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The 20 Best Things to do in Downtown San Diego

Balboa Park

Downtown San Diego is a thriving town that offers its visitors a myriad of options for cultural sights, accommodation, dining, and activities. The beauty of the activities available is that they are very accessible since they are close to one another. Whether you are an adrenaline junkie or an ardent shopper, you will discover that Downtown San Diego has everything for everyone. Let’s have a look at some of the best things to do in Downtown San Diego.

Maritime Museum of San Diego Ships

20. Maritime Museum of San Diego Ships

The Maritime Museum of San Diego ships was established in 1948 and is located on the San Diego Bay. Here, you can enjoy a self-guided walking tour that will take you back in time. The halls of this historical fleet of ships tell stories of San Diego, especially at the time it was a Military town. There are indoor exhibits and various galleries on the deck. You will also come close to landmark vessels that carry national history, including sailing ships, submarines, and steam-powered ships.

Board the Ferry to Coronado Island

19. Board the Ferry to Coronado Island

Plan a quick getaway to Coronado Island while on your next visit to Downtown San Diego. The ferry departs from two locations; the Convention Center and Broadway Pier. Enjoy a smooth and breathtaking ride to Coronado Island, where you will find a waterfront marketplace ready to be explored. Here, you’ll be able to stroll through over 25 unique restaurants and shops. Aside from that, you can also explore the rest of the island by signing up for some cool activities. You can either enjoy the beach, go tide pooling or even learn to surf and paddleboard. Other activities available on the island include golf carting, beach bonfires, and art popups at the park.

Sunset Cliffs

18. Sunset Cliffs

Visit the affluent coastal community of Sam Diego that’s located on the North of Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. It’s surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the ocean beach on the West and North. These cliffs offer one of the best views of the ocean, especially during Sunset. You can also find cliffside trails with the perfect routes for a hike.

Tuna Harbor Dockside Market

17. Stroll through Tuna Harbor Dockside Market

Get fresh fish, shrimp, or other seafood from the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market. These items have been freshly and locally sourced by fishermen. The Market opens every Saturday and is located on 598 Harbor Lane.

Cabrillo National Monument

16. Cabrillo National Monument

There’s nothing better than experiencing San Diego by starting at the Cabrillo National Movement. It is located on the Southern tip of Point Loma. The park is home to a number of natural and cultural resources. The Monument is open daily and charges no entry fee. The monument holds the history of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and how he landed on the 28th of September, 1542. There is also a museum that provides visitors with information on local wildlife.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

15. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Torrey Pines State Natural reserve is one of the widest stretches of land in Southern California. Here, you can discover and witness the stunning views while hiking up one of the many trails on the overlook or just sit and unwind in the peaceful reserve. It is located in the La Jolla community, off North Torrey Pines Road.

Museum of Contemporary Art

14. Museum of Contemporary Art

Visit the Museum of Contemporary art located in the heart of San Diego, right between B St and Broadway, 1100 and 1001 Kettner Blvd. The Museum is a one-minute walk from the Santa Fe Depot. The museum site reflects on the energy and vibrance of San Diego. Here, you can enjoy ever-changing exhibitions on contemporary art from talented artists from all around the world. It’s situated in a historic environment within the former railway station baggage building. The art showcased at the museum is picked from a catalog of 4,700 pieces. These art pieces date back to the 1950s and provide the audience with a rich background in history and culture. You can get here by boarding a trolley at either the Santa Fe Depot station or the America Plaza.

San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

13. San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

You cannot afford to miss out on the great outdoors while in Downtown San Diego. Explore the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park located in the San Pasqual Valley area. You can find it next to Balboa Park. The park features wildlife, safaris, and various adventurous activities that you can try out with family or friends. If you are traveling with kids, be sure to drop them off at the Conservation Carousel, which features 60 ride elements that educate the public about rare and endangered wildlife. You can enjoy a safari expedition experience on an Africa Tram and interact closely with animals. That’s not all; adrenaline junkies will love the balloon safari that takes the guest’s experience to the next level. You’ll be able to soar across the safari park while enjoying breathtaking views of San Diego.

Visit the USS Midway Museum

12. Visit the USS Midway Museum

Take a walk through the USS Midway Museum and enjoy various planes and aircraft educational tours. According to Travel U.S. News, the USS Midway was once an aircraft carrier back in the 20th century. This carrier space got its name from the climactic battle in Midway in June 1942. The ship on-site showcases an extensive collection of aircraft for you to discover more about. Located at the Navy pier, the museum opens its doors to interested visitors daily apart from Christmas and Thanksgiving. The nearest landmark to the museum is the Maritime Museum. You will see and learn so much history about the Military and their service.

Sea World San Diego

11. Sea World San Diego

Sea World San Diego offers an interactive experience for a reasonable price. Here, you can visit the amusement Park, the zoo, or the aquarium, depending on your interest. The animals available at Sea World include; dolphins, California otters, California Sea lions, and sea turtles, among others. You can also enjoy an exciting ride on the Manta Ray roller coaster. If you don’t mind getting wet while at it, try the Journey to Atlantis or Shipwreck Rapids. The park also has animal exhibits such as underwater sharks that can be viewed through a tunnel, penguin habitat, which has around 300 penguins, or the beluga whales and polar bears exhibit on the vast wild arctic ride.

Shop and Dine in Little Italy

10. Shop and Dine in Little Italy

Little Italy is an interesting and friendly neighborhood in San Diego, California. It consists of a number of Italian restaurants and wine shops. You will also find art galleries, exquisite boutique hotels, patio cafés as well as craft brew stops. Here you’ll notice the ambiance of a past and present fusion of chef alums and old school eateries. There is also a true Italian market where you can get a souvenir to remind you of your trip to Downtown San Diego. Enjoy a nice stroll down the heart of little Italy known as Piazza Della Famiglia. This Piazza is dedicated to the past, present, and future occupants of Little Italy. Take some time to browse through the various boutiques to find handmade local items and fashion. You can also shop for fresh produce, flowers, and ready-made foods.

Views at Portside Pier

9. Views at Portside Pier

Culinary fanatics will love Portside Pier, the best waterfront dining in Downtown Sandiego. Here you can sample a variety of meals, including Mexican flavored dishes, seafood, gelato, pub fare, and coffee. The best touch? According to Portside Pier, the Pier has a breathtaking 360 degrees of San Diego Bay. The pier consists of 4 signature restaurants; Brigantine on the Bay, Miguel’s Cocina, and Ketch Grill & Taps restaurants, for you to choose from. It is located at 1360 North Harbour Drive, nestling right within the Embarcadero of San Diego. You can find it between Broadway and Ash Street. This multi-restaurant waterfront venue is the perfect location for an afternoon date.

Children’s Pool Beach

8. Children’s Pool Beach

Visit the Children’s pool beach located at 850 coastal Boulevard right at the end of Jenner Street and enjoy a fun-filled day on the sandy beaches. Children’s pool beach’s history dates back to 1931, when a concrete breakwater was constructed. This was a community project courtesy of a local philanthropist, Ellen Browning Scripps. Here, children can play and swim without worrying about the dangers of tidal waves. The beach is also a wonderful place to spot and watch harbor sea lions and seals. You can also enjoy taking a walk across the railed walkway that provides a 360-degree view of La Jolla and the Pacific Ocean.

Seaport Village and The Headquarters

7. Seaport Village and The Headquarters

Shopping fanatics can take a day to stroll the streets of Seaport Village, after which they can spend some time at the open market at The Headquarters. Located in the Seaport district, the two spots blend classic architecture, rich history, and exciting dining options. It features one of the most exclusive collections of shops and world-class restaurants that you will love. Seaport Village is a 14-acre waterfront shopping destination that opened back in 1980. The Headquarters is located in Seaport Village, making it a better choice for a day tour. Whatever you need in Downtown San Diego, you can be sure that you’ll get it here.

Hop on a San Diego SEAL Bay Cruise

6. Hop on a San Diego SEAL Bay Cruise

Would you like to see the water from a different view? Then this is the perfect plan for you. San Diego has a variety of cruise companies that offer tours. This way, you will be a part of water excursions and activities such as champagne cruises, speed boats, and thrill rides, among others. The San Diego Seal tour begins from Seaport Village and runs for around 90 minutes. The tour takes 30 minutes on land, where you’ll learn about San Diego’s history as a military town. After that, the tour will proceed for another 60 minutes at sea, where you’ll be able to spot various birds and sea lions.

Waterfront Park

5. Waterfront Park

Have a mighty splash at The Waterfront Park, located on the Pacific Highway and surrounds the San Diego Administration Center. You can find it across North Harbor Drive from San Diego Bay. This waterfront space features a historic landscape and landmark County building at the center and an interactive splash fountain for which kids are head over heels. The park also offers intimate garden rooms, several picnic areas, and a cool children’s playing zone.

Gaslamp Quarter

4. Gaslamp Quarter

Explore the culture of Downtown San Diego by visiting Gaslamp Quarter, a lively neighborhood that is praised and loved for its nightlife scene. Here you’ll find several dive bars, clubs, and Cocktail lounges. You may also want to take a step into Spreckels and Balboa Theatres for some drama, comedy, or music shows. You’ll also find a number of restaurant options for you to choose from. Don’t forget to grab an ice cream and sit at the interactive fountain on your way out.

Tour the Central Library

3. Tour the Central Library

Located in the Downtown East Village is the San Diego Central Library that seeks to connect the diverse community in San Diego. The library offers free educational and cultural resources to interested learners. The central library was constructed in 2010 by San Diego architect Rob Quigley. The design of the 9-story library is breathtaking, while the inside houses many books and collections, such as the second largest collection of baseball memorabilia in the U.S.

Walk the Embarcadero

2. Walk the Embarcadero

Located in Seaport Village is The scenic Embarcadero, a busy cruise ship hub that offers shopping and dining options to its visitors. Here, you’ll also find seafood spots and souvenir shops selling unique handmade crafts. The waterfront area has a myriad of options for you to choose from, not forgetting the stunning views and pacific vibes. You can also hop on tours around the area or decide to go on an adventure in the water.

Balboa Park

1. Balboa Park

Balboa Park is one of San Diego’s greatest attraction sites. The park prides itself on a collection of 17 museums and cultural institutions that store rich and diverse historical information and exhibits. Here you will learn about the history of San Diego, the culture of the people, and the historical narrative of flights, automobiles, and trains. That’s not all; you will also get to discover how the old masters operated. The world-famous San Diego Zoo, alongside garden galore, is also at this park. Balboa Park is located in the Mission Terrace neighborhood.

Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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