8 Things to Do and Places to Visit in San Diego

If you’re looking for a Californian experience that’s both city and nature in one, then San Diego might just be the ideal destination for you. Despite being the second largest city in the state, San Diego offers a laid-back atmosphere with plenty of quiet corners and scenic views to enjoy.

With around 50 miles of pristine beaches, you’ll find plenty of variety here, whether you’re seeking blissful solitude or a buzzing beach bar. And while San Diego may be described as “relaxing,” it’s anything but sleepy, with a nightlife that ranges from elegant to eclectic, offering something for everyone. In this guide, we’ll explore the best things to do in San Diego, from the packed bars blasting early 2000s hip-hop to the sparklingly fancy rooftops with skyscraper views.

1. Explore the Arts, Culture and Gardens of Balboa Park

Balboa Park is a sprawling 1200-acre green space located in the heart of San Diego. It’s not just a beautiful park, but also home to numerous museums, eateries, arts and crafts shops, and the famous San Diego Zoo. The Japanese garden is a must-visit spot, offering a serene and tranquil atmosphere to relax and unwind.

The park is an ideal location for a picnic under the shade of a massive pine tree or a full day of exploring the park’s attractions one by one. The park’s Explorer Pass is the most cost-effective way to experience everything the park has to offer.

With its diverse range of attractions, Balboa Park offers something for everyone. Whether you’re interested in art, culture, or nature, you’ll find it all here. So, take your time and explore the arts, culture, and gardens of Balboa Park to make the most of your visit.

2. Discover Your Favorite San Diego Beach

San Diego offers a variety of beaches, each with its own unique charm. Whether you’re a surfer or prefer to relax under the sun, there’s a beach that suits your preference.

If you’re looking for a serene and secluded location, Windansea Beach in La Jolla is an ideal choice. The beach boasts stunning rock formations and bright sand, perfect for unwinding from the hustle and bustle of the city. However, the strong waves make it less suitable for swimming.

Mission Beach and Pacific Beach are two classic San Diego beaches located northwest of downtown. The long boardwalk is a hub of activity, with cyclists and skaters cruising by. There are plenty of restaurants and bars serving margaritas, making it a great spot for a night out. Mission Beach also has a giant roller coaster, perfect for thrill-seekers.

For a more laid-back vibe, head to Ocean Beach. The beach is a popular spot for volleyball enthusiasts and has a typically chill crowd. On lucky days, you might even stumble upon a random drum circle. If you’re visiting on a Wednesday, make sure to check out the farmers market on Newport Ave, just off of Ocean Beach.

Coronado Beach, located south of downtown, is known for its peaceful atmosphere. It’s a short drive over a long bridge, and the views are breathtaking. The beach is perfect for a relaxing day out, but be aware that parking can be difficult during peak season.

While this list is not exhaustive, it should give you a starting point to explore the many beaches San Diego has to offer. Don’t be afraid to venture out and discover your own favorite spot.

3. Walk around Torrey Pines Nature Reserve

When you’re in San Diego, take a quick trip to Torrey Pines Nature Reserve, and you won’t be disappointed. This coastal state park boasts of sandy trails that lead to breathtaking cliffside views. The fresh scent of pine trees and sage shrubs make you feel like you’re on a camping trip, and you might even feel the urge to pitch a tent. Hike around the rolling hills and enjoy the stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. Don’t forget to descend down the steps to the beautiful Torrey Pines State Beach.

Detour: If you’re in the area, make sure to check out the Birch Aquarium, just south of Torrey Pines. The aquarium is home to some lovely marine life and offers equally lovely views of the sea.

4. Enjoy Art and Great Food in Barrio Logan

Barrio Logan, located south of downtown San Diego, is a cultural hub that celebrates Mexican-American heritage and art. The neighborhood is home to numerous galleries and large-scale murals that showcase the area’s artistic flair. One must-visit destination is Chicano Park, situated beneath the Coronado Bridge. This historical landmark is a must-see outdoor art museum, featuring dozens of intricate murals painted in vibrant hues.

When planning your visit to Barrio Logan, make sure to arrive with an appetite. The neighborhood is a foodie’s paradise, with an abundance of delicious Mexican cuisine that is worth saving room for. Las Cuatro Milpas is a must-visit for authentic tacos and tamales. If you are wondering what to eat in San Diego, this should be your first stop.

Barrio Logan is a sensory delight that offers a unique experience of art, culture, and cuisine.

5. Check out La Jolla Cove

If you’re looking for a picturesque spot to take in the stunning San Diego coastline, La Jolla Cove is a must-visit. This beautiful stretch of shoreline is home to a variety of marine life, including plenty of sea lions that can often be seen basking in the sun. While you can no longer access the beach itself due to safety concerns, the views from above are still well worth the trip.

As you stroll around the area, be sure to stop by Bobboi Natural Gelato for a scoop of their mouth-watering gelato. This local favorite is widely regarded as the best in San Diego and is the perfect treat to enjoy as you take in the breathtaking scenery.

It’s important to note that La Jolla Beach is closed to the public, so plan on finding a spot to relax elsewhere. The city made this decision to protect the sea lions and their natural habitat, so be sure to keep a safe distance and observe these fascinating creatures from afar.

6. Hang out in North Park and South Park

While most visitors stick to the coastal neighborhoods, you don’t want to miss out on the funky and charming North Park and South Park. These two neighborhoods blend into one another and offer minimalist-chic coffee shops and creative bars that would make any hipster proud. Even though they are mostly residential, the main drags of North Park, University Ave, and 30th St, are filled with restaurants serving all cuisines, little boutique shops, and creatively designed bars.

It’s quieter down in South Park, but you’ll encounter the same charm. One of the must-visit places in the area is Part Time Lover, a bar and record shop combination with an opulent interior design. However, parking in North Park can be a nightmare on weekends, so it’s best to plan to walk a little bit or use Uber or public transportation.

If you’re looking for shopping in South Park, head over to the vintage store and other independent shops in San Diego. These neighborhoods are perfect for a day of exploring and experiencing the local culture, away from the typical tourist spots.

7. Watch a Game or Attend a Concert at Petco Park

Petco Park is a must-visit destination, even if you’re not a baseball fan. Located in the heart of downtown San Diego, this stadium offers stunning views of the city skyline and is home to the San Diego Padres. Beyond baseball season, Petco Park hosts a variety of concerts and events throughout the year, featuring both big-name performers and up-and-coming artists.

If you’re looking for a lively atmosphere, the Gaslamp Quarter is just steps away from the stadium. This vibrant neighborhood is packed with restaurants, bars, and clubs, making it the perfect spot to continue your night after a game or concert. Keep in mind that things can get rowdy in the Gaslamp Quarter, so be prepared for a lively and energetic crowd.

8. Wine and Dine in Little Italy

Little Italy is a neighborhood that is steeped in Italian culture and heritage, and it is home to some of the best restaurants in San Diego. This neighborhood is a foodie’s paradise, with upscale cocktail bars and inviting restaurants that offer al fresco dining. You will find a wide range of international fare from top chefs, in addition to Italian food. Piazza della Famiglia, a European-style plaza in the heart of the neighborhood, adds to the charm of Little Italy.

If you want to experience the best of Little Italy’s culinary scene, visit on Saturdays or Wednesdays for the Little Italy Mercato. This is the largest farmers market in town, spanning six blocks. You can sample fresh produce, artisanal cheeses, and other local delights while enjoying the vibrant atmosphere of the market.