What to do in San Diego, America’s Finest City

what to do in san diego california

San Diego has a dozen different identities. It’s a military town. It’s a surfing Mecca. It’s a craft beer smorgasbord. It’s a neighbor to Mexico.

These various influences and cultures blend together in a city that’s driven by a 17-mile coastline, north to south. This California destination boasts a slower pace of life and just enough urbanity in the thriving downtown core. From Balboa Park to La Jolla, there seems to be a bite-sized chunk of enchantment for any taste.

What to do in San Diego? We took a little bit from as much of “America’s Finest City” as we could explore and put it together in one easy read, just for you.

Stay

The U.S. Grant Hotel

The U.S. Grant is situated in a historic building right in the middle of downtown San Diego. The large hotel has been nicely renovated and you’re mere steps from the eclectic nightlife in the Gaslamp Quarter.

Estancia La Jolla Hotel and Spa

Estancia La Jolla Hotel and Spa

This ritzy resort is what you’d expect from an idyllic Southern California retreat. The property offers plenty of quiet and relaxation in one of the region’s most well-to-do cities. For an active retreat, there are plenty of hiking and water sport options nearby too.

Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina

The Sheraton down by the marina is a family-friendly option that features a spa, three heated pools, and water sport rentals. It’s also conveniently located near the San Diego International Airport.

Turf Supper Club

Eat

Turf Supper Club

A Golden Hill neighborhood tradition since 1950, Turf Club is one of those spots that hasn’t changed much with time, but still feels as fresh as ever. Beyond a solid lineup of classic cocktails and fresh taps, the star is the communal grill in the bar’s second room — it’s one of the best ways to enjoy a steak and a few cheap beers. Simply choose from a tailored selection of meats, slap it on the grill, and cook it to your liking. Residents from all walks of life stop in. It’s a place to welcome friends, much as you’ll feel welcomed yourself.

El Pubelo Mexican Food

In a city driven by Mexican food, everyone has their favorite taqueria for a hundred different reasons. An interesting choice is this Cardiff counter-service joint, which is literally in a gas station. If you’re looking for crispy morsels of meat, cheese, and tortilla, El Pueblo is your spot.

Hillcrest Farmer’s Market

Sure, this Sunday market has all of your standard California produce, but we suggest venturing across the street to the variety of vendors that would make any food hall blush. You’ll find everything from barbecue to Thai to tamales, all made by local folks who are pretty damn good at what they do. Did we mention tamales? There are at least seven different flavors. You should probably start with those.

O.B. Smoothie Bar & Subs

O.B. is a nondescript sandwich spot that makes acai bowls as big as your head. The smoothies in their name are good too, but really, come for a acai bowl loaded with fruit, granola, or a variety of other options that make a lazy morning walk along Ocean Beach much better.

Drink

Noble Experiment

It would be a shame to make the trip to San Diego and not experience one of the best bars in California. Tucked behind a wall of beer kegs at Neighborhood, a top-notch restaurant downtown, Noble Experiment quietly (and consistently) puts out amazing classic cocktails, plus the occasional twist by bartenders at the top of their game. Reservations are highly encouraged, but you can also try putting your name on the list and having a beer up front. Spend some time with Noble’s menu — it’s almost as beautiful as the drink lineup.

Jayne's Gastropub

Jayne’s Gastropub

Jayne’s Gastropub

This quaint bistro near Normal Heights classifies itself as a British pub but showcases a much better wine list than the average fish and chips place. Expect updated takes on Tikka Masala and kebabs, as well as the pub fare you know and love. It’s a great spot for a casual dinner in a excellent walking neighborhood.

Shop

Clairemont Surf Shop

Just over 40 years ago, Steve O’Connell opened a surf shop with a commitment to being accessible for anyone and everyone interested in surfing. Today, he runs the shop side-by-side with his son, Dan, and maintains a great selection of gear. San Diego’s surf culture is legendary, and it’s places like Clairemont that are keeping traditions alive and relevant to the next generation.

Liberty Public Market

Liberty Public Market

Liberty Public Market/Facebook

Not one to be left out of the public market/food hall resurgence, San Diego’s contribution to the national trend is right on the water, near the airport and the marina. More than two dozen artisans offer everything from full meals to locally produced goods perfect for take-home gifts.

la jolla shores san diego

La Jolla Shores, San Diego

Do

Harbor Island

Harbor Island is the spot to explore the calm waters of San Diego on a paddle board or kayak, especially if you’ve had a long flight (or even a long drive coming from LA) and need to unwind and transition into the vibe of the city. You’ll paddle alongside multi-million dollar yachts, but think of them as extra eye candy on top of the glassy waters.

Balboa Park

Balboa Park

Photo Courtesy of Balboa Park and Richard Benton/Facebook

Balboa Park, which is home to the San Diego Zoo and multiple museums, is a great place to walk around. The grounds are well-maintained and the gardens are beyond scenic. There are few better places for a morning jog.

Potato Chip Rock

The slender, outward-facing rock at the summit of Mount Woodson resembles — you guessed it — a potato chip. It’s just 40 minutes from the city center and wildly popular on social media, so you’ll know exactly what you’re getting into. Be sure to take plenty of water (the trail can get hot and dry).

La Jolla Shores

While basking in the splendor of the La Jolla neighborhood, take time to check out its most popular beach. During the day, it’s frequented by families and surfers. Once the sun sets, bonfires sparkle along the mile-long shoreline under typically clear, nighttime skies.