San Diego Travel Guide – Budgets, Tips, Itineraries

 JUMP TO: Cost of Travel | Where to Stay | Things to Do | Travel Itinerary | Travel Tips

San Diego is the land of aging surfers, sunburned hipsters, and overused Anchorman jokes. While we may make fun of San Diego a little, honestly, we’re just jealous of its amazing weather, delicious beer, and alternative style of living.

It’s no wonder San Diego is one of the most popular cities in California. This San Diego travel guide is going to show you California’s city of perpetual sunshine in all of its glory.

San Diego is expensive though, not to mention quite busy. The cost of living is high, and its omnipresent tourism doesn’t help the situation much. To visit San Diego and have the best possible experience, you’re going to need a well-written San Diego travel guide.

Low and behold! You just happen to be reading a San Diego travel guide written by travel experts and California natives.

beach near san diego travel guide

Frankly, San Diego’s amazing beaches and food scene alone make this one of the best cities in the USA.

Whether you are visiting San Diego on a weekend getaway, backpacking adventure, or California road trip, you’ll find plenty of fun things to do, both on the beach and in the ever-bustling city.

In this travel guide, we’re going to cover everything from San Deigo travel costs to where to get the best tacos and beer. All of that and a bag of Rusty’s Island Chips will be discussed, so pay attention my fellow broke backpackers.

This San Diego travel guide will make this city a much more approachable and enjoyable place to visit because you will be armed with the proper information. When push comes to shove, there’s plenty of beer and beaches to fall back on anyway.

This comprehensive San Diego travel guide includes the best areas to visit, beaches, food, travel costs, things to do, walks, and more...

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How Much does Travel to San Diego Cost?

San Diego has long been notorious for the financial stratification between the costs of living and average wages. This is one of the most desirable and, at the same time, most expensive American cities to live in.

This affects tourists as well as they’ll be paying higher prices for lodging, entertainment, and groceries. Those who want to visit San Diego on the cheap will need some pretty slick moves to save money…

Never fear my fellow travelers! At The Broke Backpacker, we are always coming up with ways to save cash while traveling. We have ways of making any city affordable and can sometimes even get by on $10/day. San Diego can be cheap so long as you follow our advice, young padawans.

Lodging isn’t cheap in San Diego because of every other Tom, Dick, and Harry want to visit or live in this city. San Diego has some of the highest hotel room and hostel bed prices in all of California and these will put a serious dent in your wallet.

Hostels will still be the cheapest deal in town. If you need to save even more, consider camping instead.

Groceries, among many other costs of living, are quite expensive in San Diego. While this may motivate you to eat out more often, the latter is always more expensive. Stick to groceries to save food and take advantage of the ubiquitous taco trucks for delicious and cheap Mexican morsels.

Drinking, no matter how cheap, will also get you into trouble budget-wise. If you have to party, try and set financial limits for yourself to avoid going over the deep end.

Think hard about whether or not you want a rental car as well. Though they add substantial expenses to your budget, they’re extremely convenient when it comes to seeing the best of San Diego and its surrounding beaches and parks.

Below is a breakdown of a daily budget in San Diego including average costs of each expense.

san diego skyline

 

Guide to San Diego Travel Costs

Hostel Dormitory: $25-$35

Basic room for two: $120

Airbnb/temp apartment: $130

Average cost of public transport: $2.25

City-Airport transfer: $2.25-$10

Sandwich: $8-$10

Beer at a bar: $5-$8

Coffee: $3-$4

Bottle of whiskey from the market: $18

Dinner for two: $40-$80

 

San Diego Budget Travel Tips

san diego people kissing reunion

It’s easy to spend without thinking, and even easier to go broke, but San Diego can be cheap so long as you have the proper habits and proper guidance.

For your benefit, we’ve created a list of travel tips for visiting San Diego on a budget. Follow these words of advice and you’ll find that your dollar goes much further.

  • Always pre-fade before going out – Buying full-priced drinks at the bar is a great way to waste your money. Instead, buy booze at the store and drink with your friends at the hostel/their house/the park/anywhere besides the actual bar.
  • Cook at home as often as possible –  Buying your own groceries and cooking at home is one of the most proven ways to save money. Try to book a hostel or guest-house with included breakfast too.
  • Buy a special pass – If you’re planning to visit a lot of San Diego’s attractions, then you may want to invest a City Pass. This card will allow free entry into many entering a lot of San Diego’s must-see places and will even give you special rates for public transport.
  • Take advantage of happy hour – Happy hour is everyone’s favorite time of day! From around 4-6 pm and sometimes later, lots of bars and restaurants have special drink/food prices. If you must eat out, try and go to during this time.
  • Check for other deals – A lot of restaurants offer special discounts to those who book a table through certain apps like TripAdvisor. Shop around a little and try to work the system.
  • Take advantage of free activities: Walk downtown, hang out at the beach, or even catch a free concert. We’ve covered the best free things to do in San Diego one of the sections below.
  • Use a water bottle – Save money by investing in a good water bottle and then drink from the tap. San Diego’s water is delicious and totally fine to drink.
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Where to Stay in San Diego

Check Best Price

CoLive Balboa Park
Loads of monthly events, a pool table, and table-top games make CoLive Balboa Park (formerly Zoo Hostel) one of San Diego’s best hostels!
  • $$
  • Free Breakfast
  • Games Room

A myriad of high-quality hotels and guesthouses are spread throughout this city to accommodate a huge array of guests. Whether you’re a backpacker, a weekend warrior, or a traveling family, there is a place for you to stay in San Diego.

Hostels in San Diego, although still pricey, are the best deals in town. Luckily, you get what you pay for and San Diego hostels are excellent.

In an unusual turn of events, conventional hotels are actually cheaper than Airbnb apartments in San Diego, though usually it’s the other way around. While I personally don’t like hotels because of their generic and/or uninspiring nature, you can’t argue with a better deal.

Even if they are expensive in San Diego, we still enjoy staying in Airbnbs for their unique and personable atmospheres. If you feel the same way, then be sure to check out our guide on how to find the perfect apartment. The article even comes with a code for $35 off your next rental!

If you are visiting San Diego on a very tight budget, we suggest staying at an urban campground. Using one is a great way to experience California and to save some cash. Just be sure to bring your own tent!

Read about some of the best hostels in San Diego below. Those interested in seeing more hostels should read our comprehensive travel guide to San Diego’s best hostels, here.

dusky skyline san diego travel guide

 

Overall Best Hostel in San Diego – ITH Zoo Hostel San Diego

A great overall hostel that has everything a traveler could want: social events, daily tours, and awesome facilities. The zoo-themed design is an interesting touch (probably a homage to San Diego’s own famous zoo) and should, at the very least, be a good conversation starter.

But the best part about this hostel is the free stuff, including complimentary breakfast and sailing tours!

Check for Best Price

ITH Zoo Hostel San Diego best hostels in San Diego

 

Best Party Hostel in San Diego – Lucky D’s

A very active hostel conveniently located right next to the bustling Gaslamp Quarter, which is the neighborhood with the most things to do in San Diego at night.

Lots of organized nightly activities including beer bong, pub crawls, trivia nights, and various drunken tournaments. Free breakfast and a 24-hour coffee station will help you cure those hangovers too.

Check for Best Price

Lucky D’s best hostels in San Diego

 

Best Hostel for Solo Travelers in San Diego – HI San Diego Downtown

A great hostel that was a close second for the best overall hostel in SD. All of the usual amenities that a top hostel in San Diego should have including friendly staff, busy communal areas, and clean rooms.

Its central location in the Gaslamp Quarter means that you’ll have lots of opportunities to go out and socialize at the bars as well.

Check for Best Price

Hi San Diego – Downtown best hostels in San Diego

 

Top Things to Do in San Diego

 

1. Hang out in North and South Park

Any hipster things to do in San Diego are definitely found in the North Park and South Park neighborhoods. These once seedy districts were discovered years ago by PBR lovin’ neckbeards and are quickly becoming one of the trendiest parts of town.

 

2. Have fun in the sun on Coronado

Catch rays and some waves at Coronado’s Silver Strand Beach! This is the longest beach near San Diego, a favorite getaway for both locals and visitors.

 

3. Eat all of the fish tacos and drink all of the beer

San Diego has some of the best beer and Mexican food this side the Rio Grande. It doesn’t matter when and where you go, eating tacos and drinking a craft brew are among the top things to do in San Diego, night and day.

 

4. Hang out with sea lions at La Jolla

The local sea lion population has pretty much claimed La Jolla for their own and don’t look to be packing their bags anytime soon. They love photos though! If you’re not up for watching the marine mammals, there’s still plenty more to do in this affluent neighborhood.

sea lions in san diego travel guide

 

5. Hit the trails

San Diego is one of the most active cities in the USA and is chalked full of excellent pathways. If you really want to go on some good hikes, then head outside the city! Torrey Pines and Cowles Mountain are great places to visit near San Diego and have even better trails.

 

6. Surf some waves

There is a lot of good surf in the city limits. For the best waves, make a day trip from San Diego to the northern suburbs of Carlsbad and Oceanside, or keep going all the way to Huntington Beach in the OC.

surfer on san diego beacch travel guide

 

7. Pay a visit to Cabrillo

Cabrillo is a great place to both play and learn. Aside from being one of the most historically significant landmarks in San Diego, it also has excellent views of the city and lots of little tide pools to explore.

 

8. Sail or kayak in Mission Bay

San Diegans love to tear up the water either by boat or smaller craft! Grab a kayak or organize a sailboat in Mission Bay for a lovely afternoon.

sailing in san diego

 

9. Develop your spirituality

Californians love to talk about how in touch they are with their spiritual side. Whether this annoys you or not, one’s spirituality is definitely worth exploring a bit. Try doing some yoga or maybe going for a long run.

 

10. Walk around Balboa Park

Many of San Diego’s top points of interest lie within one area: Balboa Park. If you can only visit one place in San Diego, then it should be here.

balboa park botanic gardens

 

Free Things to do in San Diego

If you’re looking to save some extra cash, then try doing one of these free things in San Diego while visiting!

  • Brewery Tours – Who can say no to free beer! Many of San Diego’s most prolific breweries offer free tours of their facilities and often offer up complimentary samples. Start at Green Flash, Karl Strauss, Stone Brewing, and La Jolla Brewing.
  • Yoga – Lots of local businesses in San Diego are starting to offer free yoga to the masses, either for marketing purposes or out of the kindness of their hearts. Some hotels even hold yoga meetings on top of their roofs! Ask around for where the nearest (free) yoga is in San Diego.
  • Hike or exercise There are tons of trails around San Diego that make for great places to go hiking and running. Numerous outdoor gym areas also provide more means for street athletes. Of course, all of these cost no more than a little sweat and blood.
  • Surf Museum – Wanna learn a bit more about the history of surfing in California? The California Surf Museum is located just outside of San Diego in Oceanside. Entry is free to the museum and is conveniently located right next to the beach.
  • Art walks and festivals – There are lots of free gathering all over the city that offer everything from art to dance to music. Local favorites include First Friday art walks at Liberty Station and free salsa dancing on select Fridays at Seaport Village. Free concerts include Coronado Summer Concerts and La Jolla Concert by the Sea.
  • Velodrome – Ready to see brutal warriors race each other to the death in a Mad Max-esque murder dome?! While we would love to see that too, the San Diego Velodrome only offers free races for awkward spandex-clad bike riders. Sorry to get your hopes up.

beach in san diego travel guide

 

Day Trips from San Diego

Check out these places to visit near San Diego for a chance to really stretch your legs and experience some California beauty.

 

1. Los Angeles

 “The City of Angels” – where stars are born and collapse just as quick. If you want to experience Hollywood dreams and witness American excess in all of its glory, then make a day trip to Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is like San Diego magnified with more beaches, more urban sprawl, more parties, and, well, more everything. Here you’ll find all of the tropes of California livin’ including sunny beaches, good herb, spirituality, and total hedonism.

 

2. Mexico

You can literally see Mexico from any large hill in San Diego as the country is less than 20 miles away from Downtown. You could totally cross the Mexican border and visit the country for the day if you wanted.

You’ll be hanging out in the infamous Tijuana, which, fair warning, has a pretty seedy reputation. Among the top reasons to visit Tijuana are medical tourism, “the worm,” and general mayhem.

 

3. Joshua Tree National Park 

Very close to San Diego is one of the best national parks in California. Joshua Tree is mostly known for its unique desert flora and fauna but is very popular with climbers as the bouldering and trad climbing are excellent. You may run into the occasional desert-tripper on a quest for enlightenment.

 

4. Anza-Borrego Desert and Salvation Mountain 

The Anza-Borrego is an awesome outdoor playground where you’ll find lots of mountains and canyons to run around. The desert also hosts some pretty cool art installations.

Beyond the Anza-Borrego and the Salton Sea is Salvation Mountain. This multi-colored landmark is a trip to see – both literally and figuratively – and is a favorite roadside attraction near San Diego.

los angeles at night road trip california

 

3-Day Itinerary in San Diego

The following is a sample 3-day itinerary for visiting San Diego. Most of the top destinations mentioned in this San Diego travel guide are covered in this section.

For more information on certain neighborhoods, please refer to our article about Where to Stay in San Diego.

map of san diego itinerary

Locations are:

 

Day 1 in San Diego: Balboa to Coronado

On Day 1 of our San Diego travel guide, we’re going to hang around the center of the city and hit up some of its most popular landmarks. There will be parks, beaches, cafes, and, of course, beer. It’s going to be a long day today so make sure you get a good night’s sleep.

Start your day early with a crisp morning in Balboa Park. This is one of the largest and most historically significant public parks in the USA; it hosts a myriad of trails, buildings, and historical landmarks.

The much-adored San Diego Zoo is located within the park, as are several other cultural establishments like the Museum of Natural History, the Botanical Building, and the Museum of Art.

We can’t understate the sheer importance of Balboa Park. Aside from hosting some of the most important attractions in San Diego, it is also a pillar of the local culture. Many San Diegans grew up visiting this park and have many fond memories of the place.

When you’ve seen enough of the park, head south towards the Downtown area. Consisting of the central Financial District, the Gaslamp, and Little Italy, this area has one of the greatest concentrations of bars and restaurants in the city.

Many of the best places to eat in San Diego are located here but, admittedly, the region lacks atmosphere. You should definitely come here for lunch and beer here but move on quickly.

Before moving on to our final destination of the day, the USS Midway and Star of India are worth pointing out. Moored in San Diego Bay, both make for an interesting juxtaposition. If you have any interest in nautical history, they’ll be a delight to visit.

End your day by crossing the spectacular Coronado Bridge and then hanging out in Coronado city. Coronado itself is resorty but nearby one of the best beaches in San Diego, Silver Strand. Stretching for miles to the south, Silver Strand is an excellent place to chill, surf, and watch the sunset.

balboa park san diego travel guide

 

Day 2 in San Diego: Mission Bay to Point Loma

On the second day of our San Diego travel guide, we hit up the Mission area and the super popular neighborhoods of Ocean Beach, Sunset Cliffs, and Point Loma. It’s going to be another action-packed day today so I hope you’re ready!

Start off by making your way towards Mission Bay. Along the way, you’ll pass through Mission Valley and Mission Hills, which have some excellent breweries like Modern Times, Coronado Brewing, and Stone Brewing. (It’s not too early for a beer; drink up! You’re on holiday.)

Once you arrive at Mission Bay, spend the early afternoon on the waters. Rent a kayak and paddle around the Mission, but I highly discourage visiting SeaWorld.

Head south after Mission Bay to Ocean Beach, famous for it alternative lifestyle choices and quintessential California vibes. More importantly, it has the two best beaches in San Diego – which can get packed – and more breweries of course!

Further south is Sunset Cliffs, which, true to their name, are great cliffs to watch the sunset from (get the guy who named this place a beer!).

Beyond the Cliffs is Point Loma and the Cabrillo National Monument. This is one of the most significant points of interest in San Diego as it marks the landing site of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European to set foot on the West Coast of the USA. The Cabrillo Monument, in addition to the Point Loma Lighthouse, are two of the city’s greatest icons.

Cultural merits aside, Cabrillo is still a fine place to walk around. The views are stupendous as you have the ocean to one side and San Diego on the other. The local tides pools are also very fun to explore when the tide is low.

blue angels san diego travel guide

 

Day 3 in San Diego: Torrey Pines to Pacific Beach

No San Diego travel guide would be complete without suggesting a run in Torrey Pines State Park! Get your ass outta bed and grab those trainers because it’s going to be a beautiful day!

Torrey Pines is located a bit outside of San Diego proper but far before Encinitas. It is a very surreal geographic area, with razorback ridges and epic coastal cliffs.

It is one of the must see places in San Diego, made even better by an awesome system of trails. Be sure to make it down to the actual beach to see the actual cliffs and go wading in the tide pools.

Once you’ve gotten your endorphin fix, head south to La Jolla, the so-called “Crowned Jewel of San Diego.” This is one of the ritziest, most elegant parts of the city, an extremely popular date night spot for a reason.

I’d suggest that you go take a shower before showing up, but we’re smelly backpackers and we’re damn proud of our odor! Besides, most people won’t be able to smell you over the sea lions.

La Jolla is famous for its picturesque sea coves and beaches, which the local sea lion population loves to hang out at. They are far from a pest though and there are still plenty of beaches reserved for human bathers.

Be sure to visit the University of California San Diego and the Geisel Library. This ultra-modern building is like something out of a sci-fi movie and visiting it is certainly one of the most unique things to do in San Diego.

End your day in the upscale Pacific Beach district. This is one of the liveliest areas, well-known for its fish tacos and nightlife. A good way to end your trip, I say.

 

San Diego Travel Guide and Tips

 

Best Time of Year to Visit San Diego

When is the weather not amazing in San Diego?! It is a well-known fact that San Diego has the best weather in the entire USA and is near perfect year-round. Never too cold, always warm, and rain only when you need it!

For these reasons, San Diego can be visited at any time of the year. The only thing that you need to worry about is when everyone else travels to San Diego.

San Diego’s busiest season is the summer when families are on holiday. Since the city is packed full of tourists, prices will be at their highest and lodging availability may be limited. This may not be the best time to visit if you’re planning a trip to San Diego on the cheap.

We make light of San Diego’s climate but there are some weather patterns to be aware of too.

There is a period from May to June/July where San Diego becomes shrouded in a marine layer from the Southern Pacific. Aptly named the “June Gloom,” this time is marked by increased cloudiness, fog, and overcast days.

While certainly not ideal, this meteorological pattern shouldn’t deter people from visiting as temperatures are still lovely and the cloudiness is not nearly as bad as places like the PNW region (which you are bound to visit on a West Coast road trip).

August-October is also peak wildfire months in San Diego since the city is usually driest during this time and the Santa Ana Winds begin to pick up. There have been some devastating fires in the past and with climate change becoming a reality, wildfires will only get worse.

The rest of the year (November-April) is seriously perfect in San Diego. Rain is sporadic, temperatures lovely and cool, and sunshine is plentiful. You’d be hard-pressed to find better weather in the USA than here.

san diego zoo flamingos

 

Getting in and out of San Diego

San Diego is located at the southern tip of California and well connected to the surrounding region. Those planning a trip to San Diego will be able to arrive via land, air, and maybe even by sea if they’d like!

San Diego has one major airport – San Diego International. Most flights into San Diego are via domestic routes as there are only a sprinkling of internationals coming from Canada, Asia, and Europe. Small-scale Southwest and Alaska Airlines use San Diego as a hub.

Luckily, San Diego International is located smack-dab in the middle of the city, which means commuting to and from the airport will be a breeze. Taking a taxi/Uber to most of San Diego’s best neighborhoods should cost between $10 and $20. Otherwise, there are plenty of buses going to and from the airport.

There are several interstate highways running through San Diego. I-5 an I-15 connect SD to Los Angeles and both should take around 2-3 hours depending on traffic.

I-8 skirts the Mexican border and continues all the way to Arizona before terminating south of Phoenix. For those on a California road trip or Southwest road trip, getting into San Diego by car is no problem.

Long-distance buses link San Diego with the surrounding states and Mexico as well. There is no central bus station in SD though and each bus company has their own drop-off. Inquire with the company or driver as to where you’re getting dropped off.

The Tijuana-San Diego border between the USA and Mexico is one of the busiest border crossings in the entire nation. People pour through this crossing to make day trips to Tijuana and traffic jams can be a problem. Considering recent events at the border these days, expect long wait times when visiting Tijuana from SD.

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How to get around San Diego

San Diego has a fairly extensive public transportation network, but like most of Southern California suffers from a lack of efficiency.

Because San Diego is so big and so sprawling, it is not feasible to have a bus going to every corner of the city. Those that do provide service are often very long as well. While you can certainly get to most places in San Diego with public transport, it will be a tedious process.

If you end up using public transport in San Diego, 9 times out of 10 you will use a bus. These offer the most coverage and will most often be your go-to means for getting around the city.

Granted, they are not the greatest buses in the world but they work well enough. There is a series of trams in the Downtown area but these are mostly for the sake of tourism and are not very useful in general.

Like much of California, and the United States for that matter, the best way to get around is with your own car. San Diego is laid out in a fairly understandable grid pattern so navigating isn’t hard.

You’ll also be able to go off the beaten path, visit many beaches, and partake in some of the more unique things to do in San Diego.

You can rent a car around the city or at the airport; the latter usually has the best rates. You can also take advantage of local car share applications like Zipcar.

If you’re looking for a more active vacation, biking around San Diego can be very enjoyable as the weather is good and the roads are well maintained.

San Diego can be a fairly hilly city though so, depending on where you want to go, you may or may not be facing daunting climbs. If you stick to the Downtown area and immediate shoreline, then the rides should be a little easier.

bike rider in san diego travel guide

 

Safety in San Diego

black and white san diego travel guide

San Diego is not all paradise and fun; crime is still an issue and its existence will require that visitors practice the usual security habits. Granted, the city is still pretty tame by a lot of national standards so don’t fret much when traveling to San Diego.

Thankfully, San Diego has been spared a lot of the violent crime that has plagued the rest of California. Murders rarely happen in this city and usually only occur in the drug trade and organized crime.

Most of the crime in San Diego comes in the form of petty crime. Car break-ins are very common in San Diego and the occasional robbery has been known to happen.

To avoid being a victim, never leave anything valuable in your car and avoid wearing anything overly expensive. When I say never leave anything in your car I mean nothing – cars have been broken into for things as trivial as charging chords, loose change, and grocery sacks. If you feel the need to, try investing in a money belt to outsmart thieves.  

Vagrancy is also a problem in San Diego. The fine weather attracts homeless vagabonds to San Diego – as they don’t have to worry about freezing to death – and many make SD a permanent “home.”

Though some bums can be frightening from their crazed talk and yelling, most are too fried or weak to do any damage. Be careful around a homeless person if they appear threatening but don’t act aggressively yourself. If you seriously feel threatened, enlist the help of a good Samaritan or call the police (phone: 911).

You should always have emergency cash hidden on you – pick up this awesome security belt with its hidden pocket before you travel, it’s perfect for hiding money, a passport photocopy.

GET IT HERE

 

Get Insured before Traveling to San Diego

Even if you are only going on a short trip to San Diego, you should always travel with insurance. Have fun on your backpacking adventure, but please do get insurance – take it from someone who has racked up tens of thousands of bucks on an insurance claim before, you need it.

As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be traveling – so be sure to get your backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure! Traveling without insurance would be fucking stupid. I highly recommend World Nomads.

 

San Diego Accommodation Travel Hacks

Sometimes you need your own roof above your head – we know the feeling. Other times, you’re doing everything you can save a nickel and dime.

If you’re trying to the cut the costs of travel to San Diego, then maybe it’s time to stay somewhere besides a hostel or apartment. If you need to save money, try one of these:

Couchsurf! – Couchsurfing is the best way to save on cash when it comes to accommodation since most of the time you’re crashing for free. Staying with a local host is also a great chance to experience a more authentic side of the city and to visit hidden San Diego.

Problem is couchsurfing is really popular (duh, it’s free) and demand often outstrips supply. Hosts are picky as well so you’ll need to impress them with an eye-catching message. Definitely try couchsurfing but be ready to be rejected.

Tap into your backpacker network – You never know when you have a friend in a foreign city! If you’ve traveled a lot, you may have met someone from San Diego or know someone who knows someone.

Reach out to people! Ask to stay with people for a night or two in exchange for cooking dinner or a bottle of wine. If you don’t know anyone in the city, ask your friends if they do – travelers understand the struggle and are usually more helpful than you think.

Camping – Urban camping is a growing trend in many cities. These campsites are comfortable, sociable, safe, and cheap. They are often located on the outskirts of town, which means they are quieter too.

san diego travel guide geisel library

 

Eating and Drinking in San Diego

There are a couple of culinary options for which San Diego is famous for: one is Mexican food and the other is beer. (If you think beer is not a food group, then kindly see yourself to the nearest mommy travel blog.)

San Diego produces some of the finest beer in all of the United States and is divine when paired with a salty, spicy taco from a greasy taco truck.

San Diego has a boatload of exceptional breweries spread throughout the city. Downtown and North Park have pretty dense pockets of breweries though Miramar and Mira Mesa are quickly expanding.

Many of San Diego’s top breweries, like Stone Brewing, Karl Strauss, and Ballast Point, have multiple locations; most all of these have an establishment near Downtown.

If you want the best beer in San Diego, you’ll need be willing to go off the beaten path to Miramar though. Lost Abbey, AleSmith, Green Flash, and even a Mikkeller branch are all located in the northern suburb and are totally worth visiting, especially Mikkeller.

Mexican food is king in San Diego because of the enormous immigrant population and the fact that the country is only 20 miles away. Tacos are ubiquitous and delicious, whether you buy one at a taco truck or a fancy restaurant.

Taco Tuesdays are an established trend by now and many restaurants offer special deals on this day. Fish tacos, in particular, are popular due to the close proximity of the sea.

There is still plenty more places to eat in San Diego for those who want more than just Mexican food. Little Italy and Downtown are both great places to start looking. Ocean Beach and Pacific Beach also host some great restaurants, mainly of the seafood variety.

 

Nightlife in San Diego

San Diego has a very diverse nightlife scene where one can grab a craft beer, and catch a DJ and a burlesque show all in one night. There’s a shit ton of things to do in San Diego at night for just about every type of person.

Without question, San Diego nightlife is centered around the Gaslamp Quarter and its concentration of bars, clubs, and cafes. If you don’t know where to start your debaucherous night in San Diego, the Gaslamp is a no-fail.

Not to let all of that gorgeous, rain-free weather go to waste, there are plenty of rooftop bars in the city. Altitude is probably the most well-known rooftop bar in San Diego, thanks to its epic views of Petco Park. Kettner Exchange, Level 9, El Prez, and the Nolen are worth visiting too. Expect to pay for the view with higher drink prices though.

If you’re looking for an alternative area to party, then head to the increasingly popular North Park and South Park. North Park is a bit of an affluent area that is mostly frequented by working professionals and trust fund babies.

North Park is probably the better area to go drink in due to its greater selection of bars. Here you’ll find local favorites like Tiger! Tiger!, Polite Provisions, Seven Grande, and Bar Pink. Be sure to catch a show at the legendary Observatory as well. Check out ListenSD for a list of upcoming shows and events as well.

If you’re looking for hipster things to do in San Diego, you can’t go wrong drinking PBR in South Park.

san diego graffiti

 

Books to Read on San Diego

Check out this San Diego reading list to learn more about the city! Each novel takes place in and around San Diego and does a good job of exploring the city.

The Backpacker Bible – Get it for free! Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building a life of long-term travel with an online income. To inspire and help the next generation of Broke Backpackers, you can now grab ‘How to Travel the World on $10 a Day’ for free! Get your copy here. 

The Visionary State: A Journey Through California’s Spiritual Landscapes – A visual journey through California’s most powerful, spiritual places. An exploration of the popularity and growth of alternative beliefs in the state.

Rainbows End: A Novel with One Foot in the Future – Vernor Vinge, one of the most respected sci-fi writers of the 21st Century, brings his vision to a futuristic San Diego. This novel is the story of an elderly man who, through the power of medical science, reverts to a younger age and begins to question his place in the world.

Confetti for Gino – An Italian immigrant family struggles to cope with their new home in San Diego. After the promises of an intercultural marriage, the family threatens to crumble.

Love and War in California – A young boy grows up in pre-WWII San Diego and slowly watches the city change before his eyes. His classmates are enlisted, Japanese are imprisoned, and, eventually, the boy joins the war himself.

Under the Perfect Sun: The San Diego Tourists Don’t See – Contrary to San Diego’s idyllic reputation, the city actually has a lot more going on underneath. This book breaks the mold to show San Diego in a more alternative and dimmer light.

pier in san diego travel guide

 

Volunteering in San Diego

Long term travel is awesome. Giving back is awesome too. For backpackers looking to travel long-term on a budget in San Diego whilst making a real impact on local communities, look no further than World Packers. World Packers is an excellent platform connecting travelers with meaningful volunteer positions throughout the world.

In exchange for a few hours of work each day, your room and board are covered.

Backpackers can spend long periods of time volunteering in an awesome place without spending any money. Meaningful life and travel experiences are rooted in stepping out of your comfort zone and into the world of a purposeful project.

World Packers opens the doors for work opportunities in hostels, homestays, NGOs and eco-projects around the world. Broke Backpacker readers get a special discount of $20 – just use this discount code BROKEBACKPACKERand membership is discounted from $49 a year to $29.

 

Make Money Online while Traveling in San Diego

Traveling in San Diego long-term? Keen to make some cash when you are not exploring the city?

Teaching English online is a great way to earn a consistent income—from anywhere in the world with a good internet connection. Depending on your qualifications (or your motivation to obtain qualifications like a TEFL certificate) you can teach English remotely from your laptop, save some cash for your next adventure, and make a positive impact on the world by improving another person’s language skills! It’s a win-win! Check out this detailed article for everything you need to know to start teaching English online.

Learn what it’s like to be a VIPKID teacher, a top company in the field of online English learning.

In addition to giving you the qualifications to teach English online, TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.

Broke Backpacker readers get a 35% discount on TEFL courses with MyTEFL (simply enter the code BACKPKR), to find out more, please read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.

Whether you are keen to teach English online or looking to take your teaching game a step further by finding a job teaching English in a foreign country, getting your TEFL certificate is absolutely a step in the right direction.

train on california coast san diego travel guide

 

Being a Responsible Traveler in San Diego

Reduce your plastic footprint: Perhaps the best thing you can do for our planet is to make sure you do NOT add to the plastic problem all over the world. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, the plastic ends up in landfill or in the ocean. Instead, pack a tough travel water bottle.

Go and watch A Plastic Ocean on Netflix – it’ll change how you view the plastic problem in the world; you need to understand what we are up against. If you think it doesn’t matter, get off my fucking site.

Don’t pick up single use plastic bags, you’re a backpacker – take your daypack if you need to go to the shop or run errands.

Bear in mind, that many animal products in countries you travel through will not be ethically farmed and won’t be of the highest quality. I’m a carnivore but when I’m on the road, I only eat chicken. Mass-farming of cows etc leads to the rainforest being cut down – which is obviously a huge problem.

Recently, my gear-venture, Active Roots has started to sell water bottles. For every Active Roots water bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an awesome initiative aimed at educating people on the risk of single use plastic and helping to clean up our oceans. Help save the planet, whether you take an Active Roots bottle or not – TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for your plastic footprint, don’t be a dick. 

Need more guidance? – Check out our post on how to be a responsible backpacker.

Visiting San Diego will bring you ample opportunities to participate in debauchery, and it is very important to have fun, let loose, and get a bit wild at times. Most trips I have been on across the world have included at least a few mornings where I wake up knowing I went too far.

But there are some things that will put you in the category of a straight up jackass if you do them. Being super loud and obnoxious in a tiny hostel at 3 AM is a classic rookie mistake.

Everyone in the hostel will hate you when you wake them up. Show your fellow travelers respect whilst traveling in San Diego and anywhere else for that matter!

san diego travel guide beach sunset

Want to learn how to travel the world on $10 a day? Check out the Broke Backpacker’s Bible for FREE!

Yay for transparency! Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation, buy a book or sort your insurance, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only link to stuff I’ve actually used and never endorse crap. Your support helps me keep the site going.”


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This comprehensive San Diego travel guide includes the best areas to visit, beaches, food, travel costs, things to do, walks, and more...

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