Visiting San Diego
Planning a trip to San Diego? This San Diego Travel Guide will tell you everything you need to know before traveling to visiting this sunny beach destination. As two people born in Kansas City and Boston, we really should have been born by the beach. San Diego feels like coming home for anyone who is a beach lover. In fact, the best way that I can describe San Diego is that it doesn’t feel like a real place. Pacific Beach and La Jolla very much feel like a fairy tale retirement town. It’s a miracle that people can live and work here full time — when you are constantly surrounded by sunshine and good weather, all you want to do is explore outside, and well, not work. While we certainly are not experts on San Diego, we’ve tapped our friends who live there and compile our favorite experiences when visiting. This San Diego travel guide will give you a glimpse of the best spots, accommodations, places to eat, drink, and more.
HOW TO GET THERE
WHEN TO VISIT
There are multiple ways to get to San Diego, whether you are flying or driving out of state. The San Diego International Airport has over 50 gates with daily domestic and non-stop international flights. The great thing about the airport is it’s only a short drive from downtown San Diego. We opted for taking an Uber from the airport, but there are other forms of transportation. Taking the San Diego airport bus line 992 to San Diego city centre is a great cost-savvy travel alternative to a taxi. You can also take the San Diego Flyer, which is a free shuttle to and from the airport, from Old Town Transit Center.
What To Expect
BEST TIME TO VISIT
San Diego is a desert, but with the coast climate comes pleasant weather year-round. An ideal time to visit San Diego is in spring and fall, where the temperature generally ranges from the mid-50s to the high 60s. It’ll never get much colder than 50 to 60 degrees in San Diego, but you can definitely expect temperatures to get to high 90s in the summer months.
Buses & Trolley
San Diego’s public buses provide transportation throughout the city. There are also three trolley lines (blue, orange, green) that service downtown San Diego and beyond. These run every 15 minutes. The bus and trolley schedule is on the Metropolitan Transit System website.\
Between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, the Waterfront Shuttle makes eight stops along the Bayfront from Harbor Island to the South Embarcadero near the San Diego Convention Center. This is one of the more fun ways to get around and is only $3 for an all day pass.
San Diego is big and pretty spread out. While they do have reliable public transit, it is mostly used for the 9-5 commuters. If you are visiting and trying to see all of San Diego, we recommend renting a car. This will make getting around easier and most places, hotels, Airbnb’s, and restaurants accommodate parking.
Gaslamp Quarter is the center of San Diego’s night life and the heart of the city. This downtown spot is always lively and filled with lots of rooftops and dancing spots. The heart of the City of San Diego and hub for nightlife and dining.
While this neighborhood used to be home to the tuna fishing industry, it is now a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, packed with trendy restaurants, creative cocktail bars, gastropubs, and coffee shops.
Known as San Diego’s LGBTQ+ friendly community, this neighborhoods is electric. Hillcrest’s tree-lined streets boast an affluent style with chic boutiques, bohemian style architecture and endless nightlife.
An eclectic and diverse neighborhood that is home to cute little cottages, popular coffee shops, classic diners, craft breweries, and boutique shops.
OLD TOWN-MISSION VALLEY
Old Town is the historic park of San Diego, boasting the historic landing of first Spanish settlement in California. Conveniently located near local transportation, Old Town is easy to get to and explore the over 30 historic sites and shops while even checking out the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.
Point Loma peninsula is one of the most historically significant spots in West Coast history. This beautiful seven-mile peninsula marks the beginning of California and houses a national monument dedicated to Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who was the first European to set foot in California in 1542.
Just south of Mission and Pacific Beach, this area feels very different from the other parts of San Diego and boasts a much more laid back, hippie vibe. Think of this area as the Brooklyn of San Diego.
MISSION BEACH-PACIFIC BEACH
Popular party and beach destinations with major nightlife and bar scene. If you want to get away from the bar scenes, north Pacific Beach has some great waves and coffee shops, and Mission Beach has tons of awesome beachfront rental properties.
With million-dollar properties overlooking the Pacific Ocean, this upscale beach community is where most people would dream of raising a family or retiring, The impressive coastline is adjacent boutiques, awesome seafood restaurants and some of the best beaches in San Diego.
Cross the famous blue bridge to San Diego’s island resort town. It’s idyllic and you will swoon over the beautiful houses here. Be aware, there is ALWAYS traffic on Coronado!
Where To Stay
Located in La Jolla, this downtown hotel is our favorite choice. Right on the water, this luxury hotel has endless ocean views and is located just walking distance to shops and food. nicknamed “the Pink Lady,” offers luxurious accommodations, romantic courtyards, Spanish mosaics, ocean views, and lush tropical landscaping.
This hotel is located in the youthful Pacific Beach neighborhood. This chic boutique hotel is the perfect mix of modern and quaint. With glass paneled walls overlooking the ocean, its hard not to wish you lived here year round. Best part about this hotel is that it is perfectly located right in between Pacific Beach a La Jolla — making it a short walk to the beach, shops, and restaurants.
SAMESUN OCEAN BEACH
This affordable fun loving adults-only hostel located in Ocean Beach is good vibes all around. Painted with bright, psychedelic colors and decorated with funky decor, it’s exactly what we’d expect for a hippie style beach front hostel. They even offer private rooms, making it our favorite kind of hostel to maintain privacy while also guarantying you’ll still be able to make friends in the common spaces!
Things To Do
SAN DIEGO ZOO
Okay, the San Diego Zoo is massive compared to any other zoo we’ve ever been to. With more than 4,000 animals, including pandas, This he best way I save time at the zoo is by taking the Skyfari Aerial Tram, a gondola ride connecting the back of the zoo to the entrance that also provides a birds-eye views of the animal exhibits.
Balboa Park is a central part of San Diego. This 1,200 acre spot is filled with historic and cultural landmarks — 17 museums, 10 performing art spaces, 20 gardens, shops, dining, and is even home to the San Diego Zoo. You could honestly spend an entire week exploring the park.
MISSION BEACH BOARDWALK
Enjoy a sunset walk on the boardwalk. With a handful of coffee shops, boutiques, restaurants, and more, the Mission Bay Boardwalk is a great place to go for a walk on the coast and explore this area and just north of Mission Beach to Pacific Beach. The boardwalk is home to tons of bike riders, dog walkers, rollerbladers, all overlooking surfers and beach-goers. If you’re looking to rent a bike or some form of transportation for the day, check out Hamel’s.
Belmont Park is San Diego’s beachfront amusement park — perfect for families, couples, or friends looking for a good time. With mini-gold, carnival style games, rides, and obstacle courses, this park is full of activities for everyone. The park stays open till 9PM, so we recommend staying for sunset and enjoying the neon lights that light up the night sky.
Based on its name, this spot is one of the best to watch the sunset in San Diego. So much so, that you are almost always guaranteed to see a proposal each evening. Honestly, who wouldn’t want to get proposed to here? The backdrop of endless ocean, fading sunlight glimmering off the water, and cotton candy sky makes for some pretty great engagement Instagram shots. There are a few parking lots right outside the cliffs, but we recommend getting here early to secure a good spot. If you want to turn sunset-watching into more of an activity involving cocktails and canapés, take a Sunset and Sips boat tour across San Diego bay.
LA JOLLA COVE
The La Jolla Cove is home to two underwater canyons, two reefs, a kelp forest, and an underwater graveyard, making it the prime spot for snorkeling and underwater exploring. The cove is also a popular destination for kayaking, sea lion sighting, and even swimming with sharks. We like to think we’re dare devils, but swiming with sharks is a BIG no in our book.
For all the gold loves, Torrey Pines is a must. Not only is it the site of the 2008 US Open, but this course overlooks the Pacific Ocean with gorgeous views at every hole. For those who don’t like to golf, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is home to a leisure mile overlooking the ocean with tons of wildlife.
For a quick day trip cross the bridge or take a ferry over to Coronado Island. Here you can explore the iconic Hotel Del Coronado and some of the most charming Victorian homes.
Baja Beach Cafe
This casual boardwalk spot offers a range of Mexican American food. It’s a great place to drop in, right on the Pacific Beach boardwalk. They have great happy hour specials that we recommend you take advantage of!
This lively chic Pacific Beach spot is a brunch and dinner hot spot. Offering delicious drinks & American cuisine, there is something for everyone here. Great spot to grab a bite to each before hitting the local bars.
This local Mexican spot is known for having the best tacos in town. With fresh fish and flavorful seafood, its hard not to eat 12 of the tacos in one sitting, and leave not feeling bad. This place is a must!
Fig Tree Cafe
This cute and vibey style cafe is perfect for brunch, breakfast, or even working remote! The decor and overall aesthetic is everything you want and expect, from greenery to neon signs.
Breakfast & Bubbles
This is the destination for a boozy brunch! The stylish and bright decor offers the perfect ambiance for a morning cocktail and gourmet breakfast dishes. Pro tip: book brunch far in advance, as reservations get booked quickly.
This oceanside spot in La Jolla is just the right touch of relaxing and lively. Designed with a chic and sophisticated style, you get a modern vibe filled with on-going company, while also being able to enjoy the sound of the ocean.
There is no denying that San Diego is a magical place. From the constant sunshine, gorgeous beaches, culture and laid back lifestyle, we would move here in a heartbeat. While not everyone can be lucky enough to live here, everyone should be lucky enough to visit. For more California recommendations, check out our Los Angeles Travel Guide.