Visiting Southern California and planning a long weekend trip to San Diego? The endless sun, swaying palm trees, and 70 miles of pristine beaches await! Here’s everything you need to know to craft the ultimate San Diego weekend getaway, including the top things to do, where to stay, and most importantly, where to eat! An epic San Diego itinerary, coming right up!
There’s a reason San Diego’s called ‘America’s Finest City’. It’s got sandy beaches, a slower pace of life than nearby Orange County and Los Angeles, and almost guaranteed sun. There’s sea caves and rugged cliffs to explore, the cutest sea lions known to man, the postcard-perfect resort city of Coronado, and you can even go snorkeling with leopard sharks.
Leopard sharks?! Yup! More on that later.
After moving to San Francisco almost a decade ago (whoa, where does the time go?!), I finally made it down to San Diego. Not once, not twice, but three times in the last year! Why’d it take me so long to get down here? Not a clue. Our first visit was a mere day trip to San Diego, but after visiting twice more, I now feel confident I can craft the ultimate San Diego weekend getaway!
This sun-kissed California beach town is pretty much paradise, and you’ll never wanna leave. It’s the perfect laid-back beach city, and we’ve even thought about moving down there. It’s colorful, thriving, artistic, and all around just so cool. And there’s just SO much to do here.
I just wrote a HUGE bucket list of things to do in San Diego, and I already can’t wait to visit again.
Let’s get this party started! I’m sharing an extensive guide to help you plan out your best San Diego weekend trip possible. Let’s go!
San Diego Weekend Getaway at a Glance
- Day 1: Breakfast in Little Italy, Waterfront/Seaport Village, Old Town, Coronado for sunset drinks, dinner of your choice
- Day 2: Torrey Pines, Scripps Pier, La Jolla, Point Loma or Pacific Beach, Sunset Cliffs for sunset
- Day 3: South Park, North Park, Balboa Park, Little Italy/Gaslamp Quarter for dinner/drinks
Planning a Weekend Trip to San Diego: Logistics
When to Visit San Diego
San Diego is kinda a year-round destination. The sun shines over 265 days a year, and the average weather is a balmy 70 degrees F. Sounds pretty perfect to me.
When it comes to temps, you’re in luck, because like the rest of the Southern California coast, the climate is mild and comfortable year round. Summer see’s 80s+ (but not too hot that it’s gross and sticky all day), while the winter lows are in the mid-60s or so (perfect for those linen pants). And it hardly ever rains (and when it does, it typically doesn’t last all day).
It’s basically endless summer over here. And I’m all for it. (Probably why I’m aching to move down here sooner than later!).
With that being said, visit anytime of year, EXCEPT May or June. Like other parts of the California coast (Pescadero, Half Moon Bay, Big Sur, etc), San Diego experiences what us Californians refer to as “May Gray” and “June Gloom”. And it’s exactly as it sounds – gray and gloomy with mostly overcast skies.
I visited San Diego once during this time and let’s just say it wasn’t exactly beach weather nor did we get any nice sunsets. The sun broke through a bit, but if you’re looking to experience that idyllic San Diego weather, steer clear of May and June. Just remember the saying: “May Gray, June Gloom”!
While there’ll still be nice days, it’s pretty unpredictable. If you’re looking to visit the Carlsbad Flower Fields (a tad north in San Diego County), this is when they’re in full bloom though! Exact dates change every year, so do your research (they typically close Mother’s Day weekend).
HOWEVER, if you’re aching for a true beach vacation (aka laying out by the beach and getting in the ocean), you’ll need a wetsuit to combat the chilly Pacific Ocean water if you’re visiting from November to March/April.
My perfect time to visit? Mid-September to mid-October. It’ll be less crowded, the kids are back in school, hotel rates are less, and the weather is still idyllic.
How to Get to San Diego
You’ll most likely wanna fly into San Diego International Airport (SAN) if you’re not already coming from SoCal. And thankfully, since SAN is a major international airport, you shouldn’t have a hard time finding non-stop flights from other large airports in the US.
For reference, we’re usually able to find airfare for under $200 from SFO, although it really depends on how flexible you can be. Coming from the East Coast will be more of course, but there’s always deals to be found! My parents have flown down from San Francisco for a mere $59 one way, so be on the lookout for those cheap tickets.
Since San Diego is basically as south as you can get in California, it’s typically a long drive from other parts of the state. Especially from Northern California. I swear, no one actually realizes just how big California really is!
Here’s some example driving distances from the other popular spots in California (and nearby) to give you a sense of the time required:
- From Orange County: 2 hours, 85 miles
- From Palm Springs: 2 ½ hours, 140 miles
- From Los Angeles: 3 hours, 120 miles
- From Las Vegas: 5 ½ hours, 330 miles
- From Phoenix: 5 ½ hours, 355 miles
- From Yosemite National Park: 7 hours, 400 miles
- From Big Sur: 8 hours, 465 miles
- From Sacramento: 8 hours, 500 miles
- From San Francisco: 8 ½ hours, 500 miles
- From Lake Tahoe: 9 hours, 530 miles
Not terribly close from all spots in CA, right? Don’t think you can easily make a weekend trip to San Diego from Las Vegas or further if all you’ve got is a weekend or 3 days! If you’re coming from other areas on the California coast, do note there’ll probably be some traffic, so plan accordingly.
→ Spending 3 days in San Diego on a much longer Pacific Coast Highway road trip?! Check out all my favorite PCH stops right here!
Already in SoCal and looking for public transit to San Diego? There’s the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner train! I highly recommend taking the train (instead of driving), as there’ll probably be lots of traffic from LA/OC.
The train is super easy to use, not crazy expensive (around $30 from LA), and I have friends that swear by it! I’d probably use it myself if I lived along the train route.
It actually runs from San Luis Obispo all the way down to San Diego, so if you’re coming from further afield and don’t feel like driving, that’s a great option for ya! Plus, who wouldn’t wanna stop in Santa Barbara on the way? Just don’t forget to get back on the train, wink wink.
Getting to Downtown San Diego from SAN Airport
Unlike other major cities (looking at you San Francisco and Seattle), San Diego International Airport is actually IN the city of San Diego itself! Meaning it’s quick and easy to get from the airport to downtown San Diego! Thank goodness!
We like having a car in San Diego, so we just drive our rental from the airport. But honestly, if you’re not renting a car, rideshare apps like Uber or Lyft come in super handy. The ride should only be about 10-15 minutes and not more than $20.
If you wanna save a few bucks, check out the MTS City Bus Route 992, which stops at Terminals 1 and 2 and operates everyday between 5am and 11:30pm. Find more info on taking the bus from the airport here.
How Long to Stay in San Diego
I really think a long weekend trip to San Diego is the perfect amount of time. Yes, you’ll probably be sad to leave, but hey, you can always come back! Think of 3 days in San Diego as a sampler; you may even be convinced to move here!
While 3 days in San Diego will give you enough time to check out a few areas and eat at a bunch of great spots, plan to stay a few extra days if you wanna do all the things (including taking a few fun day trips from San Diego).
Note that my San Diego weekend itinerary doesn’t include any theme parks or ample time at the zoo. If these are of interest to you and cutting out anything on the 3-day itinerary I’ve provided below sounds painful, plan to spend an extra day or two in San Diego.
If you unfortunately only have enough time for a one day in the city, I put together all my favorites into the perfect day trip to San Diego itinerary! Boom!
Have more time? Check out my ultimate San Diego bucket list — full of over 100 things to do in the city!
How to Get Around San Diego
First things first. San Diego is spread out. It’s far from the compact city that San Francisco is. You’ll need an easy way to get around to really see the best parts of the city!
Renting a Car
LIke I noted before, the city is kinda spread out. So if you wanna explore more than Little Italy, the Gaslamp Quarter, and the Waterfront, I recommend renting a car. Remember, you’ve only got 2 or 3 days in San Diego, you don’t wanna be limited!
On two of our three trips to San Diego, we had a car (we road tripped down from San Clemente for a quick day to San Diego, while we rented from SAN airport the other). And the third time, well, we bribed a local friend to take us around to all his favorite spots. So yeah, having a car makes it that much easier.
No, you don’t necessarily NEED a car for a weekend trip to San Diego, but it’ll make it much less complicated and you’ll be able to check out so much of the area.
With that being said, know that parking can be a bit difficult in downtown San Diego and La Jolla. Parking rates at hotels can be kinda exorbitant (like any big city), so be sure to factor parking costs into your overall budget. They range anywhere from $30-$50 per night (yes, you read that right — I told you it adds up)!
Uber and Lyft are everywhere in San Diego, so you most likely won’t have too much of a hard time finding a car to pick you up. But costs do add up, so if you think you’ll be hopping around quite a bit during your 3 days in San Diego, I’d recommend a car.
Remember, the city is fairly spread out. For reference, La Jolla to Coronado is roughly 25 minutes while North Park is 20 minutes from Little Italy.
While San Diego doesn’t have extensive public transit like say, New York City does, I was surprised to learn there’s actually a few trolley lines and bus routes. And the city does look rather well-connected. You’ll undoubtedly need to walk a bunch, but from looking at the maps, you can definitely get around downtown San Diego quite easily. But remember, you’ll wanna leave downtown for sure!
San Diego seems to have a thing for scooters. I don’t trust myself on those things, so can’t give you first-hand experience on scooting around San Diego. But there’s tons of them and people use them, so they must work pretty well!
Hop On Hop Off Bus
Like so many other cities, San Diego’s got a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus. Although it’s not actually a bus, it’s a trolley! Sure, it’s super touristy, but if you aren’t renting a car and want a super easy way to get around, it can definitely come in handy.
Plus, the entire tour is narrated between stops, so you’ll learn something on the way too! Super economical and a great way to see so many San Diego sites in such a short period of time. Check out the stops and buy tickets here.
How to Save Money on your Weekend Trip to San Diego
We all love to save money! Especially if that means extra funds for cookies at Extraordinary Desserts or authentic street tacos at Tacos el Gordo. If you’re planning on visiting a bunch of San Diego attractions (including the San Diego Zoo!), check to see if the San Diego Go City All-Inclusive Pass is worth it! With the pass you get free admission to over 50 San Diego-area activities, attractions, and tours. May as well take a peek!
Where to Stay in San Diego
Since San Diego is kinda spread out, there’s no one best neighborhood to stay in. However, there’s a few that I prefer more than others for different reasons!
Little Italy/Gaslamp Quarter: Wanna be close to all the action?! Stay in either Little Italy or the Gaslamp Quarter. These spots are considered to be downtown San Diego, and are ideal for first time visitors to the city. I stayed here on my first trip to San Diego and we felt like we were so close to everything!
Both neighborhoods are minutes from the airport and close to so many San Diego hotspots like Balboa Park, the waterfront, and Seaport Village. And plus, downtown is easily the best place to stay in San Diego if you’re looking for great nightlife and restaurants! Just know that overnight parking rates at hotels are gonna be exceptionally high, even at budget hotels!
- Hotel Z: A Staypineapple Hotel
- Pendry San Diego
- Hotel Indigo San Diego – Gaslamp Quarter
- Moxy San Diego Gaslamp Quarter
La Jolla: If you’re planning to spend your San Diego weekend getaway at the beach, staying in La Jolla’s a great choice! There’s plenty of sandy spots to chill out on the coast, plus the seals and sea lions are oh so cute! I’m dying to spend a night or two at La Valencia Hotel — it looks so chic and pink (my ultimate girly fantasy).
North Park: North Park is easily the hippest neighborhood in San Diego. There’s lots of trendy restaurants and shops, and I love the fact that it’s a bit removed from all the hustle and bustle of downtown San Diego.
Unfortunately there’s not many hotel choices in North Park besides The Lafayette Hotel, Swim Club & Bungalows (super well-reviewed). So you may need to find an AirBnB if you wanna stay here (which we usually avoid because of all those pesky fees which seem to increase year after year). But hey, airbnbs typically mean no parking or resort fees. Your choice!
Coronado: Looking for a bucket-list hotel in San Diego? Book a stay at The Del Coronado, an iconic California beach resort and ultimate seaside escape. We’ve been to The Del for drinks and sunset walks on the beach, and this is another hotel in San Diego I’m itching to stay at one day! Yes, it’s kinda expensive, but well-worth it for those views and idyllic golden-era charm.
So let’s get to it — the ultimate San Diego weekend getaway itinerary coming right up! Be prepared for lots of tacos, sea lion watching, and sunshine!
3 Days in San Diego Itinerary
San Diego Itinerary Day 1
Stop 1: Breakfast in Little Italy
First stop on your San Diego weekend getaway — Little Italy! And this neighborhood’s one of my favorites — it’s chic and pedestrian friendly, packed with trendy restaurants, upscale clothing boutiques on India Street, and even a quaint piazza with a flowing fountain (Piazza della Familia).
If you’re visiting on a Saturday (from 8am-2pm) or Wednesday (from 9:30am-1:30pm), don’t miss the Little Italy Mercato Farmers’ Market! There’s a good mix of produce, gourmet food, and craft stalls — it’s popular for a reason!
But before you start wandering around the market and hanging by the fountain, get on line for breakfast at Morning Glory. Think rose-gold accents, tiled floors, Millennial-pink booths, and even a few rock ‘n roll touches like skulls. If you don’t wanna wait hours (I swear), get there as soon as they open at 8am.
This spot had been on my San Diego bucket list for so long, and I promise you it was well-worth the wait.
Not only is the entire restaurant decked out in pink hues and ’90s nostalgia, but the food, OMG. Don’t miss the breakfast carbonara (pasta in the AM, yes please!), soufflé pancakes, and a boozy hot chocolate or Morning Glory Spritz.
Such a unique vibe and absolutely outstanding food and drinks. Easily in the top few brunches I’ve ever had. If you’re looking for an extravagant and super-instagrammable brunch in San Diego, Morning Glory’s your gal!
Psst — if trendy millennial brunches aren’t your thing (hey, I get it!), I’ve got other other options for you instead.
- Parakeet Cafe: Still super trendy but much more low-key. More of a grab and go and sit kinda place. I wanna try one of their toasts next time I’m in the area.
- Cafe Gratitude: A vegan-lovers dream! Expect creative plant-based breakfast options in a modern and chic space. They use ingredients from local farmers and only the best artisan producers!
- Lofty Coffee Little Italy Cafe and Bakery: Want something light? Grab a pastry and coffee from Lofty Coffee! We stopped here while waiting for Morning Glory and it was the perfect treat.
- The Crack Shack: We’ve only been here for lunch, but they do open at 10am, so…. Chicken and biscuits for breakfast anyone?! I can attest the biscuits are flaky and the chickens cooked to perfection. My husband’s a low-key fried chicken snob and he devoured his right up.
Stop 2: Embarcadero/Waterfront
After breakfast is done, walk to Waterfront Park and then south on The Embarcadero. Here you’ll find the Maritime Museum of San Diego (showcasing lots of restored vintage ships), the USS Midway Museum (with it’s life-at-sea exhibits and restored planes & flight simulators), and the Unconditional Surrender Statue — that famous sailor kissing the nurse!
You can either walk past and admire from afar, or grab tickets ahead of time to the museums. In order to save time, I recommend purchasing a skip the line ticket to the USS Midway Museum as it can get kinda crowded!
If you feel like getting out on the water (and wanna feel fancy on a yacht), take a San Diego harbor cruise! They leave right from the waterfront and are one of the most popular things to do on a San Diego weekend trip. You’ll go under the Coronado Bridge, past the Midway Aircraft Carrier, near other waterfront landmarks, and even see a whole bunch of cute sea lions! Just take a light jacket as it can get a bit nippy on the water. Read reviews and book your harbor cruise here (psst — it’s such a great deal at only $30).
Finally, make the quick 10 minute walk to Seaport Village, filled with lots of shopping and even more restaurants along the waterfront. It’s a fun place to walk around, but whatever you do, don’t miss a fudge sample from Seaport Village Fudge Factory.
Check out the colorful boxy houses on stilts on the water — it had me feeling like I was in Norway for a hot second there! And if you’ve got kids (or are a kid at heart yourself), take a spin on the carousel — it was hand-carved back in 1895!
Stop 3: Old Town
Next up, Old Town San Diego, a historic neighborhood (created back in 1769) that was considered to be the birthplace of California! Head over to Old Town San Diego State Historic Park to explore what life was like back then — there’s preserved and replicated buildings, museum exhibits, and all around historical entertainment.
Honestly, even if you’ve only got one day in San Diego, put this on your itinerary pronto!
Dip some candles at Toby’s Candle Shop, make a beeline for the barrels of taffy at Cousin’s Candy Shop, watch the daily mariachi band and Folklorico dancing, and check out the Whaley House Museum (one of the most famous haunted houses in the United States).
And whatever you do, don’t miss all the homemade artisan goods and pottery in the shops! They pay homage to Mexican culture and heritage in the early 1800s. I loved browsing all the fun arts and crafts the vendors had to offer, especially the Mexican ceramics.
I’d plan to eat a late lunch here (Cafe de Reyes and Cafe Coyote are pretty popular), and don’t leave without trying a piping hot homemade tortilla from the free tortilla stand (just please be kind and leave a tip).
Stop 4: Coronado Island for sunset drinks
Once you’re done with lunch and shopping/exploring, make your way over to Coronado Island! The second you get here you’ll see just how charming and cute it is! Such a quaint coastal village and such a different feel than other parts of the city and a must on any San Diego weekend trip.
Coronado’s got a gentle surf, sparkling beaches, and a charming main street. There’s a reason it’s known as the crown jewel of San Diego.
If you’ve started planning your San Diego weekend getaway, you’ve likely come across Hotel Del. With its distinctive red Victorian roof, picture perfect views of the beach and Pacific, and delicious cocktails (who am I kidding, you knew that was coming), Hotel Del shouldn’t be missed. Visitors can walk through the hotel, eat at the restaurants, and of course sip some cocktails overlooking the beach.
And plus, the pristine beach is PUBLIC (for reals!!!!) with crystal white sand and there’s a beach bar and cabanas to rent! Look out for the crazy sand art along the beach outside the hotel; I’ve seen quite a few castles on my few trips and I’m always amazed at all the pieces.
Most people just head to the beach and Hotel Del, but there’s a few other spots I recommend checking out too.
- Check out the San Diego skyline view from Centennial Park — since the park sits right across the bay, you get perfect views of downtown San Diego!
- Tidelands Park to see the impressive Coronado Bridge up close
- Take a scenic stroll (or rent bikes!) on the bike path (it goes pretty much the entire way around the island and such a great way to see so much)
- Go wine or liquor tasting at Coronado Tasting Room right at the Coronado Ferry Landing and next to Centennial Park
Pro Tip: Driving? The bridge to Coronado Island is free in both directions! Or you can take the ferry to Coronado Ferry Landing for some extra fun and great views of the water for only a few bucks.
Stop 5: Dinner (3 Options)
San Diego is full of amazing meals, but it’s always so hard to narrow down! Here I’ve got three wildly different dinner options for you to pick from!
Tacos El Gordo (Chula Vista): If you’re looking for a super casual spot for an authentic Tijuana taco experience, make the short drive south to Tacos El Gordo. That al pastor and carne asada, OMG!
The handmade corn tortillas, top grade meats, and the guacamole and salsas are all absolutely amazing. Try a mula with griddled cheese — those are my favorite! Tacos El Gordo is located in nearby Chula Vista, only ~10 miles from the Mexican border — a few more minutes and you’ll be in Mexico itself! I can honestly say they were just as good as the tacos I recently had in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico!
Island Prime (Harbor Island): Right on the water with modern decor and gorgeous bay and skyline views with Californian cuisine?! Yes, please! This spot is much more high-end, and our meal was AMAZING — I couldn’t stop talking about it for weeks (seriously).
Plan to share a few things with friends; we loved the ahi crab and avocado stack, California burrata, the 1855 ribeye, buttermilk mashed potatoes, and the creamed spinach. I so wish we had room for dessert. Next time!
Serẽa Coastal Cuisine (Coronado): Wanna explore Coronado for a bit longer? Stay for dinner at Hotel del Coronado! Serẽa focuses on local, sustainable seafood — even the catch of the day is presented at the raw bar! The food is fresh and the views from the patio of the Del’s iconic red roof are amazing.
San Diego Weekend Getaway Day 2
Stop 1: Torrey Pines (Gliderport or State Natural Reserve)
Grab coffee by your hotel, then make your way north to Torrey Pines! You’ve got two choices for this morning: either watching the hang gliders at the Torrey Pines Gliderport or doing some light hiking at the nearby Natural Reserve. Both perfect mornings on your San Diego weekend trip.
Our pick: the Gliderport! We found ourselves mesmerized watching the gliders take off and float around in the sky — it looked so peaceful! And the views are just amazing — the Gliderport is perched on the cliffs above Black’s Beach.
From here, you can do some hiking along the bluffs. If you take a left from the Gliderport, you’ll find a semi-hidden trail over there, with the most incredible landscapes (and even Alicia Keys’ house off in the distance). Just make sure you wear the right shoes — it’s a pretty steep hike down the sandstone cliffs. Let’s just say I needed some assistance in my sandals.
Psst — if you wanna learn to fly yourself (err — paraglide or hang glide), it’ll cost you a pretty penny. Expect to pay $175-$225 for a tandem flight with a trained professional. Definitely one for the thrill seekers and a must on any adventure lovers San Diego bucket list.
While we haven’t made it to the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve just yet, it’s high on my list for our next visit. If tackling an easy hike first thing in the morning is your jam, I’d choose the Guy Fleming Trail. It’s easily the most popular trail at Torrey Pines, with breezy ocean views and stunning golden-hued cliffs. (and being only a 0.8 mile loop, it’s more like a leisurely stroll, let’s be honest).
If you wanna break a small sweat, opt for the Parry Grove Trail — it’s less busy and more strenuous, although only about a mile. There’s plenty of other hikes here; check the official website for more. But whatever hike you tackle, there won’t be much shade, so come prepared with a hat and sunscreen.
Stop 2: La Jolla
Travel a bit down the coast and you reach the scenic seaside area of La Jolla, known for its rugged coastline, leopard sharks and harbor seals (yes, really!), and tons of street art. You won’t have time to do everything on this list if you wanna make it to Point Loma before sunset (more below), but you can easily check off a whole bunch in a few hours!
- Travel tip: Parking will be a whole lot easier if you park up in the neighborhood rather than right by the beach/coast. The later you come the more difficult parking will be, so aim to get here no later than 11am or so.
Watch the seals and sea lions at Children’s Pool: If there’s one thing you do in La Jolla during your weekend trip to San Diego, make it this. The Children’s Pool is where you’ll see (and hear!) those famous harbor seals you’ve probably been hearing about!
Walk on the sea wall for even better views. The sea wall was actually originally built as a safe area for kids to swim in, but since then, the seals and sea lions have moved in. If you’re visiting during winter, you may even get to see some tiny seal pups!
We kinda got carried away and watched them for over an hour; look how cute they are! While you are technically allowed to swim in the water here, it’s highly discouraged. As always, keep a safe distance to any wildlife you see to protect not only yourself, but the animals as well. We want them to feel welcome here in San Diego for years and years to come!
Go sea cave kayaking! La Jolla has not one, not two, but SEVEN sea caves, which are only accessible by water! If you have an adventurous spirit and don’t mind getting a tad wet, book yourself on a kayaking tour. It’s quintessential San Diego afterall!
On this kayaking tour you’ll explore the best of those caves as well as La Jolla’s Ecological Reserve, which boasts one of the highest concentrations of sea life in all of California. Think dolphins, turtles, sea lions, etc. You might even see harmless leopard sharks in the summer and grey whales migrating in winter.
Coastal Walk Trail: Stretch those legs! The Coastal Walk Trail in La Jolla is beautiful and easy, stretching from La Jolla Cove to La Jolla Shores. It’s just about a half mile long so it won’t take too long at all.
You can start at either the Cave Store or at the small cul-de-sac along Prospect St. (with a small parking lot for about 10 cars). You’ll even find a secret swing over here (if you know where to look).
Eat and drink: Depending on your hunger levels after Torrey Pines, you may need to refuel for the afternoon! Check out George’s Ocean Terrace for casual alfresco dining, Puesto La Jolla for trendy inventive street tacos, and Sugar and Scribe Bakery for light sandwiches and pastries. Thirsty? Grab a Mint Infused Iced Coffee at Better Buzz La Jolla (tastes just like the Mint Mojito from Philz in SF, iykyk).
Sunny Jim Cave: Not a fan of kayaking but still wanna see a famous La Jolla cave? I get it — I’m way too clumsy to spend the afternoon on a kayak. Make sure you visit the Sunny Jim Cave instead — it’s the only sea cave in California accessible by land.
You enter by walking through a 100-year-old tunnel inside The Cave Store and heading down a few flights of old stairs. And voila, the cave appears! Just be careful, the stairway is old and can be pretty slippery, so wear proper shoes.
Scripps Pier: Most people come here to take photos (as it’s definitely one of the most instagrammable places in San Diego), but it’s actually one of the largest active research piers in the world! Here for the IG photos? I get it, I went there too — the symmetry and reflections in the water are a photographer’s dream!
Go mural hunting: La Jolla is home to a whole slew of murals perfect for your IG feed; check out this map for them all. I loved the piano fingers and abstract art in the parking lot but both were hard to photograph considering they’re pretty high up.
You’ve probably seen Roy McMakin’s Favorite Color mural; it’s easily the most popular one and has been around since 2010. And omg so colorful! A must on your weekend getaway to San Diego if you’re looking for the best photo spots in SD!
Snorkel at La Jolla Underwater Park: This federally protected ocean area is teeming with marine life, including magnificent kelp, orange garibaldi (California’s state fish), leopard sharks, sting rays, starfish, and even sea lions. I swear, you’ll think you’re in Hawaii or Thailand with all the sea life!
The Ecological Reserve spans from La Jolla Cove all the way to La Jolla Shores Beach — so it’s quite large! Remember — always shuffle your feet as you enter the water to let the sting rays know you’re there!
La Jolla Shores Beach: Wanna relax for a bit with your feet in the sand? La Jolla Shores Beach is the largest stretch of flat sand in all of San Diego, so what better place to hang out? It’s easily the best place to swim in the area, and one of the most popular beaches in San Diego, so it’ll most likely be pretty crowded. You can even take surf lessons here — the gentle waves are perfect for first timers.
La Jolla Cove: How does a small, picturesque cove surrounded by cliffs and palm trees sound?! That’s La Jolla Cove for ya! You’ll find plenty of people sunbathing and swimming here on the little beach when it’s warm out, and casually staring out at the beautiful Pacific if it’s too chilly.
Just don’t get too close to the seals — they tend to hang out here on occasion.
Stop 3: Pacific Beach OR Point Loma (or both!)
Depending on how much time you’ve spent in La Jolla (and what time sunset is), you’ve probably got some to kill! Plan to hang for a bit in Pacific Beach or Point Loma. Possibly even both if you’ve really got a lot of time! Just remember to eat at some point!
Pacific Beach is popular with the young crowd (think college students and free-spirited twenty-somethings). It’s affectionately known as “P.B.” to locals, and you’ll find lots of trendy hotel bars and casual cafes on the boardwalk, along with boutiques, yoga studios, and casual drinking spots on Mission Boulevard.
It’s basically a never-ending beach party and it’s so much fun (if you like that eclectic spring-break-like vibe of course). Plan to sunbathe, play beach volleyball, and watch the surfers/longboarders.
However I get that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, so I’m giving you another option for Day 2 of this San Diego itinerary. Because options, right?
Point Loma is known for two things: Cabrillo National Monument and Old Point Loma Lighthouse, but there’s also a park with trails, tide pools, and even exhibits on California history.
This rugged peninsula has a lot going on and tons of historical significance. Point Loma is the landing place of the first European expedition, and it’s even been described as “where California began”.
And it’s got panoramic views of the San Diego Bay and downtown to boot (so even those without a thing for history will still enjoy the area). Come to Point Loma if you want history and nature views.
Stop 4: Sunset Cliffs for Sunset
After a busy afternoon, it’s time to watch a famous San Diego sunset. And the best spot for that — Sunset Cliffs Natural Park of course. Dramatic sandstone cliffs. Untouched vegetation. Stunning ocean vistas. Sounds like the perfect night to me.
The orange-reddish of the sand compliments the crashing blue waves down below so beautifully. Just of course go on a clear day of course. You’ll get great views all along the coast on Sunset Cliffs Blvd (which is great for finding a parking spot).
Psst — it can get quite windy so bring along a sweater. It gets pretty crowded but the area’s large enough to accommodate everyone. You’ll definitely wanna keep your camera handy — I couldn’t stop taking pictures! Be especially careful as there’s zero guardrails along the sandstone cliffs and some of them are unstable.
Make sure to check times for sunset and aim to get there at least 30 minutes before sun down in order to find a parking spot and get comfy. Lots of people bring a blanket and some snacks and really get into it! I’ve even watched a proposal here!
San Diego Itinerary Day 3
Stop 1: North Park
Wake up, we’re off to two of the most vibrant neighborhoods in all of San Diego. Thankfully there’s lots of cute coffee spots nearby to grab your morning caffeine. And don’t forget your camera — there’s so many instagrammable photo spots in San Diego in these two areas!
North Park and South Park, both located to the east of the park (one northeast, one southeast, I think you can figure out which is which), are both super walkable and very diverse and eclectic.
But first, North Park, full of trendy coffee and brunch spots, craft beer bars and upscale pubs, indie boutiques, and taquerias and sushi lounges lining University Ave. If you’re a hipster, young professional, or a student, you’ll blend right in! It wraps around the northern edge of Balboa Park, where we’re off to next on this 3-day San Diego itinerary.
Travel Tip: If you don’t wanna look around for street parking, the 29th Street Parking Garage is only a buck an hour during the day. Boom!
You could easily explore all morning and afternoon, but these are my favorite spots in North Park:
- Pigment: A boutique plant shop you never knew you needed in your life. It’s super airy and fresh, full of all the plants and pots a girl could ever want. Plus that pink ombre wall outside — swoon! Literal plant heaven!
- Holy Matcha: Posh and perfect and oh so pink! I don’t even like matcha and I had to come in for the decor alone!
- Artelexia: Be sure to pop into this Mexican gift/craft store after you’re done taking pics of the mural outside — it’s absolutely gorgeous inside and I promise you’ll find a few Mexican-inspired souvenirs to take home with you. Plus, there’s a huge Frida Khalo portrait inside!
- Verbatim Books: Such a cool store for secondhand books and rare copies. Just warning you — there’s so many cute corners you’ll have a hard time leaving. Look out for all the mini dinosaurs!
- Hammonds for an ice-cream flight or Nomad Donuts for a sweet snack, or grab a taco or two from City Tacos if you want something savory
- Greetings from San Diego Mural: I love seeing Greetings Tour murals in different cities, and San Diego is no exception!
Stop 2: South Park
If you feel like exploring another local neighborhood, make the short drive down to South Park. Like North Park, South Park is a very cute part of town. It’s all bungalows and artisanal coffee shops and insta-worthy decor.
There’s three main spots I wanna take you to in South Park, those being:
- Cafe Madeline: Skipped breakfast in North Beach? You’ll be drooling over this Parisian sidewalk cafe with delicious crêpes, specialty quiches, and sandwiches on crispy baguettes.
- Native Poppy: If you’re a sucker for a good mural like I am (or just love floral arrangements), make a quick stop by Native Poppy. I’m obsessed with the artwork! If I lived in San Diego I’d be there every week.
- Communal Coffee: Ever seen a full-service coffee shop operating out of a chic vintage trailer? That’s Communal Coffee! Order a quick caffeine boost, and don’t leave without checking out the cute store inside. Psst — there’s another location in North Beach, but everyone says this location is way cuter. You decide!
Stop 3: Balboa Park
No San Diego weekend getaway is complete without some time spent in Balboa Park. While you can easily spend a whole day here checking out all the museums and gardens, I recommend picking and choosing a few main things you wanna check out.
Thankfully, everything is within walking distance so you can tick off a bunch in only a few hours.
But whatever you do, walk up and down the Prado, the main pedestrian street running through the park, admiring the ornate baroque architecture. It’s a true cultural oasis and oh so gorgeous. Stop and look up at Casa del Prado — it’s my favorite!
If you’re interested in the park’s quirky and fascinating history (or just don’t wanna get lost), take a walking tour with a local guide! You’ll learn all about the early 20th-century expositions that shaped Balboa Park, as well as find the best spots to photograph Balboa Park’s beautiful Spanish colonial revival architecture.
Since I love exploring San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, I knew Balboa Park would be a highlight of San Diego for me. And I actually enjoyed it’s vibe much more than the park in SF.
Here’s a few recommendations of how to spend your time in this iconic urban park:
Spreckels Organ Pavilion: The largest outdoor pipe organ in the world is housed here in Balboa Park! The 5,000 pipes range in length from the size of a pencil to a whopping 32 feet. And if you happen to get lucky, you may even see a free organ concert (occuring every Sunday at 2pm). We watched an organ rehearsal and every note was absolutely mesmerizing! I especially loved the ornate architecture — so fun to photograph!
Lily Pond and Botanical Garden: Two icons of Balboa Park and a must on any weekend trip to San Diego. Definitely spend a few minutes inside in the garden — not only are there an impressive amount of ferns and orchids and palm trees (more than 2,000!) under the domed ceiling, but it’s completely free to enter!
It’s a dramatic building with a jungle-y interior — I kinda felt like I was walking through the rainforests of Olympic National Park or in Fern Canyon for a hot second! Then take some photos outside near the Lily Pond — it’s absolutely gorgeous on a warm, sunny day.
Check out a few museums: Balboa Park is filled with 17 museums, including the Museum of Us, Air & Space Museum, San Diego Museum of Art, and the San Diego Natural History Museum (theNAT).
There’s some super specialized ones, like the classic 1905 Marston House, San Diego Mineral and Gem Society Museum, and even a future Comic-Com Museum. You won’t be able to visit them all if you plan to venture out of Balboa Park during your 3 days in San Diego, so choose your absolute favorites!
San Diego Zoo: Hey, it’s world famous for a reason! If you do decide to buy tickets to the zoo, you’ll wanna allocate at least a few hours exploring and watching the animals to really get your money’s worth. I mean, there’s over 4,500 rare and endangered animals (although you definitely won’t be seeing each and every one).
Don’t miss the 17 Galápagos tortoises, the polar bears at the Polar Bear Plunge, and riding the Skyfari aerial tram. There’s also Sichuan takins, Buerger’s tree-kangaroos, pangolin, and Visayan warty pigs! I’ve never heard of any of those; have you?!
I typically don’t recommend visiting zoo’s as I don’t always agree with their practices, but the San Diego Zoo is different. Their conservation efforts and scientific research are top notch and super admirable (they’ve since released over 40 species back into the wild!). The zoo is known for keeping the animals in naturalistic habitats (you won’t find tiny cages here), which I find super commendable. Buy your zoo tickets here ahead of time to avoid waiting in line.
→ Psst — visiting Northern California too? You may love spending a night in a luxury safari tent at Safari West in Santa Rosa!
Alcazar Garden: Boxwood hedges in a walled courtyard. Flowers blooming year round. Colorful tiled fountains and stunning architecture. I totally felt like I was wandering through a romantic garden of the Alcazar Castle in Seville, Spain! A quick little stop but definitely worthy of a few minutes.
Spanish Village Art Center: This was my all-time favorite spot in all of Balboa Park, and one of my favorite photo spots in San Diego! Strolling along the quaint artist studios and colorful courtyard is one of the best ways to spend an afternoon — and plus, you’re guaranteed to get some great photos for the ‘gram! Even the Spanish-style buildings and floor tiles are painted in bright colors, depicting a charming old village in Spain — so fun!
Palm Canyon Trail: Kinda a hidden spot in Balboa Park, but definitely not to be missed if you’re a sucker for palm trees like I am! There’s over 450 palms in nearly 2 acres — a true tropical oasis right in the middle of the park! It’s 2 miles but you can always walk a portion of it and turn back around like we typically do if you’re tight on time. Make sure to check out the huge fig tree at the entrance of the trail — it’s absolutely wild!
Stop 4: Little Italy/Gaslamp Quarter for dinner/drinks
Back to Little Italy it is for dinner! There’s a whole bunch of authentic Italian restaurants, but I always find myself going back to Monello for fresh cheese wheel pasta. Literally everything on the menu is delicious (especially the gourmet pizzas), but promise me you won’t miss the cheese wheel pasta of the day. They literally make the pasta in a wheel of cheese, and yes, it’s that good. Ugh I wish I could have it for dinner tonight (and all the nights).
Here’s some other popular spots that I’m itching to try out:
- Mona Lisa Italian Foods: Lasagna. Need I say more? There’s also pizza and old-world Italian cooking, plus a deli with imported prosciutto and cheese if you want something more low-key.
- Davanti Enoteca: A large patio with shareable Italian cuisine. Everyone raves about the cacio e pepe, cheese focaccia, and the bloody mary towers.
- Ironside Fish & Oyster: Expect super fresh oysters and a seafood focused menu in a quirky renovated warehouse. If you get here before happy hour ends, you’ll find $1 oysters available Monday through Friday from 3-5pm. Definitely taking my husband here next time.
- Camino Riviera: Not in the mood for Italian food? No worries — this buzzy spot has seasonal Mexican food and a fun outdoor patio.
But no matter what you end up having for dinner, leave some room for Extraordinary Desserts! I always find myself back here every time I’m visiting San Diego for a weekend. We recently tried some of their fall favorites, including the apple crostini, and OMG. The chocolate cake is super delectable too. Always opt for a chocolate chip cookie as well (they’re the perfect after dinner treat).
Drinks in Little Italy/Gaslamp Quarter:
On the last night of your San Diego weekend trip, check out the craft cocktail scene! There’s rooftop bars, hidden speakeasies, and trendy/hip spots. Literally something for everyone. Just remember, no matter where you go, be safe and careful and call an Uber to get home if you need to.
- Craft and Commerce: One of our favorite cocktail bars meets gastropubs in Little Italy! Just note some of their decor includes taxidermy, so stay away if that’s not your jam. (Little Italy)
- Wolfie’s Carousel Bar: New and unique — it’s fun to go once for the novelty of the spinning carousel bar but the drink menu is kinda small so I wouldn’t stay here all night. I recommend making a reservation in advance to bypass the potentially long line out front. (Little Italy)
- Trailer Park After Dark: A dive bar serving American comfort food and beers in a funky trailer park-themed atmosphere. Such a fun vibe. (Gaslamp Quarter)
- The Nolen: Expect skyline views and a communal fire pit in this swanky rooftop bar in the Courtyard by Marriott San Diego. They even have old fashioneds on tap which are surprisingly good. (Gaslamp Quarter)
- Noble Experiment: Hidden speakeasy anyone?! It’s swanky and secret, tucked behind a secret door in The Neighborhood. You tell them what spirits you like and the bartender whips you something up! (Gaslamp Quarter)
Other Options for Your Last Night in San Diego
1. With kids or not feeling the San Diego nighttime drinking scene? Take a San Diego City Lights Night Tour instead! The city transforms at night, with beautiful lighting effects in Balboa Park, bright lights and Victorian architecture in the Gaslamp Quarter, and the illuminated San Diego city skyline from Coronado. Read reviews and book your city lights tour here!
2. And because I of course want you to have a ton of options, be sure to check out a historic Gaslamp Quarter walking tour. You’ll learn about the scandals and debauchery, brothels, and more in what used to be San Diego’s red light district. Check out the aptly named Brothels, Bites, and Booze Tour, and make sure to come hungry (maybe have a light dinner), because the food stops are quite filling! Read reviews and book your Gaslamp walking tour here.
I hope this helps you plan your weekend getaway to San Diego! What will you be adding to your San Diego itinerary?!