Planning a San Diego Itinerary

Back in February I went to San Diego for a weekend to visit my longtime friend Emily — we met in preschool back in 1987! Emily recently moved to San Diego for a new job and we had a wonderful weekend catching up while enjoying the sights. I’ll share those photos over the next few days.

I’ve been to San Diego maybe five times over the last decade, each time seeing a different part of the city. I thought it’d be helpful to lay everything out in one post so that anyone planning a trip here could look over these highlights as they decide how to spend their time.

For my friends in SoCal — if I’ve missed anything big or if you have favorite spots that aren’t on here, let me know and I’ll add it to the post!


1. Balboa Park

Balboa Park is enormous — 1,200 acres! — and the San Diego Zoo is located here.

My friend Molly and I ran the San Diego Rock ’N Roll Marathon here in 2007; the race began and ended in Balboa Park, so that was my first taste of it. Glad to have an excuse to share this fun photo!

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Heads up for travel lovers: The House of Pacific Relations / United Nations San Diego Chapter is located right in Balboa Park, surrounded by international cottages representing many countries from around the world. As of this moment (July 2017), the cottages are open from 12noon to 5pm on Saturdays & Sundays and feature traditions from each country. At 2pm on Sunday afternoons a lawn program is hosted by a different country each week, showcasing selections of music, dance, costumes, arts, crafts, and ethnic foods. These are free to visit. For more info, check out their website.


The Old Globe theater is located in the park — I snapped this photo during a visit to see The Scottsboro Boys in 2012:


2. San Diego Zoo

As mentioned above, the San Diego Zoo is located in Balboa Park. It is must-see. I’ve only been once but LOVED spending a whole day here. The variety of animals is really impressive. Here are a few of my photos from that visit… this deserves a whole post at some point.




3. Old Town

I can’t believe I didn’t visit Old Town until 2017! It’s a slice of Mexico, located only a few miles from the actual Mexican border. There are delicious restaurants, craft and food vendors, and buildings designed with south-of-the border facades. You can easily spend 2-3 hours walking around here and grabbing a bite to eat.




4. La Jolla / Point Mencinger seal cove area

La Jolla is located north of San Diego along the coastline and it’s SO pretty. It’s a prime spot to watch the seals. Lots of great restaurants here too — I’d recommend Sugar and Scribe for brunch and Bird Rock Coffee for caffeine.





5. Torrey Pines State Park

This gorgeous area is even further north of La Jolla — and it’s worth the drive. You can park (either for free along the main road if you can find a space, or in the paid lots inside the park) and walk the hiking paths overlooking the beach, then loop back on the shore below. As soon as I saw this area it reminded me of the BBC show Broadchurch.




6. Gaslamp Quarter

This is a popular area full of restaurants and bars in downtown San Diego. I have not properly explored it yet (hence why I’m borrowing the photo sourced below) so this will go on my list for the next time I visit.

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7. Little Italy

Another popular neighborhood full of delicious restaurants near downtown San Diego.


8. Liberty Public Market

My friend Emily just introduced me to this place and it’s so charming — it’s a former U.S. Naval Station stretching over many acres, full of restaurants and artisanal shops: oyster bar, butcher shop, boozy brunch spots, plus stalls offering sweets, coffee, cheese, and so much more. There are also vendors selling flowers, jewelry, candles, pet items, etc. You can easily spend two hours nibbling and scoping out all the merch.



9. Normal Heights / North Park neighborhoods

These neighborhoods are not far from where my friend Emily lives, so she showed me a few gems during our explorations. These are a little more off-the-beaten-path in terms of typical tourist itineraries. But if you have more time, grab a taco at Lucha Libre Taco Shop… get cocktails at Polite Provisions… try the java at Hawthorne Coffee… and definitely indulge your sweet tooth at Blackmarket Bakery. The graffiti is fun too.






10. Mission Bay

Scenic area on the water a little bit north of downtown San Diego. Nice place to catch the sunset!

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11. Hotel del Coronado / Coronado Island

I visited here in 2001 as part of a family trip when my uncle was working on restorations for Hotel del Coronado, hence the vintage look of these scanned photos below. It’s a lovely beachfront area and worth checking out if you have time. And if you have the resources… by all means, stay at The Del!





Hope that helps anyone looking to plan a trip to San Diego. Posts to come in the next few days detailing my most recent visit. If you have any tips or suggestions or things I missed, please comment below!

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