What to Do Your First Time in San Diego

by Julia on February 17, 2020

San Diego is one of the most popular tourist cities in California, and for good reason. The weather is perfect, and there are tons of things to do in San Diego. But if you’ve never been to the city before, you might feel overwhelmed at the possibilities. What should you do first? What should you make sure you have time for, no matter what?

Baseline Tips for San Diego

If you want to make the most of your San Diego trip, these tips and insights will help you out:

  • Understand San Diego weather. First, understand the climate and weather of the San Diego area. Like most of California, you can expect San Diego to have a moderate climate most of the time, but occasionally heavy rainfall could interfere with your plans, and even winter can experience heat waves, thanks to Santa Ana winds.

  • Prioritize the Hotel Circle area. Choose a hotel that helps you avoid traffic. The Hotel Circle area is, aptly enough, one of the most popular hotel destinations for tourists, but feel free to choose something less popular if it means being closer to your main attractions.

  • Utilize the trolley. The trolley in San Diego is an extremely useful form of transportation that can help you relax and avoid at least some traffic. It’s also incredibly easy to use.

  • Make reservations in advance. San Diego is a popular city, so try to make reservations for whatever you want to do in advance. For example, if you want a tour at the San Diego Zoo, you’ll need to book it in advance.

  • Get to Tijuana. Tijuana is a short trip away, and it’s worth exploring if you have the time. Consider it a day trip if you’re going to be in San Diego for a few days or longer.

Top Sights

Now let’s dig into the top sights and attractions to see in San Diego:

  • Visit the San Diego Zoo. Make sure you make time for the San Diego Zoo if you love animals; it’s one of the best zoos in the world, with more than 4,000 onsite animals and 100 acres. If you sign up for a tour in advance, you’ll take a double-decker bus throughout the zoo.

  • Head to Balboa Park. Next to the zoo is Balboa Park, sometimes called the “Smithsonian of the West.” It’s a collection of more than 17 different museums, performing arts venues, and gardens, and is home to a number of special events (including free concerts if you time things right). If you’re interested in cultural parks, it’s something that could eat up several days of your vacation. Even if you don’t explore the individual museums, it’s worth walking through.

  • Get to La Jolla. The Jewel of San Diego, La Jolla, is a coastline area with amazing ocean views, beautiful public beaches, and tons of other amazing sites. It’s the best place to surf, kayak, snorkel, or just wade in the water.

  • Scope out Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Close nearby, you’ll find the Birch Aquarium, which features rare and inspiring ocean life—as well as plenty of educational opportunities for anyone interested in marine biology.

  • Take a hike at Torrey Pines State Park. Torrey Pines State Park is a Natural Reserve technically within San Diego limits, but with more than 1,500 acres of land. If you love the outdoors, make sure you take a hike there—just make sure you follow the posted rules and respect the preserve as you would any protected land.

  • Explore Horton Plaza Shopping Center. If you’re looking for a little relaxing shopping, be sure to check out Horton Plaza Shopping Center. It’s designed as an air mall, with multiple stories and an unmistakable architecture. Whether you’re interested in shopping, eating out, or just walking around and people watching, it’s a great destination. As an added bonus, you’ll get three hours of free parking if you make a purchase.

  • Enjoy San Diego nightlife. Of course, no visit to San Diego is complete without venturing into the nightlife of the city. You’ll find restaurants that cater to every budget, ranging from familiar to adventurous, and clubs that host live musicians and DJs—as well as bars that cater more to sports and/or conversation. There are hundreds, if not thousands of options, so there’s a little something for everyone.

After a few days in San Diego, you’ll see much of what the city has to offer, but to truly exhaust the city’s offerings would take weeks. Make sure to take note of things you didn’t get to try, or new up-and-coming restaurants and attractions, so you’re prepared for a future trip to the city.

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