Top Things to Do in San Diego

Travel Channel rounds up our favorite food, drink, historic sites and highlights in this vibrant California city.

August 30, 2019

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Photo By: San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau

Photo By: San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau

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Photo By: The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch

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Photo By: San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau

San Diego or Bust

With its beautiful beaches, San Diego is the perfect year-round destination for travelers wanting to experience the laidback California lifestyle without having to worry about bad weather. Catch some sun (or some waves) at the city’s most popular beaches -- Mission Beach and La Jolla -- or tour the USS Midway aircraft carrier. It's the most-visited naval ship museum in the country. Located downtown, the Gaslamp District is full of great restaurants and nightlife, and sports fanatics can attend a Padres game at Petco Park.

Hotel del Coronado

The Hotel del Coronado is a luxurious, oceanfront resort just five minutes from San Diego on Coronado Island. Hotel del Coronado is the oldest and largest example of a wooden Victorian beach resort in California. The luxurious beachfront property has hosted presidents, royalty and served as the backdrop for Billy Wilder's classic 1959 comedy Some Like It Hot. An icon since 1888, the 28-acre property features signature Victorian turrets and lush grounds that inspired The Wizard of Oz’s Emerald City (author L. Frank Baum was a frequent guest).

Lucha Libre

The Surf n’ Turf Burrito at San Diego's Lucha Libre -- which features some of the best Mexican food in the area -- is a must-eat in the city.

Nibble Chocolate

A chocolate-lover’s dream, Nibble Chocolate, in the heart of San Diego’s historic Old Town, focuses on sustainable sourcing across the globe. The four primary Nibble cocoa sources are small farms in Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Madagascar and Peru, and each has its own unique flavor. All of Nibble’s chocolate bars are dark chocolate (only organic cane sugar is added), making them vegan as well.

In addition to a large case full of tempting treats, the Nibble Chocolate shop also includes educational demonstrations that show how the cocoa is sourced and how the chocolate is made. I walked out with a four-bar sampler pack so I can taste test at home with friends and share the news that not all chocolates are made the same. -- Kelly Smith Trimble

Bird Rock Coffee Roasters

At their Morena Boulevard Roastery, one of three locations in the San Diego area, guests can get a cup and also see the operation behind the award-winning coffee at this roaster which takes coffee to another level. Bird Rock urges customers to think of coffee as they would seasonal produce -- as in, there’s a time for everything, but that time isn’t year-round. Bird Rock sources from all over the world but only buys during prime harvest times and sells coffee that is truly fresh. This dedication comes from the founder, Chuck Patton, who started as a home roaster and gradually turned his passion into Bird Rock in 2006, then soon won Roast Magazine’s 2012 Micro Coffee Roaster of the Year. Be sure to ask questions of the super-knowledgeable staff. They can recommend a cup based on your personal tastes and point you to the correct in-season bean for your preferred home brewing method. --Kelly Smith Trimble

Catalina Offshore Products

Tommy Gomes is the Trusted Fishmonger at Catalina Offshore Products, a spot not known to many tourists but loved by locals. This fish market is a nod to San Diego’s former claim to fame as the Tuna Capital of the World. While they do source the freshest tuna and sell it to chefs all over town as well as to the public, Catalina’s offerings are more varied than just tuna -- from local lobster to sea urchin, the specialty that got owner and diver Dave Rudie into this seafood business many moons ago. Most products at the market are sourced from southern California or Baja waters by fishermen who are in tune with Catalina’s commitment to sustainability and quality. If you’re a local, get ye to the fish market. If you’re just visiting but have a love for seafood, stop in to see what treasure Catalina has on deck -- they can also direct you to local restaurants where their freshest seafood is on the menu. --Kelly Smith Trimble

The Red Door Restaurant and Bar

An inviting labor of love, Red Door's beautiful, simple interior reflects the fresh menu defined by local, seasonal ingredients. Owner Trish Watlington, a farmer and restauranteur with a deep passion for local, healthy food features locally-sourced ingredients included persimmons and arugula from Trish’s own backyard garden (as well as fish from Catalina). In addition to the restaurant, an adjoining bar serves what Trish calls "garden to glass" cocktails.--Kelly Smith Trimble

Cardiff State Beach

Soak up the vintage Cali vibes while stretched out on an authentic Mexican beach blanket at Cardiff State Beach. It’s an amazing sandy shoreline with beautiful cliffs. The surf break on its reef is particularly popular with longboarders.--Sara Gilliam

Balboa Park

Minutes from downtown San Diego, Balboa Park is an urban cultural park home to the San Diego Zoo, 15 museums, various theaters and over 1,000 acres covered in shady groves and seasonal displays of flowers.

LEGOLAND California

The first LEGOLAND outside of Europe, the park is made up of more than 30 million LEGO bricks and is divided into nine sections including Pirate Shores, Fun Town and the newest addition, Land of Adventure.

San Diego Zoo

A cuddly polar beach takes the plunge at the San Diego Zoo. More than 3,700 animals call the famed zoo in San Diego's Balboa Park their home. With 99 acres as their lair, they've got plenty of terrain in which to spread out ... and splash.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

With more than 2 million visitors each year, the Zoo Safari Park is one of the largest tourist attractions in San Diego. Tourists can choose from the Behind-the-Scenes, Jungle Ropes and Africa Tram safaris to see more than 2,000 animals at the park.


Taking full of advantage of San Diego’s scenic port, Searsucker is a top-notch seafood joint, serving up some of the freshest catches and most unique dishes around.

Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego, California

The Cabrillo National Monument was built in honor of Juan Rodriguez, who explored the West Coast of the United States. Located on the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula, the 14,000-pound sculpture looks out over the bay.

Black's Beach in San Diego, California

Black's Beach is a beautiful, secluded area beneath the bluffs of Torrey Pines on the Pacific Ocean known for nude sunbathing. A submarine canyon attracts surfers to Black's Beach, but makes it dangerous for inexperienced swimmers.

Point Loma Lighthouse in the San Diego Bay

The Point Loma Lighthouse, located at the mouth of the San Diego Bay, was built in 1855. It is no longer in service, but visitors can still tour the lighthouse and its living quarters.

La Jolla Village in San Diego, California

Tourists can shop, relax on the beach or enjoy fine dining in La Jolla Village, a popular neighborhood in San Diego. More adventurous visitors can kayak, snorkel or scuba dive in the La Jolla Underwater Park.

Mission Bay in San Diego, California

Mission Bay, located south of the Pacific Beach community, is home to the largest man-made aquatic park in the country, and is a popular spot for sailing, flying kites and picnicking.

Snooze, an A.M. Eatery

An airy, modern space in Hillcrest, Snooze radiates good vibes in the morning. The blackboard outside begs to be doodled on, spicy bloodies beckon to the hungover brunch crowd, and its elevated breakfast fare is a hit with kids and adults alike. Because of the no-reservation policy, we suggest weathering the wait by checking out one of the many vintage and used bookstores nearby or posting up at the bar with an Mmm Mmm Mimosa. Warning: If you opt to mix and match the menu’s sweet and savory options, good luck finishing two plates of eggs, hash browns and a ginormous pancake. Of all the ones to choose from, don’t pass up the pineapple upside-down pancakes drenched in cinnamon butter. --Sara Gilliam

USS Midway

The USS Midway was a Naval aircraft carrier and is currently housed at the USS Midway Museum. Built in 1945, it's one of America's longest-serving aircraft carriers and also the first US warship unable to pass through the Panama Canal due to its size.

Hard Rock Hotel, San Diego

One of the hottest hotels in California, the San Diego Hard Rock is the perfect place to stay if you want to feel like a rock star.

Taumata Racer, Sea World

Sliders zoom down the Taumata Racer at Sea World in San Diego where there are plenty of attractions vying for your attention. Get up close with polar bears, feed dolphins or take the plunge on the Journey to Atlantis.

Coronado Golf Course

A resort town would not be complete without a golf course -- and luckily there's Coronado Golf Course located in a town whose near-perfect weather makes almost every day a great day for golf.

Green Acre

Green Acre, a farm-to-table spot by Brian Malarkey in Sorrento Valley is impressive from the moment you pull up, and you'll even glimpse the kitchen’s organic garden from the parking lot. Reclaimed wood and greenery adds a rustic vibe to the expansive glass office space, and its large patio offers a stunning view of the valley. True, it could become an expensive, albeit healthy, lunch habit, but you're paying for quality ingredients and inventive combinations. The Peach Brick-Oven Pizza with burrata, arugula and prosciutto as well as the Chive Turkey with a crazy-good cranberry jam were favorites. Each entrée comes with the freshest side salad of champagne greens. --Sara Gilliam

Green Flash Brewing Co.

Green Flash microbrewery is a favorite among the happy hour crowd, and for good reason. Tucked into a warehouse space in Mira Mesa, the tasting area overlooks the entire operation, with some 45,000 red wine- and bourbon-aged barrels. We suggest starting with $1 tastings (the friendly staff will help you narrow down the hoppy options), and then enjoying your favorite $4 pint at a picnic table outside -- Hop Head Red and Le Freak, a blend of its IPA and Belgian-style Trippel, are both popular. The beer garden is the perfect place for groups to relax, play with puppies (Green Flash is dog-friendly) and partake in eats from rotating food trucks, invited by the owners (as they do not have their own kitchen) to park on-site. --Sara Gilliam

Juniper and Ivy

Championing "left coast cookery," chef Richard Blais opened Juniper and Ivy to much fanfare, and it has become a dining destination on the outskirts of Little Italy. Diners glimpse modern art and an open kitchen from well-appointed booths in the rustic-industrial space, which has a chic yet laid-back ambience typical of San Diego. If you happen upon the Baja Yellowtail tostada with shark sauce on the constantly changing menu, definitely order it to start. And don't miss the Yodel, the only dish that’s remained on the menu since the restaurant’s opening. The delicious combo of devil’s food cake, white chocolate, hazelnut brittle and hot chocolate bear the sort of creativity we’ve come to expect from Blais. --Sara Gilliam

Ironside Fish & Oyster

From the retro and nautical décor to the stylish, tattoed servers, Ironside Fish & Oyster has definite a definite cool factor. Grab an expertly crafted cocktail, sample the fresh seafood, savor the eye-catching design or saddle up next to the raw bar for $1 oysters at happy hour. --Sara Gilliam

El Pescador Fish Market & Restaurant

Sometimes you just want a place you can swing by on your way home from the beach that’s not an In-N-Out Burger. El Pescador's impressive array of locally caught fish shines on the straightforward menu, often simply chargrilled and served with lemon butter or olive oil and garlic. After surveying the market display, we opted to add seared scallops to our order of grilled shrimp and fish tacos. Thank God we did, because the melt-in-your-mouth scallops were, simply put, the best I’ve ever had. --Sara Gilliam

The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch

The vibrant, colorful pattern of Flower Fields on 50 acres of hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean will take your breath away.

Old Mission San Luis Rey de Francia

Founded in 1798, Old Mission San Luis Rey de Francia is the largest California mission and aptly dubbed the King of Missions. The National Historic Landmark is still home to a community of Franciscan Friars today.

San Diego California Temple

The exterior of the San Diego California Temple, composed of marble chips in stucco, give the building a beautiful white glow. A major landmark, you can't miss the temple driving to or from San Diego on Interstate 5.

Ocean Beach, San Diego

The site of major surfing competitions since the 1960s, Ocean Beach and its pier are popular destinations with locals and tourists alike.

Old Town San Diego

With the founding of the first mission in 1769 and the Mexican community of adobe buildings that sprung up in the 1820s, San Diego is full of rich history. This history is preserved in Old Town State Historic Park's plaza, museums and historic buildings.

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