Visit San Diego to explore the local attractions in one of California’s favorite travel destinations. Whether you’re taking a day trip from Los Angeles or planning a few days in town, there are lots of things to do in San Diego to make it a fun trip.
Get out and explore the scenic city on the waterfront, where you’ll have the perfect mix of culture, history, and entertainment. From the daytime activities to the nightlife fun, let’s check out some of the best things to do in San Diego.
San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo saved you a trip around the world by bringing your favorite animals directly to you. It ranks as one of the most visited zoos in the US, with millions of visitors every year.
The zoo is home to over 600 different species of animals. It’s a large area featuring various exhibitions to see popular animals like lions, tigers, giraffes, monkeys, gorillas, polar bears, koalas, and more. The zoo also includes a safari park to see wildlife in a more natural setting.
Be sure to plan your visit before you arrive because you can easily spend a few hours and still not see everything.
You can’t go to San Diego without visiting the historic Gaslamp Quarter. As soon as you pass the iconic sign hanging over the street, you’ll have over a dozen blocks to explore one of the city’s most vibrant districts.
The Gaslamp Quarter is a hub for culture, entertainment, and nightlife. It’s a scenic area with many historic buildings where you’ll find some of the best shops and restaurants in town. Take a walk down the strip in the day to see lots of street performers and San Diego street art and visit at night to find the best bars.
Balboa Park was established in the mid-1800s but received a major uplift after hosting the Panama-California Exposition. The event and other events in later years left a lasting mark on the park to make it a destination to enjoy culture, history, and architecture.
Balboa Park is one of the most famous urban parks in the world. It features some of the best museums, gardens, and other venues. It’s also home to the San Diego Zoo.
It’s easy to forget that it’s a public park that’s also great for a leisure walk around to enjoy the sights.
Dive into the underwater world at SeaWorld San Diego, where attendees of all ages can have a great time. It’s one of the most fun things to do in San Diego to get a close encounter with your favorite marine animals.
SeaWorld is a facility built for entertainment, education, and research. It’s a park complex that features lots of activities to fill up an entire day. Explore the aquarium exhibitions to see dolphins, sharks, octopuses, walruses, and more. You can see the animals in action in the live animal shows where the sea creatures perform impressive tasks.
The park also has theme park ride attractions for a bit of adrenaline to your visit on the roller coasters and water rides.
San Diego Comic-Con
The San Diego Comic-Con is the perfect place to release your inner geek. What started as an intimate event for a few comic fans has grown into one of the best things to do in San Diego. It’s a world-renowned convention attracting over 100,000 people across the multi-day event.
Every summer, it’s easy to tell when Comic-Con is approaching by the droves of people appearing in San Diego dressed as their favorite comic and TV characters. Due to its size, the event takes place in the San Diego Convention Center, where you’ll get to attend panel talks, browse vendors selling and showcasing comic collectibles, and more.
Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
Feel the mist of the crashing waves on the coast as you hike along the coastal trail of the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. It’s one of the best places to visit in San Diego to watch the sunset.
Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is located on the Point Loma Peninsula, where you’ll have scenic vistas of the Pacific Ocean along the rugged coastline. Arrive just in time for the sunset and enjoy a hike on the 3-mile trail where the colorful sky will truly take your breath away.
You’ll have plenty of beach options when visiting San Diego, but Coronado Beach is one of the most popular. It’s one of the best places to go surfing and offers picturesque views looking out to the ocean.
Coronado Beach is a popular option for a day at the beach. The sparkly golden sand and blue waters are more than welcoming to enjoy leisure and recreation. Go for a swim or surf the best waves in San Diego or have a picnic out on the sand.
Torrey Pines Gilderport
If you’re looking for fun things to do near San Diego, make a trip to the Torrey Pines Gilderport airport. As you approach it, you’ll see the colorful parachutes of people soaring in the air! It’s the best place to paragliding and hang gliding.
Paragliding isn’t for everyone, but you’ll indeed have an unforgettable experience in the air. You’ll soar way above Blacks Beach and the coastal cliffs for an incredible view. It offers lessons for beginners, and you have an option to go with a trained expert.
USS Midway Museum
A visit to the USS Midway Museum is a rare opportunity to climb aboard a massive naval aircraft carrier for an interactive museum experience. The vessel is a former warship from the Cold War Era that was decommissioned in 1992 and now docked in Navy Pier as a museum.
USS Midway Museum gives visitors a guided tour on the ship to see exhibitions showcasing 29 historic aircraft beautifully restored. You’ll hear real-life stories from docents who tell about their experiences on the ship.
The attraction includes a theater, a flight simulator, and other hands-on activities.
The best way to reach Coronado Island from the San Diego mainland is via ferry, but it’s much more than just a way to commute between the two locations. The Coronado Ferry offers one of the best San Diego skyline views.
The Coronado Ferry runs hourly and takes about 15-minutes to reach the other side. You board the ferry on the Ferry Landing. Don’t rush away from the landing quite so soon when you arrive because you’ll find some fantastic seafood restaurants and shops.
A quick insider tip – take one of the early morning ferries for a free ride.
Mission San Diego de Alcalá
The Mission San Diego de Alcalá is the first of 21 missions established in present-day California with the arrival of Spanish settlers. The iconic church has a pure white façade and a bell tower that you can enter to learn more about the site’s history.
The original mission church burned during a revolt, and the current building was constructed in the 19th Century. It remains an active church, so you might find a service in session during your visit.
You can take a self-guided tour through the chapel and museum to learn about its history.
Add a bit of thrill to your San Diego trip with a visit to Belmont Park. It’s a famous beachfront amusement park located on the Mission Beach Boardwalk. The longstanding park has been one of the most fun things to do in San Diego since 1925 and has been welcoming generations to come and relive fun childhood memories.
Belmont Park is home to the iconic Giant Dipper roller coast, one of the few remaining wooden rides on the West Coast. Other favorite rides include the Vertical Plunge, Tilt-A-Whirl, bumper cars, and laser tag.
Views of the ocean make the towering rides much more enjoyable!
Seaport Village is one of the cool places to visit in San Diego to enjoy the local atmosphere. It’s a popular waterfront district located right on the harbor that many people visit to shop and eat.
The village complex features dozens of restaurants, shops, art galleries, and more. It’s always a laid-back atmosphere. Grab some ice cream and go for a nice walk on the waterfront or ride the historic carousel. It has some great options for delicious seafood while dining with a view of the harbor.
San Diego Natural History Museum
Balboa Park is home to several museums, but one of the largest and most popular is the San Diego Natural History Museum. It’s not every day you get to see a life-size model of a dinosaur skeleton, but it’s possible when you stop by the museum.
San Diego Natural History Museum highlights Southern California’s biodiversity ranging from prehistoric to modern times. It features interactive exhibitions to see fossils, artifacts, plants, insects, wildlife, and more.
Browse the permanent exhibitions or attend one of the traveling exhibits. Check the schedule when you arrive to see what’s playing next in the 3D IMAX Theater.
Whale Watching Cruise
Did you know that San Diego is situated perfectly in the migratory path of whales? Different species of whales migrate between Alaska and Baja California, making Southern California the perfect spot to see whales all year round.
San Diego has several whale watching tours where you’ll get to see the largest mammals on Earth. During the summer, you’ll see blue whales and humpback whales. In the winter, you’ll see grey whales.
The cruise experience lasts a few hours, where your expert captain will navigate the waters to the best viewing spots. The fun narrated tours are more than entertaining as you await the whale sightings.
Go for a walk around the Little Italy neighborhood to discover one of San Diego’s trendiest neighborhoods. It’s popular during the daytime or the evening, and there are plenty of places to go for dining or drinks.
Italian and Portuguese immigrants initially settled in Little Italy. Today, it’s a trendy neighborhood filled with restaurants, bars, and cafes. You’ll find some of the best pizza and pasta.
You’ll enjoy the social atmosphere with lots of outdoor dining and a large pedestrian area for walking off a big meal.
La Jolla Cove
La Jolla Cove is one of the best places to go in San Diego for snorkeling and scuba diving. Although it’s small, you won’t spend much time on the beach because the water has too many incredible sights to see.
La Jolla Cove has rich marine life. The clear blue waters have high visibility to see down to the ocean floor in many areas. And feel free to pop your head out of the water to admire the scenic cliffs along the coast.
San Diego Museum of Art
If you’re impressed by the abundance of San Diego street art around town, wait until you see the exhibitions inside the San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA). You’ll see works of art from world-renowned painters like Renoir, Matisse, Rubens, and Goya.
SDMA is the largest art museum in San Diego. Its extensive collection includes works dating as far back as 5000 BC. It specializes in Spanish art, Italian masters, and other famous European works.
Set aside a few hours to explore the galleries and exhibits across multiple floors. If you happen to be a local resident, you’ll have a free day to visit every month.
Old Point Loma Lighthouse
The Old Point Loma Lighthouse is a historic lighthouse located on the Point Loma peninsula. It was built in 1855 as one of the first lighthouses in California. It’s open to the public to enter and learn about its history.
Old Point Loma Lighthouse is no longer functioning but now serves as a museum. It’s a unique lighthouse that has the lighthouse keeper’s living quarters attached to the tower. The museum experience includes walking through the space.
On select days in the year, visitors can climb the spiral staircase to the top of the tower to enjoy views of the bay.
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park
Visit the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park to discover the origins of San Diego. The district is one of the first settled areas in California after the first mission was established. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and one of the top places to visit in San Diego.
You’ll see several buildings preserved from the early 1800s – other parts of the park are recreated in the original appearance. It’s the site of many landmarks like the Cosmopolitan Hotel, Wells Fargo History Museum, and the Courthouse Museum.
Be sure to stop by one of the Mexican restaurants to taste the authentic food.
It’s nearly impossible to see all of these attractions in one day, but you’ll have plenty to look forward to during your San Diego Trip. Experience some of the best things to do in San Diego, and you’ll surely be looking forward to your next visit.