Top 10 Fun Things to Do When Visiting San Diego

By Susan Guillory · August 11, 2023 · 8 minute read

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Top 10 Fun Things to Do When Visiting San Diego

They call San Diego “America’s Finest City” for good reason: It has year-round sunshine, gorgeous beaches, and plenty to see, do, and eat. There are parks, museums, zoos, baseball games, and vineyards waiting for you to explore.

The challenge will be narrowing down the things to do so they fit into the time you have for your San Diego vacation. But here’s help: an insider’s list of the top 10 fun things to do in this fantastic city, plus tips on planning a perfect trip.

Best Times to Go to San Diego

If you’re looking for great weather for your San Diego trip, any time of year is a good one. Temperatures are a little cooler in the winter (usually in the 60s) and can get as high as the 90s in the summer, though the average falls more in the range of high 70s to 80s.

There are a few events held throughout the year you might want to plan around:

•  January: Farmers Insurance Open (golf)

•  June/July: San Diego County Fair

•  July: Comic-Con International

•  July-September: Del Mar Racing Season

•  September: Miramar Air Show

•  November: Beer Week

•  November: San Diego Bay Wine + Food Festival

Bad Times to Go to San Diego

There really are no bad times to visit San Diego, though you will find most of the bigger events and festivals fall in the summer. The ocean water is cool throughout the year, so if taking a swim is high on your list, aim for the hotter summer months.

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Average Cost of a San Diego Vacation

If you’re already planning your San Diego trip, you’ll want to create a budget. Traveling solo? The average cost for a weeklong trip is $1,886. For a couple, that cost is $3,387.

Hotel prices range from $80 to $267 a night or higher if you like to stay in posh accommodations, and vacation rentals are $250 to 610 a night. The level of luxury you want in your accommodations, as well as whether you dine out or eat in will impact your vacation budget. (Of course, you can also find ways to save on hotel costs, by becoming a member at a hotel chain’s website and via other smart strategies.)

You can save on your trip if you use a travel rewards credit card that lets you accumulate and redeem points for rewards. You might compare credit card miles vs. cash back to see which is a better fit.

When budgeting for your trip, you’ll also want to include transportation to and from San Diego. For those who live nearby or are frugal travelers, that will mean a drive or a bus or train ride. For others, it means plane tickets.

You may also want to set aside some money for trip insurance, just in case your plans don’t unfold smoothly. You may have credit card travel insurance, or you might buy a separate policy.

10 Fun Must-Dos in San Diego

Here are some of the best things to do in San Diego, based on recommendations from locals and knowledgeable travelers, as well as popular tourist websites.

Keep in mind that San Diego has several distinct neighborhoods, including North Park, South Park, Mission Hills, Normal Heights, Kensington, and more. Each is walkable and filled with restaurants, shops, and events to keep you engaged. Now, consider this list of the best things to do when vacationing in San Diego.

1. Explore Balboa Park

Balboa Park was the setting for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, and, since then, it has become an icon in the city. Home to the Comic-Con Museum, Fleet Science Center, Japanese Friendship Garden, Mingei International Museum, the San Diego Zoo, and much more, the park is also filled with free things to do in San Diego. You can spend hours here, exploring all of the attractions, and, since there isn’t an admission fee, this can be a way for families to afford to travel.

However, some of the specific museums will charge for entry, so do a bit of research before you head over.

2. Check out the San Diego Zoo

One of the top things to do in San Diego is to visit the zoo or its sister location, Safari Park. In addition to being able to see animals like sloths, koalas, giraffes, and elephants, you can also take part in exclusive experiences that bring you up close and personal with some of your favorite creatures. Tickets are typically $61 for kids ages 3 to 11, and $71 for ages 12 and up. (Ticket prices at the separate Safari Park are similarly priced.) The zoo is usually open daily, though hours can vary, sometimes as long as from 9 am to 9 pm. Check the website before visiting.

3. Explore North Park

If you’re seeking things to do in San Diego for adults and you like beer, head to the neighborhood of North Park. This hipster ‘hood is in the heart of San Diego and is home to some of the best breweries in this city known for its stellar craft beer. The neighborhood is highly walkable, and you’ll also find great options for dining and shopping.

4. Raise a Glass

If wine’s more your thing, one of the things to do in San Diego for couples or friends is to visit Temecula wine country, just an hour north of San Diego. This hidden gem offers more than 50 wine varietals, including award-winning versions of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Mourvedre, Viognier, Chardonnay, and sparkling wines.
Many of the wineries have on-site restaurants, and some even offer live music. When heading to this area and maybe buying some bottles to take home, consider paying with plastic and snag some credit card rewards.

5. Stroll Around the Hotel del Coronado

One of the most unique things to do in San Diego is to visit the historic Hotel del Coronado. Known as “Hotel Del” to locals, this hotel was first opened in 1888, and was the setting for the film “Some Like it Hot” starring Marilyn Monroe. Set by the sea, this iconic red-roofed Victorian resort is a fascinating place to visit.

Even if you don’t stay at the hotel, you can explore its shops, restaurants, and beach. During the Christmas holidays, the hotel is transformed into a winter wonderland, complete with outdoor ice skating rink.

6. Catch a Ballgame

Baseball fans shouldn’t miss a San Diego Padres game at downtown’s Petco Park. The season is March through October, though there are also special events and tours at Petco Park.

Dining options at the park highlight some of the best restaurants and breweries in the city, including Hodad’s, Seaside Market, and Gaglione Brothers.

7. Hit the Beach

If getting some sand between your toes is on your must-do list for your San Diego vacation, the iconic Mission Beach should be on your agenda. Anchored by the amusement park known as Belmont Park, Mission Beach offers two miles of boardwalk if you crave a bike ride, jog, or rollerblade. The beaches (and parking lots) can fill up, especially in the summer, so arrive early and plan to stay all day.

Are you traveling with pets? Leashed dogs are allowed on the beach at certain hours, so this might be a good place to explore together.

There are plenty of places to get a cocktail or meal along the boardwalk. The dress code? Flip flops and swimsuits!

8. Sample Some Nightlife

If you’re looking for things to do in San Diego at night, Gaslamp Quarter may have what you need. Filled with nightclubs, bars (including rooftop options), and restaurants, it’s a popular scene. Whether you’re in the mood to dance, catch a comedy show, try an escape game, or hear music, you’ll find it here.

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9. See What Old Town Offers

One of the fun things to do in San Diego for all ages is visit Old Town, the birthplace of California. Filled with historic buildings that have been turned into restaurants and shops, Old Town is a great place to learn about the early days of San Diego.

There is also a “hop on, hop off” trolley tour that stops in Old Town, so you can see more of the city.

10. Marvel at the Maritime Museum

The Maritime Museum, located on the Embarcadero, consists of more than a dozen sailing ships, submarines, and steam-powered ships that you can climb aboard and explore. Don’t miss the Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship. Open daily from 10 am to 5 pm (last admission at 4 pm), the museum charges $20 admission for adults; $10 for children ages 3 to 12.

The Takeaway

San Diego offers sun, fun, and plenty of things to do. It can be a great destination year-round, and whether you’re a couple in search of nightlife and wine tastings or a family who wants to spend the day at the zoo, you’ll find all kinds of amazing attractions in this Southern California city.

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When is the best time to visit San Diego?

San Diego sees sunshine year-round, so any time is a good time to visit. However, the weather is warm but not too hot and the crowds are fewer between March and May and September to November.

What are things to do at night in San Diego?

San Diego has a robust nightlife in certain neighborhoods. North Park is known for its craft beer and restaurants, while Gaslamp Quarter is filled with nightclubs and bars.

What are things to do in Balboa Park in San Diego?

Balboa Park is home to numerous museums as well as the San Diego Zoo. It also hosts events throughout the year, including December Nights during the holiday season.

Photo credit: iStock/SeanPavonePhoto
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