What to do in San Diego for a Week | Travel Guide

February 20, 2017

Ocean in San Diego image.

A week in Southern California to escape the winter should be on everyone’s agenda. While I’m having so much fun exploring Vancouver, the snow we’ve been receiving is making me antsy for Vitamin D. Plus, I thought I moved AWAY from Wisconsin. Go away, snow! Fortunately, Tyler and I had this San Diego trip booked for early February and were able to get a nice dose of sun and fun. Here is an in-depth list of what to do in San Diego!

Old Town

What to Do: 

We actually stayed in Old Town. While we truly only explored the area for one day/night, it is a very convenient location. I consider it very central in consideration to the areas I suggest in this post. The trolley is in walking distance and can get you downtown in minutes. It is also very close to the airport, making it quick and easy to get to once your trip ends.

Where to Eat:

If you’re wondering what to do in San Diego when it comes to finding great Mexican food, look no further. Hello! You are so close to the border and there is a surplus of authentic and unbelievable tasting Mexican food wherever you go. Although some consider it a bit too gimmicky- I love eating in Old Town. As you walk down the street, you can see women creating homemade tortillas in the windows, sample hot sauces, and hear mariachi bands. The atmosphere is fun and on nice nights, the restaurants fill up quick. For what many consider the best Mexican food in Old Town, try the Old Town Mexican Cafe. If this is too full, I’d wander until you find the atmosphere that suits you best. In all honesty, I find them all fairly similar – fun and great food. Make sure to get some margaritas while you’re here!

Carlsbad

Carlsbad is a bit out of the way, but can be well worth it – there is more to do here than most initially realize. The beaches are clean with white sand and there is truly something for everyone in the family to enjoy.

What to Do:

If you have access to a rental car and enjoy golf, I highly recommend making the trek to The Crossing at Carlsbad. The course is absolutely stunning and the views are priceless. On many of the holes you can see the ocean as you tee off. Even if you only make this a pitstop to play 9 holes, it is well worth it.

Crossings at Carlsbad image.
Try not to get distracted by the ocean as you practice your swing.
Image courtesy of: http://thecrossingsatcarlsbad.com/

Ladies, while your man golfs (if you choose not to), it is time for you to shop. The outlet mall in Carlsbad is great. I could spend hours here. On a hot sunny day going in and out of the stores and into the air conditioning is a nice escape.

Whether or not you have children, LEGOLAND is located in Carlsbad. Keep in mind, if you are visiting in the off season (so if you are not visiting in June/July/August), the park will likely close earlier than you think – typically around 5pm. Check out the website and plan accordingly. Some people are disappointed to think it is similar to Disneyland and open until 8pm just to find out it isn’t.

Where to Eat:

If you take my suggestion of playing a round at The Crossings, drive a little south to Cardiff and check out the Pacific Coast Grill. This is a funky surf town with lots of cute shops right on the ocean. Try to get a table on the patio during sunset for a dramatic dining experience. The surfers stay out until then, so it is enjoyable to watch them ride the waves as you eat some of the best seafood I’ve ever had. I recommend the Seabass or the Seared Ahi.

Pacific Coast Grill image.
Literally dine on the beach!
Image courtesy of: http://www.pacificcoastgrill.com/

Where to Drink: 

We all need a good beer every now and then. Fortunately, San Diego has hundreds of breweries. So you need to check out at least one or two if you are in the area (I guarantee there will be one close to you no matter where you are). We were very satisfied with the Karl Strauss Brewing Company. There are many locations in the Southern California area (we went to the Carlsbad location) and you won’t be disappointed. Really great beer and it even serves some great food. Get a flight if you want to sample more than one.

Torrey Pines

What to Do:

Hike! For some of the best views, I recommend hiking at the Torrey Pines State Natural Preserve. This has some unbelievable trails, most accessible once you get to the top. There are a few options to get to the top: walk, bike, or drive. I chose to drive. There is a small entrance fee (~$13) if you are entering the park with your car, but I promise it’s worth it. Once inside, you can either park your car in the parking lot right there or drive up the windy road to the top, just be careful to go slow due to the large amount of people hiking/biking up the side of the road. At the top there is another large parking lot where you can park. Another thing to keep in mind, if you’re someone like me, there are only Port-a-Potties at the top. Once here, there is a large map that shows you the different trails and the lengths of each. I recommend the Beach Trail. Although slippery and steep in some areas, the final descent is well-worth it as you walk down a final set of stairs that end directly on a sandy beach.

Torrey Pines hiking image.
Various lookouts along the way to the bottom.
View from Torrey Pines image.
Gorgeous view! You can see the trail I’m about to head down.

If you’re still trying to find ideas of what to do in San Diego and are feeling adventurous, drive to the Torrey Pines Gliderport. If you’re brave enough you can hang-glide or paraglide with a certified instructor. Even if you get up there and discover jumping off a cliff is not your style, the views are incredible and it is mesmerizing to watch other paragliders float in the sky with ease.

La Jolla

What to Do:

Play with the sea lions! Ok, so while you can’t actually play with them, just watching them is a fun activity. They are very lively and love to play in and out of the water. If you go during the right time of the year, you will get to see the mother sea lions and the babies. This is one of my favorite things to do in San Diego and a great spot for pictures.

Seals at La Jolla Cove image.
Tons of playful sea lions are gathered on the beach in La Jolla Cove.

Where to Eat:

George’s at the Cove is probably one of the most well-known restaurants in the San Diego area. However, the price tag can be a bit hefty – maybe not too shocking since this is located in La Jolla. The main dining room, called California Modern, is a tad pricy (you’re looking at anywhere from $30-60 per entree). We chose a roundabout option to dine here that was more affordable – the Ocean Terrace. That’s right. There are other options with lower prices for equally amazing food and drinks. The Ocean Terrace was great and I’ve heard Level2 is a great option as well. Keep in mind, the terrace is a rooftop exposed to the elements. It has a good amount of umbrellas and heaters, but you are fairly dependent on mother nature. The Terrace and Level2 fill up very fast so be sure to call or go to OpenTable to reserve a spot a week or two ahead of time. In fact, even a week ahead there was only a limited option of time slots, so the earlier the better.

If you have a sweet tooth like me, you’ll want some dessert (no matter how full you thought you were). Bobboi gelato is where it’s at. Seriously yum. The flavors are rotational, so the offering is constantly changing. Plus, the staff is great, they really encourage you to sample different flavors before you choose the one you want. And guys…there truly isn’t a bad flavor here. In case that wasn’t enough, they have dairy free options! Tyler can’t have dairy so usually I feel like a pig ordering dairy-loaded desserts. This is a place we could both enjoy some after dinner delights.

Gaslamp Quarter

What to Do:

If you’re a baseball fan, Petco Park is right next to this neighborhood. Unfortunately, spring training/regular season hadn’t quite started yet, so we missed out on being able to attend a game. It’s already added on my list of to do in San Diego for the next visit. I can imagine it is tons of fun to go out in Gaslamp before or after a game though!

Where to Eat:

If you find yourself in the Gaslamp Quarter, it is undeniable there are plenty of restaurants to choose from. We walked up and down the streets trying to decide which to try. For lunch one day, we chose barleymash. This has a great atmosphere. Even at lunch, the place was completely packed and it is obvious why. The food was great. Tons of flat-screen TVs. Fun music. Great choice. We would have been back again before we left, but forced ourselves to try a new place.

Where to Drink:

If breweries are not for you, but you still want an adult beverage, check out Taste and Thirst. This place has THE best Happy Hour in San Diego (drinks were half off until 8pm on a SATURDAY). I may or may not have had three (very well-made I might add) Moscow Mules for a total of $18. They are typically $12 each, so this was a steal. Tyler was able to get amazing craft beers for half off as well. This is not a scam – even if you stop by for one drink it is well worth it.

Mission Beach

What to Do:

Walk. Ok so for some this may not be an ideal activity. However, the Mission Beach boardwalk is a great place to walk next to the ocean and also gasp at the amazing homes right on the water. If walking is not your style, there are several areas to rent bikes that you can ride up and down the long boardwalk.

Belmont Park is the perfect place if the child inside of you wants to come out and play. Think: a giant arcade, roller coaster, bumper cars, and more! This area has a ton to do and can be very crowded on a sunny day. In fact, this is home to the second oldest wooden roller coaster in the US.

What to do in San Diego? Belmont Park image.
Having fun in Belmont Park.

Where to Eat:

An awesome spot right on the beach and boardwalk (aka prime for people watching) is Draft. There are heaters, so even on a breezy day, sitting outside is bearable. The food and beers are great. You feel as if you are on the beach (you practically are) and after you eat, enjoy the rides!

what to do in san diego – other notable activities

  • USS Midway
  • San Diego Zoo (actually, all of Balboa Park has awesome museums and areas to explore)
  • Coronado
  • SeaWorld

Overall San Diego is a fun city and I hope this gives you some inspiration and assistance on what to do in San Diego. Whether or not the weather is in your favor, there is a never-ending abundance of things to do. As you can see, the San Diego neighborhoods, as well as other nearby neighborhoods offer a variety of restaurants, bars, and activities.

Are there any spots your family loves in San Diego?

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