San Diego is hot. One of the coolest cities to visit in the USA, it’s host to the annual Comic-Con as well as lots of funky hangouts.
As a mecca for surfers, skaters and foodies, if you’re looking for a Californian city break then heading for a long weekend in San Diego is a great option.
This diverse city is home to a hodge podge of cool neighbourhoods which each have their own character. It’s not as sprawling and intense as LA or as iconic and expensive as San Francisco, making the city one of the most pleasant to explore in California.
If you’re heading to San Diego, check out these highlights of the best places to visit by neighbourhood.
The original new town San Diego from the 1860’s, the Gaslamp quarter gets its name from the fact that when it was new, it was the only part of town with street lighting.
Now, modern architecture and Victorian-Age buildings stand side-by-side. The Gaslamp Quarter offers an eclectic mix of galleries, chic boutiques, trendy nightclubs, rooftop bars, gastropubs, craft beer haunts and fine dining restaurants lining the streets.
If you’re looking to start the day right, head to Breakfast Republic – serving tasty takes on American classics, including Oreo Pancakes, S’mores French Toast and Shrimp & Grits. There are several branches across town, but this one at 707 G Street, 92101 is one of the best for location.
Sightseeing in the Gaslamp quarter means a walk toward the seafront. One of the main attractions is the USS Midway Museum – You’ll be hard pressed to miss this maritime museum located at Navy Pier. The giveaway is the huge aircraft carrier, the USS Midway! Adult tickets from $21, or children $8. Buy tickets online at Midway.org.
Located next to downtown and the Midway Museum is the Embarcadero, a busy cruise-ship hub known for seafood and souvenir shopping. Head to the Seaport Village packed full of chic eateries and boutiques. A great place to hang out people watching and soaking up the downtown San Diego vibe.
While you’re in town, be sure to catch a show at the Balboa Theatre. This historic movie theatre (868 Fourth Ave) was built in 1924 and listed on the National register of Historic Places. It was refurbished and re-opened as a performing arts venue in 2008. Check whats on in San Diego at SanDiegoTheatres.org.
Looking for some stylish dining? Lionfish at the Pendry Hotel (435 Fifth Avenue) serves cutting edge small plates, sushi and modern seafood in a beautiful location. Check out their nightly happy hour between 5-7 for $8 cocktails and $5 beers. They also have a beautiful roof terrace for truly sophisticated dining. Book a table on their website.
The revitalization of this once blighted warehouse district in Downtown San Diego was fuelled primarily by the building of PETCO Park, the San Diego Padres state-of-the-art baseball stadium that opened in April 2004. Today, the neighbourhood is a cultural hub for eating, drinking, listening and enjoying all that East Village has to offer. Many of the best things to do in San Diego are located in the area.
For a truly artisan/hipster style experience, head to the You and Yours Distillery (1495 G Street). This Urban distillery and tasting room offering signature gin cocktails and small plates in an airy, modern space with a comfy and inviting lounge area. If you like the gin and vodka enough (which obviously you will) then you can buy bottles to take away too! The house gin is a very reasonable $30.50… Check out their website.
Wanna play ball? Or maybe just watch. The American national sport is an experience that you must experience at least once, and the local venue is Petco Park (100 Park boulevard) Home of the San Diego Padres. If you’re in town and there’s a game on, grab a ticket. And a hot dog. And a beer. Buy tickets or check the schedules on their MLB site.
This area also houses another swish bar for the high flying set, the Hotel Salomar Upper East Bar (435 Sixth Ave). This rooftop lounge provides spectacular views of downtown San Diego in VIP style surroundings. There’s a pool, DJ’s and gorgeous cocktails. Book on a visit at HotelSalomar.com.
Not sure if they’ll let you into Upper East Bar? You’ll probably fit in fine at Basic (410 Tenth Ave). This loft bar is the place to hang out, supping on a craft beer and enjoying a thin crust pizza. Their happy hour runs from 4-7 daily. Visit BarBasic.com.
If you like limited edition sneakers (or trainers as we Brits call them) then head to Rosewood San Diego (877 Market Street). Also features cool one off clothes and artworks for sale.
Once home to San Diego’s flourishing tuna fishing industry, generations of Italian families made their living on the sea in the area. Little Italy is now a lively neighbourhood made for the al fresco lifestyle. You’ll find patio cafés, packed restaurants, craft brew stops, urban wineries, art galleries, sophisticated shops, boutique hotels and the beautiful Amici Park.
The area makes a great place to explore and people watch. If you’re hanging out in San Diego you will most likely pass through this part of town at least once.
Head to the Little Italy Meracato (600 W Date Street) on Saturdays, a dynamic farmers market where locals shop for fresh produce along with gourmet goods, flowers, crafts and ready-made foods.
Thinking light and healthy? Herb and Eatery ( 1739, 2210 Kettner Blvd) is a gourmet market and casual café where you can grab a healthy lunch; serving fresh salads and baked goods on communal tables.
Craft beer in America is pretty inrcedible, and Ballast Point (2215 India Street) has a great and delicious selection. The craft beer bar and restaurant has a unique private dining room option amongst the brewing machinery with a beer pairing and 4-course menu.
Looking for that deep fried, deep south flavour? Crack Shack (2266 Kettner Drive, just across from Ballast Point) is a celebrity chef hot-spot specialising in fried chicken infused with Californian spirit. Finger licking good, but gourmet style… Plus you can wash it all down with a craft beer! (Try that at The Colonel’s place).
Or if you’re thinking of a more refined dining experience, try Juniper and Ivy (2228 Kettner drive). This modern restaurant serves imaginative New American fare & drinks in woody, arty surrounds
Hit The Beach!
Of course, San Diego is home to great beaches. 70 miles of it! The beach lifestyle is very much present, although you’ll need to head away from the downtown area to appreciate it. La Jolla, Mission Beach and Pacific Beach are the inner city hangouts, but venture up the coast and you’ll find stunning and (relatively) quite beaches.
Surfing and kayaking are big here, and hiring equipment can be done at all of the main beaches.
La Jolla is a cool neighbourhood to the north of the city with a mile long stretch of golden sand and great views back towards downtown San Diego. You’ll spot surfers, beach volleyball and joggers almost any time of day. If you’re looking to go snorkelling then La Jolla Cove is the spot to head to.
For a sundowner on the roof, head to Georges At The Cove (1250 Prospect), for sunset views with your cocktail or beer.
Pacific Beach is slightly closer to town and is the party hangout for San Diegans. The three mile stretch of beach is punctuated by piers and the boardwalk is where to go for a sundowner in one of the bars facing the Pacific. PB Shore Club (4343 Ocean Blvd) is the pick of the bunch with great views across the beach.
No visit to San Diego is complete without a visit to Balboa Park, celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Balboa Park is where culture and nature meet in America’s largest urban cultural park with 1,200 beautiful and lushly planted acres to explore.
Located in the centre of downtown San Diego, the park is home to an array of museums, performing arts venues, gardens, and many other cultural and recreational attractions, including the San Diego Zoo and Japanese Friendship Garden.
The park area is now designated as one of California’s 14 Cultural Districts and showcases some of the unique artistic identities that drive California’s culture. You’ll find authentic grassroots arts and cultural opportunities, increasing the visibility of local artists and community participation in local arts and culture.
Check out the San Diego Museum of Art (1450 El Prado) for classical and modern installations. Adult entry is $15 but under 17’s go free.
Another fantastic museum is The Museum of Photographic Arts (1649 El Prado) – admission is by donation (pay what you wish).
If you missed Comic Con San Diego, there is San Diego Comic Art Gallery (2765 Truxtun Road), for your comic book fix.
Like much of America, San Diego is very much car focused. However there are options for public transport.
Buses are the best option for cross city travel, with journeys from $2.25.
The MTS Trolley is a tram style system that covers the downtown area and the airport. $2.50 per journey.
Up to date pricing and information can be found at SanDiego.org.
Where To Stay
You’ll find hotels and hostels for all budgets in San Diego. You’re unlikely to find a hostel/dorm room under US$30 in the centre of the city – try Niki’s International Hostel at Mission Beach.
For low budget hotels, go for Motels such as Motel6 or Days Inn. No frills, but for around US$75 per night, often with a basic breakfast and access to a pool. The downside is they won’t be in the best location!
Need more inspiration for your 48 hours in San Diego? Check out SanDiego.org.
Heading Stateside? If you’re looking for the best prices for flights to San Diego, check out handy flight widget c/o SkyScanner below.
Have you visited San Diego? Got any of your own tips or suggestions for must see sights for 48 hours in San Diego? Comments below!