The San Diego must-see list is nearly as long as the gorgeous coastline gracing this Southern California destination. From Carlsbad to Coronado, this sunny gem quite literally has it all—pristine sandy waterfronts and epic waves, ample natural beauty, world-class museums, and theme parks galore.
You can pack a lot of San Diego County attractions into a few full days or stay a while and take your time exploring. Either way, you won't have to worry about the weather. There's a strong probability of sunny, warm perfection the whole time you're there.
Simplify your planning and add these 15 fun things to do in San Diego to your itinerary.
No. 15: Sesame Place San Diego
Why it's a San Diego Must-See: It's the first-ever West Coast theme park where you can visit Elmo, Big Bird, and all your favorite fuzzy pals in a full-scale, interactive replica of Sesame Street.
The famous neighborhood from the award-winning children's TV program is brought to life at Sesame Place San Diego, a 17-acre park in Chula Vista. The family attraction features more than a dozen Sesame Street–themed rides, a giant wave pool, live shows, and interactive play areas for all ages. It's also designated a Certified Autism Center that offers sensory guides to help guests with special needs enjoy the park.
You won't want to miss tubing through the giant whirling water slide dubbed “Cookie Monster's Mixer,” the kid-friendly roller coaster, the daily production of “Welcome to Our Street,” or the Sesame Street Party Parade, where you can meet your favorite characters.
It's the second park of its kind in the U.S.—the original is outside of Philadelphia.
No. 14: Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Why it's a San Diego Must-See: It’s home to 1,500 acres of gorgeous, rugged coastline, perfect for hiking, exploring, and taking Instagram-worthy shots of the Pacific Ocean.
Named for the Torrey pine, a rare and endangered species of tree native to San Diego County, this state park offers a range of options for outdoor enthusiasts. Desert landscapes of sagebrush, a five-mile beach, and miles of hiking trails that wind along ragged cliffs and through epic sandstone canyons.
Want some tips on must-see trails? For less experienced hikers, the highly accessible Discovery Trail is a great option. It's only 0.13 miles along a stunning coastal bluff. For a slightly longer journey, try the Broken Hill Trail. It's about 2.5 miles and features epic panoramas of the Pacific Ocean.
Discover more of the Best Hikes in San Diego County.
No. 13: La Jolla Cove
Why it's a San Diego Must-See: It’s an ecologically protected deep water bay that's surrounded by sandstone sea caves. It offers visitors two very special opportunities in particular: up-close views of sunbathing sea lions and great snorkeling. (Note: Visitors are strongly advised to keep their distance from the sea lions.)
If the La Jolla coastline is known as the “Jewel of San Diego,” then it's more than fair to say that La Jolla Cove is the jewel of that jewel. There are two ways to get to it—walk down the stone stairs from Ellen Browning Scripps Park on the bluffs above, or kayak in.
Once you've arrived, you'll find a small beach where you could spend hours watching sea lions frolic and play. You can also clamber through a bootlegger's tunnel to a secret sea cave, go on a kayak tour, or dive in for a snorkel to see if you can spot leopard sharks or California’s state fish, the bright orange Garibaldi.
No. 12: SeaWorld San Diego
Why it's a San Diego Must-See: There's no substitute for a trip to the original SeaWorld theme park, where dolphins, sea turtles, and other marine dwellers will capture your heart and roller coasters will deliver thrills.
SeaWorld San Diego is a zoo, an aquarium, a theme park, and a research facility all wrapped into one 200-acre property in Mission Bay. It's home to thousands of sea creatures, from majestic sea turtles and gentle manta rays to intimidating sharks and impressively large beluga whales.
Check out the touch pools in Explorer's Reef and pet a horseshoe crab. Get your thrills on the newest roller coaster, the Emperor, which can reach speeds up to 60 mph. And don't forget to take in some of the park's iconic shows, where you can witness the aerial talents of high-flying bottlenose dolphins or laugh at the adorably comedic antics of otters and sea lions.
For more tips, check out 5 Amazing Things to Do at SeaWorld San Diego.
No. 11: Little Italy
Why it's a San Diego Must-See: Spanning 48 square blocks, the neighborhood boasts of being the largest “Little Italy” in the United States
Home to top restaurants, craft breweries, boutique shopping, and a large farmers’ market, San Diego’s Little Italy is a mix of rich cultural experiences and a thriving culinary scene. Italian immigrants settled here in the 1920s and the community’s heritage can still be spotted at places such as the bocce courts at Amici Park, the hand-painted frescoes at Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church, and the European-style Little Italy Mercato farmers’ market.
Head to Kettner Boulevard to check out some of Little Italy’s—and San Diego’s—best restaurants. You’ll fine fluffy soufflé pancakes and a rosy pink interior at Morning Glory, a Michelin Bib Gourmand–awarded breakfast spot. For dinner, order rustic wood-fired Mediterranean dishes at Brian Malarkey’s Herb & Wood or sample from the seasonal, artful menu at Juniper & Ivy. For a quick bite from celebrity chef Richard Blais, try the fried chicken and egg dishes at the original Crack Shack. For drinks, you can’t beat the craft cocktails and rooftop ambiance at Kettner Exchange.
No. 10: Petco Park
Why it's a San Diego Must-See: USA Today has ranked Petco Park the “best stadium in baseball” for several years, including 2022.
The San Diego Padres' home stadium is located in the heart of downtown San Diego, where baseball fans can enjoy a game (or three) amid a cosmopolitan backdrop of high rises and a wealth of bars and restaurants.
Be sure to check out Gallagher Square while you're there, too. It's a 2.7-acre patch of green space just off center field where you can spread out a blanket with a picnic basket and watch the game. On off days, it's a public park with a small baseball diamond and lush green fields.
No. 9: Gaslamp Quarter
Why it's a San Diego Must-See: It's one of city's most iconic and historic districts, and the center of its hip nightlife.
Whether you're visiting during the day or night, the 16-block Gaslamp Quarter has a charming Victorian-era quality about it. Its roots go back to the 1800s when San Diego was a prominent merchant district.
By day, the Gaslamp Quarter a good place to stroll, peruse an array of boutiques and souvenir shops, and enjoy lunch on an outdoor cafe patio. By night, the vibe shifts slightly–rooftop bars and clubs come alive and beckon those who want to enjoy the city's best nightlife scene. Once a year, you might see some colorful cosplayers walking about on their way to and from Comic-Con at the San Diego Convention Center.
No. 8: North Park
North Park is a hipster's dream destination. This edgy, lively neighborhood has a reputation for amazing beer and cocktails. You won't want to skip Modern Times' North Park Flavordome or Mike Hess Brewing Company. It's also a culinary hotspot, playing host to summer camp–themed restaurant One Door North and two of the city's most popular taco shops: City Tacos and Lucha Libre.
It's not all about food and drinks either. Shop for secondhand novels at Verbatim Books or colorful succulents and design-savvy gifts at Pigment. End your night with a show at The Observatory North Park, which hosts big-name music artists and maintains much of the original charm from its heyday in the mid-20th century. For more neighborhood highlights, check out a local’s favorite spots.
No. 7: Coronado Island
Why it's a San Diego Must-See: Sparkling white-sand beaches and old Hollywood charm make Coronado a quintessential SoCal experience.
You can drive or take a ferry to this postcard-perfect paradise situated just across San Diego Bay from downtown. Coronado's timeless vibe has drawn celebrities for more than a century. Between its beaches, water sports, restaurants, posh lodgings, and the shops and galleries that line its beach boardwalk, its perfect for both a family day trip or a relaxing weekend getaway.
You'll want to visit the beach while you're there. Plop down in the sand with the famous Hotel del Coronado in the backdrop. The hotel, which is more than a hundred years old, is a National Historic Landmark and has played host to everyone from Marilyn Monroe (Some Like It Hot was filmed there) to U.S. presidents, foreign dignitaries, and socialites. It has some fascinating history, including a few alluring ghost stories.
No. 6: LEGOLAND California
Why it's a San Diego Must-See: This Carlsbad theme park is “bricktastic” fun for the whole family.
LEGOLAND California is quite literally made of LEGO bricks. Sixty million of them, to be exact, all expertly locked together by certified “master builders” to form 30,000 LEGO models in the shape of everything from your favorite Star Wars characters to a mini version of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The park's rides and attractions are primarily focused on younger kids (the under-12 set), but older children and adults will find a lot to love too. You won't want to miss a wander through Miniland USA to admire the intricately detailed replicas of major cities (and denizen minifigures going about their tiny business) or taking a submarine ride to spot underwater LEGO treasure on the Deep Sea Adventure.
No. 5: USS Midway Museum
Why it's a San Diego Must-See: Board the longest-serving 20th-century American aircraft carrier.
From the flight and hangar decks to the engine room, the USS Midway offers an impressive look at what life was like on this historic “floating city.” It's a rare experience too—it's one of very few U.S. military installations open to the public.
The Midway is massive—three football fields long—and weighs 70,000 tons. Take a self-guided audio tour, channel Top Gun pilot Maverick in a flight simulator, and get up close to 30 restored aircraft, including some that flew during World War II and Operation Desert Storm.
No. 4: Liberty Public Market
Why it's a San Diego Must-See: Visitors and locals agree that it's one of the most delicious places to go in San Diego.
More than 30 independent artisans and food-and-beverage vendors compose Liberty Public Market in Point Loma. Located in Liberty Station, the market is housed inside a converted former naval training facility.
From a classic San Diego fish taco to fried-oyster po-boys, empanadas drenched in chimichurri sauce, squid ink pasta, artisanal cheeses, and French crème puffs, the market shows off San Diego's culinary diversity. Insider tip: Sample some local craft brews, wines, and cocktails as you stroll through—if you visit during happy hour, some vendors feature a food or drink special.
No. 3: Mission Beach
Why it's a San Diego Must-See: With a retro amusement park, a sprawling boardwalk, and a vast stretch of sand, Mission Bay is a truly classic California beach experience.
Mission Beach lies on a two-block-wide peninsula that's bordered on one side by the Pacific Ocean and on the other by the calm waters of Mission Bay. The boardwalk runs nearly two miles along the length of the beach, and a leisurely stroll or bike ride will connect you to everything Mission Beach has to offer.
Rent a kayak or surfboard to enjoy the SoCal waves, park yourself on a blanket at the beach to catch some rays, or stop at the famous beachfront Belmont Park to ride the Giant Dipper, an iconic roller coaster built in 1925, or any of the amusement park's classic carnival rides.
No. 2: San Diego Zoo
Why it's a San Diego Must-See: This iconic zoo is a world-class destination to see and learn about rare and endangered species.
Spread across 100 acres of Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo is your chance to meet more than 12,000 animals who live and play in a variety of natural enclosures. You'll encounter some familiar creatures—lions, penguins, koalas, monkeys, and even polar bears—and you will likely meet some you've never even heard of, like the mongoose-like fossa, the prancing klipspringer, and the gold-colored takin. And, of course, don't miss an opportunity to spot the majestic California condor.
You'll do a lot of walking here, but if you're in need of a break, hop on one of the many Kangaroo buses that traverse the park.
For details about some of the zoo’s offerings, check out Special Experiences at the San Diego Zoo. If you have more time for animal encounters, drive 35 miles northeast to Escondido to see wildlife at the expansive 1,800 acre San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
No. 1: Balboa Park
Why it's a San Diego Must-See: Known as the “Smithsonian of the West,” this urban park is literally a world unto itself.
If you could only choose one thing to do in San Diego, it should be a visit to Balboa Park. You can cross off several items on your San Diego must-see list just by coming here. The 1,200-acre park packs in 16 world-class museums, 65 miles of trails, botanical gardens, great dining, and the San Diego Zoo.
During a day in Balboa Park, you can learn about the history of flight at the San Diego Air & Space Museum. Ascend the almost 200-foot California Tower for great views of the surrounding neighborhoods. Wander through the Japanese Friendship Garden, dedicated to the sisterhood between San Diego and Yokohama, Japan. And if you're in town at the right time, catch the Shakespeare Festival at the Old Globe Theatre.
For more tips, check out How to Hack Balboa Park.
Checking out the sights on this San Diego must-see list will guarantee you a memorable experience during your visit to America's Finest City. But there's even more to love about this SoCal metro area—check out these amazing things to do in San Diego and this guide to the city’s hidden gems for more.