Pack your carry-on luggage, and hop on the plane, because we’ve only got 3 days in San Diego for an extended weekend. Follow our itinerary for the best 3 days in San Diego ever.
Ready? Set. Go!
Assuming that you came in the night before and you’ve got a full night’s rest, we will start the day bright and early in downtown San Diego.
9:00 am: Coffee!
Coffee and Breakfast at Brickyard Coffee. You’re going to have to fuel up before you start your first day in San Diego. This neighborhood coffee shop is right by the Seaport Trolley station and has a large patio which pairs nicely with the great food and coffee. My favorite breakfast items are the Breakfast Bakes and the Acai Bowl.
9:30 am: USS Midway Museum
Now that you’re buzzed from your coffee, it’s time to hit the pavement. It will take you about 15 minutes to walk to our first attraction: the USS Midway Museum, a retired US Navy aircraft carrier museum. It will take you about 3 hours to check this museum out. Keep these tips in mind when visiting the museum:
12:30 pm: Lunch and Coronado Island
After the museum, you may be ready for lunch. If you’re starving, the Fish Market is right next door to the museum. The market serves really fresh fish and menu items. They also have a convenient patio overlooking the San Diego Bay. It’s first come, first served when it comes to seating, and there is a limited menu in this section, but it provides for faster service and a more casual dining experience.
If you’re not too hungry (or after lunch), I suggest you buy a ferry ticket and head to Coronado Island. Keep in mind that the ferry leaves every hour on the hour at the dock next to the USS Midway. It’s a quick 15-minute ride, but you’ll get incredible views of the working Navy ships, million-dollar homes, and the San Diego skyline along the way.
Once in Coronado, feel free to walk around The Ferry Landing where you’ll find great restaurants, shops, and galleries. I recommend dining at Candelas restaurant. They offer great Mexican-fusion cuisine, cocktails, and a killer view of downtown San Diego.
2:30 pm: Hotel del Coronado
After lunch, you’ll want to head to the Hotel del Coronado – the iconic, Victorian resort in Coronado. You can either take a taxi there or the free Summer Shuttle (June-September). Once at “The Del”, you can walk around the premises to the various shops, to the beach, or the Sundeck to relax, have a cocktail, and enjoy the Pacific Ocean views. You should also walk on Orange Ave. and Ocean Blvd. to get to know the neighborhood. There is beauty around every corner of Coronado.
5:00 pm: Happy Hour!
Stake happy hour offers the best views and deals on the island. On Sunday and Wednesday, they have a live band on the patio starting at 6:00 pm. You can continue in Coronado to watch the sunset or head back to your hotel to get ready for the night.
8:00 pm: Dinner in Gaslamp Quarter
After dinner, have fun walking around the area. You’re bound to run into a bar or restaurant that has live music, dancing, sports, or entertainment – unless you want to visit a secret speakeasy-style bar. My favorite bar in the Gaslamp is Prohibition. They also have live music Thursday-Saturday nights.
9:00 am: Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo
Wake up early, and head straight to Balboa Park for a nice walk amongst the trees and gardens. Here, you will find many museums such as the Air and Space Museum, The Museum of Man, and the San Diego History Center. If you get hungry, the park has several eateries to choose from.
The iconic San Diego Zoo is also located here. Plan to spend time exploring all the zoo has to offer. It takes about 3 hours to see all the zoo has to offer. Use my tips for visiting the San Diego Zoo to maximize your time at the park:
1:00 pm: Old Town San Diego
Drive to Old Town and discover the birthplace of California as you walk through the historic state park. Visit the original adobe homes, one of San Diego’s oldest cemeteries, and America’s most haunted house. You might want to save your appetite and eat here, because there are about 25 restaurants, 90% of which are dedicated to Mexican food. You can have some incredible margaritas and fresh Mexican food. Check out Café Coyote, Casa Guadalajara, or Fiesta de Reyes.
4:00 pm: Mission Bay/Beach
Just 10 minutes away from Old Town, you’ll find some beach culture at Mission Bay. Rent a bike, and cruise around, or learn how to stand up paddle board. There is even a mini amusement park where you’ll find entertaining rides and games. The beach and boardwalk are quintessential San Diego and offer the best spot for a picture perfect sunset.
Before you know it, the sun will be down, and you’ll be hungry again. There are many small eateries in this area, but I would suggest heading to Amplified Ale Works for great beer and fantastic Mediterranean/Californian food.
Stay in this area into the night. The nightlife at the beaches is really casual, so there’s no need to get dressed up. Flip-flops, shorts, and tans are always welcome!
Today, we are heading up to North County. Bring your swimsuits, because your last day is all about exploring the Pacific Coast Highway. After all, when you only have 3 days in San Diego, you need to visit the beach at least once!
10:00 am: Self Realization Fellowship Meditation Garden
Take the I-5 freeway up to Encinitas and head straight to the Self Realization Fellowship Meditation Garden. This garden is on a cliff overlooking the Pacific and is gorgeous. Take in the views, take in some fresh air, and free yourself from all the negative emotions and thoughts you may be carrying with you. Set the intention for the day, and see how happy you will feel throughout the day.
After your mini-meditation, drive north to the town of Encinitas. I love stopping into Pannikin for coffee or tea. Sip your drink with some of the locals here. Next, it’s time for the beach! Moonlight State Beach is really popular. If you walk along the beach, you’re sure to find a nice area to layout in.
2:00 pm: Torrey Pines Natural Reserve
You’ve got some sun and now it’s time to hit the road down the coast on the 101 aka PCH aka Pacific Coast Highway. You’ll pass the surfing town of Cardiff, Solana Beach, and Del Mar before you arrive at Torrey Pines Natural Reserve. Hike the trails at Torrey Pines, or go to the Torrey Pines Lodge to indulge on a gourmet, farm to table meal.
If you don’t want to do Torrey Pines, head into the village areas of the beach communities before arriving at Torrey Pines. Cedros Ave. in Solana Beach is fun for shopping and the Del Mar Plaza is great for lunch and shopping, as well. You can also drive down to La Jolla Village and walk through the galleries or along the coastline where the seals and sea lions lay out.
6:00 pm: Wind and Sea Beach
As the sun begins to set, be sure to get a spot on Wind and Sea Beach to watch it. You’ll see many surfers catching the last waves of the day.
7:30 pm: Dinner in La Jolla
By the end of the day, I would suggest going to dinner back in the Village of La Jolla. I absolutely love The Med at the La Valencia Hotel. You’ll find great, seasonal dishes here, a great view, and live music. It’s pretty casual here, so you won’t have to worry about your shorts and sandy feet in the lounge of this restaurant.
Enjoy the Best 3 Days in San Diego
In a perfect world, you’d probably live in San Diego, but that’s not always an option. Three days is just a tease, but as you can see, you pack a lot into your itinerary in that short amount of time.
What do you plan to do during your 3 days in San Diego? Comment below with your travel plans.
Bianca is a San Diego native, and prides herself on her knowledge of her city. As a professional tour guide, she offers food and drink tasting tours through her company: So Diego Tours. With 8 years in the tourism industry, she brings you updates on how to make the most out of your time, money and energy in her city.