Growing up in the wine country of Temecula, I was forever dreaming of my next adventure in San Diego.
My list of things to do in the big city never stopped growing. Fortunately, San Diego was only an hour away so it was easy to hop over to explore the amazing eateries, gorgeous beaches, and funky neighborhoods.
Throughout years of living in Cape Town, San Diego stayed near and dear to my heart. When I was finally ready to plant roots in Southern California, I made a beeline for this cool coastal city.
Today, I call San Diego home and my staycations are everything I dreamt they would be. I relish the opportunity to show people around my stomping grounds.
That’s why I created my Ultimate Guide to San Diego Travel to help you get your bearings. Now, to help you dig into the daily planning, here is my one-week San Diego Itinerary.
Ready for an insider’s guide to San Diego? Let’s go!
Which Neighborhood to Stay in San Diego
It’s essential to understand just how geographically big San Diego County is. As you are planning out your must-see spots around town, look at a map.
There are 70 miles of coastline within the county so things can be much farther apart than you might think.
There are too many neighborhoods to even list so I’m just going to scratch the surface by listing the best bases for exploration.
If you are only in town for one week, you’ll find a diverse range of options. To help you decide, let’s look at which areas are best for different types of travel.
If you’re looking for top-notch nightlife, add downtown and the Gaslamp (just beside Little Italy) to your list.
While Little Italy is close to Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo, it’s not a great area for kids. You’ll also find that parking is pricey and can be hard to come by.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a night on the town and plan to Uber it around, you’re going to love it.
For a gorgeous view of the Pacific and a laid back vibe, you’ll be spoiled for choice throughout the Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach, and Mission Beach area
This drop-dead gorgeous area comes at a premium but is well worth it when you are looking to treat yourself.
While you’ll be a bit farther from the typical tourist spots like Balboa Park and the Zoo, you’ll find chill places to escape in Del Mar, Solana Beach, Leucadia, Encinitas, and Carlsbad.
If you’re only planning to pop down the Balboa Park area and are more interested in looking for a spot to disconnect, look for options up here. It’s a relaxing beach area with bargains to be had.
I adore the Carlsbad Flower Fields up here! Visit in the spring to admire the colorful blooms. Be aware though that you’re 45 minutes from Point Loma and this isn’t a practical base if you’re planning to explore San Diego daily.
The Best Time to Visit San Diego
By far and away the best time to visit is from August to October. The weather is still warm but you’ll find the hordes of tourists have mostly cleared out.
If you’re not from California, you might not be familiar with “May Gray” and “June Gloom.”
While we have a few warm and sunny days in the spring, it doesn’t feel like summer until around July. Through much of spring and early summer, the mornings are overcast and a bit dreary.
That said, I do enjoy the overcast days because it rarely actually rains. It’s the kind of weather where you can cozy up in a cardigan and sip a hot brew in a coffee shop.
If you’re looking for fun in the sun at the beach, May and June aren’t super reliable times to go.
Getting Around San Diego
Without a doubt, having your own set of wheels in San Diego is essential. While there are walkable areas, they are far-flung. During the course of a week, you will want to explore the wider San Diego area.
Southern California isn’t known for its public transport and there’s a reason for that.
The numerous freeways nearby loop around, connecting all of the beach cities and areas in the outskirts of San Diego…but they’re for cars. Relying on the bus system is frustrating and time-consuming.
Planning Tip: While I’ve put together a one-week guide, it’s a loose plan. You can mix and match different events and do things in whatever order you prefer.
I’d highly recommend checking out the city event calendar as you start planning.
See if there are any festivals or big events that you want to check out or avoid (if you’re not attending, the traffic, parking hassles, and inflated prices during major events can be annoying).
Day 1: Balboa Park and the Zoo
These are the two must-see sites of San Diego.
You can knock them both out in one day. All of the top museums are together in one spot. If you’re traveling with kids, they are sure to love the Zoo (as will the grown-ups!).
Much of Balboa Park’s incredible Spanish-inspired architecture was built between 1915 and the late 1930s for different Expositions (you may know these as World’s Fairs).
There are plenty of great places to walk around outside of the zoo and you can BYOB to have a wine picnic. Take your time exploring and make a full day of just these two spots.
Day 2: Bring on the Brews
With 150 breweries and new places popping up daily, San Diego has most definitely earned its place amongst the world’s best craft beer capital.
Make a day of beer tasting and exploring all of the unique options that you will only find here.
To sample the local suds, make a beeline for North Park. And, come hungry! This place is home to the best local eateries and craft beer spots in town.
Day 3-4: Beach Days
It’s all about the beach here and you’ll want a couple of days to soak in the sun. Beyond bronzing and watersports, each beach town has its own unique vibe.
While you’ll hear locals recommending a range of spots, when it comes to accessibility and offerings, you can’t go wrong with any of this line-up of popular beaches.
Here are a few places to check out:
Mission Beach and Belmont Park
When you think of a classic boardwalk, you are probably imagining something like this. From bumper cars to miniature golf to beach rental shops, these two miles of boardwalk here have everything for families.
It’s also a great area for biking or rollerblading. After dark, you’ll also find plenty to do around Mission Beach and nearby Pacific Beach.
La Jolla Shores
When it comes to family options, this is a top pick. With relatively calm seas, and lifeguards on hand, this is a parent’s fave.
Make sure to check out the Children’s Pool La Jolla! It’s a small, sandy beach with an area originally built for kids to be secluded from the waves by a concrete barrier — it’s now quite popular for seals to hang out in!
You could even go kayaking, if that’s your heart’s desire!
This quaint island off the coast is the perfect pick for families and couples. You can tour the legendary Hotel del Coronado, shop at the one-of-a-kind boutiques, or stroll through the parks.
This is a young and lively town that is popular with surfers. Catch a wave, surf Crystal Pier, then stick around for drinks and dinner.
If you want to rent a Duffey boat or hop on a paddleboard, Mission Bay is a good option because its bay location means there are no waves.
Home to Legoland California theme park, beautiful spring flower fields, and eight different beaches, this city just north of San Diego has scenic spots with a small-town vibe.
Make sure to check the calendar for the Flower Fields as the iconic ranunculus are only in bloom from the beginning of March to the beginning of May!
Aquarium at Scripps
The more than 5,000 fish who call it home, make the 60+ aquariums at Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography a must for kids (and kids at heart).
Day 5: Hiking and Nature Reserve
Start your day in Torrey Pines. Hike the nature reserve and soak in the beauty away from the shoreline. Once you have worked up an appetite, go for brunch.
In the afternoon, head over to Solana Beach or Del Mar. They’re both known for their eclectic boutiques, trendy eateries, and local art galleries.
Day 6-7: Choose Your Own Adventure
For the last two days of your San Diego visit, you can choose your own adventure. Here are a few of my all-time faves:
Check out the Bay and Coronado Island
Go for a naval ship tour, take the Hornblower cruise, visit the Midway Museum, then shop, eat, and drink your way through the Midway District, as well as the gorgeous Coronado Island!
Take yourself out to the ballgame!
Little Italy Street Market
Little Italy Mercato Farmers’ Market is on every Saturday from 8 am to 2 pm. For food, crafts, and a great vibe, start your day here.
Wednesday Night Market in OB
The Ocean Beach Farmers Market is held every Wednesday from 4 to 8 pm. It’s a great place for browsing, picking up local goodies, and a prime spot for people-watching.
The sunset from here is so impressive that they named the whole place after it! And, on top of being a romantic spot, it’s also a great place for yoga classes.
Do realize that it’s a popular spot in the summer though so be aware that it gets crowded.
That said, it’s a fantastic location for a picnic with serious views!
Glider Port in Torrey Pines
The Torrey Pines Gliderport is the perfect place to get your heart racing and get a bird’s eye view of the city.
There are more than 100 wineries in San Diego County and plenty more just outside. If you’re a fellow wine lover, do miss your chance to sample the local vintages.
A Night on the Town in Little Italy
What would you add to your dream San Diego itinerary? I’ll be working on restaurants and brunch guides shortly! Let me know what you’d like to see in the comments below!