San Diego is a major city in Southern California, and is one of America’s most popular tourist destinations. San Diego is famous for beautiful beaches, great weather year-round, bustling craft brewery scene, and countless outdoor attractions. Whether you come for a weekend, or spend a few weeks hanging out, you will fall in love with this place. With over 100 days of sunshine each year, it’s no wonder they consider it America’s Finest City— check out my ultimate San Diego travel guide with the best places to eat, stay and play!
What to Expect in San Diego
In San Diego, you’ll find friendly locals, great weather, amazing beaches, and delicious seafood and Mexican cuisine. San Diegans are proud to be from San Diego and aren’t afraid to offer their recommendations, so don’t be afraid to ask! You’ll also notice that San Diego is a very active community, and you’ll find people out—walking, biking and running—anytime of the day.
Language: English is the predominant language with Spanish the second most widely spoken, due to the proximity of the border of Mexico.
Currency: The US Dollar ($).
Credit Cards and Banks: Credit cards widely accepted, including AMEX. Public ATMs also located within most stores.
Climate: San Diego is a great place to visit almost any time of the year with coastal temperatures around 75 degrees (24°C) most of the time. Mornings on the coast start out overcast and gloomy, but usually clear up by noon.
May and June are commonly referred to as “Gray May” and “June Gloom” and July through October are the hottest months!
Getting Around in San Diego
San Diego is very large, and is made up of a LOT of neighborhoods, and it’s also a county, meaning that there are a lot of cities that fall in the larger area of San Diego County. Here’s the main neighborhoods in the City of San Diego:
Gaslamp: The heart of the City of San Diego and hub for nightlife and dining.
Little Italy: A chic, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, packed with trendy restaurants, creative cocktail bars, gastropubs, and coffee shops.
Balboa Park-Hillcrest: Home of the famous San Diego Zoo and museums. Hillcrest is known for being an affluent, bohemian, and LGBTQ-friendly community.
North Park: An eclectic and diverse neighborhood that is home to cute little cottages, popular coffee shops, classic diners, craft breweries, and boutique shops.
Old Town-Mission Valley: Historic area and location of first Spanish settlement in California. There’s also a bus, trolley and coaster depot located right next to it.
Point Loma-Ocean Beach: Beach towns with boutique shopping and laid-back beaches with hippie vibes.
Mission Beach-Pacific Beach: Popular party and beach destinations with major nightlife and bar scene. If you want to get away from the bar scenes, north Pacific Beach has some great waves and coffee shops, and Mission Beach has tons of awesome beachfront rental properties.
La Jolla: Upscale beach community with impressive coastlines and awesome seafood restaurants.
Coronado Island: Cross the famous blue bridge to San Diego’s island resort town. It’s idyllic and you will swoon over the beautiful houses here. Be aware, there is ALWAYS traffic on Coronado!
California isn’t the most public transportation-friendly state, so ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft are very common and are probably your best bet for getting around San Diego, plus parking can be hard in downtown and beach areas.
Depending on the length and type of trip, I’d recommend renting a car. San Diego County is very spread out and if you want to see a lot of sights, it's usually easier to just drive yourself!
If you want to see the most of San Diego without renting a car, Downtown is the best place to stay because you'll find a lot of places to eat and play within walking distance.
Also, if you have the time, I’d recommend driving up the beautiful California coast to Orange County and Los Angeles. The Pacific Surfliner train is also a great and efficient option for traveling up and down the San Diego and California coastline.
VRBO is an awesome option for finding a place to stay in San Diego. With awesome rentals in every neighborhood, you’ll get a great value compared to some of the more expensive hotels.
Check out The Coolest Boutique Properties in San Diego here!
Pendry San Diego
The Pendry San Diego is located in the Gaslamp District of downtown and offers the perfect, luxurious stay—the service is one-of-a-kind and the rooms and design are impeccable. Their onsite restaurants and bars are AMAZING. If you’re looking for a 5-Star stay in San Diego, book a room here!
Price Range: $$$
The Lafayette Hotel, Swim Club
Located in North Park and a 5-minute drive from the San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park, The Lafayette Hotel is an eco-friendly and Colonial-style hotel that features an Olympic-size pool and poolside dining. The whole ambiance here is just FUN!
Location: North Park
Accommodation: Boutique Hotel
Price Range: $$
Bahia Resort Hotel
While the prices may be a little higher than surrounding 3-Star hotels, the Bahia Resort Hotel is truly a gem. With cute rooms, an awesome onsite restaurant, great staff, a pool, and beach, plus boat tours, this resort offers all you could want for a San Diego vacation.
Location: Mission Beach
Accommodation: 3-Star Hotel
Price Range: $$
Hotel Marisol Coronado
From the elegant decor to the friendly staff and relaxing atmosphere, Hotel Marisol Coronado is one of the nicest boutique hotels you’ll come across in San Diego. It’s located in a beautiful neighborhood and only a 5-minute walk to the historic Hotel del Coronado and beaches.
Accommodation: Boutique Hotel
Price Range: $$
Pacific Hotel Terrace
Located in Pacific Beach, about 15 minutes north of Downtown San Diego, you’ll find a beautiful beach, boardwalk, and tons of restaurants and beach bars. The Pacific Hotel Terrace is walkable to everywhere in Pacific Beach and has beautiful views!
Location: Pacific Beach
Accommodation: 4-Star Hotel
Price Range: $$-$$$
The US Grant Hotel
The US Grant is a historical hotel located in the Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Diego. Upon opening her doors in 1910, the US Grant Hotel once hosted California’s high-society as one of the most luxurious hotels of the time.
Price Range: $$$
The Mission (Breakfast)
Locations in Mission Beach, Downtown and North Park, this is a local’s favorite. Come hungry for breakfast but willing to wait in a line!
What to Order: Honestly everything is good, but if you have a sweet tooth, any of the pancakes or French toast are delicious!
Taco Tuesday (Local Culture)
Don’t miss a truly San Diego dining experience- Taco Tuesday! Popular destinations are Old Town, Pacific Beach and Gaslamp Quarter. Pop in for cheap tacos and delicious margaritas!
Rubicon Deli (Cheap Eats)
For the BEST sandwiches in the world, don’t miss Rubicon Deli! With multiple locations and unique menu items, there’s something for everyone at Rubicon.
What to Order: My favorite is the spicy tuna on fresh-baked pesto bread!
Little Italy (Neighborhood)
Honestly, Little Italy has some of the best eateries and bars in San Diego, and there’s just so many there I would recommend. Check out Nolita Hall for delicious and affordable drinks and a slice of pizza (plus you can watch the planes fly over), or head to one of the beer tasting rooms in the area, like Ballast Point or Bolt Brewery. Head to RoVino or Herb & Wood for dinner, or grab a coffee at James Coffee Co.
Craft & Commerce (Casual Dining)
Located in Little Italy, this gastro-pub offers a hip ambiance and serves up a mean cocktail. Craft & Commerce is founded on speakeasy standards, so don’t you dare order vodka!
Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar (Casual Dining)
Located in Little Italy, this spot offers delicious seafood fare & cocktails in a quirky, renovated warehouse space.
When to Come: Happy Hours every weekday from 3-6pm!
Addison Del Mar (Fine Dining)
For the ultimate dining experience, visit Southern California’s only 5-star/5-Diamond restaurant, Addison Del Mar. If you’re in the mood for fine-dining with four or ten courses, Addison is sure to impress.
Brooklyn Girl Eatery
Located in Mission Hills, this is a neighborhood restaurant providing seasonal, house-made, local, affordable authentic real food. Don’t miss one of their yummy traditional Brooklyn sodas!
San Diego Zoo + Balboa Park
Learn about the history of San Diego at the museums in Balboa Park or visit the animals at the San Diego Zoo.
San Diego is quickly becoming the Napa Valley of craft beer. Visit popular breweries like Ballast Point and Stone Brewing for bigger tasting rooms, lots of beer choices and great food, or visit Rough Draft, Duck Foot, Mission Brewery, Coronado Brewery or Modern Times for small batch brews and tasty eats.
Hit the Street Markets
Find great food, produce and local artisan crafts at these markets: North Park (Thursdays), Ocean Beach Farmers Market (Wednesdays), Little Italy Mercato Farmers’ Market (Saturdays), La Jolla Open Aire Market (Sundays).
Point Loma, Ocean Beach, Mission Beach and Pacific Beach each offer a unique beach scene. Check out each beach for fun cafes, beach bars, great shopping and San Diego sunshine!
Gaslamp Quarter (Nightlife)
Gaslamp is home to San Diego nightlife. Grab a glass of wine at Vin de Syrah Wine Parlor, gather your friends for adult bowling at TVRN+Bowl or head to Fluxx and OMNIA for one of the biggest club scenes in the city. If you’re into country music, you have to head to Moonshine Flats!
Visit the shops, galleries, and eateries on waterfront property at Seaport Village. Check out the world’s oldest active sailing ship, the Star of India ship, or rent your own sailboat for a day in the harbor!
Cross the famous Coronado bridge over to San Diego’s resort island. Visit the Hotel del Coronado for incredible dining and take a stroll through the cute island town.
Go Skydiving or Paragliding
Although I’m terrified of heights, I joined my friend for her 30th birthday and jumped out of a plane! San Diego offers a few locations to skydive, but I recommend SkyDive San Diego. If paragliding sounds fun, check out the Torrey Pines Gliderport!
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