San Diego

7 best things to do in San Diego

San Diego has beautiful beaches, fantastic parks, and lively neighborhoods. We were surprised by how much this bustling city has to offer! During our three-night stay, despite the less-than-perfect weather, we had an amazing time exploring. There’s just so much to see and do, plus countless delicious places to eat in San Diego! Discover the best things to do in San Diego and see why this coastal paradise is a must-visit destination.

1. Discover Balboa Park

the best things to do in San Diego: Balboa Park

Balboa Park is the cultural heart of San Diego. You can easily spend multiple days here since the park is home to several museums, gardens and even some restaurants. We strolled around Balboa Park for hours exploring the gardens and admiring the impressive architecture. During our time there, multiple planes flew over (a normal day in San Diego, we know) and it was really impressive!

Japanese Friendship Garden

Balboa Park is bursting with beautiful spots, but our favorite spot is without doubt the Japanese Friendship Garden. If you’re looking for a peaceful escape, make sure to visit this stunning garden! Every spot in the Japanese Friendship Garden represents a piece of Japan, from traditional architectural structures to calming koi ponds and beautiful water features. Our favorite was definitely the impressive koi pond, so make sure to check it out. The entrance fee is € 12,50 per person and well worth the price.

Another spot worth mentioning is the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages. This complex of cottages is a unique way to learn more about different countries, and was created by the United Nations! Each house represents a different country. By entering the cottage you’ll learn more about their culture, traditions and local specialties. From France to Turkey and Peru: there are over 30 cultures and countries you can learn more about, so you can easily spend a full day here alone!

2. Explore La Jolla

the best things to do in San Diego: La Jolla

La Jolla is a picturesque gem nestled along the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Known for its breathtaking natural beauty, La Jolla offers a delightful blend of amazing beaches, rugged cliffs and stunning ocean views. Since La Jolla is one of San Diego’s most popular spots, it can get quite crowded here, especially on weekends. Don’t let that stop you from exploring La Jolla! Below you can find our two favorite spots:

Spot sea lions at Children’s Pool Beach

Children's Pool Beach

Children’s Pool Beach is one of the best spots to see adorable sea lions. The beach is unfenced, allowing visitors to observe them up close in their natural habitat. We saw like 50 sea lions basking lazily in the sun, seemingly unfazed by the presence of onlookers. Truly a one-of-a-kind experience! Make sure to not get too close so you don’t scare them (or otherwise 😳). The beach itself offers a serene and picturesque setting, with its gentle waves, golden sand, and breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. The beauty of the beach itself in combination with the presence of sea lions make Children’s Pool Beach one of the best things to do in San Diego. We could watch them adorable sea lions for hours, especially the little ones. 😍

Admire the Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier

Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier

The Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier is one of the world’s largest research pier. In addition, it is also one of our favorite places to take pictures! Especially, the bottom side of the pier makes for some amazing shots. Make sure to stand as close to the sea water as possible, and the pictures you’ll take will be amazing! Other than that, the whole setting has something dreamy. From the impressive pier to the beautiful beach and its waves, it really is a picturesque spot. When we visited San Diego it was unfortunately not that hot, but we can imagine that on a warm, sunny summer day this beach is ideal for sunbathing!

3. Enjoy the best views of San Diego at Centennial Park

Centennial Park

Centennial Park, located in Coronado Island, offers the best views of the city’s stunning skyline and sparkling bay. The park itself is rather small, but the views are spectacular! We can honestly say that this park offers the most incredible skyline views of San Diego. Furthermore, it is also the perfect place for a romantic picnic with your partner. It is a stunning, well-maintained park and not too crowded at all. We were here during the day, but we’re sure that the views at night are really impressive too!

Side note: As we already mentioned, Centennial Park is not located in San Diego but in Coronado Island. Because the fantastic views of San Diego are truly unmatched, we decided to include Centennial Park in this list! You will have to drive over a bridge to get there, but you won’t have to pay toll or any fees (according to the multiple signs along the way).

4. Stroll through Little Italy

Little Italy is a vibrant and bustling neighborhood that will make you feel exactly like you are in Italy. With its charming streets and lively atmosphere, it’s no wonder why this neighborhood has become a favorite among locals and tourists. You’ll find countless trendy restaurants, bars and boutiques here. We included some amazing places to eat in Little Italy here.

Every Wednesday and Saturday, the streets of Little Italy come alive as a vibrant market takes center stage. This bustling market is an amazing place for fresh produce and creative craftsmanship of local artisans. The market’s lively atmosphere fills the air with a sense of excitement and community, it’s a place where people come together to explore, shop, and savor the flavors of Little Italy’s bustling market scene. Ranging from coffee stalls to crafts and art by local makers, we’re sure you’ll find something you like!

5. Visit Old Town

the best things to do in San Diego: Old Town

A visit to Old Town will take you back in time. We loved walking around here, and are convinced you need a whole day to explore everything! We started at Old Town Village, a little village with different galleries, shops and restaurants. You can taste delicious tacos here or buy some nice souvenirs. We really loved the colorful setting and the vibrant atmosphere! We continued to Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, a historic part of San Diego (as you probably already guessed). It felt like walking around on a movie set with all those vintage buildings and music playing everywhere.

The best part is that admission is free, making Old Town definitely worth a visit. We were lucky enough to find an open spot in the parking nearby, but we can imagine that the lot gets full quite quickly!

6. Walk along Sunset Cliffs

the best things to do in San Diego: Sunset Cliffs

One of San Diego’s most amazing, scenic walks is along Sunset Cliffs. The serene, picture-perfect views you encounter along the way are truly amazing. Our favorite part are undoubtedly the sea caves you encounter along the way. The only drawback is that you have to plan your visit according to the tide. It takes about 1 hour to get down, so if you plan your hike right you have about 2 hours tops to get back. Be prepared to get wet either way, even if you do plan everything right. We had no luck and just admired the cave from above, still beautiful though!

7. Watch a movie via Rooftop Cinema Club

the best things to do in San Diego: Rooftop Cinema Club

If you’re looking for an exceptional experience, be sure to catch a movie via Rooftop Cinema Club! They offer numerous films in different cities, from San Diego to New York. We watched ‘Bruce Almighty’ and had so much fun! They run both classics and new films, and there is also a selection for children. Rooftop Cinema Club was really an amazing experience, a big screen surrounded by skyscrapers and the sun setting in the background… Talk about a perfect date night! There were booths for snacks and popcorn, for soft drinks and cocktails, … Rooftop Cinema Club made sure you didn’t lack anything.

We do recommend bringing a blanket if you are going to watch a movie in the evening, though; after sunset it can cool down rather quickly. If you want to surprise your partner with an original date in an incredible location, be sure to buy tickets for Rooftop Cinema Club!

Also, don’t be afraid to arrive a little early. You can (self-)park in the parking lot of the hotel and get it validated for 4 hours. There are also numerous sports you can play, like tennis or volleybal, but also other games like cornball are available. Tired of watching the ads before a movie? Now you won’t have to!

Where to stay in San Diego

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