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San Diego Itinerary : Top Things To Do In 3 Days

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Are you planning an amazing 3 day trip to San Diego? You have come to the right place! Here’s a San Diego itinerary to guide you through the best things to do and explore in this vibrant city in 3 days.

San Diego, America’s finest city offers white sandy beaches, vibrant downtown, cultural hubs, stunning parks, lively nightlife, great food and a plethora of attractions for visitors to explore. Whether you are an adventure seeker or looking for a relaxing laidback vacation, San Diego will cater to all your needs. History enthusiasts will find many colonial styled buildings and museums in the Old Town area of the city. La Jolla and the Balboa Park (specially for the San Diego Zoo) are favourites amongst families.

San Diego’s climate is pleasant throughout the year, which makes it a perfect getaway for vacationers. This 3 day San Diego itinerary features details on how you can make the most out of your trip by visiting the iconic attractions of the city. Further you will also find some general information regarding the best hotels to stay in, modes of transportation and necessary things you should not forget packing for a trip to San Diego.

Do not forget to get your San Diego Pass which allows you free admission to 50+ San Diego attractions and activities. You can easily choose a pass according to your trip’s duration and browse through all the iconic attractions you can have access to.

San Diego itinerary : 3 Days In San Diego

Day 1 : Balboa Park, Visit The USS Midway Museum And Go On A Scenic Harbor Cruise

Morning – Afternoon : Balboa Park

Balboa Park - San Diego Itinerary
Balboa Park – San Diego Itinerary

Start your day by visiting the expansive and incredible Balboa Park. This historic urban cultural park features gorgeous gardens, entertainment venues, museums, arts centres, restaurants, cafes and the world famous San Diego Zoo. Its easy to spend an entire day exploring the diverse attractions of Balboa Park. Here are the must see attractions you must include in your San Diego itinerary on a visit to the Balboa Park;

  • Botanical Building and the Lily Pond
  • Alcazar Gardens
  • Japanese Friendship Garden
  • Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden
  • San Diego Automotive Museum
  • Museum Of Us
  • San Diego Air & Space Museum
  • Palm Canyon
  • Cactus Garden
  • Spreckels Organ Pavilion
  • California Tower
  • San Diego Zoo
  • Timken Art Museum
  • San Diego Natural History Museum
San Diego Zoo - San Diego Itinerary
San Diego Zoo – San Diego Itinerary

Click here to get a skip the line ticket for the San Diego Zoo. Its inclusive of entrance, guided bus tour and Skyfari aerial tram.

You can have a delicious meal for lunch at one of the many dining spots in the Balboa Park. The Prado Restaurant located in the House of Hospitality has an appealing ambiance and also offers fantastic outdoor seating arrangements.

Balboa Park Opening Hours : Open for 24 hours, Saturday to Friday

Late Afternoon (After 2 PM) : USS Midway Museum

Once you have seen all of the Balboa Park, make your way to the USS Midway Museum. Its located at a distance of around 4 kms from the Balboa Park and can be easily reached by a cab or public transport (metro, bus).

USS Midway Museum is one of the most fascinating and unique museums you will ever visit. The USS Midway in an aircraft carrier that exhibits restored helicopters and aircrafts. You can also see simulators, control centre and the various decks of this longest-​serving U.S. Navy aircraft carrier of the 20th century. From the top deck you can see delightful views of downtown San Diego. Visiting this phenomenal ship is an opportunity to know and learn about the journey of sailors.

Click here for an all access skip the line ticket for USS Midway Museum.

USS Museum Opening Hours : 10 AM to 5 PM, Saturday to Friday

Evening : Harbor Cruise

San Diego Harbor - San Diego Itinerary
San Diego Harbor – San Diego Itinerary

After a visit to the the USS Midway Museum, get on to a relaxing and scenic Harbor Cruise from which you can see pleasing views of various attractions of San Diego. These include the Coronado bridge, the USS Midway Carrier, Downtown San Diego and many more. This luxury cruise has three levels of comfortable seating, gorgeous panoramic views and bar for snacks and drinks.

You can choose for either North Harbor tour or South Harbor tour depending on the landmarks you would like to see while sailing. If you did like to cover both, you can opt for Full Bay tour. Reserve your cruise tour early to skip the long queues for the Harbor cruise tour. For ease, click here to book your Harbor Cruise tour in advance.

Day 2 : Visit La Jolla, Sunset In Torrey Pines

Morning – Afternoon : La Jolla

La Jolla Cove - San Diego Itinerary
La Jolla Cove – San Diego Itinerary

If you are in San Diego, you are indeed near to the La Jolla Coves. Its located under 30 minutes drive north of downtown San Diego. Whether you are looking for a family outing, romantic getaway or an adventurous spot, this gorgeous seaside town this beautiful seaside town has it all.

Many activities you may love to indulge in at La Jolla includes kayaking or snorkelling around sea caves, swimming with leopard sharks, lounging on the white sandy beaches of La Jolla shores, watching seals and sea lions at the La Jolla cove, shopping at upscale stores, dining while admiring the sea views and browsing through the wonderful art galleries.

The Children’s Pool is close to the La Jolla Cove for a safer and fun swimming area for kids. For lunch stop at Cody’s La Jolla, which is located near La Jolla Cove. There is a lot to do in La Jolla, and this little town is as such, that you will fall in love with.

Sunset : Torrey Pines

Torrey Pines - San Diego Itinerary
Torrey Pines – San Diego Itinerary

The Torrey Pines Gliderport is a perfect spot for enjoying the sunset view over the breath-taking Pacific Ocean. The experience is truly mesmerizing. You can also choose to go paragliding or hang gliding over the gorgeous coastline from the gliderport. The much loved Cliffhanger Cafe which offers outdoor dining in the gliderport is also great for seeing the astounding views of sunset.

If you are interested in hiking, head out to the Torrey Pines State Reserve. This coastal reserve offers incredible hiking and nature trails. You can also take a leisurely stroll along the shores at one of the pristine beaches, go birdwatching, spot wildlife in their natural habitat and see the rarest Torrey Pines trees. The sunset views from the Torrey Pines State Reserve are stunning too. There are some restrictions to protect the natural reserve. So, make sure you do not carry drones, food or pets while visiting the Torrey Pines State Reserve.

Day 3 : Explore The Beautiful Coronado

Morning – Evening : Coronado (Beaches, Hotel del Coronado)

Coronado - San Diego Itinerary
Coronado – San Diego Itinerary

Coronado is one of the most popular seaside destinations in California located on San Diego Bay. Known for the iconic Hotel del Coronado and its white sandy beaches is a must visit on your San Diego Itinerary. It can be very conveniently reached by a ferry ride from the Broadway Pier at the San Diego waterfront. This 15 minute ride takes you to the Ferry Landing Marketplace from where Hotel del Coronado is just 1.5 miles away. Alternatively, Coronado can also be reached by line 901 bus or by a car via the magnificent Coronado Bay bridge.

The Ferry Landing Marketplace is a vibrant and fun area which has many cute stores, art galleries and restaurants. You can spend some leisurely time here and then head to Hotel del Coronado and the Coronado beach. Rental bikes are also available at the marketplace.

Take a tour of Hotel del Coronado which is has been designated as a National Historic Landmark. Browse through the intriguing exhibits and get to know about the fascinating history of the hotel.

Next, relax and soak in some sunshine at the Coronado beach. This white sandy beach is pristine. It has fantastic views of the Pacific Ocean which is calming and mesmerising. Once there, you will know why the Coronado beach is known to be one of the best beaches in the United States.

If you did like to check out some charming boutique stores, cafes, restaurants or get souvenirs, take a stroll through the Orange Avenue located in downtown Coronado. Stop at Miguel’s Cocina in El Cordova Hotel for delicious Mexican cuisine served in San Diego style.

Tours To Add To Your San Diego Itinerary

If you are looking for more ideas, here are some interesting tours you can add to your San Diego itinerary;

General Information

Where To Stay In San Diego?

There are many fabulous places to stay in San Diego. Your choice of hotel to stay in San Diego depends on the type of vacation you are on. Beach lovers will enjoy staying in La Jolla while city explorers will enjoy staying in downtown. If you are on a budget travel you will find many convenient hostels in Gaslamp Quater. Below are our top picks of hotels which we found in some of the best spots of Downtown San Diego;

Budget (Upto $150) : The Comfort Inn Gaslamp Convention Center is a very affordable hotel located in the heart of Downtown San Diego. The rooms are clean, cozy and comfortable. The hotel is just 5 kms away from San Diego International Airport. It’s a great deal for a comfortable stay in budget in Downtown San Diego. Click here to book this hotel or to check its availability.

Mid Range ($150 – $200) : The stylish Hilton Garden Inn is an ideal hotel to stay in San Diego, specially for families. The hotel features a rooftop pool, spa, well equipped fitness centre and a picnic area. Rooms are comfortable, spacious and filled with modern amenities. The San Diego International Airport is just 2.5 km away from the hotel. This hotel provides convenient facilities and stay at a very affordable price. Click here to book this hotel or to check its availability.

Luxury ($200+) : For excellent services and a luxurious holiday in San Diego, you must consider staying at the amazing Pendry Hotel. Its an elegant hotel perfect for an unforgettable and enjoyable time in the heart of Downtown San Diego. Rooms are beautifully decorated, comfortable and filled with luxurious amenities. The hotel has facilities like swimming pool, fitness centre, spa, wellness centre, hot tub, child care/babysitting services, activity area, restaurant and bar. All the major attractions of San Diego are close to the hotel. The San Diego International Airport is just 4 kms away from the home. Click here to book this hotel or to check its availability.

How To Get Around San Diego?

The most convenient mode of transportation in San Diego is the trolley (metro train). You can navigate through the city by bus too, but it is generally not reliable due to traffic. The fares of these public transit systems are very affordable. Alternatively, visitors also like to commute using Uber or Lyft services which are easily accessible through apps.

What Are The Essentials To Pack For San Diego?

Below are a few essentials you should not forget to pack for your trip to San Diego;

Sunscreen : To prevent sunburns or rashes, do not miss out packing a good sunscreen suitable to your skin. The Coppertone Ultra Guard Sunscreen is our most trusted sunscreen brand. Its water resistant, hydrating and non greasy. Find Coppertone sunscreen lotion here. Sunglasses and sunhats are also a must for beach trips.

Cross Body Bag : A Cross Body bag is very easy to carry while doing walking tours, street shopping or visiting a nearby restaurant. You can put in your essentials such as sunglasses, tablet, phone, wallet, passport and more in the bag. They look elegant and smart. Scarleton has high quality cross body bags that are just perfect for carrying on any kind of outing. You can find them here.

Comfortable Walking Shoes : For pain free walking during sightseeings, pack a pair of lightweight & comfortable shoes. Cute flip-flops and water shoes will also necessary to keep your feet at ease during beach trips in San Diego.

Portable Charger / Power Bank : To avoid your phones, bluetooth speakers or ipads from running out of battery, do carry a good power bank. It will keep your electronic devices charged while you are on the go. We always recommend the Anker PowerCore power bank as it comes with highspeed charging technology and a reliable lifetime warranty.

Waterproof Dry Bag : If you look forward to indulging in some fun water activities in La Jolla, then you should carry a dry bag too. It will keep your necessary things safe from getting wet. Freegrace has a set of reliable dry bag, phone case and waist pouch, all are waterproof. Check it out here.

Here you have it, your San Diego itinerary for 3 days. We are sure you are going to have a wonderful vacation in this beautiful city. If you have any questions or would like to share your experiences, let us know in the comments section below.

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Anjali Wadhwa (cheerfultrails) is a travel consultant and enthusiast who has traveled to 15+ countries. She shares about her explorations through her writings. You will find detailed itineraries, best travel tips and well experienced recommendations for food, transportation and hotels on her blog.

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