The Best Places to Visit In San Diego
The sunshine is glowing down on you, and you find yourself in San Diego for a few days. The trip will be short, but you are concerned that you aren’t sure what are the best areas and places to visit in San Diego. We have all been there.
The best way to travel to a new city is with some local knowledge. I have had the pleasure of learning from friends where to go in their city, and I am stoked to share our favorite places to go in San Diego with you.
San Diego is a waterfront city known for its warm weather climate, beautiful beaches, craft breweries, and Pacific coastal cuisine. San Diego is a great vacation destination with a mild climate, sunshine, and diverse neighborhoods full of history and culture.
The best area to stay in San Diego depends on what your trip is for. All neighborhoods offer a wide range of accommodations, from basic to luxury. You generally find travelers staying at the beaches looking for more of a laid-back vacation, emphasizing being outside and enjoying sunsets. Regardless of the neighborhood, you decided to stay in, I recommend exploring all the communities to get the full San Diego experience.
San Diego is relatively small. If staying here, it is quite easy to forgo a rental car (and the hefty nightly parking fee) and simply walk or take a trolley or an Uber.
PACIFIC BEACH – a fun beach vacation
The ultimate California beach neighborhood. As the locals call it, Pacific Beach or PB is where you want to stay on your first trip to San Diego if you are looking for sunshine, a laid-back vibe, and beautiful beaches. Garnett Avenue is the main street that runs through PB’s heart and offers amazing bars, diverse food, and unique shops. For entertainment, Pacific Beach offers the best day-drinking in all of San Diego.
Vibe: beach, parties, college students,
Ideal for: leisure beach travelers and surfers and partiers
Locals who live here: students, surfers, military and partiers
Local’s favorite thing to do: catch great waves and watch the sunset
Best bar: El Prez
Best restaurant: Rocky’s Crown Pub
Other highlights: Mission Bay, Kate Sessions Park, Law St. Park
DOWNTOWN – BUSINESS TRIP
Downtown San Diego is the heart of the city and stretches along the San Diego bay front. Known for its thriving nightlife scene in the Gaslamp District and delicious international cuisine. Catch a Padres game at Petco Park or layout in the sunshine at Seaport Village. The San Diego Convention Center is in Downtown San Diego and hosts hundreds of events and trade-shows annually.
Another amazing part of the city is that the San Diego International Airport is less than 1 mile from Downtown.
Vibe: urban, walkable, entertainment
Ideal for: city folks, business travelers, convention center travelers
Locals who live here: urban dwellers, military, retirees
Local’s favorite thing to do: eat & drink diverse cuisine
Best breakfast: Harbor Breakfast
Best cafe: Pappalecco
Other highlights: Seaport Village, Little Italy Waterfront Park, Gaslamp District
MISSION BEACH – BAY & BEACH TRIP
Mission Beach is mainly filled with vacation rentals and families looking for a beach vacation. The neighborhood’s unique layout has the ocean on one side of the street and Mission Bay on the other side. If you love beach life and always being in the sunshine, you should spend some time in Mission Beach. The locals who live here are classic San Diegan’s who love their traditions. OMBAC and the annual Over-The-Line Tournament is a legendary event that happens every July on Fiesta Island. Mission Beach is also home to Belmont Park and the roller coaster on the beach.
Vibe: beach, water sports, party
Ideal traveler type: beach travelers, families, vacation home renters
Locals who live here: old-school locals, students, retirees
Local’s favorite thing to do: enjoy the beach and bay, day drink at local bars
Best bar: Miss B’s Coconut Club
Best restaurant: Single Fin
Best breakfast: The Mission
Other highlights: Vacation Rentals, Mission Bay Sportcenter
OCEAN BEACH – BOHEMIAN GETAWAY
The bohemian neighborhood of Ocean Beach, OB, as locals call it, will have you feeling like you stepped back into the 1970s. The food options are endless in OB and have been around for generations. There is excellent surfing next to OB Pier, the longest concrete pier on the west coast. Be sure to venture south of OB to Sunset Cliffs for some beautiful natural coastline and secluded beaches. Locals tend to gravitate to OB for the community vibe and generally less touristy feel.
Vibe: laid-back California, hippies, community
Ideal for: surfers, hippies, vegans, beer lovers, dog owners
Locals who live here: friendly, hippies, young professionals
Local’s favorite thing to do: enjoy the local culture and never leave OB
Best bar: The Holding Company
Best restaurant: Mike’s Taco Club
Best breakfast: Old Townhouse Restaurant
Other highlights: Sunset Cliffs, Dog Beach, OB Pier
CORONADO – Sand & Sunshine with Class
Coronado is an upscale secluded gem in San Diego and home to the Navy base on the northside of the Island. You will find a traditional California neighborhood with a rich history of military culture. The beaches have powder white sand, and the ocean is ideal for swimming. The Hotel Del Coronado, which was constructed in 1850, was one of the first landmarks in San Diego. Orange Avenue is the main street on Coronado, and you can find small cafes, quaint diners, and one of the best breweries in town at Coronado Brewing. You can access Coronado by bridge or use the ferry across San Diego Bay from Downtown on Broadway Ave.
Vibe: classic and charming California beach neighborhood
Ideal for: family vacations, luxury getaways
Locals who live here: military, retirees, families
Local’s favorite thing to do: take their boat out and enjoy the island
Best bar: Coronado Brew Pub
Best restaurant: Serẽa
Best breakfast: Clayton’s Coffee Shop
Best Cafe: Tartine
Other highlights: Silver Strand State Park, San Diego Bay, Hotel Del Coronado
NORTH PARK – Unique & Creative
If you are a city person and into the hipster vibe, check out North Park. Located on the north side of Balboa Park, you can enjoy the local neighborhood while also exploring everything the park has to offer. You will find amazing local restaurants and artisanal shops serving the local community. North Park has a fantastic bar scene offering unique experiences you can’t find anywhere else.
Vibe: funky and diverse with lots of creativity
Ideal for: concertgoers, students, young professionals, hipsters
Locals who live here: hipsters, creatives, city lovers, families
Local’s favorite thing to do: go to trendy bars and restaurants in the neighborhood
Best bar: Seven Grand Whiskey Bar
Best restaurant: The Village
Best breakfast: The Mission
Best Cafe: Holsem Coffee
Other highlights: Balboa Park, The Observatory
LA JOLLA – ABSOLUTE LUXURY
Look no further than La Jolla if you want to experience luxury in San Diego. Located about 20 minutes north of San Diego, La Jolla has a beautiful business district and offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean at La Jolla Cove. Adventurers can swim with wildlife, snorkel through a cave, or kayak the open ocean from one of La Jolla’s pristine beaches. The sea lions call La Jolla their home and so definitely bring your camera.
Vibe: picturesque, wealthy and expensive
Ideal for: day trippers, luxury travelers, surfing, snorkeling, kayaking
Locals who live here: retirees, families, wealthy individuals
Local’s favorite thing to do: wine and dine in style
Best bar: Shore Rider Bar
Best restaurant: The Promiscuous Fork
Best breakfast: Brockton Villa
Best cafe: Better Buzz
Other highlights: Snorkeling, Black’s Beach, Torrey Pines State Park, Sea Lions
HILLCREST – ESSENTIAL Diversity
As San Diego’s most diverse neighborhood, Hillcrest is home to the LGBTQ community and is one of my favorite areas to experience. The food is absolutely delicious, affordably priced, and restaurants stay open late into the night to feed all the hungry partiers. Thrift stores such a Flashbacks and Buffalo Exchange offer incredible fashion finds that will turn heads. Hillcrest is also adjacent to Balboa Park, so I definitely plan on getting some exercise on the walking trails.
Vibe: diverse and flavorful, tons of fun shops, bars and diverse restaurants
Ideal for: being centrally located, LGTBQ community
Locals who live here: park lovers, students, LGTBQ community
Local’s favorite thing to do: eat out at new local restaurant and exercise in the park
Best bar: Nunu’s Tavern
Best restaurant: Kous Kous
Best breakfast: Hash House
Best cafe: Pappalecco
Other highlights: Balboa Park, Cinema Under The Stars
POINT LOMA – Nautical & RELAXED
San Diego has a rich history of being a fishing town, and Point Loma is the headquarters. This nautical neighborhood is located on a point that wraps around San Diego Bay on the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The boating culture of Point Loma creates an amiable vibe and attracts many water enthusiasts. Be sure to explore Shelter Island and go for a Mai Tai at the Bali Hai, a San Diego tradition.
Vibe: classic nautical village with stunning views of the city
Ideal for: fisherman, boat lovers, nautical enthusiasts
Locals who live here: boat live-a-boards, fisherman, nautical families
Local’s favorite thing to do: get out on the water and enjoy the sunshine
Best bar: Harbor Town Pub
Best restaurant: Bali Hai Restaurant
Best breakfast: Fig Tree Cafe
Best cafe: Local Krave
Other highlights: Boating, Fishing, Humphrey’s By The Bay, Cabrillo Monument
Every trip is different, and depending on what you are looking for, I recommend staying that local neighborhood. If you choose, I had my first experience in San Diego while staying in Pacific Beach, and I would recommend the same. The vibe is fun, and there is endless entertainment with a laid back scene.
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Is there a place that you love in San Diego?
Leave a comment below, and I would love to hear your recommendations!