Located on the southern coast of California, San Diego is one of the most beautiful cities of the state, and it is known for its breathtaking views of the Pacific, spectacular multiculturalism, friendly locals, as well as the multitude of exciting things to do.
If you plan to go to San Diego for a short visit and want to make the trip memorable, continue reading this article and find out the best ways to spend one day in San Diego.
Your Ultimate One-Day Cultural Itinerary in San Diego
If you are passionate about art, history, and culture, San Diego welcomes you with a great number of amazing touristic attractions. Begin your adventure with a visit to the Old Town State Historic Park, California’s most visited park, and the best starting point for your cultural experience. Continue with a visit to what is considered to be the birthplace of Christianity in the United States, the beautiful Mission Basilica San Diego, established in 1759.
Wander around the breathtaking Gaslamp Quarter, a neighborhood which is famous for its impressive historical buildings from the Victorian era, and learn more about the US navy at the USS Midway Museum, before discovering the remarkable history of aviation at the Air & Space Museum.
End the day with a visit to Balboa Park, before you indulge in a delicious dinner at a local restaurant. Balboa Park is an urban cultural park that hosts many of the museums in San Diego. Whether you are interested in getting closer to art at The San Diego Museum of Art, visit the sensational San Diego Natural History Museum, to have some fun at the Comic-Con Museum, you can while admiring the green beauty of Balboa Park.
There are plenty of amazing eateries in San Diego where you can have mouthwatering dinner. If you want to spend your evening in a fun spot, where they only serve dishes made with chicken and eggs, The Crack Shack – Little Italy is your answer. Whether you prefer deviled eggs, fried chicken, or chicken sandwiches, the Crack Shack – Little Italy promises to make your taste buds run wild, while you relax in a cozy place with modern furnishings, a hip outdoor area, and a full bar.
Take in the San Diego Food Scene
You don’t have to be a foodie to spend your day discovering the culinary scene of San Diego. With so much diversity, however, choosing the eateries is far from being easy, especially when you are so eager to get a taste of the city.
You can begin your day with a delicious breakfast, or, if you prefer to eat later, indulge in a fancy brunch at the Great Maple, a charming place located in the relaxing North Park. One of the most famous dishes on the breakfast menu is known as “Lolliwaffles”. Order that if you want to start your day with some tasty waffles on sticks. And, if waffles are not your cup of tea, there are plenty of other options, like baked maple bacon doughnuts, different Scramble Melts, and Fruity Pebble Pancakes.
After freely wandering around the streets of San Diego and, if interested, admiring the colorful street art, choose to have some delicious street food for lunch. A great option is a big portion of steamed chicken rice from J&T Thai Street Food. Known as Khao Man Gai, this Thai dish is not easy to find in San Diego, but this place serves it, and it’s amazing.
If Thai food is not your favorite, you can head towards one of Nico’s Mexican Food eateries, and get a perfectly made California burrito. To have the authentic experience, choose the eatery’s original location, in Ocean Beach.
To end a special day full of amazing smells and flavors, choose a fancy restaurant for dinner. Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar is one of the locals’ favorite place for a special occasion. Make a reservation to be sure you have the chance to indulge in the perfectly cooked seafood and delicious cocktails while admiring its beautiful nautical designs. If you want to have a special dinner, consider starting with the crab cake and ordering the decadent the Lobster Roll as a main dish.
Fun for the Whole Family: Balboa Park, Zoo & Beach
San Diego is a fantastic destination for families, and, if you are planning to travel accompanied by your loved ones, consider combining, a walk in the park with a visit to the Zoo, and some relaxing beach time. This itinerary is great for both adults and children. You do, however, need to wake up as early as possible to make sure you have enough time to properly enjoy the huge San Diego Zoo and the sandy beaches of the city.
Located in the gorgeous Balboa Park and home to 650 species of animals, San Diego Zoo is not only one of the largest in the world but also one of the best spots in San Diego for family fun-day and animal lovers.
Since the Zoo is located in Balboa Park, you can also enjoy some of the gardens and museums located in its green fields. Fleet Science Center, a science museum and planetarium, would be a great stop for the curious kids and adults.
Later in the afternoon, head towards picturesque La Jolla Cove, a small cove and beach that surrounded by cliffs. This beach is popular among passionate snorkelers, swimmers, and scuba divers thanks to its rich underwater life, but you can also enjoy stand up paddling, kayaking, or just sunbathing and admiring the views.
End an inspiring day with a delicious dinner at George’s at the Cove, a gorgeous Californian restaurant that offers you an unrivaled rooftop dining experience, and a taste of California Modern cuisine.
Enjoy a Relaxing Beach Day with a Twist
If you love sunbathing while listening to the waves crash, forget about spending your day in San Diego exploring its art, history, and cuisine, and head directly to the beach.
There are plenty of beautiful sand portions you can choose from, but, whether you are on a romantic getaway, solo trip, or a fun-filled family excursion, Coronado beach is a great option. Voted one of America’s finest beaches, Coronado is waiting for you with sparkling golden sand and clear blue waters, as well as pretty shops and amazing restaurants.
You can spend half of the day relaxing on the beach and enjoying the refreshing ocean waters, before heading towards Hillcrest, a superb, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood that can be easily compared to New York’s West Village and L.A.’s West Hollywood. Stroll the beautifully arranged streets, pop into trendy boutiques without missing the vintage clothing shops, and enjoy the overall hip, eclectic vibe of this neighborhood.
There are plenty of great restaurants and cafes, and Trust is just one of them. With a lovely outdoor patio and serving rustic and seasonally driven New American dishes, which you can pair with artisanal wine or craft beers, Trust is the perfect way to end a special day in San Diego.
When to visit Beautiful San Diego
San Diego is known for having nice weather all year round, so you can visit it 365 days a year. Winter months, from December until February, are, however, cooler and rainier, but the prices are also lower than usual. June and August are the peak months when crowds of tourists are exploring the city, but this also causes long lines and prices-up accommodations.
So, though San Diego promises you a great time no matter when you visit it, spring (March to May) and fall (September to November) with their mild weather and relatively fewer crowds are the most seasons to visit it.
How to Get Around the City
You can explore by car, use public transportation, and even explore using the many bike routes in San Diego. Renting a car is a good option if you have enough time to get around to all corners of the region.
Since you are planning to stay one day in the city, and you will be wandering around mostly in the central area or relaxing along the coast, public transportation might be your best choice.
And, if you want to have some fun while visiting San Diego’s main tourist areas, hop on the Old Town Trolley, which stops at 11 of the most important attractions and areas in the city.
He is an expert travel advisor and enthusiast. He has traveled extensively in the USA, Central American, South America and Europe. He has visited every Sandals Resort and is one of a select few Diamond Elite members of the Sandals Chairman’s Royal Club.
Dan graduated from Johnson & Wales University with an associate degree in Culinary Arts. Later he graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies with a focus on people and culture.