The best things to do in San Diego are mostly set along its pristine coastline. The city is a popular holiday destination for beachgoers, couples, and families looking to soak up some sun. Its many ocean-facing neighbourhoods offer miles of sandy beaches that are great for surfing, sunbathing (your choice of doing so nude or clothed), and snorkelling among colourful sea creatures.

    Adventurers can opt for hiking through the 1,200-acre Balboa Park and Torrey Pines State Reserve, while art lovers can spend hours marvelling at masterpieces in San Diego’s many museums, art galleries, and a Spanish village filled with 200 local artists. You can even learn about the city’s maritime heritage by joining voyages on historical sailing ships at the city’s floating maritime museum. Read on for our list of things to do in San Diego. 

    What are the best things to do in San Diego?

    1

    Old Town San Diego

    Check out 19th-century homes at the Old Town State Historical Park

    Old Town San Diego has a vibrant Spanish community and historical buildings dating back to the 1800s. A must-visit is the Old Town State Historical Park, where you can learn about San Diego’s colonial lifestyle (and maybe spot a ghost) at the Whaley House and Junípero Serra Museums. The Bazaar del Mundo marketplace is teeming with Mexican restaurants and bars, as well as shops selling clothing, souvenirs, and accessories. There are also live mariachi performances throughout the day, especially at Fiesta de Reyes.

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    Location: Old Town San Diego, San Diego, CA 92110, USA

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    2

    La Jolla Shores

    Get up close with these friendly creatures

    Snorkelling is a popular activity at La Jolla Shores as the shallow waters are home to leopard sharks. They often congregate in front of The Marine Room Restaurant, attracting animal lovers looking to get up close with these rather friendly creatures. You can easily rent snorkelling gear from many dive shops at La Jolla Shores. Diving enthusiasts can visit the La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve, which has 2 artificial reefs teeming with colourful marine life. 

    Location: La Jolla Shores, San Diego, CA 92037, USA

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    photo by Leandro Neumann Ciuffo (CC BY 2.0) modified

    3

    Balboa Park

    Hike the Marston Point Trails for views of Cabrillo Bridge, Alcazar Garden, and Palm Canyon

    Balboa Park is an expansive landscape with dozens of museums, themed gardens, and historical landmarks. Hiking is a popular activity as there are 6 trail routes through the park’s most beautiful gardens, connecting vantage points overlooking the West Mesa canyons. Families with young children can ride a miniature train through 4 acres of the park and visit various animals at the San Diego Zoo. Art lovers can spend hours at the Spanish Village Art Center, which features daily demonstrations by local photographers, sculptors, metalsmiths, jewellery designers, and clay artists.

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    Location: San Diego, CA, USA

    Phone: +1 619-239-0512

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    4

    Coronado Beach

    Glittering sands and Hollywood glamour

    Coronado Beach is found on its namesake Coronado Island, just a 15-minute drive or ferry ride from downtown San Diego. This wide stretch of sparkling sand and gentle surf is a favourite escape for families and groups of friends. Marilyn Monroe helped to make the beach famous in her 1959 movie Some Like it Hot, filmed at the still-open luxury beachfront Hotel del Coronado. 

    Visitors could simply go for a stroll along the soft sands, or enjoy a day of surfing, paddleboarding or fishing from Ferry Landing Pier. The water is inviting, but do watch out for stingrays. 

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    5

    Maritime Museum of San Diego

    Join a 3-hour sailing trip on a tall ship

    The Maritime Museum of San Diego has an extensive collection of sea vessels, many of which date back to the 19th century. Founded in 1948, this floating museum is where you can explore historical ships such as an actual Soviet-era submarine, an 1898 steam ferryboat, and the world’s oldest sailing ship. On-the-water excursions are also available at the Maritime Museum of San Diego, where you get to sail on a replica of a 16th-century San Salvador ship or enjoy a day of whale watching off San Diego.

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    Location: 1492 N Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 9 pm

    Phone: +1 619-234-9153

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    6

    Black's Beach

    Bathing suits are optional at this popular nude beach

    • Budget
    • Adventure
    • Unusual

    Black’s Beach in San Diego is one of the largest nude beaches in the USA, but you often find local families and surfers gathering at this secluded promenade as well. The southern end of Black’s Beach has an underwater canyon that results in thrilling surf breaks, making it a popular spot for advanced surfers. Getting here can be rather challenging due to steep climbs, but the easiest route is from La Jolla Shores Pier during low tide. It’s a 3-mile walk north from La Jolla Shores, which passes through Scripps Beach’s rocky tide pools, caves, and an abandoned structure called the Mushroom House.

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    Location: Black's Beach, San Diego, CA 92037, USA

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    7

    Ocean Beach Farmers Market

    Snack on torpasta at this hippie market

    The Ocean Beach Farmers Market features over 100 local vendors selling a variety of handmade souvenirs and clothes, as well as fresh produce and ready-to-eat meals. San Diego locals frequent this marketplace for its extensive food options, including fresh seafood, ceviche, tamales, and crepes. A must-try here is the torpasta, which is a carb-heavy combination of a baguette with fresh pasta stuffing. Live music, yoga sessions, and fire dances are among the other activities you can enjoy at Ocean Beach Farmers Market.

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    Location: 4900 Newport Ave, San Diego, CA 92107, USA

    Open: Wednesday from 4 pm to 8 pm

    Phone: +1 619-279-0032

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    8

    Torrery Pines State Natural Reserve

    Explore a vast coastal park

    The Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a coastal state park with wild woodlands, a beach, a lagoon, and an abundance of wildlife. Located in La Jolla, the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is one of the best places to see native wildlife. You can take pictures from the cliff plateau to see the Torrey Pines State Beach and neighbouring lagoon, which is home to migratory seabirds. You may also spot bobcats, foxes, coyotes, rabbits, and skunks. On occasion, you’ll spot migrating whales from the overlook, such as humpback whales and grey whales.

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    Location: 12600 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA

    Open: Daily from 7.15 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 858-755-2063

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    9

    Gaslamp Quarter

    Join the Ghosts of the Gaslamp Walking Tour

    San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter features a vibrant mix of Victorian architecture, museums, art galleries, and theatres, as well as trendy dining and nightlife spots. It takes up over 16 blocks in the city’s downtown area, and is a short walk from Petco Park, Horton Plaza, and San Diego Convention Center. Daily tours are available for those who want to learn about Gaslamp Quarter’s centuries-old history, including a Friday evening walking tour with a guide sharing creepy facts and ghostly encounters.

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    Location: Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego, CA 92101, USA

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    photo by Bernard Gagnon (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    10

    Seaport Village

    Enjoy live music by street buskers along the waterfront

    Seaport Village is a dining and entertainment hub with a waterfront promenade in San Diego’s Harbor Drive. The 14-acre complex has over 50 shops selling clothing, souvenirs, accessories, and local artwork, and there are plenty of casual and fine-dining restaurants. The waterfront is teeming with street painters and musicians, while families can enjoy some fun at a 19th-century carousel for about $3 per ride. Seaport Village hosts free activities all year round, one of which is the Salsa under the Stars concert. On selected Friday evenings, locals gather at the central courtyard and dance to live music by the Manny Cepeda Orchestra.

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    Location: 849 W Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101, USA

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    photo by Misaochan (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    Penny Wong | Compulsive Traveller

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