If you are looking for a destination that’s warm, sunny, and has plenty of exciting things to do, then San Diego is just the place. Thought by many to be the “Birthplace of California”, this is a Southern California beach town that seems to always be having a good time. With stunning year-round beach weather, there are so many fun things to do in San Diego. This is the original California beach town you don’t want to miss.
There are so many amazing beaches to visit, like La Jolla Bay, Blacks Beach, and Sunset Cliffs. For fun things to do in San Diego with kids, we’d recommend Sea World, Belmont Amusement Park, or the Waterfront Park among many others.
If you are on a budget, then check out our fun list of free things to do in San Diego. If you’re spending time downtown, our list of top things to do in downtown San Diego will be a helpful travel guide. And, if you’re looking for something fun to do in the evening, browse our top ten things to do in San Diego at night so you don’t miss out on what this amazing town has to offer.
1. Sea World
Of all the entertaining things to do in SD, Sea World stands near the top of our list. More than just an aquarium, Seaworld offers a more immersive experience where visitors are treated to many different themed shows throughout the park, where trained sea animals perform and interact with their trainers in amazing ways. It’s like an aquarium and a circus got together and came up with something special.
With 11 million visitors each year, it’s definitely one of San Diego’s top attractions and well worth the cost of admission. Founded in 1964 with only a few dolphins, sea lions, and only 6 attractions, this park was an instant hit with more than 400,000 visitors in its first 12 months.
2. Coronado Island
Coronado Island is a beautiful resort city that sits directly across the San Diego bay and is a must-visit destination if only for a couple of hours. Coronado is connected to downtown by a large bridge and is technically not a true island, but a peninsula that feels like it’s an island. It is connected to the rest of the mainland by a skinny strip of land known as the “Silver Strand”.
With a lively shopping area in downtown Coronado with great food options and unique boutiques and retailers, you can spend a good part of a day on the island. Be sure to check out the famous and antique Hotel Del Coronado. Sitting directly on the beach, this legendary building represents a rare American/Victorian architecture style. When it opened in 1888, it was the largest resort hotel in the entire world. Coronado Island is an amazing place to visit and you won’t be disappointed.
3. San Diego Zoo Safari Park
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is definitely one of the top tourist destinations in San Diego. Unlike a typical zoo, this safari park mimics the open plains of Africa and with the warm and sunny San Diego climate, you can almost forget you are in Southern California. The park houses around 2600 animals and has hundreds of employees and sees over 2 million visitors each year.
The most popular part of the Safari Park is the African Tram, which takes you through the sprawling, free-range areas teeming with African wildlife. You will get up close and personal with antelope, giraffes, buffalo, rhinoceros, and many species of birds.
We highly recommend a visit to this unique and amazing wildlife park to fill out your San Diego trip itinerary.
4. Belmont Park
If you like the thrill of amusement parks, then you’ll definitely want to check out Belmont Park. This historic amusement park is on the waterfront and is best known for its iconic wooden rollercoaster, “Giant Dipper”.
Originally built in 1925, this amusement park sees millions of visitors each year and, surprisingly, some of the original attractions remain there to this day.
5. La Jolla Cove
La Jolla Cove is a small, but gorgeous beach area surrounded by tall cliffs and is a popular swimming and sunbathing destination. The water in La Jolla cove is normally very clear and full of sea life, making it a popular spot to snorkel and scuba dive. At low tides, there are many tide-pools created that you can explore.
Since La Jolla Cove is considered a Marine Refuge area, surfboards and other water toys are not allowed, so this beach is all about enjoying the water, sand, and sea life.
6. 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.
7. Torrey Pines State Reserve
Torrey Pines State Reserve is an untouched 2000 acre stretch of coastland not far from downtown San Diego and is one of the largest areas of undeveloped coastland in all of southern California. With many hiking trails of different difficulties, you can get lost in the vast open space and explore the Torrey Pines State Beach and the headlands above.
You are bound to see wildlife here, such as foxes, raccoons, coyotes, and rabbits. And during the whale migration season, you can even spot pods of whales from the cliffs as they make their way along the coast!
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. Blacks Beach
Blacks Beach is a popular surfing beach spreading out beneath the cliffs of the Torrey Pines bluffs and neighborhood. Named after the Black family, who owned a large horse ranch overlooking the beach, this beach is famous in the surfing community. Because of the way it’s positioned on the coast, Blacks Beach waves are well-known to be extra powerful and only advanced swimmers and surfers are encouraged to head out into the surf.
11. Potato Chip Rock
Maybe one of the most photographed rocks in the world, this curiously thin “chip-like” rock appears to defy gravity and hang precariously out over a cliff. There are multiple trails that can get you to this odd rock formation, with the shortest one being a 3.75-mile round trip so be prepared for at least a 3-4 hour excursion.
A short drive from San Diego, Potato Chip Rock is located on top of Mount Woodson and we’d recommend making the trek if you have the time.
12. USS Midway Museum
The USS Midway is an impressively large decommissioned US aircraft carrier that sits in its final resting place in the 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
13. Cabrillo National Monument
The Cabrillo National Monument commemorates the historic first landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in the San Diego Bay way back in 1542. He was on a European expedition to explore the unknown west coast of the North America.
This monument stands at the southern tip of Point Loma and gives you wide views of downtown San Diego, the bay, and on clear days, you can even see across the US/Mexico border into Tijuana.
14. Seaport Village
Seaport Village is a fun, walkable district on the San Diego Bay waterfront 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.
15. Coronado Beach
Coronado Beach is a sprawling beach on the west side of Coronado Island and is a great place to picnic or relax if you are spending the day visiting the shops and the downtown area of Coronado.
Part of this beach is designated as a “Dog Beach” so if have a dog with you, then you’ll want to put this on your list of things to do.
16. 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.
17 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.
18. Point Loma
Point Loma is a small community that is located on the large peninsula that forms the north side of San Diego harbor. With the bay on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, this seaside community is a true beach town. It supposedly is where the first European explorers made landfall in the area and is therefore said to be the place “where California began”.
19. Birch Aquarium
Featuring more than 5,000 sea animals, the Birch Aquarium is a fun-filled destination that you’re sure to love. Part of the world-renowned Scripps Institute of Oceanography, this aquarium features more than 60 unique habitats, from getting an underwater view of a giant kelp forest, to observing an exhibit featuring mysterious & curious sea dragons.
Visiting San Diego is all about being close to the ocean, and there’s no better way to experience the ocean than visiting this incredible aquarium.
20. 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, this is a great activity to combine with visiting the park’s other destinations, like the Zoo, or the Fleet Science Center.
21. The Donut Bar
For a one-of-a-kind culinary experience, 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.
22. San Diego Natural History Museum
Like many of the other great destinations in this list, the San Diego Natural History Museum is located in the sprawling 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.
23. Coronado Bridge
Driving over this large curved bridge from Downtown over the bay to Coronado Island feels like driving on a highway in the sky. Giving you great views of the San Diego harbor, Coronado Island and the Pacific Ocean, this iconic bridge is a major thoroughfare for shuttling people back and forth from the mainland to the island.
24. Point Loma Lighthouse
The Point Loma Lighthouse is a popular historical destination at the tip of the Point Loma peninsula. Located 400 feet above the ocean, this lighthouse was at the highest elevation of any lighthouse in the entire United States. Because of its elevation, it proved to be unuseful on foggy days and was later replaced by a newer lighthouse that sat close to the water.
This old lighthouse is definitely worth a visit if you are exploring the Point Loma neighborhood.
25. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
The Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is an area of coastland that features tall steep cliffs that drop abruptly on the sandy beach far below. This preserved blufftop area has many hiking trails and a few official stairways leading to down to the popular surfing beaches below. But be careful – The cliffs are steep and the trails are not professionally maintained, so you should explore with caution.
Since this is a popular spot to watch the sunset over the Pacific, the area eventually got its name.
26. The New Children’s Museum
If you are visiting SD with younger children, then the New Children’s Museum should 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.
27. Aquatica San Diego
Aquatico San Diego is a fun water park that features attractions for all ages and all levels of swimming abilities. You can relax and float along a lazy river, or challenge your fear of heights with a plunge down the 80 foot Hoo Roo Run slide. Along with the rides, there are play areas specifically designed for small children, so there’s really something here for the whole family.
Even with all the ocean and water-related activities you can find in San Diego, Aquatico is one of the most exciting.
28. Timken Museum of Art
The Timken Museum of Art is one of the great free things to do in San Diego and is also located in the large Balboa Park area. With many rare European paintings, sculptures, and tapestries under natural light, this collection is worth seeing for any art lover.
If you are visiting one of the other destinations in Balboa Park, you should definitely consider visiting the Timken.
29. San Diego Botanic Garden
Said to have one of the largest Bamboo collections in the United States, the San Deigo Botanic Garden is a refreshing destination to visit and explore. It is a short 30-minute drive north from downtown, but well worth it if you are interested in unique plants.
This 37-acre garden features rare bamboo groves, a tropical rainforest, desert gardens, a sub-tropical fruit garden, and much more.
30. 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 the mainland 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.
31. Lake Hodges
If you’re into lake fishing, then a visit to Lake Hodges might be worth the drive. located 30 miles north of San Diego, this man-made lake is a popular spot for Bass fisherman who can fish from the shore or by boat.
Rent a boat and explore the lake, or have a BBQ or picnic in the park on the lakeshore. One fun fact is this lake is said to be the home to a mysterious lake monster known as “Hodgee” – so be on the lookout!
32. Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail
The Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail is part of the larger Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve that features many miles of beautiful wilderness, hiking trails, rivers, and even a waterfall. 7 Miles long, this area is a great place to get out of the city and into nature to enjoy a run, hike, or meandering walk.
This trail is fairly flat, so it’s easy terrain for most adults and children. Be sure to check out the hidden waterful!
33. Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve
The Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve is a popular vacation spot for locals and features the lake, campground, vacation cabins, and a series of walking trails throughout the park. This is a great escape from city life and well worth a visit if you have some extra time to spare.
34. 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.
35. The Cave Store
A fun tourist destination, the Cave Store is located on the sandstone cliffs bordering the ocean in downtown La Jolla. This souvenir shop is famous for its tour of the legendary smugglers’ sea caves beneath the shop and definitely makes for a fun and unique experience. The cave store is the longest operating business in La Jolla and has been offering the cave tour since 1912. This is definitely a memorable thing to do if you’ll be visiting the La Jolla neighborhood.
36. Liberty Public Market
The Liberty Public Market is a diverse indoor marketplace that features 30+ interesting vendors. The market hosts regular events, live music, and has a dog-friendly patio where your furry friends can hang out. We’d recommend visiting the Liberty Public Market if you are looking for an interesting lunch or dinner experience.
37. 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.
38. 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.
39. 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.
40. 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.
41. Ocean Beach farmers market
For a one-of-a-kind farmers market experience, you should check out the Ocean Beach Farmers Market. Located close to downtown, this market has a funky vibe and is filled with fresh produce and fun vendors & craftspeople from all over San Diego county. For a truly local experience, look no further than the Ocean Beach Farmers Market.
42. 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.
43. Taylor Guitar factory Tour
This is one is an unusual thing to do in San Diego, but a great one if you are a guitar player. The Taylor Guitar factory tour is free and happens Mon-Fri and gives you a behind-the-scenes view into how a guitar is crafted, from the raw wood all the way to the beautiful instrument and all the stages in between. This a great free activity in San Diego and one any true guitar lover shouldn’t miss.
44. UTC Ice Sports Center
If you’re tired of all the fun and sun, you can cool off on the ice at the UTC Ice Sports Center Ice rink. Located inside a large mall, this ice rink is actually the only ice rink in San Diego, offering a fun and unique experience for locals and visitors alike.
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.
46. 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.
47. 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.
48. 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.
49. Mission San Diego de Alcalá
The Mission San Diego de Alcalá showcases the Spanish heritage of the region. Established in 1769, this mission has a rich history and you can learn all about it on a free tour of the grounds. The mission has interesting archaeological ruins, beautiful gardens, and a gift shop.
50. Pacific Surfliner
Arguably one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world, the stretch of California Coast between San Diego and Los Angeles can be seen from a new perspective from the windows of the Pacific Surfliner train. This train offers comfortable seats and large windows to take in the fantastic ocean views as you travel north through the beach communities on your way towards LA.
51. Torrey Pines Golf Course
If you play golf, then the Torrey Pines Golf Course should absolutely be on your todo list. This picturesque 36 hole golf course is set beautifully on the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean close to the Torrey Pines Reserve and offers amazing views. This course is regularly used as a stop on the PGA tour and hosts the best golfers in the world. If you are visiting San Diego and want to play a round of golf, this amazing course would be our number one recommendation.
52. Moonlight Beach Park
This kid-friendly park is located right overlooking the beach in the San Diego community of Encinitas. This beach park is popular with the local residents and can get quite crowded on warm summer days. If you want to visit the beach with young kids, this is the park for you.