Sure, San Diego’s best known for its spectacular beaches and fantastic weather year-round, but there are many fun things to do in the city if you know where to look. America’s Finest City is chock-full of popular attractions, exciting activities, and a few hidden gems you don’t want to miss on your next vacation. To get you started, here is a bucket list of the best things to do in San Diego, including 16 places to visit (in no particular order). It’s the ideal San Diego sightseeing checklist!
#1 – Light Up the Night at the Gaslamp Quarter
The Gaslamp Quarter is San Diego’s downtown entertainment and dining hub. The trendy district gets its name from the gas lamps that used to line the streets. Today, it’s best recognized for the chic restaurants, clubs, bars, and breweries that come to life in the evenings. The Gaslamp Quarter is an incredible mix of contemporary skyscrapers and classic Victorian-era buildings. It’s the best place to eat, drink, and be merry until the wee hours.
#2 – Root, Root, Root for the Padres
Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, is one of the most beautiful and fan-friendly baseball stadiums in the Major Leagues, and nothing is better than catching a night game at the park from April to October. It’s because the perfect weather and starry skies make for a perfect backdrop to see a game. The ballpark has a terrific selection of pubs, restaurants, food carts, beverage stations, and even a nightclub. The stadium is only a few blocks from the Gaslamp District, so you can keep partying into extra innings!
#3 – Visit Balboa Park
San Diego’s iconic Balboa Park is home to many of the city’s best attractions. The 14,000-acre park has Spanish-style museums, galleries, and gardens and is home to the world-famous San Diego Zoo. Plan to spend at least a day roaming around the park, exploring the grounds, and visiting the zoo.
#4 – The San Diego Zoo
As much as San Diego is known for sandy beaches and warm weather, it’s heralded for its world-class zoo. If you’ve never been, carve out some time to visit the San Diego Zoo, located in Balboa Park. Make sure to put this on your San Diego vacation bucket list!
#5 – The San Diego Zoo Safari Park
The Safari Park is an offshoot of the main zoo and makes for a wonderful companion destination for families and animal lovers. Ride in open-air trucks as you safari through the animals’ spacious enclosures.
#6 – Go to the U.S.S. Midway Museum
Lovers of the sea and military history will enjoy a trip to the Embarcadero, Maritime Museum of San Diego, and the U.S.S. Midway Museum. The Embarcadero is a harbor-front walkway near downtown that showcases local naval and maritime history. The Maritime Museum has a collection of restored historic ships and the U.S.S. Midway Museum allows visitors to explore the whole aircraft carrier and 30 wholly restored aircraft.
#7 – Play at Belmont Park
Spend the day at a classic boardwalk amusement park in Mission Beach – Belmont Park! The retro park dates to 1925 and has an old wooden roller coaster and several throwback rides, an arcade, lots of tasty treats, and sweets. It’s the Coney Island of the West Coast!
#8 – Plan a Day at Legoland
One of the newer attractions on the West Coast, Legoland celebrates the classic children’s toy in grand style with a massive theme park and water park. A hit with kids and adults, the park has all kinds of rides, interactive activities, shops, boutiques, games, and food. You can purchase tickets for the theme park, the water park, or both.
#9 – Visit Old Town San Diego
Take a step back to Spanish-inspired 1769 at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, the city’s oldest district and the first European settlement in California. Situated in the city’s heart, Old Town has historic sites, museums, quaint shops, boutiques, galleries, and restaurants.
#10 – Take a Trolly Tour
Hop aboard one of San Diego’s vintage trolleys for an informative and fun ride around downtown San Diego and the Old Town area. There are one- and two-day tours available. See many of the city’s top attractions, including many destinations mentioned in this blog. The guided tour provides plenty of insight into San Diego’s vibrant history.
#11 – Experience Birch Aquarium
Birch Aquarium in La Jolla is one of the most impressive aquatic education and outreach centers globally. An integral part of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the aquarium celebrates marine life and its unique habitat through informative displays, exhibits, and presentations.
#12 – Snorkeling at La Jolla Cove
The cove at La Jolla is a protected marine habitat for various wildlife, including sea lions, sea turtles, seabirds, and fish. You can kayak or snorkel around the area and explore the marvelous hidden sea caves.
#13 – Go Whale Watching
San Diego is a terrific spot to view grey and blue humpback whales migrating to and from Mexico. The grey whales migrate in the winter and spring, while the blue whales migrate in the summer and fall – so there’s always something to see off the coast of San Diego. While you can see some whales from the shore, it’s best to take a paid whale watching tour because they know all the best spots.
#14 – Watch the Sunset at Point Loma
Point Loma is a peninsula that juts into the Pacific Ocean and separates San Diego Bay and Mission Bay. The small neighborhood has rugged cliffs that make for a fabulous place to watch the sunset. To do it, head to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park later in the day for the Golden Hour, but also plan a stop at the Cabrillo National Monument and the Point Loma lighthouse along the way.
#15 – Visit the San Diego Botanic Garden
Explore more than 37 acres of rare, native, and foreign plants at Encinitas’s San Diego Botanic Gardens. A stroll through the gardens takes you through various climates, from the hot desert to a lush, tropical forest. Moreover, the park hosts a few intriguing events and activities throughout the year that are worth a closer look.
#16 – Check Out the Carlsbad Flower Fields
Every spring, the 50-acre Carlsbad Flower Fields come to life in various colors, as the entire hillside explodes with the vibrance of thousands of Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flowers. A trip to the flower fields is a springtime tradition for many locals. You can walk through the fields, take endless selfies and Instagram pictures, a learn about the process and care involved in maintaining the areas.
Need more? There’s lots to do in San Diego, so we have you covered. Here are 11 More Places to Visit on Vacation in San Diego.