3 most amazing days in San Diego + Itinerary
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!
Also related to San Diego, check out 20 best places to eat and drink in San Diego!
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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!
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.
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.
Hotel recommendations in Gaslamp –
NOTE: Most of the hotels in Gaslamp and downtown charge about $40 for overnight parking.
This area is a few miles away from downtown but very close to the airport. Sheraton is a good place to stay.
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
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 –
Torreys Pines/Del Mar
These areas a little farther away but fancier and secluded. Choose these if you prefer luxurious getaways and relaxing time.
How to get around 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.
Are 3 days enough to visit San Diego?
A 3 day trip is ideal to visit San Diego. 3 days give you enough time to cover most of the attractions.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
You could take an hour long harbor cruise but I skipped it this time due to the combination of chilly weather and wind.
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.
For sunset, head over to Coronado beach for 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)
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
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
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
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
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.
Another fun place to visit for architecture lovers is UCSD. Some of the buildings there are beautifully designed architecturally!
La Jolla is a beautiful village along the coast with many fun things to do. While in La Jolla,
- Check out Downtown La Jolla with boutique stores, fun cafes and restaurants.
- 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!
- 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
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.
Here is a list of few of my favorites but for detailed restaurant recommendations and dishes to eat see my 20 best places to eat and drink in San Diego. Until then, here is a list of my favorite places to eat!
George’s at the cove
The taco stand
Other San Diego locations
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! 🙂
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3 day San Diego ITINERARY
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.
I love San Diego!! One of my favorite places. I love how you’ve broken down the itinerary even hourly! Awesome resource.
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!
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.
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!
We used to live in Oceanside, and I would HIGHLY recommend adding Swami’s cafe to the list of restaurants!!! Best breakfast EVER
Thank you for the recommendation. I will add it 🙂
You and the sunset. Beautiful view – my favorite image of all… Sunset at Windandsea beach, La Jolla
Thank you so much! Loved the place so much!
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