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, a 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—any time 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 are widely accepted, including AMEX. Public ATMs are also located within most stores.
Climate: San Diego is a great place to visit almost any time of the year with coastal temperatures between 65-80 degrees most of the time. Mornings on the coast usually start out overcast and gloomy, but usually, clear up by 12 PM or so.
May and June are commonly referred to as “Gray May” and “June Gloom”, but July through September are the hottest months!
Getting Around San Diego
San Diego is a very spread out, and is made up of a LOT of neighborhoods, but it’s also a county, meaning that there are a lot of cities that fall in the larger area of San Diego County. Here are the main San Diego city neighborhoods:
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.
Where to Stay in San Diego
Most people dream of staying on the beach when they come to San Diego—and while there are some beautiful beachfront hotels and resorts, there are gems hidden throughout other surrounding neighborhoods too!
I’ve outlined the tops hotels in San Diego below, but be sure to check out The Coolest Airbnbs + Boutique Properties in San Diego too.
VRBO rentals are 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.
The Pendry 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!
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!
While the prices may be a little higher than surrounding hotels, the Bahia Resort 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.
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.
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!
Where to Eat in San Diego
As a San Diego local, I can honestly say that San Diego is brimming with an ever-changing array of foodie hotspots. And as a self-proclaimed foodie, I’ve tried A LOT of them. Because the county of San Diego is quite spread out, there are flavors from every corner of the globe!
I’ve compiled my favorite places to eat in San Diego, and for even more local recommendations, check out my guide to the Best Restaurants in San Diego, categorized by neighborhood.
Brunch is a HUGE event in San Diego! Combine amazing weather and outdoor dining with good food and drinks—it’s a no-brainer. There are epic breakfast and brunch places across the county, so you can start your day with literally every kind of cuisine imaginable.
So, I’ve outlined my favorite breakfast + brunch places across San Diego, all in one place!
And shoutout to Morning Glory (pictured below)! This restaurant is seriously an “Insta” destination! Located in Little Italy, this over-the-top, design-forward, and pink-everywhere restaurant serves one of the best brunches in San Diego.
Taco TuesdayLocal Culture
Don’t miss a truly San Diego dining experience: Taco Tuesday happy hours! You can find Taco Tuesday and Happy Hour details across the county—popular destinations are Old Town, Pacific Beach, and Gaslamp Quarter. Pop in for cheap tacos and delicious margaritas!
Honestly, Little Italy has some of the best eateries and bars in San Diego, and there are just so many there I would recommend. To start things off, grab a coffee at James Coffee Co! Then, check out Nolita Hall for delicious drinks and a woodfired pizza (plus you can watch the planes fly over), or head to one of the beer tasting rooms in the area, like Ballast Point. Head to Juniper and Ivy, RoVino, or Herb & Wood for a nice dinner. For those who prefer plant-based dishes, there is a Cafe Gratitude around the corner. And if you’re in the mood for some wine, Carruth Cellars Wine Garden is awesome!
Parakeet CafeCoffee, Cafe
Parakeet Cafe has five locations across San Diego, and is a go-to for coffee, juices, and healthy breakfast and lunch options! You’ll find house-made bites, coffee, and baked goods, all using organic, locally sourced ingredients.
Craft & CommerceGastropub
Located in Little Italy, this gastro-pub offers a hip ambiance, seasonal dishes, and serves up a mean cocktail. Craft & Commerce is a Michelin Guide restaurant—perfect for a date night or special occasion! Plus, it feels like you’re stepping into a speakeasy so the overall experience is amazing.
Ironside Fish & Oyster BarSeafood
Located in Little Italy, this spot offers delicious seafood fare, oysters, and cocktails in a quirky, renovated warehouse space. It’s my favorite spot for seafood!
Whether you are after a bottom brunch or a special dinner out, this much-loved Italian spot in Point Loma is serving up the goods. With delicious vegan options along with traditional faves (and oh, that tiramisu!), this place is a surefire hit.
This seafood market in La Jolla has been serving up the day’s freshest catch since 1974. Sample the best of the Pacific in a sandwich, taco, or salad.
Addison Del MarFine Dining
For the ultimate dining experience, visit Southern California’s only 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. The restaurant is located in The Grand Del Mar, a Fairmont hotel.
This Mexican eatery is loved as much for its vista as the food. With sweeping views of Downtown San Diego from Point Loma, the view here is unbeatable.
What to Do in San Diego
San Diego is large, and home to many different neighborhoods, all with different attractions and things to do! Be sure to narrow down your interests and have a loose itinerary, so you can see as much as possible during your trip.
Here are my favorite places to visit in San Diego! If you’re staying more than a few days, I’ve also created a one-week San Diego Itinerary to make the most of your vacation.
Balboa Park is one of the prettiest spots in San Diego if you ask me! Balboa Park is a 1,200-acre historic and cultural park with open space areas, gardens, historic buildings, and walking paths—plus, it contains museums, theaters, and the San Diego Zoo. It’s a must-visit when you’re in San Diego!
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 locals’ favorites Second Chance, Rough Draft, Duck Foot, Mission Brewery, Coronado Brewery, or Modern Times for small-batch brews.
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, La Jolla (pictured below!), 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!
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.
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