Spending the weekend in San Diego and wondering what to do? Discover where to eat, what to see, and where to stay with this San Diego itinerary!
San Diego has been a favorite weekend getaway for Jake and me for quite some time. The weather is always sunny and warm, the airport is less than 10 minutes from downtown, the restaurant and coffee shop scene is a solid 10, and there are several side trips nearby to escape the city.
If you’re planning a weekend in San Diego and are in need of a San Diego itinerary, you’ve come to right place. Discover must-visit San Diego sights, where to eat, best side trips, and my top tips and tricks to make your trip a success.
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GETTING TO SAN DIEGO
San Diego is one of the easiest cities to fly into. The airport is located right in the city center and is 10 minutes from downtown San Diego. This means cheap Ubers to and from and the airport. If you choose to rent a car, which I don’t recommend (more on that below), you'll have to take a shuttle to the rental car center.
Parking in San Diego – Why you shouldn’t get a rental car
Parking is terrible in San Diego. If you’re staying in downtown San Diego, definitely skip the rental car. If you're staying outside downtown where your hotel offers free (or cheap) parking, that may be a different story.
Hotels downtown charge a minimum of $50 per night to park your car. You could park at a nearby garage or lot for $20-$25 per night, but there are no in and out privileges.
The street parking is all metered, the majority with 2-hour time limits. Sundays and most holidays are free but the hassle of finding an open spot, having to go back and pay every 2 hours on a Friday or Saturday and all the time wasted driving around and walking to wherever you found a spot just isn’t worth the rental car. What you think would be a convenience quickly becomes a burden.
Downtown is fairly compact and walkable. Of course, that depends on where you stay, in which I recommend around Little Italy. Ubers are cheap (San Diego has shared Ubers which helps lower the cost) and scooters like Lime are all over the city.
This makes skipping the rental car a no brainer. It will be cheaper in the end to use Uber. Trust me…I’ve done the math. And that includes day trips to La Jolla AND Del Mar. You'll also save precious time skipping the rental car counter and trying to find parking.
The coffee shop scene in San Diego/La Jolla is on point
SAN DIEGO COFFEE SHOP GUIDE | TOP 5 SAN DIEGO CAFES
TOP 5 COFFEE SHOPS IN LA JOLLA, CALIFORNIA
Where to stay in San Diego
Since you only have a weekend in San Diego, you need to make sure you're centrally located. If you’re staying in downtown San Diego, I highly recommend sticking to the Little Italy area.
Some of the best restaurants, San Diego coffee shops, and bars are within walking distance. You are also close to Balboa Park and Waterfront Park. The best outdoor market in San Diego is also in Little Italy.
One of my favorite hotels to stay at is Hotel Republic. It’s part of the Autograph Collection by Marriott, which means free breakfast/club lounge access for members with platinum status or higher. The design is sleek and beyond Instagrammable and the location is just 2 blocks outside of Little Italy.
If you want less of the downtown feel, you could always opt to stay in La Jolla and do a day trip to downtown San Diego instead of the other way around. La Valencia and The Grand Colonial are two of the best hotels in La Jolla. La Jolla is a great base as it’s between downtown and Del Mar.
If you’re looking for a romantic getaway and willing to spend some extra cash on a posh stay, look at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar. It’s less convenient in terms of location. La Jolla is 20 minutes north of downtown and the Fairmont Grand Del Mar is a further 30 minutes. Still doable to make trips to downtown and La Jolla but what you gain in staying at one of the best resorts in San Diego with the best pool, you lose in added car time. If you stay here, I would recommend a rental car as there is nothing within walking distance.
The Best time to visit San Diego
San Diego sees temperatures in the 60s and 70s year-round. July through November are the best months to visit to San Diego. April is nice as well.
May and June have a reputation for being overcast, hence the naming of Gray May and June Gloom. Winter and early spring sees the most rain, but it still beats the weather elsewhere in the US. Just keep in mind that prices will be high during the peak of summer.
SEE THE BEST TIME TO VISIT SAN DIEGO | A MONTH BY MONTH GUIDE for more details
Now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, let’s get into the good stuff; your San Diego itinerary listing where to eat and what to do for a weekend in San Diego.
Day 1 San Diego Itinerary
Saturday is the day to spend in downtown San Diego. You’ll find plenty to keep you busy between the outdoor market, Balboa park, and hopping between restaurants and cafes.
Morning walk or jog - begin your weekend in San Diego with a healthy start! Enjoy the morning breeze and go for a walk or jog along N Embarcadero. It’s a car free, paved walkway along the waterfront that will take you past some of the top sights.
You’ll see several historic vessels like the Star of India; the oldest ship that still sails regularly, the USS Midway Museum; located in a giant aircraft carrier, and the “Embracing Peace Statue”.
Continue South along the walkway to see Seaport Village; a cute shopping village, and the North and South Embarcadero Marinas filled with millionaire yachts.
Get that extra burn by running up the steps of the convention center (over 100…I counted) and you’ll be rewarded with wonderful views of Coronado Island and the Coronado Bridge.
Coffee break - stop at my favorite San Diego coffee shop; Lofty Coffee Co. The open-air concept and large patio fit perfectly with the SoCal vibe. Be sure to order the made from scratch cinnamon rolls (only offered on weekends) and try the Nola iced coffee.
See my San Diego coffee shop guide – TOP 5 San Diego cafes to read more.
Outdoor market - once you’ve finished your morning latte, walk 2 mins to reach the best market in San Diego, Little Italy Mercado. It’s open Saturdays from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm and has over 200 tents of produce, flowers, local crafts, and street food.
Brunch - if you didn't fill up on snacks from the market, head to Queenstown Public House.
Balboa Park – this 1,200 acre park has enough to keep you busy for the entire weekend. You could spend the rest of the afternoon at the San Diego Zoo, have a picnic surrounded by the many gardens, ride a bike and admire the Spanish architecture found throughout the park, or just pick an area to walk around to get a quick escape from the city.
There are also 17 museums, a botanical garden, and many garden trails. This itinerary gives you a 60-90 minute highlights tour of the park. Definitely stop by the Alcazar gardens, one of the most picturesque spots.
Coronado Island – if you didn’t spend your entire afternoon at the park, grab an Uber to Coronado Island. I recommend visiting Coronado Beach over Mission Beach and Pacific Beach.
Coronado is calmer both water and crowd wise. It’s 1.5 mile stretch of sandy shoreline is also cleaner. There are plenty of bathroom and shower facilities at the beach and you’ll also get to admire the historic Hotel del Coronado and gorgeous mansions dotted along Ocean Boulevard. Stay for sunset if you can.
Dinner – head back to Little Italy for some solid restaurant options. Some of my favorites are Barbusa, Civico 1845, and Juniper and Ivy. If you're looking for the best sushi in San Diego and don't mind venturing back towards Balboa park (just a few blocks from Little Italy) head to Azuki Sushi. Make reservations in advance.
If you decide to eat at Azuki, switch Balboa park and Coronado Island on your itinerary.
Drinks – end the night at one of the top rooftop bars in Little Italy; the Kettner Exchange. If you want to go bar hopping, head over to the Gaslamp Quarter. It’s filled with bars and clubs.
Day 2 of your weekend in San Diego
A weekend in San Diego is not complete without a trip to La Jolla. Day 2 of your San Diego itinerary will focus on exploring both Del Mar and La Jolla.
Morning jog or walk – hit up my favorite beach in the area, Del Mar. The 2 mile stretch of shoreline is perfect for a morning workout.
Coffee and brunch – head to La Jolla and take a moment to relax at one of the many cute La Jolla coffee shops. One of my favorites is Elixir Espresso Bar.
See my post on the best coffee shops in La Jolla for more information.
If you want something a bit more substantial, The Cottage is a very popular brunch spot. The wait can sometimes be long at The Cottage. Go across the street to Sugar & Scribe for an alternative.
Explore La Jolla – take your time wandering and shopping around La Jolla Village. Walk along the bluffs overlooking the ocean and watch the sea lions at La Jolla Cove. Shop along Prospect and the streets connecting to Prospect. You’ll find plenty of boutiques and art galleries.
If you want to do more than just stroll you can snorkel or do a kayak tour that takes you into the La Jolla Sea Caves.
To see the inside of one of the sea caves without getting in the water, you have one option. There's an entrance to the Sunny Jim Sea Cave at the Cave Store. For $5 you can climb through an old smugglers tunnel into the sea cave. It’s worth the $5 and 15 minutes it takes out of your day if you’ve never been in a sea cave before.
Stop by La Jolla Cove before dinner. It’s a great spot to watch the sun set unless you would rather enjoy a sunset paired with cocktails.
Check out these kayak and snorkel tours:
Sunset cocktails – a weekend in San Diego is not complete without at least one night of sunset cocktails in La Jolla. The most popular spot is George’s. Head up to the aptly named Level2 bar. Another solid option is right next door at Eddie V’s. They also have some great happy hour prices from 4:00-7:00 every day.
Dinner – end your night in La Jolla at my favorite restaurant, La Catania. It’s coastal Italian, has a marvelous rooftop with great views overlooking the city and skyline, and is the perfect ambience for your last dinner in SoCal. My favorite menu items are the duck sugo orecchiette pasta, peach prosciutto bruschetta, and the nutella semi freddo.
Thinking of extending your weekend in San Diego? Consider golfing or hiking Torrey Pines. You could also stretch this weekend guide to a 3 or 4 day San Diego itinerary by slowing down and spending more time relaxing at the beaches.
I hope this guide helps plan your weekend in San Diego. With this San Diego itinerary you’ll get a taste of not just downtown San Diego but also La Jolla Village, Coronado Island, and Del Mar. Now when you return, you'll know which area you gravitate towards and where to spend more time for your next San Diego weekend getaway.
Now that you have your weekend in San Diego planned, it's time to book your tours and activities!
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