With marvelous weather year-round, there’s no need to take a rain check on any of the famed San Diego activities that make this town so special. We’ve compiled a list of unique things to do in San Diego – from San Diego beaches to things to do in San Diego at night. Whether you’re traveling with kids or coworkers, San Diego has a lot to offer for any interest.
Soak up San Diego’s impressive vistas on a walk along the waterfront
Whether you’re staying at Stay Alfred’s travel apartments in the Gaslamp Quarter or the East Village, you’re never far from the water’s edge. Strap on your Fitbit, lace up your sneakers, and slap on some sunscreen - then head to the Embarcadero path. We recommend starting on the south end, behind the Hilton San Diego Bayfront - the path’s southern terminus.
From there, walk northwest, past the San Diego Convention Center, until you come across Seaport Village and the Saturday-only Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, where you might want to stop for a snack. Otherwise, save your appetite for the Fish Market Restaurant, known for #views and top-notch seafood, which is just a few minutes further. After fueling up, visit the famed USS Midway Museum, a one-of-a-kind aircraft-carrier-turned-museum that educates visitors on military history and shipboard life. Check out the impressive collection of military aircraft too!
Are your legs still kickin’? Continue on your northbound path to more notable, nautical attractions: the historic Star of India and the Maritime Museum of San Diego. Together, these comprise some of the best examples of antique vessels in the world, which are fascinating to see for yourself. And when you’re ready to plop down on a park bench and admire the ocean views without strolling along at the same time, Waterfront Park is just the place for a little post-walk siesta.
The waterfront is also one of the most beautiful places to walk at night in San Diego, both solo or with a special someone! Breathe in that fresh sea air before retreating to bed for a good night’s sleep.
Visit the highlights at Balboa Park
When you want to see a whole slew of highlights in one outing, where do you go? Balboa Park, of course! This San Diego landmark is essentially a one-stop-shop for things to do; you’ll find the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Air & Space Museum, the Fleet Science Center, and more – in fact, there are 17 museums within the park! But for sun seekers, Balboa Park is one of the best things to do in San Diego alone or with a group of friends, thanks to its sprawling grassy areas and picturesque views. It’s the perfect place for a picnic or to curl up with a good book. It’s even a great place to get some exercise with running trails, a golf course, and a disc golf course!
Raise a glass at a rooftop bar
Looking for things to do in San Diego at night? Enjoy the fabulous SoCal breezes with a cold drink in your hand on a rooftop in San Diego’s hip Gaslamp Quarter. Some recommended rooftops include Rustic Root (also known for tasty farm-to-table fare), The Nolen (famous for cocktails), and The Rooftop by STK (dress to the nines!). For some of the best craft cocktails in town, head the Kettner Exchange for a memorable night out. What could be better than city views and a vibrant ambiance? That’s right, you’ll also be within walking distance of our San Diego vacation rentals, so taking an Uber isn’t necessary!
Step back in time in Old Town
Officially established in 1769, San Diego has a long and storied past. While the Downtown area is quite modern today, there’s one neighborhood that maintains a historic vibe to this day: Old Town. High on the list of things to do in San Diego with kids, Old Town offers a glimpse into life in the Wild West, complete with a general store and a saloon, plus several museums and mouth-watering Mexican food. The fun doesn’t stop when the sun goes down; Old Town San Diego at night is always exciting, with live music and dancing in the old-school watering holes.
Admire the views at Cabrillo National Monument
Searching for non-touristy things to do in San Diego that are still exciting for visitors? Get off the beaten path and head south to the Cabrillo National Monument, which is set within a spectacular national park of the same name. On a clear day (let’s face it, that’s nearly every day in San Diego), you can admire views for miles, so it’s an excellent spot for bird watching, sunbathing, or running. Maybe you’ll even want to grab some picnic fare and for an afternoon meal al fresco!
Take your waterfront exercise to the next level by going for a scenic jog - you’ll be surprised how quickly the miles fly by when the scenery is so beautiful! Don’t miss stopping to sprint up the Grand Staircase behind the San Diego Convention Center and taking a detour through Embarcadero Marina Park North or Embarcadero Marina Park South.
Catch a Padres game at Petco Park without worrying about parking
Taking yourself (and your travel companions) out to the ballgame has never been so easy; San Diego’s Petco Park is located smack-dab in the middle of Downtown. It’s within walking distance of the Gaslamp Quarter and the East Village, as well as several light rail stations.
Holding over 40,000 spectators, Petco Park is an attraction in and of itself, with a whole host of food and drink options and souvenir stores. In fact, you can even take a tour of the stadium! The Padres play regularly from October to late February, but even when the MLB isn’t in season, you can visit the arena for a tour or to watch a concert.
And regardless who wins, we can all agree that the best part of the experience is walking past those poor souls who chose to drive as they’re stuck in traffic trying to exit the parking lot. You’ll be back in your Stay Alfred before they’ve gotten on the road!
Swap four wheels for two wheels with a San Diego bike rental
There’s just something iconic about riding along the California coast with the wind in your hair and the sun on your face. Luckily, you can easily add that experience to your San Diego agenda thanks to the bike-friendly streets and numerous bike rental options.
In addition to traditional bike rental shops, San Diego has caught on to the bike-sharing trend. Discover Bike Stations are found every few blocks throughout Downtown, and with a simple swipe of a credit card, you can check out a bike be on your way. Rental periods are 30 minutes or 1, 2, 4, or 8 hours, so you can enjoy a quick jaunt across the Coronado Bridge or a full Tour de San Diego.
However, a serious cyclist might want a more sophisticated set of wheels, like the type you’d find at The Bike Revolution. Choose a mountain bike or a road bike, and the shop’s friendly staff will be more than happy to help you find the route of your dreams. But if you’d rather leave the navigating up to a knowledgeable guide, book a bike tour with Another Side of San Diego Tours, who will take you on an exhilarating ride through Coronado, La Jolla, Mission Bay, or a number of other districts.
Head out on the harbor and take the ferry to Coronado
Want to take San Diego’s cheapest harbor cruise? Okay, maybe the ferry from Downtown San Diego to Coronado isn’t exactly a cruise (for that, check out Hornblower Cruises), but it sure is scenic and cheap! At $4.75 a pop one-way - and bicycles and kids under 3 ride for free - it’s one of the best inexpensive things to do in San Diego.
Coming from Downtown, board the ferry at either Broadway Pier (near the USS Midway) or Fifth Avenue Landing (near the Convention Center). The ride lasts about 15 minutes, and the ferry will drop you off across the harbor at the Coronado Ferry Landing.
But if you haven’t quite worked up an appetite, take a leisurely stroll through Centennial Park to admire the San Diego skyline, learn about local history at the Coronado Museum of History and Art, or dig your feet in the sand at Coronado Beach - which is also a spectacular spot to watch the sunset.
Give your feet a break and watch a show at a San Diego theater
Though the weather and incredible Mexican food often hog the spotlight, San Diego’s arts and culture scene rivals that of any major city. Whether you’re into live music, theatre, or indie films, America’s Finest City has something that is sure to entertain you.
Thespians can add the San Diego Civic Theatre to their SoCal agenda, where locals and tourists alike flock to watch sophisticated drama productions and shows especially for kids. Also notable for live shows are the Lyceum Theatre and historic Balboa Theatre - all within walking distance from the Gaslamp Quarter and the Civic Center light rail station.
Fans of all music genres will find something to delight their ears here, between the renowned San Diego Symphony and San Diego Opera and intimate venues like Music Box. And movie buffs can catch everything from foreign films to festival favorites at Spreckels Theatre.
Walked up an appetite? Dine at the best Downtown San Diego restaurants
Searching for that perfect place to celebrate a birthday or impress a special someone? San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter is home to the best restaurants in town - and they’re all within walking distance of the top San Diego attractions and any San Diego Stay Alfred travel apartment.
For a romantic night out, Asti Ristorante is a fabulous place to start. Here, you can share a spaghetti primavera (Lady and the Tramp style) in flattering candlelight - either on the outdoor patio or cozy brick dining room. Another solid bet for classic Italian favorites is De Medici Ristorante Italiano, known for tableside preparations of caesar salads and steak Diane. And if small plates and wine are more your style, head to Osteria Panevino for Tuscan-inspired happy hour specials, apps, and pizzas.
But there’s more to San Diego’s restaurant scene than only Italian food, and the Gaslamp Quarter boasts restaurants serving nearly every cuisine imaginable. Pull up a chair at Mexican eatery Curadero and dig into creative tacos and margaritas - or get your late-night taco to go from their quick-service window. How about some house-infused vodka and a pierogi? Pushkin Russian Restaurant serves up an excellent education in Eastern European cuisine, with entrees like chicken Kiev, rabbit, and borscht - and if you’re lucky, live music. Or for a taste of Japan, Taka’s upscale sushi bar is one of San Diego’s favorites for fresh fish and sake.
How about a meal with some California flair? Don’t miss local favorites like Cowboy Star Restaurant & Butcher Shop, Provisional Kitchen, and Water Grill San Diego, where you’ll find San Diego twists on American classics.
Hop on the light rail and indulge your inner history buff in Old Town San Diego
Believe us when we say San Diego has everything - good food, good culture, and, of course, plenty of history. There’s no better place to learn about San Diego’s past than Old Town, and it’s only here where you’ll find San Diego’s best Mexican restaurants too. Though it’s a lengthy walk to get here from Downtown, the light rail’s Sycuan Green Line gets you there in minutes.
Start your Old Town adventure at the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, just steps from the light rail station, but it will feel like you’ve stepped back in time by about 200 years. This interactive museum features 19th-century buildings, like a schoolhouse and general store, complete with some seriously convincing actors. More notable landmarks include the Mormon Battalion Historic Site, Presidio Park (where the first San Diego settlers arrived in the 1700s), and the Junipero Serra Museum.
After all that learning, you’ve definitely earned a beer (or at least a meal), so make a beeline for pretty much any restaurant nearby, and it’s guaranteed to be good. Cool off with a cold one at Modern Times Beer or have a pre-dinner (or pre-lunch, we don’t judge) margarita at Old Town Tequila Factory. Food options abound here, but some of the best for Mexican food include Casa Guadalajara, El Agave Tequileria, and the classic Old Town Mexican Cafe.
Nobody needs to be the D.D. when you walk to grab a drink at a Downtown San Diego bar
San Diego’s vibrant Downtown is packed with watering holes of every variety - from dives where you can show up in sweatpants and sneakers to glitzy clubs with bouncers and velvet ropes. Depending on what kind of night you have in mind, there’s at least a couple of spots that will provide just the right ambiance (and adult beverages).
Getting the night started early? Don’t miss happy hour at Taste & Thirst, where you can watch the game on the big screen and enjoy half-priced pints. Or start the evening with a little balance challenge at Double Deuce, likely Downtown San Diego’s only bar with a mechanical bull.
Feeling a bit classier? Sample craft beer, bourbon, and elevated bar bites at barleymash or sip a glass of your favorite varietal at Vin de Syrah. Then, see if you can find San Diego’s most loved speakeasy, Noble Experiment, famous for eclectic cocktails and prohibition-era vibes.
Or if bottle service and DJs are how you roll, dress your best and head to the Cat Eye Club, a cozy lounge just minutes on foot from the Gaslamp Quarter light rail station. Although, arriving in an Uber Lux would be perfectly acceptable. And the party keeps going until the wee hours at San Diego clubs like OMNIA, Side Bar, and Oxford Social Club.
Skip the transatlantic flight and head to San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood
When you’re eager to practice your “Italian hands” and indulge in a big pizza pie, there’s only one neighborhood to visit in San Diego: Little Italy. Just north of Downtown, this charming district boasts vintage boutiques, trendy bars, and, of course, extraordinary food.
We recommend heading to Little Italy on an empty stomach so you can enjoy the culinary delights found here. This neighborhood’s standards are high, so essentially every eatery serves up something really good. You can’t really go wrong, but if you’re faced with analysis paralysis, dig into a slice at Filippi's Pizza Grotto Little Italy or enjoy a blissful afternoon on the patio at Pappalecco.
Shop ‘til you drop at Mission Valley, then take light rail back to Downtown
It’s not vacation without a little retail therapy, and if you’re looking to check some items off of your wishlist, Mission Valley is where it’s at. Conveniently located about 30 minutes from Downtown via the light rail, Mission Valley boasts an impressive collection of shops that will certainly have what you’re looking for - and perhaps a few things you didn’t know you needed.
To visit Fashion Valley Mall, just hop on the Sycuan Green Line toward Santee and get off at the Fashion Valley Transit Center stop. This indoor/outdoor mall features high-end stores like Nordstrom, Louis Vuitton, Bloomingdale’s, and more - including an Apple store and a Tesla store. And if you’ve shopped up an appetite, pop into True Food Kitchen or grab a latte at Better Buzz Coffee Roasters.
Just two stops further (get off at Mission Valley Center Station), Westfield Mission Valley boasts a plethora of name-brand stores, and, most importantly, refreshing A/C. It’s easy to spend a whole day here, especially when there’s an AMC movie theater, a Target, and a whole host of restaurants. And stores like Nordstrom Rack and Bloomingdale’s Outlet will ensure you find some good bargains.
Ready to head back Downtown? Just catch the Sycuan Green Line again - heading toward 12th & Imperial.
Take a day trip to the charming town of Solana Beach
Don’t get us wrong, we could explore San Diego for weeks on end and still find new things to do and places to eat. But with so many darling beach towns near America’s Finest City, a trip to San Diego should also include a little jaunt outside the city. Thanks to the aptly named Coaster train, which runs north along the coast from San Diego - Santa Fe Station, visiting gems like Solana Beach is easier than ever.
From Downtown San Diego, Solana Beach is a quick 40-minute train ride through the scenic Torrey Pines State Reserve. Disembark at Solana Beach Station, and the whole town is walkable. We recommend checking out Fletcher Cove and Tide Beach Park to catch some rays before strolling among the galleries and boutiques up and down Cedros Avenue. Pro tip: Go on a Sunday to scout out some quality finds at the Solana Beach Farmers’ Market, which also runs along Cedros Avenue.
And when you’re ready for a snack or a drink, Solana Beach is jam-packed with local favorites. Get your caffeine fix at Lofty Coffee Solana Beach Cafe or belly up to some breakfast classics at Hide Away Cafe for the perfect lazy morning meal. Later on, toast to a great day with a pint at Culture Brewing Co before testing your spice tolerance at Bangkok Bay, known for authentic Thai dishes with a kick.
Bonus! Book a San Diego Stay Alfred travel apartment and take a vacation from driving
Nothing ruins a carefree vacation like struggling to find a parking space or sitting in traffic, and in beautiful San Diego, you’ll enjoy your holiday away from the car as much as the time away from the office. And since you won’t be sitting in a cramped economy rental car, you surely won’t want to feel claustrophobic in a small San Diego hotel room either. Give yourself the space and privacy you deserve at your very own Stay Alfred travel apartment in the East Village or the Gaslamp Quarter.
In the convenient East Village, Stay Alfred on 10th Avenue and Stay Alfred on G Street are just steps away from essentials like grocery stores, cafes, and a light rail station. Our 10th Avenue digs feature two airy bedrooms, full kitchens, and plenty of space to relax outside between a courtyard and patio with fire pits. And, a couple blocks away, G Street features a resort-style outdoor pool, a panoramic rooftop deck, and a state-of-the-art fitness center - if walking isn’t enough exercise for you!
And if walkability to nightlife, shopping, and Balboa Theater is a priority, the Gaslamp Quarter is your ‘hood. Take your pick from Stay Alfred on 6th Avenue or Stay Alfred on 7th Avenue, both of which come fully equipped with swanky kitchens, in-unit laundry (so you can save your steps for something more fun than a laundromat), and modern furnishings. On 6th Avenue, the fitness fiends will love the upscale fitness center, and the more chill-minded folks will savor the cabanas and BBQ area on 7th Avenue.
Discover charming La Jolla
San Diego’s darling neighbor to the north, La Jolla, is a favorite weekend haunt for both locals and visitors. This seaside town is home to eclectic boutiques, sophisticated restaurants, and a gorgeous, rugged coastline that’s also home to frolicking seals and sea lions. On a sunny day, you just can’t beat walking along the water at La Jolla Cove before grabbing a drink or brunch at George’s, Herringbone, or Karl Strauss Brewing Company.
Thanks to the perfect weather conditions and these fun San Diego activities, you won’t want to leave!