Things to do in San Diego, CA

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Discover the Best Activities in San Diego, CA

The natives call it “America’s Finest City,” and visitors pulling into this picturesque port will soon understand why. In a state where every other town has staked its claim as paradise, San Diego may be Southern California’s best return on the promises of the Golden State. Year-round sunny weather makes for abundant gardens, inviting beaches, friendly smiles, and a vibrant city that is simultaneously cosmopolitan and chill.

Top Things to Do in San Diego, CA

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Get to Know San Diego, CA

Your one stop resource for where to go, what to see, and how to make the most of your stay.
Produced in partnership with Let's Go! Travel Guides.

Get Oriented

San Diego is beautiful, but it’s also a city of freeways and highways—there’s no avoiding them. I-5 runs north-south, skirting the eastern edge of downtown on its way to the Mexican border. I-15 runs northeast through the desert to Las Vegas, and I-8 runs east-west along downtown’s northern boundary, connecting the desert with Ocean Beach. To get to downtown from I-5, take the Civic Center exit or Fourth Avenue exit. Downtown is just south of the freeway, and its grid layout is easy to navigate—one-way streets alternate every block.

The epicenter of San Diego tourism is Balboa Park. Northwest of the park is stylish Hillcrest, which centers on Fifth Ave. and University Blvd. It’s the city’s gay enclave and has great shopping and the most diverse restaurants in the city. The Gaslamp Quarter sits in the southern section of downtown between Fourth and Sixth St. and contains signature theaters, restaurants, and nightclubs. Just north of downtown in the southeast corner of the I-5 and I-8 junction lies a little slice of old Mexico known as Old Town. Along the coast, San Diego Bay opens up south of downtown, bounded by classy Coronado Island.Northwest of town sits the collection of shiny beaches and man-made inlets known as Mission Bay, home to several laid-back, sun-soaked communities including Ocean, Mission, and Pacific Beaches. A Jaunt up the coast leads to the swanky haven of La Jolla.

Parking lots scattered throughout the downtown area charge, although some are cheaper than others. The cheapest lot downtown can be found between Sixth Ave. and Seventh Ave. on Market St. For those who plan to shop, parking at Horton Plaza, San Diego’s gigantic outdoor mall at Broadway and Fourth Ave., is free with validation in one of the mall’s stores (3hr. max.). Balboa Park has numerous parking lots, and from there you can take the free narrated park tram around to all the museums.

See & Do

What to do in San Diego

San Diego’s world-class attractions are extremely varied, and there are enough of them to keep any traveler engaged. Beaches, zoos, museums, parks, gardens – the possibilities really are endless in this spot of sunshine.

Top Attractions in San Diego

Don’t let the beaches distract you from everything else San Diego as to offer. Here are our favorite spots in San Diego. Click the links to explore and book tours or local guides.

Arts & Culture


Nightlife in San Diego is scattered across distinct pockets of action. Posh locals and party-seeking tourists flock to the Gaslamp Quarter. The Hillcrest, next to Balboa Park, draws a young, largely gay crowd to its clubs and eateries. Away from downtown, the beach areas (especially Garnet Avenue inPacific Beach) are loaded with clubs, bars, and cheap eateries.

Customs & Etiquette

Table manners

In the US, good table manners means quiet eating. Loud chewing, talking with food in your mouth, or slurping are seen as rude, and burping or flatulence is not seen as complementary to the chef. Servers at sitdown restaurants usually expect to be tipped 15-20%.

Public behavior

Dress in the US tends to be more modest than in Europe. Toplessness, particularly in women, should be avoided. Many establishments will require a customer to wear a shirt and shoes. The most acceptable forms of public affection are hugging and holding hands; kissing in public will usually draw some glances. Although most cities are tolerant of homosexuality, gay or lesbian couples should be aware that they may receive unwanted attention for public displays of affection, especially in rural areas. Also, note that many American will say “see you later” without really intending to make future plans.


One of the most offensive gestures in the US is extending your middle finger at someone. Known as “giving someone the finger,” this gesture is considered not only rude, but obscene. On the other hand, a “thumbs up” gesture is a sign of approval and a widely recognized signal for hitchhiking, which Let’s Go does not recommend.

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