San Diego Travel Guide
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12 Ultimate Things to Do in San Diego

"'Happiness is calling" in America's finest city.

No matter the season, San Diego always has an abundance of activities available to visitors, from hiking and kayaking to shopping and dining. These 12 quintessential experiences combine the active Southern California lifestyle with San Diego’s laidback vibe.

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PHOTO: melissamn/Shutterstock
1 OF 12

Hike Mount Woodson

Due to San Diego’s varied terrain, a range of hiking trails is accessible for any skill level. Aptly nicknamed the Potato Chip Rock hike, Mount Woodson is best known for a picturesque rock formation that juts out of the mountainside—providing a timely photo op for hikers. It’s not uncommon for people to wait in line to climb up on the rock and have their photo taken, since the trail can get crowded on weekends. This steep hike located between Poway and Ramona isn’t for the faint of heart, taking most people about three hours to complete the 6.4-mile loop. But if for no other reason, do it for the Insta-worthy photo.

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PHOTO: Edelweiss Melanie Stocker/Sandiego.org
2 OF 12

Explore the Gaslamp Quarter

Head downtown to San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter, a bustling neighborhood for shopping, dining, and nightlife. Covering more than 16 city blocks, the Gaslamp Quarter is named for the gaslamp street lights that were used to differentiate this part of town when it was first developed in 1850. Today, the walkable district is home to restaurants, hotels, shops, bars, and nightclubs, as well as Westfield Horton Plaza mall and Horton Plaza Park. It’s also in close proximity to San Diego Convention Center and Petco Park stadium. Visitors often take guided walking tours of the district or enjoy block parties and parades held during special events.

INSIDER TIPThere are plenty of paid lots and garages throughout the Gaslamp Quarter, but metered street parking is limited. Taking Uber or Lyft, or renting scooters or bikes, are good alternatives. Beware heavy traffic during baseball games at Petco Park.

 

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PHOTO: Steve Gould/Dreamstime
3 OF 12

Bet on a Race at Del Mar Racetrack

Make your way to Del Mar Racetrack, “where the turf meets the surf,” for a full day of horse races. While the wagers may start small ($2 minimum bet), spectators’ hats will be big—following racetrack tradition. The track sees an average of about 12 races per day, with approximately 30 minutes between each race. The main racing season begins in July—with opening day being the season’s busiest—and runs through early September. A shorter fall racing season starts up in November, only lasting about a month. Be prepared for loud cheering, boozy cocktails, and dapper attire.

INSIDER TIPRaces are held Wednesday through Sunday, and general admission starts at $6.

 

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PHOTO: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock
4 OF 12

Spend a Day Exploring Balboa Park

A hub of cultural offerings, Balboa Park is a 1,200-acre urban park that houses 17 museums, performing arts venues, gardens, sculptures, and other attractions. Check for new exhibits at the San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego Air & Space Museum, or San Diego Natural History Museum; explore the Japanese Friendship Garden or Botanical Building; catch a performance at WorldBeat Cultural Center or Spreckels Organ Pavilion; or stop and smell the 1,600 roses that fill Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden. During weekends, visitors can enter the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages to learn about cultures represented throughout the exposition houses. And with buskers performing throughout the park most days, there’s never a shortage of entertainment.

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PHOTO: Annie Pearson/Sandiego.org
5 OF 12

Stroll a Local Farmers Market

Thanks to California’s bounty of fresh produce, local farmers markets boast a cornucopia of quality foodstuff—and San Diego’s bustling markets are no exception. The Little Italy Mercato has more than 200 vendors spread throughout five city blocks along Date Street every Saturday from 8 am to 2 pm, including specialty food products, fresh flowers, and baked bread. Due to popular demand, they recently added a second market—smaller in size—to the Little Italy lineup on Wednesday from 9 am to 1 pm. Every Sunday, the Hillcrest Farmers Market takes over a DMV Office parking lot from 9 am to 2 pm to host 175 vendors selling arts and crafts, local produce, and handmade gifts—plus a large selection of prepared foods. Come hungry so you can enjoy the made-to-order international cuisine.

INSIDER TIPMost market vendors accept credit card payments but plan to bring your own shopping bags.

 

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PHOTO: 4kclips/Shutterstock
6 OF 12

Ride the Ferry Over to Coronado

Cruise San Diego Bay for only $5 aboard the Coronado Ferry, which operates between downtown San Diego and the Coronado Ferry Landing. Bring your bike along (no extra charge) to explore the flat, beachy community of Coronado on wheels. The 15-minute ferry ride provides a great vantage point of the Downtown skyline and Naval Air Station North Island. Ferries leave Downtown from Broadway Pier and the San Diego Convention Center every hour, returning from Coronado Ferry Landing every 30 minutes. The Coronado Ferry Landing has shops, waterfront restaurants, and bike and kayak rentals, and is often the site of special events including live music and a weekly farmers’ market.

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PHOTO: Boycez/Shutterstock
7 OF 12

Shop and Dine in Seaport Village

Situated along a prime piece of waterfront real estate, Seaport Village is a 14-acre shopping and dining destination located between Downtown and the harbor. The open-air complex is home to more than 50 shops and 13 eateries, as well as winding walking paths along the Embarcadero that provide stellar views. Seaport Village hosts special events throughout the year, including a Busker Festival in spring, Landlubbers Day celebration in fall, and a Surfin’ Santa event during the holidays. Located directly behind Seaport Village, The Headquarters at Seaport District is a former police headquarters that has since been transformed into an additional shopping and dining plaza. Here you can get delicious tacos, artisan chocolates, fine art photography, and beachwear—all in one place.

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Coronado Brewing
8 OF 12

Visit the Tasting Room of a Local Craft Brewery

With more than 150 craft breweries spread throughout San Diego County, it’s safe to say you’ll have an easy time finding quality beer. Locally, India Pale Ale is a popular varietal, but brews of every kind have menu representation here. Many of the tasting rooms are attached to larger production facilities, and offer free, guided brewery tours to guests. Be aware that not every brewery has a restaurant on-site—some let patrons bring in outside food, and others have rotating food trucks scheduled. If you can’t decide which brewery to visit, opt for any brewpub with local pours on tap. Bottoms up!

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PHOTO: SunflowerMomma/Shutterstock
9 OF 12

Book a Kayak Tour or Surf Lesson in La Jolla Shores

Perhaps one of the best local beaches for water sports, La Jolla Shores has a host of rental and tour companies located just steps from the sand. For surf or stand-up paddleboard lessons, head to Surf Diva, which offers co-ed group and private lessons, as well as camps and clinics for all ages. Everyday California has group snorkel and kayak tours, including their popular 90-minute Seven Sea Caves kayak tour that explores the La Jolla Ecological Reserve. No prior experience is necessary, but reservations are strongly recommended.

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PHOTO: Robert Briggs/Shutterstock
10 OF 12

Eat Baja-Style Fish Tacos

San Diego is said to be the birthplace of fish tacos in America, embracing this Mexican export that originated in the Baja California peninsula decades earlier. Traditionally, the main components include flaky white fish filets that have been battered and fried, cabbage, pico de gallo, crema, fresh lime, and corn tortillas. Popular among the surfing crowd and featured on countless menus across town, fish tacos are the unofficial, must-try meal of San Diego.

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PHOTO: Edelweiss Melanie Stocker/Sandiego.org
11 OF 12

Visit Old Town for Mexican Food and Souvenirs

Appropriately called Old Town, San Diego’s oldest and most storied neighborhood also happens to be California’s earliest settlement, founded in 1769. Today, Old Town is a hub for Mexican restaurants, souvenir shops, and other cultural and historical attractions—including Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, Whaley House Museum, and El Campo Santo Cemetery. Visitors can expect annual blowout celebrations for Cinco de Mayo (May 5) and Day of the Dead (typically held over Halloween weekend), featuring live entertainment, cultural displays, and ceremonial processions.

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PHOTO: Lisa Field/Sandiego.org
12 OF 12

Observe the Seals Basking in La Jolla Cove

Observe seals and sea lions in their natural habitat as they congregate on the sand and rocks throughout Children’s Pool Beach in La Jolla Cove. For a great vantage point along Coast Avenue, walk along the sea cliffs toward the seawall, looking down over Children’s Pool Beach. People are advised to keep their distance from the sea mammals and are not permitted to touch or feed them. Beware that these playful creatures can leave a strong odor of feces in their wake.