Summer is here and vacation season is in full-swing! San Diego is one of our very most popular vacation destinations year round. Because of its seriously perfect climate, I always want to go during winter to escape from the cold AND during summer to escape the heat! Amazing beaches, world-class attractions, an active professional sports scene, top notch shopping and dining make it the perfect vacation destination for really… everyone. Since there are endless activities and entertainment options, it can be a little overwhelming to plan what you’re going to do during your San Diego vacation.
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Here is my list of 10 things to do on your San Diego vacation:
1. SeaWorld San Diego
No visit to San Diego is complete without a visit to SeaWorld! Interactive exhibits put you and your family nose-to-nose with dolphins, seals, manatees, sea turtles, Shamu, and more of his undersea friends. I also love the shows, which rotate depending on the time of year you visit. I always make sure to see whatever Shamu show is playing and I love the Pets Rule! show. SeaWorld also offers some attractions to keep you cool during summer months like Journey to Atlantis and Shipwreck Rapids. Plus, Manta, an exciting roller coaster that winds over the park, opened this summer.
2. San Diego Zoo
When you go to the San Diego Zoo, it’s easy to see why it’s World-Famous. Over 800 exotic species call the zoo home and it is one of only a small handful of Zoos in the entire country that have giant pandas. The last few times I’ve gone, I’ve been lucky enough to see a baby panda – and there isn’t anything cuter!
Located about 30 minutes outside of downtown San Diego is the Safari Park, which is a sister park to the San Diego Zoo. Here animals roam free in a savanna-like atmosphere. When you go to the park, you select your safari. The basic safari is the Africa Tram Safari, which takes you on a tram ride into untamed savannas where you’ll spot giraffes, antelope, zebras, rhinoceroses—all in their natural habitat. The Cheetah Run is also a super cool experience where you watch the world’s fastest mammal reach top speeds. Other unique safari upgrades include a zip line, photo caravan, and behind-the-scenes options (available when you get to the Safari Park).
4. LEGOLAND® California:
LEGOLAND® is the ultimate destination for young travelers. Most of the 60+ attractions are geared for younger tykes where the whole family can make memories together, but there are a few (like BIONICLE Blaster and LEGO TECHNIC Coaster) that older kids will love. Many of the rides that tend to get long lines offer a LEGO play area where the kids can hang out while parents stand in line. The LEGOLAND Water Park (open seasonally) is the only LEGO themed water park in the world, and is hugely popular. As an adult, there aren’t any thrilling rides, but the LEGO displays are amazing and definitely worth the trip. My favorite is the Miniland USA, but the Star Wars Miniland and life-size LEGO creations throughout the park are equally engaging. One thing to keep in mind while planning is that LEGOLAND is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the slower season, but it’s open every day during the summer months.
It’s one thing to see the water in San Diego, and it’s another thing entirely to be on the water in San Diego. Many harbor cruise options offer a new perspective of some of San Diego’s favorite sights, like the USS Midway, Harbor and Shelter Islands, Cabrillo National Monument, the Coronado Bridge, and Point Loma. Most of the standard harbor tours offer one or two hour options, so you can pick the best one for your family. Or, for a totally different experience, I recommend the Speed Boat Adventure. This was one of the highlights of my last San Diego trip. Because you’re in your own two person (or three small people) speedboat, you can get so close to everything. I loved seeing the USS Midway from this perspective. Although you’re in your own speedboat, you follow your tour guide “baby duck style” through the bay. It was so much fun, but because you’re so close to the water, I recommend a jacket no matter the time of year to keep you warm and dry.
I love this tour and no matter how many times I’ve been to San Diego, I like to start with it my first day to re-familiarize myself with the city. These entertaining and informative tours stop at historical Old Town, Seaport Village, Balboa Park, and other top San Diego sites. You can get on and off at your leisure so you can explore the city’s highlights at your own pace. Once you’re done at a stop, just head to the trolley stop and hop on the next trolley. While you’re seeing the sites, your tour guide tells you all sorts of fun (and sometimes funny) information about San Diego.
You can’t go to San Diego and not go to the beach. I personally love Mission Beach, Coronado Beach, and La Jolla—all for different reasons. When I want a true beach experience, I’ll stay at a hotel that is on the bay. The Paradise Point Resort & Spa, the Hilton San Diego Resort, and the Catamaran Resort Hotel are some of my favorite waterfront hotels.
8. Balboa Park
There is always something great going on at Balboa Park, which just happens to be the nation’s largest urban cultural park. They offer a free concert series (normally three times a week) during the summer at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, as well as free Sunday Organ Concerts year round. Stunning botanical gardens (a desert garden, Japanese garden, rose garden, etc.) are all free, and there are 17 awesome museums (most require separate admission, but the Timken Museum is always free). The San Diego Zoo is actually located in the middle of Balboa Park, so if you’re planning a day at the zoo, you may want to reserve another few hours for exploring here as well.
9. Eat Well
Eating out is a huge part of my vacation enjoyment. San Diego has so many delicious restaurants to choose from, so don’t settle for anything “chain-y.” That’s not to say I don’t go to any chain restaurants, but I try to never go to a restaurant that I can easily go to when I’m home. Anthony’s Fish Grotto is really fun (a little touristy) and right on the Harbor. For a truly unique experience (especially if you thought the movie Nacho Libre was funny), I recommend Lucha Libre. It is hilarious and delicious. My husband and I shared a Surfin’ California burrito with steak, shrimp, French fries, avocado, pico de gallo, cheese, a super-secret chipotle sauce. If you call ahead (and I would call well ahead of time), you can reserve the Champion’s Booth, where you’ll be served your fresh Mex on a golden platter and drink your Coke out of a goblet, while those around you are eating and drinking from paper products on a cafeteria tray. Also, if you (or your kids) come wearing a lucha mask, you’ll get the Luchadore discount.
10. Catch a Game!
Being married to a huge baseball and football fan, we always try to catch a game no matter what city we’re in. The San Diego Padres have one of the most gorgeous stadiums in the country and the Chargers of course call San Diego home as well. If watching sports isn’t your thing, there are tons of beautiful golf courses and plenty of outdoor activities throughout San Diego as well. It really is the perfect place to play!
There really is something for everyone in San Diego. I’m not sure if these tips helped narrow some things down or added even more to your list, but either way, you’re sure to have a great time when visiting San Diego. Remember, Get Away Today will get you the best deal on your San Diego vacation. All of our agents visit San Diego on an annual basis and have plenty of hotel and attraction recommendations for every budget as well. We’d love to help you out!Check out these posts for lots of tips and tricks for your Disneyland vacation. For more ideas for your San Diego Vacation, check out this post: October is Kids Free Month in San Diego.