When it comes to finding great things to do in downtown San Diego, we’ve got you covered with a great list of the top things that are all nearly within walking distance of each other. With such great weather all year-round, you can spend your time outdoors at the many great free things to do in San Diego, like strolling the downtown Gaslamp District or touring the epic USS Midway aircraft carrier in the harbor.
If you have kids, then downtown San Diego also has plenty of fun things you can do with kids, like playing in the sprawling waterfront park, or experiencing one of the many amazing museums, like the New Children’s Museum, or the Fleet Science Center.
For fun things to do in the evening, check out our top 10 things to do in San Diego at night. If you are looking for a more complete list, be sure to browse our list of the 52 best things to do in San Diego so you don’t miss out on what this amazing California town has to offer.
1. Gaslamp District
This historic downtown San Diego neighborhood is a fun area known for its shopping, great restaurants, and people-watching. With a mix of both national and independent retailers and eateries, there is definitely something for everyone, so take some time strolling this unique neighborhood.
We’d recommend visiting the Gaslamp District if you want to do some shopping or find a lively place to have a good meal.
2. Maritime Museum of San Diego
One of the largest collections of historic sea-craft, the Maritime Museum of San Diego is definitely worth a visit. Here, you can tour many types of preserved ships, submarines and other vessels that are showcased. The centerpiece of the museum is a ship called the Star of India that was built in the UK in 1863. This ship is considered a California Historical Landmark.
3. San Diego Zoo
Zoos are always a fun activity with kids, and the San Diego Zoo definitely does not disappoint. With a wide range of animals and exhibits, you are transported all around the world as you explore the zoo, from watching cute pandas eat their meal of bamboo to coming face-to-face with a polar bear.
Apart from all the great animals, you can take a scenic gondola ride over the top of the park which is fun, and actually a little scary if you’re afraid of heights. Also, this zoo is pretty hilly, so be prepared to climb some stairs and get some exercise.
4. USS Midway Museum
The USS Midway is an impressively large decommissioned US aircraft carrier that sits in its final resting place in the downtown San Diego harbor. With over 1 million visitors each year, this is officially the most popular warship museum in the US.
Serving from 1945 to 1992, the USS Midway was the longest-serving aircraft carrier of the entire fleet and is definitely worth a tour if you are interested at all in what goes on inside a battleship
5. Seaport Village
Seaport Village is a fun, walkable district on the San Diego Bay waterfront next to downtown and features many restaurants, shops, and retailers of all kinds. With a promenade that borders the water, you can walk all four miles along this district and be joined by joggers, bicyclists, and other tourists enjoying the sights.
6. Fleet Science Center
The Fleet Science Center is a great destination if you are visiting San Diego with kids. With a science museum, planetarium, and Imax theatre all in one place, this is a fun and educational experience for kids of all ages. With permanent exhibits, and a fresh lineup of amazing Imax films, you’re sure to have a great time visiting the Fleet Science Center.
7. Waterfront Park
Another great spot to take your kids, Waterfront Park is located in downtown San Diego and looks out over the bay. This park is truly packed with interesting play equipment and water features and is guaranteed to keep your kids entertained for hours.
In addition to the great features for kids, Waterfront Park also has a wedding & event venue, native plants garden, and various public art displayed throughout the park grounds.
8. The San Diego Museum of Art
If you’re looking for a more refined experience while visiting SD, then the San Diego Museum of Art could be just the thing for you. Opened in 1926, this museum is considered the oldest and largest museum to open in the San Diego region and houses many rare collections of art dating all the way back to 5000BC. Set in the lovely Balboa Park adjacent to downtown SD, this is a great activity to combine with visiting the park’s other destinations, like the Zoo, or the Fleet Science Center.
9. The Donut Bar
For a one-of-a-kind culinary experience in Downtown San Diego, the Donut Bar serves up some of the wildest donuts imaginable. Not exactly a healthy snack, these deep-fried wonders will have you coming back for more.
Started by an award-winning chef, this unique shop is definitely on the wacky side, but if you like donuts it’s a must if you’re visiting downtown San Diego.
10. San Diego Natural History Museum
Like many of the other great destinations in this list, the San Diego Natural History Museum is located in Balboa Park and is the oldest scientific institute in Southern California. From the interesting to astonishing, and everything in between the exhibits featured here will show you parts of the natural world you never knew existed.
We put this up at the top of the list of things to do if you have kids and are visiting Balboa Park.
11. The New Children’s Museum
If you are visiting downtown SD with younger children, then the New Children’s Museum should absolutely be on your list. With a motto of “Think, Play, Learn”, this museum features very imaginative play areas, exhibits, and art installations that will stimulate the imagination.
12. Coronado Ferry
If you are planning to visit Coronado Island, then this the Coronado Ferry is a fun activity to add to your visit. Connecting downtown San Diego and the island, passengers can board the ferry close to downtown and take the short 15-minute crossing. During the ferry ride, you get close to the passing boats and get a great view of the Coronado bridge and the downtown skyline.
13. Spruce Street Suspension Bridge
This 375-foot long suspension bridge is a fun hidden gem located in the Bankers Hill neighborhood close to downtown. From the middle of the bridge, you have expansive views of the canyon far below, making this a special and serene walk for local pedestrians and tourists alike. If you are scared of heights, beware – on windy days the bridge does move slightly with the wind and can give you a good scare if you’re not prepared.
14. Chicano Park
Chicano Park is a creative park located underneath the Coronado Bridge where you can see fascinating artwork and art installations that pay homage to the Mexican-American heritage in the San Diego area. Featuring many large colorful murals, sculptures, and earthworks, this unique park could be the most colorful destination in all of San Diego.
15. Balboa Botanic Garden
The Balboa Botanic Garden is a beautiful and another on the free things to do in San Diego list. With an extensive collection of over 2100 permanent specimens, the main indoor garden showcases many interesting species of tropical ferns, orchids, and palm trees. Originally built in 1915 for an international exposition, this garden is really a fascinating place to explore.
16. San Diego Automotive Museum
The San Diego Automotive Museum is a great destination if you are a classic car enthusiast. This museum features many rare cars and motorcycles and highlights the cultural impact of cars throughout history.
Also located in Balboa Park, this is yet another unique destination that the park has to offer.
17. Old Town San Diego
To get a taste of what the early settlers of San Diego lived like, you should consider visiting Old Town San Diego. This historic district showcases preserved original buildings that date to the early 1800s. Of the remaining buildings in this neighborhood, you can see a schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, a cigar store, and a carriage house. Along with the historic buildings, this area also features local artisans showing off their unique crafts.
18. Balboa Park
Balboa Park is a huge 1200 acre park at the heart of downtown San Diego and features many destinations and attractions on our top list of things to do in San Diego. In addition to all the museums and the San Diego Zoo, this park has many gardens, open spaces, walking trails, restaurants, and gift shops to explore. You can spend multiple days in Balboa park experiencing all the fun things to do.
If you are visiting for any amount of time, you absolutely need to visit this park and experience its diverse array of destinations.
If you are fan of craft beer, then you need to experience San Diego’s craft brew district. Dubbed “Beeramar”, this exploding collection of quality micro-breweries is located in the Miramar neighborhood near Downtown.
Not necessarily what you’d expect, this densely packed area of breweries is located in a seemingly boring cluster of industrial buildings and feels less like a hip nightlife spot and more like a factory setting. Nevertheless, this area has become legendary as a hotbed of beer innovation and now there are well over 100 different popular beer brands that call this area of San Diego their home.
20. Little Italy
For a quick trip to the opposite side of the globe, take a stroll around the Little Italy neighborhood. This unique San Diego borough started as an Italian and Portuguese fishing neighborhood and has over the years been gentrified now be a popular area for locals and visitors to experience authentic Italian restaurants, grocery stores, and art galleries.
21. San Diego Harbor Cruise
Since the San Diego Harbor is so expansive, a harbor cruise is a great way to explore all the sights and destinations that surround this unique harbor. With multiple companies offering harbor cruises, we’d recommend you check out the cruises offered by Flagship Cruises.
One the cruise, you’ll see great views of the San Diego skyline, Coronado Island, and the Coronado Military Base that always has some impressive warships at anchor.
22. Petco Park
For one of the best things to do in Downtown San Diego, we’d recommend going to a baseball game at Petco Park. In the direct center of Downtown, Petco Park is home to the San Diego Padres and in addition to baseball, the park also hosts many concerts, soccer, and rugby events. Be sure to check the Petco Park calendar to see what’s happening while you’re in town.