Things to do in San Diego

Think of California and you'll picture all things San Diego: surfer hair, slow pace, and guaranteed sun.

Our most recommended things to do in San Diego

San Diego: USS Midway Museum Entry Ticket

1. San Diego: USS Midway Museum Entry Ticket

Take a self-guided audio tour onboard the world’s longest-serving aircraft carrier, the historic USS Midway. See the carrier’s 25 restored aircraft from the days of WWII to Operation Desert Storm. Visit areas throughout the Midway, from the crew's sleeping quarters to the pilots' ready rooms. Docents are available throughout the carrier and are eager to share their stories, anecdotes, and statistics, creating a picture of just how important the USS Midway was to the U.S. Navy. Most guests spend 3 to 4 hours exploring this historic aircraft carrier and learning its history. The included audio guide, available in 6 languages, will help you explore the dozens of highlighted areas across the massive ship.  There are family-oriented activities throughout the Museum. Included are 3 types of flight simulators, music videos, short films, climb-aboard aircraft and cockpits, and more. The Museum is located at the Navy Pier in downtown San Diego.

San Diego: SeaWorld Skip-the-Line Park Admission Ticket

2. San Diego: SeaWorld Skip-the-Line Park Admission Ticket

Discover the underwater world at SeaWorld San Diego, with animal encounters, interactive exhibits, and thrilling rides. Get up close to marine life and enjoy educational animal presentations for the whole family to enjoy. Upgrade your ticket to include a dining pass to eat all day at SeaWorld. Experience thrilling rides such as Electric Eel with its high-energy twists and loops, or Manta, with two thrilling launches that send riders soaring in the spirit of the world’s largest ray. For kid-friendly fun, enjoy Tentacle Swirl, Sea Dragon Drop, Elmo's Flying Fish, and so much more. Admire the animals at SeaWorld such as beluga whales, walruses, penguins, sharks, and orcas as you learn about these incredible creatures. Enjoy interactive exhibits such as the Explorer's Reef Touchpools and Sea Lion Point. Explore the Sesame Street Bay of Play where you can meet your Sesame Street friends. If you choose to upgrade to the all-day dining bundle, you can get an entree, a side/dessert, and a drink every 1 hour at Shipwreck Reef Café®, Calypso Bay Smokehouse, Mama Stella’s® Pizza Kitchen, Big Bird's Bistro, Coral Market, Shark Market, Orca West Market, and Pretzel Shop.

San Diego: Harbor Cruise

3. San Diego: Harbor Cruise

See San Diego's best sights. Learn about the city and enjoy a cruise on the bay. Depending on the option booked, this tour takes you under the Coronado Bridge, past military ships, waterfront landmarks, and marine life for a look at San Diego's scenic beauty and fascinating history. This tour’s luxury ships offer three levels with comfortable indoor and outdoor seating, 360-degree views, and an on-board snack bar serving snacks, soda, beer, wine and cocktails (available for purchase). This is a great way to experience San Diego from the water.

San Diego Zoo: 1-Day Admission Ticket

4. San Diego Zoo: 1-Day Admission Ticket

Visit the world-famous San Diego Zoo, home to over 4,500 rare and endangered animals, and experience their worlds at the Polar Bear Plunge, Elephant Odyssey, and other areas. The 100-acre San Diego Zoo is known for its naturalistic habitats and unique animal encounters. An urban paradise for all ages, the San Diego Zoo is a must-see in Southern California. Winding paths through the tropical oasis of a botanical garden bring you to the zoo‘s rare and fascinating animals, including koalas, Galápagos tortoises, tigers, eagles, flamingos, great apes, and more. Other exotic animals you may encounter include Sichuan takins, Buerger’s tree-kangaroos, arctic foxes, pangolin, and Visayan warty pigs. Explore Africa Rocks to discover penguins, baboons, the mysterious fossa, weaver birds, and other unique creatures. The festive, lively atmosphere makes the San Diego Zoo a great place for family fun and gathering friends. Discover the wonders of wildlife with animal encounters, interactive experiences, and exciting animal presentations and shows. The Zoo’s 17 Galápagos tortoises are now at home at the Fetter Family Galápagos Tortoise Exhibit. When keepers are present, you can pet and occasionally feed the tortoises over a short rock barrier. At the Conrad Prebys Polar Bear Plunge, you can get closer to polar bears than ever before. Climb aboard an Arctic research helicopter, crawl into a bear den, or measure yourself against the size of a polar bear. The Harry and Grace Steele Elephant Odyssey is a 7.5-acre habitat and a first-of-its-kind experience. This area combines the fun of a zoo with the experience of a museum by creating an untamed landscape of animals from the past and present. A leader in animal care and conservation, the San Diego Zoo is at the heart of the San Diego experience.

San Diego: Harbor Sightseeing Cruise

5. San Diego: Harbor Sightseeing Cruise

See the sights of San Diego Bay on a fully-narrated cruise. Pass by Seaport Village, Shelter Island, Coronado Island, Point Loma, and Cabrillo National Monument, among other notable points of interest, while taking in beautiful skyline views. Choose between a 1-hour cruise of either the North or South Harbor, or book the 2-hour cruise, which includes both. San Diego’s North Harbor cruise takes you past historic ships in the Maritime Museum, Harbor Island, North Island Naval Air Station, and Shelter Island. The South Harbor route includes sightings of the Coronado Bridge, the U.S.S. Midway Aircraft Carrier, the U.S. Navy Surface Fleet, and the Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. As you sail, keep a lookout for wildlife such as blue herons, sea lions, and pelicans Listen as your professional crew provides commentary about the rich local and military history, points of interest, and facts about San Diego Bay. This sightseeing cruise also showcases local environmental conservation efforts through video clips and onboard displays.

San Diego: Sightseeing Dinner Cruise with DJ Music

6. San Diego: Sightseeing Dinner Cruise with DJ Music

Enjoy a dinner cruise from San Diego that combines culinary excellence with unforgettable scenery and ambient DJ music. Look for local wildlife as you sail and admire views of the city skyline, the Coronado Bridge, and the Cabrillo National Monument.  Stroll the spacious decks and watch the sunset before dinner. Dinner is a seated meal with an elaborate wine list, upgrades and additions, and vegetarian options. Savor crisp salads, braised ribs, oven-roasted salmon entrees, and luscious desserts After dinner, listen to relaxing music, as you enjoy your dessert and coffee. Photos are taken at beginning of the cruise and they can be purchased at the end when you return to your meeting point.

La Jolla: Sea Cave Kayaking Tour with Guide

7. La Jolla: Sea Cave Kayaking Tour with Guide

Discover San Diego's Marine Protected Area, home to a variety of fish, birds, dolphins, turtles, sea-lions, and whales. With the help of an experienced guide, explore the famous Sea Caves of La Jolla and paddle inside Emerald Cave in a double kayak. Watch sea lions sunbathing on the rocks and swimming in the sanctuary. Marvel at the bright orange garibaldi as they stand out among the vibrant green sea grass and numerous other fish swimming around and delighting the eye. In the summer and fall months, tour groups will often see harmless leopard sharks, and you may also find grey whales in their migration during the winter. You might even see dolphins cruising alongside your kayak before you make your way back and prepare to surf your kayak back to shore.

San Diego: Hop-on Hop-off Narrated Tour of Old Town

8. San Diego: Hop-on Hop-off Narrated Tour of Old Town

Join the Hop-on Hop-Off Tour of Old Town San Diego at any of the tour's 12 boarding points and visit more than 100 interesting points in Coronado and San Diego at your own pace. You can begin at any time of the day and listen to the entertaining narration of the onboard conductors along the way. San Diego is known as America’s Finest City, and as you explore the sights of Old Town and the scenic coastline you’ll see why. Opt to begin your tour at the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, where you’ll see original adobe homes and artifacts from the earliest Mexican settlements. At the Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum, you’ll learn about the importance of the U.S. Navy's presence in San Diego. Then continue on to nearby Seaport Village, where you can stop for refreshments and enjoy shopping and entertainment. In the historic Gaslamp Quarter, you’ll find loads of shops and other interesting places located in Victorian-themed buildings. One particular house of interest is the William Heath Davis House. Built-in saltbox style, it is similar to the original home of Davis, who founded New Town San Diego. When you’re back on the trolley you’ll be entertained once again by the conductor’s narration. Continue on to the well-known Hotel del Coronado, one of America’s leading resorts. You may choose to take a stroll through nearby Balboa Park, along El Prado, the promenade lined with Spanish-style buildings. With more stops than any other tour, this hop-on hop-off trolley ride is guaranteed to deliver. In addition to sightseeing, enjoy free shuttle service to and from select area hotels, a map and day planner, and $70 in discount coupons to use at restaurants and area attractions. Hop on or hop off at 12 convenient stops: 1) 4002 Wallace St: Old Town State Historic Park 2) 1492 N Harbor Dr: Maritime Museum of San Diego/Star of India 3) 200 Marina Park Way: San Diego Embarcadero 4) 849 W Harbor Dr: Seaport Village 5) 333 W Harbor Dr: Marriott Marquis & Marina6) Gaslamp Quarter 7) 111 W Harbor Dr: Petco Park/San Diego Convention Center 8) Barrio Logan9) 1500 Orange Ave: Hotel Del Coronado10) Coronado/Orange Avenue 11) 1549 El Prado: Balboa Park and El Prado Museums 12) Little Italy

Champagne Brunch Cruise in San Diego

9. Champagne Brunch Cruise in San Diego

Sample a variety of breakfast and dinner dishes with fantastic views, and then head to the outdoor deck for fresh sea air and a narrated bay cruise. San Diego’s most popular and unique Sunday Champagne Brunch features views that change with the courses. This brunch is complete with bountiful selection of breakfast and lunch entrees, carving stations, salad and dessert bar, and free flowing champagne. Lovely light music and sightseeing completes your entertainment! You’ll be thrilled to know that Hornblower Cruises doesn’t participate in cruise style seating, you’ll have privacy at your table and not be seated with strangers! SAMPLE BUFFET MENU Accompaniments Basket of Fresh Croissants & Cinnamon Rolls with Strawberry Jam, Whipped Honey Butter and Seasonal Fruit Seasonal Salad Chef's Selection Seasonal Green Salad Entrees Seafood Selection Shrimp Cocktail w/ Lemon Wedge & Cocktail Sauce | Grilled Brown Sugar, Soy & Ginger Salmon Duet Entree (Select One Egg Course and one Carving Board Course below)  - All Entrees served with Roasted Red Creamer Potatoes with Colorful Roasted Peppers Poached Egg on Buttermilk Biscuit with Spinach Supreme and Hollandaise | Fluffy Omelet with Ham & Cheese or Spinach & Artichoke topped with Salsa Fresca  Duet Entree (Select One Egg Course above and one Carving Board Course) - All Entrees served with Roasted Red Creamer Potatoes with Colorful Roasted Peppers Carved New York Strip with Pico de Gallo | Herb Roasted Turkey Breast with Cranberry Mango Chutney Breakfast Upon Request Hickory Smoked Bacon | French Toast with Maple Syrup & fresh Berries | Chef's Selection Vegan Menu Available Dessert Dessert Trio New York Style Cheesecake | Chef's Chocolate Creation | Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce

San Diego: SEAL City Tour by Amphibious Bus

10. San Diego: SEAL City Tour by Amphibious Bus

Splash into San Diego Bay with an insightful tour across land and water. most unique sightseeing tour. Take a seat aboard a hybrid bus and boat and come across the most interesting sights in the city. Learn about San Diego's main landmarks from your guide. Wind through picturesque San Diego streets before splashing into the water for a cruise of San Diego Bay. Pass the Embarcadero and San Diego International Airport. Hear about the importance of the military in San Diego and other local icons as you travel along the scenic coast. Once you splash into the Big Bay, glide by Navy ships, tugboats, and fishing vessels throughout the harbor. Pass by Shelter Island and listen to stories of early sailors.

Frequently asked questions about San Diego

What top attractions are a must-see in San Diego?

Insider tips: Planning a trip to San Diego

San Diego, the 8th largest city in the United States, is famous for its temperate year-round weather, gorgeous sunsets and lots of fun things to do. The famous San Diego Zoo, beautiful Balboa Park and downtown nightlife make San Diego a favorite destination for families. There is so much to do in San Diego that we enlisted the travel experts at TravelingMom, a leading family travel website, to share their favorite things to do and tips for making the most of a visit, even if you only have a few days. Here you can look into TravelingMom's San Diego guide.

What should I do on my first trip to San Diego?

Balboa Park in downtown San Diego is an absolute can't miss. This 1,200-acre mid-city park is fille with gardens, museums, cultural spots, theaters, playgrounds and walking trails. There are plenty of low-cost and free things for families to explore within Balboa Park. The beautiful beaches are another wonderful place to spend a warm day in San Diego. Whether you're looking for tidepooling in Point Loma, boardwalk fun in Mission Beach, or cliffside sunsets in La Jolla, there's a beach that just right for your family.

What are some hidden gems to see in San Diego?

San Diego is best known for its beaches, but there is so much more nature to discover, including desertscapes and mountain fun. For hiking, fishing and camping, head to the Laguna Mountains to experience unplugged family time.

How much time should I spend in San Diego?

It is nearly impossible to experience all of the wonders of San Diego in one visit. Consider focusing your visit into one area, starting with either downtown or the beaches. To explore the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, Coronado Island and other downtown activities, plan on 4-5 days. A beach vacation to San Diego could be a weekend getaway, by choosing one beach to visit per day depending on your family's favorite acticities -- surfing, boardwalk rides and games, swimming, snorkling or tidepooling.

What food is San Diego known for?

Tacos are San Diego's best known meal, namely fish tacos made with white fish, usually yellowfin or bluefin tuna. Nearly every restaurant menu will offer a version of this San Diego speciality. Fish tacos are generally breaded and deep fried fish filets, served in a warm corn tortilla with white sauce, chopped cabbage and salsa verde.

What is the best way to get around San Diego?

While most Californians rely on personal vehicles for transportation, if you don't have a car, the trolley is an easy way to get around in San Diego. A trip on the ferry from downtown to Coronado is an excellent way to reach the Island. Consider renting a bike or scooter to get around the downtown area. The Coaster Train, as the name implies, travels only along the coast. The north/south running commuter line has 8 stops between downtown and Oceanside. If you plan on venturing out to hike, fish and experience nature, you will need a car. Travel freeways between 10 am and 2 pm to avoid the heaviest traffic clusters and worst traffic jams.

What are the best months to visit San Diego?

The best time to visit San Diego is in September and October. Summer crowds have thinned out but the weather is still very warm for swimming and outdoor activities. With most kids back in school, places like LEGOLAND, SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo are far less crowded. October is ideal for families on a budget, as many popular locations offer kids free admission for the entire month. Aim for early October versus later in the month, when many students are out of school for fall break.

What is Gaslamp Quarter known for?

The Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego is known for boutique shopping and family restaurants by day and exciting adult nightlife like bars, live music and dance clubs. The trolley line stops right here so visitors can enjoy without having to find a paid parking lot. The Gaslamp is walkable to area attractions including Petco Park for Padres baseball games, Seaport Village and harbor.

What are the best neighborhoods for food?

Hillcrest is the heart of San Diego's LGBTQ+ community and offers plenty of outdoor patio dining, craft brewpubs and a weekend farmer's market. There is a variety of foods and flavors within walking distance of each other on University Avenue and sidestreets, including dessert-only hot spots.

What are the best neighborhoods for shopping?

For souvenier shopping, visitors can't miss Seaport Village. There are more than 50 unique shops spread out in this bayside location, selling everything from books and toys to art and San Diego-made products. Plus, there are plenty of dining spots and a carousel for the kids!

What neighborhood should I stay in when I visit San Diego?

For Airbnb, look for a walkable neighborhood like South Park. The area is full of historic homes within walking distance of restaurants, parks and breweries. Plus, it's very close to downtown, the airport and the famous San Diego Zoo.

What are the best beaches around San Diego?

San Diego is known for their many beautiful beaches. Mission Beach and the surrounding bay is a family-friendly hot spot, with ample free parking, grassy picnic areas and play grounds. Belmont Park is a highlight, with a beach-side roller coaster and other amusements. Plenty of sand and waves for boogie boarding and swimming. Those with younger children should visit the bay, with tamer waves for wading. Many areas for dining and shopping along the boardwalk.

Which neighborhoods are the most budget-friendly?

To find budget accomodations and dining, move away from the coastal locations. Mission Valley offers lower costs on hotels than beach cities. Drive further east to suburban areas like La Mesa to find unique dining and micro-breweries.

Which neighborhoods should you visit if you'd like to splurge?

For the ultimate splurge vacation, La Jolla, Del Mar and Torrey Pines. Hotels are swank and upscale dining abounds. Expect designer fashion boutiques, art galleries and a higher price tag for everything in these locations.

Other Sightseeing Options in San Diego

Want to discover all there is to do in San Diego? Click here for a full list.

What people are saying about San Diego

Overall rating

4.6 / 5

based on 4,823 reviews

Fantastic tour of Barrio Logan with Stefan! The area was so intersting and the food was quite amazing. We are actually going back to the Italian restaurant today! I would highly recommend to everyone! We will probably sign up for another tour with Stefan! Geri and mark mann

Very informative but fun. Great selection Food and drinks onboard. Staff was amazing. Server was fast and very friendly. Our team of 26 (of various ages) really enjoyed it. We would do it again.

The food was great, the staff was friendly, and the cruise was so much fun. Sam was our server and she left us the sweetest note at the end.

Overall great price for the tour. The information by our tour guide about the harbor and San Diego was great. Must do.

If you are wanting to ride the rides, the fast path ticket is the only way to do it.