Things to do in
San Diego

Think of California and you'll picture all things San Diego: surfer hair, slow pace, and guaranteed sun.

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Our most recommended things to do in San Diego

Skip-the-Line: USS Midway Museum Entry Ticket

1. Skip-the-Line: USS Midway Museum Entry Ticket

Take a self-guided audio tour onboard the world’s longest-serving aircraft carrier, the historic USS Midway. See the carrier’s 25 restored aircraft from the days of WWII to Operation Desert Storm. Visit areas throughout the Midway, from the crew's sleeping quarters to the pilots' ready rooms. Docents are available throughout the carrier and are eager to share their stories, anecdotes, and statistics, creating a picture of just how important the USS Midway was to the U.S. Navy. Most guests spend 3 to 4 hours exploring this historic aircraft carrier and learning its history. The included audio guide, available in 6 languages, will help you explore the dozens of highlighted areas across the massive ship.  There are family-oriented activities throughout the Museum. Included are 3 types of flight simulators, music videos, short films, climb-aboard aircraft and cockpits, and more. The Museum is located at the Navy Pier in downtown San Diego.

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San Diego: Harbor Cruise

2. San Diego: Harbor Cruise

See San Diego's best sights. Learn about the city and enjoy a cruise on the bay. Depending on the option booked, this tour takes you under the Coronado Bridge, past military ships, waterfront landmarks, and marine life for a look at San Diego's scenic beauty and fascinating history. This tour’s luxury ships offer three levels with comfortable indoor and outdoor seating, 360-degree views, and an on-board snack bar serving snacks, soda, beer, wine and cocktails (available for purchase). This is a great way to experience San Diego from the water.

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San Diego: Dinner Cruise

3. San Diego: Dinner Cruise

The three-hour Dinner Cruise combines culinary excellence – think crisp salads, braised ribs and oven roasted salmon entrees, and luscious desserts – with unforgettable scenery and ambient music.  This Nightly Dinner cruise is famous around the world and is compared to the dinner cruises in New York and in Paris. San Diego’s dinner cruise combines breathtaking city views, great food, and drinks.  Stroll the spacious decks, watch the sunset before dinner. Dinner is buffet-style with an elaborate wine list, upgrades and additions, and vegetarian option. After dinner, listen to relaxing music, as you enjoy your dessert and coffee. Photos are taken at beginning of the cruise, can be purchased at the end! You’ll be thrilled to know that your dining experience does not have cruise-style seating, you’ll have privacy at your table and not be seated with strangers.

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San Diego: Whale Watching Tours

4. San Diego: Whale Watching Tours

Marvel at the amazing views of San Diego Bay as you look out for sightings of marine wildlife including dolphins, sea lions, gray whales, and more. Your tour will be led by ocean experts as you get a deeper understanding of the ocean ecosystem and the sea creatures that live in it. Discover the San Diego coast on a two-story whale watching yacht, featuring 360-degree views from the main level and upper sundeck, multiple restrooms, and free guest WiFi. You will follow the whale migration path to bring you up close for the best sighting spots, which change every day. Early in the season, whales swim closer to the coast, so the maximum distance is about 3-5 miles. On their return trip, northbound whales swim further out, up to 9-12 miles off the coast. Make sure to wear layers as it can get pretty cool on the bay and don't forget to wear your sunscreen and hat while on this excursion. Bring your camera to capture all the memories you'll make on this exciting adventure.

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San Diego Zoo: 1-Day Admission Ticket

5. San Diego Zoo: 1-Day Admission Ticket

Visit the world-famous San Diego Zoo, home to over 4,500 rare and endangered animals, and experience their worlds at the Polar Bear Plunge, Elephant Odyssey, and other areas. The 100-acre San Diego Zoo is known for its naturalistic habitats and unique animal encounters. An urban paradise for all ages, the San Diego Zoo is a must-see in Southern California. Winding paths through the tropical oasis of a botanical garden bring you to the zoo‘s rare and fascinating animals, including koalas, Galápagos tortoises, tigers, eagles, flamingos, great apes, and more. Other exotic animals you may encounter include Sichuan takins, Buerger’s tree-kangaroos, arctic foxes, pangolin, and Visayan warty pigs. Explore Africa Rocks to discover penguins, baboons, the mysterious fossa, weaver birds, and other unique creatures. The festive, lively atmosphere makes the San Diego Zoo a great place for family fun and gathering friends. Discover the wonders of wildlife with animal encounters, interactive experiences, and exciting animal presentations and shows. The Zoo’s 17 Galápagos tortoises are now at home at the Fetter Family Galápagos Tortoise Exhibit. When keepers are present, you can pet and occasionally feed the tortoises over a short rock barrier. At the Conrad Prebys Polar Bear Plunge, you can get closer to polar bears than ever before. Climb aboard an Arctic research helicopter, crawl into a bear den, or measure yourself against the size of a polar bear. The Harry and Grace Steele Elephant Odyssey is a 7.5-acre habitat and a first-of-its-kind experience. This area combines the fun of a zoo with the experience of a museum by creating an untamed landscape of animals from the past and present. A leader in animal care and conservation, the San Diego Zoo is at the heart of the San Diego experience.

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90-Minute San Diego SEAL Tour

6. 90-Minute San Diego SEAL Tour

Splash into San Diego’s most unique sightseeing tour. See the best of San Diego on land and in the water. Take a seat on the San Diego SEAL tour, an adventure that takes you through the most interesting sights in the city before heading out into the harbor of San Diego. Your 90-minute fully-narrated tour will wind through picturesque San Diego streets before splashing into the water for a cruise of San Diego Bay. On land, you will pass the Embarcadero and San Diego International Airport. You will learn about the importance of the military in San Diego and other San Diego icons as you travel along the scenic coast. Once you splash into the Big Bay, you will glide by Navy ships, tugboats and fishing vessels throughout the harbor as you listen to stories of early sailors. Experience the history and ecological wonders of San Diego in the comfort and security of a virtually unsinkable Hydra-Terra. Driven by our experienced captains, these amphibious vehicles are specially designed and built to navigate on both sea and land. Each one is Coast Guard approved and meets all passenger vehicle and department of transportation requirements to ensure safety and comfort for all. Both tour bus and boat, the San Diego SEAL journeys through San Diego by land and sea. Our unique amphibious vehicles are Coast Guard approved, ensuring you a safe, one of a kind experience. Relax and enjoy amazing views during the best sightseeing adventure in San Diego.

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Old Town San Diego: Hop-on Hop-off Narrated Tour

7. Old Town San Diego: Hop-on Hop-off Narrated Tour

Join the Hop-on Hop-Off Tour of Old Town San Diego at any of the tour's 11 boarding points and visit more than 100 interesting points in Coronado and San Diego at your own pace. You can begin at any time of the day and listen to the entertaining narration of the on-board conductors along the way. San Diego is known as America’s Finest City, and as you explore the sights of Old Town and the scenic coastline you’ll see why. Opt to begin your tour at the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, where you’ll see original adobe homes and artifacts from the earliest Mexican settlements. At the Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum you’ll learn about the importance of the U.S. Navy presence in San Diego. Then continue on to nearby Seaport Village, where you can stop for refreshments and enjoy shopping and entertainment. In the historic Gaslamp Quarter you’ll find loads of shops and other interesting places located in Victorian-themed buildings. One particular house of interest is the William Heath Davis House. Built in saltbox style, it is similar to the original home of Davis, who founded New Town San Diego. When you’re back on the trolley you’ll be entertained once again by the conductor’s narration. Continue on to the well-known Hotel del Coronado, one of America’s leading resorts. You may choose to take a stroll through nearby Balboa Park, along El Prado, the promenade lined with Spanish-style buildings. With more stops than any other tour, this hop-on hop-off trolley ride is guaranteed to deliver. In addition to sightseeing, enjoy free shuttle service to and from select area hotels, a map and day planner, and $70 in discount coupons to use at restaurants and area attractions. Hop on or hop off at 11 convenient stops: • Old Town State Historic Park • Maritime Museum of San Diego/Star of India • San Diego Embarcadero • Seaport Village • Marriott Marquis & Marina • Gaslamp Quarter • Petco Park/San Diego Convention Center • Barrio Logan • Coronado/Orange Avenue • Balboa Park and El Prado Museums • Little Italy Gold Pass includes: • Old Town Trolley Hop-On Hop-Off Tour • Admission to the Whaley House Museum Platinum Pass includes: • Old Town Trolley Hop-On Hop-Off Tour• Admission to the Whaley House Museum • Admission to the San Diego Maritime Museum/Star of India • Discounts on the Maritime Museum Harbor Tours

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La Jolla: 90-Minute Sea Cave Kayaking Tour with Guide

8. La Jolla: 90-Minute Sea Cave Kayaking Tour with Guide

Discover San Diego's Marine Protected Area, home to a variety of fish, birds, dolphins, turtles, sea-lions, and whales. With the help of an experienced guide, explore the famous Sea Caves of La Jolla and kayak inside Emerald Cave. Watch sea lions sunbathing on the rocks and swimming in the sanctuary. Marvel at the bright orange garibaldi as they stand out among the vibrant green sea grass and numerous other fish swimming around and delighting the eye. In the summer and fall months, tour groups will often see harmless leopard sharks, and you may also find grey whales in their migration during the winter. You might even see dolphins cruising alongside your kayak before you make your way back and prepare to surf your kayak back to shore.

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San Diego Zoo Safari Park 1-Day Ticket

9. San Diego Zoo Safari Park 1-Day Ticket

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is an adventurer’s safari paradise in Southern California. The 1,800-acre Safari Park is home to more than 3,000 animals representing more than 375 species—many living in wide, open field enclosures. So jump onto one of our thrilling array of tours and create memories of adventure for you and your family – all while benefiting the conservation of species here and in more than 35 countries across the globe. Welcome to a land of volcanoes, tropical rain forests, a treasure trove of biodiversity—and tigers. Sumatra is home to the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, along with other endangered species such as orangutans, rhinos, and elephants. Tiger Trail provides a journey to discover tigers and their current struggles within their island world. Lion Camp - Get nose to nose with our African lion pride—literally! Bring the kids up close to see lions that may come right up to the glass to check you out. Heart of Africa - The winding trails take you through an African forest and savanna to a serene lake. Stop and cool off at Jamison Research Island. Elephant Overlook - An elevated walkway takes you out where you can get a closer look at our Elephant Cam stars. Don't miss the youngsters born right here! Hidden Jungle - Enter our tropical greenhouse and experience a habitat of exotic birds, insect, and plants, home to our annual Butterfly Jungle event. Wings of the World Aviary - Everything in this free-flight aviary is designed to approximate the natural turf for over 140 birds of 40 species. Condor Ridge - Follow the trail of North American habitats and animals to see bighorn sheep and learn the great conservation story of the California condors. Other activities included in your admission: Elephant Enrichment - Watch our elephant herd enjoy morning treats. Discovery Station - This kid-friendly area is filled with musical instruments, puppets, books, craft activities, and wildlife “toys” and is designed to give children and their adult companions a playful space for animal-themed fun. Savanna Cool Zone - Walk through palm trees offering a gentle mist to three slippery critters that spout water: a turtle, a lion, and a crocodilian. Jameson Research Island Interpretive Center. Africa Tram Safari - Guided tour rides depart 10 a.m. until 4:15 p.m. daily (The Africa Tram Safari is an exciting expedition with brightly colored tour vehicles and our diverse animal collection creating a relaxing adventure. Lorikeet Landing - Watch our colorful rainbow lorikeets swoop down to enjoy nectar offered by guests. Exhibit entrance if free; lorikeet food is available for purchase to experience the thrill of feeding these birds by hand. Petting Kraal - Touch gentle deer and antelope. Have you “herd”? with Robert the Zebra - Robert the Zebra lives in digital, animated form on a large screen, where he can see the people who have come to visit. He asks questions, cracks jokes, talks about zebra life, and is very curious about humans. Frequent Flyers® Bird Show - An East African crowned crane in flight is a stunning sight viewed by only a privileged few, until now! The crane is one of the stars of the Park’s bird show, Frequent Flyers. The program lets you witness birds in full flight and focuses on a variety of birds from around the world. Animal Encounters - This interactive program gives you an opportunity to have face-to-face contact with the Park’s animal ambassadors like a cheetah, alligator, serval, and other rare and exotic animals. You may interact with trainers and ask questions about the species. Cheetah Tales - Come meet our cheetah ambassadors in Heart of Africa. Note: Schedules may vary or be canceled due to weather or animal health needs.

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San Diego: Whale and Dolphin Watching Cruise

10. San Diego: Whale and Dolphin Watching Cruise

San Diego is one of the best locations to watch whales year-round. Gray Whales migrate winter-spring from feeding grounds in Alaskan waters to calving lagoons in Baja California and back. In summer, the legendary Blue Whales, the largest animals on Earth, commonly feed off-shore of the San Diego coast. You may also spot Fin, Blue, Humpback, and Minke whales during the summer whale watching season. Additionally, you'll often see pods of Dolphins including Risso’s, Common, Pacific White-Sided, and Bottlenose Dolphins. Your captain will also highlight other wildlife such as Sea Lions, various fish like Mola Mola (Sunfish), and a variety of marine birds such as Herons, Terns, Pelicans, and Gulls.  View these extraordinary mammals in the wild on this spectacular cruise. The expert crew will help you locate these creatures and additional marine wildlife, such as dolphins and sea lions. Learn about marine life and local environmental efforts from professional captains and whalers who work at the San Diego Natural History Museum. You may even spot a whale calf traveling with its mother as they return from the Arctic. This is a fantastic and exhilarating journey for all age groups. Guaranteed whale or dolphin sighting. If you don't sight some type of whale or dolphin during the cruise, you'll be issued a pass that's good for another San Diego whale watching or harbor cruise. San Diego is quickly becoming one of the world’s best whale watching locations. The city is home to whales, dolphins, and sea birds, and features one of the world's most beautiful coastlines.  Enjoy live educational narration from captains and trained naturalists employed by the Natural History Museum.  Watch blue whales and dolphins in comfort on a large, fast, and stable boat!

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Frequently asked questions about San Diego

What top attractions are a must-see in San Diego?

Which tours in San Diego are taking additional COVID-19 precautions?

Planning Your Visit

  • What about the beaches?

    There are plenty of places to swim, surf or sunbathe in San Diego, and it's warm all year round, just don't expect tropical waters: the North Pacific Ocean is famously cool. La Jolla is popular for watersports such as kayaking and snorkeling, while Ocean Beach is lined with palm trees and has an impressive skatepark.

  • When is ComicCon International?

    Every year, thousands of self-confessed nerds descend on San Diego for the annual ComicCon comic book convention. The event has grown year on year, and now encompasses everything superhero, fantasy and pop culture have to offer, including scores of big-name actors. The event takes place over four days in July.

Good to know

  • Language
    English
  • Currency
    USD ($)
  • Time Zone
    UTC (-08:00)
  • Country Code
    +1
  • Best time to visit
    Plan your visit from March to May or September to November, when you'll still have warm weather, but will avoid the school holiday crowds.

Insider tips: Planning a trip to San Diego

San Diego, the 8th largest city in the United States, is famous for its temperate year-round weather, gorgeous sunsets and lots of fun things to do. The famous San Diego Zoo, beautiful Balboa Park and downtown nightlife make San Diego a favorite destination for families. There is so much to do in San Diego that we enlisted the travel experts at TravelingMom, a leading family travel website, to share their favorite things to do and tips for making the most of a visit, even if you only have a few days. Here you can look into TravelingMom's San Diego guide.

What should I do on my first trip to San Diego?

Balboa Park in downtown San Diego is an absolute can't miss. This 1,200-acre mid-city park is fille with gardens, museums, cultural spots, theaters, playgrounds and walking trails. There are plenty of low-cost and free things for families to explore within Balboa Park. The beautiful beaches are another wonderful place to spend a warm day in San Diego. Whether you're looking for tidepooling in Point Loma, boardwalk fun in Mission Beach, or cliffside sunsets in La Jolla, there's a beach that just right for your family.

What are some hidden gems to see in San Diego?

San Diego is best known for its beaches, but there is so much more nature to discover, including desertscapes and mountain fun. For hiking, fishing and camping, head to the Laguna Mountains to experience unplugged family time.

How much time should I spend in San Diego?

It is nearly impossible to experience all of the wonders of San Diego in one visit. Consider focusing your visit into one area, starting with either downtown or the beaches. To explore the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, Coronado Island and other downtown activities, plan on 4-5 days. A beach vacation to San Diego could be a weekend getaway, by choosing one beach to visit per day depending on your family's favorite acticities -- surfing, boardwalk rides and games, swimming, snorkling or tidepooling.

What food is San Diego known for?

Tacos are San Diego's best known meal, namely fish tacos made with white fish, usually yellowfin or bluefin tuna. Nearly every restaurant menu will offer a version of this San Diego speciality. Fish tacos are generally breaded and deep fried fish filets, served in a warm corn tortilla with white sauce, chopped cabbage and salsa verde.

What is the best way to get around San Diego?

While most Californians rely on personal vehicles for transportation, if you don't have a car, the trolley is an easy way to get around in San Diego. A trip on the ferry from downtown to Coronado is an excellent way to reach the Island. Consider renting a bike or scooter to get around the downtown area. The Coaster Train, as the name implies, travels only along the coast. The north/south running commuter line has 8 stops between downtown and Oceanside. If you plan on venturing out to hike, fish and experience nature, you will need a car. Travel freeways between 10 am and 2 pm to avoid the heaviest traffic clusters and worst traffic jams.

What are the best months to visit San Diego?

The best time to visit San Diego is in September and October. Summer crowds have thinned out but the weather is still very warm for swimming and outdoor activities. With most kids back in school, places like LEGOLAND, SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo are far less crowded. October is ideal for families on a budget, as many popular locations offer kids free admission for the entire month. Aim for early October versus later in the month, when many students are out of school for fall break.

What is Gaslamp Quarter known for?

The Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego is known for boutique shopping and family restaurants by day and exciting adult nightlife like bars, live music and dance clubs. The trolley line stops right here so visitors can enjoy without having to find a paid parking lot. The Gaslamp is walkable to area attractions including Petco Park for Padres baseball games, Seaport Village and harbor.

What are the best neighborhoods for food?

Hillcrest is the heart of San Diego's LGBTQ+ community and offers plenty of outdoor patio dining, craft brewpubs and a weekend farmer's market. There is a variety of foods and flavors within walking distance of each other on University Avenue and sidestreets, including dessert-only hot spots.

What are the best neighborhoods for shopping?

For souvenier shopping, visitors can't miss Seaport Village. There are more than 50 unique shops spread out in this bayside location, selling everything from books and toys to art and San Diego-made products. Plus, there are plenty of dining spots and a carousel for the kids!

What neighborhood should I stay in when I visit San Diego?

For Airbnb, look for a walkable neighborhood like South Park. The area is full of historic homes within walking distance of restaurants, parks and breweries. Plus, it's very close to downtown, the airport and the famous San Diego Zoo.

What are the best beaches around San Diego?

San Diego is known for their many beautiful beaches. Mission Beach and the surrounding bay is a family-friendly hot spot, with ample free parking, grassy picnic areas and play grounds. Belmont Park is a highlight, with a beach-side roller coaster and other amusements. Plenty of sand and waves for boogie boarding and swimming. Those with younger children should visit the bay, with tamer waves for wading. Many areas for dining and shopping along the boardwalk.

Which neighborhoods are the most budget-friendly?

To find budget accomodations and dining, move away from the coastal locations. Mission Valley offers lower costs on hotels than beach cities. Drive further east to suburban areas like La Mesa to find unique dining and micro-breweries.

Which neighborhoods should you visit if you'd like to splurge?

For the ultimate splurge vacation, La Jolla, Del Mar and Torrey Pines. Hotels are swank and upscale dining abounds. Expect designer fashion boutiques, art galleries and a higher price tag for everything in these locations.

Other Sightseeing Options in San Diego

Want to discover all there is to do in San Diego? Click here for a full list.

What people are saying about San Diego

Overall rating

4.7 / 5

based on 3,606 reviews

Incredible tour! Jen was warm, funny and informative. The tour was really well planned out, and she would often circle back to things she’d told us earlier. The coffee stop was a well timed break and nice for a chat with the other guests. Overall the level of detail was great- lots of fun facts and interesting history. We learnt a lot and really enjoyed our walk in the park. Thanks, Jen!

Very nice to see sooo much for a low price. Excellent information from all drivers. The two day option would have been even better had we had time to take advantage of it, there was so much to see and do.

Fun and informative commentary. We had to turn back due to weather, but got a voucher to use for another time that won’t expire.

It was fun learning more about balboa park and something the whole family could do together

Good drinks and nice atmosphere it was very educational I enjoyed myself