Insider tips: Planning a trip to San Diego
San Diego, the 8th largest city in the United States, is famous for its temperate year-round weather, gorgeous sunsets and lots of fun things to do. The famous San Diego Zoo, beautiful Balboa Park and downtown nightlife make San Diego a favorite destination for families. There is so much to do in San Diego that we enlisted the travel experts at TravelingMom, a leading family travel website, to share their favorite things to do and tips for making the most of a visit, even if you only have a few days. Here you can look into TravelingMom's San Diego guide.
What should I do on my first trip to San Diego?
Balboa Park in downtown San Diego is an absolute can't miss. This 1,200-acre mid-city park is fille with gardens, museums, cultural spots, theaters, playgrounds and walking trails. There are plenty of low-cost and free things for families to explore within Balboa Park. The beautiful beaches are another wonderful place to spend a warm day in San Diego. Whether you're looking for tidepooling in Point Loma, boardwalk fun in Mission Beach, or cliffside sunsets in La Jolla, there's a beach that just right for your family.
What are some hidden gems to see in San Diego?
San Diego is best known for its beaches, but there is so much more nature to discover, including desertscapes and mountain fun. For hiking, fishing and camping, head to the Laguna Mountains to experience unplugged family time.
How much time should I spend in San Diego?
It is nearly impossible to experience all of the wonders of San Diego in one visit. Consider focusing your visit into one area, starting with either downtown or the beaches. To explore the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, Coronado Island and other downtown activities, plan on 4-5 days. A beach vacation to San Diego could be a weekend getaway, by choosing one beach to visit per day depending on your family's favorite acticities -- surfing, boardwalk rides and games, swimming, snorkling or tidepooling.
What food is San Diego known for?
Tacos are San Diego's best known meal, namely fish tacos made with white fish, usually yellowfin or bluefin tuna. Nearly every restaurant menu will offer a version of this San Diego speciality. Fish tacos are generally breaded and deep fried fish filets, served in a warm corn tortilla with white sauce, chopped cabbage and salsa verde.
What is the best way to get around San Diego?
While most Californians rely on personal vehicles for transportation, if you don't have a car, the trolley is an easy way to get around in San Diego. A trip on the ferry from downtown to Coronado is an excellent way to reach the Island. Consider renting a bike or scooter to get around the downtown area. The Coaster Train, as the name implies, travels only along the coast. The north/south running commuter line has 8 stops between downtown and Oceanside. If you plan on venturing out to hike, fish and experience nature, you will need a car. Travel freeways between 10 am and 2 pm to avoid the heaviest traffic clusters and worst traffic jams.
What are the best months to visit San Diego?
The best time to visit San Diego is in September and October. Summer crowds have thinned out but the weather is still very warm for swimming and outdoor activities. With most kids back in school, places like LEGOLAND, SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo are far less crowded. October is ideal for families on a budget, as many popular locations offer kids free admission for the entire month. Aim for early October versus later in the month, when many students are out of school for fall break.
What is Gaslamp Quarter known for?
The Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego is known for boutique shopping and family restaurants by day and exciting adult nightlife like bars, live music and dance clubs. The trolley line stops right here so visitors can enjoy without having to find a paid parking lot. The Gaslamp is walkable to area attractions including Petco Park for Padres baseball games, Seaport Village and harbor.
What are the best neighborhoods for food?
Hillcrest is the heart of San Diego's LGBTQ+ community and offers plenty of outdoor patio dining, craft brewpubs and a weekend farmer's market. There is a variety of foods and flavors within walking distance of each other on University Avenue and sidestreets, including dessert-only hot spots.
What are the best neighborhoods for shopping?
For souvenier shopping, visitors can't miss Seaport Village. There are more than 50 unique shops spread out in this bayside location, selling everything from books and toys to art and San Diego-made products. Plus, there are plenty of dining spots and a carousel for the kids!
What neighborhood should I stay in when I visit San Diego?
For Airbnb, look for a walkable neighborhood like South Park. The area is full of historic homes within walking distance of restaurants, parks and breweries. Plus, it's very close to downtown, the airport and the famous San Diego Zoo.
What are the best beaches around San Diego?
San Diego is known for their many beautiful beaches. Mission Beach and the surrounding bay is a family-friendly hot spot, with ample free parking, grassy picnic areas and play grounds. Belmont Park is a highlight, with a beach-side roller coaster and other amusements. Plenty of sand and waves for boogie boarding and swimming. Those with younger children should visit the bay, with tamer waves for wading. Many areas for dining and shopping along the boardwalk.
Which neighborhoods are the most budget-friendly?
To find budget accomodations and dining, move away from the coastal locations. Mission Valley offers lower costs on hotels than beach cities. Drive further east to suburban areas like La Mesa to find unique dining and micro-breweries.
Which neighborhoods should you visit if you'd like to splurge?
For the ultimate splurge vacation, La Jolla, Del Mar and Torrey Pines. Hotels are swank and upscale dining abounds. Expect designer fashion boutiques, art galleries and a higher price tag for everything in these locations.