San Diego is one of the most desirable vacation destinations in America. When most of the year is 72° and sunny, it’s easy to see why. On any given weekend, there are thousands and thousands of tourists flooding the paradise city from all over the world. Last year, San Diego welcomed a record number of 34.9 million visitors.
Writing up an itinerary for a quick stay in America’s Finest City can be a tough task, especially for first-timers. If the gorgeous San Diego is in the cards for a weekend getaway, here are five staples you need to hit.
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1. Coronado Beach
Coronado Beach is the quintessential image of the beauty that is Southern California. Located on Coronado Island (across the bay from the City of San Diego), the elegant beach area stretches 1.5 miles across the shoreline.
Coronado Beach is typically occupied by families and visitors looking to soak up the California sun next to the Pacific. The peaceful atmosphere makes this beach ideal for a relaxing afternoon surrounded by picturesque scenery. Other than taking in the views, the area has a handful of beach volleyball courts, fire pits for the evening time, and plenty of shower and bathroom facilities nearby. While this spot will certainly be beautiful regardless of when you come, going for a swim in the winter months isn’t ideal.
Be sure to check out the iconic Hotel del Coronado, a San Diego landmark that’s been around since 1888. If you’re there between late November and January, you have the unique opportunity to ice skate near the hotel! Also, and this should go without saying, DON’T miss the sunset!
2. USS Midway Museum
San Diego is a military city. It serves as the homeport to the Pacific fleet. If you’re spending an afternoon by the bay, the USS Midway Museum should definitely be on your list of things to check out. Before it became a museum, the USS Midway was the longest commissioned US aircraft carrier of the 20th century, serving from 1945 to 1992 and housing over 225,000 sailors throughout its lifetime.
Touring the retired vessel can be done in about 2-3 hours. The ship has more than 60 exhibits and showcases 29 planes from World War 2, the Korea War, and Operation Desert Storm. A few of the highlights on this self-guided tour include the engine room, the flight control room, and the crew’s sleeping quarters, in addition to everything on the 4-acre deck. While there are informative audio guides, it’s recommended to listen to the volunteers – some of which are veterans who actually served on the ship!
The pricing is very reasonable. If you buy online, tickets are even cheaper!
3. Mission/Pacific Beach
Mission/Pacific Beach is one of the biggest tourist hubs in San Diego. If you want to experience bustling beach vibes at their finest, this is the place to go. Separated by the Crystal Pier, the shoreline that is Mission/Pacific Beach is typically packed full of vacation-minded beachgoers and surfers.
Across from the beach, the boardwalk has a seemingly endless amount of options for food and souvenirs. In the summer months, the waves around Pacific Beach are ideal for first-time surfers. There are plenty of rental shops nearby and people to show you the ropes. Belmont Park, located between the beaches, is an amusement park ideal for keeping the kids occupied for a couple hours.
Even though Mission and Pacific Beach are located right next to each other, both have their own distinct characteristics. Mission Beach is a bit tamer, with most of the people being families. Pacific Beach, on the other hand, caters more to young adults. PB is known as a bona fide party town in San Diego.
Both areas are great places to unwind and enjoy the ocean. While entry is free, parking can be a challenge, especially on weekends or in the summer.
4. San Diego Zoo
San Diego is home to one of the most popular and expansive zoos in the country. Housing 3,500 endangered species, spending an afternoon at the zoo should definitely be in your weekend plans.
The extensive network of pathways will bring you through all kinds of renowned exhibits including the Money Trail, The Lost Forest, Tiger Trail, Hippo Trail, and much, much more. If your feet need a break, the park offers a 35-minute bus tour, as well as a Skyfari aerial tram that gives you a bird’s eye view of everything.
In addition to the exhibits, the zoo offers numerous animal shows and a 4D movie theater for some enhanced education. Time and time again, the San Diego Zoo proves to be a favorite destination for both tourists and locals. Perhaps the greatest aspect of the layout is how it’s designed to make it incredibly easy to see everything.
While admission is a bit pricey, touring the state of the art facility will be an experience you won’t regret.
5. The Gaslamp Quarter
The Gaslamp Quarter is widely considered the heart of San Diego. Comprised of 16 blocks downtown, the area is chock full of Victorian-style buildings and a myriad of shops, bars, and restaurants.
With all the amenities, the Gaslamp Quarter is perfect for a night out on the town. The neighborhood plays host to a number of high profile events, such as the annual Mardi Gras Parade, the Rock and Roll Marathon, and of course, the world-famous Comic-Con.
Gaslamp is the epitome of where glamour and glitz meets perfect SoCal weather. If you’re into trendy scenes and nightlife culture, spending an evening at one of the many patio or rooftop bars in the area should absolutely be in your plans.
If the Padres are in town, definitely try to incorporate a baseball game at the nearby Petco Park into your stay!
Over to You
The second you set foot in San Diego; you’ll completely understand why it’s such a popular destination. Now, squeezing in EVERYTHING awesome in San Diego is virtually impossible for a weekend. Frankly, this list only scratches the surface of what the city has to offer.
If a quick trip to America’s Finest City is in your plans, consider adding these recommendations to your list.
Kevin is a proud San Diego transplant from the Midwest. His love for travel and writing was the inspiration for his website Impulsive Wanderlust , a blogging platform that provides advice for
city trips, outdoor excursions, dining, nightlife, hospitality, and everything in between. When he isn’t writing or traveling, Kevin is either rock climbing, hanging out at the beach, or seeking out his next favorite craft beer.