San Diego is home to a variety of cultural attractions, fabulous restaurants and bars, a staggering number of breweries, fantastic museums, and a vibrant arts scene. The list of things to explore in San Diego goes on and on. The weather is positively blissful year-round and the beaches are obscenely beautiful. What’s not to love? It’s tough to narrow down our San Diego bucket list, but these places definitely make the cut:
Stroll around Balboa Park
The beating heart of San Diego, Balboa Park is chock-full of local cultural attractions, charming boutique shops, and world-class museums. Covering over 1,000 acres of lush greenery, the park is the epicenter of the city’s culture and home to some absolute must-visit attractions.
It’s here that you’ll find the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Natural History Museum, the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center, and the San Diego Museum of Art. You could wander around for hours here and never grow bored. In the city where you can spend hours sitting in traffic, it’s nice to get out of your vehicle and stretch your legs.
Pro-tip: Consider buying the Balboa Park Explorer Pass if you want to visit multiple museums. It saves money and time.
Hike in Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
If you love being outdoors – hiking and relaxing at the beach – a trip to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is in order. Spend the day climbing up challenging cliffs, gazing out at the sparkling blue water, or walking along leisurely seafront walking paths.
Torrey Pines is a slice of pure paradise. As you hike, you’ll notice tons of cool rock formations and patches of pine forest, in addition to unbeatable panoramic views. Just be sure to pack plenty of sunscreen and water!
Try to surf
You can’t go to San Diego, Surf Capital USA, without trying your hand at riding the waves. That would be like going to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower or exploring Barcelona and never seeing the Sagrada Familia.
Book a lesson with a reputable surf school in advance—like Pacific Surf School or Mission Beach Surfing School—and get ready to hang ten with the best of them. Even if you can’t get up on your board, you’ll have a whole lot of fun trying.
Check out the nightlife in the Gaslamp Quarter
Thanks to the clusters of historic Victorian-era buildings in the Gaslamp Quarter, this area is as pretty as a postcard, and there’s so much to do that you’ll likely need at least a full day or two to experience everything. You’ll find every type of cuisine imaginable here, in addition to dozens of unique shops. The top restaurants on the Gaslamp Quarter should definitely be on your bucket list.
The Gaslamp Quarter is always buzzing on the weekends, and it’s the best place to be if you’re a nightlife-lover: Have a blast dancing at one of the many trendy clubs that line the streets, enjoy craft cocktails under the moonlight, or check out live music in one of any number of bars. Keep in mind that if you’re dining out in the Gaslamp Quarter, you’ll need to make a reservation well in advance—this is a very popular destination for fine dining.
Explore La Jolla Cove
Located just a quick 20 minutes from downtown San Diego, La Jolla Cove is simply gorgeous. Wander through Prospect Street to look at shops (don’t miss Warwick’s, which is the country’s oldest family-run bookstore!), pack a picnic and watch the sunset at Ellen Browning Scripps Park, and be sure to keep an eye out for the adorable La Jolla sea lions. For the adventurous souls out there, La Jolla is also one of the best places in the area for sea kayaking and snorkeling; La Jolla Kayak offers great guided experiences.
Watch a baseball game at Petco Park
One of the only stadiums in the States with a water view, Petco Park is the perfect place to spend a sunny afternoon. Home to the San Diego Padres, this beloved ballpark also has fantastic food and craft brews (there are more than 40 types of local beer offered here alone!)—think hometown faves like Lucha Libre, Cardiff Market, and AleSmith—so be sure to come hungry and thirsty.
Enjoy a romantic evening at Sunset Cliffs
Perhaps the most aptly named cliffs ever, the Sunset Cliffs area is the place to be if you want to enjoy a truly romantic view when the sun goes down. This is easily one of the prettiest spots in the city, so we recommend packing the car snacks and drinks and coming here to catch a magnificent sunset with your sweetheart.
While decidedly not as popular as some other major cities in California, San Diego is just as charming—if not more so—than places like L.A. or San Francisco. In fact, we’d venture to say that, because it’s more of an off-the-beaten-path destination, San Diego has a distinctive charm and loveliness all its own.