San Diego is one of my favourite cities. It has great weather, great scenery and a relaxing vibe that makes for a great vacation. The typical visit to San Diego usually involves a visit to the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park and attractions like the USS Midway located in the downtown area. Besides seeing downtown San Diego attractions what are the best things to do, and best places to visit in the San Diego area? San Diego has a number of classic southern California beaches like Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, and La Jolla that combine fantastic beaches with unique activities like stand up paddle boarding, seal watching, snorkelling, farmers markets, cycling and beach boardwalks. In addition, a twenty minute drive north from downtown will take you to jaw dropping hiking and scenery of Torrey Pines State Reserve.
There is so much to see and do in San Diego! This One Week San Diego Away from the Crowds Itinerary was built to let you explore all the hidden beauty of the San Diego area.
Day 1 – Stay in Mission Bay
Ok you’ve arrived in San Diego. Where should you stay? Most of the big hotels are downtown and accommodate large business conferences. I like to avoid that area. One of my favourite areas to stay is Mission Bay. Mission Bay is nicely located in the middle of a number of great things to see and do in the San Diego area. Mission Beach is just a few blocks away. Both Mission Bay and Mission Beach have a large number of vacation rental properties. You can find most of these on homeway.com. Alternatively, if you are more of a hotel person you could try the Catamaran Resort Hotel, which gets great reviewe on TripAdvisor.
If you want a relaxing afternoon on your first day, take a stroll along the Mission Beach boardwalk and grab dinner at one of the numerous restaurants along the boardwalk or on Mission Blvd.
Day 2 – Jaw Dropping Scenery and Hiking at Torrey Pines State Reserve
Let’s go north for a great day of hiking and some beach time at Torrey Pines State Reserve. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is home to approximately 3,000 of our nation’s rarest pine tree—Pinus Torreyana, which only grows here and on Santa Rosa Island off the coast near Santa Barbara. The park preserves not only the trees, but also one of the last great salt marshes and waterfowl refuges in Southern California. Eight miles of hiking trails offer a variety of distances and different experiences. If you’re looking for an easy hike, the Guy Fleming Trail is a 0.7 mile loop in the park and affords stunning ocean views. It offers two differing experiences: on the North Overlook you can inspect the Torrey Pines up close and view the Peñasquitos Marsh, while the South Overlook features views of La Jolla to the south, San Clemente to the north and perhaps as far out to sea as the Santa Catalina Islands. Spring rains bring abundant wildflowers, and in winter, views of gray whales migrating up and down the coastline.
After getting some exercise you can head over to Torrey Pine State Beach, a beautiful wild stretch of beach right next to the Park.
Day 3 – The Beauty of La Jolla
Today’s the day to visit the dramatic coastline and popular beaches of La Jolla. Surrounded on three sides by the sea and backed by the steep slopes of Mt. Soledad, La Jolla’s natural beauty, abundance of activities and upscale village lifestyle ensure that it lives up to its nickname as “the jewel” of San Diego.
Check out La Jolla Cove, a small beach that is flanked by rocky points on both sides where sea lions and birds hang out. The combination of wildlife and beach as well as easy entry into the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park near the sea caves makes this a must-visit. If tides are low, small tide pools reveal themselves here, too.
If on a family vacation in La Jolla, definitely visit the kid-friendly public exploration center for Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. The Birch Aquarium is a fun visit for a few hours to see the over 60 habitats of fishes and invertebrates from the Pacific Northwest to Mexico and beyond.
Day 4 – Downtown San Diego Attractions
Ok today is the day to do the touristy San Diego things. Spend the day at the San Diego Zoo, or at beautiful Balboa Park where there 17 fantastic museums and cultural institutions to visit:
Day 5 – Ocean Beach for Classic Southern California Vibes
If it’s Wednesday, it’s time to stroll the Ocean Beach Farmer’s Market. Ocean Beach is a small beach town which is a favorite among locals who spend their days surfing, sunbathing around the pier, hanging out in their vintage VW vans, and strolling through the many surf shops, taco stands and antique malls. Ocean Beach has a throw-back groovy vibe of vintage SoCal, coupled with friendly locals, great dining and micro brews, and a vibrant nightlife scene. Come for lunch, walk around the downtown area and then at 4 PM head to the Farmers Market. Here you’ll find fresh produce, tasty ready to eat meals, unique homemade arts and crafts, and live music to help set the tone for a fun and exciting evening out.
Day 6 – Ride the Coaster Train along the Spectacular San Diego Coast
Ride the Coaster train to Encinitas! The Coaster train links San Diego to Oceanside via a number of stops along the coast. Not only do you get where you want to go, but you can enjoy the beautiful coastal scenery at the same time. The Coaster makes a number of daily trips and you can buy a ticket and board at one of the San Diego stations like the Old Town Transportation Center. The Coaster makes a stop at the quaint town of Encinitas (takes about 40 minutes from San Diego). Recently named among the 20 best surf towns in the world by National Geographic, Encinitas wears its surf history proudly. The city’s eclectic downtown has long drawn surfers and hippies with its unique and dynamic blend of San Diego’s top surf shops, coffeehouses and record stores, not to mention the beaches in Encinitas are coveted by locals as hidden gems. Once you get off the train in Encinitas, everything is within walking distance. Stroll the shops along Hwy 101, have lunch at one of the seafood restaurants, and spend some time at one of Encinitas’ great beaches. Later in the afternoon take the train back home.
Day 7 – Explore the Mission Beach Pathways
It’s a sad day! The last day of the 7 day San Diego itinerary. If you have time before your flight, rent a bike or grab one of the ubiquitous scooter rentals (like Bird) and take a cruise around the Mission Bay path. If you’re looking for a longer bike ride continue all the way to Fiesta Island, take a ride around the island and then head back. Stop off for a picnic lunch at Crown Point park which can be reached via the Mission Bay path.
If you have more time and want to spend more time cycling, check out the Best Cycling Routes in San Diego.
Tip – To quickly find more details on San Diego attractions, see the clickable attractions on our California map