12 Fun Things to Do in San Diego, CA

Looking for things to do and see in sunny San Diego, California where the weather is perfect nearly year-round? Check out our top picks.

Looking for things to do and see in sunny San Diego, California where the weather is perfect nearly year-round? Located on the Pacific Coast, the beach city has 70 miles of beautiful coastline and is home to Naval Base San Diego. From museums and amusement parks to fresh seafood and sandy beaches, check out these fun things to do in San Diego.

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USS Midway Museum

USS Midway Museum

USS Midway Museum | 910 N Harbor Dr., San Diego, CA 92101

The USS Midway Museum is a decommissioned aircraft carrier open to the public to tour. Earning the record for the longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century, the ship is now on display at Navy Pier in downtown San Diego.

Take a self-guided audio tour through the many exhibits on the hangar deck, flight deck, and below deck. Next peruse the aircraft gallery which showcases thirty restored aircraft and helicopters!

Then stop by the theatre and watch a 15-minute film on the Battle of Midway. And finally, it doesn’t matter how old you are, you must try the flight simulators!


Historic Gaslamp Quarter

Gaslamp Quarter San Diego

The Gaslamp Quarter is known as the Historic Heart of San Diego and is a lively neighborhood known for it’s restaurants, bars, nightclubs, galleries, theatres, shopping and so much more.

And if you’re lucky enough to be in town during one of San Diego’s festivals such as Mardi Gras, Street Scene Music Festival, and Taste of Gaslamp, they are all held in the Gaslamp Quarter.

Start off with a spectacular breakfast from Cafe Seville, Maryjane’s Diner in the Hardrock Hotel, or the Broken Yoke Cafe. Next, get your shopping in at the many boutiques and shops Gaslamp has to offer.

And if you’re visiting during MLB season Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, is only one block away! Then when dinner time rolls around you’re in for a treat because nightlife and dining are what Gaslamp is known for.


Little Italy

Little Italy, San Diego

Recommended by Michelle of The Trav Nav

Some of the best food in San Diego is in Little Italy.  Located just up from the Gas Lamp district on India Street and Kettner Boulevard, Little Italy has taken San Diego by storm.

The streets are lined with cute cafes, upscale restaurants, and low-key brunch spots.  The popular area is known for classic Italian restaurants and those with a modern spin like Barbusa.

Restaurants

But with so many restaurants to choose from, there is something for everyone.  If you prefer steak for dinner, you might like Born and Raised, or if you are looking for a seafood restaurant, you might want to try Ironside Fish & Oyster.  Farmers Table or the Little Italy Food Hall are terrific choices for those looking for a more relaxed vibe.

After dinner, you can walk around Little Italy and try a new place for dessert.  There is always a line at Salt & Straw (ice cream).  It’s good, but why not try something more authentic.  Solunto Restaurant & Bakery has a large bakery counter of fabulous desserts.  My favorite dessert is the éclair!

Shopping

Little Italy is more than just restaurants.  You can spend the afternoon strolling India Street and Kettner Boulevard, stopping into the cute independent boutiques. 

One of the best things about Little Italy is the lack of chain shops and restaurants.  The restaurants and stores are independent, making Little Italy a unique place to shop, dine, or walk around.

One piece of advice.  The restaurants in Little Italy are delicious and fill up quickly.  If there is a restaurant you really want to eat at, do your best to make a reservation a couple of weeks in advance.


Coronado Island

Coronado Island

1100 Orange Avenue, Coronado, CA 92118

The beautiful resort city of Coronado Island is a must visit. A plus? You can ride the Coronado Ferry to/from San Diego while taking in all of the views for $14 round trip!

Then rent a bike, Segway, golf cart, or Surrey to adventure and tour the island. Visit the Hotel del Coronado where the 1958 movie “Some Like it Hot” featuring Marilyn Monroe was filmed! And if you’re looking for history and art, be sure to stop by the Coronado Museum of History and Art for a walking tour.

Last but certainly not least, head down to Coronado Beach and enjoy the beautiful weather or a summer concert. When the tide is low go tide pooling or go see the sunken remains of the 1937 shipwreck of the SS Monte Carlo before it is gone forever!


San Diego Zoo

Zoo

2920 Zoo Dr., San Diego, CA 92101

The San Diego Zoo houses over 12,000 animals and is located in Balboa Park on 100 acres. Considered the pioneer of open-concept zoos, the San Diego Zoo is a great place to take the family!

The San Diego Zoo also has a Safari Park that is about a 45 minute drive from the main park! Take a tour bus on a guided tour, or even take the Skyfari Aerial Tram for beautiful views overlooking the park.


Balboa Park

Balboa Park San Diego

Recommended by Emilie of Love Life Abroad

Located just outside San Diego downtown, Balboa Park is a must-see while exploring the Southern California surf town. It’s fun for kids and adults. Visitors could easily spend an entire week in the park.

Balboa Park is a 1,200 acres park featuring 17 museums, gardens, restaurants and the famous San Diego Zoo. A visit at Balboa Park will also transport you to Europe with its Spanish-like architecture, buildings and gardens.

Museums

Depending on the time you have, good chances are that you won’t have the time (or the energy) to visit all 17 museums, but with the One-Day Explorer Pass, you can have access to 4 of the 17 museums in a day. It includes all venues except the San Diego Zoo.

Gardens

Not a museum fan? It’s ok, because there are beautiful gardens to explore. There are also many gardens across Balboa Park.  The Botanical Building with its Lily Pond is one to stop at for sure.

Because Balboa Park is huge, using the park shuttle park is a great way to explore the park and not get too tired of all the walking. It’s a free hop-on/hop-off shuttle bus that picks you up right at the parking lot. It runs pretty often and all day long.


La Jolla

La Jolla, San Diego

Recommended by Denise of Chef Denise 

Visiting La Jolla is one of the best things to do in San Diego. Situated on the Pacific Ocean, you can choose water sports and boating, or one of the many onshore activities like hiking, golfing, hang gliding, or shopping, or just relax on a bench and take in the gorgeous scenery.

Beaches

La Jolla beaches are some of the most beautiful in the county and protected areas make snorkeling and scuba diving very popular.

Walking the paved path of the cliffs from the La Jolla Cave Shop past the Cove and the Children’s Pool (a beach, not a pool) provides spectacular views and usually some seal and/or sea lion sightings. Look for them on the rocks, on the sand, and in the water, and in February and March the seals will be with their pups.

Downtown Village

Stroll through the charming downtown village of galleries, shops, and restaurants and stop for a drink or a bite to eat. There are many casual eateries, but if you want to see the ocean, hit one of the high-end restaurants or boutique La Jolla hotels on Prospect St. that offer beautiful views while dining.

Or bring your own lunch and picnic at the large green space between the ocean and La Jolla village, Palisades Park. You’ll find picnic tables there and on the cliffs to the south.


Old Town San Diego

cafe coyote san diego

Recommended by Nikki of She Saves She Travels

One of the best things to do in San Diego is visit Old Town San Diego. It’s a lively area bustling with restaurants, shops, museums, tours and so much more. Whether you can spend just a couple of hours in the area or have a whole weekend to explore it, there’s so many things to do in Old Town San Diego.

First of all, you’ll find over a dozen Mexican restaurants in Old Town. So if you like Mexican food and cocktails, this is the place you’ll want to spend your time.

With perfect, hand-made tortillas, amazing margaritas and the perfect chips and salsa, you’ll find any combination of Mexican food you’ll love at one of the many restaurants in Old Town.

It’s the birthplace of California so there’s a lot of history and free museums in the area. Visit the Old Town State Historic Park and the La Casa De Estudillo Museum. If you’re up for a thrill, take a haunted tour at the Whaley House.

On weekends you’ll see live music and artisan vendor fairs filling the streets. To stay near all the action, a night at the historical Cosmopolitan Hotel, restored back to the 1870’s style is sure to create lasting memories of Old Town!


Cabrillo National Monument

cabrillo national monument san diego

Recommended by Nicholas of Rambling Feet

The Cabrillo National Monument at Point Loma comprises more than just a statue marking the Spanish explorer’s arrival in San Diego in 1542, but that is a good place to start your exploration of the area.

From there, there is a commanding view of the Bay, North Island, Coronado Island and the city to be had, along with a stiff breeze. Walking a little further back up the road, the decommissioned Old Point Loma lighthouse affords even better 360-degree views at the top that include the surrounding park and the Pacific Ocean.

It may be nearly 170 years old but it remains well-maintained, with its pretty spiral staircase being a highlight. During whale watching season, one might even spot pods of migrating gray whales heading south to calve.

At low tide, head down the slopes via the trail to reach the tidal pools. See how many crabs, hermit crabs, limpets, sea anemones, snails and other marine fauna you can spot with your children, or just enjoy the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks. Just remember to look and not touch!


Day Trip to Orange County

orange county

Recommended by Stacy of The Discovery Nut

Located about halfway between San Diego Los Ángeles, Orange County makes one of the best quick trips from both of these cities.

Home to post-card like vistas, dozens of cultural and historic landmarks and some of the best surfing places in Southern California such as Huntington Beach and San Clemente, Orange County is a true pearl of this region.

Explore

Whether you want to explore one of gorgeous beachside communities in Orange County such as Laguna Beach or San Clemente or want to spend more time inland and visit Disneyland, the historic town of Orange or one of the museums, there are many things in this region to keep you busy for at least a few days.

While Orange County is home to millions of people, it still has several areas where you can disconnect and enjoy the unspoiled scenery. For beautiful ocean views and hiking opportunities head to Crystal Cove State Park or relax at Balboa Peninsula, Orange County is home to many stunning natural views.

Experience

For the ultimate experience, head to Dana Point where you can take a whale watching tour and learn more about marine wildlife in the Ocean Institute.

For a better experience, plan to spend 3-5 days in the region so you can enjoy your experience and explore some of the best things to do in Orange County.


Day Trip to Julian

Julian near San Diego

Recommended by Samantha of PA on Pause

San Diego is absolutely beautiful and there are so many things to do and see, but it would be a mistake not to venture away from the beaches and surf shops to visit Julian. Driving the 60 miles north and east will feel like it transports you into another world, and it’s a great way to spend an extra day near San Diego.

Julian is an old mining town that has kept some of that gold rush era charm. Take a gold mine tour to learn more about the history. There are tours tailored to all ages, fun for young and old alike.

Wander the main street through town and you’ll experience that old-time feel in shops that sell candy, books, gifts, and antiques.

Julian is nestled in the mountains of southern California, surrounded by orchards and agriculture, so it’s known for fantastic apple pie. The landscape also provides excellent opportunities for hiking near Julian, and you can find anything from a short stroll to a challenging multi-day adventure close by.

After all that exploring, stop by Jeremy’s on the Hill for some delicious, fresh, and local dishes to fill your stomach. If you’d like to spend the night out here, there are plenty of options to reserve a cabin, lodge, or bed & breakfast stay.

On a clear night near Julian, you just might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Milky Way up in the sky. In May 2021, Julian was named an International Dark Sky Community, and it’s a great spot for stargazing not far from San Diego.


Mission Beach Boardwalk

Mission Beach in San Diego

Mission Beach is around two miles long and spans from the Pacific Ocean to Mission Bay. Enjoy the beautiful weather, relax, and spend the day on the beach! Perhaps the biggest attraction on the boardwalk is Belmont Park.

Belmont Park an amusement park right on the boardwalk featuring rollercoasters, arcades, and a ton of other park rides. Oh, and don’t forget to grab some great seafood at one of the many restaurants you’ll find along the boardwalk.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alexandrea Sumuel

Alexandrea Sumuel is the founder of Wander With Alex, where she provides vacationers and travel enthusiasts with trip ideas, travel guides, news, and itineraries. She travels to experience, eat, and explore-- and, on occasion, escape! Alex’s mission is to help people travel better.

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