From breathtaking beaches to maritime museums, here is your perfect two-day San Diego itinerary to plan your weekend.
San Diego has gorgeous beaches and nearly perfect year-long weather.
It’s an ideal destination for a breezy weekend getaway along the Pacific Ocean.
Do morning yoga on the beach, dig into some fish tacos and join the boardwalk crowds to applaud the sunset. Or explore maritime history and wander through lush city gardens.
San Diego has a lot to offer. So where do you start planning your perfect two-day itinerary?
I grew up in Phoenix and I love to drive to San Diego for a weekend getaway. It’s my favorite road trip anytime I’m in the Southwest visiting family.
So here’s my ideal two-day itinerary to plan your California weekend. It’s packed with the city’s best-known attractions – with plenty of time to take in the beaches!
Here is my 2-day San Diego weekend itinerary:
MORNING: USS Midway Museum
Start your weekend off at the USS Midway, an aircraft carrier transformed into a floating museum with a 4-acre flight deck packed with restored aircraft.
Explore 60 different exhibits and 29 restored aircraft (including fighter jets and rescue helicopters) that served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm. Volunteer military veterans give you an insider’s look at life aboard an aircraft carrier.
Tour the crew’s sleeping quarters, the engine room and the ship’s control room at this family-friendly museum.
The flight simulators and interactive exhibits are especially popular with kids. They can climb into the cockpits and watch documentaries about the carrier’s history.
The USS Midway is the US Navy’s longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century. And it’s hosted some 225,000 sailors in its lifetime.
It’s an incredible way to kick off your San Diego weekend – especially if you’re travelling with kids.
MORNING: Maritime Museum of San Diego
The Maritime Museum is a short drive away. And it boasts one of the world’s finest collections of submarines and historic vessels with hands-on exhibits about maritime history.
Climb aboard the ships, docked right on the water, to explore the lives of old-time sailors and explorers.
The museum includes the spectacular Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship, with a history as long as the piles of ropes on her deck. This full-rigged ship braved a mutiny and a collision on her voyages to India. And it spent more than a decade taking emigrants from Europe to New Zealand.
And don’t miss the HMS Surprise, a replica of an 18th-century Royal Navy frigate. It was build in 1970 and famously used in films like Master and Commander and Pirates of the Caribbean.
You can even book a sailing adventure aboard this vessel, which was lovingly built by master craftsmen and volunteers.
There’s also the Soviet B-39 submarine that once carried 24 torpedoes – a favorite with kids. And don’t miss the Steam Ferry Berkeley. It brought thousands of survivors of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to safety.
The exhibits inside the vessels really transport you back in time. They include old maps and instruments used in the discovery of new waters. And they offer an inside look at the cramped quarters of fishermen who one lived below deck.
With its hands-on exhibits and friendly staff, this museum is one of the best things to do in San Diego with kids.
AFTERNOON: Balboa Park
Take an afternoon breather at Balboa Park, a 1,200-acre (486-hectare) lush wonderland that boasts Spanish Revival architecture and thousands of exotic plants and orchids.
Start at the iconic Botanical Building and its luscious facade. Inside there’s a collection of more than 2,100 plants including some stunning orchids.
Stroll through the grounds and explore the rose garden, the cactus garden and the Japanese-style garden. There are also lots of hiking trails, Zen gardens and lily ponds.
Don’t miss the Spreckels Organ Pavilion – the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ.
And if you’re travelling with kids, they’ll love the San Diego Air & Space Museum and the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. There are also ballparks, bowling alleys and remote-controlled racetracks to keep them entertained.
Balboa Park also houses some of the city’s best art museums, including the San Diego Museum of Art and the Museum of Photographic Arts.
AFTERNOON: Old Town San Diego
Stop for lunch at this historic district lined with old adobe homes, local handicrafts and incredible Mexican food.
Old Town San Diego is the site of California’s first European settlements. It includes the beautiful San Diego Mission and lots of art galleries and local shops to browse.
It’s a must-see in San Diego for any art lover and history buff.
Don’t miss the old-time craftsmen like blacksmiths and jewelers doing historic demos of their skills.
And dive in to explore the charming side streets and Spanish-style buildings.
This part of San Diego has incredible street food and some of the best Mexican restaurants in the city. It’s a perfect spot to rest your sightseeing feet with a leisurely lunch.
Visit in May to experience Cinco de Mayo festivities and in December for the Fiesta Navidad.
EVENING: Pacific Beach
Wind down your first day in San Diego at Pacific Beach, a local favorite for its lively boardwalk, gorgeous coastline and buzzing nightlife.
Grab some tacos from a local eatery and head to the pier to watch the sunset. Shop for some fun souvenirs along Mission Blvd. and watch surfers ride the waves. Stay for the night for upscale dinner along the water or bar-hop along the side streets.
Pacific Beach boasts 3.7 kilometers of boardwalk lined with hip cafes and shops selling flip-flops and surfboard-shaped magnets. Ocean Front Walk and Ocean Blvd. are lined with gorgeous homes full of potted succulents and dreamy balcony views.
Mission Blvd. is the main artery lined with restaurants, surf shops, bars and hotels.
Walk towards the mansion-topped cliffs and climb up the staircases for sweeping views of the ocean.
Pacific Beach has some of the best nightlife in the city. Head to Garnet and Grand Avenue for the bars and clubs popular with locals and university students.
And don’t miss Taco Tuesdays at Pacific Beach for tequila shots and great Mexican food along Garnet. It’s popular among students but the crowd is diverse.
MORNING: La Jolla Cove
Kick off your second day in San Diego at La Jolla Cove, a cliff-lined beach famous for its frolicking sea lions, rich marine life and labyrinths of caves.
Swim with the seals and immerse yourself in the landscape of caves and pristine waters. Or watch the sea lions frolicking on the rocks and lounging in the sun. But beware: they do smell very fishy.
La Jolla Cove is an ecologically protected area that’s home to diverse wildlife.
And it’s excellent for snorkelers of all levels. Hire a guide and snorkel in the sea caves or go kayaking through the labyrinth of coves. You’ll see marine life from starfish to leopard sharks.
Catch the leopard shark season (from June to October) and snorkel alongside these magnificent but harmless creatures as they descend on La Jolla to mate and lay eggs.
There are grassy lawns atop the cliffs with stunning ocean views – arrive early to grab a parking space. Locals bring fold-out chairs and picnic on the grass.
Head to downtown La Jolla for upscale shopping, niche boutiques, art galleries and ocean-view restaurants. Browse galleries filled with local art and rows of shops with the ocean just below.
AFTERNOON: Birch Aquarium
Take a short drive up the coast to Birch Aquarium to see marine life from around the world.
The aquarium is perched on a bluff overlooking the ocean at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. It includes sharks, sea turtles and starfish. And there are exhibits that showcase more than 60 different habitats.
Don’t miss the interactive tide pool with starfish and lobsters and a Giant 260,000-litre Kelp Forest.
The immense Hall of Fishes has exhibits on habitats from the frigid seas to the tropics.
There’s also a very popular rescued loggerhead turtle and one of the world’s largest sea dragon habitats.
And don’t miss the exhibit on the effects of climate change for an insider’s look at the impact of environmental damage.
EVENING: Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Wind down your final day in San Diego at Torrey Pines, a natural wonder with breathtaking ocean views and unspoiled wilderness.
The reserve sits on a plateau surrounded by sandstone cliffs and offers unforgettable views of the Pacific below.
It’s home to 3,000 endangered Torrey Pines, which only grow in California. And it features 8 miles of trails, wild beaches and gardens that are every nature lover’s dream.
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve boasts 1,750 acres of protected oceanfront land that offer a glimpse of the California coast before it was settled. You’ll see salt marshes, waterfowl refuges, sandstone ravines and badlands along the winding trails.
Visit in spring to revel in the fields of blooming wildflowers. Or spot some gray and blue whales from the cliffs during migration season.
Hike the Guy Fleming Trail (.7 miles) for two gorgeous ocean overlooks. Or try the longer Razor Point Trail (1.4 miles) for a look at the reserve’s geological features.
Where to stay in San Diego
San Diego has some stunning hotels with dreamy swimming pools and Pacific views.
The Bahia Resort Hotel is one of the best in the city with views of the ocean and tropical gardens. And it’s just a short walk to Mission Beach.
The San Diego Mission Bay Resort is great for families. There are dive-in movies, sailing lessons and waterfront fine dining.
Where to eat in San Diego
San Diego is great for Mexican food and especially fish tacos – from waterfront snack stands to Michelin-starred restaurants like The Taco Stand and Oscars Mexican Seafood.
Head to Dockside 1953 for all the American classics and plenty of vegetarian options. They’re right at the Bahia Resort and have some incredible waterfront views of the bay.
Or try the Oceana Coastal Kitchen for California cuisine and gorgeous views.
With its sunny weather and stunning beaches, San Diego is a perfect weekend destination for nature lovers, foodies and maritime history buffs.
The city has a laid back atmosphere that leaves you invigorated and inspired. It’s perfect for families and couples too!
I love a good San Diego weekend getaway whenever I’m in the Southwest. And this is the perfect itinerary to get in some sightseeing with lots of beach time too!
Use this itinerary to plan your perfect San Diego weekend.
I would love to hear from you. What are your favorite places to visit on a weekend in San Diego?