West Coast baby! San Diego is the place to be. Coastal city in Southern California, just north of the Mexican border, means sunny skies and good vibes.

There’s Balboa Park, Petco Park, and a whole load of other things to do in San Diego for any and every visitor. Being a relatively large city, however, it isn’t all that difficult to find yourself a different side to the city – away from the tourist crowds and ticket touts.

If you’re wondering what to do in San Diego, I’ve thrown in some off-the-beaten-path options and all my favourite FREE things to do in America’s Finest City too! Visiting this Pacific Ocean city doesn’t have to mean going to the San Diego Zoo or the aquarium. Boring!

There’s so much more to this city than the sights you “should” be seeing. So read on and see what lies in store for you curious, independent travelers out there. Here’s all the must-dos in San Diego…

a girl looking at an amazing view of big sur california
California Dreaming…
Photo: @amandaadraper

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10 Top Things to Do in San Diego

Traveling to California is a bucket list item for so many people around the world. So, if you do it, it’s best to do it right.

Finding a good place to stay in San Diego and an itinerary full of things to do is a recipe for success. Especially if you are traveling with your family, you’ll want to keep them busy.

Coming from someone who has lived on the West Coast, I am so stoked to share this with you guys. Let me dive into the BEST things to do while traveling to San Diego.

1. Kayak through caves in La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove is a quintessential thing to do when you’re visiting San Diego. The beautiful coastal caves here – 7 of them, if you were wondering – are located inside a 75 million-year-old cliff.

And they are perfect to explore by kayak! On a warm day, splashing your way through the Pacific Ocean is as good as it gets.

a girl kayaking solo on a still water lake
Love a good kayak sesh.
Photo: @amandaadraper

Each cave in La Jolla Cove has a unique name: White Lady, Little Sister, Shopping Cart, Sea Surprise, Arch Cave, Sonny Jim’s Cave, Clams Cave. I’m not going to tell you why any of them are called what they’re called – you can learn about that when you’re there.

More than just name etymologies, though. If you love the great outdoors you should.

Pro Tip: Make sure to bring a raincoat – just in case. It might be sunny when you arrive, but the coast has a way of switching weather randomly. I made this mistake when I was on a 2-hour kayak tour and I was pretty chilly at the end of it.

2. Hit a home run at Petco Park

Have you ever thought about catching a game at Petco Park? It’s honestly one of the coolest stadiums to visit if you’re traveling across the USA. And you don’t need to be a die-hard baseball fan to love it.

petco park, baseball field with a large and very full stadium in san diego.
Downtown fun!

It’s right in the heart of downtown San Diego and is such a fun spot to soak up some classic American vibes. Imagine taking a tour of the stadium, chilling out with a hot dog in hand, surrounded by the buzz of the crowd.

One of my favorite memories from there was when everyone in the stadium started belting out “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” It was such a warm, communal moment that just made the whole trip for me. You’ve got to experience it for yourself!

3. Go sailing in the San Diego Bay

a sail boat in the sea with a blue sky in the background
Let’s hit the ocean!
Photo: @irinacuc

You may be able to get around the birthplace of California on two feet, on two wheels, or even on four wheels if you feel like it. From the air may be better, but scarier (more on that later). But the BEST sight in San Diego is from the open sea, baby.

Pro Tip! Unless you have your own boat (which would be cool AF) this sunset sailing cruise around the harbor was the best way to see the amazing San Diego city view from the water. It’s so worth it and you’ll probably even see some pelicans and sea lions!

There are plenty of boats to hop on to cruise along the harbour and marvel at the San Diego skyline (Hornblower, for example). And from your watery vantage point, you’ll get to see the Coronado Bay Bridge, the historic ships in the harbour, as well as Seaport Village

4. Go on a Food Tour

San Diego has a ton of delicious places to eat – that’s no secret. The proximity to Mexico means that there are a lot of authentic places to dig into that’ll offer some of the best Mexican food you’re likely to have this side of the border.

The trick is knowing the right places to visit in San Diego. So head to the Old Town.

fresh fruit from a local strawberry farm in California
California strawberries taste like magic.
Photo: @amandaadraper

This place dates back to the 19th century and is the place to go to understand more about the history and culture of the city – mainly through its food.

The best food tours take you to sample snacks at Old Town Mexico Cafe, sip on a margarita at Tahone, and grab a massive taco at Alamo Mexican Cafe. Just leave room for the feast in store for you at El Patio de Old Town.

In the district of Little Italy, the Mercato Farmers’ Market kicks off on Wednesdays and Saturdays and is packed full of more than 150 vendors selling all sorts of fresh produce from across the region. You learn so much on a food tour.

5. Go museum hopping

A museum of anthropology located in Balboa Park, the San Diego Museum of Us is filled with lots of interesting stuff about humanity and its achievements throughout the years. All that stuff.

a girl standing in front of a rock artifact at an archeology museum
I love a good museum.
Photo: @amandaadraper

But honestly, we are here for the architecture: the building itself is madly ornate, dates back to 1915, and will make an impression on you. It’s worth a look just for the building alone!

Budget Tip: If you get a San Diego Explorer Pass, you get discounted entry to a whole HEAP of museums in as well as many more of the best things to do in San Diego: harbor tours, city cruises, jet ski rents, you name it. It’s so worth it if you’re looking for a jam-packed San Diego itinerary on a budget.

Whilst you keen Instagrammers will be lining up the perfect shots outside, you might want to head in and delve deeper. The observatory is a must-see to get a nice view of the city, as well as the living with animals exhibition, the beer-themed “BEERology” section, and the interesting part about the Maya people. Many of the museums make the best days out for families in San Diego.

6. Try Bouldering at Asylum

A guy rock climbing indoors, with a gym in the background
For the adrenaline junkies 😉
Photo: @amandaadraper

Bouldering has become super popular in the States. It’s one of the best activities in San Diego to challenge your limits. It’s even one of the best things to do with kids in San Diego to tire them out!

Asylum Outdoor Bouldering is a hidden gem in San Diego. This new, hip spot is so fun to hang out and flex those muscles.

For $22 USD, you have access to the whole place all day; come and go as you wish. Although rock climbing can be tiring. My max time is usually one hour, haha.

They often do community events and host DJs to boost the vibes. They even hold morning yoga classes to prepare you for your climb.

Feeling up for a competition? They often host competitions! Check out their weekly schedule and go have fun!

Budget Tip: Yes, that San Diego Explorer Pass gets you discounted entry at Asylum too! Believe me, it’s so worth it.

One last thing: the early bird gets the worm… Show up early to avoid the crazy crowds 😉

7. Check out the Japanese Friendship Garden

California excels in its gardens, and this one is no exception. General admission is $14 USD, and tickets purchased online do not have an expiration date, so you can visit whenever you want. I mean, it’s not one of the best things to do in San Diego when it’s raining, so you can simply take a raincheck if it is!

The Garden spans 12 acres and typically requires about 30 minutes to explore. Bring a book and unwind on a bench; this place is as tranquil as it gets. When I visited, I sat near the cherry blossoms. It was the BEST spot for journaling. I loved the Japanese Friendship Garden!

Guy does handstand at entrance to temple in Kyoto, Japan.
It is almost like you’re in Japan!
Photo: @audyscala

8. Rent bikes in Balboa Park

Warm up your calves, as you’re about to explore San Diego by bike, an ideal way to seek adventure and discover the city’s highlights! Riding around offers an engaging experience to see the best parts of San Diego, including Balboa Park… my favorite part of town.

a few kids at a skatepark under a bridge one with a skateboard,and one riding a bike
Let’s ride.
Photo: @amandaadraper

Local Tip! Renting a bike is a fun, eco-friendly, and efficient method to experience San Diego’s diverse attractions. Do as the locals do and experience the city through our eyes.

You can also bike around the vibrant Arts District, downtown San Diego, the bustling Business District, and picturesque areas like Stockton. On some tours, bikes are equipped with a GPS, offering a unique and convenient way to navigate the city, ensuring you don’t miss any of San Diego’s hidden gems. Book yourself some wheels and get going!

9. Yoga by the beach

By far, my favorite free thing to do in San Diego is yoga by the beach. You will see many people set up yoga mats around sunrise and sunset for a group yoga session.

Along the San Diego Bay, you will find lots of spots that are perfect for a good yoga sesh. I can definitely think of worse places to join a yoga retreat in California, too.

a group of people doing yoga in a sitting position by the beach as the sunsets
Photo: @amandaadraper

If you want to go with an instructor you can join an organized yoga group. My favorite beach to do yoga is South Mission Beach. Although, if you want to experience yoga with seals, check out La Jolla.

If you decide to do yoga by La Jolla you can enjoy a nice smoothie bowl after your practice! Fruittitude is my favorite smoothie bar. They do a really good Acai bowl.

10. Escape Room – Gaslamp

a group of teenagers smiling for a picture with fake mustaches on at an escape room
Ready for a challenge?
Photo: @theescapegame

If you are after something challenging, immersive, and maybe even a little corny, then the Escape Game San Diego may be just what you are looking for. I’d never done anything like this before but it turned out to be way more fun than I was expecting!

The Escape Game is a variety of different rooms which participants (that’s you and your crew) must try to escape from by working as a team, solving clues, and completing puzzles.

The games are designed to be suitable for everybody, from first-time players to experienced escapologists. No matter which one you decide to play, you will have an absolute blast!

Things to Do in San Diego: City Map

Things to do in San Diego

How To Get Around San Diego

Getting around the USA is not as easy as it is in Europe, but I always manage to find a way. There’s a reason most people rent a car and make their own road trip in California.

Public transportation in San Diego isn’t all that great. But between trolley tours, the bus, the commuter rail, and the ferries, you have a recipe for success.

Another way to get around is FRED (Free Ride Everywhere Downtown), a shuttle you will see around downtown San Diego. It operates from 7 AM to 9 PM most days. Although ‘free’ is part of the name, some locations may ask for a small donation to keep FRED running.

A girl smiling in front of a hippie van in California
My ride in downtown San Diego.
Photo: @amandaadraper

Another notable option is Uber. Yes, Uber tends to be the more expensive option, but it is totally reliable and safe, and cheaper than the yellow taxis you see at the airport.

With public transport in California, I sometimes found myself unsure why the bus was canceled or delayed. If you are in a hurry or have some extra money to spend, it’s the go-to.

Don’t Forget your Travel Insurance for San Diego

Everyone knows health care in the US is CRAZY expensive. Having the right travel insurance for the US can save you from infinite debt in case of an accident.

ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing.

They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.

SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!

Click the button below to learn more about SafetyWing’s setup or read our insider review for the full tasty scoop.

FAQs About Things to Do in San Diego

Here are some quick answers to common questions about what to do and see in San Diego.

a girl walking on a sandy beach in California
On a beach somewhere.
Photo: @amandaadraper

More Information About San Diego

Final Thoughts on Things To Do in San Diego

As we wrap up, it’s clear that San Diego is a treasure trove of experiences. From the mystical caves of La Jolla Cove to the yummy delights of Old Town, your days will be filled with excitement and exploration. And let’s not forget the simple joy of munching on hot dogs at Petco Park or zipping around downtown San Diego with the free transportation.

I have crafted this guide to ensure that every traveler, regardless of their interests, finds something exciting to uncover. So as you conclude your plans, remember that a world of adventure, taste, and wonder awaits you in this vibrant city. San Diego isn’t just a destination; it’s an experience that will leave lasting memories. Enjoy every moment!

2 girls holding surfboards headed to the beach
Photo: @amandaadraper