California San Diego Top things to do in downtown San Diego
Arial photo of San Diego's Downtown coastline

Top things to do in downtown San Diego


With historic Spanish-influenced architecture standing in contrast to the sleek and modern high rises, San Diego offers so much more than just sunny beaches. From a lively dining and nightlife scene to an array of performing arts venues to explore, the vibrant downtown area has something for everyone. If you’re planning a trip to this sunny southern California city, check out our top picks for things to do in Downtown San Diego.

1. Visit the Gaslamp Quarter

Gaslamp Quarter sign in downtown San Diego

The well-known Gaslamp Quarter San Diego is nestled in the heart of Downtown. As the city’s nightlife hub, the streets here are awash in restaurants, bars and night clubs, shopping, and plenty of entertainment. Food options range from casual taco shops to glitzy gastro pubs, and for a night out on the town, you’ll find live music, comedy clubs, rooftop bars, and low-key dives. No matter what you’re in the mood for, the Gaslamp Quarter delivers.

Can’t decide what to do? For a fun night out to some of the best Downtown San Diego bars, we recommend a Gaslamp pub crawl. Hungry? Eater’s list of the best restaurants in Gaslamp includes Italian, seafood, bar bites, and sweet treats. Grab a bite, shop for souvenirs, and enjoy the hustle and bustle of this popular San Diego attraction.

2. Peruse the Museum of Contemporary Art

Exterior entrance to Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

Credit: Db9023 on Wikimedia Commons

Looking to add a museum or two to your San Diego sightseeing itinerary? Check out the current exhibitions at MCASD Downtown. Showcasing contemporary art since 1950, the Downtown San Diego location includes rotating installations by internationally recognized artists, family-friendly workshops, field trips, and after-hour events.

MCASD Downtown is located at 1100 Kettner Boulevard (between Broadway and B Street). It’s open daily from 11am-5pm (closed Wednesday).

3. Explore Balboa Park

Gardens and trees at Balboa Park

Ming-yen Hsu on Flickr

Take a break from the fast-paced city life to explore the 1,200 acres of lush beauty and recreational attractions at Balboa Park San Diego. Home to 16 museums, the San Diego Zoo, performing arts venues, and plenty of winding walking trails, you’d never guess this natural playground is located so close to the busy streets of Downtown.

Need some activity ideas for your San Diego sightseeing? Explore the gardens and attractions as you zip along the trails on a Balboa Park private segway tour. For a slower-paced excursion that allows more time to linger, consider a private tour of Balboa Park that offers an up-close look at the architecture, museums, gardens, and hidden gems located throughout the grounds.

4. Catch a show at Balboa Theatre

Nighttime view of Balboa Theatre in San Diego

Eugene Kim on Flickr

This historic, 1,339-seat theater in Downtown San Diego has been in business since 1976 and is dedicated to supporting the city’s performing arts community. With over 40 years of performances under its belt, Balboa Theatre is a part of Broadway San Diego, which has hosted blockbuster shows including Les Misérables, Disney’s The Lion King, Miss Saigon, and more.

Interested in catching a performance? Check out the theater’s upcoming events schedule. Balboa Theatre is located at 868 Fourth Avenue at E Street.

5. Visit Seaport Village and the Maritime Museum

Wooden building over water in San Diego

Credit: cultivar413 on Flickr

San Diego is known for its sunny weather and gorgeous waterfront, and Seaport Village is the perfect way to experience the city’s outdoor lifestyle. Head to this scenic area of Downtown to peruse the local shops, grab a bite at one of the unique eateries, or simply take a walk as you soak up the California sunshine.

For more activity ideas in Seaport Village, grab tickets to the Maritime Museum and spend the day exploring the collection of historic vessels, including the B-39 Soviet submarine and the HMS Surprise. Marine-loving little ones will also love San Diego’s seal tour. A local guide will narrate as you cruise along in an amphibious vehicle for an up-close look at the resident seals. No matter what you’re looking for, this area of Downtown San Diego has something for all ages and interests.

You don’t need to venture far to find adventure in this city — there’s plenty of things to do in Downtown San Diego to pass the time. Looking for more things to do in San Diego? PlacePass has unique excursions and experiences for all ages, so everyone can enjoy all that San Diego has to offer. Traveling with kids? Check out our tips for things to do in San Diego with kids. Or, read our top recommendations for things to do in San Diego at night.

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