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How to Spend a Day in San Diego
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How to Spend a Day in San Diego

If you’re planning on spending a day in San Diego, America’s finest city, here is the perfect itinerary for you.

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5 min read

August 02, 2022

Joel Blumenfeld is an award-winning realtor who lives and breathes San Diego real estate. Blumenfeld is also a member of the California.com Recommended Business Program. Read more about the talented realtor here.

Disclaimer: California.com does not receive any kind of compensation for reviewing any of the products or services mentioned in this article.

San Diego, America’s Finest City, is where warm weather, beauty, and fun come together to show any visitor the best of times. In fact, over 35 million visitors flock to the city every year to enjoy all that the city has to offer. This is the birthplace of the state we all love so much, and it is the perfect depiction of all that is awesome in California.

Squeezing all that is fun in San Diego into a single day is an impossible task, but what if that’s the only time you have? Don’t you worry, because even though you might not be able to have it all, you can still get a great taste of the city in 24 hours. A day in San Diego can still be super fulfilling if you just figure out the best of all the attractions you have to visit and the experiences you need to have. So, buckle up and get ready for a quick and exciting adventure in this beautiful SoCal metropolis.

The panoramic views you’ll see at the peak of the Cowles Mountain Trail of San Diego and the surrounding counties are unmatched.

Morning

Sleeping in during your San Diego trip is a big no-no, especially if you’re in the city for a day. In fact, your day should start even before sunrise, because there are certain things in the city you can only enjoy at dawn. Hiking the San Diego favorite Cowles Mountain Trail in Mission Trails Regional Park is one of the can’t-miss experiences to have in the city. Right before the first rays of sun show themselves and the heat sets in, put on your hiking shoes, and head out to the trail. This breathtaking sunrise hike offers you the best 360-degree views of the area, especially at its summit. On a clear day, the 3-mile trail offers picturesque views of Downtown San Diego, North County, Orange County, and even Mexico. If you want an easier trail, Sunset Cliffs Trail in Point Loma is another beautiful trail to explore. The short hike, which usually doesn’t take more than 45 minutes to complete, allows you to walk around and explore ocean cliffs.

After enjoying the views and getting done with your morning exercise, grab a yummy bite at one of the amazing breakfast hotspots in the region. If you’re not sure which one to try, head straight to Hash House A Go Go and opt for the restaurant's unbeatable hash browns. For a delicious cup of joe, there are a number of incredible local cafés to go for in Point Loma; Jennings House Cafe and Better Buzz Coffee deserve an honorable mention.

The iconic, 106-year-old Botanical Building is one of the most visited attractions in Balboa Park.

Afternoon

Your afternoon in San Diego can go in many different directions. You can spend some time strolling around the 1,200-acre Balboa Park, a San Diego must-see. Some of the most inspiring museums in San Diego are located within the park, including the state-famous San Diego Museum of Art. Other attractions in the park include Harper's Topiary Garden, the Botanical Building, and Alcazar Garden. If you want to see it all and aren’t sure where to start, you can always join one of the park tours available — they’re some of the best free things to do in San Diego.

Other exciting stuff to do in San Diego includes a visit to Ocean Beach, one of the best beaches in San Diego. Surf, tan, or take a stroll with your pooch at this dog-friendly beach. If you’ve already visited Ocean Beach before and are looking for another awesome option, head to La Jolla Cove and search for the Children's Pool. Here, you’ll be able to spot seals, watch the surfers, and take in San Diego’s beautiful sunset.

An approximate 200,000 sailors have served aboard the USS Midway Museum, and you can have a glimpse of their life during a walking tour.

Lunchtime in San Diego might get a little confusing, as the city is lined up with world-class eateries. Some of the most popular options include DZ Akins if you’re craving a good sandwich, Oscars Mexican Seafood for mouthwatering Mexican seafood, and Menya Ultra for delicious soup ramen. Now, if you desire a one-of-a-kind experience on your visit to San Diego, you should head straight to the USS Midway Museum. The historical naval aircraft carrier turned museum is a great place to learn about history, and a great one to have lunch at.

Right after lunch and before the sun sets in, take a sunset harbor cruise along the bay with Flagship Cruises & Events. There’s no better way to go San Diego sightseeing than through this top boat tour in Southern California. Admire the beautiful Downtown San Diego skyline, go under the Coronado Bridge and past military ships and historic landmarks, and enjoy the local seals and wildlife along the way.

Old Town San Diego is where the Europeans first settled north of Mexico.

Night

Nights in San Diego are as magical as you expect them to be, and you can get as creative as possible with your plans under the moon. If you’re wondering what to see in San Diego that you haven’t seen already as the night approaches, the answer is a visit to Old Town San Diego. This is the location of the first European settlement in the Golden State and it offers its visitors a mix of history, fun, shopping, and fine dining. No matter how short you are on time, a quick tour of this quaint region will tell you tons about the origins of America’s Finest City. The well-preserved historic buildings, museums, quaint shops, and awesome restaurants will give you a great taste of San Diego. If you’ve been there and done that, you can always head to The LOT in Point Loma, where you can have a quiet dinner and enjoy a comfortable movie experience. If you arrive early, you can walk to the nearby Liberty Public Market, where you can grab the tastiest bites. The market is open seven days a week but closes at eight p.m.

No matter what type of cuisine you’re craving, you’ll always find your answer in San Diego’s world-class restaurants.

Want to dine in a more romantic setting? No problem. The city has the best restaurants that will swoon you. Cowboy Star Restaurant, with its rustic chic decor, will be the perfect setting for a romantic night out. Plus, the steaks the restaurant serves are out worldly. Seneca Trattoria, on the other hand, is one of the most scenic restaurants in San Diego, with breathtaking views of the Bay. With its posh interior, beautiful views, and delicious Italian food, you’ll surely leave a fine impression on your date. As for those of you craving Japanese cuisine, Sushi Ota is a no-brainer while in the area.




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