San Diego is the second largest city in California, located along the coast of Pacific ocean on the west side of California. It has many tourist attractions like Old town, Balboa park and Sea World. And then of course, there's the beaches and shoreline. Pacific Beach is great for people watching. La Jolla Shores is your best bet for a day at the beach, with kayak rentals, etc. La Jolla Cove is a great coastal walk with lovely views, seals, and posh shopping in La Jolla village. The Gaslamp Quarter along Fifth Avenue in downtown San Diego is the entertainment and dining center of town. A quieter alternative to the Gaslamp District is Little Italy, along India Street in downtown.

 

Useful links

The official San Diego visitor website http://www.sandiego.org has a useful list of 25 fun and free things to do.

San Diego Union Tribune things to do section: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/night-...

San Diego CityBeat weekly paper: http://www.sdcitybeat.com

Rentals in San Diego Bay & Harbor: http://www.sdbayadventures.com/

Family Fun Activities & Events in San Diego:  http://www.sdfamilyfun.com 

Overview of some key recommended places to go

Gaslamp Quarter (website) (map) -  The famous partying hub of downtown San Diego, centered along Fifth Avenue between Harbor Drive to the south and C Street to the north. Historic Victorian buildings with many clubs, restaurants, bars, and shops. Very lively, fun and busy. The block of Fourth Avenue between Island and Market in the Gaslamp Quarter also has a big concentration of restaurants, bars and shops. There are too many restaurants and bars to list here. Some standouts include the big, lively new restaurant called Searsucker,Tin Fish where Fifth Avenue meets Harbor Drive, Oceanaire Seafood Room, The Field Irish pub, and many others for pretty much every taste with a handful of high-end steakhouses too.  The outdoor Horton Plaza shopping mall is also in the Gaslamp.

Immediately east of the Gaslamp is the East Village (website) neighborhood where you'll find some friendly bars and restaurants with a local crowd that are less busy and often a better deal than the ones in the Gaslamp. Try Zanzibar Café, The Neighborhood with its excellent burgers and interesting design, the popular French bistro Café Chloe and thin crust pizza place BASIC which is in an old warehouse.  

Little Italy (website) (map) - This area in the north west part of downtown San Diego is a quieter alternative to the Gaslamp for a place to go in the evening. More relaxed and less hectic. India Street between Ash to the south and Hawthorn to the north. You can walk there from the Convention Center or take a rickshaw, and it also has its own trolley station. Some great modern architecture and many restaurants and cafes reflecting the area's Italian heritage. Some recommended restaurants are Bencotto, Buon Appetito, Sogno Di Vino, the Indigo Grill, Napizza, PrepKitchen, Influx, Underbelly, and, further south, the Karl Strauss Brewery. To the east of India Street be sure not to miss the amazing bakery/café Extraordinary Desserts in a restored industrial building.

La Jolla (website) (map) - This area has the most beautiful coastline in San Diego and is your best bet for an afternoon or day at the beach or exploring the coast. La Jolla Shores beach is all-round the nicest beach in the area with excellent swimming, changing rooms, easy parking, harmless leopard sharks during the summer, kayak and surf/SUP board rental shops one block away, etc. You can explore the rocky La Jolla Cove with its coastal trail, sea caves, and baby seals at Children's Beach. You can also browse the shops, galleries and restaurants in trendy upscale La Jolla Village, or visit the excellent Birch Aquarium which is part of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. There are many restaurants. Some standouts include Georges At The Cove Ocean Terrace, Whisknladle, and The Cottage. A little further north the adventurous can find the Knoll at Scripps Coastal Reserve, a hidden gem with awesome views from the top of the 350ft+ sea cliffs (the highest in Southern California) and Torrey Pines State Reserve for hiking and exploring. Note: shuffle your feet while wading at La Jolla Shores beach to avoid treading on a sting ray. They are common in the summer.

Mission Beach (website) (map) - This is the epicenter of beach culture in San Diego. It's a peninsula with the ocean and a lively boardwalk on one side, and peaceful Mission Bay Park on the other. Charming alleyways with tiny beach houses criss-cross the peninsula. Mission Bay Park has a great bike/jogging path around the lovely Sail Bay in its northwest corner. Just to the north is the busy Pacific Beach commercial area and Crystal Pier, and just north of there is the quieter Pacific Beach, with its mellow surfing scene. This area is not as swimming friendly as La Jolla Shores because of the heavy shore break. A nice place to eat with a sea view is JRDN restaurant in the strikingly modern Tower 23 Hotel. Two great inexpensive places for breakfast or lunch are the Rubicon Deli and The Mission. You can rent sailboats, kayaks, and SUP boards, for use on Mission Bay, at the Mission Bay Sports Center. Belmont Park in the south part of Mission Bay is touristy and not recommended. For the adventurous a lovely long walk is to head north along Mission Beach, go up the steps at the far north end of Pacific Beach, and then walk through the Bird Rock neighborhood with its hidden coastal access paths to Windansea Beach.

Balboa Park (website) (map) - This is just northeast of downtown, is one of the country's largest urban cultural parks. It is a great place to spend some free time: Botanic building, huge lily pond, the Old Globe Theater, and museums (including the Timken Museum of Art which is a great way to see masterpieces of art because there is no admission charge!).  A lovely place to eat while in Balboa Park is The Prado restaurant in the historic House Of Hospitality

How to get to the beaches, SeaWorld and La Jolla without a car

San Diego is surprisingly easy to get around without a car. Simply catching a yellow cab can work especially if you have a group. Alternatively, try the San Diego trolley and bus system. A $5 day pass is good for all trolleys and bus routes. There are no transfers, so if your one way journey involves a change, you'll still need to get a day pass.

To get to Mission Beach and Mission Bay, take the Green line trolley to Old Town transit center and take  bus route 8, which goes up Mission Boulevard. You could also take bus route 9 and bus route 30 which go to Pacific Beach from where you can walk south to Mission Beach and Mission Bay. Bus 30 is fastest. Bus 9 goes through the middle of Mission Bay and it makes a nice walk to get off at Crown Point and walk around the bay path to Mission Beach.

To get to Pacific Beach, take the Green line trolley to Old Town transit center and take bus route 8, 9 or 30. Bus 30 is fastest.

To get to SeaWorld San Diego, take the Green line trolley to Old Town transit center and take bus route 9. (Note: buses marked 9A don't stop at SeaWorld.

To get to La Jolla Village, La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores beach, take the Green line trolley to Old Town transit center and take bus route 30.

Note: Before 7pm on weekdays you can catch bus 30 on Broadway in downtown San Diego, so no need to go to Old Town on the trolley first. It's a fast bus with up to five departures an hour at peak times. 

To get to Coronado municipal beach and the Hotel Del Coronado from downtown San Diego, you have several options. You could take a tab. You could take bus 901 from Broadway. But the most fun is to call a water taxi (619 235 TAXI) and have them take you to Glorietta Bay, and then simply walk cross Silver Strand Boulevard to the Hotel Del and the beach. The adventurous can also take a ferry from downtown San Diego to the Coronado Ferry Landing on the bay side of Coronado and then walk, bike, or take bus 904 across the peninsula. Bus 904 runs from the Ferry Landing every hour (no evening or Sunday service).

 

How about a train ride up the coast?

You can take Amtrak California's Pacific Surfliner up the coast to Orange County, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo. This train is a great way to travel, with free Wi-Fi, power outlets, Cafe Car, and a Business Class with reserved seating. But for an inexpensive and fun day or half-day excursion, try a shorter ride on the comfy Coaster commuter train, which serves the seaside towns between San Diego and Oceanside. We recommend the 35 minute trip up to Encinitas, a lively small beach town. There are lovely coastal views from the train, and the Encinitas Coaster station is in the old-fashioned, gentrified downtown along South Coast Highway. Moonlight State Beach is just a few blocks away and it's fun to walk along the beach here. Just south of downtown Encinitas you can visit the beautiful garden at the Self-Realization Fellowship Temple and the beach and surf spot at Swami's. Recommended food choices include Lotus Cafe, Blue Ribbon Pizza, Swami's Cafe, and Wholefoods Market. Buy your Coaster ticket at the machines on the middle platform before boarding. (Coaster tickets are not sold in the station building, and San Diego transit day passes are not valid). You can also pick up the Coaster at Old Town transit center.

Enjoy a day relaxing at Spanish Village Art Center located in Balboa Park.  Http://SpanishVillageArt.com   

One of the hidden gems with over 200 plus artists and 37 working artist studios on the West Coast.   Come visit  this historical and colorful village and travel back to Spain.  Open daily 11am to 4pm year round, Find that unique gift from wearable art to home décor. Home to 6 guilds ...  Check website for more info. http://SpanishVillageArt.com  

 

Recommended places for breakfast or lunch in downtown San Diego

Here are some inexpensive places that are close to the convention center:

  • Brickyard Coffee and Tea is a relaxed neighborhood coffee shop with a large shady European-style patio that doesn't get crowded. Pastries, bagel melts, breakfast burritos, and quiches, wraps etc for lunch. Opens 6am.
  • Café 222 has a full, eclectic menu in a quirky modern building by local architect Rob Quigley. Opens 7am.
  • The Mission a few blocks east beyond PETCO Park offers beautifully presented food and fresh baked goods in a historic building with an arty urban crowd (awesome cinnamon bread). Opens 7am. They also branches in Mission Beach and Hillcrest.
  • Panera Bread in Horton Plaza is a reliable choice with free Wi-Fi. Opens 6am weekdays. 7am Sat/Sun.
  • Broken Yolk is a large diner on 6th Avenue. Opens 6am.
  • Richard Walker's Pancake House offers huge breakfasts and lunches of pancakes, crepes, waffles, and omelets. Opens 6.30am.
  • There's also Ralphs Supermarket which everyone who attends conventions in downtown, like the huge Comic-Con conference, tends to find eventually for snacks and to-go food from its large deli counter and salad bar, etc. Open 24 hours.


Map showing some cool places to go in San Diego

San Diego Shortlist is a handy online map with some recommended places to go in San Diego. This curated map is not advertising or sponsor supported and the places were chosen by the map's author purely on merit.

Click here to open the map

You can also view this map as a presentation to get a quick tour of San Diego. As you view the presentation you can zoom and pan the map and click on things to find out what they are. Viewing the presentation requires Microsoft Silverlight and so won't work on iPhone or iPad. Click here to view the presentation.