35 Best Things to Do in Downtown San Diego

When it comes to vacation destinations, few cities can rival the charm and excitement of downtown San Diego. Located along the glistening shores of the Pacific Ocean, this southern California gem offers a unique blend of natural beauty, cultural diversity, and endless entertainment opportunities. From scenic waterfront parks to historic landmarks, from world-class museums to a vibrant nightlife scene, downtown San Diego has many things to do.

So, whether you’re visiting for the first time or a seasoned local looking to discover new gems, this guide will take you through some of the best things to do in downtown San Diego. So, let’s explore.


One of the best ways to experience the essence of downtown San Diego is by taking a leisurely walk along the Embarcadero. This picturesque boardwalk stretches 1.5 miles along the San Diego Bay and offers stunning views of the city skyline, Coronado Island, and the bustling Port of San Diego. As you stroll, you’ll come across exciting landmarks like the Maritime Museum of San Diego, where you can tour historic ships and learn about the city’s rich maritime history.

USS Midway

One of the highlights of the Embarcadero is the USS Midway Museum, a real aircraft carrier that served in the US Navy for 47 years. This floating museum offers an immersive experience where you can explore over 60 exhibits and sit in the cockpits of various fighter jets. You can also take a self-guided audio tour narrated by former sailors who served on the Midway, giving you a unique perspective on what life was like on board. Don’t miss the flight simulator experience where you can “fly” a virtual jet over San Diego!

Maritime Museum

For history buffs and anyone interested in maritime heritage, the Maritime Museum of San Diego is a must-visit. This living museum features an impressive collection of ships from different eras, including the Star of India, the oldest active sailing ship in the world. You can take a self-guided tour and explore these magnificent vessels alone or join a guided tour to learn more about their fascinating stories. Don’t forget to check out the gift shop for unique souvenirs and maritime-

The Kissing Statue

Located right by the Embarcadero is a charming bronze statue known as “Unconditional Surrender” or, more famously, “The Kissing Statue.” This iconic sculpture depicts a sailor kissing a nurse in celebration of the end of World War II. The statue is a must-see for history buffs and romantics alike, and its prime location makes it the perfect spot to capture some great photos.

Seaport Village and The Headquarters

For those who love to shop, downtown San Diego is a paradise. Seaport Village and The Headquarters are popular shopping destinations offering a unique mix of local boutiques, souvenir shops, and upscale stores. Located right next to the Embarcadero, these pedestrian-friendly shopping centers are also home to some of the best restaurants in town, making them perfect for a lunch break or an evening out.

San Diego Bay Tours

Another great way to explore downtown San Diego is by taking a boat tour around the harbor. Several companies offer guided tours, ranging from leisurely cruises to high-speed adventures. As you glide through the sparkling waters of the bay, watch for dolphins and seals and soak in the stunning views of the city.

Coronado Island

Just a short ferry ride from downtown San Diego lies the idyllic Coronado Island. This charming little island is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in California, including the famous Coronado Beach. Explore the quaint shops and restaurants along Orange Avenue, or bike around the island to discover its hidden gems. Don’t forget to visit the historic Hotel del Coronado, a grand Victorian hotel that has hosted many famous guests over the years.

Waterfront Park

Located in the heart of downtown San Diego, Waterfront Park is a tranquil oasis amidst the bustling city streets. This beautifully landscaped park offers stunning views of the bay and features multiple playgrounds, fountains, and picnic areas. It’s the perfect spot to take a break from sightseeing, have a family picnic, or simply enjoy some quiet time surrounded by nature.

Little Italy

If you’re craving authentic Italian food and culture, head to Little Italy in downtown San Diego. This charming neighborhood is filled with quaint cafes, gelato shops, and Italian restaurants that will transport you to the streets of Italy. You can also check out the weekly Little Italy Mercato, a vibrant farmers’ market, to sample delicious local produce and handcrafted goods.

The New Children’s Museum

The New Children’s Museum in downtown San Diego is not your typical museum. With interactive exhibits and hands-on activities, this is a place where kids can play, learn, and be creative to their heart’s content. From painting on walls to building forts, there is never a dull moment at this one-of-a-kind museum.

Museum of Contemporary Art

Art lovers won’t want to miss the Museum of Contemporary Art, a premier museum featuring some of the world’s best modern and contemporary art. With rotating exhibitions, film screenings, and lectures, there’s always something new to discover at this cultural hotspot.

Petco Park

Sports fans will want to catch a game at Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres baseball team. This state-of-the-art ballpark is located in the heart of downtown and offers stunning views of the city skyline. Even if you’re not a baseball fan, the lively atmosphere and delicious stadium food make for a fun night out.

Crazy GoCar

For a unique and quirky experience, hop on a GoCar and explore downtown San Diego in a fun and interactive way. These small, colorful cars are equipped with GPS-guided tours that take you to popular landmarks while providing interesting commentary. It’s a great way to see the city at your own pace and make unforgettable memories.

Historic Gaslamp Quarter

As the sun sets, downtown San Diego comes alive with its bustling nightlife. The Historic Gaslamp Quarter is the place to be for a night out on the town, with its many restaurants, bars, and clubs. From live music to rooftop lounges, there’s something for everyone in this vibrant and historic district.

San Diego Symphony Concert

Music lovers won’t want to miss a renowned San Diego Symphony performance. From classical concerts to outdoor performances, this world-class orchestra offers diverse musical experiences throughout the year. Check their schedule and catch a show at the beautiful Copley Symphony Hall for an unforgettable evening in downtown San Diego.

Tuna Harbor Dockside Market

One of the must-visit spots in downtown San Diego is the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market. Located on the bay’s edge, this market is a paradise for seafood lovers. Local fishermen bring in their fresh catch of the day every Saturday and sell them directly to customers. You can find a variety of fish, shellfish, and other treasures from the sea at affordable prices. And if you don’t feel like cooking, many food vendors serve delicious seafood dishes on site.

Boozy Social Cycle

Looking for a unique and fun way to explore downtown San Diego? Hop on the Boozy Social Cycle! This 15-passenger party bike takes you on a tour of the city’s best bars, restaurants, and attractions. Pedal your way through the lively Gaslamp Quarter while enjoying drinks with your friends or meeting new ones. It’s a great way to experience the vibrant nightlife scene in downtown San Diego.

Portside Pier

For a taste of San Diego’s maritime history, head to Portside Pier. This newly developed waterfront dining destination offers stunning views of the bay and features five restaurants serving fresh seafood, Mexican cuisine, and more. Stroll along the pier, admire the historic ships, and indulge in delicious food and drinks. You can even catch a water taxi from here to explore other parts of the city.

San Diego’s Chinatown

Did you know that downtown San Diego has its own Chinatown? Although it may not be as big or famous as the one in San Francisco, it’s worth checking out. This neighborhood has Asian markets, unique boutiques, and delicious restaurants serving authentic Chinese cuisine. Take a walk down the lantern-lined streets and immerse yourself in the vibrant culture of this community.

Rooftop Bar

Head to one of downtown San Diego’s many rooftop bars for amazing views of the city skyline and a fancy cocktail experience. From swanky lounges to casual pub-style rooftops, there’s something for everyone. Sip on a drink while taking in the breathtaking city and ocean views, and watch as the sun sets over this picturesque location.

The Davis-Horton House

History buffs will love visiting the Davis-Horton House, the oldest surviving structure in downtown San Diego. Built in 1850, this house has been beautifully restored to showcase its original Victorian-style architecture. Take a tour and learn about the fascinating history of this building and the people who lived there. You can even participate in a ghost-hunting adventure here if you feel brave.

Central Library

Book lovers, rejoice! The San Diego Central Library downtown is not just any ordinary library – it’s an architectural masterpiece. With its unique design and stunning views, it’s worth a visit, even if you’re not much of a reader. Stroll through the library’s seven floors and check out its impressive collection of books, art exhibits, and educational programs.

Hotel Pool

What better way to relax after a day of exploring than by lounging by a rooftop pool? Many hotels in downtown San Diego offer day passes to their pools, so even if you’re not staying there, you can still enjoy the luxurious experience. Sip on a cool drink, bask in the sunshine, and take in the beautiful views of the city and bay.

Balboa Park

No visit to San Diego is complete without a trip to Balboa Park. This 1,200-acre park has 17 museums, multiple gardens, and various performing arts venues. Walk through the picturesque gardens, visit the famous San Diego Zoo, or explore one of the many museums showcasing art, science, history, and more. With so much to see and do here, you could easily spend an entire day in Balboa Park.

San Diego Zoo

Speaking of the zoo, the San Diego Zoo is a must-see attraction downtown. Home to over 3,500 animals and 650 different species, this world-renowned zoo is known for its conservation efforts and innovative exhibits. Get close and personal with some of your favorite animals and learn about their natural habitats in this immersive experience.

San Diego Air and Space Museum

All aviation and space enthusiasts visit the San Diego Air and Space Museum. This museum features a collection of aircraft, spacecraft, and other artifacts that tell the story of human flight. It’s educational and entertaining with its interactive exhibits and flight simulators.

San Diego Museum of Art

Located in the heart of Balboa Park, the San Diego Museum of Art is a must-visit destination for art lovers. With over 20,000 pieces spanning over 5,000 years of history and artistic expression, this impressive museum showcases everything from ancient Egyptian artifacts to modern masterpieces. Explore collections from European classics to contemporary American works and even photography exhibitions. You can also participate in guided tours, art classes, and special events throughout the year. The San Diego Museum of Art truly offers a captivating experience for all.

Old Town State Historic Park

Travel back in time to the early days of California at Old Town State Historic Park. This living museum features preserved buildings, adobe homes, and historic sites that give you a glimpse into the early days of Spanish settlement. Stroll through the colorful streets, visit authentic shops, and even catch a live reenactment or performance. Don’t forget to try some delicious Mexican cuisine at one of the many restaurants in this charming district.

Seaport Village

Nestled along the San Diego Bay, Seaport Village is a charming waterfront shopping district that offers a perfect blend of dining, entertainment, and stunning views. Explore unique shops and boutiques selling everything from souvenirs to handcrafted items. Indulge in some delicious seafood or grab a drink with friends at one of the many restaurants and bars. Take a relaxing stroll along the boardwalk or hop on a harbor cruise for even more breathtaking city skyline views.

Westfield Horton Plaza

If you need some retail therapy, head to Westfield Horton Plaza – San Diego’s premier shopping destination in the heart of downtown. This open-air mall offers a unique and colorful architectural design, making it a popular spot for tourists and locals. Shop at over 130 stores ranging from high-end brands to budget-friendly options. Catch a movie at the onsite theater or grab a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants.

San Diego Symphony

Experience the magic of music at the San Diego Symphony, one of the leading orchestras in the country. With a year-round schedule of classical and contemporary concerts, there’s always something new and exciting to enjoy. The symphony performs at various venues throughout downtown, including the iconic Copley Symphony Hall – known for its exceptional acoustics. Treat yourself to a night out and let the San Diego Symphony captivate you with its talented musicians and enchanting performances.

Cabrillo National Monument

Located at the tip of Point Loma, Cabrillo National Monument offers panoramic views of the ocean, city skyline, and nearby Coronado Island. This historic landmark commemorates the arrival of the first European expedition to the West Coast and features a museum, lighthouse, and hiking trails. Take in the breathtaking scenery, spot some wildlife, and learn about the rich history of this coastal gem.

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

Escape the hustle and bustle of downtown at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park – a hidden gem that offers a peaceful and scenic retreat. Located along the Pacific Ocean, this stunning park features dramatic cliffs, secluded beaches, and mesmerizing views. Perfect for nature lovers, photographers, or anyone looking for a quiet place to relax and watch the sunset.

Coronado Cays

Just across the bay from downtown San Diego lies the charming island of Coronado, home to the exclusive Coronado Cays community. Take a stroll along the marina, or rent a boat and explore the surrounding waters. You can also visit the iconic Hotel del Coronado, known for its stunning Victorian architecture and rich history. With its quaint charm and beautiful scenery, this island is a perfect escape from city life.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography

For those interested in marine science and conservation, visiting the Scripps Institution of Oceanography is a must. This prestigious research facility is renowned for its groundbreaking discoveries and advancements in oceanography. Take a campus tour, visit their aquarium, or attend a lecture or event. You can also explore the adjacent La Jolla Tide Pools for a hands-on experience with some fascinating creatures in the nearby Pacific Ocean.

Wrap Up

Downtown San Diego is a vibrant and diverse destination that offers something for everyone. From its rich history and cultural attractions to its lively nightlife and outdoor adventures, there is no shortage of things to do in Downtown San Diego. So, whether you’re a first-time visitor or a local looking for new experiences, explore all downtown San Diego has to offer. So, next time you plan your trip, add these activities to your list for an unforgettable experience in downtown San Diego.

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