As one of the most exciting cities in California, a visit to San Diego is never dull. San Diego has it all, whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach break, exhilarating watersport getaway, or a party weekend.
However, with so much on offer, if you only have a weekend in San Diego, it’s essential to plan your trip beforehand. To save you time and effort, this is a curated, ultimate two and three-day San Diego itinerary for you.
Can you do San Diego in a weekend?
While you could easily spend a week in San Diego, you can fit in most of the top sights in 2 or 3 days. However, suppose you like to explore at a slower pace or plan to travel to San Diego’s surrounding areas. In that case, I recommend staying for 3 days.
One Day in San Diego
Most people choose to start their trip to San Diego in one of the central districts. So for day one of this itinerary, we will visit the highlights of the Old Town, Mission Bay, and Mission Beach, followed by an evening in the vibrant Gaslamp Quarter.
Walking around the Old Town San Diego State Historical Park is a must for any San Diego getaway. This preserved part of the city maintains the area’s Mexican heritage and is full of interesting history. What’s more, the Old Town is one of the supposedly haunted areas of San Diego. You can discover the stories of paranormal activity on a ghost tour or at the Whaley House Museum.
The Old Town market is one of the highlights. It opens at 10am every day and features numerous specialty stores and stalls selling unique locally made items. Stay around for lunch, too, as you’ll find the most authentic Mexican food in the Old Town. Check out Casa de Reyes, Rockin’ Baja Lobster, or Old Town Mexican Cafe.
After lunch, head slightly north to the picturesque Mission Bay. Walk off your lunch with a gentle bayside stroll in Fiesta Island Park. Then, enjoy a fascinating afternoon at SeaWorld, where you’ll encounter dolphins, penguins, and even sharks.
If you prefer to see marine life in the wild, you can book a whale and dolphin watching cruise that departs from the bay. San Diego is one of the top locations in California for spotting whales, sea lions, dolphins, and harbor seals. Whales are present all year round here as gray whales migrate during the winter months and blue whales migrate in the summer.
Another activity you can do in Mission Bay is paddleboarding. You can rent a SUP from Mission Bay Stand Up Paddle and go paddling in the calm waters.
Next, head to Mission Beach to spend the rest of the afternoon sunbathing, swimming, and soaking up the feel-good vibes of this laid-back neighborhood. You might want to check out the famous Belmont Park, too, if you get time. This historic beachside amusement park has many rides for all ages, including a roller coaster with a 70-foot drop. There is also an old-school arcade with over 70 games.
Another must-do in Mission Beach is walking along the oceanfront boardwalk. You can enjoy beachfront dinner and drinks at one of the restaurants here, fuelling yourself for a big night out in the city.
While several of San Diego’s neighborhoods have happening nightlife, Gaslamp Quarter is the most popular and with the broadest choice of establishments. You’re bound to have a memorable night in this district, whatever your vibe. Take your pick between trendy rooftop bars, elegant cocktail lounges, and some of the biggest clubs in California.
If partying or drinking is not one of your favorite things in San Diego, Gaslamp Quarter is still a fantastic place to visit at night. There are many excellent theaters in this part of town, with a diverse mix of music, comedy, and drama shows. Balboa and San Diego Civic Theater are two of the most famous venues in the Gaslamp Quarter.
Two Days in San Diego
For day two, spend the day exploring some of the beach districts, the morning in La Jolla and the afternoon at Coronado Island. Then end the beach day by unwinding in the laid-back bars by Pacific Beach.
La Jolla in North San Diego is an essential neighborhood to stop off in when you visit San Diego for a weekend. The area is abundant in beauty on land and in the water. Thanks to the marine reserve here, it’s also the best area for water activities.
La Jolla’s vast underwater world is full of turtles, sea lions, dolphins, and many fish species because of the artificial reefs and kelp beds that have been constructed here. Although the area is protected, water sports are permitted, such as diving and kayaking. If you have previous experience, you’ll love exploring the 600 feet underwater canyon.
However, if you’re not confident underwater, book a sea cave kayaking tour instead. You’ll paddle through the reserve as a group exploring the Seven Sea Caves. Don’t leave La Jolla without visiting the village either. This charming part of town has excellent cafes, restaurants, and shops and is right next to the quaint La Jolla Cove, where you’ll spot numerous seals relaxing on the rocks.
Coronado Island is connected to the mainland by a tombolo and a bridge. It’s a short drive from the city center yet boasts a different vibe and scenery. The peaceful neighborhood of Coronado features a pristine sandy beach that stretches for miles, a cute village full of boutique stores, and picturesque views across the entire island.
Enjoy lunch in one of the local cafes, admire the historic buildings and then sip a cold beer at Coronado Brew Pub. If you like the vibe, I recommend staying for sunset for some of the most magnificent vistas in San Diego.
Spend the evening of your second day in San Diego at one of the most chilled parts of the city, Pacific Beach. This laid-back neighborhood has a young, fun-loving vibe and is popular with students and backpackers.
The boulevard is full of tasty taco restaurants and happening bars, and you’ll find a party here every night of the week. But, if the crowds are a bit much, head inland to the hilltop Kate Sessions Park for one of the best skylines in San Diego.
Three Days in San Diego
An additional day is ideal for traveling further afield and checking out some of the beautiful spots daytrippers and weekend visitors often miss out on. Today, we’ll explore Torrey Pines, North Park, and South Park.
Torrey Pines State Reserve
Enjoy a relaxing morning at the gorgeous Torrey Pines State Reserve, just north of La Jolla. The 2,000-acre coastal state park is full of untouched nature, peaceful hiking trails, abundant wildlife, and the spectacular 4.5-mile-long Torrey Pines State Beach. Take your pick between relaxing on the beach, surfing on Black’s Beach, or hiking one of the trails.
For a short walk, follow the 2.3-mile out and back La Jolla Trail in the park’s south. It’s gentle, mostly flat, and features sweeping coastal views and plenty of wildlife sightings. Or, in the north of the park, check out the fun and scenic Razor Point Trail. This short but winding 1.3-mile loop takes you to a breathtaking viewpoint, and you can extend the hike by then following the beach trail to Flat Rock.
After a morning of hiking, surfing, or relaxing, head to San Diego’s hipster district, North Park. Tuck into brunch at the Breakfast Republic or treat yourself to a gourmet burger at the quirky Crazee Burger before washing it down with an artisanal coffee at one of the many trendy coffee joints.
After lunch, take a walk around the streets, checking out some of the unique venues such as Verbatim Books, a hip, art-filled space with some of the rarest books worldwide. Then, walk south to the expansive Balboa Park, one of the most popular places to visit in San Diego.
This 1,200-acre park is a creative hub full of performing arts venues, science museums, and landscaped gardens. There is so much to see and do here that you can easily spend the entire afternoon people-watching and soaking up the atmosphere.
End your San Diego getaway with a relaxed evening in the charming neighborhood of South Park, located to the east of Balboa Park. The picturesque tree-lined Fern Street that runs through the district has a fabulous selection of eateries for a top-notch last meal in San Diego. From upscale Italian fare at Piacere Mio to creative vegan food and cocktails at Kindred, you’re bound to have an excellent evening wherever you go here.
Then, if you want to end your trip with a truly local experience, head to Whistle Stop Bar. This eclectic bar has entertainment every night, from game nights to live bands to DJs spinning all the best house tunes.
Where to Stay in San Diego
By basing yourself in the waterfront neighborhood of Mission Beach, one of the best areas in San Diego, you’ll be close to one of the best beaches. You’ll also be close to many popular attractions, such as Belmont Park and SeaWorld. Here are three top-rated hotels in the area:
- The Hyatt Regency Mission Bay offers a luxurious stay in Mission Bay, with 3 gorgeous pools, a spa, and an even on-site marina. The suites are modern, with stylish decor and incredible views.
- The Dana on Mission Bay has lovely landscaped gardens surrounding the hotel. The ground-floor suites come with private patios, and many of the upper floor rooms boast priceless bay views.
- Best Western Mission Bay is pet-friendly and has tons of fab facilities, including an outdoor pool, hot tub, and fitness center. The rooms come with all the essentials for a weekend in San Diego, such as a microwave, refrigerator, coffee machine, and hairdryer.