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Top 10 Things to Do in San Diego When You Visit

The city of San Diego has a reputation for surf culture and consistently amazing weather for lots of fun in the sun. After all, this is one of the rare places in America that enjoys a year-round forecast of about 70 degrees and has over 70 miles of beautiful coastline that invites you to relax and play.

Yet, San Diego has lots more going on than just the beach too. Some of California’s best attractions and theme parks are located here, as well as rejuvenating resorts, fine art, fascinating cultural events, and world-class golf courses. This is a city that maintains the laid-back vibe that you crave when you visit California, but it couldn’t be farther from boring.

There’s really no bad time to visit San Diego, so start packing your bags and planning your itinerary! These are the top things to do in San Diego when you plan your visit!

The Cultural Hub of Balboa Park Balboa Park
Credit: Balboa Park by bigstock.com

The Cultural Hub of Balboa Park

What Is It? Balboa Park is the cultural hub of San Diego and a great place to start for first-time visitors. 

Why Do It? Balboa Park has over a dozen museums, although just one or two are enough to pack into a single day. Take your pick among the Reuben H. Fleet Center, the Art Institute, the Air and Space Museum, the Natural History Museum and others. 

Good to Know: Don’t forget to spend time in the lovely natural green space here too. The park spans 1,200 acres and is a perfect place to take a stroll through the gardens, push a stroller, walk a dog, or just sit on a bench and people-watch.

Go Surfing at the Sunset Cliffs Surfing
Credit: Surfing by bigstock.com

Go Surfing at the Sunset Cliffs

What Is It? Surfing is a huge part of San Diego’s culture, so there’s no better place than to give it a try or practice your skills than here. 

Why Do It? It’s easy to find board rental shops and experienced instructors that give lessons every day. Of course, if hopping on a surfboard isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other ways to get out on the water. Head to the natural harbor of San Diego Bay or Mission Bay to rent a boat or book a bay cruise. 

Good to Know: There are even whale watching expeditions that set sail from San Diego that are fun for both visitors and locals to get an up-close view of the native marine animals.

Experience the Local Craft Brewery Scene Karl Strauss Brewing Company
Credit: Karl Strauss Brewing Company by Karl Strauss Brewing Company

Experience the Local Craft Brewery Scene

What Is It? The craft beer scene is exploding in cities all over America, and San Diego is certainly no exception. 

Why Do It? San Diego has emerged as one of the top craft beer cities in the country, and there are so many microbreweries here to choose from when you visit. New ones are popping up all the time too. Some notable names to remember include Ballast Point Brewery, Mission Brewery, the Karl Strauss Brewing Company, and the San Diego Brewing Company. 

Good to Know: You can get a sampling of how the city brews beer, you can plan your visit for November, which is when San Diego Beer Week takes place.

Relax on Mission Beach Mission Beach
Credit: Mission Beach by bigstock.com

Relax on Mission Beach

What Is It? There’s really no way that you can visit San Diego and not plan to spend some time at the beach. 

Why Do It? Some of the most picturesque stretches of coastline in the U.S. are located here, and the bluffs, cliffs, and coves are enough to entice any imagination. Mission Beach is one of the most popular beaches in the city and stretches two miles and is free to the public. 

Good to Know: One of the best ways to get active and still enjoy beach life is to rent a beach cruiser bike and ride along the harbor or Mission Bay. You’ll get awesome views of downtown and the bay and get some exercise too!

Cheer on Your Favorite Horse at the Del Mar Racetracks Del Mar Racetracks
Credit: Del Mar Racetracks by dmtc.com

Cheer on Your Favorite Horse at the Del Mar Racetracks

What Is It? For something a little different, head to the Del Mar Racetracks to experience the old-time thrill of horse racing in a beautiful setting.

Why Do It? This track doesn’t have the worldwide popularity of the Kentucky Derby, but it makes for a fun afternoon and is really close to the beach too. Summer is a great time to catch a race here through Labor Day weekend. 

Good to Know: If you visit at other times of the year, check the track’s calendar of events to see if any festivals, concerts, or fashion shows are taking place at the venue.

Browse Shops at the Gaslamp Quarter Gaslamp Quarter
Credit: Gaslamp Quarter by bigstock.com

Browse Shops at the Gaslamp Quarter

What Is It? Victorian-style buildings set the stage for the Gaslamp Quarter’s art galleries, boutique shops, and trendy restaurants. 

Why Do It? This is a must-visit neighborhood in San Diego that has an outdoor shopping center and some excellent bars and restaurants with rooftop lounges to soak in the local scene. It’s in the heart of San Diego and just southwest of Balboa Park. 

Good to Know: Because of the popularity of this neighborhood, consider taking public transportation or walking here so you don’t have to worry about finding a parking spot.

History & Luxury on Coronado Island Hotel del Coronado
Credit: Hotel del Coronado by bigstock.com

History & Luxury on Coronado Island

What Is It? Some of the most famous people to ever spend time in San Diego stayed on Coronado Island at the Hotel del Coronado

Why Do It? If you’re in the mood to splurge, stay here and walk in the footsteps of historic figures like Thomas Edison, Babe Ruth, and Charlie Chaplin. Coronado Beach is also a must-visit beach when you take a trip here. It’s a wonderful beach for families with wide and clean sand. 

Good to Know: The Coronado Island Tidelands Park and Ferry Landing Marketplace nearby have lots of shops and galleries to explore as well.

Explore the Famous Zoo San Diego Zoo
Credit: San Diego Zoo by bigstock.com

Explore the Famous Zoo

What Is It? Among all the tourist attractions in San Diego, the San Diego Zoo is perhaps the most famous and popular. 

Why Do It? This zoo is known around the world for its vast collection of animal species and its conservation efforts. Would you believe there are around 3,700 animals here? Some of the enduring favorites are the gorillas, orangutans, polar bears, and tigers. 

Good to Know: If you want to save some money, pack a small picnic lunch to take a break from the exhibits and enjoy in the shade. The zoo also has a Safari Park, which involves taking a tram to see exotic animals like zebras, giraffes, and hippos.

Attend a Local Festival Local Festival
Credit: Local Festival by bigstock.com

Attend a Local Festival

What Is It? The people of San Diego love a good reason to party, and there are so many festivals and events worth planning your trip around here. 

Why Do It? Mardi Gras and Halloween are incredibly fun to celebrate in San Diego, and one of the biggest events of the year is Comic-Con. 

Good to Know: Comic-Con is also one of the most popular events around town, so you’ll really need to plan in advance to get a ticket and celebrate the spirit of comic books, fantasy characters, and dressing up in costume.

Dine at Farm-to-Table Restaurants Garden Kitchen
Credit: Garden Kitchen by Garden Kitchen

Dine at Farm-to-Table Restaurants

What Is It? Farm-to-table restaurants are all the rage these days, but San Diego didn’t just jump on this bandwagon – it helped build it. 

Why Do It? San Diego is an excellent travel destination for foodies who love to try new things because there are lots of restaurants here that feature rotating menus with seasonal foods that are fresh and local. 

Good to Know: You can experience everything from street market food to fusion cuisine, healthy vegan dishes, and fine dining from famous chefs here.

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