Our San Diego travel tips cover everything — where to stay, where to eat, best things to do, what to pack, and more!
San Diego is a vacationer’s paradise with near-perfect temperatures and a laid back vibe that will leave you wanting more. When most people visit San Diego for the first time, they tend to stick to the downtown area, but you haven’t seen the real San Diego until you get out and explore the coast!
Table of Contents
San Diego Travel Tips
Where to Eat in San Diego
George’s at the Cove in La Jolla
George’s is great for either lunch or dinner and has one of the best beach views in all of La Jolla. If you come on a weekend, you must make reservations! George’s Famous Soup — a hearty, cream-based soup with smoked chicken, broccoli and black beans — is one of my favorite items on the menu.
Beach Break Cafe in Oceanside
Beach Break is great for breakfast if you are staying on the coast in north county. It’s diner-style food with friendly service. Make sure to try their famous coffee cake!
Public House in La Jolla
Public House has an extensive beer menu, which includes some of my favorite Belgian beers and almost any other type of beer you could imagine. This place is just off the main strip, so it has more of a local vibe to it.
Uptown Tavern in Hillcrest
The thing that appealed to us initially about Uptown Tavern in Hillcrest was the Chicken and Waffles on the menu, but we had no idea we would love this place so much. Their brunch menu offers menu items like meatloaf and eggs, chicken fried steak benedict, and five different types of unique waffle dishes — including their famous chicken and waffles.
Gaslamp Strip Club
No, it’s not that type of strip club. This place is a personal favorite mostly because it’s so unique. Not everyone will love it here because you actually have to cook your own steak — but we think that is part of the charm. Come during happy hour for half off appetizers and, of course, specials on alcoholic drinks. This is a fun place to come with friends.
Bull Taco in Cardiff
If you ask any San Diegan about their favorite hole-in-the-wall Mexican food restaurant, you will probably get a different answer from each person. My favorite places tend to be near where I live, so this is another personal favorite. BUT… you really can’t go wrong with many of the Taquerias in San Diego.
Bull Taco is known for their delicious lobster tacos and the amazing open-air seating overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Read more: 20 Best Restaurants in Encinitas
Things to Do in San Diego
Sunset Sailing on San Diego Bay
There are multiple options for sailing adventures in San Diego. This sunset sailing experience on San Diego Bay offers a small group tour (capped at 6 people). and includes the best sunset view from the water! The best part is that you don’t have to rent the whole boat, so even if you are traveling solo, you can experience San Diego on the water.
Sunset Picnic at Windansea in La Jolla
After my aerial tour of San Diego, I’ve fallen in love with Windansea Beach. It’s located at 6800 Neptune Place in La Jolla. Just make sure to give yourself enough time to find parking. Pack a blanket and picnic for the ultimate experience!
Relax at The Spa at Torrey Pines
The Spa at Torrey Pines is located in La Jolla and overlooks the Pacific Ocean. All treatments include a day pass to the spa’s facilities: outdoor pool and jacuzzi, lockers, showers, sauna, steam room, and a relaxation area with a fireplace. Their prices are reasonable for the area and I’m always impressed with their massage therapists.
Tandem Hang Gliding at Torrey Pines Gliderport
One of my favorite things to do as a local is watch the pilots flying off the cliffs in Torrey Pines. Scott and I tried hang gliding once and it was one of the most peaceful experiences of our lives. You’ll be safe with an experienced pilot doing all the work and all you have to do is enjoy the view!
Wine Tasting in Temecula
For a unique and luxurious experience that many people miss while visiting San Diego, you can rent a luxury vacation home with friends and explore the local wineries in Temecula Valley wine country. Most of the wineries are open daily for visitors from 10am to 5pm.
Where to Stay in San Diego
Kona Kai Resort on Shelter Island
We stayed at Kona Kai Resort for one of our San Diego staycations and absolutely loved this place. It’s not near the prettiest beaches in San Diego, but the view of the harbor, the private beach that allows bonfires, and the location make up for it.
This is a great place to stay if you want to avoid renting a car since you can easily Uber from the airport to Kona Kai and there are plenty of restaurants within walking distance. I recommended this place to my sister and her husband when they visited for their anniversary and they can’t stop raving about it.
Hotel Del Coronado
The Hotel Del Coronado is a San Diego classic. With cute beachy shops and restaurants within walking distance to the hotel and a gorgeous white sand beach right out front, this hotel has everything you need for the perfect SoCal vacation.
In downtown East Village, Hotel Solamar is perfect for travelers looking to stay right in the city. It’s luxury on a budget and within walking distance to some of the best restaurants and nightlife in San Diego.
La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla
You can’t come to San Diego without visiting La Jolla. Known as the Jewel City, La Jolla is home to some of San Diego’s prettiest beaches as well as the world famous La Jolla sea caves. La Valencia Hotel is vintage coastal luxury with a stunning ocean view. Check out their bed and breakfast package if you are looking for the most bang for your buck.
Transportation in San Diego
The public transportation in San Diego is pretty much non existent, so unless you plan on only visiting downtown, you’ll need to rent a car. The train (Coaster) basically caters to the 9-5 crowd, so don’t expect to use it for late night drinking. Uber is always a good idea. That’s how we get around after we’ve had a few drinks.
Packing Essentials for San Diego
Beach Bag/Cooler: This insulated tote bag doubles as a beach bag AND a cooler. Perfect for those beach days.
Photo Equipment – I highly recommend bringing a GoPro for underwater photos and water activities — especially if you are headed to La Jolla (and a selfie stick!). (See our complete travel camera buying guide here.)
Rash Guard – I recommend bringing a long-sleeve rash guard — even in the summer. It protects you from the sun when snorkeling/surfing and provides a little warmth if the water is chilly.
Snorkel Equipment – If you plan on doing any snorkeling in La Jolla, you’ll save money by bringing your own and you won’t be stuck with old equipment. This mask and fins set won’t take up too much room in your suitcase.
Reusable Water Bottle – Refilling your water bottle not only saves money, but it’s so much better for the environment! We use this CamelBak water bottle at home, but if you want something more compact, this collapsible water bottle is perfect for travel days and hiking.