Growing up in the wine country of Temecula I often dreamed of my next adventure in San Diego.
My list of things to do in the big city never stopped growing. I could always hop over to San Diego for a quick exploration, which was only an hour away.
Cape Town is a cool coastal city. When I finally moved to Southern California, I made a beeline for this cool coastal city.
Today I live in San Diego and my school vacations are everything I dreamed they would be. I enjoy showing people around my stomping grounds.
That’s why I made my Ultimate Guide to San Diego Travel to help you get your bearings. Here’s a seven-day itinerary for you to follow.
Ready for an insider’s guide to San Diego? Let’s go!
Which Neighborhood to Stay in San Diego
It is important to know just how big San Diego County is. Once you have decided on your favorite places to see in San Diego, look at a map of the county.
There are 70 miles of coastline within the county, so things may be much farther apart than you might think.
There are too many neighborhoods to list them all, so I’m just going to scratch the surface by listing some of the best starting points for exploration.
If you are only visiting the city for a week, you will find a variety of options. To help you decide, let’s look at which neighborhoods are most suitable for different types of travel.
If you want to enjoy top-notch nightlife, add downtown and the Gaslamp (just beside Little Italy) to your list.
Little Italy is close to Balboa Park, but that means it’s not a good area for kids. The value of parking is high, and finding a space can be hard.
If you want to go out for a night on the town, you’ll love Uber.
You’ll be spoiled for choice throughout the Pacific Beach area, as there are many beautiful views of the Pacific and a laid-back vibe.
This beautiful area is expensive but very worth it.
While you’ll be a bit farther from the usual tourist destinations, like Balboa Park and the Zoo, you’ll find less crowded places to escape in Del Mar Solana Beach Leucadia Encinitas and Carlsbad.
If you’re only planning to go down into Balboa Park and are more interested in looking for a place to take off, look for this area. It’s a relaxing beach area with bargains to be had.
I love the Carlsbad Flower Fields up here! Visit in the spring to admire the colorful blooms. However, be aware that it is 45 minutes from Point Loma and this isn’t a practical base if you’re planning to explore San Diego daily.
The Best Time to Visit San Diego
The best time to visit is in the summer. The weather is still warm, but you won’t find as many tourists visiting.
If you are not from California, you might not be familiar with “May Gray” and “June Gloom.”
We have several warm, sunny days in the spring, but it doesn’t feel like summer until July. Most of the mornings are overcast and a bit dreary during the spring.
But I do enjoy the overcast days because it rarely actually rains. It’s the kind of weather where you can cozy up in a cardigan and drink hot coffee at a coffee shop.
If you want to have fun at the beach during the spring and summer, spring and summer aren’t super reliable times to go.
Getting Around San Diego
Having your own wheels is essential. Walkable areas are far and few between, and it is likely that you will want to explore the wider San Diego area during your stay.
Southern California isn’t known for its public transportation, so it has a reason.
The many freeways nearby loop around connecting all of the beach cities, but they are for cars. Getting around using a bus is frustrating and time-consuming.
I’ve put together a one-week plan, but you can mix and match different events and do things in whatever order you prefer.
I would strongly recommend checking out the city event calendar as you start planning.
Make sure there are any festivities in your hometown that you want to attend, or avoid. If you aren’t going to the traffic and parking hassles during major events, you will be annoyed.
Day 1: Balboa Park and the Zoo
These are the two must-see sites of San Diego.
You can knock them both out in one day. All of the top museums are together in one spot. If you are traveling with kids, they are sure to love the Zoo.
Balboa Park’s incredible Spanish-inspired architecture was built between 1915 and the late 1930s for different World Fairs.
There are lots of great places to walk around outside the zoo and you may BYOB (bring your own bottle) for a wine picnic. Explore and enjoy these two places at your leisure.
Craving Mexican food? El Indio is legendary! Right around the corner from it, you will also find the “best” California Burrito in the state.
Day 2: Bring on the Brews
San Diego is a leading craft beer capital. San Diego has more than 150 breweries and new ones are opening every day.
Make a day of tasting beer and exploring all the unique options that you will only find here.
When you are in North Park, sample the local suds. And come with an appetite! This is where the best local restaurants and craft beer spots are located.
Day 3-4: Beach Days
Here you’ll want to spend a couple of days soaking up the sun. Beyond tanning and water activities each beach town has its own unique vibe.
When you visit the beaches, you will hear locals recommending a range of destinations. You can’t go wrong with any of these popular beaches.
Here are a few places to check out:
Mission Beach and Belmont Park
A classic boardwalk has things like bumper cars, miniature golf and beach rental shops.
After dark, you can bike or rollerblade to Mission Beach from Pacific Beach.
La Jolla Shores
This is a top pick for family vacations. The beaches are relatively calm, so you can swim without fear of sea monsters. Lifeguards are on duty at the beach, which is a big plus for parents.
Visit the Children’s Pool La Jolla! It’s a small sandy beach with a concrete barrier that used to separate the children from the waves. Now it is a popular hangout for seals.
You could even go kayaking if that’s your heart’s desire!
This quaint island is the perfect pick for families and couples. You can tour the legendary hotel shops or stroll through the parks.
This is a young and lively town that is popular with surfers. Go surfing at Crystal Pier then have a drink or dinner.
If you want to rent a Duffey boat or go on a paddleboard, Mission Bay is a good place to do so because its location in the bay means there are no waves.
Home to Legoland California theme park, beautiful spring flower fields, and eight different beaches. This city is located just north of San Diego.
Check the calendar for the Flower Fields. The iconic ranunculus bloom only from the beginning of March to the beginning of May!
Aquarium at Scripps
Over 5000 (and counting) fish at the Birch Aquarium make this aquarium a must for kids and kids at heart.
Day 5: Hiking and Nature Reserve
Start your day in Torrey Pines. Hike the wildlife reserve and admire the beauty away from the beach. Once you have worked up an appetite go for brunch.
In the afternoon, head to Solana Beach or Del Mar. Both are known for their eclectic boutiques, trendy eateries, and local art galleries.
Day 6-7: Choose Your Own Adventure
During your San Diego visit, you can do anything you want. Here are some of my all-time favorites:
Check out the Bay and Coronado Island
Take a guided tour of the Navy’s fleet. Take the Hornblower cruise. Visit the Midway Museum and shop at the shops in the Midway District. Eat and drink your way through town just like you would when you are on vacation in California!
Take yourself out to the ballgame!
Little Italy Street Market
Little Italy Farmers’ Market is on every Saturday from 8 am to 2 pm. Feel free to visit it for food crafts and a great atmosphere.
Wednesday Night Market in OB
The Ocean Beach Farmers Market is held every Wednesday from 4 to 8 pm. It’s a great place for browsing, picking up local goodies, and a prime spot for people-watching.
From here, the sunset is so beautiful that they named the whole place after it. And on top of being a romantic spot, it’s also a great place for yoga classes.
Be aware that this area is very popular in the summer though so be prepared for crowds.
As I said, it is a beautiful location for a picnic!
Glider Port in Torrey Pines
The Torrey Pines Gliderport is the perfect place to get your heart racing and see a bird’s eye view of the city.
There are more than 100 wineries in San Diego County, many of which are just outside the city. If you’re a wine lover, don’t miss your chance to sample the local vintages.
A Night on the Town in Little Italy
Around Little Italy and the Gaslamp District you will find amazing nightlife. For a guaranteed great night out, go to Moonshine Flats or Kettner Exchange.
What would you like to see in your dream San Diego itinerary? I will be making restaurant guides soon! Let me know what you would like to see in the comments below!