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After living in San Diego for 2.5 years, I made it my mission to tick off some major bucket list items. Trust me, San Diego is a destination where you could never be bored!
San Diego has so much to do and so much to offer. Honestly, the only question is: can you fit it all in your itinerary? I think you can do it! 🙂
I did A LOT in the 2.5 years I lived in San Diego. In this post I’ve compiled the best (and most epic) San Diego bucket list items for you to do.
I’m excited. Are you? Let’s dive in!
20 Epic San Diego Bucket List Items
1. Watch a Game at Petco Park
Petco Park is the baseball park and home of the San Diego Padres. Located downtown close to the Gaslamp district, I definitely recommend coming here for a relaxing afternoon! Sit back, relax, take in a ball game, and drink some overpriced beer. 🙂
2. Visit the Hotel del Coronado
Crossing the Coronado Bridge and visiting the super famous Hotel del Coronado is a must! It’s also featured in a number of films, but the most popular is Some Like It Hot, starring Marilyn Monroe.
If you want to stay here rooms here are kinda expensive, but if you want to splurge I would totally recommend it. It is a once in a lifetime experience. 🙂 You can check room rates here.
There are a few tours you can take to get the most out of your visit and have a bit of fun:
- Coronado Sightseeing Tour – This tour is pure luxury with an extensive visit of the Hotel del Coronado , the Coronado Beach, and even the cute boutique hotel Glorietta Bay Inn
- Coronado Island Segway Tour – I mean, who doesn’t love a good segway tour? 🙂 This tour not only explores Coronado Island, but also downtown San Diego and the Embarcadero.
3. Enjoy the Views from the Mount Soledad Cross
Drive the windy roads up to the Mount Soledad cross. It’s a landmark in San Diego, and also a great lookout point over the city. On top of that, it’s designated as Korean War memorial, and you can even see a photo of my grandpa here!
4. Explore Cabrillo National Monument
During the winter months of January to March, it’s a popular spot to try and catch a glimpse of the grey and blue whales migrating from Baja California to Alaska. There is an entrance fee of $10 per vehicle, but stay up to date before your visit by checking out the Cabrillo National Monument website.
5. Visit Seaport Village
Located downtown along the San Diego bay waterfront, you’ll find the charming Seaport Village. It’s fun for adults and kids alike, and features shops, eateries, and outdoor entertainment. It’s also nicely decorated and festive around the holidays. 🙂
6. Spend the day at Mission Bay Park
Mission Bay Park is one of the most popular spots to just be outside and enjoy the San Diego sun. The options are endless here. You can have a picnic, a bonfire, bike or run along the pathway, go paddle boarding, play volleyball, or even sail. It has it all!
Read more: San Diego’s Best Outdoor Activities
7. Discover Old Town
Come to Old Town and immerse yourself in history and culture! After all, Old Town was California’s first settlement. There’s plenty to do here. Wander through unique shops (like old school candle and soap shops), pan for gold, take an Old Town Tequila and Tortillas tour with a local guide.
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This way you’ll explore the local streets on a walking tour of the city, get inside tips from a local, and it even includes handmade tortilla, short of tequila (or a margarita, beer, or soda), chips and salsa, and a street taco! And if you didn’t know, street tacos are a big deal in San Diego. 🙂
8. Wine and Dine at the Temecula Vineyards
Meet Southern California’s wine country, Temecula Valley. If you thought Sonoma and Napa Valley was all California had to offer, I’m pleased to inform you, they’re not. 🙂
In Temecula you can expect award-winning wines, tasty restaurants, and cozy bed and breakfast inns. Also not to be missed are the sunrise hot air balloon rides over Temecula Valley! This is truly an amazing San Diego bucket list item! I recommend booking tickets in advance here.
If you want to stick to the vineyards, here are some amazing tours available to get the most out of your Temecula Valley experience. 🙂
- Guided Wine Tasting Tour – This is a half-day tour and includes lunch, a narrated tour, free hotel pickup and drop off.
- Grapehopper Tour – What I like about this tour is it offers a flexible schedule from multiple wineries to choose from as well as roundtrip transportation
- Horse-Drawn Trolley Tour – This is a really unique way to visit Temecula Valley and includes a professional guide!
9. Frolic with the La Jolla Seals
La Jolla’s coastlines are easy to love. ? I mean, they have it all! Dramatic sea cliffs (check!), hidden coves (check!), rocky reefs (check!), and beautiful sandy beaches (double check!).
Also you cannot miss La Jolla Cove.Here you can get up close and personal to the seals and sea lions that sunbath on the rocky shores.
I especially love sea kayaking along the La Jolla shores! With La Jolla Sea Cave Kayaks you can take a tour around beautiful La Jolla and see the sea lions, leopard sharks, and of course, the caves!
10. Spend the Day at the San Diego Zoo & Safari Park
Located in Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo is famed for being one of the best zoos in the world! Enough said, right? ?
At the San Diego Zoo you can expect to see over 3,700 animals, not to mention the shows, 4-D theatres and play areas. Most notably, the San Diego zoo has been able to successfully breed the Giant Panda. You can even receive daily updates via the panda cam from the convenience of your own home.
I highly recommend you book your tickets in advance online (which you can do through this link) because there is always a line, and if you don’t have a rental car you can even book a tour so you’ll be picked up and dropped off from your hotel for a very reasonable price (park admission included in price).
North of the San Diego Zoo (30-mile drive to Escondido) is the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is a not-for-profit organization. It is a species conservation and breeding facility for the San Diego Zoo, and offers free-range enclosures housing animals from Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America, and Australia. Here you can go on safari and get up close to rhinos, giraffes, elephants, buffalo and more!
I would also recommend booking your ticket in advance online for the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. 🙂
Another great option is if you plan on visiting BOTH the San Diego Zoo & San Diego Zoo Safari Park, you can save 20% on the combined admissions when you book a 2-visit pass. If you want to skip the hassle of making the 30-mile drive to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, book a pick up and drop off from your hotel (safari park price not included)
11. Go Paddle Boarding
A super popular (and fun!) activity is paddle boarding. There are many locations to paddle board, but I would recommend the San Diego Bay Harbor as a favorite. You have the San Diego bay on one side with great views of the downtown skyline and Coronado Bridge.
If you don’t have your own paddle board, renting and lessons are available really cheap through this link.
12. Explore the Little Italy Mercato Farmer’s Market
This is my faaaaaavorite market! Every Saturday (year-round, rain or shine) the Little Italy Market is open. There are over 200 tents and live music on the streets. The vendor options are endless and the atmosphere is vibrant.
Here you can find a little bit of everything. Come hungry because this market has the best food! Sample fresh cheeses, almond paste, and flavored hummus and garlic spreads. Then wash it down with unique combinations of kombucha, cold brew, or refreshing juices.
The shopping is also fantastic! You can find the most beautiful jewelry pieces, boutique clothing, or even succulents and plants for your garden.
For all the wine lovers out there, I’m also a big fan of the Little Italy Walking Tour with Wine Tasting. This is my kinda tour. You get an incredibly informative tour of Little Italy, along with 12 tastings which includes cheese and panini.
13. Enjoy an Evening in the Gaslamp Quarter
Located downtown, the historic Gaslamp Quarter is popular for its dining options and a fun night out. It’s the best place to be for food, bars, and entertainment and is in close proximity to the Convention Center, Seaport Village, and Petco Park.
I love learning the history behind the locations, and the Gaslamp Quarter is full of history. I highly recommend taking this walking tour if you’re also into that kind of information. There’s also a super popular Gaslamp and Waterfront Segway tour that’s honestly the best way to see a city. 🙂
14. Visit the LEGOLAND California Theme Park
Yep, that’s right. The plastic construction toy, Legos, has its own theme park!
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This is a family friendly attraction with rides, shows, and even a LEGOLAND waterpark! You can save time by booking your tickets in advance, or even book your tickets so they include a pickup and drop off to your hotel.
15. Watch the Sunset at Sunset Cliffs
Sunset Cliffs is one of my favorite spots in San Diego! The rugged and rocky coastline is an ideal spot for running or walking along the sea-cliffs. Or my favorite choice, hunker down at sunset to watch the sun disappear into the sea. ?
16. Explore Balboa Park
Balboa Park is a gorgeous area to explore with a plethora of museums, parks, beautiful Spanish architecture, and gardens everywhere. Some personal favorites is the beautiful architecture at the Casa de Balboa and Casa del Prado buildings, the Spanish Village Art Center, the Rose and Japanese Friendship Garden and the Natural History Museum.
Balboa Park is pretty large and there is a lot to see, so for time’s sake it might be best to take a tour. Here are are some great ones I’d recommend:
- Balboa Park Walking Tour – This tour is probably the best bang for your buck because it’s a small and intimate tour and you’ll get loads of information and ensure you see all the highlights.
- Balboa Park by Segway – Yes, there’s a Segway tour for everything in San Diego!
- Balboa Park Private Tour – This is like the VIP of Balboa Park tours. You’ll get a pick up and drop off in a luxury car from your San Diego hotel, water and snacks included, professional tour guide,, and free admission to certain attractions.
17. Go Surfing
It seems like just about everyone surfs in San Diego. And why wouldn’t you, it’s California, right? Just be sure to wear a wetsuit, the water’s freezing!
If you don’t know how to surf, now is the best time. 🙂 You can take surf lessons in La Jolla, which is where the below photo was taken and is my favorite surf spot. They also have surf lesson options for kids. 🙂
18. Hang glide or Paraglide off Torrey Pines Cliffs
For all the daredevils out there, come to the Torrey Pines Gliderport. Paragliding and hang gliding has never been more scenic! You can fly tandem, or even earn your wings and get certified.
19. Explore the Carlsbad Flower Fields – Spring Only!
April showers brings May flowers. 🙂 And they’re especially beautiful at the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch. At $14.00 a person, these colorful flowers attract visitors from all over.
20. Take a Harbor Cruise
Taking a tour of San Diego’s waterfront is one of the most popular bucket list items you can do in San Diego. There are so many options! You can do anything from one-hour harbor cruises, dining cruises, or even whale watching cruises. Below are some of my favorites:
- San Diego Harbor Cruise – 1-2 hour relaxing cruise (usually during the day)
- San Diego Harbor Dinner Cruise – Spend the evening in luxury with a gourmet dinner cruise
- San Diego Champagne Brunch Cruise – Did someone say brunch? I’m sold already! ❤
- San Diego Food & Wine Cruise – This cruise actually takes place along the beautiful waters of Mission Bay
- San Diego Wale Watching Cruise – This honestly one of the best cruises because they even include beverages (alcoholic & non-alcoholic), snacks, binoculars, sunscreen, and warm weather gear (because it can get cold)
If you made it all the way to the bottom of this list, first of all, YAY you rock and I love you. Second, what did you think of this list of San Diego bucket list items?
I am proud to say I have done all of them, so I know you’ll have a blast ticking them off your San Diego bucket list too!
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Lastly, if you’re looking for the best bang for your buck for what to do in San Diego in a short period of time, I would definitely recommend one of these tours:
- San Diego Hop-on Hop-off Trolley – I love these tours because you can see everything you want to at your own pace. You can choose from a one-day or two-day ticket
- San Diego City Tour – This is a half-day tour and allows you to see a lot in a short period of time including the Gaslamp Quarter, Balboa Park, and La Jolla.
- San Diego Scenic Tour – This is a 4-hour tour of the best scenic stops including La Jolla, Mount Soledad, Coronado Island, and downtown San Diego including Balboa Park, Little Italy and Gaslamp.
Going to San Diego? Check out these popular posts:
- San Diego’s Most Instagram-Worthy Spots
- San Diego’s Top 12 Unbeatable Outdoor Adventures
- 5 Authentic Mexican Street Tacos in San Diego
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What’s on your San Diego bucket list? Love to know in the comments below!