When I lived in Los Angeles, I would often drive down to San Diego to spend time exploring the city. Known as the “Birthplace of California”, San Diego is the 8thlargest city in the US. There are so many things to do you could spend a lifetime here! Of course, your visit to the city will depend on what you like to do most. Although the weather is perfect almost everyday in Southern California, spring and fall are a great time to visit. The weather is warm and the crowds are small(er). So, if you’re looking for some ideas for your San Diego itinerary I’ve put together some of my favorite things to do to help you start planning your San Diego getaway!
DAY 1: The Drive Down
Depending on where you leave from Los Angeles, and what time of the day you leave, expect it to take about three hours to drive to San Diego. The most convenient route for most people will take you on the I-5 south. Although it starts inland, once you get south of Los Angeles and Orange County, you’ll notice you shift closer to the coast and the Pacific Ocean can be seen on your right-hand side and it makes for some beautiful views as you drive!
First stop – Brunch, a Pier, and Street Murals in Oceanside
Oceanside, CA 92054
Oceanside has one of the longest wooden piers on the West Coast – at 1,942 feet the pier includes a convenience store and a (chain) restaurant. Originally built in 1888, the bridge has been destroyed by storms and rebuilt five times; the current sixth bridge was built in 1987. Enjoy a walk on the pier and watch the fishermen, the surfers, the waves, or if you’re there in the evening enjoy the sunset.
Beach Break Café
1802 South Coast Highway
Oceanside, CA 92054
For a taste of something local, head down the road to Beach Break Café! It’s a family owned restaurant popular with the locals and has been around for over 30 years. Fun fact: it sits halfway between downtown Los Angeles and the California-Mexico border! (*According to their website.)
The waitress recommended their Corn Beef Hash & Eggs. It isn’t a dish I would order on my own but she said it was a specialty of theirs. I’m really glad I followed her suggestion, it was delicious!
While enjoying my brunch, I looked out the window and saw the mural on the sidewall of the building across the street. After paying my bill I went out to investigate and that started me on my street mural hunt. I quickly learned Oceanside is filled with street murals, many by hometown artists. One of the best collections of the murals in Oceanside, including a map of their locations can be found at the Visit Oceanside website.
The top mural, Eyes of Picasso by Mario Torero can be found in Artist Alley. The bottom, Postcards from Oceanside (2002) by Sue Pruett and Rhonda Ruggieri, is on the side of the Sunshine Brooks Theater.
You can find the Flying Pig Mural by Oceanside native BB Bastidas on the side of The Flying Pig Restaurant and Bar (naturally). And below that, the mural by Kris Markovich (painter, cinematographer, skateboarder) located at Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub is what first caught my eye while sitting at the Beach Break Café.
One of my favorite murals is by an Oceanside artist but is actually on a wall in Carlsbad: Catnap by Michael Summers.
Stop and smell the flowers in Carlsbad!
The Flower Fields
5704 Paseo Del Norte
Carlsbad, CA 92008
Cost: $18 adult admission
While the drive to San Diego is pretty most of the year, if you’re lucky enough to drive down in the spring, be sure to stop and see the Flower Fields in Carlsbad!
There are around 50 acres of Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flowers planted in the hillsides overlooking the ocean that bloom from March until early May. Walk along the trails to admire the blooms, take a ride on the antique tractor wagon or get inspiration for your home garden with a visit to the Artist Gardens! Be sure to visit the Paul Ecke Jr. Barn to watch the film Legacy of Color to learn more about the history of The Flower Fields.
Seals and Sea Lions in La Jolla
La Jolla Cave
1100 Coast Blvd
La jolla, CA 92037
As you continue your way south, be sure to stop in La Jolla to see the harbor seals and sea lions. Along with some beautiful coastal views, you can watch the animals as they sun themselves on the beach. And at certain times of year (December-May), you might even see seal pups!
Although you can get quite close to and among them, they are wild creatures and I personally suggest giving them their space and viewing from the coastal path walkways above.
Petco Park Tour and a Padres Game
100 Park Blvd
San Diego, CA 92101
Cost: $22-25 (Tour), $15 and up (Game Ticket)
I find watching a ball game outside to be one of life’s pleasures and seeing a game in Petco Park Stadium in San Diego doesn’t disappoint. With beautiful views of the city beyond the field and almost every day guaranteed to be warm and sunny, it doesn’t get much better than this!
Game tickets start around $15 (and can go up considerably from there!), so pick your price point and enjoy America’s favorite pastime. **2020 Season pricing is out and tickets are starting at $16**
Petco Park has a fantastic selection of restaurants to choose from so save up for a little splurge when you go to the game. I personally recommend the Pulled Pork from San Diego’s favorite Phil’s BBQ or the Cardiff Tri-Tip Crack Nachos! Both. Are. Amazing.
Another fun thing to do is take a tour of the stadium! Tours happen daily and offer a behind-the-scenes look at the stadium, including the press box, private luxury suites, the dugouts and visitor’s clubhouse*, the historic Western Metal Supply Co. Building and the Breitbard Hall of Fame.
*If you have tickets to the game, you can do an Early Bird Game Day Tour, which is what I did, but to be honest, I was a little disappointed because this meant no access to the locker room or playing field. Although it was convenient to go right before the game and you do get into the stadium sooner, I would recommend taking the regular tour because (speaking from experience of other stadium tours I’ve done) it’s super cool to get a glimpse of the field from the dugout!
Day 2 in San Diego
4610 Pacific Highway
San Diego, CA 92110
In keeping with the theme of family-owned restaurants, check out Perry’s Café for breakfast. This iconic San Diego restaurant has been around since 1985 and includes American, Italian, and Mexican cuisines on its menu and is best known for it’s vast Frittata menu!
Plus, it’s super close to Old Town San Diego, your first stop for today…
Tour Old Town San Diego
Old Town San Diego
4002 Wallace St.
San Diego, CA 92110
Learn a little about San Diego’s beginnings with a stop at Old Town San Diego. Representing the period of 1821 to 1872 you can see and experience the city as it moved from its Mexican heritage to an American settlement. The Old Town area includes shops, restaurants, a cemetery, reconstructed town buildings and five of the original buildings from that era! One of these, the Whaley House Museum, was constructed in 1857 on the grounds of a former gallows and is one of only two officially designated Haunted Houses in California! It was home to Whaley family and was also a general store, San Diego’s first theater and it’s second county courthouse.
An Afternoon of Things to Do in Coronado
You can’t go to San Diego and not experience the beaches or the waterfront. And there are plenty to places to enjoy both here, but my favorite is Coronado Island.
After you cross the Coronado Bridge, head towards the east side of the island and take a walk along part of the Bayshore Bikeway to enjoy the water views and the San Diego skyline. (The entire bikepath is 24 miles long and bike rentals are available on the island if you’re inclined to ride the entire route.)
Along the way, be sure to look for the beautiful bronze sculpture “Penelope” by Michael Stutz, based on Odysseus’ wife in Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey”.
Hotel del Coronado and Coronado Island Beaches
Hotel Del Coronado
1500 Orange Ave
Coronado, CA 92118
Cost: FREE / $9 ice cream waffle cone
Across the island is the iconic Hotel del Coronado. Built in 1888, it is listed as a Historical landmark. Walk around the hotel grounds (some areas are private for guests, but much of it is public) and get yourself an ice cream at Sundaes at the Del.
Then find your spot on the beach, spread out your towel and enjoy the sunshine for the rest of the afternoon.
Lastly, watch the sun has set, the sky change colors, and then pack up the car to start your drive back to Los Angeles!
My budget for 2 Days in San Diego:
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Even though I’ve had the pleasure of most of these experiences I’m still tempted to hop on the next flight. I’ve neglected the ballpark and Old Town (my loss) but the San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park always steal most of my time. I just need to find more time and I will. Thank you or the photo reminders. I also agree, Coronado is a must.
San Diego is always ready to welcome you with open arms, especially if you still have some things you haven’t seen yet!
Oh, I needed to see this blog today. It has been a grey January here in MN. We used to go to San Diego every March for meetings and extend our stay to enjoy the area. I also suggest taking the Hop on Hop Off Trolley. It goes to most of the areas and you can get off and wonder and catch a later one.
I’m glad you enjoyed the post! March is a great time to visit San Diego. And you’re absolutely right, the Hop On Hop Off Trolley is a great way to see the city! I’ll have to add it as a “Reader Recommendation”.
One of your best articles you’ve done! Love the Catnap mural the best. Thank you.
Thank you! I think the colors in Catnap are so fun.
I used to live in San Diego as a poor grad student. You got all the fun, beautiful, and affordable things right! It was so fun for me to read this post. Made me want to go back :).
Aw, yay! I love when the locals agree with my suggestions for activities!! And, sounds like it might be time for you to have a road trip soon… 😉
I’ll be taking this drive in June for a Bare Naked Ladies Concert. I am sad I will miss the hills covered in flowers. I am a flower chaser! The sea lions will have to suffice. 😀
Well, sometimes Mother Nature has her own schedule, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed there are some late blooming flowers for you this year. Enjoy your concert, that should be lots of fun!
Driving from San Diego to Los Angeles has always been on my to-do list. Such a stunning coastal journey that is full of surprises. I would love to see those cute Sea Lions in person!
The sea lions are super cute (and sometimes super loud! haha) and well worth a visit. Hope you have a chance to take the road trip!
I am hoping to do this part of California on my next visit as I havent been to this part (only done San Francisco and San Diego). The cities look fantastic and I think I am more interested in San Diego over LA as it does look like a more of a beautiful city and things to do for the children (as I have a family). But would also love to check out some of the beaches as they dont look superme. So like I said, family travel, trying to blend my next visit with things to do in a city and have beach as well (and then I drive off to Yosemite national park). So you have given me a few ideas here.
There are definitely lots of things to do in San Diego with your family – so many more than I usually fit into my two-day trips! Definitely consider the Zoo Safari Park if you’re kids are into animals & conservation. There’s plenty to do at the beaches, especially if you like surfing or just hanging out in the water!
This is a great post! I’ve been to San Diego when I was younger, but now I’m really wondering what we did because I don’t remember doing anything you mention! I think I was under the impression that LA and SD were a bit closer than three hours, but these beautiful beaches look like they’re worth the drive. Coronado seem to be an interesting area to explore, if for no better reason than its unique geography. I’m also intrigued by the Hotel del Coronado. That roof is so unique and I’d love to learn more about the history of the building!
Thank you! Traffic is a big factor in determining how long it takes to get from Los Angeles to San Diego – some days are quicker than others. And yes, the Hotel del Coronado is a beautiful and unique building with quite a bit of history and local lore surrounding it, including stories of it being haunted!
What a great post, I’m saving it for later – for my road trip when we will visit LA. I love all of the murals!!!
Awesome, I hope you have a fun trip!
This is a vey detailed itinerary that I need to add to my next California trip. As I was reading it, I was thinking oh that stop really looks good. Then your next section would catch my attention and I’d be interested in doing that. I like seeing murals, but those flowers fields are amazing. But I can’t resist the sea lions! And of course then there’s the sunsets. I may pass on the sports though. But I’m now more motivated to add a road trip to my California trip.
I’m so glad you found things you enjoy and hope you get a chance to make the trip yourself one day soon!