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29 Best Things to Do in San Diego

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This post provides details about the best activities and attractions to enjoy while you’re visiting San Diego.

We include tips on free things to do, family fun, and popular evening entertainment. 

You’ll also learn about some of the easiest ways to save money on ticketed events and locations.

Top 10

This section will list some of the best things to do in San Diego, including activities that are either family-friendly, free, or fun after the sun goes down. 

Many of the attractions listed below are included with at least one San Diego City Pass, allowing you to save money on notable tours, museums, cruises, and more. 

1) Go to a Theme Park

There are a lot of different theme parks in and around San Diego. 

If you’re interested in thrill rides, roller coasters, and carnival games, you might want to consider visiting one of the following locations:

Since there is so much to do at each park, you might want to pick just one and set aside an entire day to explore and enjoy as many rides as possible.

Each of these attractions is included at no extra cost with the Go City San Diego Pass.

2) Take the Kids to the Zoo

The San Diego Zoo is one of the biggest and most popular family attractions in the city, and it houses more than 4,500 unique, rare, and endangered animals. 

Tickets include admission to a free open top bus tour which will take you throughout the zoo.

Purchase tickets to the San Diego Zoo.

In addition to that option, you might also want to consider experiencing the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, which is itself home to over 3,000 animals. 

Visitors can expect the opportunity to encounter cheetahs, alligators, and other wild animals.

Purchase tickets to the San Diego Zoo: Safari Park.

Tickets for each attraction are sold separately, and they are both currently $65 for adults. 

Thankfully, the San Diego Zoo and its Safari Park are each included at no additional cost with the Go City San Diego Pass and the San Diego CityPASS, allowing you to save money on both activities!

3) See the Whales

Although you might be able to see some whales at SeaWorld, it’s a completely different experience to see them in their natural habitat. 

Luckily, San Diego is right on the water, and it’s actually a great place to spot whales in the wild.

Between the months of December and April, an estimated 20,000 gray whales migrate along the California coast, and several companies offer whale watching cruises to help visitors get a good view of these typically gentle giants.

Purchase tickets for a Whale Watching Cruise.

TIP: This is another activity that is usually included with the Go City San Diego Pass.

4) Attend a Sporting Event

There are a lot of major teams in San Diego, so anyone who loves sports will have plenty of games to attend throughout the year. 

Whether you love baseball, football, basketball or even soccer, there’s usually at least one sporting event to attend while you’re in town.






If you’re looking for even more options, make sure to check this list of sporting events in San Diego.

5) See a Musical/Theatrical Event

While San Diego might not be known for its theater scene, there are still usually at least a few major Off-Broadway musicals to see at various times throughout the year. 

You can expect major shows such as Hamilton and Annie, notable comedians such as Jim Gaffigan and Adam Sandler, and even family theater such as Peppa Pig Live or Disney Junior Live.

Check some of the following venues to see what will be playing during your trip to San Diego:

Alternatively, if you want to see what’s playing right now, check this list of theatrical events in San Diego.

6) Go to a Concert

As with most big cities, San Diego tends to attract a lot of popular musicians throughout the year. 

There are typically at least a few major concerts each month, and it’s not uncommon to see performers as notable as Elton John, Alicia Keys, or the Eagles.

The following popular venues typically host some of the biggest names in the business: 

For even more options, make sure to check this calendar of concerts in San Diego.

7) Take an Old Town Trolley Tour

While hop-on hop-off bus tours are popular in many cities, they aren’t as big of a deal in San Diego. 

Even so, there is still one major company offering this service, and it’s Old Town Trolley. At the moment, they offer both a day tour and a night tour. 

The day service allows you to jump off at any of their stops, spend some time in the area, and then hop back on to the next bus when it comes later. 

The night outing is a limited service that runs for approximately 75 minutes after dark, so you won’t have the time to jump off and look around.

Each trolley ticket includes admission to the following 10 museums at no extra cost:

  • Coronado Historical Museum
  • Timken Museum of Art
  • San Diego Firehouse Museum
  • Mormon Battalion Museum
  • Steeley Stable Museum
  • Old Town Railroad Museum
  • San Diego Chinese Historical Museum
  • San Diego History Center
  • Veterans Museum Balboa Park
  • Hotel Del Coronado/Ice House Museum

Tickets also include $30 in coupons to use at various restaurants and other locations in San Diego. You’ll also receive a free map to help you find your way around town!

Purchase Old Town Trolley tickets or learn more.

TIP: 2-Day Old Town Trolley tickets are included at no extra cost with the Go City San Diego Explorer Pass, and the 1-day tickets are included with the San Diego CityPASS.

8) Experience a Harbor Cruise

If you’re interested in spending some time out on the San Diego Harbor, there are a variety of cruises and boat tours you can take. 

Most of these are sightseeing tours, but there are also dining cruises for anyone who wants a more romantic experience.

In addition to these options, you can also expect a variety of speed boat tours for anyone interested in a more exciting outing. 

Alternatively, you may want to consider a sunset cruise instead.

Here are just a few of the services included with the various tourist discount passes in San Diego:

For even more options, check this list of San Diego cruises.

9) Go to a Museum

There are several interesting museums all over San Diego, including some locations we will discuss in our section of free activities. 

Whether you want to see some incredible contemporary art or learn about the history of the city, there are plenty of options to choose from.

Here are some of the best museums in San Diego:

Best of all, most of these museums are included at no extra cost with the Go City San Diego Pass

Don’t forget that Old Town Trolley tickets also include admission to 10 different museums for free!

10) Get Active!

There is a lot of natural beauty surrounding San Diego, including sites such as La Jolla, Coronado, and other areas where you can stretch out and enjoy some fun activities. 

Whether you want to go surfing or enjoy a hike, there’s plenty to do in and around this city.

Here are just a few ideas you might want to consider: 

The best part about all of these options is that they’re included at no additional cost with the Go City San Diego Pass.

Check our free section for more details about other fun locations to visit such as the beach, the boardwalk, and farmer’s markets.

Free Things to Do in San Diego

The following section covers some of the best activities you can enjoy in San Diego without paying a dime. 

While you might want to bring some cash for small things, it isn’t required for any location or service listed below.

Go to the Beach

San Diego is surrounded by beautiful beaches, and it’s usually very warm in the city, so there’s almost always a reason to spend some time walking along the oceanfront.

If you’re in the La Jolla area, you might want to consider checking out the famous tide pools at Shell Beach, False Point, Dike Rock, Hospitals Beach, and many other beautiful locations. 

You might even want to consider starting a bonfire at La Jolla shores!

This is an excellent idea for a family activity, and the only thing that you really have to worry about is transportation costs. 

Don’t forget: if you have the Go City San Diego Pass, you can use it for a free bike rental!

See the San Diego Symphony at Open Rehearsals

The San Diego Symphony performs regular open rehearsals at the Rady Shell, giving visitors a chance to hear some live music from one of the greatest symphonies in the United States for free!

They offer between 5-10 rehearsals a month, typically running from 10 am - 12:30 pm. 

At times, they will have two shows in one day, with the second taking place between 1:45 pm - 3:45 pm. 

On special occasions, they also offer open rehearsals at night from 7 pm - 9:30 pm.

The Rady Shell is located in Jacobs Park, which is open to the public. If you do choose to come, make sure to be quiet and respectful!

Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

While you do typically need a ticket to enter the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, it’s worth noting that you can actually visit for free on both the Second Sunday and Third Thursday of every month. 

Members of the military and people under the age of 18 are welcome to visit for free at all times. 

You can also get a Free Membership Art Pass if you are between the ages of 18-25!

If all else fails, keep in mind that this is just one of many museums included for free with the Go City San Diego Pass.

See a Concert at Spreckels Organ Pavilion

If you’re looking for an alternative to the San Diego Symphony rehearsals, you may want to head to the Spreckels Organ Pavilion on Sundays at 2 pm for a free concert.

These concerts are offered year-round, and they are always free and open to the public. 

Each concert is 1 hour long, and you can expect them to perform all kinds of music from the classical masterpieces of Bach to modern hits.

Check the Sunday Concerts page to see what will be playing and plan out your trip!

Go to the Mission Beach Boardwalk

If you feel like going to the beach, but you don’t want to walk on the sand, the Mission Beach Boardwalk is an excellent alternative. 

Whether you choose to simply walk along the ocean or do a little window shopping, there’s plenty to see and do while you’re here.

This is a popular weekend destination, so it makes sense to head on down and take a look around. 

This is also where you’ll find popular attractions such as Belmont Park and the Plunge, both included with the Go City San Diego Pass.

Visit a Farmer’s Market

If you’ve got a kitchen to cook in, head to one of the many Farmers Markets in San Diego to get some fresh food! 

Here are a few of the best options to choose from:

  • Del Mar Farmers Market
  • Little Italy Farmers Market
  • Carlsbad Village Farmers Market
  • La Jolla Open Aire Farmers Market
  • Pacific Beach Farmers Market
  • Ocean Beach Farmers Market
  • Hillcrest Farmers Market

Go to Balboa Park

This is one of the most popular parks in San Diego, and it’s home to a lot of great museums, some of which are entirely free to visit.

While the Timken Museum of Art is always free to visit, it’s worth noting that other museums in this area are only free on certain days each month. 

Here’s what the calendar currently looks like:

  • First Tuesday
    • Fleet Science Center
    • San Diego Model Railroad Museum
    • San Diego Natural History Museum
  • Second Tuesday
    • San Diego Air & Space Museum
    • The Veterans Museum
  • Third Tuesday
    • San Diego Museum of Art
    • Japanese Friendship Garden
    • Mingei International Museum
  • Fourth Tuesday
    • The Comic-Con Museum
    • San Diego Automotive Museum

TIP: Most of these museums are also included with the Go City San Diego Pass, so you can still save money even if you can’t make it for one of the free days!

Things to Do in San Diego With Kids

Although our top 10 list already includes some of the best family-friendly events and attractions in San Diego, there are several other activities you might want to consider.

And many of them are included for free with some San Diego tourist passes

Visit an Aquarium

There are actually two aquariums near San Diego, so you have multiple options if you want to see beautiful aquatic life. 

The first option of the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, and you’ll find this location in La Jolla. They have over 5,000 fish on display living in 60 different habitats. 

As with many modern aquariums, they have touch pools, opportunities for feedings, and live talks with professional guides.

In addition to this attraction, you may also want to consider a visit to the SEA LIFE Aquarium which is next to LEGOLAND in Carlsbad, CA. 

While this will require you to drive out of the city, if you’re already planning a trip to the theme park, going to SEA LIFE could save you some time.

LEGOLAND offers free admission to SEA LIFE with all 2-day tickets. 

In addition to that deal, one or both of these aquariums are actually included with either the San Diego CityPASS and Go City San Diego Pass!

Take the Kids to a Children’s Museum

If you’re planning to visit San Diego with young children under the age of 12, you may want to consider a trip to the New Children’s Museum. 

This attraction is designed for kids, and it includes a lot of hands-on activities to help them learn about the world around them.

With fun exhibits such as a 40-foot slide, a giant hammock, and even an art studio where children can paint and create with clay, there is plenty for younger visitors to see and do at this museum.

This is yet another attraction that is included with the Go City San Diego Pass.

Go on the San Diego SEAL Tour

If you’re interested in either a boat or bus tour, you’ll have time to do both on the San Diego SEAL tour. 

This outing takes place on an amphibious vehicle that will travel both by road and by water, allowing you to see the city from a unique perspective.

This is similar to the duck tours you’ll find in other cities around the world, but it has a different name in San Diego. Tickets start at just $49 per person.

Purchase San Diego SEAL tickets or learn more.

Enjoy a Speed Boat Adventure

Even if you’re not interested in taking a peaceful cruise or going on a whale watching tour, you might still want to consider getting out on the San Diego Harbor in a speedboat!

This is an excellent activity for families, and an especially good idea for families with older kids who are looking for a little excitement. 

One of the best options in this city is the Patriot Jet Boat which travels at speeds of up to 50 mph. 

As you speed around the waters of San Diego, you’ll see major landmarks such as the USS Midway, the Coronado Bridge, and many other notable sites.

Alternatively, you can also just drive your own speedboat and experience the city from the water at your own pace!

NOTE: The Go City San Diego Pass includes one or more speedboat tours at no additional cost.

Go to Plunge San Diego

If you’re planning to visit the Mission Beach Boardwalk, it’s worth noting that there are a lot of fun attractions in the area, including the Plunge. 

This is a giant enclosed swimming pool with all kinds of fun activities to enjoy.

In addition to a floating obstacle course, they also have a basketball hoop and 7 lap lanes, so it’s great for all types of swimmers. 

If you’re worried about your kids going into the ocean, this might be a good alternative that is right at the beach!

TIP: Admission to the Plunge is included with the Go City San Diego Pass

Take the Kids Go Karting

This is another excellent idea if you’re visiting San Diego with older kids, especially teenagers. Who wouldn’t enjoy a ride in a go kart?

San Diego’s Speed Circuit offers all day passes which allow visitors to use their go kart track. 

They also have a thrill park with trampolines, human hamster balls, zip lines, and other fun activities.

If you’re already planning to get a Go City San Diego Pass, it’s worth noting that they include this attraction at no additional cost.

Things to Do at Night in San Diego

This city might not be world renowned for its nightlife, but there are still quite a few interesting activities to enjoy after dark. 

If you haven’t checked our top 10, make sure to look for sporting events, concerts, and theatrical shows in that section.

Take a Ghost Tour

There are a few interesting haunted history tours in San Diego that you might enjoy.

One of the main services is actually the Ghosts & Gravestones trolley tour that will take you to some of the spookiest sites in the city. 

You can expect to visit the Whaley House, old town, and 2 cemeteries.

In addition to that option, you might also want to consider taking a haunted tour of the Gaslamp Quarter, one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city!

Enjoy a Sunset Cruise

Although most of the cruises in San Diego are offered during the day, there are a few services that begin at or around sunset. 

This is one of the best times to see the skyline of San Diego from the water, and it can be quite romantic.

Some of these outings include a free glass of champagne, while others offer a full dining experience with 3-plate dinners and/or buffets and music for dancing.

Discover the Best Food in San Diego

There are a lot of fantastic foods you might want to try in San Diego, but it’s easy to forget about that until it’s well past time to find a restaurant!

If you’re looking for some advice on the best dishes to order and where to find the best restaurants, you might want to consider taking a food tour. 

Many of these services take place in the early evening, just before dinner time.

There are also pub crawls and other types of tours that cover some of the best drinks to get in the area!

Here are a few options to consider:

Explore the Gaslamp Quarter

What better place to visit after dark than a neighborhood named after the type of gas lamps that were once lit at night? 

This is one of the most historic areas of San Diego, and it’s usually the site of at least a few stops on popular ghost tours.

In addition to the potentially haunted history of the area, there are also a lot of great restaurants and other attractions to see. 

For example, this is where you’ll find Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, and they frequently have night games you can attend.

This is also where you’ll find the USS Midway and the New Children’s Museum, both of which are included with the Go City San Diego Pass.

Have Fun at the Drive-In

The Drive-In Movie Theater is fast becoming a staple of the past, but there are actually a few of them located right here in San Diego. 

If you’ve got a car and you feel like experiencing this kind of show, consider heading to one of the following locations:

Go Stargazing

This activity fits just as well under free things to do, because it won’t cost a thing to enjoy the night sky!

Although the city lights can make it difficult to see the stars, a quick drive out into the more desertous areas surrounding San Diego can produce some great results.

Here are a few locations you might want to consider:

  • Fleet Science Center (Telescope)
  • Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
  • Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
  • Cowles Mountain (Mission Trails Regional Park)
  • Palomas Observatory

TIP: Fleet Science Center is included with the Go City San Diego Pass.

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Updated: November 5th, 2022
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