Your Ultimate San Diego Travel Guide 2023
If you’re looking for the perfect getaway, then San Diego is the perfect destination. With endless sunshine, stunning beaches, amazing attractions, and plenty of activities to enjoy, San Diego has something for everyone. Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway, a fun family trip, or an adventure-filled vacation, this ultimate San Diego travel guide will provide all the tips and tricks to help you plan the perfect San Diego vacation. From finding the best places to stay, to planning exciting activities, this guide has everything you need to make your trip to San Diego unforgettable.
Top 5 Things To See And Do In San Diego
- Visit Balboa Park: Balboa Park is a must-visit attraction in San Diego. It is the largest urban cultural park in the country, featuring beautiful gardens, museums, and performing arts venues. Make sure to visit the San Diego Zoo while you’re there!
- Explore The Gaslamp Quarter: This historic district in downtown San Diego is a bustling hub of activity with restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and live music venues. Stroll along the cobblestone streets, admire the Victorian architecture, and soak up the lively atmosphere.
- Hit The Beach: With miles of coastline, San Diego has plenty of beaches to choose from. Coronado Beach is one of the most famous, with white sand and stunning views of the Hotel del Coronado. La Jolla Cove is also a favorite, with its picturesque cove, clear water, and sea caves.
- Take A Cruise: San Diego is a bustling port city, and there are plenty of opportunities to take a cruise. You can choose from whale watching cruises, sunset dinner cruises, harbor tours, and more.
- Catch A Padres Game: San Diego is home to the San Diego Padres, a Major League Baseball team. If you’re a sports fan, make sure to catch a game at Petco Park. Even if you’re not a baseball fan, the stadium is worth a visit for its stunning views of the San Diego skyline.
Where To Stay In San Diego
- Gaslamp Quarter: Located in downtown San Diego, the Gaslamp Quarter is a lively and historic neighborhood that’s great for nightlife and dining. You’ll find many bars, restaurants, and clubs in the area, as well as some unique boutiques and galleries. It’s a good choice for those who want to be in the center of the action.
- La Jolla: For a more upscale experience, head to La Jolla. This affluent beachside neighborhood boasts some of San Diego’s most luxurious hotels, as well as upscale shopping and dining. It’s also home to the famous La Jolla Cove, a picturesque cove with stunning views and plenty of outdoor activities.
- Pacific Beach: If you’re looking for a laid-back beach vibe, Pacific Beach is a great option. This neighborhood has a long boardwalk and plenty of surf shops, cafes, and bars. It’s popular with young travelers and locals alike and is a great place to relax and soak up the sun.
- Little Italy: Located just north of downtown San Diego, Little Italy is a trendy neighborhood known for its great food and nightlife. There are plenty of Italian restaurants, wine bars, and cafes in the area, as well as art galleries and boutique shops. It’s a great choice for those who want a more urban experience.
- Coronado: For a more resort-style stay, head across the bay to Coronado. This beautiful island is home to some of San Diego’s most iconic hotels, including the Hotel Del Coronado. It’s a great choice for those who want a quieter, more upscale experience away from the city center.
Top San Diego Hotels
- The Grand Del Mar: This Mediterranean-style resort boasts luxurious accommodations, a championship golf course, a top-notch spa, and several fine dining options. With a prime location in the scenic Los Peñasquitos Canyon, The Grand Del Mar offers a tranquil retreat from the city bustle.
- Hotel Del Coronado: Known as the “Queen of the Pacific,” this iconic hotel has been welcoming guests since 1888. With its Victorian architecture, oceanfront setting, and timeless elegance, the Hotel del Coronado is a must-see destination. Whether you want to indulge in a spa treatment, dine at one of its acclaimed restaurants, or simply stroll along the beach, this legendary hotel has it all.
- Fairmont Grand Del Mar: Another top-notch resort in San Diego, the Fairmont Grand Del Mar offers Mediterranean-inspired architecture, lush gardens, and sweeping views of the surrounding hills. With its spacious guest rooms, five-star amenities, and easy access to nearby attractions, this hotel is a great choice for couples and families alike.
- Pendry San Diego: Located in the trendy Gaslamp Quarter, the Pendry San Diego offers a stylish and sophisticated retreat in the heart of the city. With its contemporary design, rooftop pool, and eclectic dining options, this hotel is perfect for urban adventurers and trendsetters.
- La Valencia Hotel: Perched on a cliff above the Pacific Ocean in the charming village of La Jolla, the La Valencia Hotel exudes classic California charm and glamour. With its pink exterior, Spanish-style architecture, and luxurious guest rooms, this hotel is a true gem. Whether you want to relax by the pool, explore the nearby galleries and boutiques, or savor the coastal cuisine, the La Valencia Hotel is a great choice.
Where To Eat In San Diego
San Diego is a foodie’s paradise, with an abundance of delicious dining options for any budget. From mouth-watering seafood to authentic Mexican cuisine, here are the top 5 places to eat in San Diego:
- The Fish Market: Located in downtown San Diego, The Fish Market is a must-visit for seafood lovers. Offering a stunning view of the bay, this restaurant serves up fresh seafood caught that day, along with an extensive wine and cocktail list.
- El Indio Mexican Restaurant: For authentic Mexican cuisine, El Indio is a popular spot in San Diego. Established in 1940, this family-owned restaurant is famous for their homemade tortillas and carne asada.
- Hodad’s: This classic burger joint is a San Diego icon, with multiple locations throughout the city. Hodad’s has been featured on several TV shows, including Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and serves up mouth-watering burgers, fries, and milkshakes.
- Juniper And Ivy: For a more upscale dining experience, head to Juniper and Ivy in Little Italy. This trendy restaurant offers a rotating menu of contemporary American cuisine, along with craft cocktails and an impressive wine list.
- Phil’s BBQ: No trip to San Diego is complete without trying the famous BBQ at Phil’s. With multiple locations throughout the city, this casual eatery serves up delicious ribs, pulled pork, and more, all slathered in their signature BBQ sauce.
Whether you’re in the mood for seafood, Mexican food, or classic American fare, San Diego has something for everyone. Be sure to add these top 5 places to eat to your list of must-try restaurants on your next trip to the city.
How To Get Around San Diego
San Diego is a bustling city with lots of sights to see, and there are plenty of transportation options to help you get around. Here are the various methods of transportation you can use to explore the city:
- Public Transportation: San Diego has an excellent public transportation system that consists of buses, trolleys, and commuter trains. The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) provides service throughout the city, and the San Diego Trolley is a popular option for getting around the downtown area.
- Ride-Sharing Apps: Services like Uber and Lyft are widely available in San Diego and can be a convenient way to get around if you don’t have a car. They are also great if you’re planning on a night out and don’t want to worry about drinking and driving.
- Bike Rentals: San Diego has a lot of bike rental services that allow you to explore the city at your own pace. You can rent a bike from companies like DecoBike or Electric Bike Company and explore the scenic bike trails along the coast.
- Car Rentals: If you prefer driving yourself, car rentals are available throughout San Diego. This can be a good option if you want to explore beyond the city limits or visit attractions that are further away.
San Diego is a great city for walking, especially in areas like the Gaslamp Quarter and Balboa Park. Walking is also a great way to explore the beaches and take in the ocean views. No matter which transportation option you choose, make sure to plan ahead and check schedules and routes to make your trip as smooth as possible. San Diego has a lot to offer, and with these transportation options, you’ll be able to explore it all.
San Diego Weather
San Diego has a Mediterranean climate with mild temperatures and plenty of sunshine all year round. However, the city’s location on the coast can bring in cool ocean breezes and occasional fog during certain seasons. Here’s a breakdown of San Diego weather throughout the year:
- Spring (March – May): Spring in San Diego is mild and pleasant, with temperatures averaging around 65°F (18°C). It’s typically sunny, but there can be occasional rainfall.
- Summer (June – August): Summer in San Diego is warm and sunny, with temperatures ranging from 70-80°F (21-27°C) on average. However, it can get much hotter inland. June can be foggy, while July and August tend to be the driest months.
- Fall (September – November): Fall in San Diego is similar to spring, with mild temperatures in the mid-60s°F (18°C) on average. The city can experience Santa Ana winds during this time, bringing dry and warm weather.
- Winter (December – February): Winter in San Diego is mild compared to other parts of the country, with temperatures averaging in the mid-60s°F (18°C). It can rain occasionally, but it’s generally dry and sunny. Nighttime temperatures can be cool, so it’s important to bring a jacket or sweater.
Overall, San Diego has great weather year-round, making it a popular destination for visitors seeking sun, beach, and outdoor activities.
Best Time To Visit San Diego
San Diego is a popular destination all year round, but the best time to visit depends on what you’re looking for in your vacation. Generally, the best time to visit San Diego is from September to November, or March to May. During these months, the weather is mild, and there are fewer crowds.
Summer is the peak tourist season in San Diego, with lots of families flocking to the beaches and theme parks. However, it can get hot and crowded during this time, and prices tend to be higher. Winter is also a popular time to visit, especially for snowbirds who want to escape the colder temperatures up north. However, the weather can be unpredictable, with occasional rain and chilly nights.
If you’re interested in outdoor activities like hiking and surfing, the best time to visit is during the fall and winter when the waves are bigger and the temperatures are cooler. Spring is a great time to visit for nature lovers, as the wildflowers bloom and the migrating whales can be seen from the shore.
Overall, San Diego has a pleasant climate all year round, so you can plan your visit based on your preferences and budget. Keep in mind that major events like Comic-Con and the San Diego County Fair can cause a surge in crowds and prices, so it’s best to book in advance if you plan to visit during these times.
How To Stay Safe In San Diego
As with any travel destination, it’s important to stay safe during your visit to San Diego. Here are some tips to help keep you safe while exploring the city:
- Be Aware Of Your Surroundings: Stay alert and aware of what’s going on around you. Avoid dark alleys or poorly lit areas, especially at night.
- Protect Your Belongings: Keep your valuables safe by storing them in a hotel safe or a secure bag while exploring. Don’t leave your belongings unattended or out in the open.
- Stay In Safe Neighborhoods: San Diego has many safe neighborhoods, but there are some areas that can be dangerous. Check with locals or your hotel staff to find out which neighborhoods to avoid.
- Avoid Confrontation: If you encounter a potential threat or altercation, avoid confrontation and seek help from authorities.
- Use Reliable Transportation: Stick to licensed taxi services, ride-sharing apps, or public transportation to avoid unlicensed drivers and unsafe vehicles.
- Know Emergency Contact Information: In case of an emergency, know the phone numbers for local authorities, including the police, fire department, and hospital.
By following these tips, you can enjoy your San Diego vacation while staying safe. Remember, it’s always better to be cautious and take preventative measures than to regret not being prepared.
San Diego Customs and Etiquette
As with any destination, it’s important to know the customs and etiquette of the place you’re visiting. San Diego is no exception. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Tipping: In the service industry, tipping is customary and expected. It’s standard to tip 15-20% in restaurants, cafes, and bars. You should also tip hotel staff, taxi drivers, and tour guides.
- Beach Culture: San Diego is known for its beautiful beaches, but it’s important to be respectful of beach culture. Keep noise levels down, don’t litter, and be mindful of others around you.
- Dress Code: San Diego is a casual city, so there’s no need to dress up too much. Flip-flops and shorts are acceptable in most places, but if you’re going to a fancy restaurant or event, you might want to dress up a bit more.
- Driving: Traffic in San Diego can be a bit hectic, so it’s important to be patient and courteous when driving. Use your turn signals, yield to pedestrians, and be mindful of other drivers.
- Beach Rules: There are a few rules to follow when visiting San Diego’s beaches. Smoking is prohibited on the beach, as are glass containers and alcohol. Dogs are only allowed on certain beaches, so make sure to check before you go.
- Respect Cultural Landmarks: San Diego is home to several cultural landmarks, including the Old Town State Historic Park and the Cabrillo National Monument. It’s important to be respectful of these sites and to follow any rules or guidelines posted.
By following these customs and etiquette tips, you’ll be sure to have a smooth and enjoyable trip to San Diego.
Other Things To Know About San Diego
If you’re planning a trip to San Diego, there are a few important things to know about the area. San Diego is located in the United States, which means that the currency used is the US dollar. English is the primary language spoken in San Diego, although you may hear Spanish spoken in some areas of the city.
In terms of time zone, San Diego follows Pacific Standard Time (PST) and is 8 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT-8). This means that if you’re traveling from the East Coast of the United States or from Europe, you’ll need to adjust to the time difference. It’s also worth noting that San Diego has a strong military presence, with several military bases located in the area. You may see military personnel and equipment during your stay in San Diego.
Finally, it’s important to be aware of the local customs and etiquette when traveling to San Diego. Like most American cities, tipping is expected in restaurants and for services like taxis and hairdressers. It’s also considered impolite to talk loudly on public transportation or in other public spaces. By being aware of these factors, you’ll be better prepared to enjoy all that San Diego has to offer!
San Diego Travel Costs
Traveling to San Diego can be affordable if you plan accordingly. The cost of your trip will depend on a variety of factors, including how long you plan to stay, the activities you want to do, and the time of year you visit.
- Accommodation: When it comes to accommodations, San Diego has options for every budget. You can stay in budget-friendly motels, hostels, or Airbnb rentals. You can also splurge on high-end hotels or resorts. On average, you can expect to pay $100-$200 per night for a budget-friendly option, while high-end hotels can cost $300-$500 per night.
- Food And Drink: San Diego has an excellent food scene, and there are plenty of options for every budget. You can find everything from budget-friendly taco trucks to high-end restaurants. You can expect to spend around $10-$20 per meal for a budget-friendly option, while high-end restaurants can cost $50-$100 per meal.
- Transportation: San Diego is a relatively easy city to navigate, and you can get around by car, bike, or public transportation. The city has a public bus system, and the trolley runs to many of the major tourist attractions. You can expect to spend around $30-$50 per day on transportation, depending on the mode of transportation you choose.
- Activities: There are plenty of free or low-cost activities in San Diego, such as visiting the beaches, hiking trails, and museums. Some of the paid attractions can be expensive, such as theme parks like SeaWorld or the San Diego Zoo. You can expect to pay $20-$40 per person for admission to most attractions, with some being more expensive.
Overall, you can expect to spend around $100-$150 per day in San Diego, depending on your travel style. However, by taking advantage of free or low-cost activities, finding budget-friendly accommodations, and eating at affordable restaurants, you can stretch your budget further.
Finding Affordable Flights To San Diego
San Diego is a popular destination and therefore it is essential to find affordable flights if you want to save money on your trip. Here are some tips for finding affordable flights to San Diego.
- Book Your Flight In Advance: You can find cheap flights to San Diego by booking your flight in advance. The earlier you book, the better your chances of finding a good deal.
- Be Flexible With Your Travel Dates: Being flexible with your travel dates can also help you find cheaper flights. Consider traveling during the off-peak season or during weekdays to get better prices.
- Check Budget Airlines: There are several budget airlines that offer affordable flights to San Diego. Check out airlines like Southwest, Frontier, and Spirit for cheap flights.
- Use Flight Comparison Sites: Use comparison sites like Skyscanner and Kayak to compare flights and find the best deals.
- Take Advantage Of Discounts And Promotions: Airlines often offer discounts and promotions for flights to popular destinations like San Diego. Keep an eye out for these deals and take advantage of them when they become available.
Remember to keep an eye on flight prices as they can fluctuate. By being proactive and doing some research, you can find affordable flights to San Diego and save money on your vacation.
Backpacking San Diego Suggested Budgets
If you’re planning on backpacking your way through San Diego, it’s important to budget your expenses accordingly. While there are plenty of affordable options for lodging, food, and entertainment, costs can quickly add up if you’re not careful. Here are some suggested budgets to help you plan your trip:
If you’re traveling on a tight budget, you can expect to spend around $50-70 per day. This will cover basic expenses such as a hostel dorm room or camping site, street food or cheap eats, and free activities such as hiking or visiting the beach. You may need to forgo some of the more expensive tourist attractions or dining experiences to stick to this budget.
If you’re willing to spend a bit more, you can expect to spend around $100-150 per day. This will allow you to stay in a mid-range hotel or private hostel room, enjoy a few nicer meals or drinks at bars, and participate in some paid activities or attractions. You’ll also have more flexibility to use public transportation or rent a bike to explore the city.
If money is not an issue for you, you can expect to spend upwards of $200 per day. This will allow you to stay in a luxury hotel or private vacation rental, dine at high-end restaurants, and participate in premium tours or activities. You can also rent a car to explore more of the surrounding areas or take a day trip to nearby attractions.
No matter what your budget, it’s always a good idea to keep track of your expenses and look for ways to save money. You can download budgeting apps or use online resources to compare prices and find deals on lodging, transportation, and entertainment. With a little bit of planning, you can enjoy all that San Diego has to offer without breaking the bank.
San Diego Money Saving Tips
San Diego is known for its stunning beaches, vibrant culture, and endless activities, but it can also be quite pricey. To make the most of your trip without breaking the bank, follow these money-saving tips:
- Take Advantage Of Free Activities: San Diego has plenty of free activities to enjoy. Spend a day at the beach, visit Balboa Park, or take a hike in Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.
- Use Public Transportation: San Diego’s public transportation system, including the trolley and buses, is affordable and convenient. You can also consider renting a bike to explore the city on your own.
- Plan Your Meals: Dining out can be expensive in San Diego, so plan your meals in advance. Look for local grocery stores and farmers markets to buy fresh produce and pack a picnic to enjoy at the beach or park.
- Look For Deals: Many attractions and activities in San Diego offer discounts for students, military, or seniors. You can also find deals on sites like Groupon or LivingSocial.
- Avoid Peak Season: Traveling to San Diego during peak season can be more expensive. Consider visiting during the shoulder season or offseason to save on lodging and airfare.
By following these money-saving tips, you can enjoy all that San Diego has to offer without breaking the bank.
What To Pack For San Diego
When planning a trip to San Diego, it’s important to know what to pack to ensure that you are comfortable and prepared for the activities you have planned. Here are some essential items to include in your packing list:
- Comfortable Walking Shoes: San Diego is a city best explored on foot, so make sure you pack comfortable shoes that are suitable for walking long distances.
- Sunscreen: With its sunny climate, you’ll definitely want to pack some sunscreen to protect your skin from the strong UV rays.
- Sunglasses And A Hat: The sun can be quite intense in San Diego, so bring along some shades and a hat to keep the glare out of your eyes.
- Light Layers: Even though San Diego is known for its sunny weather, it can still get cool in the evenings, especially near the beach. Pack some light layers that you can easily put on or take off depending on the temperature.
- Swimsuit And Beach Gear: If you’re planning on spending time at the beach or pool, make sure you pack a swimsuit, beach towel, and other essentials like a cover-up, flip flops, and a beach bag.
- Camera And Phone Charger: San Diego has plenty of photo-worthy spots, so don’t forget to bring along your camera or smartphone to capture your memories. Also, remember to pack a charger so you can keep your devices powered up.
- Water Bottle: Staying hydrated is important, especially when you’re out in the sun. Bring along a refillable water bottle to stay refreshed throughout the day.
By packing these essentials, you’ll be ready to enjoy all that San Diego has to offer, from its beaches to its outdoor attractions. Remember to check the weather forecast before you go to make sure you have everything you need to enjoy your trip to the fullest.
Can You Drink Tap Water In San Diego?
Yes, tap water in San Diego is safe to drink. The city has a state-of-the-art water treatment system that ensures the water is clean and safe for consumption. However, if you’re not used to drinking tap water, you may find it has a slightly different taste compared to bottled water.
The city’s water quality is regularly tested and monitored to ensure it meets or exceeds the strict standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to the city’s annual water quality report, San Diego tap water is “consistent with all state and federal drinking water standards.” So, you don’t have to worry about buying bottled water when you’re in San Diego. However, if you prefer bottled water, it’s widely available at stores and restaurants throughout the city.
One thing to note is that San Diego’s water can be hard, which means it has a high mineral content. Some people may find this makes the water taste different, but it doesn’t pose any health risks. If you’re staying in a hotel or vacation rental, you may want to bring a water bottle with a built-in filter to help improve the taste of the water. Overall, drinking tap water in San Diego is safe and convenient. So, don’t hesitate to fill up your water bottle and stay hydrated during your visit.
Other Things To See And Do In San Diego
San Diego is a vibrant and exciting city that offers a variety of things to see and do beyond the popular attractions. Here are some other activities to consider during your trip:
- Balboa Park: Spanning over 1,200 acres, Balboa Park is the largest urban park in the United States. It is home to several museums, gardens, and performing arts venues.
- La Jolla Cove: This scenic coastal area is a popular destination for swimming, surfing, and snorkeling. It’s also known for its sea lions and seals, which can often be seen sunbathing on the rocks.
- Coronado Island: Located across the bay from downtown San Diego, Coronado Island is home to beautiful beaches, a historic hotel, and the famous Hotel del Coronado.
- USS Midway Museum: This aircraft carrier turned museum is a must-see for history buffs and anyone interested in naval aviation. Visitors can explore the ship’s flight deck, living quarters, and engine room.
- Old Town San Diego: Step back in time at this historic district, which showcases San Diego’s Spanish and Mexican heritage. It features numerous shops, restaurants, and museums.
- San Diego Zoo: While this attraction is certainly popular, it’s worth mentioning because of its reputation as one of the best zoos in the world. With over 3,500 animals and 700,000 plants, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
- Gaslamp Quarter: This downtown neighborhood is known for its nightlife, restaurants, and Victorian-era architecture. It’s a great place to stroll around and soak up the city’s vibrant energy.
- Los Angeles: Take a drive to Los Angeles. Los Angeles is an incredible city with a seemingly endless list of things to do and see. From iconic attractions to hidden gems, LA has something for everyone.
- Tijuana: You can drive across the border and visit Tijuana. It is a vibrant city with plenty to see and do, from delicious street food to beautiful beaches and historic sites. It’s important to stay aware of your surroundings and follow local customs to stay safe while exploring the city.
These are just a few of the many other things to see and do in San Diego. With so much to explore, you’re sure to find something that suits your interests and tastes.
The Bottom Line
San Diego is a perfect destination for anyone looking for a sunny and fun-filled vacation. With its breathtaking beaches, world-renowned attractions, and unique neighborhoods, San Diego has something to offer for everyone. To ensure you make the most of your trip, be sure to plan ahead by selecting the perfect accommodation and creating a budget. Remember to take note of San Diego’s customs and etiquette and prepare for its varied weather conditions. With some careful planning, you’ll be able to fully enjoy all the delights that San Diego has to offer. So, pack your bags and get ready for a truly unforgettable trip to one of America’s finest cities.