The Ultimate San Diego Itinerary
What to do and where to eat over the course of six days.
**Not affiliate related, but I’ve been asked SO many times for my San Diego travel itinerary since I’ve been back. Figured I’d just publish it in a public place and hopefully it can help someone else! It’s my Substack…I can write about anything, right?**
The only airplane travel my son has experienced in his 6 years of life is going back and forth from South Florida to New Jersey, and that was just up until he turned 3. That’s how old he was when we moved back up to New Jersey. Soon after, COVID happened and well…you all know the rest.
So for Shane’s spring break this year, we decided to take a trip that would couple travel with adventure. We settled on San Diego because the weather is great and there’s a ton of different types of things to do. I’m a pretty insane itinerary-creator (surprise!), so I thought I’d share my creation in hopes of it helping someone with their planning.
I used Google Maps to create a personalized map and color coded it by the days we’d be there. So Sunday has one color, Monday another, and so on. Click here to see/copy/use the map.
Planes, Hotels, and Automobiles
Fly into San Diego International Airport (3225 N Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101) and definitely make sure you’ve made arrangements to rent a car. We used CostcoTravel because not only do they have awesome prices, but you’re pretty much just reserving the car, so you can continue shopping around up until the last day. No cancellation fees. It’s great!
We stayed at Bahia Resort Hotel in Mission Beach (998 W Mission Bay Dr, San Diego, CA 92109). The reason we chose this hotel is because of the suite-style room. It had a kitchen space complete with a mini fridge and a sink, which was essential for us, since we opted to make/pack lunches on days we were on adventures. There was also a bedroom with two queen beds, so Alex (my husband) and I also figured that Shane would go to bed and we’d stay out and hang in the living room. That didn’t end up happening because we were so tired each day we all kind of went to bed at the same time.
In theory, the hotel was great: had a place to have breakfast in the morning and also had an on-the-go option, beachfront (but was too cold), bikes and boats to rent (we did both), and being on the bay was great for morning walks and peeping into other people’s vacation homes. (What? You don’t do that??) They have a pool, a playground, and a tennis court as well. All in all, a really nice property. Unfortunately, the rooms could really use some updating, but we didn’t really spend that much time in there so this didn’t really bother us.
After a boat ride around the bay c/o Bahia Resort, take a drive to La Jolla to Children’s Pool (834 Coast Blvd S, La Jolla, CA 92037). Here, you can walk up and down the coast and visit different food and artisan vendors. La Jolla also has a really cute downtown/main street area with bunch of shops and restaurant options. But the real draw here are the seals that gather and lounge out on the beach. There’s a walkway pier you can go out on and basically stand in the middle of the ocean. It feels very cool and you’ll definitely get a good family photo here.
When you’re all sealed-out, get back in your car and make your way north. If you have the time in the day (we didn’t) and are interested (we weren’t), there’s Birch Aquarium just 10 minutes north of where you are now at Children’s Pool. Instead, we went to Torrey Pines Gliderport (2800 Torrey Pines Scenic Dr, La Jolla, CA 92037). Here, you can watch people quite literally jump off a cliff and hang glide. It’s actually quite therapeutic and very cool to see. For around $200, you can go out with a professional and join in on the hang gliding fun. There are also people there flying little airplanes as well. We spent about an hour here before making our way to Torrey Pines State Reserve (12600 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, CA 92037). This was probably one of the best hikes I’ve been on. We lucked out with a parking spot by the water and just walking along the beach itself with ridiculously gorgeous views on the way to the trail was serene. Once we got into the Reserve itself, we hiked Guy Flemming Trail. Our second hike was going to be the Razor Trail, but we ran out of time. Guy Flemming is perfect for beginners. There are two really nice photo opps where the Pacific Ocean meets the beautiful cliffs and generally the views just take your breath away.
Head over to San Diego Zoo (2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101) and be prepared to spend the entire day here. We did and we still didn’t see all the zoo has to offer. Can you imagine? If you want to plan ahead, download the app or click here for a map of the park. Here’s a tip: end with Basecamp, a play area for kids. Shane finally got to play after a day of walking around and we got to relax a little bit. Tip #2: There are places to eat at the zoo, but my dietary restrictions and desire to eat healthy whenever possible had me packing a lunch for the fam. We use an insulated backpack similar to this one and (surprise!) used it as a carry on for the plane, where I packed us dinner for the trip there. Remember the mini fridge in our hotel? That’s where the ice pack lived.
We spent a majority of our day in Downtown San Diego. I did a bunch of initial research here since there are many different sections of downtown. We went to Seaport Village and our first stop was USS Midway (910 N Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101), which pleasantly surprised me. While I love all-things history, I wasn’t sure I’d feel the same big hyped-up feelings most get about visiting a naval aircraft carrier museum. But, it was definitely an awesome and a must-do! Exploring the whole ship took about three hours. There’s a little program for kids that’s sort of like a scavenger hunt of facts. In the end, if all questions are answered correctly, kids win pilot wings. Not too far away from there is the Maritime Museum and quite frankly, walking around Seaport Village itself is just a really nice experience.
Afterwards, we went to the Gaslamp section of downtown to try a restaurant called Meze Greek Fusion. I’m not sure if they had an off day, but I would never recommend this place. The service was awful, the food was overpriced and not good. Simply put, we had a bad experience. You know I always keep it real. Skip this spot.
We made our way over to Pacific Beach and walked along the boardwalk and made our way out to a really long (scary?) pier here. Shane wanted to play in the sand, so we settled on a spot to leave our shoes and just played and had a blast! We stayed so long that we were able to watch the incredible sunset right on the beach. One thing you can’t take away from California is the incredible sunsets. It’s really like nothing I’ve seen before.
Another day for animals, but a far different and maybe even (?) a much cooler experience: San Diego Safari Park (15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd, Escondido, CA 92027). Again, here’s a map if you want to plan. Though the safari is a bit of a drive outside of San Diego, it is really well worth it. The animals are different from those you’d see at the zoo and the landscape is beautiful and serene. You walk through the safari park as if you’re actually living with all the animals (whereas a zoo is very sectioned and caged). Fun fact: The safari has the only living Platypus in the United States. They’re all over in Australia otherwise. Pretty cool!
It was while I was at the zoo that I got an email from a one miss Marie Gillcrist from Katalyst PR. It was completely unexpected, but because she saw my Instagram stories and works with some clients in town, she offered our family some options of things to do and places to eat. It’s truly thanks to her that many of the rest of my recommendations are here.
After the park, you must 100000% drive to Herb & Sea (131 W D St, Encinitas, CA 92024), a restaurant in Encinitas. It’s a 30 minute drive west and I highly recommend taking the scenic/non-highway route. You’ll see beautiful driving scapes complete with beautiful homes, ranches, and mountains covered in greenery. Herb & Sea is/was by far one of the best dining experiences we’ve ever had. The waiter (a kind gentlemen named Jess) was so passionate about the menu, that every dish he described sounded better than the next. I cannot recommend this place enough.
On this day, we drove out to Coronado Island (where I now want to live), and rented bikes from Wheel Fun Rentals (1019 C Avenue Coronado CA, 92118). They have a ton of options and are super easy to work with. The island is not super big, but it’s also not that small. You’ll ride along beautiful white sand beaches, people’s homes (my favorite thing to look at), a very active navy base, and great paths/boardwalk right along the bay. Every view and section of the island is better than the next and I really could have spent all day here just biking in and out of streets. The main road, Orange Ave, is known for all the shops and restaurants, but you cannot bike there, so be mindful of that when you’re planning your day. Right next to the bike place is Nado Gelato (1017 C Ave, Coronado, CA 92118), so we ended our time on Coronado Island at this insanely delicious spot. It’s definitely a MUST.
Though we could have spent more time biking around this beautiful place, we had things to do and places to be (many thanks to the Katalyst team!). We made our way back to Mission Beach and spent the rest of the day at the supremely awesome Belmont Park (3146 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109). Here, Shane went on a ton of a rides, and we did a ropes course, rock climbed, and mini-golfed. Belmont Park also boasts a huge roller coaster (Shane was too young), a pool, arcades, and places to eat and drink. Basically, it’s like a boardwalk and an amusement park folded into one. We had a GREAT time here. It’s open until 9pm, so after dinner, we came back and Shane did a few more rock climbs.
Speaking of dinner: OH.MY.GOODNESS. We went to Cannonball (3105 Ocean Front Walk, San Diego, CA 92109) and had a SICK table on the rooftop that looked right onto the ocean. Their sushi menu was second to none (seriously, so so so good) and they had live music playing as well. We timed the dinner perfectly and got to watch the sunset towards the end of our meal. It was really a great end to a great day!
On our last day, we planned to spend it all at Balboa Park. When I was doing research for this trip, this “Balboa Park” was written about everywhere. The way people described it was basically a bunch of museums and things to do all in one big, huge place. Hmmm…okay. I’ve been to many museums and I couldn’t picture what it would be like to have MOMA-sized buildings all in one spot. Once we got there, it made sense. The area is really really big, but the museums are not as big as you imagine them to be.
Before you head over, make a plan of what you want to see and do. We opted for the San Diego Air and Space Museum, San Diego Automotive Museum, San Diego Model Railroad Museum, Museum of Natural History, and ended with the Japanese Friendship Museum. We walked all around and enjoyed a magic performance on the promenade, too. Honestly, there’s a ton to do there and it’s definitely a full day’s worth. There’s a pretty great playground in the area as well, and it became a common theme to let Shane play on any playground we saw, so …. we did that before heading off to dinner. We dined at the sister property to Herb & Sea (my fave restaurant, remember?) called Herb & Wood but we were not impressed. Wouldn’t recommend going there. The ambiance is really wonderful, but the dining experience wasn’t as great as Herb & Sea. Maybe my expectations were too high!
There’s definitely enough to see and do in San Diego to fill up a whole week. We didn’t even go on any of the amusement parks like LEGOLAND or Sesame Street (mainly because we’ve already been over on this coast). If you have a shorter time frame that you’re working with, you can pick and choose the above activities and consolidate days. For example, if you’re not necessarily into going to Belmont Park, you can split your day of USS Midway with the Coronado Island. The activities here can be like a game of Tetris for you. Except, of course, when you opt for the zoo or safari. You definitely need a full day for each.
And DON’T YOU DARE forget to go to Herb and Sea!
Have questions? Always here!