Things to do in San Diego, CA

San Diego skyline and harborSan Diego, in sunny Southern California, is known for its beautiful weather, its picturesque beaches, and its proximity to the United States-Mexico border. Whether you're looking for adult fun or family-friendly adventures, you'll be sure to find fun things to do in San Diego this weekend. In this guide, we'll take you through some of the best things to do in San Diego, CA, beloved by tourists and residents alike!

Best Things to Do in San Diego, CA

Visiting Balboa Park is one of the absolute top things to do in San Diego. Centrally located in downtown San Diego, the park is home to traditional recreation and sporting areas, a dog park, and a disc golf course, but it is more famously the site of the San Diego Zoo, a full Japanese garden, several performing arts venues, and 17 museums. The zoo, a favorite with families, is one of only four zoos in the United States to feature giant pandas. Other popular endangered species on exhibit include elephants, koalas, okapi, rhinos, gorillas, and multiple species of bears and big cats. A full list of the museums in Balboa Park can be found on the park's website, but we'll highlight a few of the most popular institutions here. Art enthusiasts will find several art museums and galleries in the park but definitely won't want to miss two of the biggest: the San Diego Museum of Art, focused on historic fine arts, and the San Diego Art Institute, which features modern and contemporary art. Those interested in history and the sciences will find much to explore at the Fleet Science Center, San Diego History Center, San Diego Museum of Man, and San Diego Natural History Museum. And finally, if you and your family have a love of transportation history, check out the San Diego Air & Space Museum, San Diego Automotive Museum, or San Diego Model Railroad Museum.

Orcas Perform at SeaWorldOutside of Balboa Park, visiting SeaWorld is one of the must-do things in San Diego. This famous attraction is located in Mission Bay and has been thrilling visitors since 1964. The park is most famous for its aquatic animal exhibits and live performances by trained dolphins, orcas, and sea lions. The park also features live shows by human performers, thrill rides, water rides, costumed characters, and various dining and shopping locations.

 

 

Downtown, Gaslamp Quarter, and Little Italy

There are lots of fun things to do in Downtown San Diego, a neighborhood comprised of the marina/harbor area, Gaslamp Quarter, East Village, Cortez Hill, and Little Italy. The marina area stretches from the Embarcadero in the north to Seaport Village in the south, ending at the San Diego-Coronado Bridge, which connects the city to an island Navy base and the associated town of Coronado. At the Embarcadero, you can relax at Waterfront Park, which includes several beautiful fountains and a children's play area. Then, visit the Maritime Museum of San Diego to learn about the city's rich naval and commercial maritime history, and tour several historic and replica ships, including tall sailing ships, submarines, and steamboats. You can also tour the USS Midway, an aircraft carrier constructed in 1945 that was once the largest vessel in the world. Today, the ship has been converted into a floating museum. Those who wish to embark on a cruise of San Diego's harbor can do so easily from the Embarcadero; we recommend Flagship Cruises, Hornblower Cruises, or San Diego Speed Boat Adventures. South of the Embarcadero, Seaport Village is a popular spot for strolling the waterfront as well as dining and shopping. At the east end of Seaport Village, the San Diego Convention Center is home to numerous events and expos throughout the year, including the internationally famous San Diego Comic-Con, one of the largest pop-culture conventions in the world.

Other areas of Downtown to explore include the Gaslamp Quarter, a historic district of San Diego known for its bustling nightlife. Here, you can explore top-class restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and theaters, shop at Westfield Horton Plaza, or catch a baseball game with the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Some quieter things to do in Gaslamp, San Diego, include taking a stroll through Fault Line Park and browsing history and art exhibits at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chinese Historical Museum, and Gaslamp Museum. You'll find even more fun things to do in Little Italy, San Diego's premier destination for high-quality restaurants as well as excellent shopping locations and frequent neighborhood events. While there are many highly rated Italian eateries in the neighborhood, a few of our top recommendations include Buon Appetito, Mimmo's, Mona Lisa, and Bencotto.

Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, and Old Town

Surfer at San Diego beachThe west side of San Diego includes the communities of La Jolla, Old Town, and Point Loma as well as several neighborhoods surrounding beautiful Mission Bay: Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, and Midway. This part of the city is known for its gorgeous coastline, parks, and recreation areas. Popular recreation spots around Mission Bay include Fiesta Island, Tecolote Shores, Crown Point Park, Ventura Cove, Cabrillo National Monument, and Mission Beach Park. Head to Santa Clara Recreation Center in Mission Beach for community athletics and play areas, and check out Ocean Beach Pier for fishing and tide pool viewing opportunities, as well as many nearby dining options.

Popular areas for swimming, snorkeling, and relaxing on the beach in La Jolla, north of Mission Bay, include La Jolla Shores Park, La Jolla Cove, La Jolla Tide Pools, and Cuvier Park. Head north to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve for beaches, hiking trails, wildlife-spotting, and a golf course. Things to do in Old Town, San Diego, east of Mission Bay, include a ride on the Old Town trolleys, taking a walk through Presidio Park and historic Fort Stockton, and a visit to the neighborhood's several historical museums and cultural areas. We recommend Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, La Casa de Estudillo, Junipero Serra Museum, Wells Fargo History Museum, and Whaley House.

Family-Friendly Fun With Your Kids and Dogs

Seals at the Children's PoolLooking for kid-friendly things to do in San Diego with your family? You'll find lots of fun-filled adventures suitable for little ones. In the La Jolla area, kids love to visit the Children's Pool, with designated swimming areas designed to be safe for young kids and excellent opportunities to spot seals. For further seal and sea lion viewing opportunities, check out a kayak tour of the La Jolla Sea Caves, where seals are known to bask, or a SEAL (Sea and Land) Tour of San Diego, a duck-boat tour of the city that often includes a chance to see sea lions in the open water. Or try a San Diego Whale Watch tour for a chance to see whales and other aquatic wildlife. Those who'd rather view marine life from dry land can check out Birch Aquarium in La Jolla.

If your kids loved the San Diego Zoo and are eager to see more animals, try the Zoo Safari Park in the nearby suburb of Escondido for caravan tours through open-air animal exhibits, including such species as elephants, giraffes, cheetahs, and rhinoceroses. The zoo features giraffe-feeding encounters, a zipline, and a ropes course for more fun. Other popular family things to do in San Diego include Legoland California and its accompanying SeaLife Aquarium and water park in the suburb of Carlsbad, carnival rides and games at Belmont Park in Mission Beach, and the New Children's Museum and Park in Gaslamp. If you're looking for things to do in San Diego with dogs, try pet-friendly Ocean Beach Dog Beach, Fiesta Island's off-leash dog park, Nate's Point Dog Park, or Coronado Beach.

Nightlife for Couples This Weekend

Couple and dog at San Diego beachCouples looking for fun things to do in San Diego at night will find no shortage of hip restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and performing arts venues for an excellent date night. While San Diego's varied neighborhoods have many different top-rated restaurants to choose from, with a wide selection of cuisines, we'll recommend a few of our favorites. For seafood, try Truluck's, El Pescador, Ironside Fish & Oyster, or Eddie V's. For Mexican fare, check out The Taco Stand, La Playa, or Oscars Mexican Seafood. Top-rated pizza places include Filippi's and Landini's, while Harney Sushi is the place to go for Japanese food. After dinner, check out one of San Diego's most popular bars, such as Noble Experiment, Aero Club, Polite Provisions, Altitude Sky Lounge, or Hamiltons Tavern. Hot nightclubs in the area include the Onyx, Kava Lounge, and Bang Bang. For live music, theater performances, and cinema, some popular recommendations include the San Diego Performing Arts Center, San Diego Civic Theatre, Balboa Theatre, The Casbah, Spreckels Theatre, and San Diego Repertory Theatre.

Free and Cheap Activities

On a budget? There are plenty of fun, cheap things to do in San Diego, even free options! For some relaxing afternoon fun that won't break your budget, head down to beautiful Chicano Park, take a walk across the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge to Harper's Topiary Garden, peruse the art galleries of the University of San Diego, or catch up on your reading at the San Diego Central Library. In the summer, San Diego hosts a number of free or low-priced events and festivals. Popular events include the Coronado Summer Concert Series, San Diego International Auto Show, the U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge, Fourth of July fireworks, and the Summer Movies in the Park series.

North County and Surrounding Area

There are more things to do around San Diego outside of the city proper, both in the southern part of the area near the U.S.-Mexico border and in the north of San Diego County. South of San Diego, head to the city of Chula Vista to visit attractions like Aquatica Water Park, Silver Strand State Beach, Living Coast Discovery Center, Bayside Park, and San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge. One hour east of Chula Vista, outdoor enthusiasts will love exploring Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Things to do in North County, San Diego County's northern region, include going to Mission Trails Regional Park, Palomar Mountain, and Cleveland National Forest. Or you might want to head to the city of Oceanside to hang out at Oceanside Pier, the California Surf Museum, and Ocean's Eleven Casino.