When the sun goes down in San Diego, the city lights up. Of course, everyone equates a night on the town with an empty wallet once the fun is over. However, with the numerous free things to do in San Diego at night, you can have as much fun as you want and save money at the same time.

Instead of shelling out insane amounts of cash for a night in San Diego, I recommend enjoying these free activities:

Free Things to Do in San Diego at night

When visiting San Diego, a trip to Gaslamp Quarter at night is a must!

1. Stroll through Gaslamp Quarter

Exploring this historic San Diego neighborhood won’t cost you a dime. Beaming with Victorian architecture and inescapable energy, Gaslamp Quarter should be on everyone’s San Diego bucket list. You can window shop along the many boutiques and art galleries or listen to the music flowing out of the bars and live music venues.

Although roaming the neighborhood is free, purchasing food, souvenirs, or any of the available activities will cost you.

2. Enjoy a Brewery Tour

Believe it or not, San Diego is a total hotspot for microbreweries. If you’re a fan of locally made craft beer, a free brewery tour should be on your list of free things to do in San Diego at night.

At Ballast Point Brewing, you can tour their brewery headquarters free of charge. Go behind the scenes and see how your favorite brews are made, from start to finish. What better way to spend the night in San Diego?

3. Experience Old Town San Diego

If you’re looking to experience a bit of history for free, add Old Town San Diego to your itinerary. Among the many free things to do in San Diego at night, Old Town San Diego packs the charm, culture, and history of San Diego into one memorable experience.

With multiple restaurants, museums, and events venues in the area, you will likely find a few places to spend your money. However, seeing the area won’t cost you a thing.

Free Things to Do in San Diego at Night

Balboa Park at Night
Photo credit: Joe Wu / Flickr

4. See Balboa Park

Balboa Park is home to 17+ museums, art galleries, event venues, and so much more. In addition, the park offers walking trails, recreational activities, restaurants, and gardens. If you schedule your visit accordingly, you can take advantage of the many Free Admission Days at the museums. Be on the lookout for special free events and activities scheduled at the park, as well!

5. Free Summer Concerts

If visiting San Diego in the summer, you’ve timed your vacation perfectly! San Diego offers residents and tourists a summer full of free concert series such as Point Loma Summer Concerts and Coronado Promenade Concerts. These free events feature local and regional musicians, as well as art vendors, food trucks, and more entertainment.

Plus, San Diego hosts several free concert series’ throughout the year. Check our San Diego Events Calendar to see what free concerts or events are happening during your vacation.

6. Explore the Hotel del Coronado

The Hotel del Coronado is an iconic San Diego hotel featuring jaw-dropping views and architecture. While staying at the hotel will cost you a great deal, it won’t break the bank to explore the property. The hotel offers fine dining, luxury shopping, and seriously stunning views.

Although visiting this historic hotel is among the free things to do in San Diego at night, do note that parking is not complimentary. With this in mind, it is best to take an Uber/Lyft, taxi, or some other form of public transportation to the hotel.

Free Things to Do in San Diego

Image via the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego / Facebook

7. Tour the Museum of Contemporary Art

Every third Thursday of the month, the Museum of Contemporary Art’s downtown and La Jolla locations are free of charge from 5:00 to 7:00 pm. Take a leisurely stroll through this exquisite museum filled with extraordinary works of art without paying for admission!

8. Discover San Diego’s Art Scene

For the past 13 years, Ray at Night has been North Park’s premier art walk. This free San Diego event occurs every second Saturday of the month from 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm. From handcrafted pieces to fashion design, you’ll see varying styles of artwork on display at this free event.

9. Browse Seaport Village

For 14 acres of beautiful waterfront shopping, fine dining, and entertainment along the harbor, you’ll want to head to Seaport Village. Built in 1980, this area of San Diego is free to explore until 9:00 pm during the winter and spring, and 10:00 pm in the summer. Window shopping is completely free, so enjoy yourself and the sights while at the village!

Free Things to Do in San Diego at Night - SeaWorld fireworks

Photo by Tristan Loper / Flickr

10. Watch SeaWorld’s Fireworks

During the summer time, one of the best free things to do in San Diego at night is watch SeaWorld’s magnificent fireworks display—without paying for SeaWorld admission. This gigantic fireworks show can be seen from all around San Diego throughout the summer months. According to San Diego locals, Fiesta Island offers the best fireworks views around.

Experience the Endless Free Things to Do in San Diego at Night

There is so much to do and see in San Diego without spending a cent. Unfortunately, hotels aren’t free (if only, right?) Browse the large selection of affordable San Diego hotels from Reserve San Diego. Plus, bundle your hotel with attraction tickets for greater savings!

Need to escape the everyday? Break away from the norm by treating your family to a San Diego Spring Break. The temperatures are warm, the ocean is nearby, and there are a variety of things to do that will keep kids young and old entertained. What should you do on your San Diego Spring Break vacation? Read on.


San Diego Zoo

Go Wild at the San Diego Zoo

If there’s one thing the whole family can agree on, it’s the San Diego Zoo. Famous the world over for its renowned animal care and exhibits. The urban paradise can easily take a whole day to see, as this place is a lot more than your typical zoo. Start your day off with a guided bus tour of the park. Gaining perspective on this nearly 100-acre park is key to making the most of your day. Decide which exhibits you want to visit again during your San Diego Spring Break vacation, then trek through the botanical canopy of the zoo for a closer look. Highlights for me always lie in the Lost Forest, home to gorillas, tigers, and hippos; Panda Canyon, home to Giant Pandas; and Elephant Odyssey, home to elephants, lions, and jaguars. Your San Diego Zoo ticket includes the Kangaroo Express Bus and Skyfari Aerial Tram. Use them! They make traversing the park much easier and save you tons of time.

Highlights for me always lie in the Lost Forest, home to gorillas, tigers, and hippos; Panda Canyon, home to Giant Pandas; and Elephant Odyssey, home to elephants, lions, and jaguars. Your San Diego Zoo ticket includes the Kangaroo Express Bus and Skyfari Aerial Tram. Use them! They make traversing the park much easier and save you tons of time.



Build Memories at LEGOLAND

If you have children under the age of 12, LEGOLAND California is just for them. If you’re a parent, you already know the love for LEGOS. At this theme park, that love explodes with larger-than-life LEGO sculptures, Imagination Centers, LEGO-based rides with mild thrills, silly shows featuring LEGO people, and so much more. This spring visitors have exclusive access to LEGO Movie 4D: The Next Adventure, too.  Right outside LEGOLAND is SEA Life Aquarium and it’s included in your ticket purchase. Total bonus! The aquarium incorporates LEGO statues and designs into the underwater scene, a perfect complement to your day at LEGOLAND.


Torrey Pines Natural Reserve

Take to the Outdoors

Be sure to spend at least one of your San Diego Spring Break vacation days sightseeing.  Spectacular sea cliffs, rugged desert terrain, and endless ocean combine to create a natural beauty that can be appreciated at any age. The first time I visited San Diego, I discovered Torrey Pines and have been singing its praises ever since. As a natural reserve its home to not only threatened plants and unique geological formations but stunning overlooks of the coastline and surrounding La Jolla.  The Cabrillo National Monument at Point Loma, with its tide pools, tall cliffs, and lighthouse, is another favorite as is Seaside Cliffs, a stretch of coastline known for its epic sunsets.

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Sun, sand, and surf are sure to bring the smiles!

Hit the Sand & Surf

San Diego has some pretty great beaches so it would be a shame to not spend any time at one. And there are so many to choose from! Coronado Beach, with the iconic Hotel Del Coronado framing its shores, is a classic beach consistently voted one of America’s best by the Travel Channel. Mission Beach is ideal for families as the meandering coastline has calm waters, there is lifeguard service during peak season, beachside eateries make it easy to snack and Belmont Park is nearby. Family-friendly La Jolla Shores has sandy beaches and mild waves so young kids can play in shallow waters and bigger kids can body board and even try to surf. Other family favorites include Del Mar, Moonlight Beach, and Tide Beach Park.

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Balboa Park

Sneak in Some Edutainment

There’s no reason kids can’t learn something new while on a San Diego Spring Break vacation. At the New Children’s Museum families will find a dynamic atmosphere filled with inventive and engaging art experiences. Get hands-on with activities and performances at this one-of-a-kind attraction. Tour the USS Midway for a unique glimpse at U.S. history. There are 60 exhibits, 25 restored aircrafts, aviator simulators and so much more to learn aboard this historic aircraft carrier. Balboa Park, with 15 educational yet entertaining museums, is known as the “Smithsonian of the West” due to its vast cultural offerings. Kids especially enjoy the San Diego Air & Space Museum and San Diego Model Railroad Museum.

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Village Pizzeria Bayside/Facebook

Play with Your Food

Okay, I’m not really advocating playing with your food. However, eating in San Diego can certainly be categorized as fun which equals playtime in my book. Kids are notorious for being picky eaters, but kid-friendly San Diego restaurants cater to not only their taste buds but their creative side. The Village Pizzeria offers a Build-Your-Own-Pizza night every Wednesday, where kids receive their own pre-rolled dough, marina, cheese and 3 toppings of their choice to create their own specialty, custom pie. Bonus: There are 11 craft beers on tap for adults, seriously scenic views and nearby grassy area for the kids to roam. Waypoint Public has a designated kid’s area with books, games and astro turf for kids who thinking sitting still is for the birds. Plus, they have an affordable just-for-kids menu with hots dogs, mac ‘n cheese and burgers, while adults can enjoy a selection of over 30 craft beers and inventive food menu. Another notable mention is the throwback Corvette Diner, which has a massive arcade room, magicians, and live entertainment.

San Diego Spring Break Fun Awaits

Put these San Diego Spring Break vacation ideas for families to use on your escape from the ordinary. Your kids will thank you!

Be sure to book all your attraction tickets and hotel rooms with Reserve San Diego for the best money-saving deals and insider tips.

Ashley is Reserve Direct’s travel expert, visiting San Diego to find the best travel tips, money-saving deals and insider information. With over 10 years of experience in first-hand-travel adventures, she shares her stories, advice, and current events to help you stay in the know.

If you’re searching for a place to vacation with the kids, stop! You’ve found it in San Diego, California. With weather that’s wonderful year-round, engaging entertainment options and a family-friendly vibe, this vacation destination does not disappoint. Accordingly, it’s a favorite city for parents and kids to play. Use this list to hop, skip and jump your way around SoCal experiencing the best things to do in San Diego for families.

Plan your vacation around these things to do in San Diego for families.

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Beach days are the best!

1) The Beach

This one’s kind of a given, right? San Diego has miles of sunny and sandy coastline just begging to be visited. Parents like the fact several San Diego beaches are super family-friendly, too. With that in mind, here are a few kid-approved beaches:

  • Silver Strand State Park
  • La Jolla Shores
  • Oceanside


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San Diego Zoo is one of the only zoos in the world with pandas

2) San Diego Zoo

One of America’s best zoos is located here. And it’s can’t miss! With world-class animal exhibits, including rare pandas, parents will enjoy this outing just as much as the kids. Be sure to go on the guided bus tour, great for getting an overview of this 100-acre zoo. To learn even more expert tips for visiting San Diego Zoo, watch our insider video.

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Balboa Park is one of the prettiest in America

3) Balboa Park

San Diego Zoo is technically located within Balboa Park, but there’s a whole lot more to see here. Home to 14 museums and gorgeous gardens, you can easily spend a whole day exploring with your family. Highlights for families include:

  • San Diego Natural History Museum: animatronic dinosaurs
  • Reuben H. Fleet Science Center: hands on science exhibits
  • San Diego Air & Space Museum: Dress up like an astronaut


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View seals in their natural environment at La Jolla Cove

4) La Jolla Cove

Upscale home and shops surround La Jolla Cove, but the real gem of the area is its cove. The picturesque cove, and its surrounding sea cliffs, have a large population of sea lions. Get out and mingle with them. Your kids will flip! And you’ll probably take about 100 photos. I know I did!


Cabrillo National Monumnet: By Ctorbann, via Wikimedia Commons

5) Cabrillo National Monument

The Cabrillo National Monument is a fun way to give your kids a hands-on history lesson. Tour the museum highlighting the first expedition to San Diego as well as Point Loma Lighthouse. In addition, the Point Loma Tide Pools are nearby. Kids love checking out the scenery and the sea life there.

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Hand up for fun!

6) LEGOLAND California

If you’re kids are young, and love LEGOs, you’ve got to go to this theme park. It was created with them in mind, with everything from hands-on exhibits to kid-sized rides. Moreover, there’s an on-site water park perfect for those hot San Diego days.


Up close experiences are a signature of SeaWorld

7) SeaWorld San Diego

You’re near the ocean, so why not learn about it at SeaWorld San Diego? This marine park has immersive exhibits dedicated to sea life. Thus, you can explore penguins, sea lions, dolphins, sea turtles and more. Combine this with exciting shows and rides and you’ve got one of the top things to do in San Diego for families.

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Kids can’t get enough of the Birch Aquarium: Birch Aquarium/Facebook

8) Birch Aquarium at Scripps

This La Jolla aquarium is another way to get an ocean education in San Diego. There are touch pools and tanks with up-close views of moon jellies, sharks, lion fish and more. All of this means families with babies and toddlers will especially enjoy Birch Aquarium.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

The beach and sea cliffs of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

9) Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Torrey Pines is stunningly beautiful and one of the best showcases of the natural beauty of San Diego. For this reason, it’s one of the best places to get outdoors in SoCal. There are eight trails to trek, with the Beach Trail and Razor Point trail two favorites. You can easily make a beach day of it here, too, as the Beach Trail has beach access.


The USS Midway is educational yet fun for kids

10) USS Midway

Located along Navy Pier in downtown San Diego, USS Midway Museum features the longest-serving U.S. Navy aircraft carrier of the 20th century. Kids will get a kick being aboard this real life carrier, where they can engage in activities like listening to real pilot conversations during Desert Storm, climbing in bunks, and more.

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Bonus: Catch a Game

If your family are baseball fans, why not catch a game in San Diego? Petco Stadium, home to the San Diego Padres, does a top notch job of creating a unique atmosphere for ball games. Not only is weather pretty much always optimal, the stadium serves food key to the San Diego culinary scene. Think burritos, barbeque and pizza. Couple that with a better-than-most craft beer selection and you’ve got an activity sure to please every member of the family.

Which Things to Do in San Diego for Families Are For You?

With this list of the top 10 things to do in San Diego for families you’ve surely found a few perfect for your vacation. Did we miss a favorite San Diego activity? Let us know what your family loves to do here and we’ll be sure to include it in our list.

Ashley is Reserve Direct’s travel expert, visiting San Diego to find the best travel tips, money-saving deals and insider information. With over 10 years of experience in first-hand-travel adventures, she shares her stories, advice, and current events to help you stay in the know.

Kids love San Diego! If it’s not for the world famous attractions such as the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld or LEGOLAND, it’s for the beaches, parks and activities throughout the county. San Diego has a lot to offer tiny travelers. Here is my guide on how to keep your beautiful children happy and smiling. Add these things to do with kids in San Diego to experience family fun at its finest.

Birch Aquarium FB

Birch Aquarium/Facebook

1. Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Learn about the curious land under the sea as your kids explore exhibits and activities led by professional oceanographers. The Birch Aquarium sits on the La Jolla coast, and offers kids various experiences such as think tank interactive projects, animal feeding times, and animal interactions. In October, kids 12 and under enter free at many San Diego Museum Council destinations.

2. Waterfront Park
This new park sits at the Embarcadero in Downtown, San Diego and offers kids many swings, jungle gyms, and fountains. Parents can hang out of the benches as the kids monkey around on the gym, or hang out on the lawn as the kids splash in the fountain that is specially designed for the amphibious type.

Belmont Park

Belmont Park

3. Belmont Park
This historic amusement park was meticulously built on the beachfront, and offers kids rides, games, an artificial wave for surfing, and lots and lots of pizza, ice cream and burgers. Get your kids an unlimited fun wristband as you lay out by the beach, or enjoy drinks and food at The Wavehouse, home to the only artificial wave machine in San Diego.

4. Balboa Park
San Diego’s main urban park is sprinkled with museums, gardens, and theaters. There are many kid-friendly activities offered throughout the year. The Ruben H. Fleet Science Center is home to America’s first IMAX Theater that shows educational programs every day. Buy a ticket to the theater, and you and the kids can play in the interactive exhibits within the museum. On Sundays at 2pm, the World Beat Center offers kids a free African Dance class, and the San Diego Junior Theater has relatable shows for kids at the Casa del Prado Theater.

Corvette Diner

Corvette Diner

5. Corvette Diner
For an unforgettable dining experience, make sure to take the kids to the Corvette Diner, a restaurant suitable for all ages. Guests are transported to a time of poodle skirts, Elvis, and HUGE beehive hair. Several times throughout dinner, the staff will stop what they are doing, and dance in synch to the 50’s jams played by a live DJ.

As I reminisce back to when we went on family vacations, I couldn’t thank my parents enough for all of the fun activities and learning experiences they offered to me. Traveling has since been such a huge part of my life, and I know how important it is to explore the world, its people, and new and interesting experiences. Have fun at these things to do with kids in San Diego, and cherish the enthusiasm and thirst for exploration of a child.

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.

Let’s face it: As adults we spend entirely too much time working. We all need to break away from the everyday now and again, leaving the hustle and bustle of our routines behind for new experiences. One of the perfect places to do just that is San Diego. There are so many things to do in San Diego for adults you won’t waste a minute of your time wondering “What’s next?” For recommendations on what to do and where to go, check out my list below.

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Kayak into a cave with La Jolla Kayak

La Jolla Kayak

The scenic setting of La Jolla is ideal for water adventures like kayaking. The surrounding cliffs and seashores are pretty, but the main attraction is kayaking into the famous Seven Caves and La Jolla Underwater Park. The original La Jolla Kayak tour, which is 2-hours, includes sightings of spectacular marine life around, such as Dolphin, Sea Lions, Leopard Sharks, and Garibaldi. Plus, kayaking into a cave is seriously cool. If you’d prefer, though, you can choose a sunset kayak tour to experience those oh-so-lovely San Diego sunsets. Bonus: Stop at Seal Beach to get up-close to native sea lions.


The view from Razor Point Trail

Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve & Beach

The first time I visited Torrey Pines, I fell in love. The charming coastal nature reserve has some seriously breathtaking panoramic views unspoiled by the progress of man. Throughout the park there are eight miles of trails, each zig-zagging along bluffs and with gorgeous overlooks of the Pacific Ocean at every turn. The twisty Torrey Pine, found in only two places on Earth, is also a sight to behold as are the rugged cliffs and varied desert plant life. A sandy beach is the end reward for those on the Beach Trail and Broken Hill Trail, while the best scenic vistas can be found on the Razor Point and High Point Trail.

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Go on a romantic gondola ride in San Diego

The Gondola Company

Gondolas seem to set just the right mood for romance. The Gondola Company accompanies guests around the Coronado Cays, an area dotted with beautiful homes and harbors. Cruises last 50-minutes, includes an Italian appetizer plate or dessert plate (think chocolate covered strawberries), as well as a blanket to keep you cozy. Riders can also bring their own wine, with glasses and openers provided. Sit back, sip your beverage of choice, and let the gondoliers take you on a cruise ripe with passion. Sometimes the gondoliers even singing, making it a truly transportive experience. Tours depart daily from 3pm-Midnight.

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Stroll around stunning Balboa Park

Balboa Park

Where do I even start? Balboa Park, with over 85 attractions, provides the perfect playground for adults seeking a cultural experience. The main attraction at Balboa Park is the San Diego Zoo, but there are also 15 museums, gorgeous gardens, cultural centers, a carousel and more. Spend the day leisurely touring Balboa Park: listen to an outdoor organ concert, stroll through the free Japanese Botanical Garden, watch a play at The Old Globe Theater and dine at The Prado. With Spanish Revivial Architecture framing all of Balboa Park, it’s easy to see why this is one of the favorite things to Do in San Diego for adults. For a complete Balboa Park guide, click here.


See the best of the historic Gaslamp Quarter

The Gaslamp Quarter

I love the atmosphere at The Gaslamp Quarter. Stretching for 16 square blocks, this Victorian-era district intermingles with modern skyscrapers creating a unique place to play. With more than 100 restaurants, pubs, and nightclubs, as well as shops and cultural offerings like theaters, art galleries, museums and concert venues, the Gaslamp Quarter is the go-to place to spend a night out in San Diego, California. Rooftop bars are a signature of the Gaslamp Quarter’s nightlife scene. Altitude Sky Lounge, RoofTop600 and Float are just a few of places to sip a drink, soak up the skyline and enjoy the year-round balmy San Diego weather. Other popular bars include Barley Mash, The Tipsy Crow and The Lucky Bastard Saloon. For the best date night dining, I recommend The Strip Club, Searsucker, Hopping Pig and Bang Bang. There are so many options, though, and you can’t go wrong with any of them. Check out our Gaslamp Quarter guide for even more suggestions.

As you can see, there are a variety of enticing things to do in San Diego for adults. And, this is list is just the start! Plan a San Diego vacation and discover all the ways adults can play in this inviting SoCal town.

Ashley is Reserve Direct’s travel expert, visiting San Diego to find the best travel tips, money-saving deals and insider information. With over 10 years of experience in first-hand-travel adventures, she shares her stories, advice, and current events to help you stay in the know.

Every time I fly into San Diego, I can’t help but look out the window at my beautiful city. I’m always fascinated at how close the planes get to the city as we pass the buildings of Downtown to the left, and Balboa Park to the right. Balboa Park’s iconic California Tower stands impressively amongst a sea of green foliage, and it gets bigger and bigger the closer we get until we pass it. The park is in the heart of the city, the nation’s largest urban park, and home to hundreds of thousands of plants from around the world, as well as tens of thousands of animals and many clubs and activities available to the residents of San Diego. Visiting Balboa Park always puts a smile on my face. Follow this Ultimate Balboa Park Guide and form a lasting appreciation for beautiful Balboa Park.

San Diego Church

California Tower and Museum of Man

Balboa Park was the first urban park in the U.S. that was actually reserved as an urban park before the city was developed. When the Panama Canal was scheduled to open in 1915, San Diego started planning for a world’s fair, which was to be held in Balboa Park. The Spanish Revival architecture was introduced to pay homage to the early Spanish settlers in California, and to set San Diego apart from the other west coast cities that were also planning a world’s fair. Today, the buildings house many museums throughout the park. There is a lot to do, but here are some great ideas for you to enjoy the park like an expert.


I like to park my car on 6th Ave, on the west side of the park. You can walk along gardens, grassy fields, and beautiful trees to the Cabrillo Bridge. As you cross the bridge towards the famous California Tower, you will pass over the 163 Freeway, and you can see the Zoo on the left and the city to the right.

You may also drive into the park from 6th Ave over Cabrillo Bridge, and through the Plaza de Panama. You will follow the path to a several large parking lots if you follow the road until you get to Park Blvd. There is plenty of parking if you go through Park Blvd. This is called Inspiration Point.

The Balboa Park Tram stops in most of the parking lots, and will transport you throughout the park about every 10 minutes.


There are about 15 museums in the park, but my favorite museums are these:

The Museum of Man: You will see the evolution of mankind, and the many cultures and traditions of human beings throughout time.

San Diego Museum of Art: An impressive collection of art from around the world, and unique rotating exhibits. One of my favorites is Art Alive, which features flower arrangements for a weekend in April.

San Diego History Center – Discover the story of San Diego history. They also have unique exhibits about industries, events and people that are uniquely San Diego.

Old Globe Theater looking towards California Tower


Spreckels Organ Pavilion: An impressive outdoor theater boasting the world’s largest outdoor organ with more than 4,000 pipes. They offer free concerts every Sunday at 2pm.

The Old Globe: The theater has three stages, including an outdoor stage. They feature wonderful plays and musicals ranging from comedy, drama, and children’s plays.


The gardens in Balboa Park are impressive! You will get lost at their beauty and uniqueness. Hundreds of thousands of plants and trees from around the world have been planted here to entertain and liven up the park. Wear your walking shoes, take some deep breaths, and enjoy the beautiful gardens.

Palm Canyon: This trail will take you down to a tropical oasis of over 400 palm trees. You’ll get lost, and forget you’re in the middle of a city.

The Desert Garden: This garden has so many unique species of cacti that you’ll think you’re in a garden out of a Dr. Seuss book.

Botanical Building: As the largest wooden lath building in the world, the building itself with its adjacent lily pond is one of the most photographed buildings in San Diego. The building houses thousands of tropical plants including my favorite: orchids.

Rose Garden: There are 1,600 rose plants of 130 varieties in the 3 acres of this garden. Sniff, see, and appreciate the beauty. Words cannot describe the feeling you get in this garden when the roses are at their peak in the spring.

Japanese Friendship Garden: This garden is the only one that charges an admission fee in the park. It’s $6 for adults, but you will automatically be transported to royal Japan. You’ll experience an amazing bonsai collection, koi ponds, and an exhibit house. Enjoy refreshments at the Tea Pavilion before or after your garden visit.

Balboa Park's Casa de Balboa Building in San Diego, California

Balboa Park’s Casa de Balboa Building in San Diego, California


While the park has many beautiful areas for a picturesque picnic, you may not have time to pack your food. Not to mention, alcoholic drinks are not allowed in public areas in any part of San Diego. You may want to relax with a cold drink and delicious food at these establishments:

The Prado: This iconic restaurant sits in the historic House of Hospitality building. The outdoor patio is where I would suggest sitting. The food is outstanding, and they have creative cocktails including the Café Prado Martini for a quick “pick me up.” It’s encouraged to make reservations at this popular restaurant, or take advantage of their happy hour in the lounge.

Panama 66: Located in the sculpture garden of the SD Museum of Art, this eclectic restaurant is casual, has open seating, a lawn for picnic style seating, amazing food options, and an extensive craft beer list. I love coming here. No frills, but everything you want in good food and drink.

I’m not kidding when I say that there are many things to see and do at Balboa Park. This guide is just a tiny portion of the main things to experience, but if you had a month to explore, you’d have time for more museums, shows, sports, events, and classes.   The park is truly a gem in San Diego, and should not be overlooked when planning a trip to our beautiful city.

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.

Stuff your carry-on luggage, and hop on the plane, because we’ve only got 3 days to enjoy San Diego for an extended weekend. Here’s my guide on “How to Spend 3 Days in San Diego.” Ready? Set! Go!

Day 1


USS Midway Museum

Assuming that you came in the night before, and you’ve got a full night’s rest, we will start the day at 9am in Downtown, San Diego.

9am: Coffee and Breakfast at Brickyard Coffee. You’re going to have to fuel up before you start Day 1 in San Diego. This neighborhood coffee shop is right by the Seaport Trolley station, and has a nice, large patio and great food and coffee. My favorite breakfast items are the Breakfast Bakes and the Acai Bowl.

9:30am: 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: a retired US Navy aircraft carrier museum. It will take you about 3 hours to check this museum out. Make sure to watch my video on tips on visiting this museum.

12:30pm: After the museum, you may be ready for lunch. If you’re starving, the Fish Market is right next door to the museum, and it really good and fresh. They have a patio outside 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.


Hotel Del Coronado

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 only a 15-minute ride, but you’ll get incredible views of the working Navy ships, million-dollar homes, and the San Diego skyline. Once in Coronado, feel free to walk around The Ferry Landing where you’ll find great restaurants, shops and galleries. I love Candelas restaurant. They have great Mexican-fusion cuisine, cocktails, and a killer view of Downtown, San Diego.

2:30pm: 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.

5:00pm: 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 6pm. You can continue in Coronado to watch the sunset, or head back to your hotel to get ready for the night.


Gaslamp Quarter

8:00pm: Dinner in the Gaslamp is fun, hip, sexy, and delicious! Some of my favorite spots in the area are: Double Standard, Searsucker, Rustic Root, and Sushi Lounge.

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 have live music Thursday-Saturday nights.

Day 2

9am: 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. You can also enjoy the world-famous San Diego Zoo. You can spend 3 hours at this park. If you get hungry, check out The Prado or Panama 66.

1:00pm: Drive to Old Town, and enjoy learning about the birthplace of California as you walk through the historic state park. Visit 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, and 90% of them 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.

Balboa Park 463680953

Balboa Park

4:00pm:  Mission Bay/Beach. Just 10 minutes away from Old Town, you’ll enjoy some beach culture at Mission Bay. Rent a bike, and cruise around, or learn how to stand up paddleboard. There is even a mini amusement where you can enjoy rides and games. The beach and boardwalk are quintessentially 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 good, fresh beer and great Mediterranean/Californian food.

You can stay in this area into the night. The nightlife at the beaches is really casual, so no need to get dressed up. Flip-flops, shorts, and tans are always welcome!

Day 3

Today, we are heading up to North County! Bring your swimsuits, because this day is all about exploring the Pacific Coast Highway.

Self Realization Gardens

View from Self Realization Gardens/Yelp: Katie B.

10:00am: 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 of all 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. Enjoy your drink with some of the locals here. Next, head to 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.

2:00pm: 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 to Torrey Pines State 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 to 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.

Wind and Sea Beach San Diego

Wind and Sea Beach

6:00pm: As the sun begins to set, be sure to get a spot to watch it. I love Wind and Sea beach. You’ll see many surfers catching the last waves of the day.

7:30pm: 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.

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 can get a lot in in that time. I hope this is blog helps you plan your short-lived extended weekend!

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.

Searching for a new place to take your family on vacation? Head to San Diego, California for unique, family-friendly fun things to do. From animal attractions to theme park amusements, this destination caters to families with kids of all ages. Need a nudge to get started? Read my San Diego family vacation ideas for inspiration!

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

San_Diego_Zoo_Safari_Park_72940Animals are a sure fire way to please kids. They just love them! Luckily, San Diego attractions offer world-renowned animal encounters and experiences. To view an array of animals, from pandas to hippos to polar bears, visit the San Diego Zoo. For an African-inspired retreat, try the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Home to elephants, giraffes, zebras, tigers and gorillas, this animal preserve spotlights animal conversation. Looking for aquatic animals? Reserve SeaWorld San Diego tickets. You’ll see dolphins, killer whales, sea lions and other creatures up-close and within splashing distance! Through mid-April, you can reserve a whale watching cruise with companies such as Hornblower and Flagship Cruises. It’s an optimal way to see these magnificent creatures up-close during a San Diego family vacation.

Build Memories at LEGOLAND

LEGOLAND MindstormsIf your kids are 12 and under, this park is perfect. It’s created for that age set, specifically, and if they love LEGO’s…even better! Located just north of San Diego, the 138-acre park makes is the first theme park built just for kids. They can get a driver’s license at Driving School. Save the day at Fun Town Police and Fire Academy. Journey to a galaxy far, far away at the LEGO Star War Miniland model display. In need of a cool down? Add the LEGOLAND Water Park to your visit. It’s located within LEGOLAND and with its colorful slides and lazy river, is kid-sized super fun.

Spend the Day at the Beach

Parents giving piggyback ride to kids at the beachNothing beats relaxing on a warm beach! Soak up some sun, listen to the waves of the Pacific Ocean, and watch your kid’s frolick in the sand and surf. With 70 miles of sandy beaches at your disposal, you can create an ideal beach day for you and your family. Kayak the coastline, learn to surf or let the kids play while mom and dad get a waterfront massage.

The beach fun doesn’t end there, though! On a San Diego Family vacation you can go for a beach hike at Torrey Pines, or get thisclose to sea lions at La Jolla Cove. Of course, you don’t want to miss the tide pools and beautiful terrain of Point Loma. You’ll witness exceptional views of the coast, all while breathing in refreshing seaside air.

Entertain yet Educate

USS_Midway_Museum_(5125)Kids might think education and entertainment don’t go hand-in-hand. In San Diego, though, you can prove them wrong! Spend time at the New Children’s Museum, where engaging and inventive art experiences foster creativity. Daily activities let your little ones discover the artists, inventor or maker inside. Plus, fun-filled exhibitions, special artistic performances, and an outdoor park add to the things to do at the museum. Mix in some history lessons with visits to sites like USS Midway, one of the longest-serving aircraft carriers in U.S. history. Experience 60 exhibits, get an up close look at 25 restored aircraft or hop into a simulator and feel what it’s like to be an aviator launching off a flight deck, engaging the enemy and then returning safely. At Balboa Park, culture is on full display at botanical gardens, art museums, and outdoor exhibits. Often call the “Smithsonian of the West” due to its vast collection of museums, families can explore the kid-friendly Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, San Diego Air & Space Museum; and the San Diego Model Railroad Museum.

These are some of the best ways to play during a San Diego family vacation. Have any suggestions? Tell me about them in the comments.

Ashley is Reserve Direct’s travel expert, visiting San Diego to find the best travel tips, money-saving deals and insider information. With over 10 years of experience in first-hand-travel adventures, she shares her stories, advice, and current events to help you stay in the know.

Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching, and I’m here to give you some fun San Diego date ideas that are unique, fun and romantic. Make your date feel extra special with a little more than just the typical dinner date – just don’t forget the flowers! I have a few suggestions on local florists towards the bottom of the post to help you out. Ready to celebrate Valentine’s Day in San Diego? Try these ideas.

pop up picnic

Pop-up Picnic

Show your Valentine your romantic side by hiring a company like Pop Up Picnic to plan and set up an inviting picnic in any San Diego location. They will bring furniture, lighting and vintage decorations to set the mood. The picnic includes an array of catered foods from local restaurants to satisfy your palate. I would personally have them set you up on the Cove in La Jolla, and then after your dinner or snack, I would head to La Valencia Hotel for live music starting at 6pm on Saturday.

SunSet sailRomantic Sunset Sail

Another great activity would be to join a boat charter company like Sail San Diego. You and your love will sail around the San Diego Bay to watch the sunset, sip champagne, and cuddle as you watch the reflection of the sunset on the city skyline. The 3-hour cruise is semi-private, and will have you relaxing to the sound of the water and breeze. After the cruise, stop in at a nearby restaurant such as Humphrey’s by the Bay, which has amazing seafood dishes and a music lounge just next door.

rsz_sunset-cliffsSan Diego Hiking

Hiking is one of my favorite past times in San Diego. A nice hike during the day on Valentine’s can be both romantic and productive, since you’ll be breaking a sweat. For the most romantic San Diego hike, however, I would suggest heading to Sunset Cliffs. Hike along the waterfront on the uniquely carved coastline. Watch surfers ride the waves, and bring a towel to sit as you cuddle up in one of the cliffs’ crevices. After the hike, head to one of the romantic restaurants in Point Loma, such as Old Venice, or one in Ocean Beach, like Bo Beau Kitchen + Bar.

rsz_dscf2640_Balboa ParkMuseum Month and Balboa Park

February is Museum Month, which means you can get 50% off of 45 area museums throughout San Diego. All you have to do is pick a free pass up at any Macy’s department store, and bring the pass to one of the participating museums for the discount. Take your sweetheart to Balboa Park, and stroll through some of the beautiful gardens such as the cactus garden, the rose garden, or the botanical garden. When you’re ready to sit back and relax a bit, fuel up at Panama 66 with a light snack and a tasty craft beer before heading into one of the many museums that are participating. I would suggest going to the San Diego History Center, since they have exhibits about the park’s 2015 Centennial Celebration.

Now, if you really want to surprise her with some gorgeous flowers to top off her Valentine’s Day, be sure to check out the following florists in town:

Allen’s Flowers in the Gaslamp Quarter

Wholesale Flowers and Supplies

Mission Hills Florist

I hope this helps you plan a special day with your loved one in San Diego. There’s nowhere sweeter to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

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.