31 BEST Things to do in San Diego [December 2019]

Last Updated on

One of the most-visited cities in southern California, it won’t take you long to figure out why so many people love San Diego!

From the high-class hotels to the diversity in cuisine, there’s everything you need for a fun and relaxing vacation adventure.

Whether you’re planning to stay in San Diego for a few days or a few weeks, check out this list of some of the city’s highlights to help you plan the trip of your lifetime!

Table of Contents

Our Favorite Places to Stay in San Diego!

Get your bases covered with a solid accommodation option in the region of San Diego that will work best for you and your vacation plans.

Horton Grand Hotel

The best option in the Seaport Village area of San Diego

Horton Grand Hotel

Horton Grand Hotel is our pick for the best option in the Seaport Village area of San Diego

  • Historic area!
  • Old world charm, modern amenities

The perfect option is you’re hoping to really see the historic quarter of San Diego, the Horton Grand Hotel combines the historic character of the area with state-of-the-art accommodation!

You’ll be walking distance from numerous attractions and onsite you can enjoy a restaurant, bar, and live entertainment!

 

Gaslamp Plaza Suites

The best option in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego

Gaslamp Plaza Suites

Gaslamp Plaza Suites is our pick for the best option in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego

  • Built in 1913!
  • Numerous nearby attractions

Whether you’re enjoying a meal at the onsite restaurant or relaxing in your room, the Gaslamp Plaza Suites has you covered for comfort and convenience!

The European style hotel is located right in the heart of downtown and is known for its elegant architectural design.

MUST READ! Find out where to stay in San Diego for any type of trip or budget!

Omni San Diego Hotel

The best luxury option in San Diego

Omni San Diego Hotel

Omni San Diego Hotel is our pick for the best luxury option in San Diego

  • Pool, spa, and onsite dining!
  • Excellent downtown location

No want will go unanswered at the Omni San Diego Hotel! Enjoy delicious local food at the onsite restaurant, relax at the outdoor pool, and hit the gym for a workout.

You’ll be able to relax in style in a room equipped with bathrobes, in-room dining, and flat-screen TVs!

 

The 31 Best Things to do in San Diego

 

#1 – Take a Harbor Cruise

Take a Harbor Cruise

One of the best fun things to do in San Diego

  • Enjoy the San Diego skyline!
  • Perfect photo opportunity
  • Relaxing way to sightsee

A harbor cruise gives you a front-row seat for all the top landmarks of San Diego!

You’ll get to see the Midway Aircraft Carrier, the Coronado Bridge and more all with a local guide to tell you more about the history and importance of these places.

 

San Diego is amazing! And these great hotels will blow your mind!

#2 – Stroll along Embarcadero

An activity for everyone in San Diego

  • Harbor front views
  • Maybe see a whale!
  • Great public area

The picturesque promenade along the San Diego waterfront is known as Embarcadero.

It’s a great place to go for a walk, bring kids to the Waterfront Park, or browse for a local souvenir among one of the numerous shops!

 

#3 – The USS Midway Museum

The USS Midway Museum

A must-visit historic site of San Diego

  • Top attraction of San Diego!
  • Must-visit site
  • See history in person

The USS Midway is famous for being the longest-serving aircraft carrier in the US military.

Now retired, the vessel serves as a museum full of interesting exhibits for guests to learn more about military history and to view some of the restored aircraft for themselves!

 

#4 – Enjoy the View from Point Loma

Enjoy the View from Point Loma

A great spot for photographers in San Diego (Photo credit – sandiego.org)

  • Amazing coastal scenery
  • Interesting history
  • See local wildlife

Just to the west of San Diego is the peninsula called Point Loma, known for its spectacular views of the Pacific and the city skyline!

Point Loma has historic significance as the point Europeans first made land on the west coast of America in 1542.

What sort of trip are you planning? Downtown San diego has incredible hotels for all types of visits!

#5 – Discover La Jolla Cove

Discover La Jolla Cove

A very cool thing to do in San Diego

  • Top natural site of San Diego
  • Great views!
  • Perfect for a bike tour

Not far from San Diego is the incredible La Jolla Cove, known for its sandstone cliffs and sea caves!

Bring your camera and a sense of adventure! La Jolla is a fun spot to visit with a bike tour, allowing you to see other attractions along the way and learn about the regional history.

 

#6 – Hop-on Hop-off bus in the Old Town

Hop-on Hop-off bus in the Old Town

Perfect way to sightsee in San Diego

  • Take your time!
  • Over 100 points of interest
  • Perfect all-around tour

Maybe you don’t have much time in San Diego or you’re not exactly sure where to begin your sightseeing adventure. Never fear, the hop-on-hop-off bus is the solution!

Stopping at numerous main attractions around the city, you can visit all the highlights of San Diego such as the Zoo, Balboa Park, and the Gaslamp Quarter! Stop at your favorite places, then get back on the bus at your convenience.

 

Excited to visit San Diego? Get excited to take an amazing day trip too!

#7 – Try out Surfing

  • World-class surf conditions
  • 70 miles of ocean coastline!
  • Beginner or expert

Get in on the local scene of San Diego and try out surfing, arguably one of the most popular sports in the city!

You’ll have your pick of beaches, lessons, and instructors so you can have fun whether it’s your first time or your hundredth time surfing.

 

#8 – Wine Tour in Valle de Guadalupe

Wine Tour in Valle de Guadalupe

Things to do in San Diego this weekend

  • Taste regional wines!
  • Local wine production
  • Beautiful valley scenery

The picturesque wine region in Mexico is somewhere you’ll definitely want to check out, both for the amazing wine and the incredible view!

An easy day trip from San Diego, the Valle de Guadalupe is the perfect place to learn about local culture and try authentic cuisine!

 

#9 – Old Town San Diego

Old Town San Diego

Photo Credit – sandiego.org

  • Historic side of the city
  • First settlements
  • Fun annual festivals

Go back to the roots of San Diego by visiting the preserved Old Town area, the site where Europeans first made a settlement.

Full of local shops, great restaurants, and art galleries, there’s plenty to see and do beyond the historic aspect as well!

Insider Guide! These are the absolute BEST times of the year to visit San Diego!

#10 – Visit Baja Mexico

Visit Baja Mexico

One of the best day trips from San Diego

  • Incredible beaches!
  • Fun day in the sun
  • Mexico and back in a day

Head south across the border for a day of sightseeing in Mexico! It’s an easy trip to make from San Diego and let you see some of the best coastline in the country.

From horseback riding on Rosarito Beach to the Tijuana Tower, your day will be full of amazing sites and wonderful adventures.

 

#11 – Try Pizza in Little Italy

One of San Diego’s best culinary scenes

  • Great local vibes!
  • Awesome restaurants
  • Visit the market!

A small section of downtown San Diego, Little Italy traces its roots back to immigrant Italians coming to work for the tuna industry.

Today, the area preserves its heritage in the form of excellent cuisine, charming local shops, and cool galleries!

 

#12 – Kayak to Sea Caves

Kayak to Sea Caves

Great adventure opportunity in San Diego

  • Local marine life
  • No experience required!
  • Unique habitat

If you’re the outdoorsy type, a kayak adventure out to the sea caves of La Jolla Ecological Reserve is the thing for you!

View the 3 singular habitats of the area and have the chance to see some local species like leopard sharks, sea lions, and maybe even a dolphin!

 

#13 – Relax on Coronado Beach

Relax on Coronado Beach

One of the best free things to do in San Diego

  • Just across the bridge!
  • Calm waters
  • Swim, bike, or sunbathe!

Coronado Beach is one of the most highly acclaimed beaches in the United States!

Thankfully, its in easy reach of San Diego, making it the perfect spot to take the kids for an afternoon swim, or visit for a romantic bonfire in the evening.

 

#14 – Scooter Tour around Downtown

Scooter Tour around Downtown

  • Breezy sightseeing!
  • GPS scooters
  • Top attractions of downtown

If you’re the type of person who prefers to sightsee at your own pace, renting a scooter in downtown San Diego is the perfect option for you.

The scooter GPS will guide you around the city, making sure you hit all the top landmarks but always at your own leisure!

 

#15 – San Diego Museum of Art

San Diego Museum of Art

The perfect spot for art lovers in San Diego (Photo credit – sandiego.org)

  • Located in Balboa Park
  • Beautiful architecture
  • World-renowned exhibits!

From Gustav Klimt to El Greco, the San Diego Museum is particularly known for its Baroque and Spanish Renaissance paintings.

Check out the masterpieces when you visit Balboa Park or attend one of the regular events hosted at the venue!

 

#16 – Visit the San Diego Natural History Museum

Visit the San Diego Natural History Museum

One of the best museums of San Diego

  • Top San Diego attraction
  • Fun education
  • Rotating exhibits

One of the most-visited attractions in San Diego, the Natural History Museum has something for people of all ages.

With exhibitions spread across 3 floors and a 3D movie theater, you can easily spend hours at the museum and still have more to see!

 

#17 – Mission San Diego de Alcalá

One of the more unique things to do in San Diego

  • Museum and landmark
  • Frist Franciscan mission of California
  • Beautiful spot for photos

If you’re interested in history, you should definitely check out the Mission San Diego de Alcalá.

From the archeological artifacts displayed at the Mission Museum to an enormous bell dating back to 1805, the site is full of stories and wonders!

 

#18 – Have Fun in LEGOLAND

Have Fun in LEGOLAND

Great thing to do in San Diego with kids

  • Over 60 rides!
  • Games and activities
  • 128 acres of theme park space!

If you’re traveling to San Diego with young children, make sure to get tickets to the world of fun at LEGOLAND!

From fast roller coasters to building block games for little ones, you can rest assured that a day at LEGOLAND will be a day of amazing memories with your kids.

 

#19 – San Diego Air & Space Museum

  • Cool architecture
  • Flight simulators!
  • Aviation through the ages

All things flight-related can be found in the San Diego Air & Space Museum, a fun spot to go for people of all ages!

If you’re feeling up to the challenge, you can try out a flight simulator, but there are also plenty of low-key activities, games, and exhibits as well.

 

#20 – Try Stand-up Paddle Boarding

Try Stand-up Paddle Boarding

A cool beach activity in San Diego

  • Enjoy Coronado town
  • Beautiful view of San Diego
  • Fun outdoor activity

Get out on the water and try out stand-up paddle boarding in the resort town of Coronado.

A great way to cool off during the hot San Diego summers, paddle boarding also gives you a new perspective on the city and coastline!

 

#21 – Visit Torrey Pine State Nature Reserve

A must-visit place for nature lovers

  • Endangered Torrey Pine
  • Maybe see a whale!
  • Beautiful coastal landscape

For some breathtaking views and the chance to see the native Torrey Pine, you can take a break from the city and head to Torrey Pine State Nature Reserve.

There are plenty of hiking trails for you to enjoy the fresh sea breeze and a nice break from the rush and traffic of San Diego!

 

#22 – Sample Local Craft Beers

Sample Local Craft Beers

One of the best things to do in downtown San Diego

  • Learn about brewing
  • Local venues
  • Famous beer!

Try some of San Diego’s signature craft beers and an exclusive beer tasting tour in the downtown part of the city!

You’ll get to meet some of the locals who have created the most famous brands and learn a bit about their methods and secrets to the perfect beer.

 

#23 – See the Hotel del Coronado

  • No need to book a room!
  • Featured in movies
  • National Historic Landmark!

Easily the most recognizable feature on Coronado Beach is the sprawling Victorian-style beachfront hotel known as Hotel del Coronado.

If you want to experience some extreme luxury, go ahead and book a room, but there are also tours available to the public just to appreciate the architecture and history!

 

#24 – Day Trip to Tijuana

Day Trip to Tijuana

Explore beyond San Diego on vacation!

  • Visit Mexico!
  • Great local experience
  • Try authentic foods

Over to Mexico and back to San Diego in a day! You can experience the top sites of the famous Mexican city, then be back to your hotel in San Diego at night.

Try out local foods, visit landmarks like the Tijuana Water Tower, and do some shopping at the Avenida Revolucion!

 

#25 – Check out the Maritime Museum of San Diego

  • Right on Embarcadero
  • 11 heritage boats!
  • Cool history lesson

A unique museum of San Diego, the Maritime Museum is most famous for its heritage vessels, including a few submarines!

Stop by while you’re walking along Embarcadero for a one-of-a-kind experience and an interesting lesson on maritime history.

 

#26 – Segway through Balboa Park

One of the best cheap things to do in San Diego

  • Don’t tire yourself out!
  • Museums, gardens, and more
  • Top attraction of San Diego

Balboa Park is one of the most famous parks in the United States. Everyone coming to San Diego should make sure a day (or more!) at the park is included in the trip itinerary!

Hopping on a Segway tour is a great way to see more of the park without getting sore feet in the process!

#27 – Spot Sea Lions at Children’s Pool Beach

A ‘cool’ thing to do in San Diego in winter

  • Sea lions and babies!
  • Great spot for photos
  • Unique site in San Diego

The protected area known as Children’s Pool Beach was once intended for swimming before sea lions decided it was the perfect place to relax!

In the winter you’ll be able to see baby sea lion up close as they relax on the rocks with their mothers.

 

#28 – Cruise around on a Speed Boat

Cruise around on a Speed Boat

  • Fun harbor tour
  • Take a turn driving!
  • Great thrill activity

You don’t have to be an expert to give driving a speed boat a try! With the guide of an experienced professional, you’ll be cruising around the San Diego harbor in no time.

It’s a great way to get an adrenaline rush and learn some interesting facts about the coastal city!

 

#29 – Take a Hike in Mission Trails Regional Park

One of the best outdoor activities in San Diego

  • 5,800 acres!
  • 60 miles of hiking trails
  • Cool historic landmark

Needing a break from the city? Well, you won’t even have to leave city limits to enjoy Mission Trails Regional Park!

You can leave the noisy city traffic behind you and enjoy the peaceful walking trails, historic sites, and beautiful panorama view from the hills in Mission Trails.

 

#30 – Enjoy the Nighttime City Lights

Enjoy the Nighttime City Lights

See a new side to San Diego

  • Amazing skyline
  • Postcard-worthy photos!
  • San Diego at its best

In the evening, the lights of San Diego bring the city to life in a magical glow.

The best seat in the house is from the harbor, and on a special nighttime cruise you’ll have the chance to get some photos that will have all your friends back at home jealous of your trip!

 

#31 – Photograph the Sunset from Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

A great romantic activity in San Diego

  • Watch for whales!
  • Best sunset views in the city
  • Bring your camera!

The name gives it all away-Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is famous for its spectacular cliffs and perfect view of the sunset over the Pacific.

Bring a picnic and some folding chairs for a romantic and memorable evening in San Diego!

Conclusion

Whether you’re coming to San Diego by yourself for a break from work or you’re taking your whole family for a summer vacation, it’s hard to beat the variety of fun activities this city has to offer! Enjoy the best of southern California by planning a trip to San Diego for your next vacation.

*** Some of the links on Hotel Jules are affiliate links, which means if you do make a purchase, we may make a small commission (at no extra cost to you.) Thank you for using our links! Your support keeps the site going***

About the Author Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson lives to travel! Born in Washington D.C., Emma is a hotel connoisseur and a staff writer at Hotel Jules. An army brat, Emma got the travel bug early and has never been able to stop. Now, she has proudly visited 70+ countries and plans to visit every country in the world! Passionate about her ukelele (obviously) and her family, Emma eventually wants to retire in Thailand and write a book about all of her travel experiences.