Mission Beach

Best Things To Do In San Diego

BY Fifty Grande Editors | July 27, 2020

Welcome to Fifty Grande’s Best of the U.S. Bucket List series. This is your one-stop travel guide to the best, most unique and quintessential experiences of a city, state or event. Want to know how to “do” San Diego? We’ve got you covered. Curated by experts, vetted by in-the-know locals, this is all you need to have the best trip ever. If we’ve written a Bucket List, we recommend you go. If it’s on this list, it’s the best the city has to offer right now. Consider this your one-stop answer to “What are the best things to do in San Diego?”

We’ve all heard it before, from TV therapists and pop psychology, a refrain for the perpetually anxious: “Find your happy place.” Ask 100 people, “Family Feud”-style, to describe their happy place, and among the variety of answers you’ll often hear beaches, sunshine, hot guys/gals, good food and nature. That’s San Diego. So the city’s tourism motto, “Happiness is calling,” is no surprise. If you’re reading this we can only assume you’re thinking about visiting San Diego, which means we’re collectively thinking about being super jealous when you go. (See “beaches, sunshine, hot guys/gals, good food and nature” a few sentences back for explanation.)

Like all of our Fifty Grande Best of the U.S. Bucket Lists, this guide to the city will take you through the very best, most unique and quintessential experiences offered right now.

 

First Thing You Do: Feast on Fish Tacos

Fish Tacos are the centerpiece of San Diego’s culinary scene. They’ve been a city staple since arriving from Mexico in the 1950s. Here are some of your best bets in town, but do yourself a favor: Cast a wide net to find your own favorite spot.

The Taco Stand
#1
The Taco Stand

The Taco Stand

645 B St, San Diego, CA 92101

This is your place for straightforward Mexican fare. On the menu is a grilled fish (Mahi Mahi) taco as well as the battered fish. There’s another location on Upas Street.

Lola 55
#2
Lola 55

Lola 55

1290 F St, San Diego, CA 92101

Locally sourced, affordably priced tacos in a casual setting. Lola 55 is tough to beat. Make sure to stop here.

Puesto
#3
Puesto

Puesto

789 West Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101

Traditional though sometimes upscale take on Mexican street food.

#4

Tacos Mimi

4508 Cass St suite b, San Diego, CA 92109

This small Pacific Beach taco spot is a fav with locals.

How to spend your days

The weather is amazing, now get outside and take in some of California’s best beaches, coastline views and parks.

Mission Beach
#5
Mission Beach via Shutterstock.

Mission Beach

Mission Beach, San Diego, CA 92109, USA

Mission is one of San Diego’s great beaches. It has a picturesque boardwalk that’s perfect for jogging, biking, dog walking, strolling, you name it. This is where you’ll be surfing or boogie boarding, scuba diving or just taking a dip. Mission Beach (and Pacific Beach next door) have plenty of great food and dive bars for post-sun antics.

La Jolla Cove
#6
La Jolla Cove via Shutterstock

La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove, San Diego, CA 92037, USA

La Jolla Cove is a gem along the La Jolla neighborhood’s rocky coastline. Tucked between sandstone cliffs, the enclave is brimming with marine life. Clear waters and mild surf make this a destination for avid snorkelers, scuba divers and swimmers. The Cove’s status as an ecological reserve means that surfing, kayaking and other water sports are prohibited. Spend a little time along the Cove’s edges and you might even spot sea lions sunning themselves.

View of beautiful San Diego California at Sunset Cliffs in Point Loma with Pacific Ocean and rocky coastline
#7
View of beautiful San Diego California at Sunset Cliffs in Point Loma with Pacific Ocean and rocky coastline. Pic via Shutterstock.

Point Loma and Sunset Cliffs

Point Loma, San Diego, CA, USA

The Point Loma peninsula trades beaches for cliffs, where you can enjoy the sea breeze from high above the crashing waves. Want to see some wildlife? Check out the tide pools next to the lighthouse. How about a little history? Visit the Cabrillo National Monument, named for Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. Hiking trails? Sunset Cliffs Natural Park contains bluffs, sea caves, panoramic Pacific Ocean views and (if you’re lucky) some great whale-watching spots.

Seaport Village
#8
Seaport Village, Shutterstock

Seaport Village

849 W Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101, USA

If you’re in need of a gear change from relaxing at the beach and taking in the myriad coastal views, check out this 14-acre waterfront swath of shopping, restaurants and gorgeous bayside views.

San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

A little touristy? Sure. But it’s also the best zoo in the country.

San Diego Zoo
#9
San Diego Zoo, Shutterstock

San Diego Zoo

2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101

If you grew up taping “National Geographic” animal photos on your wall (or if you just want to see a Galapagos tortoise up close), the San Diego Zoo won’t disappoint. This vast park contains more than 3,500 animals – big cats, bears, reptiles, even red pandas. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, go for an African savannah experience at the Safari Park, where you can see animals roaming open-range enclosures of up to 300 acres.

Dive into SD History

Wonder what the California coast looked like to its first settlers? Or a 100 years ago? Or a center of San Diego’s music scene for the last 30? Head right this way…

Torrey Pines
#10
Torrey Pines

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, CA

Wonder what the California coast looked like to its first settlers? This is it. Take a break from the high-rises and busy beaches to experience the unspoiled wilderness at the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. This is the only spot in the United States where the endangered Torrey Pine grows. And adrenaline junkies can visit the Torrey Pines Gliderport and learn to hang glide or parasail.

Hotel Del Coronado
#11
Hotel Del Coronado pic via Shutterstock

See the Classic Hotel Del Coronado

1500 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA 92118

Gaze across San Diego Bay and you’ll spot Coronado Island. The island – accessible by ferry or the Coronado Bridge – is a popular resort community, complete with boutiques, restaurants and, of course, Hotel Del Coronado. This classic American hotel was built in 1888 and has hosted presidents, celebrities and royalty. Designated a a National Historic Landmark in 1977, it features beautiful Victorian architecture, luxury amenities and beachfront views.

Casbah
#12
Casbah

Hang at Casbah

2501 Kettner Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101

No, the Clash didn’t write their 1982 classic about it, but Casbah is still San Diego’s premier live music venue. Since 1989, it has supported local bands and served as a popular stopping-off point for big names. Tons of talented artists have graced its stage, including Nirvana, MGMT, Franz Ferdinand, Weezer and more. Best of all, they host live shows six to seven days a week, so no matter how long you’re in town, you can get your music fix.

Old Town
#13
Old Town, Shutterstock

Old Town State Historic Park

4002 Wallace St, San Diego, CA 92110

Calling all history buffs. Visiting Old Town SHP is like stepping through a portal into San Diego’s past. It preserves a piece of California’s first Spanish settlement, which grew throughout the 1800s as a Mexican, then American, town. You can literally stroll through the city’s lifespan, visiting buildings constructed during every stage of its early growth.

The Country's Best Craft Beer

Yes, the beer scene is that good. There’s 155 licensed breweries in SD county—okay, enough!—so it can seem a bit overwhelming. There’s no standard itinerary for a San Diego beer tour so just dive in. We recommend a starter roster that includes AleSmith, Ballast Point, Escondido Brewing Company, Kairow Brewing Company, Modern Times Beer, Viewpoint Brewing and Stone Brewing.

Arrogant Bastard Ale
#14
Arrogant Bastard Ale

Stone Brewing

1202 Kettner Blvd suite 101, San Diego, CA 92101

Stone Brewing’s Arrogant Bastard Ale is a challenge to drinkers everywhere with it’s “you’re not worthy” motto. This is a great place to start if you want to dive into the SD beer scene, but beware of the 7.2% alcohol volume.

Discover SD's Stellar Burgers

Your gut tells you great burgers are everywhere, but San Diego is a place that exceeds the hype. The restaurants here are imaginative with their beef-and-bun creations with superb results. Want a seasoned beef and lamb burger mixed with feta cheese, garlic, onion and moreAn upscale, off-menu (but not very secret) take on another SoCal classic burgerA half-pounder on brioche with sweet pickled onions and truffle fries? Toppings like pastrami? Dive in with abandon.

Juniper & Ivy
#15
Juniper & Ivy

Juniper & Ivy

2228 Kettner Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101

If there’s a must-have in SD it’s this upscale take on the In-n-Out classic burger. Tell us if we’re wrong.

Take in the Street Art

San Diego has some truly unique awe-inspiring street art pieces, from the culturally significant Chicano Park murals to the quirky Space Invaders scavenger hunt.

Chicano Park
#16
Chicano Park

Chicano Park

Chicano Park, San Diego, CA 92113

A Night in Gaslamp

A historic district with charming-enough architecture, Gaslamp is home to plenty of SD eateries, shops and nightlife. It’s wedged in between Petco Park (home to the Padres) and the convention center (home to convention goers). It can also be touristy as hell. Brace and enjoy.

Gaslamp
#17
Gaslamp

Gaslamp Quarter

Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego, CA, USA