See San Diego in 3 Days
San Diego reinvents the city vacation. Instead of the tall buildings and bustling sidewalks that come to mind when imagining a metropolitan area, you’ll discover beaches, coves, sunset cruises, cultural meccas, and ships dating back to the 19th century.
San Diego is known as the birthplace of California, so there’s much to see when you visit. In an average year, the city gets 146 days of sunshine, meaning you can enjoy the warm weather outdoors. To see the most celebrated attractions in the city, it’s best to go in with a plan. From historic towns to glittering beaches and family-forward fun, here’s an itinerary to experience San Diego in just three days:
DAY 1: HISTORIC SAN DIEGO
To truly get to the heart of a destination, you need to start with its history. Old Town San Diego, founded in 1769, offers a glimpse into the living legacy of California’s first settlement. Rich history programs at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park in the center of town showcase the early Mexican-American period, where you can read a newspaper from the 19th century or watch skilled trades at the blacksmith and woodworking shops. While in Old Town, wander through adobe ranch homes, shop at the Bazaar del Mundo, or stop by the Junípero Serra Museum, which is recognized as the site where California began.
After exploring Old Town, head downtown to experience more of the city’s history. Along the waterfront, the Maritime Museum of San Diego houses the Star of India, a full-rigged windjammer ship originally built in 1863 — the oldest active ship in the world. Here, you can experience history firsthand when you walk onto vessels, complemented with fun facts from a guide. Nearby, the USS Midway® Museum, a historic naval aircraft carrier, offers more than 60 exhibits and nearly 30 restored aircrafts, many of which were originally built in Southern California.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, spend the evening in the historic Gaslamp Quarter, a lively downtown neighborhood known for its nightlife. Named for the gas-lamp streetlights that line 16 walkable blocks, the Gaslamp Quarter encompasses nearly 100 historical buildings. This area is a mecca for the city’s culinary experiences, complete with plentiful options for alfresco dining, craft cocktails, and dishes prepared by celebrity chefs.
The Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego
DAY 2: BEACHES AND BOATS
Year-round moderate temperatures in San Diego make it the ideal destination to enjoy the outdoors. Watch the mica-rich sand glitter under the sun on Coronado Beach, which runs along Ocean Boulevard, complete with a backdrop of homes and mansions. Surfing, paddleboarding, and sunbathing are all popular water activities, though the Orange Avenue shops and Hotel del Coronado are worth seeing before heading to your next excursion. Built in 1888, this wooden Victorian beach resort is reminiscent of Old Hollywood. Marilyn Monroe’s “Some Like It Hot” was filmed at the hotel, and today it’s a National Historic Landmark filled with photos of the building’s legendary past.
More water-forward activities await at La Jolla Cove, a picturesque cove and beach set along scenic cliffs. It’s protected as part of a marine reserve — the 6,000-acre La Jolla Underwater Park — and is the perfect adventure for those who love snorkeling and scuba diving. Here, you’ll find wildlife, such as giant sea bass, barracuda, sea kelp, orange garibaldi, seals, and more. You may even spot a sea turtle or have a chance to swim with leopard sharks.
As you wind down after a day of adventure, you can still enjoy more time on the water. San Diego Bay is popular for cruises, from culinary excursions to educational experiences for the whole family.
DAY 3: FAMILY FUN
Traveling with the whole family? The San Diego Zoo® is a must. Housing more than 3,500 animals across more than 800 species, this day-long excursion gives kids an up-close look at lively monkeys, lazy koalas, and endangered wild cats.
Just a few minutes from the zoo lies Balboa Park, a historic urban cultural park spanning 1,200 acres. If you’re not too tired from a day with wildlife, this park is a great place to learn and ignite wonder. Home to more than 16 museums, gardens, trails, and performing arts venues, Balboa Park offers something for every traveler. Want to soak up the sunshine? You’ll also find opportunities for tennis, cycling, golf, FootGolf, frisbee golf, dance classes, and more.
Your San Diego itinerary is incomplete without sampling a fish taco. Though the SoCal delicacy originated in Baja, California, the trend quickly made its way to San Diego. Just a few minutes from Balboa Park, you can order a fish taco from Kiko’s Place Seafood, a mobile eatery famous for its San-Felipe-style seafood specialties. For the best variety of fish tacos, head to Fish Shop, where you can choose from eight varieties of fish, including a fresh catch. Want to dine with views? Tin Fish, south of downtown, offers unobstructed views of the ocean on Imperial Beach.
Where to Stay
Make Marriott Vacation Club Pulse®, San Diego, your home base from which to explore the city. Located downtown near the Gaslamp Quarter and Balboa Park, you’ll be able to experience some of San Diego’s most celebrated attractions just outside your doors.
Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corporation (“MVW”) and its affiliates and subsidiaries, make no warranty, express or implied, as to the condition, capacity, performance, or any other aspect of the activities, events, or services provided by third-party vendors.