In the last few years, we made multiple short trips to the southernmost corner of California, spending from 1 to 2 days in San Diego. Every time, the city offered something new and unveiled previously not seen treasures. Never once, we felt bored and uninspired to spend a few more days or the whole weekend in the dreamy city of San Diego.
Weekend Guide to San Diego: How to Spend 1 to 2 Days in the City
One might think that such a large city as San Diego needs more than 1 or 2 days. I completely agree with it. With a myriad of historic structures, dozens impeccable beaches, and some of the largest attractions in California, San Diego keeps the visitors occupied for days.
Unfortunately, we never had the luxury of spending more than 2 days in San Diego at a time. Yet using all resources on hand, we managed to explore its most popular and hidden gems. After these short endeavors, we are more than convinced that you can see quite a lot even during 1 or 2 days in this southern paradise.
Your day trips to San Diego, however, might be busy, especially during the first visit. On the other hand, you can plan your 1 or 2 days in San Diego in such a way that you enjoy every moment of your trip without feeling overwhelmed by the variety of things to see and do here.
One more advice before we jump into this weekend guide to San Diego, make a plan and allocate specific amount of time for one activity. If you fall behind, change your itinerary as you go. You should enjoy your 1 or 2 days in San Diego rather than feel stressed and worn out.
Weekend (1 to 2 Days) in San Diego Itinerary
In this Weekend Guide to San Diego, we have included 1 and 2 days itinerary suggestions. Both of these guides help see some of the highlights of the city as well as estimate the time you need for each attraction. Furthermore, we have offered alternative 1 to 2 days San Diego itineraries to provide different options and ideas for all of our readers. While most places fit just fine with some travelers, visitors with kids might want to slow down and spend the whole day in the San Diego Zoo or SeaWorld San Diego.
Feel free to use these 1 to 2 days San Diego itineraries as they are or change them according to your preferences. To make it even easier, we have included maps for each day. Again, use them as guidelines to see what is located close to your points of interests and explore them first before moving to other neighborhoods of San Diego.
While the majority of our trips to San Diego happened on weekends, we realized that some people might want to visit the city during the week. With less crowds around, you’ll surely save time otherwise spent waiting in lines and end up enjoying this coastal paradise even more. Therefore, freely adjust these 1 and 2 days San Diego itineraries to suit your schedule and interests.
Why do You Need to Plan Your Weekend Trip to San Diego?
My husband opposes any kinds of itineraries. “Why do you need to plan your weekend (or 1 or 2 days) in San Diego?” is his usual reply. “Get to the city, follow the signs, and see what suits your interests.” In other words, he thinks that we should go with the flow.
I don’t object. Everybody has the right to plan or not plan their San Diego weekend itineraries. Yet from our earliest trips, I learned that a plan, even the simplest one, helps tremendously. It comes in handy most of the time, especially when you have only a couple of days to explore a new destination.
Thus, going back to our weekend San Diego itinerary, I believe that you should always plan your trip. The city is enormous. Figuring out what to see and where to go on the spot will rob you of time. Furthermore, some of the popular landmarks of the city are located in the different neighborhoods. You don’t want to rush from one place to another just to realize later on that you missed the site you really wanted to see.
When spending 1 or 2 days in San Diego, time is clearly not on your side. Utilize it to make the most of your short, in most cases, weekend trip to the city.
1 to 2 Days in San Diego: Is It Enough?
Ideally, you need at least 3 to 5 days in San Diego to see different sides of the city. The second largest city in California is packed with a myriad of unique attractions. While some of the activities can take less than an hour, the others such as SeaWorld San Diego and the San Diego Zoo often need the whole day. Thus, you can spend a month in this part of Southern California and still not see it all.
The time, however, is not always abundant. For those who have only 1 or 2 days to spend in San Diego, please make the most of your time. The city caters for different interests and availabilities. You should probably shorten your visit to some attractions, while skipping the others altogether. But even a short weekend trip to San Diego promises an array of unforgettable experiences and a gnawing desire to come back for more.
1 TO 2 DAYS IN SAN DIEGO ITINERARY IDEAS
Now it’s about time to dive into our weekend guide to San Diego. Check out the following 1 and 2 days San Diego itinerary suggestions to plan your own trip.
Weekend Itinerary: How to Spend 1 Day in San Diego
Giving the size and historic and cultural heritage of the place, 1 day in San Diego can be packed to the brim. We tried to see way too many sites during our first visit until the city showed that it was impossible. Succumbing to the wishes of our host, we lightened our itinerary and truly enjoyed the rest of the trip.
Exploring the most popular areas of San Diego in one day is still possible if you rush from one place to another. Ticking all the boxes, however, is not worth your time. So try to relish your day in San Diego even if it means skipping some popular, but time-consuming attractions.
1 Day in San Diego: Morning
Start your day in San Diego with a Harbor Cruise. Running off the harbor in the city center, it’s the best way to pack a lot in such a short time. The tours include both south and north directions, showcasing the city, its impeccable buildings, oceanfront areas, and local marine mammals.
The rides usually last one or two hours. We opted for a two-hours tour and marveled at how south San Diego differs from its northern part. The second hour costs just a few dollars more and might be the best way to explore the greater area of the city for less money. For those who long for different kinds of activities, one hour is sufficient. I’d recommend, though, opting for the southern route as it gives a glimpse at massive ships and urban section of San Diego.
Once you get a visual overview of the city, including narrated fun and history facts, venture to the USS Midway Museum to get a closer look at ample airplanes and helicopters. The expansive exhibition spans nearly 10 acres. More than 30 restored aircraft reside in the USS Midway, making it one of the most popular museums in the city. The place alone can take up to half a day of your visit to San Diego. With the limited time on your hands, plan to spend at least two to three hours here.
Old Town San Diego is the next site on our day in San Diego itinerary. The place sits just a few-minute drive from the harbor and the USS Midway. Known for its rich historic heritage, Old Town boasts old structures, the nearby Junípero Serra Museum, and a myriad of shops and restaurants with a Mexican twist. Search for authentic handcrafted accessories at Old Town Market place. The oldest neighborhood in San Diego also offers a number of authentic eateries you might want to check out.
1 Day in San Diego: Afternoon
Alternatively, you can dine in Seaport Village, a 14-acre seafront area packed with diners, restaurants, and small shops. The popular place sits within walking distance of the San Diego Harbor and ensures some of the best ocean views to enjoy during one day in San Diego.
The visitors with kids should have a ride on the historic 1895 Looff Carousel before lunch. The charming attraction joined Seaport Village in 2004 after changing its place of residency, including the state, a few times.
Spend the rest of the afternoon, exploring different neighborhoods and landmarks of San Diego. Devote a couple of hours to Balboa Park. Housing more than a dozen museums, several gardens, and playground, it’s one of the most popular places to spend a day in San Diego.
The park usually takes the whole day to unveil its treasures. However, since you have only one day to enjoy San Diego, try to keep your visit short. Hike in Palm Canyon and explore an expansive collection of the Timken Museum of Art before stopping at the Botanic Garden and the Lily Pond for a quick photo shoot.
Finally, jump into your car and drive across the Coronado Bridge to Coronado Island to bask in the afternoon sun on the finest beaches in the city.
Finish your day in San Diego in the Village of La Jolla. Referred to as the “Jewel of San Diego”, this gorgeous neighborhood encompasses an upscale village vibe with laid-back beach culture. It’s a great spot to have dinner with an ocean view or look for gifts and souvenirs to take home with you.
Animal enthusiasts inevitably spend the rest of the day in San Diego admiring local seals and sea lions on Children’s Pool Beach. Once the large mammals claimed the beach, they soak up the sun here all year round.
For sunset, go to the Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier. While the pier is closed to the public, sandy stretches of land on both side of it welcome beachgoers day and night. The place is less crowded than the majority of other beaches in San Diego, making it a perfect place to finish your one-day adventures.
Alternative One Day in San Diego Itinerary
Alluring beer lovers from all over the world, San Diego County has more than 100 breweries. The visitors fond of this alcoholic beverage might want to skip Coronado Island and check out a local brewery instead. We toured Stone Brewing on our first day in San Diego. Although not a beer drinker myself, I found this place interesting and worth visiting.
Furthermore, save Balboa Park for your two-day visit to San Diego. Instead, spend half a day in the Village of La Jolla. Notable for their rich underwater world and high surf, La Jolla’s beaches offer the best opportunities for surfing, kayaking, stand up paddle surfing, and scuba diving.
The visitors with kids are welcome to enjoy Birch Aquarium at Scripps and hike the La Jolla Coast Walk Trail. The latter can easily occupy from 1 to 2 days you have to spend in San Diego.
Weekend Guide: How to Spend 1 Day in San Diego – Map
Weekend Itinerary: How to Spend 2 Days in San Diego
With two days on your hands, San Diego opens new adventures that are not possible in one day. You can finally explore popular SeaWorld San Diego and the San Diego Zoo or visit small towns nearby. Similar to the one day itinerary, we have included two alternative 2 days in San Diego itineraries. Again, feel free to change them if you need to.
Weekend Guide to San Diego: Day 1
The start of day 1 in this 2 days in San Diego itinerary mirrors the morning itinerary of the 1 day in San Diego itinerary. Take the Harbor tour, visit the USS Midway Museum, and explore the rich cultural and historic heritage of Old Town San Diego. Stop for lunch at Seaport Village to enjoy your meal with the gorgeous view.
Don’t rush to leave the center of San Diego yet. Instead, add the Gaslamp Quarter, one more epic neighborhood, to your afternoon itinerary. Famous for its nightlife, the place offers a glimpse at impeccable architecture and further unveils the rich history of the city.
Finally, head to Coronado Island and enjoy the laid-back beach culture in front of iconic Hotel del Coronado. If tide is low, devote at least a fraction of your 2 days in San Diego to finding the sunken SS Monte Carlo Ship, rested in the shallow water near Coronado Shores Beach.
Alternatively, you can spend the afternoon soaking up the warm sun in La Jolla. (I’d save this neighborhood for the second day, though.)
Finish the first day of your 2-day trip to San Diego in Balboa Park. While the majority of the museums may be closed by this time, you can still enjoy a leisurely walk while watching the sun slowly hiding behind tall peaks of the impeccable buildings. Come evening, and the locals as well as the visitors congregate on El Prado to feast on street food and spend time together. In summer, Spreckels Organ Pavilion hosts free outdoor concerts that you should definitely see when spending 2 days in San Diego.
READ MORE: Top 17 Things to Do in Balboa Park: Bucket List and Photography & How to Visit Balboa Park: Directions, Tours, and Free Attractions
Weekend Guide to San Diego: Day 2
If you have one extra day to spend in San Diego, visit some of its main attractions such as SeaWorld San Diego or the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Each of these places is a full-day adventure. Choose your favorite and explore it through and through.
It’s not rare to devote half a day to every attraction. In this case, you should keep your visits short and skip some of the shows. Furthermore, pack you lunch to avoid long lines typical for limited eateries on the site.
Weekend Guide to San Diego: Alternative Day 2 Itinerary
Not an animal fan or want to save money (SeaWorld San Diego and the San Diego Zoo are among the priciest activities in San Diego)? Spend a day in La Jolla. We did just that and always come back for more of this coastal “jewel”. You might even want to base in the Village or stay close to it. For specific suggestions on what to do in one day in La Jolla, refer to our One Day in La Jolla guide.
Similarly, you can spend half a day in either SeaWorld San Diego or the San Diego Zoo. The rest of the day should be devoted to San Diego’s surroundings. Take half-day trips to such coastal cities as Carlsbad or Encinitas. Located approximately 30 minutes from downtown San Diego, each of them enhances your two-day visit to San Diego with impeccable local gems and culinary scene.
Carlsbad with its world-famous Legoland is usually the first choice of the families with children. Apart from the popular theme park, SEA LIFE Aquarium allures the youngsters interested in the underwater world. Their parents, on the other hand, admire cozy ambiance of Carlsbad Village. If you plan your two-day visit to San Diego in spring, stop by the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch. Adorning the area from March to early May, they surely add some vibrant colors to your trip.
Encinitas is yet to offer secluded beaches, gorgeous sunsets, and the finest gardens and plant nurseries in the world.
READ MORE: It’s Time to Visit The Flower Fields in Carlsbad & 18 Irresistible Day Trips from San Diego
Weekend Guide: How to Spend 2 Days in San Diego – Map
Tips for Spending Weekend (1 or 2 days) in San Diego
Planning ahead is one of the best ways to make the most of your 1 or 2 days in San Diego. Besides choosing the right places and estimating the time you need for each activity, you learn how to optimize all available resources. Here are a few additional tips for your San Diego weekend itinerary.
I can’t stress enough how important is to plan ahead. The large city can easily overwhelm with its historical and cultural abundance. With only 1 or 2 days to spend in San Diego, you should be selective and decide what to see prior to your visit.
Cluster Your Points of Interest
Instead of rushing from one side of the city to the opposite, explore locally. Group the places you want to see in 1 or 2 days in San Diego based on their locations. For example, all the attractions in the morning and part of the afternoon itineraries in this guide are located in the center. Park your car and walk around. It’ll save you plenty of time otherwise lost for looking for empty parking spot.
Save Large Attractions for One Day
Balboa Park, SeaWorld San Diego, and the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari are full-day attractions. Devote enough time to each of them to maximize your visit. While you can pop into Balboa Park, the rest of the places in this group are too expensive to not enjoy them to the fullest.
Don’t Try to See Everything
Take it as a fact. 1 or 2 day in San Diego are simply not enough to see everything the city has to offer. Take it easy and enjoy your weekend in San Diego, rather than just tick off all the boxes.
Where to Stay in Sand Diego
When choosing accommodation in San Diego, you should alway center it around your points of interest. On a day when you’re mainly focused on the downtown area, book a room in the center of San Diego. If the beach culture allures you more than the historic structures, adhere to the coastal areas such as La Jolla, Coronado Island, or Encinitas. Use the map below to compare hotels in San Diego and find something that suits your interests and budget.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is San Diego worth visiting?
Absolutely! San Diego encompasses some of the best beaches in Southern California, rich cultural traditions, and historic heritage other California’s destinations can only envy. Perfect beach weather all year round further speaks in favor of this coastal city, alluring millions of visitors from all over the world.
What is the best month to visit San Diego?
San Diego enjoys mild weather year-round. The average temperature lingers at 70 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing to enjoy the beach city at any season. The best months to visit San Diego, however, are March through May and September through November. Fewer people flock to the city at this time. Consequently, you can find more deals and lower rates.
Do you need a car for a weekend (1 or 2 days) in San Diego?
Yes and no. If your points of interest include only the center of San Diego, the car is not needed. The downtown area is pretty walkable and brims with the ample attractions to fill your weekend (1 or 2 days) in San Diego. Driving is required when exploring the farthest neighborhoods and surrounding areas. Alternatively, you can bike, use public transport, Uber, or taxi.
Should I stay in San Diego or its surroundings?
It all depends on your interests. La Jolla is the best place to stay for beach-infused 2-day vacation. Stay in the heart of San Diego if you aim at exploring its city life or visiting the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld San Diego. The accommodations are cheaper outside San Diego. Budget travelers can stay in Carlsbad, Encinitas, or Del Mar. These cities nestle a short drive from San Diego and are unprecedented experiences on their own.
Final Thoughts on Weekend Guide to San Diego: 1 to 2 Days Itinerary
This concludes our weekend guide, including 1 and 2 days San Diego itineraries. Two routes are never the same. While these 1 and 2 days in San Diego guides suited our family’s plans, you might long for different experiences. Thus, feel free to adjust this weekend guide to San Diego according to your needs.
- 10 Absolute Best Things to Do in San Diego: Bucket List and Tips
- First Time in San Diego: What to Know and Do, Tips, and Map
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