Ultimate Weekend in San Diego – Best Things to do in 3 Days (+ Travel Tips)
A trip to San Diego is always a good idea! In fact, it has become my favorite city in California thus far! Located just a couple of hours from major cities like Los Angeles and Palm Springs, it’s pretty easy to do a 3 day getaway to San Diego! So if you are planning your Southern California vacation, I have you covered on how to spend an epic 3 day weekend in San Diego with this detailed itinerary!
What can you expect from this San Diego travel guide? In this San Diego weekend getaway itinerary you will find top attractions, exact addresses, travel tips, where to eat, where to stay, getting around San Diego, and more!
Not visiting San Diego over the weekend? Don’t worry, although I’ve dubbed this a “San Diego weekend itinerary”, you can use the outlined 3 days at any point of the week!
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission at no cost to you. Disclosure.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Ultimate Weekend in San Diego – Best Things to do in 3 Days (+ Travel Tips)
- How Many Days do You Need in San Diego
- Day 1 Weekend in San Diego: Balboa Park, Seaport Village, Gaslamp Quarter
- San Diego Seaport Village
- Day 2 of 3 Days in San Diego Itinerary: Torrey Pines, La Jolla Cove, Point Loma, Sunset Cliffs
- Day 3 Weekend in San Diego: Old Town San Diego, Belmont Park, Coronado Island
- How to Get To San Diego
- Getting Around San Diego
- Where to Eat in San Diego
- Where to Stay During a Weekend in San Diego
- When to Visit San Diego
- Weekend in San Diego Itinerary Wrap-up
How Many Days do You Need in San Diego
Wondering if a weekend or 3 days is enough time in San Diego? 3 days in San Diego is the minimum amount of time I’d suggest spending in America’s finest city, however, you could probably still get away with 2 days if you don’t mind missing some attractions. San Diego is a large city so hitting all the spots can be hard!
This San Diego itinerary will cover 3 full days of exploring the best attractions you won’t want to miss. Additionally, to optimize time, this San Diego itinerary will separate days with attractions near one another so you won’t spend too much time backtracking!
If you only have 2 days in San Diego or even 1 day, just pick whichever day covers some of your favorite San Diego attractions! Or, you can use this jam-packed itinerary and turn it into 4-5 days!
Day 1 Weekend in San Diego: Balboa Park, Seaport Village, Gaslamp Quarter
On day one in San Diego, we will start by exploring one of the best attractions in San Diego, Balboa Park. From there, you will make your way through Downtown San Diego with some options at the end. Let’s get started!
Balboa Park – One of San Diego’s Best Attractions
Start your San Diego itinerary nice and early making your way to explore Balboa Park! This epic park was built in 1868 and offers 1,200 acres of museums, green spaces, shopping, gardens, and more! On top of that, Balboa Park has incredible architectural making you feel like you’re walking through Spain!
So with 17 museums, the San Diego Zoo, and gardens, you might be wondering where to even start! Well, here are our favorites in Balboa Park!
Make sure to walk through the Spanish Village Art Center. Here you will find those very colorful Instagram-worthy squares with tons of cute shops. There is also a pretty good-sized parking lot over here and it’s free to park.
Next, check out Casa Del Prado, the Japanese Friendship Garden, the Botanical Garden, the and Lily Pond. They are all within walking distance of one another. Then continue walking through to the Museum of Us. This will allow you to really see a ton of the park. From here, consider checking out one of the Balboa Park museums you find most interesting (there are a lot)!
Additionally, if you love cacti, I would highly recommend checking out the Old Cactus Garden which has some of the largest cacti in the park! It is best to drive to this one though. The Old Cactus Garden is also considered one of the most Instagrammable places in San Diego.
Address: 1770 Village Pl, San Diego, CA 92101
San Diego Seaport Village
Next on your San Diego getaway, head to the charming Seaport Village! Here you will find cute restaurants, over 50 shops, and nice lawns to relax by the water. It opened in 1980 and is composed of 14 acres!
This is a great spot to grab some lunch if you haven’t already grabbed a bite in Balboa Park. During our time here, we saw tons of families hanging out by the water picnicking, and flying kites in the Embarcadero Marina Park. They often have live events happening as well!
Address: 849 W Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101
USS Midway Museum
While you are in the downtown area, you might also want to consider stopping by the USS Midway Museum. You will be able to step aboard the USS Midway which was the longest-serving aircraft carrier in the 20th century.
The ship is huge, and onboard you will be able to explore aircrafts, do flight simulators, tour through exhibits, and more. Tickets are $26 USD for Adults and $18 USD for Children (6-12).
Below the ship, in the Tuna Harbor Park, you can also see the giant statue of the sailor kissing his lady which is known as an iconic statue in San Diego.
San Diego Travel Tip: If you plan on doing more than one paid attraction in San Diego, consider getting that San Diego City Pass that can help you save some money when doing multiple activities!
Address: 910 N Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101
Visit Coronado Island or Gaslamp Quarter
Depending on how you are doing with time, I want to give you a couple of options for your next San Diego activity.
If you still have a decent amount of time left in the day (or you skipped the USS Midway because ships aren’t your thing), you might want to consider hitting up the beach at Coronado Island. You can take the ferry or drive here(what we did). Since you are already in downtown San Diego, you are quite close to the Island.
It is a nice spot to enjoy the sunset and grab dinner. Coronado Island is also a lovely place to drive around if you enjoy looking at nice houses. One of the most famous places to visit is the Hotel del Coronado. If you are short on time, don’t worry, we can hit Coronado on day 3 in San Diego (which I will talk about below)!
On the other hand, if it is already close to dinner time, consider making your way to Little Italy which is right by the USS Midway or the Gaslamp Quarter.
The Gaslamp Quarter is a historic area and is considered the heart of downtown San Diego. It is a very popular and lively area at night with tons of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. If you are looking to grab drinks, Gaslamp Quarter is a great spot!
Or, you can also consider doing a sunset cruise if you want something a little more relaxing or romantic! This can be a great option for your first night in San Diego.
If you didn’t rent a car during your time in San Diego or didn’t feel like driving, you can take this San Diego Old Town Trolley Hop on Hop off Tour to see most of the above activities!
Day 2 of 3 Days in San Diego Itinerary: Torrey Pines, La Jolla Cove, Point Loma, Sunset Cliffs
After a very jam-packed 1st day in San Diego, day two will be slightly more relaxing. On day 2 of 3 days in San Diego, you will be heading North to enjoy the beaches and sea cliffs! So, make sure to pack your beach towel, sunscreen, and swimsuit if the weathers warm enough!
Explore Torrey Pines State Reserve
Starting at the most northern San Diego attraction first, begin your morning by heading off to Torrey Pines State Reserve. This stunning State Reserve offers jaw-dropping views of the Pacific Ocean from the cliffs. With 2,000 acres, there are tons of natural beauty to be had. Torrey Pines is located in La Jolla (pronounced La Hoy-ya), San Diego.
Some of the most popular things to do at Torrey Pines are relaxing on the beach, hiking one of the many trails, or going hang-gliding at Torrey Pines Gliderport!
During our time at Torrey Pines, we hung around Gliderport to take in the sea cliff views. From here you can walk right down to the beach and there’s a ton of free parking.
Address: 2800 Torrey Pines Scenic Dr, La Jolla, CA 92037
Visit La Jolla Cove Sea Lions
Making our way through La Jolla, we will be heading to the downtown area, also known as the Village of La Jolla. In this area, you will find tons of shopping, some of the best restaurants in San Diego, and more beaches.
This is the perfect time for you to grab some lunch. A couple of very popular restaurants include George’s at the Cove, Herringbone, and The Taco Stand.
If you love wildlife, visiting the La Jolla Cove should be on the top of your list! During a visit, enjoy seeing dozens of sea lions! You will be able to see them all hanging out on the cliffs, but remember to keep a safe distance back, even if you see others breaking the rules.
It is also a very popular area to scuba dive, snorkel, explore tide pools, and go kayaking through sea caves for the abundant amount of marine life. During the winter months, you might even be able to see whales!
As an added bonus, further down, you can walk to Children’s Pool La Jolla to see Harbor seals relaxing on the beach. There is also a large lawn between the two spots if you rather lounge or have a picnic instead.
San Diego Travel Tip: If there is anything you remember from this San Diego itinerary, REMEMBER THIS! Make sure to crimp your car tires when parking on hills. If you don’t turn your tires to the curb while parked on a hill, the chances of you getting a ticket are pretty high! Learn from my $60 mistake!
Explore Point Loma
As the day is winding down, head over to Point Loma. This sea cliff area offers an array of places to check out including Smugglers Cove, the Cabrillo National Monument, and the Old Point Loma Lighthouse.
To see the historic Cabrillo National Monument and lighthouse, there is an entrance fee of $20 per car. Because this site is run by the National Park Service, if you are an America the Beautiful Pass holder, this will get you in for free.
The statue is Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. He was the first European to set foot on the West Coast of the USA in 1542. Many come to the park to see the Old Loma Lighthouse which was built in 1855. Due to the lighthouses’ high elevation, the light was hindered by fog which required them to build a “new” lighthouse in 1891. You can enjoy lovely views from here!
Within the Cabrillo National Monument Park, there are also the popular Point Loma tide pools and hiking trails that are quite popular.
Address: 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr, San Diego, CA 92106
Enjoy the Sunset at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
To finish out the day, you will be enjoying a beautiful sunset at, you guessed it, Sunset Cliffs. With a name like that, you’d have to imagine the sunset is pretty magical! Located on your drive back from Point Loma (near Ocean Beach), it is a popular place to watch the sunset. This is also a top photo-worthy location in San Diego.
I would recommend trying to get to Sunset Cliffs a little earlier than sunset to find a parking spot down one of the streets. If you arrive late, you will likely have to park pretty far down the street and chance missing the sunset. The cliff runs along the stretch of the ocean. We found parking near Sunset Cliff Beach on Hill Street.
Address: 900-, 998 Sunset Cliffs Blvd, San Diego, CA 92107
After watching the sunset, you can enjoy one of the night options you did not do from day 1 in San Diego! You can almost never go wrong with dinner in Little Italy or even Pacific Beach which is closer to Sunset Cliffs.
Day 3 Weekend in San Diego: Old Town San Diego, Belmont Park, Coronado Island
We have already covered a lot of ground throughout this weekend in San Diego itinerary. With that being said, we still have some fun San Diego attractions left! From visiting the historic area in San Diego to getting some beach time, you can make this day as busy or as relaxing as you would like.
Since this is your last day in San Diego, I want to give you some options. Of these options, I would highly recommend visiting the Old Town. The rest of the options are at your disposal of what interests you the most!
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park
With a weekend in San Diego, you can’t miss visiting the Old Town of San Diego. This historic area is where the first Europeans settled and the oldest settled area in California. When visiting, you can experience the deep-rooted Spanish influence as you tour this lively part of town.
You can find excellent Mexican food in this area with over 30 restaurants and tons of outdoor dining. On top of that, there are over 35 historic sites to learn more about the area and the indigenous people that lived here.
Furthermore, there are tons of really unique shops and beautiful landscaping to make you feel like you’re walking through a garden. The wildlife lover in me also wants to let you know we saw a ton of hummingbirds here! Oh, and there is free parking!
Address: 4016 Wallace St, San Diego, CA 92110
If you love theme Parks, nearby the Old Town is Belmont Amusement Park. Located on the water at Mission Beach, this historic park was built in 1925. With roller coasters like the Giant Dipper or the Beach Blaster, it’s a great place to get your adrenaline pumping. You can visit the park for free and just pay for the rides you’d like to do. Or, you can get a day pass that gives you unlimited rides for $60 USD.
However, if amusement parks are not your thing, you still have options since they have a boardwalk, restaurants, and a beach you can enjoy. It very much gives me New York Coney Island feels.
Address: 3146 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109
Visit Coronado Island
However, if you would like to skip Belmont Park altogether because amusement parks are not your thing, then from Old Town head on over to Coronado Island! As mentioned above, you can get to Coronado Island by taking the ferry or driving.
With 3 days in San Diego, you won’t want to miss hitting Coronado Island. This beach town is known to have some of San Diego’s best beaches and it is very close to downtown. From shopping and eating to bike riding and lounging at the beach, there are plenty of fun things to do on Coronado Island! When you visit, make sure to see the iconic Hotel Del Coronado!
Fun Fact: Coronado is not really an island, but a peninsula off of San Diego.
Address: 1500 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA 92118
Day Trip to Tijuana
Although we didn’t do this, it is also very possible to take a day trip across the Mexican border to Tijuana! There are even group tours to Tijuana that can bring you. Just make sure to have your passport with you!
San Diego Harbor Cruise
Last but not least on your San Diego weekend trip is a Harbor cruise. This is a great option if you want to have a more relaxing time. They even have cruises where you can go out looking for seals, dolphins, and whales! Check out some of the awesome San Diego harbor cruises here.
How to Get To San Diego
Now that you know the best things to do during your weekend in San Diego, you are probably wondering about the best way to get to San Diego. Thankfully, getting to San Diego is quite easy!
You can fly right into the San Diego International Airport (SAN) which has many direct flights including New York City, Ft. Lauderdale, San Francisco, London, Munich, and Toronto to name a few.
Check with Skyscanner to find the best route and prices for your airport! You can also fly into LAX (Los Angeles) which has more direct flights and drive or take a quick flight.
It is also very popular to take road trips to San Diego. Some popular drives include:
- Los Angles to San Diego 120 miles (2 hours)
- Palm Springs to San Diego 140 miles (a little over 2 hours)
- Santa Barbara to San Diego 218 miles (4 hours)
- Las Vegas to San Diego 326 miles (5.5 hours)
- Pheonix to San Diego 356 miles (5.5 hours)
Planning on visiting Los Angeles? Check out this 3 Days LA Itinerary!
Getting Around San Diego
It has been implied throughout this 3 day San Diego itinerary, but in case you didn’t pick up what I’ve been putting down, the best way to explore America’s finest city is by renting a car.
Outside of the downtown area which is walkable, the rest of the city is pretty large and spread apart, so having a car will help you optimize your time. Bonus, we didn’t have much trouble parking around San Diego during our 3 days, and most parking was free.
If you don’t plan on renting a car, you can still get around the city. Some options would be to do the Trolley tour or use Uber. They also have the San Diego Metro System, however, with just 3 days in San Diego, it would take you a while to get where you wanted to go.
Where to Eat in San Diego
San Diego is a foodie hub! They are especially known for having great Mexican and seafood fare! Here are some of the top-rated restaurants to look out for and try during your 3 days in San Diego.
- Born and Raised – Steakhouse with a rooftop patio $$$$
- The Fish Market – San Diego – Menu
- Hodad’s – Burgers – Menu
- Ramiro’s Mexican Food – Breakfast Burritos, nothing fancy but really good and recommended by my local friend blogger friend Courtney from Le Travel Style
- The Taco Stand – Menu
Where to Stay During a Weekend in San Diego
San Diego is quite a big city, so it can be hard to choose where to stay. Some of the best neighborhoods you can choose are Pacific Beach, La Jolla, Downtown San Diego, and Coronado Island. Here is a list of some great places to stay during your 3 days in San Diego.
San Diego Marriott Gaslamp Quarter: Located in the heart of downtown San Diego at the Gaslamp Quarter. This 4-star hotel has great rooftop views of the San Diego skyline and is about a 20-minute walk to the beach.
Omni San Diego Hotel: Also located in downtown San Diego, The Omni is another great option. We are never disappointed with Omni properties. They have an awesome rooftop pool at this property.
Hyatt Regency La Jolla: Get out of the hustle and bustle of downtown San Diego and consider staying in La Jolla. This property is stunning and only a little over a mile to the beach.
Ocean Park Inn: If you want to be right on the beach, check out Ocean Park Inn located on Pacific Beach.
If you rather stay in a vacation home, check out Vrbo in San Diego!
When to Visit San Diego
Did you just get nervous that you might not be visiting San Diego at a good time? Well, don’t worry because there really is no bad time to visit San Diego! Due to San Diego’s geographical location, you can expect mild winters and dry summers with very little rain, making this Southern California city popular all year.
If you want to avoid the crowds, consider visiting San Diego during the fall and winter. We visited San Diego in February and it was pretty hot by mid-day.
Spring and summer are San Diego’s high seasons as people get ready for beach weather.
- Winter in San Diego: Low 48 F – High 66 F
- Spring in San Diego: Low 53 F – High 69 F
- Summer in San Diego: Low 62 F – High 77 F
- Fall in San Diego: Low 61 F – High 77 F
Weekend in San Diego Itinerary Wrap-up
This concludes our weekend in San Diego Itinerary! I hope you had the best 3 days exploring all that San Diego has to offer! If you are road tripping through California, also check out the below guides!
San Diego Itinerary Review:
Day 1 in San Diego: Visit Balboa Park and check out Seaport Village. Optional: USS Midway or Coronado Island. At night option of Gaslamp Quarter, Little Italy, or sunset cruise.
Day 2 in San Diego: La Jolla (Torrey Pines & Village of La Jolla), Point Loma, and Sunset Cliffs. At night option of Gaslamp Quarter, Pacific Beach, Little Italy.
Day 3 in San Diego: Old Town San Diego State Historic Site. Optional: Belmont Park (you can also do this at night), Coronado Island, a day trip to Tijuana, or a harbor cruise.
Have any questions about this San Diego itinerary or feel like I am missing something? Let me know in the comments below!