Downtown San Diego Attractions
Downtown San Diego is the urban center of the city. It’s a hip neighborhood with something for everyone, whether you’re looking for family fun or hot nightlife, chic boutiques or classic and contemporary works of art.
You’ll also find notable San Diego attractions like Petco Park® (home of the San Diego Padres®) and the New Children’s Museum® downtown. The airport is 5-10 minutes away from most Downtown San Diego hotels.
That’s why a lot of tourists decide to make this vibrant area of the city their home base.
On this page, I’ve collected my best Downtown San Diego travel tips, guides to the best places to visit in Downtown San Diego, and information about Downtown San Diego restaurants you should check out, whether you’re traveling alone or with kids.
Downtown San Diego Tips
The first thing you should know about Downtown San Diego is that it’s a neighborhood of neighborhoods — each of which has its own attractions and feel.
It’s a good idea to know which one you’d like to stay in when you’re researching Downtown San Diego hotels.
- Little Italy is now one of the go-to areas in the city for the best food and drink, plus some fun surprises.
- Columbia is where most of the waterfront attractions (like the USS Midway Museum® and the Maritime Museum of San Diego) are located. It also has the tallest buildings.
- The convention center an hotels like Manchester Grand Hyatt are located at the waterfront (you can walk from little Italy, through Columbia, and to the Waterfront along the bay in about 20 minutes).
- The Core is where the city government is located, and there’s great shopping, too.
- The bustling Gaslamp Quarter is the hub of San Diego nightlife.
- Cortez Hill is a quiet and pretty residential neighborhood.
- East Village has fantastic restaurants, loft living, and Petco Park.
When you’re looking at Downtown San Diego hotels or hotels near San Diego Zoo (which are mostly located here) think about your itinerary. There are no beachfront Downtown San Diego hotels as this part of San Diego borders the bay. You’d take the ferry or drive to Coronado or head north about 25 minutes to La Jolla beaches.
If you’re staying in one of the Downtown San Diego hotels (like our favorite, Pendry San Diego) you’ll be able to enjoy many of the city’s most popular tourist attractions without ever having to get in a car. A lot of San Diego attractions are within walking distance of each other. There are a lot of sights and activities packed into a relatively small space. Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo are a quick Uber ride away.
The Best Places to Visit in Downtown San Diego
One of my favorite places to bring family and friends visiting the city is the USS Midway Museum. It’s a vintage Navy aircraft carrier that has been turned into a museum complete with guided tours, though you can explore the ship at your own pace, too.
Seaport Village is an outdoor waterfront shopping and dining complex that has live music and other entertainment.
The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego is fantastic for older kids and adults, and if you have time, take in a Padres game. The New Children’s Museum is absolutely a must-visit museum for families with young kids, and the whole family can enjoy San Diego Waterfront Park, which has space to run plus an amazing splash pad.
Finally, don’t miss a chance to check out San Diego’s Little Italy. There are too many fantastic restaurants to list. Highlights include the “A Recipe For Friendship” tables in Amici Park and M Winehouse, which is both a wine bar and the oldest house in the neighborhood.
Tours in Downtown San Diego
While I’m all for strolling around the city, you’ll get to see more of the city if you take a tour or two during your visit. On the waterfront, we’ve enjoyed the Patriot Jet Boat tour, the dinner and brunch cruises offered by Hornblower Cruises, Flagship Cruises’ narrated San Diego Bay cruises and whale watching cruises, and the Speed Boat Adventures (drive your own boat) group tours. One of the best tours in San Diego for kids is the amphibious vehicles operated by SEAL Tours on land and in the bay.
Old Town Trolley Tours are a great option if you’re looking for a tour with unlimited hop-on/hop-off stops. You’ll pass more than 100 points of interest, including Seaport Village and cool spots around the Gaslamp Quarter.
Restaurants in Downtown San Diego
The restaurants and bars in San Diego attract foodies and craft beer lovers from all over. The city’s restaurant culture is now well-established, and a number of companies give absolutely fascinating (and delicious) culinary tours of the city.
You can eat your way through Little Italy, sip suds on brewery tours, or just stroll around the city eating some of the best burgers, tacos, and steaks around.
Some of my favorite restaurants in Downtown San Diego are BIGA, Tender Greens, and Grant Grill, and the Sunday brunch at The Westgate Hotel’s Le Fontainebleau room is fabulous.