When you think about Southern California, it’s fair to say that the glitz and glamor of Hollywood, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco or perhaps even the natural beauty throughout Yosemite National Park will be at the forefront of your mind. But what about if you head further south and explore the very tip of Southern California? That’s right, on the edge of the Mexican/US border is the city of San Diego and let me tell you, it’s a city that needs to be on your radar! Let’s take a look at how we recommend spending an awesome 48 hours in San Diego.
Whether you have a day or a week to explore San Diego, this is a city that oozes character, beauty and of course, plenty of attractions to keep you occupied. San Diego may not be the first place you think about visiting when you think about the state of California but after reading this post, we are convinced that this city will at least be on your radar. It’s one of those cities that has that effect on you!
Where to Stay in San Diego?
The beauty of visiting San Diego is that if you are flying into the international airport, you are just a short drive from the downtown area where all the main attractions are located. Hop in an Uber and for only $10 you will be transported to your chosen hotel in the downtown vicinity.
Whether you want to stay in the Gaslamp Quarter, also renowned as the heartbeat of the city or perhaps prefer to stay in a more isolated, bayside setting on Coronado Island, there are plenty of accommodation options available. Here are a couple of our favorites that we think will appeal for multiple reasons:
- Hotel Del Coronado – For those that want the ultimate luxury experience, why not stay at the exquisite Hotel Del Coronado, now part of the Hilton Curio collection. This hotel is possibly the most iconic in San Diego, and maybe even California, given the role it played in Marilyn Monroe’s “Some Like It Hot” movie. It’s fair to say this is a pretty spectacular hotel and you will be living the dream if you choose to stay here.
- Hilton San Diego Bayfront – If you are looking for a slightly more affordable option, the Hilton San Diego Bayfront is a feasible alternative that offers great access to many of the city’s iconic attractions. Take a stroll along the promenade or hop on one of the many rental bicycles to head out and explore the city center and beyond.
48 Hours in San Diego
It may not sound like much time but 48 hours is plenty of time to explore many of San Diego’s top attractions. The beauty of this city is that everything is easily within walking distance or a short public transportation ride. Biking in San Diego is another great way to explore, so regardless of your chosen method, there is plenty to experience in a short time.
We have designed this itinerary based on our own experiences and there is even time for a little spontaneity so that you can add a few customized choices to this visit.
Here are the top things to do that you cannot afford to miss during your next visit to San Diego:
- USS Midway Museum
- Balboa Park/San Diego Zoo
- Gaslamp Quarter
- Coronado Island
If you manage to experience all of the above in 48 hours, you will have one heck of an amazing visit to San Diego!! As you will see, the San Diego Zoo is itself an experience you could easily spend a full day enjoying but of course, depending on how much time you have in the region will likely determine how many of these attractions you want to see.
The beauty of all the above-listed attractions is that they are easily accessible. Coronado Island may be the most challenging but with a ferry service available from multiple locations or a cheap Uber always just a few minutes away, you can easily add this to your itinerary when planning a visit to San Diego.
USS Midway Museum
Have you ever had an up close and personal encounter with an aircraft carrier? Me either, at least until I visited the USS Midway in San Diego! The first thing you notice is the sheer size and magnitude of this vessel. Measuring a little over 1,000 feet in length, this was a true “beast” in the US naval fleet.
The USS Midway was the longest-serving aircraft carrier in the 20th century until it was finally able to rest and decommissioned in San Diego in 1992. It was left in storage until 2003 before finally opening as the USS Midway Museum in 2004.
Visitors today can take a stroll along the San Diego promenade to admire the beauty of the USS Midway before purchasing tickets to hop inside and learn all about the history and features onboard this vessel.
Whether you are intrigued by the thought of hopping on the flight deck to admire more than 30 restored aircraft (and enjoy amazing views of San Diego Bay!) or perhaps head below deck and explore the spaces where crew lived and worked on a daily basis, your adventure around the USS Midway Museum will likely leave you in awe at this amazing attraction.
Don’t forget to experience the “Battle of Midway Theater” where you can watch a 15-minute film highlighting one of World War II’s iconic naval battles. Listen to first-hand experiences from crew members that fought in this battle while onboard the USS Midway. For those of you that are ready for an interactive experience, check out the two flight simulators where all ages can enjoy an experience of a lifetime.
Tickets are available for purchase online and you will save $2 per ticket if you choose this option. Alternatively, you can purchase tickets on the day of your visit to the Museum.
Adults – $21
Seniors – $18
Retired Military – $8
Students (Aged 13-17 or with valid ID) – $15
Children (Aged 6-12) – $8
The above prices are accurate as of the time of publication but we always recommend visiting the USS Midway Museum website prior to your visit to find any price/time updates.
New York City is home to Central Park; London is home to Hyde Park; San Diego is home to Balboa Park! After visiting this amazing urban green space in the heart of the city, I can 100% confirm that this should be categorized in the same fashion as those infamous urban parks around the world. Balboa Park is a 1,200 acre urban, cultural space filled with a distinctive blend of museums, iconic architecture, nature and of course, the San Diego Zoo!
Balboa Park is an area that you can easily spend several days exploring but if you are wanting to capture just the highlights, you can enjoy several hours experiencing the very best spots.
Balboa Park has enough arts, culture, and attractions to fill days, weeks, months!
If you only want to spend a few hours, here are the top attractions you won’t want to miss. The California Tower is part of the California Building that houses the Museum of Man. Head to the courtyard to admire this majestic architectural masterpiece before walking through to an area full of Spanish inspired architecture.
The Casa del Prado and Casa de Balboa are two examples of reconstructions to commemorate the 1915 Panama-
Balboa Park is home to 17 different museums and cultural institutions, so trying to figure out which one to visit can be a challenging prospect. For those of you that want to experience San Diego on a budget, the Timken Museum of Art is a FREE attraction full of works by European artists and featuring the only Rembrandt painting on public display in the city.
As you explore Balboa Park, you could be forgiven for thinking this is more of an urban space because of the various museums and buildings scattered throughout. However, don’t let this stop you from admiring the nature on display. Take a moment to stroll through Alcazar Garden, renowned as one of the most photogenic locations throughout the park.
Regardless of whether you choose to visit the San Diego Zoo, you can be assured that Balboa Park will have plenty to keep you occupied during your visit. The tough part will be trying to put together an itinerary to see as much as possible in only a few hours…unless of course, you want to spend 48 hours exploring everything Balboa Park has to offer!
The heartbeat of San Diego can be found in the Gaslamp Quarter, a lively neighborhood with an eclectic blend of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. If you choose to visit the Gaslamp Quarter during the day, you can not only experience a myriad of delicious cuisine but also enjoy a self-guided walking tour of the area where you can admire a number of gorgeous buildings.
The Balboa Theatre, for example, was recently renowned as one of the world’s most spectacular theatres by CNN Travel. Dating back to 1924 when construction was completed, this theatre was a state-of-the-art building before facing some years of uncertainty in the 1950s when it almost faced demolition.
Fortunately, the Russo family saved this theatre and after years of renovation, it was transformed into a contemporary modern art venue. Whether you choose to attend a performance or simply admire this building on the outside, it’s a place you won’t want to miss while exploring the Gaslamp Quarter.
Ready for a bite to eat in this neighborhood? There are plenty of awesome local restaurants to choose from, in addition to a couple of chain spots such as The Old Spaghetti Factory.
But a visit to San Diego is all about the local cuisine, so head inside one of the following restaurants to sample some of the finest and delicious food in the city.
- UNION Kitchen & Tap Gaslamp – A great spot to enjoy lunch (or brunch on the weekend) while sampling one of the local craft beers on tap.
- Cold Beer & Cheeseburgers – After a long day exploring San Diego’s plethora of attractions, head downtown to enjoy a cold beer and delicious cheeseburger. This spot immediately made me think about Huey’s in Memphis, another of our favorite local dining spots when looking to enjoy a burger.
- Henry’s Pub – A visit to San Diego wouldn’t be the same without sampling the local seafood options. Fish and Chips is always a menu choice I enjoy and I can highly recommend Henry’s Pub in the Gaslamp district if you are ready to indulge in a stereotypical British dish!
A visit to the Gaslamp Quarter will also give you the opportunity to experience Petco Park, home of the MLB team, the San Diego Padres. For the baseball aficionados out there, hopefully, you will have the opportunity to watch the Padres in action but regardless, it’s a pretty spectacular ballpark, even from the outside.
Ready to explore San Diego’s pristine beaches, luxury accommodation options including the amazing Hotel del Coronado and a variety of amazing cuisine options? Head across to Coronado Island and experience the very best of all the above and much more!
The best way to visit Coronado Island is to hop on the ferry from either the San Diego Convention Center or Broadway, just a few steps from the USS Midway Museum. For only $4.50 each way, you can enjoy a relaxing journey across the bay before arriving at Coronado Island.
Arriving at Coronado Island, you can enjoy the ferry landing with a variety of restaurants, bars and local shops immediately capturing your attention. We strongly recommend wearing a comfortable pair of shoes and then walking across to the other side of the island to enjoy the amazing beaches along the Pacific Ocean…oh yes, and of course, visiting the infamous hotel!
San Diego is a fun-filled city with plenty of attractions and experiences to keep you occupied for much longer than 48 hours. This is a city that we consider to be perfect for a weekend getaway, particularly given the close proximity of all the attractions that we referenced.
Places such as San Diego’s Old Town and Seaport Village weren’t even mentioned in this itinerary but if you are looking for additional places to enjoy authentic, local cuisine, both of these should be on your radar.
San Diego is unlike anywhere else in California and it’s this uniqueness that makes this a city we immediately fell in love with. We look forward to returning again in the near future and certainly think you will agree when you next venture out west. By the way, hopefully you will encounter some epic sunsets just like we did!