The Perfect Weekend in San Diego

Only three days in San Diego and not sure where to start? This coastal city with a Mediterranean climate aims to please. Try a surf lesson or yoga classes on the beach. Shop local, eat tacos, see the world-famous zoo, and stay outside as much as you can.

2040 Harbor Island Dr #104, San Diego, CA 92101, USA
In San Diego you can charter a sailboat—any type you want—and sail around the bay or head out to the Coronado islands. The Coronado islands, which can be seen on clear days from San Diego, are a group of four islands that have been set aside as a wildlife refuge by the Mexican government. Though you are not actually permitted to disembark on any of the islands, you can anchor to snorkel or view wildlife from your boat.
Tip: If you sail out to the Coronado islands, you will need to have your passport with you!
5200 Grand Del Mar Way, San Diego, CA 92130, USA
When the Michelin Guide extended into Southern California in 2019, it came as no suprise that this restaurant in the Fairmont Grand Del Mar became San Diego’s first to earn a coveted star. Its executive chef, William Bradley, is essentially San Diego’s Thomas Keller. A Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef, he attracts top talent from around the country, ensuring a top-notch kitchen. Named after an architect who was inspired by Spanish, Portuguese, and Venetian decorative arts, Addison screams opulence with everything from iron-and-glass doorways trimmed in 22-karat gold to Venetian plaster walls and limestone fireplaces in the dining room. Guests can choose between a four-course menu or a chef’s tasting menu, either of which might include coffee-roasted canard with Koshihikari rice and candied peanuts, or fruits de mer with fennel, saffron, and piment d’espelette. All that deliciousness doesn’t come cheap, however—the four-course menu is $110. For a slightly more affordable evening, dine in Addison’s bar, Le Salon, which offers a four-course canapé menu for two plus a bottle of wine for $135.
15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd, Escondido, CA 92027, USA
While tourists flock to the world-famous San Diego Zoo, its Safari Park—located 30 miles away in the San Pasqual Valley—is equally interesting. Spread over 1,800 acres, it’s home to more than 3,500 animals and 260 different species as well as a huge botanical garden. Massive, open-range enclosures re-create various habitats from around the world (don’t miss African Plains, which is larger than the entire San Diego Zoo itself), while interactive exhibits allow visitors to get up close and personal with lemurs, lorikeets, bats, and more. The Safari Park began as a breeding program to supply the zoo but, over time, has become a major conservatory project. In fact, its condor-breeding efforts are behind the almost extinct bird’s successful reintroduction to the wilds of California. Note: Early mornings are the best time to see animal activity. Avoid August, September, and October, which are the area’s hottest months.
2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101, USA
At the world-famous San Diego Zoo, you’ll essentially take a journey around the world as you explore 100 acres of habitats that resemble everything from the Australian Outback to the South African coastline. In fact, this institution cares so much about making animal enclosures authentic that it even re-creates rock formations specific to various regions, like the jagged tsingy of Madagascar. The impressive Africa Rocks exhibition debuted in 2017 and includes six enclosures, including an Ethiopian highland for baboons and an acacia woodland for leopards. The zoo is also home to more than 3,700 rare and endangered animals, like Malay tigers and both Asian and African elephants.
Silver Strand, Coronado, CA 92118, USA
Bicycling the Silver Strand on Coronado is a relaxing way to enjoy a beautiful San Diego day. You can bring your own bike, or rent one. This cycling path is known as the Bayshore Bikeway and runs from Coronado via the Silver Strand to Chula Vista. Take the ferry from downtown San Diego to Coronado Island. The ferry docks in a little tourist area with several dozen shops, some restaurants and a couple parks. There’s also a bike rental shop that offers bicycles and surreys for two or more people. The paved path begins by the ferry landing and follows the flat coastline, so it’s an easy ride for anyone. The trails passes by the beautiful Tidelands Park and the famous Hotel del Coronado and continues on by the training grounds for the Navy Seals. The ride affords beautiful views of downtown San Diego and the ocean and bay. Further towards Chula Vista is the Silver Strand State Beach, where you’ll see many types of shorebirds, osprey, and sometimes, huge rabbits. Along the route, you’ll find many places to stop and picnic, so you can bring lunch or eat at any of the restaurants by the ferry landing after returning your bike. Tip: It can be windy, so bring wind protection gear & remember your sunblock!
1492 North Harbor Drive
The Maritime Museum of San Diego is a cool place to visit, especially if you love ships, boats, and history. The museum is spread across several ships that are docked in the San Diego harbor. After buying your ticket, just walk along the gangplank and hop from ship to ship. You can explore the Star of India, the HMS Surprise, a B-39 submarine, the steam yacht Madea, and the steam ferry Berkeley. The displays are impressive and include dozens of intricate model ships, historical art, knots, and flags.
10818 San Diego Mission Rd, San Diego, CA 92108, USA
Mission San Diego is the very first Mission built in what is now the state of California and was built in 1769. Many people come to California for what is known as the “Mission Trail”, a tour of all the Missions built in the state by the Spaniards. You can take a tour for $2 and it is still a working Mission, so if you’re Catholic (or not) you can attend Mass.
2688 E Mission Bay Dr, San Diego, CA 92109, USA
At 4,235 acres, Mission Bay Park is the largest man-made aquatic park in the U.S. Here, water-sports enthusiasts can enjoy everything from kayaking, windsurfing, and wakeboarding to snorkeling, scuba diving, and fishing, while landlubbers can take advantage of several trails and grassy areas. For equipment rentals, head to the Mission Bay Aquatic Center, located right on the bay.
2261 Avenida De La Playa
In and of itself, kayaking is a perfectly lovely way to spend a morning or afternoon. But when you factor in caves, sea lions, dolphins, sea turtles, gray whales, a famous fault line, and masses of docile leopard sharks, “perfectly lovely” becomes “awe-inspiring,” as you’ll discover during a tour of the La Jolla Ecological Reserve with guides from local shop Everyday California. Mind you, not all the animals are guaranteed to show: You’re likeliest to see La Jolla’s famed leopard shark aggregations in the second half of the year, and the gray whale migration from mid-December through April. Still, on any given outing, dolphins could be swimming under you as a sea turtle bobs alongside you and a sea lion pops onto your bow. You’ll also visit the fabled seven sea caves, which include the Clam (the one you can paddle through) and Sunny Jim’s (where the local lore involves everyone from bootleggers to L. Frank Baum). Just east of the White Lady—a cave named for an ill-fated 19th-century honeymooner—you’ll see another La Jolla phenomenon: the Rose Canyon Fault line, exposed in a beachside cliff. Tack snorkeling on to your trip, and you’ll swim with marigold-hued garibaldi, shovel nose guitar fish, and many other colorful characters. Pro tip: Private tours aren’t advertised, but full buyouts are available if you’d rather sail solo—or with your own exclusive crew.
2752 Presidio Drive
Perched above Old Town and visible from many places in the city, this mission-style building is a notable landmark. Few seem to realize, however, that it’s also a museum. Founded by Franciscan monk Junípero Serra in the 18th century, the Presidio Park site was the very first European settlement in what is now known as California. Today, the tiny museum tells its history through drawings and artifacts. Outside, visitors can also enjoy hiking trails, lawns for picnicking, and sweeping views of downtown. There is no admission fee, but small donations are always welcome.
2210 Kettner Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101, USA
At Little Italy’s Herb & Wood, Chef Brian Malarkey’s wood-fired dishes include roasted parsnips with pickled raisins, parsley-shallot verde, and molten Marin County brie; roasted beets with sherry, walnut pesto, jamón Ibérico, and burrata; and grilled flat bread with whipped eggplant, za’atar, onions, and pine nuts. But the Mediterranean- and California-inspired menu isn’t the only big draw here: The industrial-boudoir aesthetic is equally inviting, with tufted sofas, soft lighting, and feathery fronds under the soaring ceilings of this onetime warehouse. A charmingly tattered edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette book has pride of place on the hostess stand. But the restaurant is unlikely to call guests on any manners infractions except one. In calligraphy at the bottom of the menu, you’ll find the following note: “Substitutions and additions politely declined.”
2259 Avenida De La Playa, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA
Trey Foshee, executive chef of George’s at the Cove in La Jolla, is one of the most talented and respected chefs in San Diego. At his casual Mexican restaurant near La Jolla Shores, he cooks with equal skill, using only the best ingredients to create pure, intense flavors. Head to Galaxy Taco for heirloom Masienda corn tortillas, made-to-order guacamole, and epic margaritas with top-shelf liquor and charred fruit. A balance of sweet, sour, and smoke, the Oaxacan Guava (Los Javis mezcal, guava, lime, orange-vanilla shrub, and grapefruit) is a must.
1503 30th St, San Diego, CA 92102, USA
When it comes to Kindred, you can forget your preconceived notions of vegan restaurants. The South Park spot features killer cocktails, filling food, and an edgy design, complete with a coffered ceiling, a white-marble bar, and a demon-wolf-head sculpture mounted on the wall. Pair the refreshing Place of Certainty (vodka, elderflower, Aperol, lemon, Thai basil, winter melon bitters, and cucumber) with Kindred’s take on the charcuterie board (smoked golden beets, kale pesto, and red-chili-and-orange-fennel seitan), or order something more substantial, like the beet risotto or the seared cauliflower steak with squash puree and steak sauce. The restaurant also offers an excellent weekend brunch with everything from cinnamon rolls and banana bread French toast to pancakes with bourbon butterscotch.
3408 30th Street
Although the Smoking Goat is credited with pioneering a culinary renaissance in a once-sleepy corner of North Park, nothing else about chef Fred Piehl’s flagship restaurant screams “culinary vanguard”—and that’s precisely what devotees love about the place. Regulars come here for the reliably exquisite staples: French onion soup with what’s essentially an open-face grilled cheese sandwich afloat in rich veal broth; duck fat truffle fries with pecorino romano and mustard aioli; beef cheeks à la Bourguignonne with carrots, cioppolini onions, cherry tomatoes, mashed potatoes, and braising jus; and other creations that blend traditional French tastes with sustainable, organic San Diego–sourced ingredients. While dinner at this rustic, romantic spot is hardly the time to eat lightly, if you want to go vegetarian, opt for the indulgent raclette au gratin with fingerling potatoes, cornichons, and toast, along with a salad of poached and raw pears with mixed greens, pistachio pesto, and champagne vinaigrette. And as befits the restaurant’s caprine theme, the goat cheese cheesecake with poached peach and whipped cream is a favorite dessert.
11480 North Torrey Pines Road
Breakfast at A.R. Valentien in La Jolla is a relaxing way to start the day. Located in the Lodge at Torrey Pines, the restaurant is just minutes away from Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, so you can head there after your meal to enjoy this beautiful part of the California coastline. In the kitchen, chef Jeff Jackson uses locally sourced ingredients to create simple yet elegant dishes. Start with the refreshing carrot-ginger juice and then move on to the hearty poached eggs with crispy polenta and Italian sausage velouté. For a scenic meal, request a seat on the charming balcony, which overlooks the 18th hole of the famous golf course.
2196 Logan Ave, San Diego, CA 92113, USA
In a city with a taco shop on nearly every corner, Salud stands out for its Chicano-inspired food and decor: According to owner Ernie Becerra, the tacos served here are not traditionally Mexican. The signature Barrio is served on a tortilla made of flour instead of corn, and its filling (stewed beef topped with nopal, beans, and sour cream) is a take on a popular dish in Southern California’s Mexican community. In the dining room, a tattoo mural and a car hood mounted on the wall nod to the lowrider lifestyle Chicano kids grow up idealizing.
3102 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92104, USA
This travel-inspired eatery got so popular that it moved to a larger space on University Avenue in August 2017. Once in the new location, executive pastry chef Kristianna Zabala was able to expand her menu (which changes daily) to include breakfast sandwiches and Montreal-style bagels alongside her usual blood-orange-Creamsicle and blueberry-lavender doughnuts. Available in a range of creative flavors, Zabala’s signature creations feature organic eggs and fresh ingredients from local farmers. Don’t leave without trying the classic ube-taro-coconut variety or the white-chocolate-mint-glazed doughnut with a passion-fruit-jalapeño drizzle, if they are available.
1909 India St, San Diego, CA 92101, USA
Opulent is the word that may occur to you as you stroll into this split-level steakhouse. The art deco-inspired main dining room features oak pillars, camel-colored banquettes, and a jaw-dropping six-tiered brass and crystal chandelier. Upstairs, diners sit on a teak terrace with views of the San Diego skyline. A meal here often includes a show: Many dishes from caesar salad to Tournedos Rossini are prepared and served tableside from custom-made carts. The star of the menu is the Creekstone Farms Beef which has been dry-aged in a glass-enclosed meat locker for more than 25 days. Dry-aged duck and lamb, vegan tartares, and vegetable side dishes like leeks roasted over coals, or broccoli with salty bagna cauda round out the menu. Executive Chef Jason McCleod earned two Michelin stars working at Ria at the Elysian in Chicago. While Born & Raised is a high-end venue, the service is friendly and laid back with suit-clad servers sporting sneakers.
1250 Prospect Street
Given its prime La Jolla location—with a Pacific panorama to match—this stylish, modern bar could get away with serving almost anything. But lucky for spirits enthusiasts, George’s Level2 (one of three venues that make up George’s at the Cove) literally wrote the book on San Diego’s craft cocktail scene: Stephen Kurpinsky, head barman and director of spirits and beer, collaborated with his staff to produce Neighborhoods of San Diego, a beautifully bound compendium of drinks, each representative of—and photographed in—a distinct corner of the city. As you flip through the book, which doubles as the bar’s menu, you’ll get the local lowdown—learning, for example, that around 25,000 pedestrians enter the United States via the San Ysidro border crossing daily. But mostly, you’ll learn that choosing a drink here is nearly impossible. The most popular option is the La Jolla: tequila infused with mango, lime zest, and chili blended with fresh lime juice, agave syrup, and a saline-and-suspended-seaweed ice cube. If you’re looking for something with fizz, the Little Italy—with prosecco and balsamic strawberry shrub, among other treats—is the way to go.
1999 Citracado Parkway, Escondido, CA 92029, USA
Famous for bringing the world the likes of Arrogant Bastard Ale, Stone Brewing is nothing if not cheeky. This is, after all, the first American craft brewer bold enough to open an outpost in Germany, a country steeped in beer-making tradition. But Stone’s audacity is hardly unfounded, as you’ll discover when you visit the company’s headquarters in Escondido—ideally, for a private tour and tasting. If you’re not already a fan of San Diego’s particularly hoppy style of IPAs, there will be at least one beer on tap that makes you a convert. But first, you’ll walk through the brew house—past mash kettles and whirlpools and fermenters—to learn all kinds of fun facts, whether it’s the surprise source of the chocolaty notes in Stone’s porters and stouts (mega-roasted malted barley) or what the upcycling options are for spent grains (cow feed and dog bones). Pro tip: After your tour, bypass the lovely indoor restaurant for the even lovelier outdoor gardens—all bamboo and koi ponds and hummingbirds. Sit back in an Adirondack chair with a beer (try one of the extra-innovative brews on offer only here) and warm pretzels with Stone Ripper Pale Ale beer cheese sauce.
Liberty Station, San Diego, CA, USA
Built in the 1920s, San Diego’s onetime Naval Training Center began its transformation into a cultural and retail space in 2000, when the city bought this massive Spanish colonial revival complex to house galleries and shops as well as concert, movie, and lecture venues. The shopping is largely culinary here, with food hall–style purveyors of everything from coffee to pasta (don’t miss the vinegar tasting station at Baker & Olive). But there are also local accessory shops worth visiting: Down a small, out-of-the-way corridor, you’ll find the only wholesale outlet of Double Happiness Jewelry & Home. This San Diego–based producer of handmade, one-of-a-kind pieces is a favorite of celebrities (Oprah, Cindy Crawford, and Blake Lively, to name a few). The jewel-encrusted hoop earrings are especially hard to resist. Other Liberty Station accessories worth checking out: the rotating assortment of local home goods and accessories at Moniker General (look for Norden Goods candles and Bradley Mountain bags).
Balboa Park, San Diego, CA, USA
A 1,200-acre green space filled with museums, theaters, and gardens, Balboa Park is the center of art and culture in San Diego. It’s also one of the city’s most historic sites, built for the Panama–California exhibition in 1915. While the museums are definitely worth seeing, there are also a number of free attractions, including the photogenic Botanical Building, which houses more than 2,100 plants (including Venus flytraps); the Desert Garden, filled with succulents from around the world; and a sculpture court with works by Miró and Rodin. For one of the area’s best views, purchase a timed ticket to climb the California Tower in the Museum of Man. The ornate structure reopened to the public in 2015 after being closed for nearly 80 years and features a spiral staircase to the eighth floor, where you can catch a glimpse of the Cuyamaca Mountains, the Cabrillo Bridge, and even Mexico’s Coronado Islands.
Located beneath the San Diego–Coronado Bridge, this public space might not be green and tranquil, but it tells a story of perseverance. In 1970, residents of the predominantly Latino Barrio Logan neighborhood staged a nonviolent takeover when the state attempted to build a California Highway Patrol station on land the city had promised would be a community park. Their protests were ultimately successful; the area was designated a park shortly thereafter. In 1973, brightly hued murals touching on Chicano identity and struggles began appearing on the concrete pillars surrounding the space. Today, visitors can see more than 50, which are considered so culturally significant that they earned the park National Historic Landmark status in 2016.
550 J St, San Diego, CA 92101, USA
Why we love it: A sophisticated stay that you never have to leave

The Highlights:
- Spacious, beautifully designed rooms
- Six different restaurants and bars that even locals love
- A rooftop pool for soaking up the San Diego sun

The Review:
The debut property from Pendry Hotels, this elegant hotel brings a touch of sophistication to the Gaslamp Quarter. The 317 guestrooms—including 36 suites—all measure 350 square feet or more, offering space to stretch out on plush beds and chaise lounges upholstered in the hotel’s signature blue tartan. A mix of coastal California style and luxurious amenities, rooms also feature a calming, ocean-inspired palette, chic furnishings, and transparent, glass-and-steel showers stocked with custom bath products.

While you might be tempted to spend the day in your room, enjoying views of downtown or the bay, you’ll want to explore at least a few of the Pendry’s six restaurants and bars. Start your morning at Provisional, a restaurant-marketplace hybrid offering seasonal fare, gourmet coffee, and grab-and-go items, then head up to The Pool House, a rooftop pool and lounge serving light bites and refreshing drinks. Come evening, you’ll want to follow sushi at Lionfish with cocktails at Fifth & Rose, local brews at Nason’s Beer Hall, or live music at Oxford Social Club—plus a Champagne nightcap from the hotel’s Moët & Chandon vending machine. When it’s time to detox, hit Spa Pendry for balancing treatments, or work out in the fitness studio overlooking the pool deck.
600 F St, San Diego, CA 92101, USA
At first glance, the lobby is the place to be at this boutique hotel in the Gaslamp Quarter. At check-in guests are offered a selection of local wine and beer—and again during happy hour. Under soaring ceilings supported by leather-wrapped pillars and surrounded by colorful art, you can sip and socialize. But don’t ignore the scene on the roof, either, where you’ll find a pool with oversized, floating pillows; fire pits with food and drink service; and views of the Coronado Bridge, Mount San Miguel, and the old and new architectural icons of downtown. In fact, the rooftop is so special, you may want to book the only accommodation in the 159-room hotel that grants you direct access to it: the Cabana Suite, where a private staircase leads to your own poolside cabana. On the other hand, if you’re traveling as a family, you may find that another option beats private rooftop access: the Star Suite, complete with three king-size beds, two of which form a custom-built bunk bed. Either way, expect ultra-modern furnishings paired with skyline views.
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