La Jolla Mom

Top 10 Things to Do in San Diego

Beaches, beer, theme parks, and how to save

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People come from all over the world to visit America’s Finest City, and for good reason. There is something for everyone here, from amusement parks and museum exhibits to outdoor adventures and brewery tours. Whether you’re traveling with your kids in tow or you’re exploring the city solo style, San Diego offers the ultimate vacation spot. From personal experience, I can also say that locals love this city and enjoy many of the same offerings that tourists come from far and wide to explore.   

Because there are so many incredible things to do in San Diego, I’ve created a list of my favorite activities and attractions in the city. Between the beach spots and the bay tours, you’ll definitely want to add these 10 San Diego attractions to your itinerary on your next adventure to this SoCal destination.

San Diego Attractions

1. The Beaches

Top things to do in San Diego: Go to the beaches

If you’re wondering what to do in San Diego, a trip to the beach belongs at the top of your list. You may have heard that our water is too chilly for beachy fun, but unless you’re visiting in the wintertime, the water is perfect for wading, surfing, and swimming for most of the year. 

With 70 miles of coastline, San Diego has tons of beaches to choose from. Looking to try out surfing? Head to La Jolla Shores Beach or Pacific Beach. Prefer to play a pick-up game of beach volleyball? Make your way to Moonlight Beach. Coronado Municipal Beach, with its calm water and wide, flat stretch of sand, is a great option for families with younger kids, while Mission Beach is a prime spot for water sports such as water skiing and paddleboarding. 

See also: 17 Best San Diego Beach Hotels

2. San Diego Zoo

Top things to do in San Diego: San Diego Zoo

The world-famous San Diego Zoo is a treat for all ages. There are more than 3,500 animals representing 650 different species and 700,000 plant species on the zoo’s 100-acre property, and many of these animals and plants are rare or endangered. The zoo is very active in conservation research and species preservation and has been a pioneer in the concept of open-air, cageless exhibits that recreate natural animal habitats.

During your visit, check out the Australian Outback habitat, Polar Bear Plunge, and the Elephant Odyssey. The zoo’s small hills and valleys, in addition to the shade provided by foliage, makes it a popular place to simply stroll, though the Skyfari tram and bus tours cut down on walking if you’re not up for it. The zoo is very stroller-friendly, and you can rent strollers, too. Even if you only have half a day to spend here, it is well worth the price of admission, though a full day is advisable. 

Buy San Diego Zoo discount tickets:

  • Go San Diego® pass (click to apply my extra 10% discount on All-Inclusive passes)
  • aRes Travel (use code LAJOLLAMOM for $6 off 1-Day adult and child tickets at San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park)

You should also visit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park® in Escondido, which is definitely one of San Diego’s best attractions. It is part of San Diego Zoo Global and offers a very different experience because the animals roam in environments that mimic the African and Asian Savannas.

Definitely opt to take a ride in one of the open-air tram safaris that circle around the various enclosures. These are really fascinating guided tours that get you up close and personal with giraffes, rhinos, zebras, and other animals. Want more excitement? You can also do a challenging ropes course or even a zipline safari that will give you a one-of-a-kind bird’s eye view of the park.

3. LEGOLAND California

Top things to do in San Diego: LEGOLAND California

LEGOLAND California is another one of the most popular San Diego attractions. Geared mostly toward children ages 2 to 12, this family-friendly theme park features more than 60 rides, 4-D movies, and building activities. Kids particularly love trading mini figures with staff around the park, learning to drive in kid-sized LEGO cars, and riding the Dragon Coaster. You can also purchase admission to the SEA LIFE® Aquarium, along with the LEGOLAND Water Park, which is a great place to cool off in the warmer months. 

Tip: Before planning a trip to LEGOLAND, it is very important to check their calendar because the park is closed on select Tuesdays and Wednesdays between September and February. The water park is open on weekends or seasonally during the school year.

Buy LEGOLAND discount tickets:

  • Go San Diego pass (click to apply my extra 10% discount on All-Inclusive passes)
  • aRes Travel (good for straight-to-the-gate LEGOLAND tickets and LEGOLAND hotel/ticket packages)

4. Balboa Park

Top things to do in San Diego: Balboa Park

If you’re looking for fun things to do in San Diego today, venture over to Balboa Park. It’s the nation’s largest urban cultural park with multiple parks, trails, play areas, and 17 museums. While you’re here, keep an eye out for the talented street performers and hop on one of the bicycle rentals to explore the park on wheels. After experiencing some of the best things to do in Balboa Park, check out one of the many restaurants. We like Japanese food at the Japanese Friendship Garden and sipping on craft cocktails at Panama 66. 

Many passes let you explore Balboa Park for less, but I recommend the Balboa Park Explorer Pass which offers options for one-day unlimited museum visits to seven days plus a one-time San Diego Zoo visit. Balboa Park museums can also be included on the Go San Diego pass.

5. SeaWorld San Diego

Top things to do in San Diego: SeaWorld San Diego

SeaWorld is among the top San Diego attractions and one you definitely won’t want to miss. Some of the best attractions at the theme park include Turtle Reef, Penguin Encounter, sea lion feedings (guests can buy a tray of fish and toss it to them), Otter Outlook, and various touch pools.

The once-famous live orca shows have been replaced by beautiful documentary videos of orcas in the wild on a three-story screen, and there are still live sea lion and dolphin shows. The park is also the only organization that rescues our La Jolla seals and sea lions when they are injured on our San Diego shores. The indoor Sea Rescue Show describes how the park is helping to rehabilitate animals and return them to the wild.

In addition to its marine exhibits, SeaWorld San Diego also has a few thrilling rides like the Manta roller coaster and Shipwreck Rapids. Plus, there is the popular Sesame Street Bay of Play for young kids, making it one of the top things to do in San Diego for families because rides interest everyone from toddlers to teenagers.

Like the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld San Diego can easily be visited in half a day, though a full day is recommended.

Buy SeaWorld San Diego discount tickets:

  • Go San Diego pass (click to apply my extra 10% discount on All-Inclusive passes.)
  • aRes Travel (good for straight-to-the-gate, 7-Day SeaWorld San Diego tickets and ticket/hotel packages)
  • Promotions on SeaWorld San Diego (they, unlike other local theme parks, often run ticket specials but do charge a $9.99 processing fee)

6. San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park

Things to do in San Diego: San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park

From afar, the San Diego coastline may just look like a beautiful blue ocean, but take a closer look and you’ll discover the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park. Located below the ocean’s surface between La Jolla Cove and Scripps Pier, the underwater park features 6,000 acres of rocky reefs, kelp beds, sand flats, and a submarine canyon.

This combination of habitats actually makes it so that the waves here are gentle and perfect for launching kayaks and learning how to surf. Rent a kayak or swim out from La Jolla Cove. You can also find guided diving, snorkeling, and kayak tours of the park. 

If you’re looking for even more fun things to do in this area, explore the seven sea caves that border the underwater park. You can access Sunny Jim’s cave by land, but you can get to the others by kayak or stand-up paddleboard. While you’re venturing around the caves, look out for sea life. You may catch a glimpse of sea lions, Garibaldi (California’s state fish), shovelnose guitarfish, leopard sharks, and more. There are even a handful of sea turtle sightings in summer. 

Need gear or lessons? Try Surf Diva for surfing and SUP lessons. Or take advantage of Everyday California (apply code lajollamom and click the green checkmark for a 20% discount on tours, lessons, and rentals) for kayak and snorkel tours, and always check the Birch Aquarium’s event calendar for special seasonal events such as pier walks and grunion runs.

7. Mission Bay

Things to Do in San Diego: Mission Bay water sports

No San Diego vacation is complete without testing out the water. Whether you’re looking to cast a line, paddle off the coast, or test your balance on a standup paddleboard, Mission Bay is the place to do it. There are many things to do at Mission Bay, as this manmade bay provides calm water and waveless beaches — great if you’re visiting with kids.

Go kayaking, charter a sailboat, or brave the water-powered jet pack adventure. If you prefer to stay on dry land, explore the bike trails that pass by picnic areas and playgrounds. There is also an RV park and urban campground. 

Looking for equipment? Check out Action Sports Rentals or the Mission Bay Aquatic Center.

8. San Diego Bay Tours

Top things to do in San Diego: Bay sightseeing tours

Joining a San Diego Bay tour is one of the best things to do in San Diego by far. You’ll find all kinds of tours around the bay, which is a natural harbor and deepwater port that spans along Point Loma and around the downtown area to Coronado.

Climb aboard the amphibious bus-boat SEAL Tour, where you start your adventure on dry land and then venture into the water. Feel the need for speed? Brave the Patriot Jet Boat, a 30-minute thrill ride with spins, tricks, and turns at speeds of up to 50 mph, or control your own speed on one of the Speed Boat Adventures. Meanwhile, Hornblower Cruises and Flagship Cruises feature narrated tours around the bay with dinner and champagne brunch options.

9. San Diego Breweries

Things to do in San Diego: Craft beer

For the 21+ visitors, brewery tours are a must-do. After all, San Diego has earned quite a reputation for its craft beer scene. At the time of this writing, there are over 130 breweries in San Diego, and we are headed toward 200 in the not-so-distant future. It’s the most in any county in the U.S., which makes San Diego a perfect destination for craft beer lovers.

How you explore the brewery culture here depends on your tastes and location. Whether you’re looking for light and crisp lagers or heavy and hoppy IPAs, you can sample them all at spots all around the city. Join a tour or create your own itinerary, marking off popular spots like Karl Strauss, Ballast Point, and Stone Brewery that are on our list of top San Diego breweries.

10. Annual San Diego Events

Things to Do in San Diego: Annual Events

San Diego’s annual events are my final pick for our top things to do in San Diego. If you’re planning a visit for fall or winter, mark your calendar for KABOO, the ever-popular music festival that takes place in Del Mar in September, and in January don’t miss the Farmers Insurance Open, the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines.

As for the summer months, the San Diego County Fair brings amusement rides, concerts, and farm animals to Del Mar in June and July, while the Del Mar Racing season kicks off in July. 

Do keep in mind, if you’re looking to visit during these events, San Diego hotels book up quickly, so plan ahead.

What are your favorite top 10 things to do in San Diego?

Find the best things to do in San Diego from museums to theme parks

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Find out the top 10 things to do in San Diego from the beaches to annual events.
Learn the top 10 things to do in San Diego from water activities to theme parks.
Learn the top 10 things to do in San Diego from water activities to theme parks.

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