September 10, 2022
California small towns – San Diego: part 2 – itineraries from 1 to 3 days
San Diego is one of the major cities in California and is full of attractions, museums, and theme parks. Many people include it in a tour of the Golden State or a road trip across several states. Others avoid it because it is slightly off course for those taking the classic route that includes the other two major cities on the California coast (Los Angeles and San Francisco) and the main attractions further inland.
In this article, I will give you tips to make a personalized itinerary.
How long should you stay in San Diego to make the most of it?
Often people ask me how many days in San Diego? The answer is: it depends. San Diego is a city famous for its theme parks, especially SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo. If you want to include one or more of these parks in your itinerary, you’ll have to consider that visiting a theme park normally takes up a good part of a day.
To get a fuller experience of the city, excluding theme parks, I recommend that you spend at least two full days in San Diego. This way, you can also visit the historic districts and main monuments in a single day, especially if you only plan a short stop while on your road trip or if you want to stay 2 days including a theme park.
However, if you plan three days in San Diego, you will also be able to visit the attractions in the surrounding area and I especially recommend going to the coast. So then, how many days will it take? If you have plenty of time or if you are going on a trip around California, I suggest you stay here for 3 days. If you include San Diego in a longer itinerary, even 1 or 2 days may be enough. I will give you some more specific advice in the sections below.
San Diego one day
Start your visit from the Marina District-Embarcadero area, which can be easily reached on foot or by public transportation from downtown San Diego. This neighborhood on the coast is especially enchanting in the morning. If it’s Saturday, you’ll be able to go to the fish market, but even on the other days of the week, taking a walk along the promenade is a great way to start the day. In fact, because San Diego is a port city, spending time on the coast is important in order to fully experience the city.
The second stop is Old Town – the birthplace of San Diego and of California. The trolley connects Old Town to the rest of the city and you can take it at Santa Fe Station. There’s a lot to see and learn about local history here. The next stop is Little Italy. My suggestion is to go there immediately before or right after visiting Old Town, since it is fast and easy to take the trolley from one neighborhood to the other.
Next on the list is Balboa Park, a perfect place for a nice afternoon stroll. Whether you intend to visit one or more of the museums in this immense city park, or if you prefer taking a walk in the various themed gardens, you should plan to spend a few hours here.
In the late afternoon visit the Gaslamp Quarter, the most famous neighborhood of San Diego. It’s one of the best places to spend the evening because of the wide choice of restaurants, breweries, and clubs. 5th Ave and the surrounding streets are perfect for an evening stroll through historic buildings and a dinner to suit all tastes and budgets.
San Diego 2 days
Old Town, Marina District-Embarcadero, Coronado, and Little Italy. Start your visit from Old Town and Presidio Park.
After spending the morning in the Old Town head to the Marina District-Embarcadero (take the trolley down to Santa Fe Station). Here you’ll easily find a place to grab something to eat, and visit the Maritime Museum or the USS Midway aircraft carrier. After lunch, hop on the ferry to Coronado Island. On the peninsula that creates San Diego Bay, you can take great photos of the city’s skyline and discover many curiosities, as well as relax on one of the most beautiful beaches in the United States (you can reach the beach on foot or by bus from the pier). Finally, return downtown for dinner in Little Italy. From Coronado, you can get there by taking Bus 901 (Broadway & 1st Ave stop plus 10-15 minutes walk), or take the ferry back to Broadway Pier and then walk from the pier through Waterfront Park (10-15 minute walk).
Balboa Park and the Gaslamp Quarter.
Balboa Park is so big and full of things to see that a whole day wouldn’t be enough to see everything. Here you can discover more interesting facts about the birth and development of the city and visit one or more museums. There are all kinds of museum that display almost everything, including contemporary art, airplanes and spacecraft, natural history, and international crafts. But the highlight of Balboa Park is the variety of gardens, which range from desert to tropical settings and even a Japanese garden. In the late afternoon head to the Gaslamp Quarter to end your tour with San Diego’s most iconic neighborhood. Among the historic buildings, you can find a restaurant where you can dine, or choose one of the many breweries where you can confirm if San Diego really deserves to be called the Craft Beer Capital of America.
San Diego 3 days
3 days allow you to visit not only the city, but also some other interesting places around San Diego. On third day, you can opt for one of the theme parks (SeaWorld, San Diego Zoo, Safari Park) or take a nice ride on the coast, which is full of points of interest and fascinating places.
Itinerary along the coast.
Start early and head south in the direction of Mexico. At the border between the United States and Mexico, there is the International Friendship Park. This park is located at the point where the wall separating Mexico and the United States goes into the ocean. To get there, enter 1270-1244 Monument Rd into the GPS. Here you will find a parking lot where you can leave your car. Once you are back in your car, head north and in less than half an hour, you will reach Cabrillo National Monument. To get there you have two options. You can go around the city, or you can walk along the thin strip of land that connects Coronado to the mainland and return to San Diego from the Coronado Bridge. After you see the Cabrillo National Monument, continue north to La Jolla, where you can spend a few hours, and end the day at Torrey Pines.