How to Spend 3 Days in San Diego

March 3, 2022

Have an extra day off? A long weekend and a little wanderlust make the perfect pair. Follow our San Diego itinerary for the best three days in America’s Finest City!

Never underestimate the number of memory-making experiences you can pack into a single long weekend. There's no shortage of variety from outdoor activities to city life in an area like San Diego Bay. Three days in San Diego is plenty to experience all the must-dos. 

Are you still questioning whether visiting San Diego or Los Angeles would make a better trip for your long weekend? The stars of southern California both boast delightfully mild weather and long stretches of beachy landscape. Nonetheless, we'll vote in favor of San Diego this time, thanks to its smaller population, lower crime rate, and less traffic. In addition, there's simply more room to breathe!

Now that you've nailed down your long weekend destination, it's time to pack your carry-on suitcase and hop on the plane! Read on for the best ways to spend three days in San Diego.

Day 1

So you arrived the night before and settled into a fluffy pile of pillows and blankets. You got a good night's rest to prepare for your first day in the city. Then, it's time to start day one bright and early in downtown San Diego!

Speaking of a good night's rest, here are some of our top picks for places to get some serious shuteye in San Diego:

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9:00 am: Coffee

Once you arise from your slumber, kick things off with coffee and breakfast at Brickyard Coffee. Fuel up before you start your first day in San Diego! This neighborhood coffee shop is by the Seaport Village Trolley stop and has a large patio that pairs nicely with the great food and coffee.

Pro Tip: The Bagel Melt or the Acai bowl are our top breakfast picks. Yum! Lastly, grab a cup of joe, and you'll be good to go. 

Close up of the red brick building for Brickyard Coffee and Tea with their metal sign rounding the corner in San Diego, California, USA

photo credit: Audrey Mercuri via Facebook

9:30 am: USS Midway Museum

Now that the coffee has you wide awake get ready to hit the pavement and start sightseeing. A 15-minute walk will get you to your first attraction: the USS Midway Museum, a retired U.S. Navy aircraft carrier museum. 

Set aside about three hours to explore the entire maritime museum. Keep these tips in mind when visiting the museum:

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12:30 pm: Lunch and Coronado Island

Next, your museum tour is bound to work up your appetite. Time for lunch! If you're starving, The Fish Market is right next door to the museum. This restaurant serves the freshest fish and other seafood.

The Fish Market's convenient patio overlooks a stunning view of the San Diego Bay. You may want to bring a jacket if you opt to sit outside since it can get breezy on the bay. In addition, make a reservation to guarantee your spot!

After lunch, get a ferry ticket and journey 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 a quick 15-minute ride, and you'll get incredible views of the working Navy ships, million-dollar homes, and the San Diego skyline along the way.

Once in Coronado, promenade around the Ferry Landing, where you'll find great restaurants, shops, and galleries. Experience Coronado in a whole new way when you take a kayak tour! Meander along the city skyline and float beneath the famous Coronado Bridge.

Aerial view looking over Coronado Island and the bridge that leads to the mainland at dusk near San Diego, California, USA2:30 pm: Hotel del Coronado

You absolutely have to stop by the Hotel del Coronado during your time on the island. It's an iconic, Victorian resort in Coronado lovingly known as "The Del."

Fun Fact: History buffs will feel right at home here. Built in 1888, the Hotel del Coronado became a National Historic Landmark in 1977. 

To get there, you can take a taxi or use a ride-sharing service such as Uber or Lyft. If you're there in the summer (June through September), take advantage of the Free Summer Shuttle! 

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Pro Tip: Since San Diego's attractions are spread out all over the city, getting a rental car may be ideal to go the distance. However, San Diego does boast a pretty good public transportation system, so this is another way to navigate the area.

At "The Del," walk around the premises and explore the various shops, as well as Coronado Beach. The Sun Deck is a great place to relax, grab a snack, and enjoy the Pacific Ocean views. A stroll down Orange Avenue and Ocean Boulevard will give you a chance to soak in the atmosphere of the neighborhood. There is beauty around every corner of Coronado!

5:00 pm: Happy Hour

Find a spot on Stake's Fireside Patio for happy hour and settle in for a spectacular sunset. Then, delight your taste buds with appetizer and drink specials. 

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If you hit this chophouse and bar on Sunday or Wednesday from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm, you're in for a live music treat.

Afterward, enjoy a quick dinner on Coronado and head back to your hotel to get some extra rest, or hit the town for a longer dinner surrounded by an exciting nightlife atmosphere at our next location. 

View of the Stake’s Fireside Patio at dusk with a cloudy sky in San Diego, California, USA

photo credit: Stake Chophouse & Bar via Facebook

8:00 pm: Dinner in Gaslamp Quarter

Dinner in the Gaslamp Quarter is both fun and delicious. Some of our favorite restaurants in the area are Rustic Root, Full Moon, and The Smoking Gun.

After dinner, walk around and immerse yourself in the lively ambiance. Strolling 5th Avenue, the epicenter of the Gaslamp Quarter is a must. You're bound to run into a bar or restaurant with live music, dancing, sports, or entertainment.

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Alternatively, you could visit a secret speakeasy-style bar, such as Prohibition. For a truly vintage vibe, visit on Friday or Saturday, when the dress code is enforced. Adorn your best flapper dress or zoot suit to look the part!

If you'd prefer to leave the costume at home, find a bar stool at Ginger's, Henry's Pub, or Side Bar instead.

Day 2

Day two is equal parts serene nature and happening town life. Start the day off among the flora and fauna, then head to a buzzing scene full of culture and good food. Meet your favorite animals at the zoo, explore quaint city streets, and dine on delectable seafood.

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9:00 am: Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo

It's time to get up and at 'em again! Wake up early, then go straight to Balboa Park for a refreshing morning walk among 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. If you get hungry, the park has several eateries to choose from.

The iconic San Diego Zoo is also located here. Plan to spend plenty of time exploring all that this zoo has to offer. It takes about three hours to see it all. Use our tips for visiting the San Diego Zoo to maximize your time there.

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Photo Alert: The San Diego Zoo is home to many endangered species, such as tigers. Snap a selfie with these rare, beautiful animals!

external view of lily pond at casa de balboa in San Diego, California, USA

Balboa Park

1:00 pm: Old Town San Diego

Drive to Old Town, tagged "the birthplace of California," and discover the rich culture of this historic state park. Visit original adobe homes, one of San Diego's oldest cemeteries, and America's most haunted house.

Hopefully, you've been saving your appetite all morning! There are many restaurants here, many of which serve up vibrantly flavorful Mexican food. Check out Café Coyote, Casa Guadalajara, or Fiesta de Reyes.

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4:00 pm: Mission Bay/Beach

Just 10 minutes away from Old Town, you'll find a laid-back beach culture at Mission Bay. Rent a bike, cruise through the streets, or learn to stand up paddleboard. There's even a mini amusement park filled with entertaining rides and games.

Photo Alert: The beach and boardwalk are quintessential San Diego landmarks. They're the best spots to snap a picture-perfect sunset!

Before you know it, it'll be time for some evening noms. There are many eateries to choose from in the area! For some of the best Mission Bay views, grab a bite at Barefoot Bar & Grill. For the freshest seafood, get a table at Sportsmen's Seafood.  

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Stay after dinner and watch Mission Bay transform into a breezy nightlife paradise. There's no need to dress up for this casual yet lively scene. Flip flops, shorts, and sundresses are all welcome!

Pro Tip: Alternatively, ditch Mission Bay right after dinner and take a quick 20-minute drive to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. Gazing at the sunset from one of the coastal bluffs is nothing short of spectacular.

Wide shot of the Mission Beach Boardwalk on a busy sunny day in San Diego, California, USA

photo credit: Draft via Facebook

Day 3

On the final day of your San Diego trip, it's time to head up north. So pack a swimsuit and get ready to explore the gorgeous landscapes along the iconic Pacific Coast Highway. North County is a jaw-dropper!

10:00 am: Self Realization Fellowship Meditation Garden

Take the I-5 freeway to Encinitas and go straight to the Self Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens. These gardens are on a cliff overlooking a sweeping view of the Pacific. Take in the views and fresh air of this gorgeously scenic location.

Next, drive north to the town of Encinitas. Stop by Pannikin to fuel up with some coffee or tea and mingle among the locals as you sip your drink.

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Afterward, it's time for the beach! Moonlight State Beach is a popular choice. If you walk along the beach, you're sure to find an excellent area for basking in the warm San Diego sun.

View looking down at the Self Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens with the ocean in the background in San Diego, California, USA

photo credit: Encinitas Gardens of Self Realization Fellowship Hermitage via Facebook

2:00 pm: Torrey Pines Natural Reserve

After you're glowing from your time laying out in the sun, it's time to hit the road and cruise down the ever-popular Pacific Coast Highway, also referred to as Highway 1 or PCH. 

Roll down the windows and get ready to pass by the surfing town of Cardiff, Solana Beach, and Del Mar before you arrive at Torrey Pines Natural Reserve. Hike the Torrey Pines trails or visit the Lodge at Torrey Pines to indulge in a gourmet, farm-to-table meal.

If you opt to skip Torrey Pines, visit the village areas of the beach communities located just before the reserve instead. The Cedros Avenue Design District in Solana Beach is a great shopping destination. The Del Mar Plaza is a great place to stop for lunch.

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Alternatively, drive to La Jolla for great shopping and galleries. Keep an eye out for seals or sea lions laying out on the coastline here! The tide pools at La Jolla Cove are teeming with wildlife wonder, too. La Jolla is home to a few other great tide pools to check out, like Dike Rock, Shell Beach, and South Casa Beach.

6:00 pm: Windansea Beach

Windansea Beach, located in La Jolla, is a favorite haunt of local surfers. It's best left to those skilled at the sport, however, so simply sit back and take in the breathtaking view if you're a surfing novice. 

This is a great spot to watch the sunset. In addition, stay on the lookout for the humble yet beloved Surf Shack.

Close up of the Surf Shack at Windansea Beach, a structure with four wooden posts and palm branches at the roof with surfboards laying around and a bright blue ocean in the background in San Diego, California, USA

photo credit: Shelby Asch via Facebook

7:30 pm: Dinner in La Jolla

End the day on a high note with dinner in La Jolla. Dining at the Mediterranean Room in the La Valencia Hotel is a must for tourists. Fantastic seasonal dishes are spiced up with a great view and live music.

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Splurge on the Shawarma Spiced Octopus, or keep it lighter with the Sunchoke & Heirloom Tomato Bisque. Then, go ahead and treat yourself to dessert -- it's your last day of vacation, after all! The Dark Chocolate Gateaux and Toffee Rum Cake are both absolutely delectable.

A bright orange, pink, and purple sunset with the Ocean Beach Pier in the background and rocks on the right hand sign in San Diego, California, USA

photo credit: San Diego Reader via Facebook

How will you spend three days in San Diego?

In a perfect world, you'd probably live in San Diego, or at least spend an entire week in the gorgeous city. Unfortunately, a three-day trip is just a tease. Nonetheless, three days are better than none!

It's possible to pack your long weekend itinerary with a substantial taste of the City in Motion. From iconic tourist spots like the USS Midway Museum and the San Diego Zoo to beautiful nature views found at locations like Coronado Island and the Torrey Pines Natural Reserve, this city truly has it all.

What do you plan to do during your three days in San Diego?

Comment below with your travel plans!


michaela smiling holding magazine with body of water in background

Written By Michaela

Michaela is a journalist who views every story she writes as an adventure, leading her to explore new places and meet new people. She is based in the Midwest ...

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