There is so much to do in San Diego. This post is an A to Z of San Diego and takes you from South county to North, it has eating and drinking, historical sites, activities and more. Check out the below for 26 ideas of things to do, from A to Z. Look out for more posts in subsequent weeks as I dive further into San Diego destinations.
My husband will love that I’m starting this post with AleSmith, one of his all time favorite breweries in San Diego. If you are a beer-lover you’re well aware that San Diego County is a mecca for beer. From Stone, to Ballast Point to small brewers, you can taste some of the world’s best beers here. AleSmith is a fun place to visit. In 2014 they were rated #1 Best Brewery in the World and Rated #1 Brewery in California based on consumer reviews at RateBeer.com. They moved into a massive new space recently and have a large tasting room, and the Tony Gwynn museum –featuring memorabilia of the beloved Padre baseball player.
Even if you’ve never been to San Diego, you are probably familiar with some of the images of this beautiful park with its Spanish Renaissance-style buildings, ponds, museums, and more that encompass 1,200 acres. Founded in the 1800’s and a site of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, the park is a wonder for those who love horticulture and California History. We have spent many a day wandering the grounds of the park and visiting some of its 17 museums like the San Diego Natural History Museum, The Fleet Science Center that shows films in IMAX. The grounds are beautiful, definitely check out the Japanese Friendship Garden and the Botanical Garden. If you love performing arts, be sure to see what’s playing at the Old Globe Theater. Finally, the dining options are fantastic. The open air restaurant/ museum Panama 66 is one of my favorite places to visit in San Diego. With fantastic, casual food options and more than 12 local craft beers on tap this is a must visit. Plus its kid friendly and they will enjoy the grounds and sculptures. Hopefully they don’t fall face first into a fountain like my son did recently, however. (palm on face)
This is a fun afternoon activity. Great for hikers, photographers and history buffs, the Cabrillo National Monument is home to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse which has a museum as well as some grounds to hike – and an incredible view to boot. Just a little history, in 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was the first European to set foot on what is now the West Coast of the United States. The site is also has a long military history.
Del Mar Fairgrounds
Del Mar Fairgrounds are used all year long for different events, but every summer it comes alive with the county fair and then horseracing. I will admit, I am NOT a fair person. I find the crowds and so-so rides and heavy fried food and the summer heat kind of an awful combination, but its definitely an experience people in San Diego should do at least once. The race track is a lot of fun – not only is it cheap (if you want it to be) you can place dollar bets, but there are quite a few places to sit and view the races making it fun for groups or for a date. On Opening Day, Del Mar’s annual tradition, the Opening Day Hats Contest let’s entrants compete for cash prizes and judged on creativity and style.
Ask any local and they will tell you that in the past five years, Encinitas’ downtown on the 101 has changed drastically. From Leucadia all the way to Cardiff there are so many fun shops, restaurants, taprooms, bars, coffee shops, boutiques, studios, salons and more. I keep meaning to just go for a walk from one end to the other and I will one of these days! Some of my favorite Encinitas places are The Taco Stand, Solterra, and Handel’s Ice Cream. I also really like going to Lazy Acres for lunch, they have a poke bar, salad bar, a fajita bar and all kind of other food to choose from (along with an entire grocery store of food). The Encinitas Library is amazing, the view is incredible. My kids like to go there (they also have a snack bar outside), but its also a remote workers paradise. Finally don’t miss the beaches. We usually skip Moonlight’s crowds and head to Beacon’s or Grandview, or Pipes. which is just north of the San Elijo Campground. There’s so much more but I’ll leave that for another post.
Flower Fields in Carlsbad
These fields are amazing and only open from March to May so don’t miss it. I went not too long ago with my kids and had a lot of fun. Not only do they have some of the most incredible and vibrant fields of ranunculus, but they have so many things for kids and families to do. They have a Passport program with stamps at each location, some of which include: A mining station where kids can pan for gold and learn about California History. They also have a maze made of shoulder-high Sweet Peas that is legitimately hard to get through. Enjoy ice cream, homemade lemonade or a strawberry shake. You can take home some gorgeous cut flowers as well.
When people visit San Diego (particularly if they are looking for nightlife) the Gaslamp is one of the top places to go. Bustling with bars, clubs, restaurants and hotels in San Diego’s downtown the Gaslamp is one of the most popular places to head in the whole city. Its not the most kid-friendly area, particularly at night.
Hotel Del Coronado
This lovely hotel on one of San Diego’s most beautiful beaches has been an iconic legend for 128 years and was the first seaside resort on the West Coast. On its site, it notes that, “The Del celebrates its rich history as the proud host to presidents, celebrities, royalty and beach-lovers worldwide.” Even if you don’t stay at the hotel, its worth a visit. We like to bring our bikes to Coronado and ride around the vast amount of bike trails. There are great places to sit outside, and of course the beach is incredible.
Imperial Beach (IB) is the most southwesterly city in the continental United States. The town is known for its nature walks and bird watching experience at the world-renowned Tijuana Estuary (home to 370 species of birds). IB is also a surfer destination and its beaches are largely uncrowded unlike so many of the beaches further North. IB also has a great bike path that runs to Coronado and it provides beautiful views of the San Diego bay, and Silver Strand State Beach.
La Jolla Shores
La Jolla Shores is such a fun destination. The long, flat beach is perfect for families and the waves in the most southern part of the beach in particular is very mellow. The North part of the Shores is a popular surfing spot called Scripps. There are some fun shops and restaurants and a great grassy park for picnicking. I really love the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club. Its an older facility, but its so unique in that every night if you are a member or you are staying at the hotel, you can rent a BBQ and table right down on the beach. You can bring your own food to grill – and have drinks as you watch the kids play in the sand. Its seriously a perfect San Diego experience.
There are a lot of fun areas to kayak in San Diego. In La Jolla Shores you can experience Leopard Sharks, gulls, seals, pelicans and more on a Kayaking tour in La Jolla. When the weather is good you can check out the sea caves. A highly rated tour on yelp is the La Jolla Sea Cave Kayaks Tour. There is also fun kayaking available in Mission Bay, and the Carlsbad Lagoon (you can also rent jet skis).
A top destination for any Lego fanatic, LEGOLAND has rides, activities, an aquarium and a water park. Kids will enjoy the brightly colored sculptures all over the park that are made entirely of Legos. We had season passes for a few years when our kids were younger and they loved going. It has plenty to do for little ones, and there are some faster rides for older kids.
Midway (USS Midway)
The final destination for the aircraft carrier USS Midway is in San Diego. Permanently parked in the bay, its now a museum where you can check out everything about the ship, from how it was run to sleeping quarters (they are tight!), to the history of the vessel. Channel your inner Top Gun as you look at the deck of the carrier and wonder in amazement how they actually land planes on such a “small” surface.
North Park, Hillcrest, South Park
Near downtown, bordering Balboa Park, these are some of San Diego’s most vibrant towns. Filled with hip restaurants, bars, shops and more its definitely fun to walk around these areas that border Balboa Park. Additionally, these towns often have art and food festivals, and other cultural events. Check out local calendars for more information.
Oceanside is changing rapidly. From new hotels and restaurants to breweries and more, Oceanside has so much to offer. At 1,942 feet, the historical Oceanside Pier is one of the longest wooden piers on the West Coast. Its fun to walk out and check out people fishing, see birds and grab a bite to eat. Another spot that we enjoy in Oceanside is called Bagby Beer Company, a huge brewery and restaurant that is family friendly.
Public Market at Liberty Station
There is almost too much to see and eat and drink at this fun, newer location in San Diego. The Liberty Public Market is open from 11 am to 8 pm 7 days a week. The Public Market showcases “a rustic environment with prepared foods, beer, wine, specialty cocktails, produce, fish, desserts and pastries, pastas, arts and crafts, a test kitchen, pop up dinners, and educational driven events.” Nearby you can also visit several other restaurants, as well as the Stone Brewing beer garden. Liberty Station was formerly Navy buildings that were built in the 1920s. The city gained the land in 2000 and it quickly became a multi-use location with schools, lots of shops and restaurants and the Rock Church.
Quail Gardens (now called San Diego Botanic Gardens)
We live near this fantastic botanical garden. For several years we had annual passes and we would take our kids there to spend afternoons exploring all of the different plant environments. They have plants and trees from all over the world. They also have a great play area for children with a tree house, instruments to play, sand area, a stream that you can float boats down as well as daily crafts.
Ramona is east of San Diego (still within San Diego county). Its rustic and rural and has some well-liked golf courses. Ramona also has a few wineries that have good reviews. But, the most interesting thing about Ramona (in my opinion) is the Camel Dairy. Yes, you read that correctly, a Camel Dairy. This spot not only has interesting and “rare” milk products but it offers camel rides and many other fun family things to do. Check out their website here.
Stone Brewing Company (Escondido and Point Loma)
Stone Brewing company in Escondido was one of San Diego’s first craft brewery’s establishing the region as a mecca for beer, especially hoppy IPA’s. The Stone location in Escondido is such a fun destination. The site has its huge brewing facility that you can tour. The tour finishes with a tasting which is a bonus. The site also has a huge restaurant and gardens where you can picnic, or just bring your beer out to enjoy. We have brought our kids here many times and its very family friendly. The food is really good too and Stone brings in the produce from their own farm right nearby so everything is extremely fresh.
Torrey Pines Gliderport
There is nothing like seeing someone take off from the Torrey Pines Gliderport and soar off the cliff toward the ocean in their glider. If you are brave, this is definitely the spot to learn how to paraglide. They offer tandem rides (in fact they are the largest tandem operator in the world!). Also, you can watch people take off from the on-site restaurant that looks out over the ocean.
There is a new trend in San Diego (and elsewhere) — Urban Wineries. Instead of going to traditional wine regions to taste wine, more wineries are bringing grapes to the city. They are making wine right here in urban areas of San Diego. Similar in some ways to the craft brewers who tend to brew beer in urban areas and office parks, these new urban wineries are right in the center of cities. We really enjoy going to Solterra in Leucadia, right on the 101. I recently saw that new urban wineries have opened up in spots all over the county including Carlsbad, Vista, Solana Beach, North Park, Escondido and more. Check out this site that has more information on the wineries.
Visit the Villages (Carlsbad and La Jolla)
All of San Diego’s seaside towns are worth visiting, but Carlsbad Village and La Jolla are both fantastic spots. Carlsbad (in my opinion) has seen a massive surge of new restaurants, breweries, urban wineries, shops and more.
Whale watching on a Hornblower Cruise
San Diego is a top destination for year round whale watching. You can see blue whales, humpbacks, fin backs, pilot, sperm and even killer whales. If seeing San Diego’s coastal wildlife is on your list – take a look at the Hornblower Cruises.
With Mexico so close, many people choose to walk across the border to see Tijuana. I have been anxious about traveling over the border to Mexico over the past few years (with my little kids) because of the increased violence, but I hear its safer now. We used to drive about an hour south of the border to stay in a little beach front community called Las Gaviotas. Its really fun and beautiful and has a good surf spot. I am also really excited to see the Guadalupe Valley wine region in Baja which I hear is absolutely incredible.
Yoga on the Beach
San Diego has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Its also a top spot for yogis to practice (particular north county spots like Encinitas and Leucadia). Many of the regions yoga studios offer Yoga on the Beach options.
Zoo – San Diego Zoo
No visit to San Diego would be complete without a visit to the San Diego Zoo. Its world-renown for a reason, the zoo has some of the world’s best animal exhibits. My favorite spots are the elephants and the koalas. They zoo is going through a major construction right now so expect some construction if you go this summer (2017). Their goal is to give the animals space, as well as a natural (as natural as a zoo can be) habitat.