Beach in San Diego

Back in March, my husband and I were lucky enough to visit my sister in San Diego the weekend before things with COVID-19 really hit the fan. We had no idea this would be our last air travel for the foreseeable future. If you’ve never visited San Diego, there’s a ton to do inside and right outside the city. Here’s the ultimate 3 day San Diego itinerary to get you started.

Day 1: Arrive and Explore San Diego

We arrived around 11:00 am, checked into our hotel (review here), and hit the ground running. Depending on when you arrive and if you choose to visit the zoo, you might not have time to fit in all of these activities. The third day of this 3 day San Diego itinerary has more flexibility to fit in anything you miss on Days 1 and 2. While it’s possible to Uber, renting a car will make this itinerary easier to complete.

Lunch at Las Cuatro Milpas

When in San Diego, Mexican food is a must. We waited in line for about 30 minutes to dine at this no frills Mexican restaurant known for its homemade tortillas.

Las Cuatro Milpas San Diego

Walk Around Balboa Park

Let me start by saying Balboa Park is huge. 1,200 acre huge. There’s no way you can see everything in one afternoon so be sure to prioritize ahead of time. The park’s most famous attraction is the San Diego Zoo. You may also choose to visit a museum such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Man, and the Natural History Museum. The park is also home to various gardens like the Japanese Friendship Garden. We spent about an hour exploring before heading to our next stop.

Balboa Park San Diego

La Jolla

Drive about 20 minutes north of the city to beautiful La Jolla. Check out the seals and sea lions at La Jolla Cove, a small cove and beach surrounded by cliffs.

La Jolla Cove

This is a popular snorkeling spot. We were surprised to see people in the water even in March! Take your time and explore the tide pools.

La Jolla Cove

After visiting the cove, continue walking toward La Jolla Beach for more beautiful ocean viewpoints and beaches.

La Jolla Cove

Sunset Cliffs

Next, head to Sunset Cliffs, for you guessed it, sunset! Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is the perfect place for an evening stroll and to watch the sunset.

Sunset Cliffs San Diego

Pacific Beach

The last stop of the day is the laid back neighborhood of Pacific Beach. Take a walk along the beach before grabbing a drink at one of the many bars. Next, head to dinner at Costa Brava for some delicious tapas.

Pacific Beach San Diego

Day 2: Take a Hike Outside of San Diego

Yesterday’s itinerary left us tired, but not too tired to take a long hike to Potato Chip rock. After the hike, the rest of the day is a bit more chill.

Brunch in the Gaslamp District

Start your morning with brunch at Gaslamp Breakfast Company. Not only is their coffee delicious but they have oat milk (pretty standard for California but it’s a rarity in Boston)!

Breakfast at Gaslamp Breakfast Company

The Gaslamp District is also a fun place to comeback at night if you have time.

Gaslamp District San Diego

Potato Chip Rock

Potato Chip Rock is a 7.6 mile out and back hike on the Mt. Woodson Trail in Poway, about 30 minutes outside of San Diego. Potato Chip Rock is very cool, but expect a wait at the top for picture taking.

Potato Chip Rock hike

We waited for about an hour, mainly because there was a huge group of college kids in line ahead of us. Everyone was very courteous, making sure you had enough time to climb onto the rock and get the pictures you wanted. Click here for more details on this hike.

Potato Chip Rock hike
Potato Chip Rock hike

JuneShine Tasting Room

On the way back to San Diego, stop at the JuneShine Tasting Room in Scripps Ranch. I was never much of a kombucha drinker so hard kombucha sounded scary, but boy was I wrong. After trying several types of booch at JuneShine, I’ve started buying it to drink at home!

JuneShine Tasting Room

Explore Coronado

Coronado is an island off the coast of San Diego. You can access it by car or ferry. Grab a beer at Coronado Brewing Company before walking to the famous Hotel del Coronado (known to local as Hotel del).

Coronado Brewing Company

For my points and miles enthusiasts, Hotel del Coronado is a Hilton Curio property that can be booked for 95,000 points per night.

Beach in Coronado

Dinner in Little Italy

After a long hike and several booze stops, you deserve a carb-filled dinner in Little Italy. There are tons of choices in Little Italy, but we decided to eat at Bencotto Italian Kitchen.

Little Italy San Diego

Day 3: A Few Final Stops Around San Diego

Your last day is a great opportunity to catch up on things you might have skipped on Days 1 and 2. In addition to playing catch up, there are a few more stops on the list.

Brunch at Cafe Gratitude

Cafe Gratitude in Little Italy is about as Californian as it gets with it’s organic, plant-based menu. All menu items are named as affirmations. Instead of ordering the margarita flatbread, you’ll order the “I am giving”.

Cafe Gratitude

Torrey Pines

After brunch, head to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. There are eight miles of trails, most of which are no longer than a mile.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Hike around for a bit before descending to Black’s Beach. This was one of the most picturesque stops on the itinerary!

Black's Beach

Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument, located in Point Loma, commemorates the landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in San Diego Bay in 1542.

Cabrillo National Monument

In addition to the monument itself, this spot offers amazing views of downtown and San Diego Bay. There are also some short hiking trails and the Point Loma Lighthouse.

Point Loma Lighthouse

USS Midway Museum

Next, head downtown to see the USS Midway which is now a museum. We didn’t end up going inside but it’s cool to see it from the outside. The harbor front area of San Diego is a bit disappointing, especially considering how beautiful other parts of the city are. Regardless, it’s still worth checking out the Midway if you have time.

USS Midway Museum

Dinner in Downtown San Diego

For dinner, we headed downtown to eat at Athens Market Taverna. Downtown isn’t really bumping at night and especially on a Monday night, but we love Greek food and this place has an excellent menu!

Final Thoughts

This 3 day San Diego itinerary is jam-packed with all of the highlights of San Diego and the surrounding areas. While it may seem like a lot, this activity-filled itinerary is a lot of fun and even had my husband and I saying “we should move here!”. If you try out this itinerary, be sure to let me know in the comments!

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