With views of the Pacific Coast, fascinating history, basically flawless year-round weather, and a chill vibe, San Diego, California, is the ideal destination for your next getaway. Plan the perfect day in San Diego and find a great place for your crew to get some beauty sleep in the most happening neighborhoods in town.

The ideal day in San Diego includes ample time outdoors, a healthy dose of history and culture, and plenty of healthy food. Find out how to design a fun on-day itinerary for San Diego.

Early Morning: Start With a Healthy Breakfast

San Diego is home to many healthy eats, and you’ll want to start exploring the terrain at breakfast. Check out a spot such as the Naked Café. This restaurant has lighter options that include the Artichoke Scramble, a dish featuring eggs and artichoke hearts with a corn tortilla, and The Calexxxican, which includes egg whites with soy chorizo and avocado. If you can’t resist indulging, treat yourself to the Coconut French Toast, a tasty specialty featuring freshly baked French toast that’s grilled with coconut and topped with fruit.

The Breakfast Republic, which has a handful of locations across San Diego, is another place to start your day. Get things rolling with a veggie-centric Mushroom ‘n’ Pesto Benedict, and upgrade your side to the brussels sprout-roasted potatoes. You’ll also find plenty of plant-based options here including the Vegan Madras Curry, which comes with tofu, vegan sausage, and a selection of veggies.

Torrey pines state natural reserve
The Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in San Diego.

Morning: Go for a Hike

Thanks to its perch on the Pacific Coast, San Diego has no shortage of stunning parks and reserves. You won’t want to miss out on destinations such as Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, which spans an impressive 1,750 acres. During a leisurely walk or a strenuous hike here, you can see everything from the nation’s rarest pine tree to gorgeous coastal views and pretty wildflowers. Take your pick from trails that take you through ravines or along the coast and frame up the perfect Instagram shot. Most trails are under 2 miles so that you can tackle a few.

Note that Torrey Pines State Reserve can get crowded, so making an early trip is smart. The park opens early in the morning, which will give you ample opportunity to hit the trails before they get too busy.

Pacific beach
Pacific Beach in San Diego.

Noon: Hit the Beach

After you’ve worked up a sweat at Torrey Pines, cool down at the beach. You can take your pick from countless stretches of sand, but below are a couple of the best options.

If you want to be in the middle of the sandy action, set your sights on Mission Beach and Pacific Beach. This chain of beaches is one of the area’s most popular spots for surfing, sunbathing, and swimming, and it’s also a prime spot for people watching. If you want to get out on the water, rent equipment or sign up for a surfing lesson from one of the many waterfront vendors. If you’re looking for history and culture, stroll through the adjacent Belmont Park, home to an awesome wooden roller coaster that’s more than a century old.

If you’re looking for a quieter waterfront spot, head to Coronado Beach, an ideal place to soak up the sun in peace. You’ll find plenty of space for everyone on this long stretch of sand, and you won’t have to worry about crowds.

casa de balboa park
The Casa de Balboa at Balboa Park.

Afternoon: Explore San Diego’s Culture and History

When you’re ready to dive into San Diego’s culture and history, you’ll appreciate how easily you can get a taste of almost everything here. The city’s Balboa Park is home to more than a dozen museums and cultural sites, along with 1,200 acres of parkland. You can take your pick from lovely gardens, historic architecture, eccentric finds, and shopping opportunities.

Where should you start? Take a stroll through your choice of green spaces, such as the spiky 1935 Cactus Garden, the historical Alcazar Garden, the colorful Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden, or the peaceful Japanese Friendship Garden.

Next, head indoors and spend a few hours stepping back in time at the San Diego Museum of Man or checking out the shiny objects at the San Diego Mineral and Gem Society museum. If you’re into art and photography, you also won’t want to miss the Museum of Photographic Arts or the San Diego Museum of Art. The Mingei International Museum is also an essential stop for learning more about everyday beauty in San Diego and around the world.

Evening: Enjoy a Memorable Meal

Whether you’re in the mood for plant-based cuisine, fresh seafood, or something you’ve never tried before, you’ll never go hungry in San Diego. Wrench & Rodent may sound a little odd, but this trendy spot is one of the best seafood and sushi joints in town. Get the unorthodox sashimi power bowl or share the Chronic rolls, which come with spicy tuna, crab, and avocado.

For delicious bites in Little Italy, the The Crack Shack is your go-to place. Get the Malibu Barbie Q, a sandwich with barbecue chicken, an onion ring, bacon, and pineapple mustard. Or stick with the classic fried chicken with a side of Border Slaw.

For amazing Italian food in the Gaslamp Quarter, head to Biga. Indulge in freshly made pasta dishes such as bucatini with truffle sauce, squid ink tagliatelle, or corn rotolo. If you’re avoiding wheat, substitute the gluten-free spaghetti in any pasta dish.

Where to Stay in San Diego

Whether you want to stay in the middle of town or on the Pacific Coast, you’ll find many accommodation options in San Diego. Book a fabulous boutique hotel, a budget-friendly hostel, or a cute private rental.

Top Hotels in San Diego

San Diego is home to plenty of fantastic hotels with a variety of themes. From surf hotels to design-centric spots and hotels that could double as palaces, San Diego has you covered.

You’ll feel like royalty when you stay at The Westgate Hotel, which resembles a European palace. This spot boasts plenty of contemporary amenities, too. Be sure to take a dip in the rooftop pool and enjoy the views from your balcony.

Located in the heart of the city’s Pacific Beach neighborhood, TOWER23 Hotel is perched on the waterfront. You’ll love this surfing hotel’s Pacific Beach Park location, the luxurious rooms, and the fabulous steak and seafood restaurant.

A classic pick in San Diego, The Keating is nestled in the city’s adorable Gaslamp Quarter. You’ll appreciate the beautiful views, the mood lighting, and the espresso machines in each room. You’ll also love the hotel’s proximity to the action.

Best Hostels in San Diego

San Diego hostels are great for meeting awesome new travel friends, tapping into the local scene, and saving your vacation money. While several great options are scattered across town, the following selections are a few of the best.

Located in the heart of Little Italy, International Travelers House is a few short blocks from countless downtown hotspots. Choose from dorm or private rooms or book one of the cozy bungalows for your stay. You’ll find places to hang out with your buds or connect with fellow travelers all over the property, including outdoor patios and indoor lounges.
Stay at USA Hostels San Diego, and you’ll feel like a local in no time. Join the hostel crew for a club crawl, use the hostel shuttle to get to local attractions, and unwind in one of the privacy pods at the end of the day. This hostel also serves up tasty dinners that won’t hurt your wallet.

In the middle of the Gaslamp Quarter, HI San Diego Downtown is seconds from everything you want to do in town. Head out and explore this charming neighborhood or hang out in the hostel’s game room or common space. Don’t miss the hostel’s weekly social events, which include walking tours, dinners out, and beach trips.

gaslamp quarter
The Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego.

Coolest Private Rentals in San Diego

Whether you’ve been dreaming about packing up and moving to Southern California or you want to settle into a homey space in town, booking a private rental in San Diego is a fun way to experience the city. Look for apartments in the Gaslamp Quarter, and you’ll surround yourself with a cool combination of historic Victorian architecture and contemporary skyscrapers. You’ll also be seconds from shops, restaurants, nightlife, and more.

For more history, book your stay near Old Town, which is home to some of San Diego’s oldest buildings. Next door to the historic state park, you’ll find plenty of Mexican restaurants and plenty of fun shopping. While you may not think of San Diego as a mecca for Italian culture and food, the city’s Little Italy has some seriously amazing restaurants and Italian boutiques. Stay in this neighborhood and enjoy the walkable streets and chic galleries.

Whether you’re planning a quick weekend or a longer stay in San Diego, you’ll love every moment of your time in this sunny spot. Use GoDoTrip to plan hotels, activities, meals, and more to make sure you don’t miss anything.