San Diego Travel Guides

Super useful & totally free travel guides, written by locals who love San Diego

The Casa de Balboa Building in Balboa Park
Balboa Park is one of San Diego’s most iconic attractions.

Why We Love San Diego: ~ San Diego, aka America’s Finest City, is known for its almost year-round great weather and beautiful beaches. The downtown area is lively and bustling and the surrounding beach towns are eclectic and inviting. The city truly has something to offer everyone, from laid-back beaches to energetic urban nightlife. 

Best of San Diego

Things to Do

View of the Star of India in Maritime Museum of San Diego
See the world’s oldest active sailing ship at the Maritime Museum of San Diego

San Diego has a huge variety of things to do, including exploring the city’s natural coastal beauty and visiting the historic attractions scattered throughout the county. 

  • Balboa Park – Explore the 1,400-acre collection of 17 museums and gardens constructed in Spanish architecture.
  • San Diego Zoo – Check out animals from around the globe at the world-famous zoo.
  • Explore La Jolla Cove – Kayak or snorkel in this protected area that boasts hidden caves and tons of marine animals. 
  • Visit the Maritime Museum of San Diego– See a collection of historic ships, including the world’s oldest operating sailing ship and the USS Midway Museum.
  • Take a Tour of Historic San Diego – Tour Old Town San Diego, the Gaslamp District, and Little Italy. Soak in the rich history and enjoy the trendy bars and restaurants.

👉 Explore all things to do.

🗺️ Where to Stay

Whether you stay in one of the small beach towns or in the bustling downtown, San Diego will be an unforgettable stay. These are some of my favorite options:

  • Downtown San Diego – Best for those wanting to stay close to the airport or near the many trendy bars and restaurants.
  • La Jolla– Recommended for visitors looking for a luxury beach location in a beautiful coastal town.
  • Pacific Beach – Best spot for young travelers hoping for a beach vacation and lively nightlife. 

👉 Read the complete guide to where to stay.

View of cars parked in Downtown San Diego and the welcoming arch
Downtown San Diego is lively and rich in history. (photo: Johan Erkki / Shutterstock)

🛎️ Best Hotels

View of the La Valencia Hotel from the outside
(photo: meunierd / Shutterstock)

San Diego’s hotels range from luxury resorts to laid-back beach hotels. Depending on your desired location and budget, I recommend checking out the following:

  • The Pendry – Located in Downtown San Diego, and near some awesome bars and restaurants
  • La Valencia Hotel – An artistic boutique hotel located in front of La Jolla Cove.
  • Pacific Terrace Hotel – A beautiful beachfront hotel in Pacific Beach.

⛱️ Beaches

San Diego is best known for its gorgeous beaches, and there are many to choose from. While they’re all beautiful some are less crowded and have unique characteristics.

  • Torrey Pines State Beach – A beautiful beach for surfing or sunning beneath the rugged Torrey Pines State Reserve.
  • Sunset Cliffs – Arguably the best place to watch the sunset in San Diego.
  • San Onofre State Beach – The northernmost and least crowded beach in the county.
  • La Jolla Shores – One of the most popular beaches for its wide stretch of sand, proximity to La Jolla, and calmer waves.
  • La Jolla Cove – Great for snorkeling, kayaking, and seeing resident sea lions. 

👉 Read the complete guide to San Diego Beaches.

View of a person in San Diego beach admiring the sunset
San Diego’s offer spectacular sunsets over the Pacific.

🍽️ Restaurants

Closed up view of a fresh tacos filled with fillings
Try some of San Diego’s mouthwatering mexican food.

San Diego boasts some incredible restaurants and, in my opinion, the best Mexican food you’ll find outside of Mexico.

  • Oscar’s – Located in Pacific Beach, cheap and delicious tacos and Mexican food, best known for seafood.
  • Jay’s Gourmet – A tiny family-run seafood Italian restaurant with huge, mouthwatering plates and the best breadsticks.
  • Juniper & Ivy – An upscale and artsy restaurant in Downtown San Diego with a variety of American dishes.
  • George’s at the Cove – An upscale restaurant in La Jolla with beautiful views of La Jolla Cove.
  • The Taco Stand – A taco joint with mouthwatering food that draws huge crowds. Locations in Encinitas, La Jolla, Downtown, and Northpark.

🚗 Day Trips

View of the historic Mission in San Juan Capistrano
Tour San Juan Capistrano’s historic Mission.
  • Julian – A historic mining town east of San Diego famous for apple pies.
  • San Juan Capistrano – A historic town considered the birthplace of Orange County and home to historical San Juan Capistrano Mission.
  • Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico – A rugged and beautiful wine country just south of Tijuana, Mexico.
  • Anza Borrego Desert State Park – A beautiful desert landscape great for hiking and home to giant metal sculptures.
  • Laguna Beach – A small beach town in Orange County known for its art scene and galleries.

👉 Read all day trips from San Diego.

🏜️ Weekend Getaways

Scenic view of Joshua Tree in a National Park in San Diego
Stunning Joshua Tree National Park landscape.
  • Catalina Island – A picturesque resort island located off the coast of Orange County great for beach resorts, camping, hiking, and diving. 
  • Ensenada, Mexico – A coastal community 2 hours south of the border rich with culture, delicious food, and nightlife.
  • San Luis Obispo – A small college town located north of LA on the rugged central coast. Surrounded by wineries and undeveloped landscape.
  • Idyllwild – A quaint mountain town perfect for a quiet, nature-oriented getaway.
  • Joshua Tree National Park – A national park great for camping and famous for unique desert landscapes and Joshua trees. See our full guide to what to do in Joshua Tree for activity ideas.

👉 Read all San Diego weekend getaways.

🏘️ Neighborhoods

Aerial view of the beachside town of La Jolla
Beachside town of La Jolla.
  • Coronado Island – A small resort town island with beautiful beaches and upscale dining.
  • Downtown San Diego – A bustling and lively cityscape with trendy bars and restaurants.
  • Ocean Beach – A small beach town that draws a young, eclectic, bohemian crowd.
  • La Jolla – A luxurious beach town with resorts, boutique hotels, and beautiful coastline and beaches.
  • Carlsbad – One of the northernmost beach towns in the county; quiet, family atmosphere with sandy beaches and home to Legoland.

🍸 Bars

View of a bartender pouring an alcoholic drink on a glass with ice cubes
  • Herb & Wood – Located in Downtown, an upscale and trendy short description (~100 characters
  • Juneshine – Located in Northpark, a stylish hard kombucha brewery with indoor and outdoor seating
  • Wonderland Ocean Pub – Located in Ocean Beach, a lively sports bar with panoramic views of the beach and OB pier.
  • Pacific Beach Ale House – Located in Pacific Beach, a lively bar that draws a young and rambunctious crowd.
  • Rich’s – Located in Hillcrest, one of San Diego’s most lively clubs beloved by the LGBTQ community. 

🥾 Best Hikes

View of two people descending a staircase in Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve
Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve is one of San Diego’s most popular hiking spots. (photo: Sandra Foyt / Shutterstock)
  • Annie’s Canyon – Located in Cardiff, the trail is simple to get to and a relatively easy hike that has a surprisingly awesome slot canyon.
  • Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve – Various trails ranging in difficulty atop rugged cliffs that tower above the ocean.
  • Three Sisters – A tough in-out hike in east county with little shade that leads to a few pools and waterfalls you can swim in.
  • Cowles Mountain – Hiking through rugged terrain with bird’s eye views of the city.
  • Santa Ysabel – Located near Julian in east county, moderate trails lead through rolling, vegetation-rich hills.

👉 Read the full list of best San Diego hiking trails.

🆓 Best Free Activities

View of two women practicing yoga positions on a paddleboard
Paddleboarding in Mission Bay
  • Hiking – There are tons of trails that showcase the natural beauty of San Diego. Some of my favorites are listed above.
  • Watch Paragliders at Torrey Pines Gliderport – Watch the paragliders soar above cliffs and ocean from the viewing deck.
  • Standup paddleboard on Mission Bay – Paddle around the calm water of mission bay to get spectacular views of the city.
  • Go To the Beach – Enjoy the sun and surf at one of San Diego’s many beautiful beaches.
  • Walk around Balboa Park – A 1,4000-acre park that contains a whole Spanish-style village of museums, galleries, and gardens.

🏛️ Best Museums

An Aircraft in USS Midway Navy Museum
The USS Midway Navy Museum
  • Museum of Us – Formerly the Museum of Man, an impressive 100-year-old museum of anthropology located in Balboa Park
  • Maritime Museum of San Diego – A collection of restored ships, including the Star of India, the oldest active ship, docked and displayed in San Diego Bay
  • Fleet Science Center – A science center and planetarium located in Balboa Park
  • USS Midway Museum – A historical naval aricraft carrier located in the San Diego Bay that has been converted into a museum.
  • Barona Cultural Center and Museum – A museum dedicated to preserving the culture and history of the native San Diego Kumeyaay People.

👉 Read the full list of best museums in San Diego.

🍻 Best Breweries

Different craft beers lined in a wooden bar
San Diego is filled with breweries and taprooms!
  • Stone Brewing Tap Room – Located in Downtown San Diego, Stone is one of San Diego’s first and largest craft breweries. 
  • Northern Pine Brewing – A tasting room located on the SkyDeck of the Del Mar Highlands Town Center that overlooks the Carmel Valley.
  • AleSmith Brewing Company – A large and lively tasting room in Miramar that serves a wide variety of AleSmith craft beers and food. 
  • Pure Project – Casual tasting rooms in North Park, Miramar, Vista, Balboa Park, Carlsbad showcase Pure’s variety of sustainably sourced brews.
  • Burgeon Beer Company – A craft brewery started in Carlsbad with taprooms in Escondido and Downtown.

👉 Read the full list of best breweries in San Diego.

San Diego Travel Advice

🗓️ Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit San Diego is from July to September when the days are warm and sunny. September boasts great weather and fewer crowds, making it my preferred month in the city.

  • 🍂 Fall –  San Diego’s fall begins in mid-October with warm days cool nights and is a great time to visit for good weather and small crowds.
  • 🌞 Summer –  Early summer is cool and overcast. Beach weather starts in July when the biggest crowds hit and extends through September, the best month to visit.
  • ❄️ Winter – Cool and cloudy weather that leaves beaches empty and fewer activities to enjoy.
  • 🌼 Spring – From March through June the weather is grey and cool near the beach, but lovely weather inland.

👉 Full guide to when to visit San Diego.

🚌 Getting Around

San Diego is a sprawling city that has very little public transportation. If you plan to stay in a beach town, you can get away with walking or renting bikes and scooters. But if you plan to explore further afield you may want a car.

  • 🚶‍♀️ Walking – Walking is possible if you plan to stay within one of San Diego’s small towns like La Jolla, Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach, or Coronado where the hotels, bars, restaurants, and beach are close together.
  • 🚗 Driving – If you plan to visit multiple attractions in the city, you’ll most likely want a car. Traffic can be bad during rush hours but dies during mid-day.
  • 🚇 Public Transit – San Diego’s public transport is lacking, but if you plan to stay downtown and visit the main attractions, there is a trolley. And there’s a train that connects Downtown to the northern beach towns. 
  • 📲 Ride Share – Lyft and Uber are good options for visiting nearby towns and attractions, though both have gotten quite expensive recently. 
  • 🚴‍♀️ Biking – Beach towns are totally bikeable and are all connected by Pacific Coast Highway. 
  • 🛴 Scooters – Rentable scooters are scattered all over the city and smaller towns and are a great option for navigating within neighborhoods.

👉 Tips & Things to Know

  • ☁️- June Gloom – June, although technically summer, is usually still cool and gloomy.
  • 🏨- Hotel Prices Drop After Summer – To save money on hotels, visit in fall or winter.
  • 🗓️- Book Summer Stays Early – Hotels in the popular areas book up for summer as many as 8 months in advance.
  • 🌊- Practice Ocean Safety – The ocean can be dangerous and unpredictable. Be extra careful where waves break close to the sand and shuffle your feet in the sand as you enter the water to avoid stingrays. 

🧳 What to Pack

  • 🧥- Layers – Weather can be variable from day to night and day to day so bring clothes to layer.
  • 👙- Bathingsuits – Many of San Diego’s attractions are water-oriented so be prepared for some beach or bay time.
  • 🧴- Sun Protection – If you visit in summer, the sun will be powerful so bring sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses.
  • 🩴 – Sandals – Sandals are the go-to footwear for most San Diegans, even in many bars and restaurants.
  • 🚰- Reusable Water Bottle – With the strong sun, it’s important to stay hydrated at the beach and while exploring.

🤓 Facts & Info

  • Census Population (2020) – 1,386,932 (city), 3,330,000 (metro area)
  • Time Zone – Pacific Time (UTC -08:00 / UTC -07:00 during daylight savings)
  • Area Codes – 858 & 619
  • Airports – San Diego International Airport (SAN)
  • Nickname – America’s Finest City
  • Demonynm – San Diegan
  • StateCalifornia
  • CountryUnited States of America

💵 Costs & Budgeting

  • 3 Star Hotel Room – $150/night
  • 1 Bedroom Apartment Rental – $120/night
  • Rental Car – $40/day
  • Public Transit Ticket – ~$15 day passes ($2.50 to airport from center)
  • Ride Share from Downtown to Airport – $18
  • Take Out Meal for Two – $30-$60
  • Sit Down Dinner for Two – $50
  • Draft Beer – $10

FAQs About Visiting San Diego

Is San Diego safe for tourists?

San Diego is safe. San Diego was named the safest big city in the U.S. by the F.B.I. in 2017 due to the low homicide rate, and multiple news sources have ranked the city in the top 20 safest cities in the U.S. since 2010. Like most cities, there are some areas that are safer than others and it’s always smart to practice typical safety measures, such as avoiding walking alone at night.

Ocean safety is often overlooked or underestimated by tourists, however. The Pacific Ocean can have strong currents and large waves, so it’s important to stay close to lifeguard towers and stick to shallow water if you’re not a strong swimmer.

Is San Diego worth visiting?

San Diego is a beautiful city that attracts an average of 35.1 million visitors each year. The city boasts rich history and cultural sights from the Spanish Missionary era, plenty of culinary attractions, and stunning natural beauty. Plus, the city is worth visiting for its beaches alone.

What is the best month to visit San Diego?

The best month to visit San Diego is September, when the tourist crowds have diminished but the weather continues to be warm, sunny, and perfect for beach days.

How can I spend 3 days in San Diego?

There is plenty of activities and attractions to fill three days in San Diego. One day could be spent at the beach, and more than one day exploring the numerous sights and attractions such as the Zoo, Balboa Park, Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve, etc. In addition, there are many places to visit north and east of the city, including Orange County and Anza Borrego. 

How far is Disneyland from San Diego?

Disneyland lies in Los Angeles, about 95 miles north of San Diego, which is at least an hour and a half long drive. 

Is San Diego expensive?

San Diego is considered one of the more expensive cities in the U.S. to live in, though it’s not as expensive as San Francisco or Los Angeles. For tourists, however, it is considered a reasonable destination and comparative to most other city destinations in the United States. A solo traveler can expect to spend $1,886 for a week-long stay, a couple $3,387, and a family of 4 $6,350.

📰 California Travel Guides

Besides San Diego, Southern California and the whole state, in general, has an incredible landscape that includes coast, mountains, desert, and forests. The state boasts 9 national parks, the most of any other state, each showcasing California’s stunning natural beauty, not to mention the state’s eclectic towns and the globally iconic cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Meet Our San Diego Travel Experts

Ashleigh Bandimere

Ashleigh Bandimere grew up enjoying the sunshine and beaches of San Diego, California but her love of adventure led her to live in both Costa Rica and Spain before she returned to her hometown. Ashleigh’s passions include wildlife conservation, sustainability, seeing the world’s natural beauty, and sharing these interests with others.

👉 Read Ashleigh’s Articles

Jess Levy

Jess Levy is an artist, travel writer, poet, and marketer. A California native and ex-techie working in Silicon Valley by day, traveling by weekend searching for those hidden gems. She loves planning local and international trips to nourish her creative soul. She’s now back home by the beaches of Encinitas, San Diego, and loves uncovering the best dog-friendly experiences around.

👉 Read Jess’s Articles

🗺️ San Diego Map