After going on our impromptu trip to Joshua Tree National Park and East Jesus, we drove to San Diego to meet my cousins Mark and Chantelle. San Diego is an easy drive if you’re coming from Los Angeles and it only took us around 2.5 hours from Joshua Tree National Park to get to San Diego.
And I did say we were winging our trip. So, while Audrey was driving, I was trying to find us accommodations in San Diego.
Here’s our 3-day San Diego itinerary:
Day 1: Balboa Park, Old Town and La Jolla
This is such a cool area, it reminds me a lot of the aesthetics in Spain with its plethora of different Spanish-Renaissance styled buildings and homes. We walked around and eventually wanted to try out Bird, which are scooters you can pay to rent so you can get around with ease. But Sab wasn’t so sure about her balancing skills so we just decided to continue getting around on foot. Because there’s so much to see and do in the park, it’s really a good decision if you allot an entire day of your 3 days in San Diego just for exploring it.
Balboa Park is San Diego’s cultural hub, where over 15 different museums can be found. This is also where you can find the San Diego Zoo. Entry to the grounds is free and it’s open every single day of the year, but many of the individual attractions and museums come with their respective entrance fees and charges.
Things to see in Balboa Park
The El Prado Complex
The El Prado Complex is one of the most picturesque and Instagrammable locations in the city of San Diego, which is probably the reason why so many people like to host events and even their own weddings in the area. It’s also where you can find most of the park’s museums, such as as the San Diego Museum of Art, Old Globe Theater, Museum of Man, Natural History Museum, Electrical Buildings, Botanical Building, the Museum of Photographic Arts, the Mingei Art Museum, and much more. Walking along the park, you’ll find that all sorts of people come to enjoy the atmosphere – both locals and tourists alike.
The Botanical Building is one of the many components nestled within the El Prado Complex, a large wooden dome-like building which is full of lots of different types of beautiful flora and plants. It’s so picturesque that you’ll often find photographers and models in beautiful dresses and high heels taking photoshoots amidst the background. In front of the botanical building is the Lily Pond which really adds to the beauty of the scenery.
Have late lunch at Lucha Libre and Dessert at Extraordinary Desserts
The Best San Diego itinerary isn’t complete without trying out the city’s food. After a long day of sightseeing at the El Prado Complex, head over to Lucha Libre, a quirky taco shop which makes delicious tacos from the best and freshest ingredients available – but their cool and eccentric interior decor is what really completes the experience. Extraordinary Desserts is the place to satisfy your sweet tooth cravings whatever they might be; they have a wide range of very delicious – and very presentable – options.
Head to the Old Town
The Old Town, quite literally, is a very old town! It’s the first European settlement in the area and is home to many establishments and museums where you can learn about the heritage and history of California, such as the Old Town State Historic Park, Heritage Park and Presidio Park. You’ll also find a ton of things to do, from theatres, shoppes, wine stories, breweries, delicious local eateries with lots of great Mexican restaurants (the area is known for fantastic burritos, tacos, and drinks) and even cultural celebrations depending on the week you decide to visit.
Sunset at La Jolla with the seals
End the first eventful day of your weekend in San Diego with a relaxing view of the seals and sea lions which can be found at the La Jolla shoreline. They can be spotted pretty much anywhere along the coastline but we found them over at the Children’s Pool, where they’re so concentrated to the point that people can no longer really swim there anymore. The sighting trail is one mile long and takes around 30-minutes to walk through.
Day 2 : Point Loma and Food Tour at Gas Lamp
Hit one of the treks or Point Loma
There are many trekking and hiking locations available in San Diego given it has a terrain practically made for the activity – and easy enough to fit into your 3 days in San Diego. Some areas include the:
- Torrey Pines State Park – Hike through the coastal state park in the La Jolla community and see fantastic views of the cliffs and beaches in the distance.
- Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail – A 6.8-mile trail which can easily be traversed by hikers of any skill level. It features a waterfall, and allows runners, mountain bikers, horse riders and even dog walkers along. It has lots of picnic spots and shady oak trees perfect for a rest or a nice picnic.
- Cowles Mountain – The mountain of which the summit is the highest point in San Diego – a great hike for panoramic views of the city. It takes around an hour and a half to get to the top of the 2.9 mile long trail.
If you want lovely view of the seas rather than land, then you might prefer Point Loma which has cliffs that offer spectacular sights. Here are some other things you can see in Point Loma:
- Cabrillo National Monument – See more views and learn more about California history
- Point Loma Lighthouse
- Osprey Point – A good fishing spot
- Point Loma Marina – A shop where you can purchase souvenirs, trinkets, and other memorabilia
Go on a Food Tour at the GasLamp District with So Diego Food Tour
In downtown San Diego, you’ll find the GasLamp Quarter which is a neighborhood well-known for their selection of clubs, bars, cocktail lounges – basically, it’s where all the best nightlife spots can be found.
Aside from drinking spots, however, it’s also home to some of the most loved restaurants and eateries in the city. ‘The Brothels, Bites, and Booze: San Diego Gaslamp Tour’ was the food tour we experienced – not only did we get to taste some of the best meals, drinks, and desserts in the area, but we also uncovered the history behind the city and how it sprung up from a small settlement into the prosperous San Diego we all know and love today. All in all, a San Diego food tour is a great way to eat your way through the delights the city has to offer.
Explore some drinking areas in GasLamp Quarter
As stated earlier, nightlife is the highlight of the GasLamp Quarter – and you can’t complete your Weekend in San Diego without having a nice celebratory drink. Here are some of the most beloved bars and pubs in the area you might want to try out:
- The Tipsy Crow – Serves up signature drinks alongside some yummy finger foods and live music. The prices at the tipsy crow tend to change like the stock market, so go on a good day and you might get lucky with cheaper-than-usual drinks.
- Patrick’s Gaslamp Pub – A very welcoming pub featuring blues bands live every night
- Henry’s Pub – A chill night spot with live music, American bar food, and live DJ, trivia, and karaoke nights.
Go Brewery Hopping
Try some of the cool breweries like:
- Mission Brewery – A craft brewery which hosts tours and has a tasting room where you can try out their unique creations
- Mikkeller Brewing San Diego – A cozy brewery with art plastered on the walls and a selection of 18 different beers to taste
- New English Brewing – Often called the best craft beer in San Diego – try out their award winning brews and taste for yourself how their English-style beers grew so popular.
- Stone Brewing World – A very hip and modern brewery with features not only international brews, but also a menu of various international eats to pair with your drink.
- AleSmith Brewing Company – Specialises in various ales and also gives free tours of their brewing facilities to allow visitors to learn more about how exactly the brewing process works.
If you want a more systematic and scheduled tour of the different breweries around San Diego, you might want to book a brewery tour – like the ones offered by Brewery Tours of San Diego.
Day 3: Day Trip to Tijuana
Go on a day trip in Tijuana or Join a Tijuana Food Tour
Given San Diego’s close proximity to Mexico, it’s a perfect time to cross the border and go on a good tour to try out some Mexican eats. Tijuana is the border city between Mexico and San Diego, a worthwhile visit during your Weekend in San Diego, where you can try lots of delicious food – especially their authentic tacos. It isn’t hard to get in either, all you have to do is present your identification card and visa, then you’re good to go.
See their traditional markets – The Mercado Hidalgo is the central market there, which sells lots of souvenirs, delicious local food, as well as large towering stacks of various in-season fruits and cheeses.
Where to Eat in San Diego
Spice up your weekend in San Diego by trying out some of the city’s most popular and highly rated restaurants and eateries – after all, food is a big part of the travel.
- Great Maple – A great place for brunch and American comfort foods, like their famed maple bacon doughnuts
- Donut Bar – Speciality doughnut shop that also serves beer – made quite viral on social media for their Homer doughnut inspired by the Simpsons.
- Cafe 222 – Delicious American classics, with their pumpkin waffles being a crowd-favorite.
- The Waffle Spot – A long running diner with a complete and hearty breakfast menu primarily specialising in homemade waffles and pancakes
Lunch and Dinner
- Las Cuatro Milpas – An authentic Mexican joint that makes their very own fresh and delicious tortillas in house
- Tajima – Authentic Japanese cuisine – their ramen is a must try
- Lolita’s – Another Mexican joint with delicious California burritos
- The Prado at Balboa Park – A beautiful and very Instagrammable hacienda with delicious California favorite food and drinks
- Juniper and Ivy – An upscale dining restaurant with great International food choices and hospitable service
Best time to go to San Diego
San Diego has pretty great weather all year round, but Spring (March to May) is one of the best times to visit the city – the weather is nice and sunny and there aren’t too many crowds around.
The summer months, from May to September, are also a great time to visit if you’re only taking the weather into account, however, because it’s vacation time for a lot of people it can be a bit crowded, and hotel and Airbnb bookings get just skyrocket to take advantage of the demand.
San Diego also hosts a popular Comic Convention which tends to have the hotels in the city sell out most of their rooms, so avoid visiting during their convention dates to avoid large crowds and overpriced accommodations. Winter is also a good time to visit, but do be prepared as it will be likely to rain during your Weekend in San Diego if you choose the months towards the end and start of the year.
How to get to San Diego
- Fly Directly to the San Diego International Airport
- Las Vegas to San Diego: A four hour drive – the most direct and quickest route is through Interstate 15. Passing through here also grants easy access to the Joshua Tree Park, just get off at the Cima Road.
- San Francisco to San Diego: A 7-8 hour drive if stops aren’t included. There are three different routes you can take: The I-5, 101, and Hwy 1 listed from shortest to longest travel time. The Hwy 1, while longer, has a lot more stops and tourist destinations however.
- Los Angeles to San Diego: Only a 1 to 2 hour drive via the I-5.