Whether you’re visiting for the first time, or have been there before, San Diego, California has a lot to offer. So how do you find the best places to visit in San Diego?
Start right here with our handy guide. We’ll give you all of our best recommendations, whether you’re wanting to visit San Diego on a budget, splurge on a romantic weekend getaway, or see the sights with the family.
Before You Go
So you’ve decided you’d like to visit San Diego. The first thing to consider is timing. But when is the best time to visit San Diego?
According to US News and World Report, the best times are in the spring or fall. This way you can take advantage of the beautiful San Diego weather, which stays at a warm 60 or 70 degrees year round, but miss the crowded summer tourist season.
The next thing to consider is how to get to San Diego.
If you live close enough to Southern California, you might decide to take a road trip. If so, we recommend renting a vehicle with unlimited miles in order to avoid added wear and tear on your car. Check out our CarRentals.com coupons and promo codes to save on a car rental whether you’re driving to SD or just picking up a car once you’ve arrived.
For those who would rather not spend too much time in the car, there are plenty of flights to be had into and out of San Diego International Airport (SAN). As always, do your research before booking tickets, as airfares rise and fall regularly. In addition to your favorite travel sites, be sure to check out our coupon codes for airfares, and especially our Virgin America coupons and promo codes, which often offers deals into San Diego, and Southwest Vacations coupons and promo codes, since they have a hub at SAN.
Next is where to stay once you’re in San Diego.
There are a great variety in rates and ratings for San Diego hotels, so plan wisely. You’ll want to stay close to whatever has drawn you to the city, so consider different properties downtown, near the beaches, in old town, or in any of the other beautiful San Diego neighborhoods. In addition to hotels, you might consider other options like vacation rentals, resorts, or even hostels for an inexpensive, but no-frills experience.
To help you save on your room, we have compiled lists of Marriott coupons, Hilton coupons Groupon Getaways coupons and promo codes, and lots of other hotel deals and coupons, so be sure to check them out!
What about getting around San Diego?
Of course, you could rent a car. There are lots of options in and around the airport, as well as in other parts of the city. Check out our car rental deals and coupons page to save if you choose to go this route. Remember to budget for parking, as you’ll have to pay to park in a lot of areas. Here’s a handy downtown San Diego parking map to help navigate the city’s parking options.
There are other fun ways to get around in and near San Diego though. Many of the most popular tourist spots can be reached through the San Diego Trolley, an economical and convenient way to get around town. The usual ride sharing opportunities are available too, so don’t forget Uber or Lyft.
San Diego Attractions
There are so many things to see and do in San Diego, but a few big attractions stand out.
- San Diego Zoo: Home to more than 3,000 animals from over 650 species and subspecies, the San Diego Zoo is considered one of the world’s finest. They’re one of the very few zoos in the world with a successful breeding program for giant pandas, and the zoo is always adding to and improving their exhibits. No trip to San Diego would be complete without visiting the San Diego Zoo.
- San Diego Safari Park (sometimes called the San Diego Wild Animal Park)
- Point Loma tourist attractions
If you’re looking for tickets to the hottest attractions in the region, make sure to stop by our Viator coupons page and Undercover Tourist promo codes page and save some green. Also, you might consider investing in a San Diego Go Card if you plan on seeing several attractions that are included in the program.
San Diego Events & Festivals
San Diego has a wide variety of annual events that draw people to the city from all over the world. SanDiego.org has a full events calendar, but we’ve curated a few of our favorites for your consideration:
- The San Diego County Fair runs for about a month in the early summer. As the largest county fair in the country, it’s a huge event with attendance over a million visitors per year! San Diego Fair tickets ran $18 per adult in 2017, but be sure to check their website before you go, to see what discounts are available.
- Since 1970, San Diego Comic-Con International (once called Golden State Comic Book Convention) has been drawing super hero fans the world over to southern California. These days it’s held at the San Diego Convention Center, and has an attendance of around 167,000. In addition, the audience has grown to encompass many pop culture genres including anime and manga fans, fans of cult television series and films, video game fans, and toy collectors.
- If open air concerts and delicious seafood sound like a fun pairing, you should probably check out San Diego Oysterfest. This adults only event (you have to be 21 to enter) features a variety of live bands and djs, plenty of oysters and other foods to enjoy, live art, and an annual “Shuck & Suck” contest.
Sports & Outdoors in San Diego
With weather this welcoming, you’re sure to want to spend some time outside. Luckily, San Diego has plenty of options for fun in the sun!
- For sports fans, the San Diego Padres at Petco Park are now the only pro team in town, since the Chargers relocated this year. Though they’ve never won a World Series, the Padres manage to maintain a small but loyal fan base. If you go, we recommend dressing in layers as night games can get chilly that close to the water.
- One of the main attractions to the region is the beautiful coastline. A handy tool for knowing which beach to visit is the Beach & Bay Water Quality Program website, which tracks closures and advisories at San Diego beaches from the San Luis Rey River Outlet down to the Border Field State Park. If you brought along the family pet, be sure to also check out the San Diego dog beach finder from BringFido.
- If you love water fun, but the beach is not your scene, there are several major San Diego water parks to choose from, including Mission Bay Aquatic Park, the largest man-made water park in the US.
- Perhaps a San Diego fishing trip is more your speed than a champagne brunch? There are plenty of opportunities for anglers of all skill levels. Choose from freshwater fishing in the area lakes, surf fishing along the coast, or charter a boat and fish the San Diego Bay. No matter which type you prefer, SD Fish has all of the details you’ll need to plan your fishing excursions.
- History buffs and military admirers will appreciate a tour of the USS Midway Museum, the longest serving Navy aircraft carrier of the last century. Aboard you’ll find over 60 exhibits as well as nearly 30 restored aircraft to explore.
- For those who’d rather spend time on the greens than on the water, there are nearly 90 area golf courses to choose from. Golf Advisor gives the destination 3.8 stars out of 5, and has an excellent ratings system to help you choose from among the San Diego golf courses.
- San Diego Balboa Park is 1,200 acres of gardens, museums, theaters, and of course, home to the San Diego Zoo. The outdoor recreational areas include playgrounds, sports complexes, running and biking trails, and plenty of vegetation and wildlife. Check out their calendar for upcoming events before you go.
- No matter the season, San Diego whale watching is a major draw for the area. In the winter and spring, the gray whale migration brings more than 20,000 whales past the area to their nurseries in Baja California. And in the summer and fall, you’ll find some 2,000-3,000 blue whales feeding off the coast. Check out San Diego Whale Watch or one of the other exceptional guides for more details.
- If shopping is your thing, Seaport Village is an excellent location for it. You’ll find over 50 shops, as well as plenty of restaurants, entertainment options and more here along the waterfront. In the Spring the village plays host to a busker festival with some of the country’s best and most unusual street performers entertaining anyone who cares to stop and watch.
Museums, Shows, & Indoor Fun
Even San Diego gets some rainy days. And there are certainly times you’ll want to get out of the sun and spend some time indoors. Here are some fantastic options for it!
- If you’d like to get up close and personal with sea life, but still have a wall of glass separating you, check out one of the many San Diego aquariums. Our pick is the Birch Aquarium at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
- For those with a passion for craft beers, or those who just want to sample some with your buddies, you’ll be pleased to know that there are well over 100 San Diego breweries to choose from. SanDiego.org hosts a complete list of breweries in San Diego County.
- Perhaps you’d rather take in some culture while you’re in town? The San Diego Museum of Art features a permanent collection of over 18,000 objects, as well as temporary exhibitions on loan from all parts of the globe. Highlights include works from Renoir, Matisse, and Reubens to name just a few.
- After the sun goes down, the city comes out to play. San Diego nightlife is vibrant and varied, and you can find rock clubs, jazz halls, karaoke bars, and hookah lounges in nearly every part of the city. We recommend the Gaslamp Quarter downtown, with its more than 100 venues, bars, and lounges.
- If your musical tastes run more toward Mozart and Debussy than Pitbull and Pennywise, be sure to check out the San Diego Opera and the, San Diego Symphony. Here you’ll find classical and jazz works as well as cultural offerings and more.
No matter how you choose to spend your time once you get there, we’re sure you’ll enjoy the welcoming warmth, youthful energy, and natural beauty of this SoCal destination!