How many days to visit San Diego? Flexible itinerary from 1 to 3 days

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Martí Micolau

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San Diego is a major city in California and is full of attractions, museums and theme parks. Many include it in a tour of the Sunshine State or in an on the road itinerary that includes various states. Others avoid it due to its geographical position, being slightly off a classic itinerary that includes the other two major Californian coastal cities (Los Angeles and San Francisco) and the main inland attractions.

In this article I will try to clarify what is the ideal timing to visit San Diego and how to best organize yourself according to your preferences. How long to stay in San Diego so to enjoy it to the fullest?


  • How many days to spend in San Diego? Some preliminary advice
  • What to see in San Diego in 1 day
  • What to see in San Diego in 2 days
    • Ideal city tour
    • How to include Seaworld, Zoo, or another theme park
  • What to see in San Diego in 3 days: city and surroundings
  • Where should you sleep?

How many days to spend in San Diego? Some preliminary advice

The routine question is: how many days to spend in San Diego? The answer, in this case more than for other cities, is: it depends. San Diego is a city famous for its theme parks, in particular Seaworld and the Zoo. If you want to include one or more of these parks in your visit, you will have to take into consideration that a visit to a theme park usually takes a large part. of a day.

To see the city well, excluding the theme parks, the ideal is to dedicate two full days to it. This does not take away from the possibility of making an essential visit of the historic districts and the main monuments in one day, especially if you only plan a short stop during an on the road or if you want to stay 2 days including a theme park.

Foreseeing three days in San DiegoInstead, you can also already broaden your gaze to the attractions in the surrounding area, especially along the coast. In summary: how many days do you need? If you have plenty of time or are touring California exclusively, I recommend staying here for 3 days. If, on the other hand, you include San Diego in a wider on the road, even 1 or 2 days may be enough. Let's see in the next paragraphs how to best organize the visit.

What to see in San Diego in 1 day

Is it possible to visit San Diego in one day? As with all big cities, the answer is yes, but aware that it will be impossible to see everything. Below I propose an itinerary to visit the city center and its main attractions as completely as possible. Mind you: I have thought of this program for those who intend to wake up early in the morning and keep a brisk pace throughout the day. This does not prevent you from visiting San Diego in one day, however, taking this itinerary as a basic starting point, removing from the program what is considered less interesting to enjoy the day in a complete but more relaxed way.

If, as it is probable, you will be staying in the center, my advice is to start your visit from Marina Embarcadero district, easily reachable both on foot and by public transport from all downtown San Diego. Early in the morning the coastal area always has its charm: if it's Saturday you will see it come alive with the fish market, but also on the other days of the week a walk along the seafront is a great way to start the day. On the other hand, San Diego is a port city and to understand its soul, a passage on its coast is essential.

The second stop that I suggest, where to spend a good part of the morning, is Old Town. The area that represents the cradle of San Diego and the whole of California is well connected with the trolley, which you can take from the Santa Fe station. As you can learn more in the dedicated article, here there is a lot to see and learn about local history and my advice is to stay there until lunch. If, on the other hand, you have got yourself some sandwiches, my advice is to head for your picnic directly to the next stop: the Balboa Park.

Il Balboa Park deserves a nice afternoon ride. Whether you intend to visit one or more of the museums enclosed in this immense city park, or rather take a walk in the various thematic gardens in which it is divided, a few hours will certainly go away within the green area.

In the late afternoon, when dinner time approaches, you can head to San Diego's most famous neighborhood: Gaslamp. Here it is worth spending the evening because the wide choice of restaurants, breweries and clubs of all kinds makes 5th Ave and the surrounding streets perfect for an evening stroll, among historic buildings and a dinner suitable for all tastes and all the pockets.

If you are quick, you might consider including a step a as well Little Italy. My suggestion is to go there immediately before or immediately after visiting Old Town, since the two districts are well connected by trolley and therefore you would not waste much time traveling.

What to see in San Diego in 2 days

If you dedicate two full days to San Diego, you will have the opportunity to see the city quite completely, also dedicating time to some museums or to more in-depth visits to some monuments and points of interest. If, on the other hand, one of the reasons why you have chosen to include San Diego in your travel itinerary is the theme parks, you will also have the opportunity to combine the knowledge of the historic neighborhoods with Seaworld, the Zoo or another park.

Ideal city tour

Are you not interested in theme parks and want to dedicate yourself completely to discovering San Diego? Two days is the ideal time to steal the secrets of the southern Californian capital. Here is my itinerary proposal so as not to miss anything.

  • Day 1: Old Town, Marina-Embarcadero, Coronado and Little Italy. Start your visit from Old Town and Presidio Park. Because? This is where the history of San Diego and California as we know it today was born. There is therefore no better place to start visiting this city, in order to understand its origins and evolution. After the morning in the Old Town, you can go to the Marina-Embarcadero district (take the trolley and get off at the Santa Fe station). Here you will easily find somewhere to grab a bite to eat, and if your day started early enough to arrive here before lunch, you might as well have time to visit the Maritime Museum or USS Midway aircraft carrier. After lunch, board the ferry to Coronado Island. From the peninsula that creates the San Diego bay you can take great photos of the city skyline and discover many curiosities, as well as relax on one of the most beautiful beaches in the United States (reachable by foot or by bus from the pier, as explained here ). Finally, head back downtown to have dinner in Little Italy. From Coronado you can get there by bus 901 (Broadway & 1st Av stop plus 10-15 minutes on foot), or by taking the ferry back to Broadway Pier and then walking from the pier, crossing Waterfront Park (10-15 minutes by foot). feet).
  • Day 2: Balboa Park and Gaslamp. Balboa Park is so large and full of things to see that a full day would not be enough to completely exhaust it. Without taking into consideration the Zoo, which is a case in itself, the number of gardens and museums contained in the huge green area of ​​the city is enough to keep you busy from morning until late afternoon without getting bored. Here you can discover other curiosities about the birth and development of the city, choose to visit one or more museums, so varied as to satisfy every taste: from contemporary art to airplanes and spaceships, from natural history to international craftsmanship. But the highlight are the gardens, which range from desert to tropical settings through to Japanese bonsai. In the late afternoon, when Balboa Park has satisfied you, you can go to Gaslamp Quarter, to conclude your tour with the most symbolic district of San Diego. Among the historic buildings, you will undoubtedly find a restaurant that suits you in which to stop for dinner, or one of the many breweries in which to check if San Diego really deserves to be called the American capital of craft beer.

How to include Seaworld, Zoo, or another theme park

As you have seen, I did not mention any theme parks in the itinerary proposed in the previous paragraph. This is because I believe that to see the city at its best it takes two full days. However, nothing prevents you from staying here for two or three nights combining a visit to the historic center with access to one of the famous theme parks.

If you will visit only one theme park, my suggestion is to opt for Seaworld or the Zoo, which are the two largest and most interesting. Your question will be: Is it possible to visit the city in two days including a theme park? Well, if you don't expect to enter all the city's museums and see every corner of the historic districts, the answer is yes.

Seaworld can be visited easily in half a day. Obviously, if you are passionate about marine animals and want to take full advantage of the ticket by spending a few hours of pure leisure on the rides, you can spend a whole day without hesitation. In this case, follow the itinerary proposed above to visit San Diego in one day and dedicate the second day to the theme park. If, on the other hand, you are satisfied to visit it in a few hours, my advice is this: follow the proposed itinerary for San Diego in two days, reducing the visit of Balboa Park to half a day to also include Seaworld on the second day. You will not have time to visit the various museums of the Balboa, but you will be able to combine everything well.

The San Diego Zoo implies a longer visit, if you want to visit it well and if you want to take part in the various animal demonstrations. Especially if you are traveling with children, my advice is to dedicate a full day to it, then following the one-day itinerary for the other day in San Diego. Even for the zoo, however, you can think of a quick half-day visit. In this case, unifying it with the day dedicated to Balboa is an excellent solution, being right inside the same park.

What to see in San Diego in 3 days: city and surroundings

Do you have 3 days to visit San Diego? This time frame allows you to conveniently visit not only the city, but also some other interesting places in the county. If you don't have a rental car, my suggestion is to take advantage of two days to follow the itinerary in the city proposed above, dedicating the third day to a specific activity. For your third day you can opt for one of the theme parks or go to La Jolla, one of the most characteristic coastal towns, easily reachable in less than an hour by bus 30 from downtown San Diego. The seals and sea lions, the large beach and rocky coves are just some of the interesting things that this tourist resort offers. Alternatively, especially if you visit San Diego in the summer, you could look for the relaxation of the beach life: in our article on San Diego beaches find all the appropriate advice.

Do you have the possibility to rent a car? In this case you could evaluate a nice one coast tour, full of points of interest and curious and interesting places. Here is my suggestion of a itinerary along the coast: leave early in the direction of Mexico: on the border between the two states is theInternational Friendship Park. What is it about? A friendship park located at the point where the wall that separates Mexico and the United States throws himself into the ocean. It is a very special place, which may not please everyone but certainly makes you think.

To get there, set the navigator 1270-1244 Monument Rd. Here you will find a parking lot where you can leave your car and from which you can reach the border in less than half an hour on foot. Once back in the car, head north and head towards the Cabrillo national monument. To get there, you have two options: you can circle the city, or walk the thin strip of land that reaches Coronado, returning to San Diego from the Coronado Bridge. After seeing the Cabrillo monument, continue north to La Jolla, to which you can dedicate a few hours, ending the day a Torrey pines. See this page for more tips on all points of interest along the San Diego coast.

Where should you sleep?

If you are tight on time and intend to follow one of the itineraries suggested above, carefully choose the place to stay overnight can make a difference. For the central location, my suggestion is to prefer one of the three districts Gaslamp, Marina-Pier e Little Italy. In this area of ​​downtown, in fact, the choice of accommodation is quite wide, but above all the public transport connections allow you not to waste time to go to the various attractions. In the article below you can read our advice on:

Our suggestions on where to sleep in San Diego

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