Things to do in
San Diego

Think of California and you'll picture all things San Diego: surfer hair, slow pace, and guaranteed sun.

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Our most recommended things to do in San Diego

Skip-the-Line: USS Midway Museum Entry Ticket

1. Skip-the-Line: USS Midway Museum Entry Ticket

Take a self-guided audio tour onboard the world’s longest-serving aircraft carrier, the historic USS Midway. See the carrier’s 25 restored aircraft from the days of WWII to Operation Desert Storm. Visit areas throughout the Midway, from the crew's sleeping quarters to the pilots' ready rooms. Docents are available throughout the carrier and are eager to share their stories, anecdotes, and statistics, creating a picture of just how important the USS Midway was to the U.S. Navy. Most guests spend 3 to 4 hours exploring this historic aircraft carrier and learning its history. The included audio guide, available in 6 languages, will help you explore the dozens of highlighted areas across the massive ship.  There are family-oriented activities throughout the Museum. Included are 3 types of flight simulators, music videos, short films, climb-aboard aircraft and cockpits, and more. The Museum is located at the Navy Pier in downtown San Diego.

San Diego: SeaWorld Skip-the-Line Park Admission Ticket

2. San Diego: SeaWorld Skip-the-Line Park Admission Ticket

Discover the underwater world at SeaWorld San Diego, with animal encounters, interactive exhibits, and thrilling rides. Get up close to marine life and enjoy educational animal presentations for the whole family to enjoy. Upgrade your ticket to include a pass to eat all day at SeaWorld. Experience thrilling rides such as Electric Eel with its high-energy twists and loops, or Manta, with two thrilling launches that send riders soaring in the spirit of the world’s largest ray. For kid-friendly fun, enjoy Tentacle Swirl, Sea Dragon Drop, Elmo's Flying Fish, and so much more. Admire the animals at SeaWorld such as beluga whales, walruses, penguins, sharks, and orcas as you learn about these incredible creatures. Enjoy interactive exhibits such as the Explorer's Reef Touchpools and Sea Lion Point. Explore the Sesame Street Bay of Play where you can meet your Sesame Street friends.

San Diego: Harbor Sightseeing Cruise

3. San Diego: Harbor Sightseeing Cruise

See the sights of San Diego Bay on a fully-narrated cruise. Pass by Seaport Village, Shelter Island, Coronado Island, Point Loma, and Cabrillo National Monument, among other notable points of interest, while taking in beautiful skyline views. Choose between a 1-hour cruise of either the North or South Harbor, or book the 2-hour cruise, which includes both. San Diego’s North Harbor cruise takes you past historic ships in the Maritime Museum, Harbor Island, North Island Naval Air Station, and Shelter Island. The South Harbor route includes sightings of the Coronado Bridge, the U.S.S. Midway Aircraft Carrier, the U.S. Navy Surface Fleet, and the Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. As you sail, keep a lookout for wildlife such as blue herons, sea lions, and pelicans Listen as your professional crew provides commentary about the rich local and military history, points of interest, and facts about San Diego Bay. This sightseeing cruise also showcases local environmental conservation efforts through video clips and onboard displays.

90-Minute San Diego SEAL Tour

4. 90-Minute San Diego SEAL Tour

Splash into San Diego’s most unique sightseeing tour. See the best of San Diego on land and in the water. Take a seat on the San Diego SEAL tour, an adventure that takes you through the most interesting sights in the city before heading out into the harbor of San Diego. Your 90-minute fully-narrated tour will wind through picturesque San Diego streets before splashing into the water for a cruise of San Diego Bay. On land, you will pass the Embarcadero and San Diego International Airport. You will learn about the importance of the military in San Diego and other San Diego icons as you travel along the scenic coast. Once you splash into the Big Bay, you will glide by Navy ships, tugboats, and fishing vessels throughout the harbor as you listen to stories of early sailors. Experience the history and ecological wonders of San Diego in the comfort and security of a virtually unsinkable Hydra-Terra. Driven by our experienced captains, these amphibious vehicles are specially designed and built to navigate on both sea and land. Each one is Coast Guard approved and meets all passenger vehicle and department of transportation requirements to ensure safety and comfort for all. Both tour bus and boat, the San Diego SEAL journeys through San Diego by land and sea. Our unique amphibious vehicles are Coast Guard approved, ensuring you a safe, one-of-a-kind experience. Relax and enjoy amazing views during the best sightseeing adventure in San Diego.

La Jolla: Sea Cave Kayaking Tour with Guide

5. La Jolla: Sea Cave Kayaking Tour with Guide

Discover San Diego's Marine Protected Area, home to a variety of fish, birds, dolphins, turtles, sea-lions, and whales. With the help of an experienced guide, explore the famous Sea Caves of La Jolla and kayak inside Emerald Cave. Watch sea lions sunbathing on the rocks and swimming in the sanctuary. Marvel at the bright orange garibaldi as they stand out among the vibrant green sea grass and numerous other fish swimming around and delighting the eye. In the summer and fall months, tour groups will often see harmless leopard sharks, and you may also find grey whales in their migration during the winter. You might even see dolphins cruising alongside your kayak before you make your way back and prepare to surf your kayak back to shore.

San Diego: Sightseeing Dinner Cruise with DJ Music

6. San Diego: Sightseeing Dinner Cruise with DJ Music

Enjoy a dinner cruise from San Diego that combines culinary excellence with unforgettable scenery and ambient DJ music. Look for local wildlife as you sail and admire views of the city skyline, the Coronado Bridge, and the Cabrillo National Monument.  Stroll the spacious decks, watch the sunset before dinner. Dinner is buffet-style with an elaborate wine list, upgrades and additions, and vegetarian option. Savor crisp salads, braised ribs, oven-roasted salmon entrees, and luscious desserts After dinner, listen to relaxing music, as you enjoy your dessert and coffee. Photos are taken at beginning of the cruise and they can be purchased at the end when you return to your meeting point.

Sights & Sips 2-hour Sunset Cruise on San Diego Bay

7. Sights & Sips 2-hour Sunset Cruise on San Diego Bay

Come aboard the only floating happy hour in San Diego. The Sights & Sips Sunset Cruise on San Diego Bay includes complimentary appetizers, a no-host bar featuring refreshing drink specials and a perfectly timed sunset every Friday and Saturday throughout the summer. Get ready to enjoy the sights and sounds of the magnificent San Diego Bay. The bay boasts some of America's most historic warships such as the USS Ronald Reagan and the USS Midway as well as playing host to the scenic sights of the Coronado Bay Bridge and Seaport Village. Take part in a cruise experience where the celebration begins the moment you come on-board. Start with cocktails on deck, then relax as our gracious crew transports you to a world of ease and luxury. You and your guests will feel pampered, privileged, relaxed and refreshed. Quench your happy hour thirst aboard the Sights & Sips Sunset Cruise.

La Jolla: Guided Snorkeling Tour

8. La Jolla: Guided Snorkeling Tour

Interact with marine animals at a safe distance and spend the day on this beautiful reserve with experienced snorkel experts to guide you. You will see marine life such as sharks, exotic fish, dolphins, seals, turtles and a multitude of sea life swimming amongst them. With four microhabitats to swim through, you will find a wide variety of underwater flora and fauna. With a small group, you’ll get a much more intimate experience of life underneath the water, with one of our guides and local lifeguards accompanying you while you swim. Guests must have a basic level of swimming to participate in this activity. As this is an introductory tour, families with younger children (age 5+) are also welcome, as well as people who feel more comfortable being guided in their snorkeling.

La Jolla Underwater Park: Kayak and Snorkel Tour

9. La Jolla Underwater Park: Kayak and Snorkel Tour

Kayak out into the reserve with your guides, who will lead the group to the best snorkeling spot on that day. One of your guides will drop anchor, secure your kayaks, and lead you snorkeling in the reserve, pointing out the marine life as you go.  Explore the area around the Seven Caves, set within a sea cliff, six of them only being accessible by kayak. Here, have the chance to swim with La Jolla’s best such as sea lions, garibaldi, bat rays, shovel nose guitar fish, and even dolphins and sea turtles, if you’re lucky.

San Diego: Whale and Dolphin Watching Cruise

10. San Diego: Whale and Dolphin Watching Cruise

Embark on a marine life adventure on a dolphin and whale watching tour off the coast of San Diego. Keep a lookout for gray whales, blue whales, common dolphins, and more as you glide over the Pacific Ocean's dark blue waters. San Diego is one of the best locations to watch whales year-round. Gray Whales migrate winter-spring from feeding grounds in Alaskan waters to calving lagoons in Baja California and back. In summer, the legendary Blue Whales, the largest animals on Earth, commonly feed off-shore of the San Diego coast.  You may also spot Fin, Blue, Humpback, and Minke whales during the summer whale watching season. Additionally, you'll often see pods of Dolphins including Risso’s, Common, Pacific White-Sided, and Bottlenose Dolphins. Your captain will also highlight other wildlife such as Sea Lions, various fish like Mola Mola (Sunfish), and a variety of marine birds such as Herons, Terns, Pelicans, and Gulls.  View these extraordinary mammals in the wild on this spectacular cruise. The expert crew will help you locate these creatures and additional marine wildlife, such as dolphins and sea lions. Learn about marine life and local environmental efforts from professional captains and whalers who work at the San Diego Natural History Museum.  You may even spot a whale calf traveling with its mother as they return from the Arctic. This is a fantastic and exhilarating journey for all age groups. Guaranteed whale or dolphin sighting. If you don't sight some type of whale or dolphin during the cruise, you'll be issued a pass that's good for another San Diego whale watching or harbor cruise. San Diego is quickly becoming one of the world’s best whale watching locations. The city is home to whales, dolphins, and sea birds, and features one of the world's most beautiful coastlines.  Enjoy live educational narration from captains and trained naturalists employed by the Natural History Museum.  Watch blue whales and dolphins in comfort on a large, fast, and stable boat!

Insider tips: Planning a trip to San Diego

San Diego, the 8th largest city in the United States, is famous for its temperate year-round weather, gorgeous sunsets and lots of fun things to do. The famous San Diego Zoo, beautiful Balboa Park and downtown nightlife make San Diego a favorite destination for families. There is so much to do in San Diego that we enlisted the travel experts at TravelingMom, a leading family travel website, to share their favorite things to do and tips for making the most of a visit, even if you only have a few days. Here you can look into TravelingMom's San Diego guide.

What should I do on my first trip to San Diego?

Balboa Park in downtown San Diego is an absolute can't miss. This 1,200-acre mid-city park is fille with gardens, museums, cultural spots, theaters, playgrounds and walking trails. There are plenty of low-cost and free things for families to explore within Balboa Park. The beautiful beaches are another wonderful place to spend a warm day in San Diego. Whether you're looking for tidepooling in Point Loma, boardwalk fun in Mission Beach, or cliffside sunsets in La Jolla, there's a beach that just right for your family.

What are some hidden gems to see in San Diego?

San Diego is best known for its beaches, but there is so much more nature to discover, including desertscapes and mountain fun. For hiking, fishing and camping, head to the Laguna Mountains to experience unplugged family time.

How much time should I spend in San Diego?

It is nearly impossible to experience all of the wonders of San Diego in one visit. Consider focusing your visit into one area, starting with either downtown or the beaches. To explore the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, Coronado Island and other downtown activities, plan on 4-5 days. A beach vacation to San Diego could be a weekend getaway, by choosing one beach to visit per day depending on your family's favorite acticities -- surfing, boardwalk rides and games, swimming, snorkling or tidepooling.

What food is San Diego known for?

Tacos are San Diego's best known meal, namely fish tacos made with white fish, usually yellowfin or bluefin tuna. Nearly every restaurant menu will offer a version of this San Diego speciality. Fish tacos are generally breaded and deep fried fish filets, served in a warm corn tortilla with white sauce, chopped cabbage and salsa verde.

What is the best way to get around San Diego?

While most Californians rely on personal vehicles for transportation, if you don't have a car, the trolley is an easy way to get around in San Diego. A trip on the ferry from downtown to Coronado is an excellent way to reach the Island. Consider renting a bike or scooter to get around the downtown area. The Coaster Train, as the name implies, travels only along the coast. The north/south running commuter line has 8 stops between downtown and Oceanside. If you plan on venturing out to hike, fish and experience nature, you will need a car. Travel freeways between 10 am and 2 pm to avoid the heaviest traffic clusters and worst traffic jams.

What are the best months to visit San Diego?

The best time to visit San Diego is in September and October. Summer crowds have thinned out but the weather is still very warm for swimming and outdoor activities. With most kids back in school, places like LEGOLAND, SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo are far less crowded. October is ideal for families on a budget, as many popular locations offer kids free admission for the entire month. Aim for early October versus later in the month, when many students are out of school for fall break.

What is Gaslamp Quarter known for?

The Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego is known for boutique shopping and family restaurants by day and exciting adult nightlife like bars, live music and dance clubs. The trolley line stops right here so visitors can enjoy without having to find a paid parking lot. The Gaslamp is walkable to area attractions including Petco Park for Padres baseball games, Seaport Village and harbor.

What are the best neighborhoods for food?

Hillcrest is the heart of San Diego's LGBTQ+ community and offers plenty of outdoor patio dining, craft brewpubs and a weekend farmer's market. There is a variety of foods and flavors within walking distance of each other on University Avenue and sidestreets, including dessert-only hot spots.

What are the best neighborhoods for shopping?

For souvenier shopping, visitors can't miss Seaport Village. There are more than 50 unique shops spread out in this bayside location, selling everything from books and toys to art and San Diego-made products. Plus, there are plenty of dining spots and a carousel for the kids!

What neighborhood should I stay in when I visit San Diego?

For Airbnb, look for a walkable neighborhood like South Park. The area is full of historic homes within walking distance of restaurants, parks and breweries. Plus, it's very close to downtown, the airport and the famous San Diego Zoo.

What are the best beaches around San Diego?

San Diego is known for their many beautiful beaches. Mission Beach and the surrounding bay is a family-friendly hot spot, with ample free parking, grassy picnic areas and play grounds. Belmont Park is a highlight, with a beach-side roller coaster and other amusements. Plenty of sand and waves for boogie boarding and swimming. Those with younger children should visit the bay, with tamer waves for wading. Many areas for dining and shopping along the boardwalk.

Which neighborhoods are the most budget-friendly?

To find budget accomodations and dining, move away from the coastal locations. Mission Valley offers lower costs on hotels than beach cities. Drive further east to suburban areas like La Mesa to find unique dining and micro-breweries.

Which neighborhoods should you visit if you'd like to splurge?

For the ultimate splurge vacation, La Jolla, Del Mar and Torrey Pines. Hotels are swank and upscale dining abounds. Expect designer fashion boutiques, art galleries and a higher price tag for everything in these locations.

Other Sightseeing Options in San Diego

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What people are saying about San Diego

Overall rating

4.7 / 5

based on 3,982 reviews

It was great. Kayaking was so fun and had a great view of the caves. The early morning tour was best. I'm sure the current and conditions change, but from 9 am launch to the 11 am return the water got really rough. So happy we left early. Two person kayak was way easier also. Saw some kiddos 7-8ish. The water was way cold for me and the wetsuit made all the difference. This would have been a horrible experience without it. I'm from middle TN and we have 80 degree water temps in summer, this was 68! But the wetsuit made it refreshing and had no issues. They also have a cool store.

We loved our time spent at this very well organized and informative museum. So much to see and learn about- lots of different kinds of presentations and we got the feel of what it might have been like to serve on a navy ship. We felt so proud of our military and the sacrifices made on our behalf then and now! Thank you for such a great tour!

It was fun. We walked around downtown SD learning about the history, while discovering old building that we never knew about, and got to solve riddles too. While on our adventure we stopped and had ice cream and lunch too.

Educational and the little activity for kids to be a junior pilot is a fantastic experience.

Great staff, Great displays. Everything was a positive.