Featured Article
Lonely Planet Writer

How to spend a perfect weekend in San Diego

In idyllic San Diego, sometimes too much of a good thing can paralyze even the most ambitious travel planners with indecision.

In this case, we’re talking about San Diego’s interminable options to relax, explore and peruse the region’s cultural gems. And when you’re only in town for a perfect weekend, a curated itinerary for this sprawling, car-dependent city is key.

The San Diego skyline seen at night from across the bay a great city for a perfect weekend
San Diego is the perfect city for a weekend get away © 1photodiva / Getty Images

Friday

Afternoon

Dive right in with a Padres baseball game at handsome Petco Park in East Village. Even if baseball isn’t your thing, it’s worth it to graze your way through the stadium. Homegrown outposts of popular spots include Lucha Libre gourmet tacos, Phil’s BBQ, a rum bar by local distillers Cutwater Spirits, and Wonderland Ocean Pub.

Evening

After the game, keep the revelry going and hop aboard the trolley to Little Italy to enjoy the eclectic mix of bars, urban wineries, loungey restaurants and craft beer tasting rooms.

a man runs up a flight of stairs from the beach in the sun on a perfect weekend in San Diego
Early morning is the best time on the San Diego beaches to take in the views and get a little exercise © Michael Svoboda / Getty Images

Saturday

Morning

From Imperial Beach to Oceanside, early risers bask in near-solitude while walking or jogging along San Diego County beaches. Your only company? Little more than a few dawn patrol surfers and a natural phenomenon San Diegans call marine layer. Don’t worry, the fog dissipates by Noon; just after brunch.

Brunch is easy to find across the county, but restaurants with multiple locations like Fig Tree Cafe and Breakfast Republic make benedicts, short stacks, and hash browns a priority. Then there are singular outposts where design and food get equal billing, like splashy Morning Glory in Little Italy where vegan frittatas and soufflé pancakes are served up in rosy, stylish surrounds, or homey Cesarina for pillowy french toast and loaded breakfast skillets.

People hike down a sandy path to the beach surrounded by low chaparral, cacti and sand on a perfect weekend in San Diego
The many San Diego state parks are great for hikes, bike rides and other outdoor activities © Jeremy Janus / Getty Images

Afternoon

Take advantage of the almost-always-perfect weather and get outside. While crowds flock to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve’s for great trails and scenic views, another nearby option is to head north along the Del Mar Canyon trail (also known as Anderson Canyon.) Trace white sandstone bluffs, pad alongside wildflowers, and watch the drama of trains whizz by. 

When you’ve worked up a proper appetite, find everything from elevated takes on Mexican regional cuisine at El Jardin; a restaurant by former Top Chef contestant, Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins; to fast casual Middle Eastern plates  at Simsim from Jordanian chef, Ibrahim AlSharief.

For a concentrated dose of a specific cuisine, try dim sum and ramen along Convoy Street, or head to City Heights for Somali food like fried and filled sambusas. San Diego is home to the second-largest Somali population in the US.

For desert you’ll find sweet solace in San Diego’s booming small-batch, artisanal scoop shops like An’s Dry Cleaning.

Broadway fountain in the Horton Plaza Park is a fountain surrounded by palm trees and buildings on a perfect weekend in San Diego
Steeped in history, the Gaslamp Quarter might teach you something as well as entertain you © Richard Cummins / Getty Images

Evening

It’s easy for Gaslamp Quarter’s retail and nightlife offerings to dazzle, so before you put your Downtown party pants on, peruse the area’s more subversive history as a former red-light district at the Gaslamp Museum. Nearby, at the Chinese Historical Museum highlights the Chinese American experience. The Chinese population has played a crucial role in the development of San Diego since the 1860s.

Rest your heels at Lou & Mickey’s happy hour, located just beneath the brightly illuminated Gaslamp Quarter sign. Try Braised Meatballs in Gravy; made from trimmings from meats aged and butchered in-house, and a Margarita Verde made with cucumber, jalapeño, and basil.

Seek live, toe-tapping performances at Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach’s Cedros Design District. 

A domed building in lath is mirrored in the lily pond stretching out in front a great sight on a perfect weekend in San Diego
The Botanical Building in Balboa park is one of the largest lath structures in the world © Ron and Patty Thomas / Getty Images

Sunday

Morning

Stroll through Balboa Park and take in the many attractions it has to offer.  The cactus garden planted in 1935 is stunning, while the suite of interesting museums are worth your time. Take your best insta-worthy shots at the Botanical Building and Lily Pond before wandering over to admire local art at the Spanish Village Art Center.

Afternoon

Quench your thirst at the scenic Viewpoint Brewing. It overlooks San Dieguito Lagoon and serves shared plates like ceviche, empanadas, and crispy octopus in a casual setting. Perfect before heading home after an action packed weekend.

Two white cottages are built on a pier over the Pacific Ocean stay here on a perfect weekend in San Diego
For a truly unique place to stay check out the Crystal Cottages and stay on a pier directly over the ocean © Richard Cummins / Getty Images

Where to stay

Hotel Coronado is San Diego’s most iconic hotel complete with over a hundred years of history, a spa, restaurants, white sand beaches and marbled bathrooms. Note if you want to stay in the original Victorian building you’ll need to request it on booking as half the hotel is housed in a newer 1970’s addition.

For a truly unique experience, book a cottage at Crystal Pier Hotel & Cottages. Built on a pier over the ocean in Mission Beach, nearly all of the 1930’s cottages have an ocean view and kitchen. Book far in advance.

Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.