Known for its beaches, parks, association with the United States Navy, and beautiful climate, San Diego is a must-do on any trip to California.
With so many things to see and do it might be hard to decide where to begin, especially if you have limited time for your visit. Let this guide get you started with suggestions for things to see and do in 48 hours in San Diego.
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Old Town Market & State Historical Park
The Old Town Market area is a great place to start your visit to San Diego as it is known as the birthplace of California. In 1821 when Mexico gained independence from the Spain they began building homes near the first mission and Presidio and San Diego has only grown since then. The Casa de Aguisse displays the life and traditions of the settlers of the Old Town.
Also in this area, you’ll find the Whaley House known for its Greek Revival architecture, but likely better known for its reputation of being the “Most Haunted House in America”!
The Mormon Battalion was the only religiously based unit in U.S. military history and a memorial has been built here in their honour for their service during the Mexican-American War. Guides are on hand to give visitors very informative and interesting tours.
The Old Town Community features colonial beauty with unique shops and boutiques, along with restaurants featuring Mexican and California cuisine that is a must have in this part of the country. You might want to leave this area for exploring at the end of the day if you expect to do some shopping, so you don’t have to carry your shopping bags around all day.
Embarcadero Marina & USS Midway
Easily an area you could spend most of a day, the marina features several attractions, including two major ones – the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier and harbour cruises. The San Diego Visitor’s Center is also here and has local experts on hand to help you plan your time in the city and answer any questions you may have.
We’d highly recommend hopping on board a one or two-hour Harbour Cruise (we took the two-hour cruise) for fantastic views of San Diego and a trip around the bay.
The North Bay part of the tour cruises past the North Island Naval Air Station, the US Naval Submarine Base, Point Loma, and some sea lions just out relaxing for the day. The South Bay features the Coronado Bay Bridge and the Navy Shipyards.
Another must-do is the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier that features an interactive museum to teach visitors about its military operations. It is the longest serving aircraft carrier in the US Naval history with 47 years of service to its credit! The guided tour is very informative, and there are many different types of aircraft on its deck to explore. You’ll want to give yourself several hours as there is just so much to see here.
Horton Plaza & Gaslamp Quarter
A little bit of history and a whole lot of activity can be found in these areas.
The oldest wooden structure in San Diego, the William Heath Davis House, can be visited to learn about its significance to San Diego and how its original owner was the first person to attempt to develop the new town.
The Gaslamp Quarter features a historic area with pretty buildings decorated with stained glass, carvings, and columns, and then gas lamps (of course!) light up the streets outside them. This area is also known for its restaurants, shopping, bars, and nightlife. It’s a happening area!
Our Recommendation: Situated between the Embarcadero Marina and Gaslamp Quarter (see map) you’ll find a great little place for lunch – especially for fans of the 80s hit, ‘Top Gun’, called Kansas City Barbeque. The bar scene (where Goose and Maverick sing ‘Great Balls of Fire‘) was filmed in this casual hang-out that has good food and oodles of movie memorabilia to take you back. Fans of the movie should visit this site to learn about other scenes filmed in the San Diego area that can be visited.
For a little taste of luxury, visitors to San Diego can stay in the historic Hotel del Coronado that has been an iconic legend for almost 130 years. It has welcomed presidents, celebrities, royalty, and beach-lovers to stay and play.
Situated on the ocean side of Coronado Island, the beach is one of America’s favourites and people come to swim, surf, or simply to relax in the sun or watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.
History and architecture lovers can learn all about the area on a Coronado walking tour of the pretty little town.
If you are bringing the kids to San Diego you’ll definitely want to hit the Balboa Park area as it has several fun attractions.
The Fleet Science Center features virtual reality and an IMAX Dome theatre.
The San Diego Natural History Museum fascinates visitors with its Foucault pendulum that swings back and forth, knocking over different dominoes throughout the day, signifying the Earth’s rotation.
And the Museum of Man shows the evolution of man from early humans, to ancient Egypt, to cyborgs! You can also climb the tower for great views over the city.
Watch the Sun Go Down at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
If you come before sunset you can watch the surfers catch some waves, and then just enjoy the sound of the ocean as the sun sets over the Pacific at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park (
Have you been to San Diego? We’d love to hear your recommendations for more fun things to do in this cool city!
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