Looking for the ultimate California beach vacation? Well, San Diego has some of the best beaches, food, and nightlife in the entire United States! It’s hard to say anywhere’s perfect, but the weather and abundance of outdoor activities blend together for an amazing destination. After living here for over 3 years we put together a list of tips and the most fun things to do in San Diego California. Enjoy!
20 Tips & Fun Things to do in San Diego California
1. Stay in a San Diego Beach Town
The first thing you should know before visiting San Diego in California is something that should be obvious! While there are plenty of hotels in downtown San Diego, the city is not what most people come to California for.
If you’d like a more relaxed experience we recommend staying in one of the many amazing beach towns San Diego has to offer. Below are a few of our favorite places, a couple of which we have lived in ourselves! Also, make sure to check out our hotel recommendations at the bottom of this post.
- Pacific Beach: Great place to let loose. Spend your days on the beach, and nights out at the beach bars.
- La Jolla: For a more laid back relaxing vacation with upscale dining.
- Ocean Beach: Fun San Diego beach town with plenty of budget deals and good live music.
- Mission Bay: A beautiful bay area next to Pacific Beach. We enjoyed staying at the Catamaran Resort!
- Coronado Island: To be close to all the San Diego California attractions but still have a beach vacation feel.
2. Eat Mexican Food
You won’t need to look far for what to eat in San Diego! With its close proximity to Mexico, tacos are not only delicious but can be found on almost every street corner.
Honestly, tacos are a way of life in this seaside city. I mean you’re less than 30 minutes from the border after all! Don’t miss out on the delicious fish tacos, al pastor, and carne burritos.
3. Go to a Local Brewery
San Diego has always been innovative and on the cutting edge of the food and beer scene. That means nowadays more craft beer and microbreweries are popping up each and every day here! You can stop at one to try the local flavors, or just as easily make a whole afternoon of brewery hopping.
While Ballast Point is our favorite (try the Grapefruit Sculpin IPA!), Pizza Port, Coronado Brewing, and Karl Strauss are all great as well. Hitting the breweries is one of the most fun things to do in San Diego!
4. Getting Around San Diego in California
San Diego may feel massive with its downtown and amazing collection of beach towns. Yey, you should know it’s actually super compact. There’s actually a running joke that you can get anywhere in San Diego California in only 15 minutes.
So even if you decide not to rent a car, it’s easy to Uber or Lyft around to the different beaches and see what makes San Diego so special. The public buses aren’t ideal in San Diego so we would avoid them unless you have to.
5. Don’t Miss Brunch in San Diego
Every weekend San Diego becomes the city of brunch! With the beautiful weather year-round, restaurants and cafes spill open into the streets as this fun meal brings locals and tourists out to play. You can even have a champagne brunch as you sail around the harbor!
Around 10am in Pacific Beach it seems as if the bottomless mimosas are flowing and people are already out and about. Have a delicious brunch and plan a lazy day at the beach for after. The happy hour deals in La Jolla are definitely worth checking out as well!
6. Take the Ferry to Coronado Island
From downtown San Diego you can catch the Coronado Island Ferry to make the quick journey across the bay. Filled with both bikes and passengers, the ferry tends to fill up fast. We recommend heading immediately to the top deck for awesome views of the San Diego skyline.
Just know that one of the most fun things to do in San Diego doesn’t stop with the ferry! You can stay in the small village of Coronado Island where it drops you off, and bike or walk to the stunning beach.
→ For a luxury San Diego vacation, consider staying at the famous Hotel del Coronado.
7. Climb Aboard the USS Midway
The USS Midway is one of the most fun things to do in San Diego for history buffs! The historic battleship is parked conveniently in the harbor so you can walk over from anywhere in downtown San Diego.
As the longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century, this ship has seen its fair share of battles! Walk above and below deck to explore the museum and different rooms of the incredible boat. Here you will get a sense of what life was like for the thousands of servicemen and women who once called it home. Save time, skip the line, and get your tickets before you go!
8. End Your Day at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
The name really says it all here! Sunset Cliffs is the premier spot to catch the sunset after a long day of exploring San Diego. Located near the Ocean Beach area, you can find your spot to sit and enjoy the view or hike along the mesmerizing cliffs.
The best beach at Sunset Cliffs is a steep hike down so make sure to wear proper shoes! Also, head into Ocean Beach for a burger at Hodad’s afterwards when you get hungry.
9. Shop at the Farmers Markets
The largest and most popular farmers market takes over Little Italy and is one of the most fun things to do in San Diego every Saturday! Spanning several blocks, there is vendor after vendor of food, crafts, goods, and anything else you can imagine.
There are fun weekly farmers in Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach to experience, too. With so many food samples available it can also be a great way to taste everything San Diego has to offer!
10. Watch Out for San Diego Comic-Con
Are you a comic book fan? If so, you may already know about this annual event! Comic-Con San Diego is the largest convention of its kind in the world so you can imagine what the city looks like during this period. Hotels book out months in advance and the whole city literally explodes with visitors!
Although it can be fun seeing thousands of tourists dressed up downtown as their favorite characters, it may not make for the most fun San Diego vacation if you’re not into it. Double-check your dates don’t overlap with Comic-Con.
11. Hike at Torrey Pines
Most people know Torrey Pines for its world-famous golf course, but the same stunning views are open to the public at the state park right down the road! The hikes in general are popular things to do in San Diego California, but this one in particular is our favorite.
The one-hour climb will take you to the top of Torrey Pines for incredible views of the Pacific Ocean. After walking along the cliffs make your way down to the beach, and stroll along the sand back. Just watch out for rattlesnakes on the trail and high tide if you’re planning on doing the beach way back.
12. Stop in Old Town San Diego
By now you know that there are plenty of food options in this city by the sea. However, one of the most fun things to do in San Diego California is to head into Old Town for a more authentic meal. The two oldest restaurants battle for the title of being the best, but both serve amazing Mexican food.
If you need a quick snack you can buy fresh-made tortillas from local women on the street. $1 will get you two tortillas wrapped in tinfoil and cooked right in front of you. Simply add butter and salsa for a mind-blowing treat. Also, take a walk through the historic old town to learn more about San Diego California, and the wild wild west!
13. Day Trip up the Coast
If you have time you will not regret taking a drive up the coast from San Diego. The legendary Pacific Coast Highway cuts through the small beach towns and villages as you see what brings so many travelers to the state every year.
Believe it or not, if you were to keep driving this coastal highway goes all the way to Oregon. Head to Laguna Beach for lunch, check out the horse races in Del Mar, or simply stick around San Diego and relax on vacation.
14. Bike the Pacific Beach Boardwalk
Rent a bike in Pacific Beach and go for miles along the boardwalk that runs parallel to the ocean. At the end (or really any point) you can cut over to Mission bay where the path continues.
This is one of our favorite outdoor activities and things to do in San Diego. Cruising along the ocean on a bike is such a fun way to spend the afternoon! There are also electric scooters available everywhere if you prefer zippin around that way in Pacific beach.
15. Jump on a Harbor Tour of San Diego
While the ferry to Coronado will give you a quick view of the San Diego skyline, the harbor tour is something you also can’t miss! This is a great way to learn about the history of San Diego in California, and fun facts about the different areas of the city. The best parts is you’ll get some amazing photos from the water, too!
16. Relax at the Best Beaches in San Diego California
There are so many incredible beaches to visit in San Diego! Yet, you’ll find they aren’t all the long sandy beaches that you may be used to. One of our favorite things about San Diego in California is that no two beaches are the same.
You have the cliffs and coves of La Jolla, the calm waters of Mission bay, and the rolling waves of Pacific Beach. When all that’s done you can watch the colors change at Sunset Cliffs or any of the beach bars for happy hour.
17. Take a Surfing Lesson
Did you really think we would forget about surfing in San Diego California? Even if you’ve never surfed before, taking a lesson is one of the most fun things to do in San Diego for adventure lovers.
Not only that, but the smooth waves of Pacific beach are perfect for beginners. Not up for surfing in San Diego? Don’t worry! You can easily rent a stand-up paddleboard and head out onto Mission Bay!
18. Night Out in the Gaslamp District
For a night of fun in San Diego go to the Gaslamp District in the downtown area. In the heart of the city you will find everything from upscale nightclubs to country music bars and even hidden speakeasies.
During the summer the bars are packed nightly, and you won’t have to search too hard to find a good time! There are also some amazing restaurants in this section of San Diego in California.
19. Drive to Mexico (Just Not on the Weekend!)
So this is somewhat of a funny thought. Mexico is only about 20 minutes away from San Diego. With how close it is tourists often want to make the quick trek over the border.
Now don’t get us wrong. We LOVED going south of the border when we lived in San Diego and even make the drive just for lunch somedays.
However, this comes with a word of warning. The wait to get back into the U.S. can often be a few hours long especially on Sundays. Make the trip during the week if you plan to go!
20. Explore Beautiful Balboa Park
Just outside of the downtown city center is the loveable Balboa Park in San Diego. Being more than your typical park, Balboa offers over a dozen museums, a Japanese Friendship Garden, houses of the world, a botanical garden, and so much more.
You can also check out the massive San Diego Zoo which is located inside Balboa Park or take a trip outside the city center to the San Diego Safari Park!
Have any questions about this article or want to share your own fun things to do in San Diego California? Leave us comment below!
Brigitte & Jake
Where in the world are we? Follow our daily adventures on Instagram @nothingfamiliar!
Where to Stay in San Diego California
Ultra Luxury – La Valencia – If you’ve ever visited La Jolla then you’ve probably seen the extraordinary pink luxury hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We honestly can’t think of a better, more luxurious place to stay in San Diego!
Fun Vacation – Hotel Indigo – This funky but comfortable accommodation is a great choice if you’re looking to stay downtown without breaking the bank. Situated right in the happening Gaslamp district, Hotel Indigo features a rooftop bar overlooking Petco Park.
Fun Vacation – Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa – This Polynesian-style resort is set on the shores of Mission Bay. Its gorgeous setting makes it easy to hang out all day on property, while also being just a short stroll away from the ocean.
Beachfront – Pacific Terrace Hotel – Oceanview hotel set directly on the Pacific Beach boardwalk. Lovely atmosphere and a great stay for any type of traveler.
Hostel Life – ITH Beach Bungalow Surf Hostel – Located in the heart of the boardwalk in Pacific Beach, this surfer hostel is one of the best options around! It has an amazing view and is right in the middle of all the beach bars and action of San Diego’s most popular beach.
For more places to stay around the San Diego California attractions you can explore the latest prices here!
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USA Travel Planning
Rental Car: We use Discover Cars when traveling. Consider renting a car in one city and dropping it off in another for an epic road trip!
Travel Insurance: Never travel abroad without being covered! We’ve been using SafetyWing for the last few years and they are there when we need them.