San Diego

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO 1 DAY IN SAN DIEGO

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WHAT TO DO WITH ONE DAY IN SAN DIEGO

Stunning scenery, beautiful ocean views, gorgeous parks, warm weather and an atmosphere like no other. Look no further than San Diego, “America’s Finest City.” This city attracts thousands of visitors every year looking to enjoy world-class beaches and attractions. 

Rooftop Cinema Club in downtown San Diego

So, maybe you are you coming to visit this beautiful city or maybe you are a local and are looking for a fun way to spend your Saturday. Regardless, there are so many places to see and tons of things to do that it may be hard to narrow down. You may ask: what are some fun things to do in San Diego in 24hrs? Well, this article will help you decide what you can do with your 1 day in San Diego. 

WHERE IS SAN DIEGO?

San Diego is located along the coastline of the Pacific ocean. It is considered to be the eighth-largest city in the United States and the second-largest city in California. Located just north of the Tijuana border and south of San Francisco, it makes for the perfect warm weathered vacation destination. 

One day in San Diego

This city is a huge place as it expands in all directions far and wide. Honestly, you could spend more than one day in San Diego and not even seen all that it has to offer. Each little neighborhood has so much to offer from downtown San Diego all the way to North County San Diego. 

WHAT IS THE WEATHER LIKE IN SAN DIEGO?

Known for its year-round warm weather there is never really a bad time to visit San Diego. However, take it from a local herself: the weather definitely lives up to its “May gray” and “June gloom” statements here in San Diego. So, if you are planning to visit San Diego and want to avoid some gloomy weather with potential rain than I would avoid coming during May and June. 

It also does get “cold” in the winter months in San Diego. I put the words cold in quotations because currently, I am sitting in my office writing this article wrapped up in a blanket. It is November and is 55 degrees outside. Ok ok that may not be cold for my East Coast and Europe readers, but trust me that is cold for a San Diego native girl. 

THE BEST WAYS TO GET TO AND AROUND SAN DIEGO 

First, let’s talk about the best ways to get to San Diego. There are many modes of transportation for getting to San Diego!

Plane: San Diego is an international airport, so anyone in the world can come here and visit! The airport is located right near the harbor and makes for easy access to downtown San Diego as well as Seaport Village. 

Fly to San Diego for one day

When looking for flights I like to use cheapoair.com to help me find the best flight deals around. Check out cheapoair.com now to book your next trip to San Diego.

Train: You can get to San Diego, California by the Amtrak train considering there is an Amtrak hub spot in downtown San Diego.   

Car: If you are up for it grab a car and take a road trip to sunny San Diego

Boat: San Diego is the main port for cruises, so if you are looking to hop on a cruise try to find on that makes a stop in San Diego. The boat harbor is located within walking distance to many attractions including the Santa Fe Depot public transport station! 

If you have already made it to San Diego, then I personally think the two best ways to get around are by either renting a car or using lyft/uber. 

If you have never used lyft or uber before you should! They are both great apps. First, you will need to download either the lyft or uber app on your phone. Once you have it downloaded you can set up your account. You will request a ride and put in your current location as well as the destination of where you would like to go. 

Feel free to use my invite code to get a discount on your first ride!

Lyft discount code: CHELSEY43147 

Uber discount code: chelsey98

A driver will come to pick you up from right where you are and take you to your location. All for an affordable price! This is the perfect way to get around a busy city. You get to sit back and relax while your driver navigates all the downtown traffic.

Downtown San Diego Bay

Another great option is using a rental car to get around San Diego for one day. If you are looking for a car rental then check out carrental8.com here for prices of up to 43% off 

SAMPLE ONE DAY IN SAN DIEGO ITINERARIES 

There is so much to do within just a two-mile radius of the San Diego International Airport as well as the harbor. You can do anything from visiting the beach to seeing Giraffes. The following sections below will give you sample itineraries for one day in San Diego.

A DAY AROUND OLD TOWN AND MISSION BAY 

Old Town is considered to San Diego’s old downtown area. It is one of the most visited state parks in California. This is a colorful little town that represents the heritage of Mexico. You will find lots of bright colors and Mexican flavored restaurants.

Begin your morning with a cup of coffee from the American House Coffee and Tea. If you would like to get your coffee to go and walk around the historic Old Town. There are quite a few artifacts and historical buildings in this part of town. Make sure not to miss the Casa de Estudillo, the McCoy house, and the Old Adobe Chapel. 

Before you head out of Old Town grab a seat and order some lunch from Cafe Coyote. Enjoy a classic Hispanic themed meal. Maybe grab a fish taco? You won’t be disappointed. 

carousel at Belmont Park in Mission Beach

It is now time to head over to Mission Bay. Once you arrive, you have a few options! If you are up for a thrill then check out the arcade and roller coaster ride at Belmont Park. This place makes for a fun afternoon, especially for the kids. Or head on over to mission beach or pacific beach and get your tan on. 

Lastly, if you are a fitness junkie and love trying new gyms then you should check out the new Fit gym located right along the beach. You can workout and get a view of the ocean. Or if you don’t want to workout and have kids then check out The Plunge. A historic indoor pool located right next to the beach.

Enjoy a beachside rooftop dinner while the sun is going down and with live music in the background at Cannonball.

If you are a party animal or a college student and looking for some nightlife there are tons of bars and nightclubs in Pacific Beach. If you are a family and looking for some delicious desserts check out the Baked Bear for cookie ice cream sandwiches. 

So as a recap here is a breakdown of one day around Old Town and Pacific Beach with times:

900-1000 AM: Coffee and breakfast from the American House of Coffee and Tea 1000-1200 PM: Walk around the historic Old Town  1200-100 PM: Grab a fish taco or lunch from Cafe Coyote 100-500 PM: Head to Mission Beach, walk around Belmont Park, or tan at Pacific Beach 515-630 PM: Grab dinner from Cannonball and watch the sunset go down 645-900 PM: Head out to a bar in Pacific Beach or get dessert from the Baked Bear.


A DAY AROUND DOWNTOWN SAN DIEGO 

Coming in by cruise ship or on a plane and just have a day to spend in San Diego. Here are some fun things to do near the San Diego airport. Head on down to downtown San Diego for a full day of activities. Begin your morning off by enjoying a warm cup of coffee or chai tea latte with a little breakfast at Parakeet Cafe in Little Italy.

Things to do in San Diego

24hrs in San Diego, California

After a delicious breakfast, you are now ready for your day! Head over to the USS Midway Museum for an amazing tour of this historic aircraft ship. This ship was used in the Battle of Midway in 1942. You can grab tickets for the USS Midway here. Grab a ticket and do a self-guided audio tour. Allow about two hours to complete the audio tour.

Locals Tip: Make sure to walk by the Star of India boat on your way to the USS Midway. This is another historic boat and is considered the world’s oldest active sailing ship. 

Fun fact: I did an overnight stay on the Star of India back in eighth grade!

After the USS Midway Museum tour head over to Seaport Village for an afternoon lunch along the coastline. Walk around the Victorian styled shops and maybe even enjoy a ride on the carousel. For lunch, I recommend eating at the Harbor House to enjoy a great view or grabbing a sandwich from the Grill shack and have a picnic at the Embarcadero Marina Park.

Now it is time to head into actual “downtown” San Diego. Looking for some shopping then head to the Horton Plaza. Make sure to walk down 4th and 5th street as these are known as the Gaslamp Quarter. It is a fun vibe! If you are looking to go out to a fun bar or clubbing at night then the Gaslamp will be your spot. 

You now have a few options for what you could do next. You could either head over to Point Loma or head to Ocean Beach. If you choose to go to Point Loma then I recommend you talk a walk around Cabrillo National Monument. 

However, if you choose to go to Ocean Beach grab your swimsuit and towel and head to the beach to relax. If you are looking for an afternoon snack make sure to grab an acai bowl from one of the cafes on the main street (Newport St.) in Ocean Beach. 

Regardless of whether you choose to go to Point Loma or Ocean Beach, for dinner, you should grab a California burrito from Ortiz’s taco shop. Take it and eat it at Sunset Cliffs while you watch the sun go down! 

California Burrito what to eat in San Diego

If you are in town for baseball season, then you could head back downtown to watch a Padres game at the newly renovated Petco Stadium. Even if it is not baseball seasons you can still catch a tour of Petco Park. Grab your tickets here.

Other options for nighttime include: going out in the Gaslamp district, heading to a brewery in Ocean Beach or grabbing a drink and playing Bingo at the Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. 

So as a recap here is a breakdown of one day around downtown San Diego with times:

800-900 AM: Grab breakfast at Parakeet Cafe or another cute cafe of your choice 930-1130 AM: Head over to the USS Midway for a self- guided audio tour (2 hours) 1200-100 PM: Grab lunch at the Harbor House or the Grill Shack  115-245 PM: Walk around Gaslamp or go shopping at Horton Plaza 300-500 PM: Either head to Point Loma and walk around Cabrillo National Monument or head to Ocean Beach and enjoy some time relaxing on the beach.  530-600 PM: Grab a burrito from Ortiz’s 615-700 PM: Eat your burrito and watch the sunset on Sunset Cliffs.

Have an extra day or extra time in San Diego and want to visit one of the local theme parks then check out Sea World! This theme park offers fun rollercoasters and the ability to learn about under the sea creatures. Click here for more information and discounted tickets!

A DAY AROUND LA JOLLA 

La Jolla is known to be one of the more “ritzy” neighborhoods in San Diego; however, you will not want to miss this place. It is absolutely stunning, hence why the rich live here. La Jolla is known for its rugged coastline and sweeping ocean views. Here is a full itinerary of what to do in La Jolla for your 1 day in San Diego.  

A day around La Jolla Beach

Begin your morning with breakfast and a coffee from Bird Rock Roasters in La Jolla. Don’t forget to take a picture by the cute retro truck outside the coffee shop. If you are looking for more of a sit-down breakfast then check out The Brocton Villa. It offers beautiful views of the coastline.

It is now the perfect time to take a walk. Head just across the street to check out the La Jolla Cove Cave. Pay a $5 entrance fee to walk down into a cave! Next up! If you are up for an adventure then La Jolla Cove is the perfect place to go kayaking, snorkeling or even paddleboarding. You can grab a rental item from the La Jolla Cave Rentals website here. You can have the chance to swim with seals, turtles, and maybe even a leopard shark! 

Waves crashing into the la jolla shores beaches

If this type of adventure is not your thing that’s ok too! Head over to the La Jolla Shores beach, grab your towel and spend your day working on your tan. You can also take a walk along the coastline and head to Children’s Beach and Seal Rock to watch the seals lounge in the sun too. 

Grab a sandwich for lunch and eat it along the coastline on one of the cute benches facing the ocean. 

After kayaking or relaxing on the beach, head on over to Torrey Pines for a casual walk/easy hike. Just park along the beach and start your walk from there. It will begin on an uphill paved road and then turn into dirt trails. There are a lot of trails throughout Torrey Pines, so just start walking on one!

You will probably be hungry after your hike, so head over to Roberto’s Taco to get a classic California Burrito before you leave the San Diego area. 

Locals Tip: Torrey Pines is a beautiful spot to watch the sunset

Sunset over torrey pines beach

If you are a lover of hiking make sure not to miss my article on the 9 Best Hikes in San Diego.

So as a recap here is a breakdown of one day around La Jolla with times:

830-930 AM: Grab breakfast and coffee from Bird Rock Roasters 930-1030 AM: Visit the La Jolla Cove Cave 1045-215 PM: Either go kayaking, snorkeling, surfing, or relax on the beach 230-330 PM: Walk along the coastline and see the seals and grab a quick sandwich for lunch 330-515 PM: Walk around Torrey Pines 530-630 PM: Grab a California Burrito from Roberto’s Taco 630-730 PM: Watch the sunset from Torrey Pines State Beach.
Feeling lazy and want someone else to plan your day? Book this La Jolla tour and the company will take care of everything for you! No planning needed! 

Surfer on the shores of La Jolla near La Jolla beach hotels

Staying extra days in San Diego, but don’t know where you should stay? La Jolla is the perfect place! Check out my article on the best hotels to stay at in La Jolla.


A DAY AROUND CORONADO 

Coronado is an island home to the Navy base located in San Diego County. It is connected to downtown San Diego by a bridge across the bay. There are a few ways to get over to Coronado. You can drive across the bridge or for a better experience take the ferry across! 

Board the San Diego Coronado Ferry (just adjacent to the cruise ship terminal) every hour on the hour starting at 9:00 AM.  Once you arrive in Coronado walk down the main street, Orange Avenue. Along this street, you will find quaint shops and some delicious restaurants. Take in the charm of this down.

What to do in Coronado California

Begin your morning by eating breakfast and getting coffee from Cafe 1134. I personally enjoy their egg sandwich. After breakfast, get a bike rental from Wheel Fun Rentals and enjoy exploring the island by bike. Bike along the paved beach boardwalk over to the golf course and then enjoy some views of downtown San Diego.

Make sure to look at the gigantic mansions along the way. Coronado is home to some of the richest people in San Diego. 

Is it a hot day out and you would rather get in the water to cool? Relax on Coronado beach and jump in the ways or head to the other side of the island and rent a jet ski. 

After you have finished your afternoon activity head over to the famous Hotel Del Coronado for lunch and a refreshing drink. This oceanfront hotel is a classic victorian landmark with its red rooftops and elegant lobby. Make sure to take a stroll through the hotel as it has catered to many Hollywood royalty. 

Ice cream at coronado

End your night by grabbing a fancy dinner on the island of Coronado. This is a town that you will want to dress up in as the rich live here. If you are up to it, grab some ice cream from moo time prior to leaving. 

So as a recap here is a breakdown of one day around Coronado with times:

900-1000 AM: Catch the ferry over to Coronado 1015-1115 AM: Walk down Orange Ave and grab coffee and brunch from Cafe 1134 1130-230 PM: Rent a bike, rent a jet ski or tan on the beach 245-345 PM: Lunch and drinks at the Hotel Del 345-445 PM: Walk around the Hotel Del 500-630 PM: Head out for a fancy dinner  700-800 PM: Enjoy some ice cream from moo time 

OTHER FUN THINGS TO DO IF YOU HAVE MORE TIME

If you have more time than one day in San Diego or you can exchange out any of the activities I suggested above for some of the activities below.

BALBOA PARK

This is a huge urban park in the middle of San Diego. Honestly, you could probably spend more than one day in Balboa Park, it is that big. Consisting of over 1,200 acres this park offers anything and everything from museums, to restaurants, to visiting the San Diego Zoo. 

Balboa Park things to do in San Diego

Balboa Park hosts a lot of fun activities throughout the year, one of my favorites being during Christmas time. They hold a huge event called December Nights. You can read more about that in my article here.

For a full list of what to do and what to see in Balboa Park check out the main website here.

SAN DIEGO ZOO

Located within Balboa Park is the San Diego Zoo. This zoo is considered to be one of the best zoos in the world. So, at some point, you will want to visit here. This zoo houses over 3,500 animals!
For discounted zoo tickets you can go here!  

San Diego zoo things to do

MEXICO

Being in San Diego means you are close to the border. You can easily drive or even walk across the border as long as you have your passport with you. Mexico is such a fun place to visit, but please check the areas prior to going for safety precautions.

A fellow San Diego blogger talks a lot about her trips to Mexico and gives lots of recommendations on where you can go. Check out her blog here.

GO SAN DIEGO CARD 

If you plan to be in San Diego for more than one day then one of the best San Diego day tour options is purchasing the Go Pass. By purchasing this Go Pass you will get 50% savings off of more than 40 attractions. Places include, but are not limited to: San Diego Zoo, Legoland, Sea World, USS Midway and much more!

This is the perfect card to purchase when visiting San Diego with your significant other or with your family. 

FINAL THOUGHTS FROM A SAN DIEGO LOCAL

As a born and raised, local San Diego girl you better believe that I have been to all these places on this list. It is so hard to choose what to do with just one day in San Diego. 

You may ask is one day enough in San Diego? The answer is, honestly, probably not, but don’t let that deter you. You can definitely do a TON of things in one day in San Diego. You will just need to prioritize what you would like to see and do! Stick to a timeline and make the most of it!

Tips from a local San Diego girl on a boat

Also, if you didn’t notice. I recommend a lot of Mexican restaurants. I may be slightly obsessed with burritos and San Diego is the perfect place to get an authentic burrito. If you are new to the area make sure to try a California burrito. It is unique, but I think you will like it!

Well folks, there you have it! That was my ultimate guide to San Diego in one day with sample itineraries. I hope you liked it! If you have any recommendations or want to let me know your favorite place in San Diego make sure to comment below or leave me a message on Facebook or Instagram! 

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The ultimate guide to spending 1 day in San Diego. Sample itineraries and all. #sandiego #guidetosandiego #california #trips #travel #southerncalifornia Make the most of your 24hrs in San Diego.

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17 Comments

  1. I’m so happy to read this post because I live in San Diego and love it! You’ve presented so many wonderful options. My favorite place (go-to for relaxing) is Coronado. We were just there to enjoy the sunset on the beach. I’m always so thankful to live in a city with such beauty and variety and vitality!

  2. Love your pics! I’m an East Coast girl, born and raised but I love the west coast. I’ve got to get out there more often. San Diego is definitely on the list. I’ll pin the post for future reference!

    1. Thank you 🙂 I love the East Coast too! My husband is from there, so it is fun to go back there some times and enjoy the different seasons. Definitely come visit San Diego sometime!

  3. This is such a great detailed run down of how to spend time in San Diego! Balboa Park looks absolutely gorgeous. I have yet to make it to San Diego but it is definitely on my radar.

  4. Thanks for the tip about the gym on the beach! I’ve been to San Diego – and really liked it! – but had no idea about that. Will have to check it out next time 🙂

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