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3 most amazing days in San Diego + Itinerary

Spanish village art center Balboa Park San Diego

When I cannot take long vacations, I like to explore cities and getaways within California. Visiting California is many peoples’ dream and I am living the dream so it is only fair to make the most of sunny California. While I love exploring new places, I also enjoy spending time in cities that I had already visited and loved. One such city that I go back over and over again and never get bored of is San Diego. I recently spent 3 most amazing days in San Diego and loved every moment of it. I was surprised that I had never written a post about my favorite things to do and places to eat in San Diego. So this time around I made a note of all my favorite spots and published this comprehensive guide on how to spend 3 incredible days in San Diego. Enjoy!

Balboa park architecture

Balboa Park architecture

Old Town San Diego

Old Town, San Diego

Being the southernmost city in California, San Diego is the definition of what many people call “Cali life.” What is it that I love about San Diego? Its laidback life, friendly people, sunny warm beaches, beautiful coastline, lively downtown, amazing breweries, informative museums, parks, historic old town… I could go on and on! I love it so much that I had even considered moving there at one point! From the moment you set foot in San Diego, you will feel your stress melt away and I am not kidding! So how to spend 3 days in San Diego and make the most of it? Here is my 3 day itinerary with hotel, restaurant recommendations and my favorite places to visit! Check out my other post (coming soon!) about over 20 best restaurants in San Diego and what to eat there. 

Where to stay in San Diego (By Location)?

San Diego is pretty big and it can be a bit of a daunting task to decide where to stay. I’ve put together a list of areas and hotels to stay based on location and means of transport.

Gaslamp/Downtown

If you want to be near major tourist attractions or don’t plan to rent a car, this is the area to stay. Gaslamp is lively, fun and close to Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo, Petco Park and other main tourist attractions.

Gaslamp Plaza Suites San Diego

Gaslamp Plaza Suites, San Diego

Hotel recommendations in Gaslamp –

Gaslamp plaza suites

Moxy San Diego

Hotel Indigo

NOTE: Most of the hotels in Gaslamp and downtown charge about $40 for overnight parking.

Harbor/Marina

This area is a few miles away from downtown but very close to the airport. Sheraton is a good place to stay. 

Old Town

Old Town San Diego

Old Town, San Diego

If you love Old Town as much as I do and would love to stay close, Marriott is an option. It is a quiet neighborhood and gets pretty deserted in the evenings though.

La Jolla/Mission Beach

La Jolla cove, San Diego

La Jolla cove, San Diego

If you want to have a relaxing time and stay closer to the beaches and water activities, try these areas. 

Hotel recommendations in La Jolla and Mission Beach –

Sheraton La Jolla

Dana Mission beach

Torreys Pines/Del Mar

These areas a little farther away but fancier and secluded. Choose these if you prefer luxurious getaways and relaxing time.

Fairmont Del Mar

Hilton Torrey Pines

How to get around in San Diego?

You will most probably need a car to get around San Diego.

Uber/Lyft are good but can get expensive. You could also try the hop on/hop off bus for touristy places. I’ve seen public transit around downtown but have not tried them.

3 days in San Diego – Itinerary

DAY 1 (Downtown, Balboa Park, Coronado Island)

Spend Day 1 covering the most famous attractions in San Diego.

Start your day with breakfast at Breakfast Republic or Cafe21. 

Balboa Park

Balboa Park Japanese Gardens San Diego

Balboa Park Japanese gardens, San Diego

First stop of Day 1 is the famous 1200 acre Balboa Park. It is truly one of the most beautiful parks with so many things to do and you could easily spend a whole day or more here. Some of my favorite places to visit in Balboa Park are listed below.

Spanish Village art center
Spanish village art center Balboa Park San Diego

Spanish village art center, Balboa Park, San Diego

Spanish village art center Balboa Park San Diego

Spanish village art center, Balboa Park, San Diego

One of my favorite spots in the park. There are so many stores and colorful details to explore here. There is a gem store, ceramic store, glass blowing shop and many art galleries.

The pond and botanical building
Balboa Park pond San Diego

Balboa Park pond, San Diego

Built in 1915 for Panama convention, the pond soon became the postcard of Balboa park. The pond was used to teach army troops rowing during WWII. It is a fun place to take photos and chill. 

Casa del Prado
Casa del Prado Balboa Park

Casa del Prado, Balboa Park

Prado restaurant courtyard Balboa Park

Prado restaurant courtyard, Balboa Park

It is a theatre with gorgeous Spanish architecture and beautiful courtyards. El Prado restaurant is also a nice place to eat if you are in the park during lunch time.

Museum of Man
Museum of Man San Diego

Museum of Man, San Diego

This is one of the most interesting museums you will find. They have amazing exhibits that are unique, thought provoking and eye opening. During my last visit, I learnt about torture tools used by man from ancient to modern times. This time around, it was about cannibalism and its origins. It is not repulsive but thought provoking. This museum is a must visit if you like to learn about human evolution. They also had exhibits about race which was once again, thought provoking.

Museum of art and Natural history museum 
San Diego Museum of Art

San Diego Museum of Art

Natural history museum San Diego

Natural history museum, San Diego

These are worth exploring if you have the time.

San Diego Zoo

If you are into zoos, San Diego Zoo is pretty famous and is inside Balboa park.

There is also a Japanese garden and a sculpture garden in the park. Like I mentioned, you could easily spend a day or two here.

After lunch at one of many restaurants in Gaslamp or Prado restaurant inside the park, head over to the Harbor and Marina. 

Harbor Cruise

You could take an hour long harbor cruise but I skipped it this time due to the combination of chilly weather and wind.

Coronado Island

Coronado Island bridge San Diego

Coronado Island bridge, San Diego

San Diego skyline view from Tidelands park

San Diego skyline view from Tidelands park

After the harbor cruise, drive over to Coronado Island via the 2 mile long bridge.

Coronado Island is quaint little town with many boutique stores, hotels with ocean views and pretty views of San Diego skyline.

Stop at Coronado Tidelands Park for pretty views of San Diego skyline. 

Hotel del Coronado San Diego

Hotel del Coronado San Diego

Sunset at Coronado beach

Sunset at Coronado beach

For sunset, head over to Coronado beach to watch the most beautiful sunset ever. While you are there, check out the famous Hotel del Coronado

End the day with dinner at one of the restaurants in Coronado Island or Gaslamp (again!). 🙂

DAY 2 (Old Town, Point Loma Lighthouse, Cabrillo Monument, Sunset Cliffs, Gaslamp at night)

Old Town

Old Town San Diego

Old Town, San Diego

Old Town San Diego

Old Town, San Diego

Old Town San Diego buildings

Old Town San Diego buildings

Old Town San Diego

Old Town, San Diego

First stop on Day 2 of our 3 day San Diego itinerary is Old Town. Considered as the birthplace of California, Old Town is also the oldest settlement in California. Father Junipero Serra established his first mission in the 1700s here and went on to establish 21 more going north. Early Mexicans and Americans then built homes here and formed a community back in the 1820s and 1840s. It is a really interesting place to visit and learn about early California. There are many fun shops to explore here. Some of my favorites are the candle shop, candy shop, the stores in Fiesta de Reyes and Temecula olive oil company. 

Cabrillo Monument and Point Loma Lighthouse

Cabrillo Monument San Diego

Cabrillo Monument, San Diego

Cabrillo Monument San Diego view

San Diego views from Cabrillo Monument

Point Loma pools San Diego

Point Loma pools, San Diego

Named after the first European explorer to set foot on the West coast of the US, this is a great place to learn about the explorer and his adventures. This monument is on a hill and also provides great views of San Diego. Point Loma lighthouse and tide pools  are also close by and good spots to visit while you are there.

Sunset Cliffs Park

Sunset at Sunset Cliffs park

Sunset at Sunset Cliffs park

On your way back, stop at sunset cliffs park for an amazing sunset. Pappy point is the best spot to view sunset on these cliffs. I love how people in San Diego take time out of their busy schedules and make it a point to watch the sun set over the ocean. 

Bonus: USS Midway Museum

If you have more time or prefer museum to the lighthouse, visit the USS Midway Museum.

I didn’t get a chance to but I really want to visit this aircraft carrier turned museum during my next visit.

Gaslamp at night

Gaslamp quarter San Diego at night

Gaslamp quarter San Diego at night

Historic Gaslamp Quarter San Diego

Historic Gaslamp Quarter San Diego

Walk around the gaslamp quarter at night. Gaslamp area is so much more fun at night, especially on the weekends. There are many bars, restaurants and clubs that you could easily go bar hopping, dancing until late at night.

DAY 3 (La Jolla, Torrey Pines)

Spend Day 3 exploring the charming La Jolla and Torrey Pines.

Torrey Pines Natural Preserve

Hanggliding at Torrey Pines Natural Preserve San Diego

Hang-gliding at Torrey Pines Natural Preserve San Diego

Torrey Pines natural preserve ocean view

Torrey Pines natural preserve

Great place to watch hang gliders or try hang gliding if you fancy. This park also offers gorgeous coastal views and is a great place to watch sunset.

For the architecture buffs

If you love unique architecture, Salk Institute near Torrey Pines Natural Preserve is a cool building to visit. The Salk Institute is only open M-F, 9 – 5pm, so plan accordingly.

Salk Institute Torrey Pines San Diego

Salk Institute, Torrey Pines, San Diego

Salk Institute Torrey Pines San Diego

Salk Institute, Torrey Pines, San Diego

Another fun place to visit for architecture lovers is UCSD. Some of the buildings there are beautifully designed architecturally!

UCSD Geisel library

UCSD Geisel library

UCSD architecture

UCSD architecture

La Jolla

La Jolla is a beautiful village along the coast with many fun things to do. While in La Jolla,

La Jolla Palm trees

La Jolla palm trees

La Jolla Palm trees

La Jolla palm trees

  • Check out Downtown La Jolla with boutique stores, fun cafes and restaurants.
La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove

  • Visit La Jolla cove. La Jolla cove is a marine preserve and a fun place to kayak and snorkel. I’ve seen many people scuba dive here as well. Keep any eye out for seals as well!
Childrens pool La Jolla

Childrens’ pool, La Jolla

  • Walk to the Childrens’ pool beach. It is less than 10min walk from the cove and is a great beach to watch birds and hundreds of seals. The city built a sea wall and planned to have a kids’ pool there but the seals had other plans. They came in hundreds and stayed there! So now, it is a kind of sanctuary for them. 

Sunset at Windandsea Beach

Sunset at Windandsea beach, La Jolla

Sunset at Windandsea beach, La Jolla

Sunset at Windandsea beach, La Jolla

Sunset at Windandsea beach, La Jolla

Sunset at Windandsea beach, La Jolla

Sunset at Windandsea beach, La Jolla

Skip the La Jolla cove and go to Windandsea beach to watch another epic sunset!

End your day with the most yummy tacos at Puesto, La Jolla.

Restaurant recommendations

I am going to write a detailed post about the best restaurants (over 20 of them!) and foods to eat in San Diego soon. Until then, here is a list of my favorite places to eat!

Prado restaurant Balboa Park

Prado restaurant, Balboa Park

Gaslamp

Café 21

Barleymash

Seville

Lionfish

La Jolla

George’s at the cove

Puesto

The taco stand

Other San Diego locations

Communal Café

Oscar’s seafood

The Prado restaurant

There you have it – an epic 3 day itinerary to San Diego! Hope you have fun in the sun in San Diego! 

As always, if you visit any of these places, tag me on Instagram or comment below! 🙂

PIN FOR LATER

3 day San Diego itinerary

3 day itinerary San Diego

3 days in San Diego itinerary

3 day San Diego ITINERARY

San Diego Itinerary Day 1

San Diego Itinerary Day 2

San Diego Itinerary Day 3

 

Aswani-Kurra-A-Charming-Escape

Hi there!

I am Aswani Kurra. I am an engineer, dreamer and part-time wanderlust, writer and wine lover. I always had an urge to write, create and travel. So I created this space to satisfy my creative itch and combine all my skills to help you plan your Charming Escape.

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4 Comments

  1. Julie on March 15, 2020 at 12:37 am

    I love San Diego!! One of my favorite places. I love how you’ve broken down the itinerary even hourly! Awesome resource.

  2. Linnea on March 15, 2020 at 8:17 am

    What a great guide! I haven’t been in so long, but I would love to go back to San Diego! I’ll use this when I visit soon!

  3. Josy A on March 16, 2020 at 3:12 am

    I love the look of the coast line and wowza for the sunsets! The whole of San Diego looks appealing right now as I freeze my ass off here in Canada! (Yesterday we were in whistler, and it was -20C!) You are lucky to have somewhere so fun to explore close to home.

  4. Andi on March 16, 2020 at 4:17 am

    I love the format of the actual schedule! I love San Diego, I used to go quite often and always thoroughly enjoyed it so much!

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