6 can’t-miss things to do in San Diego

Wondering what to do in San Diego? Here are some ideas to get you started.

With nearly 1.5 million residents, San Diego is California’s second-most populous city. And it’s not hard to see why. For one thing, the United States Weather Bureau has described the weather in San Diego as close to perfect. With a climate that remains predominantly warm and sunny throughout the year and its rich culture and diversity, there are a lot of reasons to visit San Diego.

But with so many activities, special events, landmarks, museums and more to choose from, it can be hard to experience everything in one trip.  

So, if you’re planning a vacation to the southwestern coast, check out this list of things to do in San Diego, filled with top San Diego attractions that help make it widely considered America’s Finest City.

La Jolla Cove.

1. Hit the beach

No trip to SoCal is complete without at least one trip to the beach. But which one do you visit first? It depends on what you’re looking for in a sun-soaked day on the sand. But rest assured, there’s a beach for everyone in San Diego.

Pacific Beach

Head to Pacific Beach to catch locals and tourists riding waves. Located between Pacific Beach Drive and Crystal Pier, this popular spot can get a little crowded. But that’s OK, because if the sand gets too busy, there are plenty of nearby shops and restaurants to explore. And if taking in a breathtaking sunset is on your to-do list, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better view than from the pier.

La Jolla Cove

This small stretch of sand is perfectly nestled between the sandstone cliffs of the cove, protecting it from choppy Pacific waters. What it lacks in space, it makes up for in beauty. Fishing isn’t allowed on this secluded beach. So, it’s a haven for marine life. And with some of the best visibility in California waters, it’s the perfect spot for swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving. You’ll also likely get a glimpse of its flippered residents sunbathing while you’re there—La Jolla is known for playing host to local sea lions.

Balboa Park.

2. Take a stroll

San Diego is a great city to simply take a walk through. There are so many neighborhoods to explore! Little Italy, Gaslamp, Hillcrest, North Park...all of the beaches. You’d be hard-pressed to run out of room to roam. If you want a walk in the park, San Diego is your spot.

Waterfront Park

Located in downtown San Diego and only a stone’s throw away from the bay, Waterfront Park is one of San Diego’s newest landmarks. The park is built around the historic County building—but it’s so much more than a historic site. Waterfront Park features private garden rooms for private events, lush picnic areas, a children’s play zone and an interactive splash fountain! And as a favorite spot for festivals, farmers markets and special events, it’s a fun stop for locals and visitors alike.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

For a taste of unspoiled wilderness, experience Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Torrey Pines is 1,750 acres of reserved land dedicated to the preservation of local plants and wildlife. With hiking trails ranging from easy to advanced and unblocked vistas of the Pacific Ocean, Torrey Pines is an experience no nature lover should miss. There’s a visitor’s center on-site where you can sign up for guided tours, but be sure to pack your own food and water.

Balboa Park

Hosting approximately 14 million visitors per year, Balboa Park is hardly a secret. What it is, however, is a well-known and deservedly popular urban landmark famous for its flowers, trees, unique museums and architecture. And, at more than 1,000 acres, Balboa has enough going on to take up an entire day’s worth of sightseeing. So, plan your day’s activities in advance.

3. Swing some clubs

Even if you shoot below par, you’ll still love the vistas at these renowned San Diego golf courses. Worst-case scenario? Just drive the cart and enjoy the view.

Torrey Pines Golf Course

Built in 1957, Torrey Pines Golf Course offers a combination of beauty and challenge. Located about 20 minutes north of the city, this 18-hole course is one of the highest-rated in California. And because it’s built on the cliffs overlooking the ocean, you can expect gorgeous view to accompany your golf game, even if it isn’t up to par.

Balboa Park Golf Course

For something a little less out of the way, check out Balboa Park Golf Course. The course is the oldest public golf facility in the city, and it’s only a short distance from downtown, Point Loma and the beach. Not quite a pro? No problem! You can sign up for a beginner’s class taught by one. And, as Balboa is only a 9-hole course, you can hit the greens and still have time to hit the town.

4. Eat fresh catch

No doubt about it, the fish is fresh in this city. In fact, ask any San Diegan, and they’ll likely give you a passionate response on where to get the best fish tacos. So, do yourself a favor and try them all! Or at least try a few to help form your own opinion.

Not a fish taco fan? Don’t tell the locals how you feel, but don’t worry—from fine dining to fast casual and every food truck in between, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy delicious seafood.

5. Hang with wildlife

Animal lovers rejoice! Southern California is where you’ll find your favorite critters of all shapes and sizes in expansive wildlife preserves. Or better yet, in their own ocean homes.

San Diego Zoo®

Home to thousands of animals representing hundreds of species (some of which are rare or endangered), the San Diego Zoo is a wildlife extravaganza. Take behind-the-scenes tours. See animals in action with fun, interactive shows. Work alongside zoo personnel with the Keeper for a Day experience. And that’s only scratching the surface. The San Diego Zoo offers one of the most complete, modern zoo experiences in the world. So, if you’re going to be nearby, you may want to set aside a day and check it out.

If you’ve already been to the zoo, explore its Safari Park a short drive north for some incredible, up-close-and-personal animal adventures.

Whale Watching

The Pacific waters might be chilly, but they’re also home to some of the largest marine mammals on the planet. Do yourself a solid and catch a whale-watching tour while you’re there. They typically last only a couple of hours and come complete with a nature guide on the lookout...and snacks!

Gaslamp Quarter entrance gate.

6. Explore even more

San Diego is a beautiful, culturally significant city. Even if all you do is walk the streets, you’ll still get to enjoy a truly memorable SoCal experience. Because, as you’re bound to find out, there’s a reason they call it “America’s Finest City.”

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