A Perfect Weekend in San Diego [2021]

Thinking of spending a weekend in San Diego? Look no further. In this post you’ll find all the info to organize your San Diego weekend trip – things to do, where to stay + eat, and the perfect weekend itinerary.

This post was written in collaboration with Hotels.com.

La Jolla Beach

When I used to live in Los Angeles, one of my favorite destinations for a weekend away was San Diego. This city is sunny, has an interesting mix of American and Mexican cultures, and offers plenty of attractions for everyone. So when Hotels.com asked me to share some tips for the perfect weekend in San Diego, I was happy to oblige.

In this post you’ll find a list of things to do and places to visit in San Diego + a sample itinerary for your weekend. You’ll also find some tips for some unique eateries and restaurants (San Diego is a great destination for foodies!) and ideas for where to stay while exploring the city. Ready? Go!

But before we start, let me remind you that we are living in unprecedented times, and safety needs to be the priority when traveling. Please make sure you travel responsibly and by following the regulations of your destination.

Wear a face mask at all times, wash your hands regularly and bring hand sanitizer with you. Before leaving, make sure to check out the official websites for the latest updates on closures and policies. I also always recommend booking a hotel with free cancellation so you can sleep peacefully knowing that you can change your plans at the last minute if something changes.

Where to Stay in San Diego

If it’s your first time in San Diego, you’re probably better off staying in the Downtown area, which is close to most of the tourist attractions you’ll want to visit. The Old Town will provide more budget-friendly choices, while the Gaslamp Quarter is the way to go for a boutique hotel.

If you’re looking for ultimate luxury, look at hotels in La Jolla. This upscale neighborhood is in fact where you’ll find the best hotels and resorts in San Diego – all with incredible ocean views.

And finally, if you’re looking to stay near the beach, but on a more moderate budget, check out the area around Mission Beach, Pacific beach, or Ocean Beach. Around Mission Bay you’ll also find several family-friendly hotels and themed resorts.

READ ALSO:
Glamping in Southern California: 13 Places for your Bucket List

Weekend in San Diego: Things to Do & Places to Visit

This is by no means a complete list of the things you can do in San Diego, but it’s definitely a good starting list for a weekend in San Diego.

The Gaslamp Quarter

Gaslamp Quarter: Probably the most lively area in all of San Diego, the Gaslamp Quarter is an area in Downtown San Diego famous for its nightlife, trendy restaurants mixed with hipster craft beer bars. I love the contrast between the Victorian architecture and the lively nightlife! I recommend checking out this neighborhood at night where it really comes to life, and go for a meal at one of the fine dining restaurants or maybe for a cocktail at a rooftop bar. 

Mission Beach Oceanfront & Belmont Park: Go for a stroll on the two-mile long oceanfront boardwalk. The boardwalk features plenty of bars for those who like to party, but also tons of family-friendly activities like the boardwalk amusement park (Belmont Park). If going for a walk doesn’t sound too fun, you can also bike or roller skate your way down the boardwalk. Both kids and adults should stop at Belmont Park, where the most famous attraction is the Big Dipper, a wooden roller coaster built in 1927 – and yes, it’s safe!

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park: Curious to see the past of San Diego? By visiting the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, you’ll take a trip back in time. Here you’ll be able to see original adobe homes and artifacts from different eras of California history – in fact, this is considered the birthplace of California!

San Diego Harbor Cruise: Going on a San Diego Harbor Cruise is the most popular activity in San Diego for first timers, and not by chance- Relaxing on a boat while sightseeing is probably the best way to get to know the city. Choose between a one- or two-hour cruise and enjoy fantastic views of San Diego’s skyline and Coronado Bridge, while listening to a narration that will explain what you’re seeing.

Old Town San Diego Trolley Tour: If it’s your first time in the city and you only have two days to see it all, it might be a good idea to choose a tour. I like this hop on hop off narrated tour because you get to ride on a vintage trolley, not one of those usual big red buses. The tour will bring you to all the famous attractions in the Downtown San Diego area, including the Gaslamp Quarter, Coronado, Balboa Park, and the San Diego Zoo. 

La Jolla Cove & La Jolla Village: It’s difficult not to fall in love with La Jolla. La Jolla is an upscale oceanfront area where you’ll find beautiful homes, trendy cafes and boutiques. Make sure to stop by La Jolla Cove, a beach where you’ll find hundreds of seals and sea lions – this is also a great spot to admire the sunset.

Little Italy: Little Italy used to be the area near the Embarcadero that housed the Italian-American fishermen and their families, and was an important center for the tuna fishing industry. Nowadays this gentrified neighborhood has become the center of the food scene in San Diego. Here you’ll find some of the most renowned restaurants in San Diego, a mix of fine dining and trendy places. Come here with some hunger, but check out the boutique shops as well. If you’re here on a Saturday, don’t miss the weekly farmers’ market, Little Italy Mercato. 

Cabrillo National Monument: There are the history buffs that come here to learn about the history of San Diego, and then there are those that come here for the incredible views of San Diego’s Harbor and skyline. Both reasons are perfectly legitimate. The monument commemorates the day that Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo landed at San Diego Bay in 1542 – it was the first time that a European set foot in what would become the West Coast of the USA. Check out the visitor center, then walk to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse.

USS Midway: The USS Midway is a huge Navy aircraft carrier that was turned into a museum. It’s permanently docked in Downtown San Diego. Visitors can explore this ship, which used to be the biggest in the world until 1955, with a self-guided tour – you’ll get to see the engine room, the sleeping area, and even try flying on a helicopter simulator – kids love it! I recommend buying in advance a skip-the-line ticket to avoid waiting in line. 

The Botanical Building and the Lily Pond in Balboa Park

Balboa Park: Balboa Park is a 1200-acre oasis which offers a lot more than a regular urban park. Here you’ll find a Botanic House which hosts over 2000 species of plants, as well as a Desert Cactus Garden and other themed gardens. Here you’ll also find 17 different museums and the San Diego Zoo. You could spend weeks exploring all that Balboa Park has to offer, but even if your time is limited, it’s worth at least a short visit.

Coronado Island: You might be tempted to skip Coronado Island because it’s, in fact, an island and might seem like an hassle to get here, but don’t. Take the Coronado ferry from Downtown San Diego, the ride will take only around 15 minutes. Coronado Central Beach is ranked as one of the top 10 beaches in the USA. You can spend the day relaxing or strolling down the beachfront boardwalk. Make sure to check out the famous Hotel del Coronado, which was built in 1888 and is a National Historic Landmark. If you’re up for some shopping, walk down Coronado’s main street, Orange Avenue. And if you linger here for a little longer, you can witness a beautiful sunset from the island.

San Diego Zoo: I normally NEVER suggest checking out a zoo, but the San Diego Zoo is quite different from your regular one. Zoos often are like prisons for animals, but at San Diego Zoo has a mission to breed and care for endangered species that are facing extinction. Animals are well cared for, so this is a good place to bring children and get them close to the animals.I recommend buying a skip-the-line ticket in advance not to waste time in line.

Barrio Logan: If you’re a street art lover, you can’t miss visiting Barrio Logan. This Mexican-American neighborhood is filled with beautiful, colorful murals. Go to Chicano Park to find the largest collection of Chicano murals in the world. While here, don’t forget to sample some authentic Mexican cuisine at one of the many restaurants (the most famous is Las Cuatro Milpas).

Go on a Seal Tour: If you’re visiting San Diego with kids, you’re in luck as San Diego offers plenty of family-friendly activities. One of the most fun is joining the famous Seal Tour, a tour conducted on an amphibious vehicle. You’ll first explore the Seaport Village area by traveling on land, then the vehicle will go in the water and cruise around the San Diego Bay. And if you have no kids, it’s still a ton of fun!

Whale Watching Cruise: Did you know that San Diego is one the best places in California to spot whales? You gotta be in San Diego at the right time of the year though: whale watching cruises are usually offered between mid-December and April. These cruises come with a guarantee: either you see the whales, or you get to do it again the next day. Really a cool experience.

Perfect Itinerary for a Weekend in San Diego

Overwhelmed by the amount of possible things to do in San Diego? Don’t be. I’ve put together a sample itinerary to make the most out of your weekend in San Diego. Of course, feel free to change it based on your interests!

READ ALSO: The Perfect 3 Day Road Trip from Los Angeles

Friday night: Unless you arrive in San Diego really late, make the most out of your first night in town by going for dinner or a cocktail to the Gaslamp Quarter, the nightlife hub of the city and an area that will be extremely lively on a Friday night.

Saturday: Start the day early by exploring Old Town San Diego and the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, where you’ll find original adobe homes from the earliest Mexican settlements. Then, go on a harbor cruise to see the city from a different perspective, or join a whale watching cruise if you’re visiting in the winter. In the afternoon head to La Jolla, an upscale neighborhood; stroll down the La Jolla Village and check out the seals and sea lions at La Jolla Cove. End the day with dinner in one of the restaurants here, or head to Little Italy where you’ll find all kinds of fine dining or trendy eateries.

Sunday: After breakfast head to Balboa Park. Here you have the morning to explore the beautiful themed gardens and its museums, and/or to head to the San Diego Zoo if you’re traveling with children. Once you’re satisfied, take the Coronado ferry to the Coronado island. Spend some time relaxing on Coronado Beach, and stroll down the oceanfront boardwalk.

The Best Places to Eat During Your Weekend in San Diego

Las Cuatro Milpas: This historical Mexican joint, open since 1933, is your best bet in town for no-frills, delicious tacos and Mexican food. You’ll always find a line of people waiting for the homemade tortillas and tamales. It’s only open for breakfast and lunch.
Location: 1857 Logan Ave, San Diego

Ironside Fish & Oyster : You probably guessed it from the name, this is a seafood restaurant located in Little Italy. Order one of their platters of oysters, shrimps, lobster and ceviche for a seafood fest you won’t easily forget. The stylish interiors are beautiful as well.
Location: 1654 India St, San Diego

Jeune et Jolie: This restaurant located in Carlsbad might be a little out of the way, but deserves a place on this list for its French food with international influences. Go for brunch for a more casual experience. I personally love the style of this French bistro!
Location: 2659 State St Suite 102, Carlsbad, CA 

Galaxy Taco: This Mexican taqueria in La Jolla offers a high-end version of your typical street tacos. They’re famous for their blue corn tortillas and their delicious cocktails, but one of the winning points of this place is definitely its colorful and fun interiors.
Location: 2259 Avenida De La Playa, La Jolla

Cori Pastificio Trattoria: A traditional Italian trattoria run by a Sicilian chef. Cori Pastifico Trattoria won an Italian award for its “perfectly-stuffed pasta”, so you know it’s the real dea when it comes to delicious fresh pasta.
Location: 2977 Upas St, San Diego

Donut Bar: One of the most famous (and award winning) donut shops in the USA, now has become a chain. The flagship store is in Downtown San Diego. These giant-sized donuts are perfect for a break and a sweet pick me up when exploring San Diego.
Location: 631 B St, San Diego


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