Best 10 things to do in San Diego, California

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Looking for tips on the top 10 things to do in San Diego? Keep reading down below!

Or, for the best things to do in San Diego with kids click that link.

The Ocean Beach in San Diego, California
Ocean Beach, San Diego

A Laid Back City

In 2005, I met an Aussie in New Zealand. In 2009, we got married, traveled around the world, lived in Melbourne and moved back to New York.

With more ‘round the world travel and adventures along the way, we yearned for a more laid back approach to day-to-day existence.

Looking to ditch snow, ice, and cold, we headed west to San Diego in 2014 – we’re still here!

We’ve embraced the west coast lifestyle of year ‘round sun, sand and surf of America’s finest city and definitely consider ourselves ‘locals’ (especially since the majority of those we’ve met, have also chosen this city as their own).

Finding the outdoor lifestyle, scenic vistas, gorgeous beaches, delicious food, friendly attitudes and limited use of outerwear we were searching for – San Diego is an absolute pleasure.

Come check out our chosen city, San Diego, California.

Best things to do in San Diego

San Diego is one of the best places to visit alone, with your friends, or as a family. It’s so laid-back and there is seriously so much to do here. It was tough to narrow it down to just 10, but these are the things you shouldn’t miss while you are here.

Spend the day at one of San Diego’s beaches

La Jolla Beach in San Diego
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If you are visiting San Diego you have to see at least one of the many epic beaches.

With crashing waves and over 70 miles of shoreline, sand and surf lovers find their home here.

Paddleboarders, surfers, kayakers, wave jumpers, sandcastle experts, sunbathers, and joyful wanderers wiggle their toes through the sand and shake out the salty sea from their hair daily.

Here are the best beaches to visit, and they are all close to the city:

  • Coronado
  • Pacific
  • Imperial
  • Mission
  • Ocean
  • Del Mar City Beach
  • La Jolla Shores
  • Moonlight Beach

My favorite is Coronado.

Known for its smoke-free shores, ‘Sand Castle Man’, the famed Hotel del Coronado, two Navy bases and more – the waves, sand, and bayside of Coronado Island never disappoint.

Book a beachfront hotel and enjoy the sun and the waves. Stay at the Ocean Beach Hotel or the Mission Beach Paradise vacation home.

Get your green on at Balboa Park

Balboa Park in San Diego
Balboa Park – One of the best things to do in San Diego. Image: Shutterstock.com

The 1200-acre urban park is San Diego’s pinnacle green space and one of the best ways to spend a day exploring. And the best part is entrance and parking to the park is completely free. You might have to pay for tickets to see special events or to get into a few museums within the park, however.

With international cottages, museums, theatres, gardens, sporting arenas, an organ pavilion, the zoo and more, Balboa Park invites visitors to take in the view.

Between buskers, picnic-goers, travelers, event attendees and wanderers a-plenty, Balboa Park is packed with people learning, experiencing, doing and enjoying on a daily basis. and is a welcoming experience.

Check out the free concert schedule at Spreckels Organ Pavilion in the summer, stroll through the international cottages on any given Sunday or spend time taking in the food mecca of December Nights.

Hang with the animals at San Diego Zoo/Safari Park

A Rhino at the San Diego Safari Park - things to do in San Diego, California
Image: Shutterstock.com

Animal lovers rejoice! Between Balboa Park’s San Diego Zoo and Escondido’s Safari Park, there are heaps of animal friends with whom to visit.

Check out the koalas, Giant pandas and polar bears at the zoo or hang with the rhinos at the wildlife sanctuary. Each family-friendly property offers its own special programming from a ‘roar and snore’ sleepover to a holiday light spectacular.

Browse the events and buy your San Diego Zoo tickets online.

Go Hiking

A stunning view of a cliff overlooking a beach outside of San Diego
Image: Shutterstock.com

Home to nature galore, San Diegans embrace a love of trails.

Whether it’s open sky, tree-lined paths, ocean breezes, waterfront action or a backcountry feel – the trails provide variety, serenity, active attitudes and more.

Within minutes from downtown San Diego hikers can find these amazing places to hike:

  • Cabrillo National Monument
  • Border Field State Park
  • Mission Trails Regional Park
  • Torrey Pines Reserve
  • Balboa Park
  • La Jolla Cove

Afternoon or weekend excursions can take guests to Joshua Tree National Park, Julian’s Idyllwild, Big Bear or the sun-drenched trails of Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

My two local favourite hiking spots are Torrey Pines State Reserve and Cabrillo National Monument.

Water and city scenes, sandy pathways and views as far as the eyes can see are constant throughout the trails.

Eat tacos and drink beer!

Eat fish tacos and drink craft beer - things to do in San Diego, California
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Whether you eat waterside in La Jolla or in historic Old Town’s square, in the center of the city’s Gaslamp Quarter or grab the hipster vibe of Hillcrest – festive food is ever-present in San Diego.

Home to over 90 craft breweries, this is a beer drinker’s paradise.

Find authentic fish tacos everywhere you turn, delight in the brunch culture enjoying local favorites and check out the gourmet food trucks in their heyday.

For fabulous brunch spots, check out the East Village’s The Mission or Hillcrest’s Snooze AM.

For a craft beer tasting of your very own ‘flight’, head to Mission, Stone or Ballast Point Breweries.

And if you’re a fan of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives®, check out my favourite fish taco spot at San Diego’s own Blue Water Seafood Market and Grill.

Attend a Sporting match

Attend a sporting match at Petco Park - things to do in San Diego, California
Petco Park San Diego

From the Padres to the Chargers, sport is here in San Diego.

If you enjoy going to games, then check out any of these events, it really is fun for the entire family.

  • Baseball at Petco Park – San Diego Padres
  • Ice Hockey – San Diego Gulls
  • Sand Sculpting Competitions
  • Professional Surfing
  • Marathons
  • Triathalons

Visit one of San Diego’s many museums

Caz smiles at the Maritime Museum in San Diego

With well over fifty museums in the region, culture abounds in San Diego County.

For cultural things to do in San Diego check out the myriad of museums in Balboa Park (like the San Diego Museum of Art or the San Diego History Center).

Learn military history at Miramar’s Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum or spend the afternoon with animal friends at Scripps Birch Aquarium in La Jolla.

A day spent at a museum takes active learning to new heights.

Hang out at the Farmer’s Markets

San Diego farmer's market
Image: Shutterstock.com

Juicy, colourful, sweet, organic, fresh vegetables, fruits, foods, and crafts are available daily throughout all of San Diego’s farmer’s markets.

Food trucks, vendors, artisans, crafters, farmers, and creators display their wares, finds and foods in all parts of the county.

Downtown’s largest farmer’s market takes place Saturdays in Little Italy. The aromas waft through the streets while market stalls entice guests towards the epic displays.

Experience epic outdoor adventures

A man with his surfboard looking at the San Diego sunset while standing in the ocean
Image: Shutterstock.com

Like the idea of leading an active, outdoor lifestyle 52 weeks a year?

San Diego has the climate and the landscape to allow you to enjoy outdoor adventures, like hiking, whale watching, and camping.

You can also do water sports like surfing, wakeboarding, and paddleboarding. There is nothing like a day out on the Pacific Ocean!

Unlike a lot of places in America, you can enjoy an afternoon hike in the middle of February.

Enjoy San Diego living

Enjoying Life - things to do in San Diego, California

The laid back approach to life makes enjoying the hours surrounding ‘work’ enjoyable.

A visit to the beach or an outdoor hike can be worked into the ‘daily grind’.

Events rarely have ‘rain-dates’; restaurants pop heaters outside if the temperature dips below 68F/20C, and at some point most days there’s access to the essential vitamin D.

Plus, there are some amazing craft beer companies and a thriving arts community in San Diego that you can see and experience.

Quality of life is a focal point while the rest manages to fall into place.

Bonus: Visit A Theme Park

A trip to southern California isn’t complete without spending time at one of their epic amusement parks.

San Diego is home to two very popular theme parks: SeaWorld and LEGOLAND. When you are planning your trip, you might want to spend a few days at each one, there is so much to see.

Buy your Sea World tickets at a discount. Don’t forget to buy LEGOLAND tickets too

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Planning a Trip to San Diego

Accommodation

  • Booking.com has over 300 properties in San Diego including hotels, apartments and hostels. You get free cancelation on most rooms and their best price guarantee.

Flights

  • Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).

Car Rental

  • RentalCars.com is the world’s biggest car rental booking service that compares all the major brands like Hertz, Avis, Alamo, and Europcar.

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