5-Day Best of San Diego Itinerary

To take in all the best of San Diego in five days, you’re going to be very, very busy. Fortunately, between your museum-hopping, boutique-browsing, and enjoying the sights, sun, and sand, you’ll have a chance to fuel up at over a dozen delicious cafes and eateries.

The Botanical Building at Balboa Park.
The Botanical Building at Balboa Park. Photo © Lisa Robinson/The Department of Creativity.

Day 1

Get an early start and head up to the San Diego Zoo, where the animals are always livelier in the morning. Watch the pandas cuddle and the polar bears swim, then go next door to Balboa Park for lunch at Panama 66, a sculpture garden-restaurant with hot sandwiches and a terrific tap list.

Your first stop for an afternoon of museum-hopping is to peruse the minor masterpieces at the San Diego Museum of Art. Study humankind at the San Diego Museum of Man, marvel at aeronautic engineering in the San Diego Air and Space Museum, then catch your breath in the Botanical Building.

Head up to North Park for happy hour at Polite Provisions; its beautiful cocktail lounge may hook you up with some small plates if you’re hungry. Save the appetite, though—North Park’s Restaurant Row is nearby.

Grab a couple of gourmet tacos at City Tacos, a great first stop before exploring the local beer scene. Start at North Park Beer Co., then walk around the corner to visit Toronado.

San Diego

Day 2

Take the ferry to Coronado and wander the impressive Hotel del Coronado. Spend some time on Coronado Beach, then grab lunch at Coronado Brewing Company before heading back on the ferry.

Stroll up the Embarcadero and visit the Maritime Museum of San Diego and USS Midway Museum. After gazing at ships both antique and modern, walk north to Little Italy, where you can sample more local beers at Bottlecraft before dining at one of the neighborhood’s fantastic restaurants, such as Herb & Wood.

After dinner, stroll through the charming neighborhood to reach decadent Extraordinary Desserts. The sugar rush should get you started for a night out in the Gaslamp District club scene; if you prefer something chill, the swanky retro cocktail bar Prohibition Lounge is a great way to finish the night.

rainbow colored sailboat in Mission Bay San Diego
There are several options for water sports in Mission Bay. Photo © Stasvolik/Dreamstime.

Day 3

Start the day with donuts and coffee from Nomad Donuts, which will fuel you without leaving you too full for a day of action.

Catch a morning surf lessons from Surfari Surf School at north Mission Beach, and enjoy some prime people-watching on the Pacific Beach Boardwalk while you catch your breath. You’ll have worked up quite an appetite, so sate it the way a local surfer would—with fish tacos from Oscars Mexican Seafood.

Next up is Mission Bay, where you choose your speed: kayak, Jet Ski, wakeboard, or sail. (Hint: There’s time to do two.) After playing all day, you’ll need serious nourishment.

Roll up to La Jolla for sustainable ingredients perfectly prepared at George’s at the Cove. If you still have energy, nourish your mind with a destined-for-Broadway show at La Jolla Playhouse.

Day 4

Spend a long morning in Old Town State Historic Park, exploring the adobe buildings and browsing the many gift shops. You’ll be tempted to sit down for a Mexican lunch at one of the tourist restaurants, but save your appetite for a more genuine experience at El Indio, just up the street in Mission Hills.

After lunch, ride over to Ocean Beach for a walk along the lengthy Ocean Beach Pier, a great vantage point for watching surfers. Grab your own spot of sand and enjoy the local color while you soak up some sun.

Hit happy hour at Wonderland Ocean Pub when you get thirsty, then sit at the window to wait for an incredible sunset. Or, make your way up to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park to stroll the cliffs and experience the panoramic pink, purple, and bright-orange majesty as the sun goes down.

Finish off the day over the hill at Officine Buona Forchetta, where some of the city’s best Italian dishes include handmade pasta and authentic, wood-fired Neapolitan pizza.

waves rolling up onto the beach at La Jolla Cove
Most of the year, waves on the beach at La Jolla Cove are small or nonexistent, making for a fun swimming beach. Photo © Alexua/Dreamstime.

Day 5

Beat the crowds into La Jolla and grab a cup of local coffee at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters.

Take advantage of the calm morning conditions to snorkel or scuba off La Jolla Cove and experience the vibrant below-sea-level nature reserve of the La Jolla Underwater Park. This will prime your appetite for a fish taco plate at El Pescador Fish Market, in La Jolla Village.

Walk it off along the famous shoreline, then spend the afternoon exploring neighborhood shops and art collections, including the Madison Gallery and Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

Prior to sunset, head up the hill to gape at the panoramic views from the Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial. Then roll south to the city’s best sushi at Sushi Ota in Pacific Beach, followed by tiki cocktails and decor to match at The Grass Skirt.

Ian Anderson

About the Author

Born in Oregon and based in California, Ian Anderson has been road-tripping up and down the west coast since before he could see over the steering wheel. Over the past two decades, he’s lived in Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego, logging more than ten thousand miles on coastal highways, mostly looking for great food, beautiful beaches, and fun surf.

Ian is currently based in San Diego, covering “America’s Finest City” as a reporter, beer writer, and restaurant critic for the San Diego Reader. He’s written for websites, magazines, and books on topics ranging from music to preserving the environment, but for the most part, Ian’s expertise matches his interests-chief among them exploring sights, sounds, and flavors of the west coast-and bringing these experiences to life for readers.

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