If you are planning a trip to San Diego for the first time, you’re in luck! There are so many San Diego attractions including the Zoo, USS Midway, several beaches, lots of neighborhoods to explore and so much more.
This past September, my whole family and I (including my husband, parents, and sisters) went on a 5 day trip to San Diego, California and had such a great time! Here is the list of all the things we did during our trip!
Know Before You Go
When is the best time to visit San Diego?
The busiest time to visit are the summer months, but the weather is beautiful most of the year with summer high temps around 76 degrees F and winter high temps not that much lower, near 66 degrees F.
If you’re visiting in June just know that the month is often referred to as “June Gloom” because its notoriously overcast and foggy. Sometimes this phenomenon creeps in to surrounding months too.
If you’re looking for warm weather and less crowds, you may want to opt for the shoulder months of April through May or September through November.
Is it easy to get around San Diego?
The city is very easy to get around with a car. We stayed in a central location and almost everything was within a 12 minute car ride. Even the airport is very close to downtown. While the city isn’t massive, I would say to see much of the city a car is necessary so be sure to rent a car or factor Uber or Lyft rides into your budget.
Is San Diego Expensive?
The short answer is yes. Don’t be surprised if you go to a more casual looking restaurant and it’s still a little pricey – food and drinks seemed to be more in line with big city prices like San Francisco. But there are also plenty of free and cheap things to do in the city too!
What is San Diego Known For?
Besides gorgeous weather and beaches, a few other things that make San Diego unique are the world-famous San Diego Zoo, Hotel del Coronado (or “the Del”), and the strong Navy presence (if you love watching planes, you’ll be blown away).
San Diego Attractions
San Diego Zoo
If you’re visiting San Diego you won’t want to miss the San Diego Zoo! While Mitch and my sister really wanted to go, not everyone in our family was convinced it would be worth it. Some of us almost skipped going due to the higher price tag and having been to many zoos before. But everyone LOVED the San Diego Zoo and we were happy we all went!
There are so many different animals and the park is filled with beautiful trees, plants, and flowers. You’re not just walking through a zoo, but a pristine garden.
1. Buy tickets online ahead of time and save! Currently ticket prices are $2 cheaper online.
2. Go early (and on a weekday if possible) to avoid crowds, enjoy cooler weather, and hopefully see more active animals.
If you like history, spending a few hours or even an entire afternoon at the USS Midway is very easy to do! This museum and aircraft carrier is filled with history in a way that is both entertaining and memorable. The ship is retrofitted to different time periods in which the carrier was operational. You almost feel transported in time as you make your way through the ship and exhibits. One part of the tour that really stuck out to me was how tight the sleeping quarters were. I was shocked by the small beds and very little personal space.
It was also very cool getting to talk with several veterans volunteering at the Midway museum, who shared their own experiences in the Navy.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was the time we spent in La Jolla, a ritzy suburb right on the coast.
We spent the entire morning and afternoon poolside at La Valencia Hotel. Also referred to as the “Pink Lady”, the hotel exudes elegance and gives off old Hollywood vibes.
We booked pool day passes on Resort Pass and were lucky enough to enjoy all the pool perks – including drink and food service without actually staying here! I have a full blog post on our pool day at La Valencia Hotel here.
After a day at the pool, make sure to stop at La Jolla’s Cove for amazing views and Children’s Pool La Jolla to hopefully see lots of seals!
While there are many neighborhoods to check out in San Diego, Little Italy may have been my favorite! It’s just such a lively neighborhood filled with lots of Italian restaurants, many of which have cute patios. With a gelato shop and an Italian-inspired fountain right in the square, I fell in love instantly!
Mission Beach is a fun spot in San Diego to enjoy some time at the beach, walk the boardwalk, and maybe a grab a bite to eat or a drink. We stopped by Beach House Tequila & Taqueria – a casual beach front spot for drinks!
The Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego is known for its nightlife and, of course, distinct old lamps lining the streets.
We had dinner here on a weeknight, so it was less busy! We went to a restaurant called Rustic Root which had an awesome rooftop and delicious food!
We also stopped in the Old Town neighborhood which is considered the “Birthplace of San Diego” – rich with history! The neighborhood is lively with several museums and lots of restaurants – mainly featuring Mexican cuisine. Our family stopped by Cafe Coyote and enjoyed plenty of chips, guacamole, and giant margaritas! We had a lot of fun here and would definitely recommend!
If you’re looking for a perfect place to watch the sunset definitely checkout Sunset Cliffs! The view is extraordinary. It’s easy to get to by car and parking is free. You’ll likely see many others soaking in the sunset views from this popular spot!
Another popular San Diego attraction is “The Del”! Hotel Del Coronado is a very well-known landmark hotel that stands out, not only for it’s history dating back all the way to 1888, or the iconic red roof, but also for the famous list of previous guests including several former US presidents.
Our family opted to stay in a very nice Airbnb that was more conducive for our large group and was also a bit more budget-friendly! However, we did spend an afternoon on the Coronado Beach, right outside the iconic hotel and would recommend this if you still want to see the iconic landmark!
Old Point Loma Lighthouse
One of the unexpected highlights of our trip was going up to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse and the Cabrillo National Monument which celebrates Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo – who led the first European exploration of the US West Coast in 1542.
This little excursion was a short drive from our Airbnb and was a fun, cheap thing to do with the entire family. We walked around the sites and took in stunning views.
One of my favorite San Diego attractions was a private sunset cruise that we booked through Airbnb. We enjoyed the time on the boat and got to experience the city from a different vantage point. A few of us are prone to getting motion sick, but the boat ride was smooth as the waters were calm so none of us had any issues.
Other San Diego Attractions
Other things to do that we didn’t get to include:
- Balboa Park
- Catch a San Diego Padres baseball game at Petco Park
- Torrey Pines State Park
- Belmont Park
Our family had such a lovely time on our trip and I hope that you have the best time if you have a chance to explore San Diego! Did you check out any of the spots on my list? Let me know what you thought in the comments section below!