San Diego is a city everyone loves. Anyone who has been there only has good things to say, and anyone who hasn’t been but has heard about it wants to go. I was so eager to finally check out San Diego for myself, but had to get down to business! We only had 2 days in the city, but were able to fit in all of the highlights. And here’s how we did it.
How to See San Diego in 48 Hours
Decide what you want to see the most.
San Diego is a big city with a LOT to offer! Do a little research first to see what’s available, and then decide what’s most important to you. Below is a list of what we decided to do, and I’m so glad we saw as much as we did!
9:00 a.m: Catch the Trolley at the Old Town Market
Taking the Old Town Trolley Tour of San Diego is a great travel hack. The trolley is hop on and off, so you’re able to pick the sites you want to spend more time on and then catch another trolley when you’re ready to go somewhere else.
While riding the trolley you’ll get a great history of the area from very knowledgeable and entertaining trolley drivers!
Suggested Stops for Extra Exploring:
- Old Town Market. Spend some time at the Old Town Market after parking to meet the trolley. It’s a great historic square with historic stores, restaurants, and reenactments. It’s a great way to get to know the city!
- Embarcadero Marina. Get off here to see the USS Midway Museum. It’s fascinating and a really important piece of history for the area!
- Gaslamp Quarter. This area is a really beautiful, renovated, historic section of town. Get off here to see some of the most popular sights of San Diego, and even join a Gaslamp Quarter Walking Tour!
- Hotel Del Coronado. Coronado Island is a popular spot for visitors to San Diego thanks to it’s gorgeous beaches and upscale, relaxed feel. Get off here to explore the island for as long as you like! We suggest walking around the unique hotel, getting some ice cream or gelato in town, and then spending some time on the beach.
Other stops we love are Balboa Park and Little Italy, but this guide gives extra time to go to those places so you can spend more time at Coronado Island if you save those spots for Day 2!
We loved the trolley tour. Trolleys have been one of Whit’s favorite ways to sightsee for years, and I was thrilled that Old Town Trolley Tours operates in San Diego. I could have ridden one trolley for the entire route just to enjoy sitting down, being chauffeured, and the city commentary.
If you’re interested in riding the full route plan on it taking 2 hours. Since your ticket is good for the entire day, just ride the route a second time to get off somewhere that piqued your interest the first time!
Evening: Padres Game!
San Diego is known for its baseball team, the San Diego Padres. I don’t follow sports and even I know about them!
When surrounded by California sunshine and happy people what better thing is there to do than to support and cheer on someone else?
This is going to be a busy day! Luckily more than half of these stops are covered on the San Diego Old Town Trolley Tour, so you could easily get a second trolley pass and see these places without having to search for parking! Click here to order tickets in advance.
9:00 a.m: Children’s Pool Beach in La Jolla
This is where you go to see those famous San Diego seals! Children’s Pool Beach is a cove that’s been artificially built up to offer a protective space for seals. You can view dozens of seals from the street sidewalk above the beach or by walking down the short pier which curves around the cove.
There is a second beach area next to the cover where visitors can access the beach. Walk down the stairs to a small beach where you can play on the sand or water while watching the seals play.
Be sure not to get too close to the seals, though! Signs warn that mothers could abandon their pups if they feel threatened.
11:00 a.m: Lunch in La Jolla
We loved getting lunch at Burger Lounge, one of San Diego’s most popular restaurants. Their burger patties are made from grass fed beef and are absolutely incredible! We also loved their unique juices and sodas, sweetened with sugar cane.
1:00 p.m: Balboa Park
Balboa Park is one of the most famous public parks in the country. It has museums, fountains, sculptures, gorgeous historic architecture, and tons of open space to play, exercise, or relax. You could spend a week here and not get to everything!
Hopefully you’re in San Diego over the weekend, because Balboa Park will be filled with buskers putting on really entertaining shows for tips! Not just that, but some museums are free during certain hours on Sundays, which means you can get through a lot for cheaper than normal. Who doesn’t love that?
4:00 p.m: Mormon Battalion
Make it back to the Old Town Market (where you picked up the Old Town Trolley Tour) to tour the Mormon Battalion. Learn about one of the first groups to settle San Diego and their fascinating history.
The Mormon Battalion is an interactive demonstration that uses a combination of modern technology and historic artifacts to help you really understand the journey of this pedestrian army force. Kids and adults will love it and learn a ton, which helps you understand the area so much better!
Even better, the tour is FREE.
5:00 p.m: Dinner in Little Italy
Did you know that San Diego’s Little Italy was the largest in the country? That’s a fun fact we learned on the Old Town Trolley Tour! It’s been pared down, but there is still a ton to enjoy and see in this area.
I’m not giving you a recommendation here, because this is Little Italy and everything is awesome. Choose from Zagat-rated restaurants and famous bakeries for dinner and desert. You’ll never want to leave.
You’re welcome. And, sorry.
Sunset: View Sunset from Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
Check when sunset will be on the day you’re visiting and head to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park for some amazing views. The west coast is known for gorgeous sunsets, and Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is known as one of the best places on the west coast to watch the sunset.
Sunset Cliffs Natural Park has multiple scenic points you can walk onto to view the sunset and the waves crashing against the rock. Earlier in the day you could also visit to watch cliff jumpers, and lucky viewers could even spot whales as they migrate!
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