Last Updated on 05/16/2021
With its picturesque beaches, year-round sunshine, historical sites and culinary delights, San Diego is the perfect weekend getaway. There are so many things to do in San Diego and it can be a challenge to fit it all in. I lived there for over two years and still have a ton of things left unchecked on my list. However, fueled with tacos, coffee and the right itinerary, you can see San Diego’s most memorable places in 3 days over a long weekend.
*This weekend guide is intended for planning future travels. Please be sure to check for current COVID related restrictions such as temporary closures, outdoor eating and take-out availability. This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for your support in help running this site!*
How to get to San Diego
San Diego’s airport is uniquely situated right in the middle of the city making it easy to transfer to public transportation, the rental car center or an Uber. Convenience does come at a cost though and this should be taken into consideration when booking your accommodation. Hotels and apartment rentals in Little Italy and areas in the flight path are often very noisy.
Where to Stay in San Diego
Hotel del Coronado
Since in 1888 the Hotel del Coronado has welcomed famous names including politicians, US presidents, royals and celebrities from Marilyn Monroe to Oprah. The Del has been under renovation recently. I was gutted when they destroyed the pool side hut bar, but the new rooms and their patio space look like a positive improvement. Visiting with the family or a small group? Consider renting a cottage at the Beach Village right next door.
In the process of moving, I stayed at this airbnb for over a week. The hosts have thoughtfully furnished their guest house with luxury details like a Samsung Frame TV, Brooklinen towels and Pottery Barn dishes. I wanted to move in. You won’t believe rates start at $100 a night and it is pet friendly! Alfie felt right at home.
The Pendry is a relatively new boutique hotel complete with detailed bathroom tiles, a beautiful bar and a rooftop pool with views of the Gaslamp District. Just blocks away from the Petco Park and tons of restaurants and bars, its central location is ideal for nightlife and easy transportation.
For a romantic, luxury getaway hotel choose La Valencia in La Jolla. Modern amenities and classic Spanish architecture unite at this historic hotel that first opened during the height of old Hollywood glamour in 1926.
Kimpton Hotel Palomar
Ever since I stayed at the Kimpton Rowan in Palm Springs for the weekend, I’ve been a huge fan of the brand. They welcome dogs at every hotel, free of charge. The Kimpton Palomar in San Diego is an excellent choice for a pet-friendly hotel.
When is the best time to visit San Diego?
Truthfully, almost anytime is a good time to visit San Diego. Ask anyone who lives there, they are absolutely spoiled by mild temperatures and consistently sunny weather. It is almost comical to check to the predictable weather forecast; sunny, high in the low 70s. The difference between the high and the lows is hardly ever more than 15 degrees with just a few days of rain from December to March.
Although, I do have to warn you about Gray May and June Gloom. The names are self-explanatory, but be mindful that these months tend to come with foggy mornings.
Do I need to rent a car?
This really depends on where exactly you want to go, how comfortable you are with public transportation, budget for Ubers and hotel parking fees. You could get away with using Uber, buses and the Coronado Ferry if you absolutely do not want to rent a car and enjoy walking.
However, I think to make the most out of your time it is best to rent a car. While parking can be a bit more challenging near Little Italy and North Park, it is manageable if you are willing to do a little extra walking.
3 Days in San Diego Itinerary
San Diego has no shortage of amazing brunch spots. Trust makes delicious chilaquiles that rival those I had in Mexico City. After, drive just a few blocks away to Balboa Park (or even better, it is an easy walk if you’ve had one too many mimosas).
Morning at Balboa Park
Between the free gardens (cactus, rose and botanical) and Spanish village art center, you could easily spend hours in Balboa Park. It is one of my favorite places in San Diego and a must visit. The Natural History Museum is fascinating (be sure to go to the rooftop for views), but I love the San Diego Museum of Art for its European pieces and rotating photography exhibitions.
Afternoon in La Jolla
Spend the afternoon shopping the boutiques in the village or sunbathing at La Jolla Cove beach. You can’t leave without watching the seals and sea lions at Children’s Pool beach. Tacos at Puesto’s or an upscale lunch at Herringbone or La Valencia Hotel.
Parking tip: you will have better luck finding street parking up in the village by the shops or back a few blocks in the residential area than down by the beaches.
For the best view of San Diego, have happy hour at Mister A’s. Continue from Banker’s Hill into Little Italy for dinner.
Evening in Little Italy
Little Italy has something for everyone. From the craft brew scene at Ballast Point, steak meals at Born & Raised, vegan dishes at Cafe Gratitude or seafood at Ironside, it is hard to choose.
To top off the night, walk to Extraordinary Desserts for something sweet.
Morning at Liberty Station and Point Loma
Breakfast Republic is one of the best brunch spots in San Diego and there is always a wait to prove it. To help pass the wait time, go to the location in Liberty Station, a former Navy base reinvented with a public market, restaurants, Stone Brewery and boutiques (Pigment and Moniker General are conveniently located right across the street from Breakfast Republic).
After breakfast, continue to drive over to Point Loma to see the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, lighthouse, Cabrillo national monument and hiking area near the tide pools. The cemetery is free to enter, but the other sites are national parks and are only accessible by fee.
Have lunch at Mitch’s Seafood in the Point Loma harbor for fresh fish and excellent tacos. I like to grab a bar stool outside facing the marina.
Choose your afternoon adventure: Pacific Beach or Old Town
One of my best friends went to university in San Diego and whenever I would visit (many, many years ago), we would go out in PB. Now that I’m in my thirties and the bar scene doesn’t have the same appeal, I only ever really go to PB to have lunch at Amplified Ale Works. However, the beach and boardwalk are nice for a sunset stroll.
Bar scene not your thing? Head to Old Town Historic Park for the afternoon instead. Once the center of life and culture in the 1800s, the center of San Diego’s history and birthplace has been preserved in its 32 restaurants, 100 shops and 36 museums and historic sites.
Evening in South Park
While you inevitably wait for your table at Buona Forchetta for dinner, stroll up north a few blocks to stop in some local shops. Native Poppy, Gold Leaf, Thread + Seed, Communal Coffee’s adorable trailer and the adjacent shop are all near the intersection of Juniper and Fern.
After having your memorable Italian dinner, go to Polite Provisions for a craft cocktail (also read about 11 other bars I love in San Diego).
Start your day with coffee at Communal Coffee in North Park or Better Buzz in Hillcrest.
Morning at the Zoo
Balboa Park has been home to the San Diego Zoo for over a century. The 100-acre world famous zoo inhabits over 3500 rare animals including leopards, pandas, hippos and the largest colony of koalas outside Australia. The zoo is a must visit for families (kids under 11 are free in October!).
Skip an overpriced lunch in the zoo and go to City Tacos just a few blocks away in North Park.
Afternoon in Coronado
Throughout San Diego you will find various architecture styles, and there is no place they all come together quite like Coronado. Get lost in the back streets to see Hamptons style mansions, small Spanish casitas, bungalows and craftsmen homes. There’s something so idyllic about Coronado, almost like a Pleasanton across the blue bridge.
Visit Coronado’s famous wooden Victorian hotel, The Del. The red roofed rotunda is unmistakable from the film Some Like it Hot with Marilyn Monroe. End a wonderful three days in San Diego with sunset cocktails and your feet in the sand at the beach bar of The Del.
Want a dinner recommendation? Choose a restaurant from my post on where to eat in San Diego.
Even more things to do in San Diego
- Consider seeing North County with its seaside towns like Encinitas, Carlsbad or Solano if you have more time.
- Wine lovers can take an easy day trip up to Temecula.
- Petco Park for a Padres baseball game.
- If you really love animals, check out the San Diego Zoo Safari Park for a unique experience.
- Visit the USS Midway Museum.
- Shop local produce, flowers and food vendors at San Diego’s farmer’s markets.
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