Heading to San Diego soon? Our 3 day San Diego itinerary + guide is full of the best places to stay, how to get around, the best tacos and food, things to do, and so much more!
One of the stops we were most excited for during our 16 day road trip was San Diego. Adam had never been to San Diego and I (Kathryn) had been a couple times when I lived in Arizona as a kid, too young to remember, and then more recently for a work trip last year, but I didn’t really have time to explore.
Although we were excited to experience a new city together, the main reason we were excited to visit San Diego was to eat TACOS! If you’ve been following us for a while you know that we LOVE tacos.
Being from Austin, we have had many tacos in our lifetime and when we travel we are always on the hunt to find delicious tacos, regardless of where we are. San Diego is known for having amazing Mexican food, tacos especially, so we were pretty stoked to have a day and a half of nonstop taco eating (we managed to try 4 spots in 43 hours).
But what made the trip even better is how amazing the city is! Wow, we knew we’d like it, but San Diego may just be one of our favorite US cities now. We loved the beaches, parks, neighborhoods, food (even the non-tacos, which we didn’t eat much of), and the laid back beach vibe. We’re already trying to figure out how to get back there this year so we can spend much more time there and see more of the city, and of course, eat more tacos.
We’re super excited to share our 3 day San Diego itinerary and guide full of delicious food, fun things to do, coffee shops, and more! It’s pretty taco heavy, so if tacos aren’t your thing or you get sick of them, we’ve included a bunch of other spots in our “if you have extra time” section!
PS: Looking for more ideas of things to do in California? Check out the rest of our California guides:
Leave No Trace Principles
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
- Plan ahead & prepare. Make sure you research and prepare for every adventure so that you know the rules, stay safe, and to minimize resource damage.
- Travel & camp on durable surfaces. Stay on the trail and only camp in designated areas, as well as the required length away from water sources.
- Dispose of waste properly. Whatever you pack in, pack it out! Make sure to carry out your trash, as well as any trash you find. If you have a dog, please do not leave poop bags on the trail. For human waste, use a trowel to dig a hole far from water sources or use a wag bag (sometimes required).
- Leave what you find. Do not take any items from the trail with you, including rocks, plants, or artifacts.
- Minimize campfire impacts. Know the rules of where you can and cannot have campfires and if allowed, use designated fire rings. Use local firewood to prevent bringing any pests or diseases to the area you’re visiting and make sure to fully extinguish your fire.
- Respect wildlife. Keep your distance from wildlife, control your pets on the trail, and never ever feed them! Make sure to keep your food stored properly as well (we like this bear canister).
- Be considerate of other visitors. Be respectful to others on the trail. Hikers going uphill have the right of way on hikes and it’s always courteous to let those quicker than you pass. Avoid playing music out loud, talking loudly, and having your pets bother others.
Note: this blog contains affiliate links. Full disclosure– if you click on these links and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!
When to visit San Diego
There are many reasons to love San Diego, but the weather is definitely near the top of the list! With super mild temperatures year round, it’s always a good time to visit San Diego.
The winter months may a bit chillier at the beach, but if you want to visit some parks and walk around town, the weather will be perfect, especially if you live in a colder climate.
When we visited San Diego in December, the temperatures were super nice, but we did have one day with lots of rain (which isn’t super common), so be prepared to maybe experience some rain, as they do get more rain during the winter months. We did have a full sun day that was absolutely magical though!
The summertime in San Diego is the perfect beach weather. The days are warm enough to lay out, but not too hot that you’ll sweat to death. But this is a busier time to visit, so the crowds and prices will be a bit higher.
If you want lower crowds and prices, but still warmer weather, we suggest visiting during the spring and fall. The evenings can be a bit chillier, so make sure to pack layers!
Getting to San Diego
A huge perk about visiting San Diego is that the airport is right by downtown (less than 4 miles away), making it easy to start your vacation right away, and without super expensive Uber costs.
The San Diego International Airport (SAN) is a great airport with many domestic flights, so getting to and from San Diego should be pretty easy!
If you’re already in California and want to visit San Diego, it’s a 2-3 hour drive (depending on traffic) from Los Angeles!
Where to stay in San Diego
It’s no secret that we love Airbnb! Not only is it usually more affordable than a hotel, but it allows you to experience a city and its culture like a local. And it’s no different for San Diego! San Diego has tons of cool and fun neighborhoods to stay in that will give you a true taste of the city.
- Airbnb Option #1: A 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom guest house near Balboa Park
- Airbnb Option #2: This is where we stayed! This 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom Airbnb was great and close to many places on this guide.
- Airbnb Option #3: This gorgeous 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom cottage is located in Point Loma, close to many activities on Day 1 of this San Diego itinerary.
- Airbnb Option #4: A 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment in Little Italy!
PS: If it is your first time staying at an Airbnb, click this link to get $40 off your first stay!
And for our RV and Van Life friends, here are some good San Diego Campgrounds and RV parks!
Getting Around San Diego
San Diego is one of those cities where you could rent a car, but you could also get away with public transportation or Uber/Lyft. It really depends on how far you want to go!
We suggest checking Uber’s Fare Estimate tool to see what the costs would be and then decide if renting a car or Ubering is the best option for your budget.
We had our car with us and didn’t have much of an issue finding parking in the city–sometimes we had to drive around a bit, but we always found a spot!
San Diego Itinerary
You could easily spend a week or more in San Diego, but if you only have 3 days, this San Diego itinerary is full of our favorite things that we did (and ate!) during our trip.
If you are looking for more ideas of things to do, check out our “if you have extra time” section below!
- Kickoff your San Diego adventure with acai bowls for breakfast at Northside Shack. Note: This is a grab and go spot and we recommend walking down to Shoreline Park to eat your acai bowl and enjoy water and city views.
- Grab coffee at Communal Coffee, a coffee + flower shop–Kathryn’s version of heaven.
- Spend a few hours wandering around Balboa Park. Some spots that we loved were the Spanish Village Art Center (free), Botanical Building (free), as well as walking down El Prado and walking by the California Tower. There are also a bunch of museums to check out. You could easily spend a whole day at this beautiful park!
- Have lunch at Hodad’s Burgers, a famous burger spot in Ocean Beach. It gets very busy, so be prepared to wait a little bit!
- After devouring a burger, walk down the street to experience the best shave ice of your life at Wailua Shave Ice. This is our all time favorite shave ice that we first had in Kauai and they have since expanded to Portland and San Diego…score!
We recommend their Love Potion No. 9 flavor, which has the softest ice, best vanilla syrup, and fresh strawberries. It tastes like ice cream!
- Walk around the Ocean Beach area or head to Mission Beach to relax for a little bit.
- Visit the Cabrillo National Monument and take in the views at Point Loma.
- Watch the sunset from Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.
- Try your first San Diego taco at City Tacos! We loved this spot! It’s not your traditional Mexican street taco joint, but more of a creative taco shop and we highly recommend their MexiCali taco, which has steak and mashed potatoes.
They also have some unique salsas for your tacos and jicama to enjoy (pro tip: squeeze some lime and then shake some Tajín on top of the jicama…so good!)
- If you aren’t full from all of the tacos, check out Stella Jean’s Ice Cream for dessert.
- Head to La Jolla for the day! First things first: breakfast! A few spots that look delicious: Kono’s Cafe, Shorehouse Kitchen, and Parakeet Cafe.
- After breakfast (or before if you’re really tired!), get some coffee at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters.
- See the sea lions at Children’s Pool and visit the beautiful La Jolla Cove.
- Grab lunch at The Taco Stand. They get VERY busy (we waited at least an hour in line!), but they make your food right after you order and you get your food very fast AND it’s delicious, which helps make up for the long lines.
- Spend some time relaxing at La Jolla Shores Beach, a mile long beach with lots of sand to lay out on. We recommend going kayaking if you have time or checking out the La Jolla Coves!
- Drive a little north of La Jolla and explore Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. We highly recommend staying until sunset!
This is a 2,000 acre coastal park with amazing ocean views and easy trails and a popular beach called Black’s Beach, but be warned, there may be some nudists.
There is a fee to enter Torrey Pines, which varies depending on where you park and when you visit.
- After (hopefully) an incredible California sunset, get more tacos for dinner at Oscar’s Mexican Seafood. If you’re sick of tacos already, head to Prepkitchen (American) or Piatti (Italian).
- For dessert, you must go to Bobboi Natural Gelato!
- Breakfast time! There are so many spots to choose from, but here are a few to hopefully make your decision a bit easier: Las Cuatro Milpas, Hash House a Go Go, or Breakfast Republic.
- Grab coffee at one of the coffee shops in Barrio Logan. We went to Cafe Moto, which was a cool spot (don’t forget to visit their coffee roastery and museum behind the cafe!), but Cafe Virtuoso and Por Vida also look amazing!
- Spend a few hours relaxing at Coronado Beach. While you’re there, make sure to visit the famous and historic Hotel del Coronado.
- Head a little south of San Diego for lunch at Tacos el Gordo. This is one of our favorite taco shops EVER and totally worth the drive! We recommend their pastor tacos and also their fries.
- If you like beer, check out some of San Diego’s breweries! We have heard that Ballast Point and Modern Times are both good, but since we don’t drink, we can’t personally recommend any breweries.
Not a beer fan? Check out the USS Midway or walk around Little Italy instead!
- Speaking of Little Italy, this is one of our favorite neighborhoods in San Diego. For dinner, check out one of the delicious spots in the area. The Crack Shack is a great quick and cheap option, Filippi’s Pizza Grotto is a popular classic Italian spot, and Barbusa is a more upscale Sicilian restaurant.
- For dessert, check out Pappalecco for gelato or go to one of our favorite ice cream spots in the world, Salt & Straw. Salt & Straw is a Portland based ice cream shop with locations all around the West Coast, so it’s not a local San Diego joint, but it’s very delicious!
- If you have any energy left, grab drinks at False Idol in Little Italy or make your way to the Gaslamp Quarter, a lively area with lots of restaurants and bars.
A few highly rated spots over there are Noble Experiment (a reservations-only speakeasy), Werewolf, Trailer Park After Dark, and Altitude Sky Lounge (rooftop bar).
If you have extra time…
- Copa Vida
- Bean Bar
- Elixir Espresso
- OB Beans Coffee Roasters
- Dark Horse Coffee Roasters
- Holsem Coffee
- James Coffee
- Lofty Coffee
- Better Buzz
- Moniker Coffee
- Tender Greens
- Rustic Root
- Craft & Commerce
- Cucina Urbana
- Landini’s Pizza
- Officine Buona Forchetta
- Buona Forchetta
- The Kebab Shop
- Kettner Exchange
- Lay out at Pacific Beach
- Visit the famous San Diego Zoo
- Go to a San Diego Padres baseball game at Petco Park
- Enjoy the views and have a picnic at Kate O. Sessions Park
- Northgate Market-This Mexican grocery store is a DREAM and has a salsa bar with massive tubs of amazing salsas. Highly recommend stopping here to buy some snack foods!
- Explore the beach towns north of San Diego: Carlsbad, Encinitas, and Oceanside
- Hike up to Iron Mountain-5.2 miles, 1,102 ft elevation gain. We tried this hike and got poured on and had zero views…who knew it rained in San Diego!
- Hike to Potato Chip Rock-7.6 miles, 2,106 ft elevation gain. The rock at the top really does look like a potato chip!
- Spruce Street Suspension Bridge– A quick little stop and not for those afraid of heights!
- For those with kids, go to Legoland! I have super fond memories of going here as a kid.
Ready to visit beautiful San Diego?
Pin this 3 day San Diego itinerary and guide to help plan your trip!