16 Top Things to do in San Diego

Todd Sarouhan
San Diego has something for everyone, whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a foodie, or an entertainment junkie. Here are the top things to do in San Diego.
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What to Do on Your San Diego Vacation

With year-round mild temperatures and clear skies to match, San Diego is one of America’s top vacation destinations, and with so much to do, it’s easy to see why!

Whether you’re traveling with family, friends, or a romantic partner, there are seemingly endless exciting activities to choose from. In fact, there’s so much to do in San Diego that you may not know where to start when it comes to planning your vacation, weekend getaway or even your staycation!

We’ve rounded up the top things to do while visiting our beautiful Southern California city to help point your adventures in the right direction. Read on for our list of the top things to do in San Diego!

Save Big on the Top Things to Do in San Diego

As you’re sure to find as you read over our list of top things to do in San Diego, many will require an admission fee to explore or gear to take part in the activity.

With that in mind, consider pre-purchasing a Go San Diego pass, which offers discounted admission prices on dozens of the top activities in the area including the world-famous San Diego Zoo, LEGOLAND California and SeaWorld San Diego.

Many of the most popular museums in Balboa Park and throughout the city are included as well as gear rentals for activities such as paddle boarding, surfing and snorkeling. With the right gear onboard, you and your family will be able to take advantage of one of San Diego’s more than 78 gorgeous beaches!

16 Top Things to Do in San Diego

Private Surfing Lessons
Private Surfing Lessons

1) Learn to Surf or Go Surfing

San Diego Tours: 5 Best San Diego Surf Lessons & Rentals

San Diego and surfing go together like peanut butter and jelly!

With great weather year-round and more than 78 beautiful beaches to choose from, San Diego features more than 40 surf spots offering just the right difficulty level for all surfers, from beginners to seasoned pros! From the waves in Imperial Beach along the Mexican border to the south and Oceanside to the north, going surfing is an experience perfect for any San Diego vacation.

Home to a deep-rooted surf culture and some of the most iconic surf beaches in all of Southern California like Swami’s, Windansea and Black Beach, going surfing in San Diego easily made our list as one of the top things to do in San Diego.

Rent a surfboard, check the ocean water temperature and surf report, and catch a wave you’ll remember for a lifetime!

For those new to the sport or looking to clean up their skills, visit one of the local surf schools where they will teach you everything you need to know to catch your first wave! Instructors will make sure you are safe and able to give surfing a try at a skill-appropriate location!

Kids Reading Zoo Map at the San Diego Zoo
Kids Reading Zoo Map at the San Diego Zoo

2) Visit the San Diego Zoo

San Diego Attractions: San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo is one of the top zoos in the world, with over 3,000 species of endangered and rare animals. Situated in beautiful Balboa Park, the zoo has animals from all over the globe, including gorillas, polar bears, giraffes, koalas, elephants, big cats, and much more. Visiting for an afternoon is a great activity for both kids and adults to enjoy!

The zoo is over 100 acres in size, so be prepared for a solid walk when you visit. The Skyfari aerial tram can transport you from one side of the zoo to the other, with amazing views of Downtown San Diego as well as the entire park.

Consider pre-purchasing a Go San Diego pass in advance of your trip to receive discounted admission to the Zoo as well as other popular San Diego attractions such as LEGOLAND California in nearby Carlsbad to the northwest and SeaWorld San Diego in beautiful Mission Bay, just a short 15-minute Uber or Lyft away!

The San Diego Zoo hosts events throughout the year, including holiday lights, after-hours parties for adults, and children’s educational programs. They also run the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido, where you can see African animal species roaming freely.

3) Explore Balboa Park

Neighborhood: Balboa Park

Balboa Park is 1,200 acres of green space just to the northeast of Downtown San Diego and only a few miles to the east of the San Diego International Airport.

This family-friendly area is a can’t miss stop on any San Diego vacation as the park is home to some of the most popular attractions in San Diego such as the world-famous San Diego Zoo, featured just above!

The park has miles of walking trails that make up some of the best hikes in all of San Diego. Stroll through gardens and enjoy the mild temperatures and sunny skies present year-round in San Diego.

Balboa Park also houses more than a dozen museums including the San Diego Air & Space Museum, San Diego Museum of Us and the San Diego Museum of Art. All three museums are part of the Go San Diego pass.

Discounted admission can be had for the museums, the zoo and many more attractions. If you purchase the Go San Diego pass via our website you can save even more on top of the Go pass’ already low rates!

4) Surfing, Snorkeling, or Paddle Boarding in La Jolla

San Diego Tours: 4 Best San Diego Kayaking & Snorkeling Tours

San Diego is known for its beaches, and it’s difficult to narrow things down to just one!

If you’re looking to try new water activities, La Jolla is a great place to do it because of the area’s diverse beaches and beautiful scenery.

La Jolla is just a short drive north of Downtown San Diego, and its beaches are pristinely kept and generally considered some of the most beautiful in all of San Diego. One of the first things you’ll notice as you begin your exploration is the colony of seals that lives in the area - they like to sunbathe on the rocks in La Jolla Cove and the beach at the Children’s Pool.

The water at La Jolla Shores is ideal for learning how to surf, and there are plenty of outfitters nearby where you can rent equipment or better yet, grab a Go San Diego pass in advance and rent a surfboard for your La Jolla adventure at a discounted price!

La Jolla’s also a great place to try kayaking or paddle boarding! Both gear rentals can be combined with the Go San Diego pass and rented for an afternoon at a discounted price as well!

If you’re feeling adventurous, La Jolla is also a great place to go snorkeling. An abundance of marine wildlife lives in the area, and you may see leopard sharks, stingrays, garibaldi fish, and green sea turtles as you head underwater.

5) Swim in La Jolla Cove

Beach: La Jolla Cove

Your trip to San Diego won’t be complete without a swim at the picturesque La Jolla Cove!

Home to sandy shores and calm water thanks the surrounding bluffs, La Jolla Cove is the perfect San Diego location for swimming or snorkeling.

Seals and sea lions can be found on the rocks well beyond the shore which is perfect for a great photo without having to worry about any in water interactions. The beach also comes complete with lifeguards, restrooms and outdoor showers!

Located between Ellen Browning Scripps Park to the south and La Jolla Sea Caves to the east, scuba divers and snorkelers alike will love exploring the sea life underwater at the San Diego – La Jolla Underwater Park, which is located just offshore.

Once your swim is complete, stay for a beautiful sunset over the Pacific Ocean and don’t miss the tide pools which can be found onshore at low tide. As some of the best tide pools in San Diego, the pools are teeming with sea creatures of all sizes!

6) Swim with the sharks at La Jolla Shores (Seasonally)

San Diego Attractions: Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography

You read that right – swim with sharks at La Jolla Shores!

Each summer from approximately June to October, thousands or leopard sharks migrate to La Jolla Shores for mating season and to hatch their young. These distinctively marked, harmless sharks have a design that resembles leopard print; thus, the name leopard sharks.

The sharks are usually accessible in knee or hip deep water just offshore. They won’t bite or harm humans so the activity is quite the experience for the entire family!

For those looking for an immersive experience, contact the Birch Aquarium at Scripps as they offer guided tours hosted by trained naturalists. Spend an afternoon exploring the Birch Aquarium to learn more about all the underwater creatures San Diego has to offer and make sure to pick up a Go City San Diego pass in advance to receive discounted admission!

7) Explore the Gaslamp Quarter

Neighborhood: Gaslamp Quarter

Foodies and nightlife lovers should head straight to the Gaslamp Quarter, which is Downtown San Diego’s historic entertainment district. This neighborhood is full of classic architecture in both Art Deco and Victorian styles.

Today, it’s home to a large concentration of bars and restaurants and hosts events throughout the year. In terms of cuisine, there’s something for everyone, with Mexican, Italian, American, Japanese, Thai and so many other types of food to choose from.

You’ll also find plenty of shopping as you stroll through the area, with local boutiques as well as outposts of popular chain stores. For a truly incredible view, head up to one of the area’s rooftop bars, such as the Nolan, Altitude Sky Lounge, or The Rooftop by STK.

The Gaslamp Quarter is just to the west of the East Village, home to PETCO Park where the San Diego Padres play their home baseball games. Even if you’re not a sports fan, it’s always fun to catch a game or another one of the many events held at the stadium and enjoy the downtown views and beautiful year-round weather you’re sure to enjoy!

8) Take a Trip Through History in Old Town San Diego

Neighborhood: Old Town San Diego

San Diego is considered to be the ‘Birthplace of California’, and you can explore the city’s heritage in Old Town, which is a living history park. Buildings in this neighborhood have been restored to represent different points throughout history. Depending on when you visit, you may even see history reenactments.

Old Town San Diego is also a vibrant shopping district, and is a great place to pick up handmade souvenirs. For those who love Mexican food, there are also plenty of excellent restaurants where you can enjoy authentic cuisine. Live mariachi bands and other entertainers add to the atmosphere.

Additionally, Old Town hosts events throughout the year. It’s a particularly popular place to visit during Halloween, when you can take ghost tours and visit the Cemetery of El Campo. Next door, Oculto 477 is a speakeasy that is inspired by the area’s rich history.

On the hill directly above Old Town is Presidio Park. The park is home to the Junipero Serra Museum, where you can learn more about San Diego’s colorful history.

9) Cruise Around the San Diego Bay - By Sea or By Land!

San Diego Tours: 13 Best San Diego Harbor Cruises & Boat Tours

One of the best ways to see San Diego is from the water! There are so many different types of boating experiences available in the San Diego Bay, it can be hard to pick the best adventure for you and your family.

A harbor cruise is a great choice that will take you from Seaport Village around the inner harbor, where you’ll be treated to amazing views, see some the local wildlife and learn about the city’s maritime history.

For those interested in nature, a whale watching cruise will head out onto the open ocean, where you’ll see whales and other unique wildlife species.

For a more romantic or more intimate experience, sunset dinner cruises are a great way to see the skyline and have an enjoyable evening with your significant other or a small group of friends.

For those looking to explore the San Diego Bay by land, consider a visit to the Maritime Museum of San Diego in Harborview or a stroll along the Embarcadero or head to nearby Barrio Logan, where you can feast on some of the best tacos in all of San Diego.

Visit the museum at a sharp discount when you pre-purchase a Go City San Diego pass.

10) Tour the USS Midway Museum

San Diego Area Museums: USS Midway Museum San Diego

San Diego has a rich naval heritage and military history, which you can learn about at this retired aircraft carrier that has been turned into a museum. The USS Midway, located in Embarcadero, hosted hundreds of thousands of sailors during its tenure before retiring to the harbor in 2004.

The ship is now a museum where you can learn about the history of the Navy in San Diego. Interactive exhibits detail stories of the naval officers who served on the ship, and you’ll be able to see preserved aircraft that are still housed on the ship. The USS Midway frequently hosts local events as well.

Discounted admission to the USS Midway is once again available when you pre-purchase a Go City San Diego pass. Use our discount for an additional savings on top of the already low Go City San Diego pass prices!

11) Visit Coronado Island

Neighborhood: Coronado Island

Coronado Island is one of the best places to relax and experience the sunshine and charm that San Diego is known for!

The ‘island’ is not technically an island, but rather a peninsula connected to the city with a small strip of land to the south.

The beaches on Coronado are some of the largest and most beautiful in the city, making it an ideal place for sunbathing. The charming neighborhoods of Coronado are also a great place to go for a bike ride. After spending a day in the sun, you can enjoy shopping at charming boutiques on Orange Avenue.

There are many historic buildings on Coronado, most notably the Hotel del Coronado on the city’s southern end. This is one of the most famous resorts in San Diego and for many, the world! It has hosted celebrities and powerful political figures since its construction in the 1880s and is perfect for a romantic couple’s weekend getaway or a luxury staycation!

12) Hike Torrey Pines State Reserve

San Diego Parks & Nature: Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

San Diego may be known for its beaches, but it also has a great selection of hiking trails for outdoor enthusiasts. One of the most accessible is the trail at Torrey Pines State Reserve, which is located in the northern most end of La Jolla.

There are eight miles of hiking trails at Torrey Pines, all with diverse wildlife and views that will blow you away. Trails will take you from the beach up through sandstone cliffs to overlooks with panoramic views of the ocean. In the spring, wildflowers bloom here, bringing vibrant color to an already dramatic view.

13) Go to Del Mar Racetrack for Horse Racing (Seasonally)

San Diego Attractions: Del Mar Horse Races & Thoroughbred Club 2023

Each summer and fall, the historic Del Mar Thoroughbred Club comes alive as many of the most famous horses and jockeys compete for some of the most prestigious awards the racing world has to offer.

Located in Del Mar on the Del-Mar Fairgrounds, the racetrack is a great place to spend an evening enjoying the races, betting on a winning horse or just enjoying the magnificently beautiful horses with the entire family.

The 6-story stands offer excellent views of the track. There are delicious meal options to be had on the Clubhouse Terrace as well as at the Stretch Run Grill and Café del Sol. Snacks, sodas and coffees are available on each level for your convenience as well.

For the full experience, stay a night at the Winners Circle Resort located right at the track! This family-friendly hotel is well located near beautiful Solana Beach and in North County.

Don’t miss our complete article on the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club where you can learn more about the extensive history of the club, activities for kids, concerts held on site and the best ways to get there from anywhere in the area!

14) Eat a Taco in Barrio Logan at Las Cuatro Milpas

Neighborhood: Barrio Logan

San Diego has a wide selection of culinary choices you’re sure to enjoy, none better than the Mexican cuisine on offer in Barrio Logan. While not the prettiest of locals, tacos and other menu choices at Las Cuatro Milpas are second to none and well worth the trip!

The self-described ‘old-school Mexican joint’ has been around since 1933 and features authentic homemade tortillas for tacos and burritos as well as rice, beans and tamales.

Prices are very affordable and the picnic table décor is no frills which is very authentic and one of the reasons it’s such a popular and beloved establishment.

15) Take A Brewery Tour

San Diego Tours: 10 Best San Diego Food & Beer Tours

San Diego is known for having some of the best craft breweries in the world!

No matter which neighborhood you’re in, there’s a good chance there’s at least one brewery within walking distance from you in San Diego. Taking a brewery tour is a great way to sample some of these incredible drinks and learn more about the process of making them.

There are dozens of companies that offer guided brewery tours throughout the city. You can also easily build your own tour by visiting breweries that are within walking distance of each other. North Park is a particularly great area for brewery hopping.

Miramar is also a particularly popular location for breweries as it seems like there is a local brew every few blocks!

You can also go behind the scenes at some of the city’s beer powerhouses, like Stone, Ballast Point, Coronado Brewing Company, Modern Times, Karl Strauss, and more. Be sure to plan ahead - these larger companies have enough beers to keep you drinking all day long!

Try pairing your beers with local Mexican food. There are taco shops everywhere, so you won’t have to go far to find something to chow on. San Diego’s close proximity to Mexico means there’s some of the most authentic Mexican food in the country here.

16) Catch A View at Sunset Cliffs

San Diego Parks & Nature: Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

As the name implies, there’s no better place to watch the sunset than at Sunset Cliffs!

This natural area is located just south of Ocean Beach on the Point Loma peninsula. It’s a great place to relax and take in the view, but you can also go for a stroll along the area’s seaside trail. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can walk or climb down to the base of the cliffs and sit on the beach.

For a slice of San Diego history, drive a little further to the Cabrillo National Monument and Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. This monument and lighthouse are representative of the point where explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo first touched down in the 15th century.

This monument has sweeping panoramic views - you’ll be able to see all of Downtown San Diego as well as parts of Tijuana and Baja California.

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What attractions are included with a Go City San Diego pass?

Attractions that you can visit with a Go City San Diego pass include:

The San Diego Zoo, Birch Aquarium, SeaWorld, Safari Park, LEGOLAND, Harbor Cruise, USS Midway Museum, the NAT Museum, Whaley House, PETCO Park Tour, iFLY San Diego and many, many more!

Want to save more? Use our exclusive discount code GVSD5OFF to save an extra 5%!

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