walking.
5.) USS Midway Museum
Permanently stationed at the Embarcadero in San Diego, the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier has been converted into a huge museum.
It served in the Vietnam War soon after it was put into operation in 1945, and has now retired and become the largest museum containing the history of naval aviation.
When you get here, you’ll be able to follow a self-guided audio tour that’s available and listen to clips of real-life experiences as people who have served the USS Midway have said.
And not only that, but there are also a lot of practical opportunities; from testing simulators to wandering around the kitchen, machine, dorm and caring.
Although you are not interested in military history or boats, you might want to miss this.
6.) Little Italy
Where to start? Well, Little Italy is always a good idea to visit in San Diego.
Full of typical Italian patisseries and restaurants abound in Little Italy, and in this neighborhood you can spend the whole day shopping and dining.
Stroll along Indian Street to try authentic Italian recipes – Civico 1845, Buon Appetito and Barbusa are just some of the gems you will want to sit in.
On Saturdays, you can stroll through the village market and pick up some organic and regional delicacies.
Then walk to the nearby San Diego Maritime Museum, located right on the coast.
7.) La Jolla Bay
La Jolla Bay is living proof of a strong ocean force. It sounds cheesy, but I always feel awe when I see the ocean form a rugged shoreline. La Jolla Bay is no exception.
Within a huge ecological reserve, La Jolla Bay is home to a variety of wildlife, including a bunch of seals.
Once here you can go by boat or kayak if you like. Or rent a bike and follow the trails around the bay that are so beautiful.
For the trail, take the Salk Institute Beach trail and explore the wider area around Black’s Beach. You’ll also find some epic views from the Gilderport trail near Torrey Pines – it’s stunning.
After a few hours on the beach, take a walk through Seal Rock’s past and visit the nearby Museum of Contemporary Art. It contains thousands of exhibits and is the dream place of art lovers!
8.) Mission Beach
Mission Beach is the perfect picturesque neighborhood of the ideal city of San Diego.
While a sunny beach is often what draws the crowd to Mission Beach, there are many epic things you can see and enjoy.
You can sunbathe lazily or go sightseeing, or you can choose a more active surfing and swimming plan.
Don’t forget to check out Belmont Park as well; this amusement park by the sea is so much fun. A wooden slide is everything!
9.) A quarter of Gaslamp
With a bunch of art galleries, restaurants and drinking fountains, the Gaslamp neighborhood is one of the best things to do in San Diego on the eve.
When it gets dark, neon signs light up and Victorian buildings come to life with a combination; arts, culture and entertainment that are worth seeing while you are in town.
There are now too many individual bars to mention in the Gaslamp district, but take a walk around and see which one you will like. Just don’t forget slowly, you will become energized!
10.) Cruise the port of San Diego
For a completely beautiful panorama of the coast and skyline of San Diego, hop on a cruise through the port of San Diego.
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.
Although my favorite are the whale and dolphin watching tours that usually lead (usually on Pier 2).
11.) Sunset Cliffs
True to its name, Sunset Cliffs is a magical twilight scene. Although, saying that, it’s absolutely beautiful at any time of the day – especially when the sea is nice and calm.
The neighborhood is absolutely great, but what makes it really special is its coastline; especially at sunset.
Near the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, it’s one of the best things to do in San Diego for a vacation while watching the sunset.
If that’s your thing, go Sunset Cliffs Cave. It’s absolutely stunning on a clear day – you won’t want to miss it!