How to Spend 4 Perfect Days in San Diego [Itinerary]

Planning a trip to San Diego? Here’s a suggested 4 days in San Diego itinerary to make the most of your time in the city!

A sandy beach with assorted palm trees leading up to the blue water beach.

San Diego is a beautiful coastal city in Southern California, right on the Pacific Ocean and near the Mexican border. Known for its pleasant year-round weather and stunning coastlines, San Diego offers a laid-back and vibrant atmosphere, with plenty of attractions to visit. 

The city’s charm, sunny weather, and coastal beauty make it an exciting destination for travelers, and my daughter and I were absolutely charmed by the city, the gorgeous coastline, the delicious food, and all the fun things to do. 

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Travel Resources!

To help you plan your trip quickly, here’s a snapshot of the top-rated experiences you’ll want to book in advance for San Diego.

Activities in San Diego:

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The Perfect Itinerary for 4 Days in San Diego

To help you better plan your visit to San Diego, here’s a proposed itinerary for a 4-day stay in the city. Toward the end of this post, you’ll also find some helpful recommendations if you want to extend your visit to San Diego.

San Diego Day 1 Itinerary

Start your trip to San Diego by visiting San Diego’s famous park, and then visiting some gorgeous spots along the coast.

Balboa Park

A large gorgeous structure with intricate carvings and arched pillars leading through the gardens.

This expansive park offers a long list of attractions and museums to visit, and has the most beautiful Spanish Revival architectural style. The gorgeous structures are intricately designed and absolutely had my jaw on the floor. You just don’t find these kinds of masterpieces everywhere in the United States!

Begin your journey at the Organ Pavilion, a stunning structure with columns, ornate carvings, and a large stage. A nice experience is to come to the free organ concerts on Sundays at 2 pm. 

An arched passage with stone walls and pillars leading to a amphitheater with hundreds of seats.

Just a short walk from the pavilion, you’ll discover the peaceful courtyard of the Woman of Tehuantepec. It’s a beautiful space decorated with string lights, a tiled fountain, and elegant arches. There are also cafes and restaurants nearby, where you can relax and enjoy the ambiance.

A fountain covered with colorful tiles and stone arches all around the room.

Be sure to visit the Lily Pond – it is one of the most popular photo spots in Balboa Park, and for good reason. The pond and architecture around it are gorgeous

A woman leads on a bridge over a small rectangular pool of water with geese swimming around.

Don’t skip the Desert Garden, where you’ll encounter a diverse display of cacti and desert plants. If you visit during the blooming season, make sure to explore the vibrant Rose Garden too. It showcases 100 varieties of roses that will surely make you fall in love with nature’s beauty.

A woman stands in the middle of a street with the cobblestones painted different colors and white stone buildings all around.

I also recommend stepping into the Spanish Village Art Center. It’s a charming little square designed to resemble a traditional Spanish town. As you walk through it, you’ll be amazed by the colorful tiles on the ground, the clay-style roofs, and the diverse art galleries found within the center.

A few other attractions are:

  • Moreton Bay Fig Tree: A landmark in Balboa Park, known for its impressive exposed roots. Although the tree itself is gated off, you can still enjoy a leisurely walk up to and around it.
  • The Alcazar Garden: This garden near the Bell Tower features formal paths, hedges, and a fountain, all creating an amazing Moroccan vibe. 
  • The Bell Tower: A remarkable architectural masterpiece.
  • Palm Canyon: A beautiful pathway surrounded by a variety of palm trees

Entrance to the park and parking are free. 

Lunch: Hodad’s

A hamburger with a toasted bun, veggies, and ketchup with a side of crispy potato wedges on top of a light blue table.

Hodad’s is a famous burger joint in San Diego, known for delicious burgers and fries that were perfectly juicy and flavorful. It’s a favorite of both locals and tourists, and many consider it a must-visit destination when in the city. 

Apart from their burgers, Hodad’s has a chilled out vibe that fits perfectly with the surfer scene in San Diego. 

Tide Pools

Scattered tide pools with moss and different animals inside with people walking on the edges of the rocks.

The tide pools at Cabrillo National Monument were a surprising favorite in San Diego. From the parking lot, you’ll walk a short distance down and around to the protected beach, where little pools of water filled with marine organisms are found during low tide. 

The landscape feels rugged and unspoiled, with the constant ebb and flow of the tide creating a sense of freshness. While exploring the tide pools, keep an eye out for some creatures such as crabs, sea slugs, starfish, sand dollars, minnows, anemones, and barnacles. 

It’s very important to check the low tide schedule – you want to visit when the tide is 0.7 or lower (I promise that will make sense when you check the tide chart). The recommended time to arrive is about an hour before the peak low tide for the best experience. During high tide, the beach is inaccessible. 

Remember to respect the environment, and not disturb or take anything from the beach.  Be aware that there is no cell service available in this area, so it’s a good idea to plan accordingly and be prepared.

  • Hours: Opening hours of 9 am to 4:30 pm
  • Entrance Fee: 20 USD entrance to Cabrillo National Monument, or a National Parks Pass

Sunset Cliffs + Sea Caves

A large beach with patches of rock and moss on the ocean with sandy beaches on the other side of the rock shore.

Sunset Cliffs and Caves is known for its stunning coastlines, rugged cliffs, and gorgeous sea caves, making it an ideal destination for adventure seekers and nature lovers. To be honest, Sunset Cliffs and Caves is less about the caves and more about the views. You’ll see dozens of surfers come out at sunset to hit the waves. 

A rock shore with a curved rock wall behind making a small beach with waves coming in.

There’s a walking path right along the coast, and plenty of places to get on the rocks and walk around, enjoying the sea views and the sunset.

There are a few free parking lots available along Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, as well as various sections offering free street parking. 

Dinner: Tacos El Gordo

Two plates of tacos freshly made with one having salsa, cilantro, and fresh meat with another salsa, guacamole, veggies and meat on a red tablecloth.

Tacos el Gordo is a fun and unique taco joint in downtown that offers truly delicious tacos with a wide variety of fillings for both meat lovers and vegetarians (and randomly, they also serve french fries). 

Each taco costs around $3.50. 

San Diego Day 2 Itinerary 

For your second day in San Diego, you’ll visit San Diego’s top tourist attraction, as well as my personal favorite beach in the city.

Breakfast: Swami’s Cafe

A large white plate on a marble counter with large pieces of french toast topped with fresh fruit and whipped cream with a pink strawberry smoothie on the side.

Swami’s Cafe is an inexpensive but surprisingly delicious place to get breakfast in downtown San Diego. We LOVED their French toast and smoothies.

San Diego Zoo

A cheetah sits in front of a fence looking straight at the camera with bushes in the background.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the zoo in San Diego – there were so many unique and exciting animals to see, many of which you may have never seen before. Of course, the San Diego Zoo is one of the top points of interest in the city, but the price tag is steep, which made me wonder: is it worth it?

After spending a solid 4 hours being absolutely engrossed in the zoo, I’d have to say yes!

The zoo’s enclosures are thoughtfully designed, providing the animals with natural and spacious habitats. As you wander through the zoo, you’ll be surrounded by lush foliage, including bamboo, trees, and other plants which creates a truly immersive experience. 

A red panda climbs up a large windy tree with a small fence in front.

 The zoo houses various animals, including grizzly bears, hippos, camels, koalas, servals, meerkats, and more. A few favorites included a cheetah observing the people walking by, a roaring tiger, and adorable red pandas climbing trees.

While you can just walk around the zoo, there is also the option to ride the shuttle bus around, which stops at each animal enclosure and provides interesting information from the driver. (A lifesaver if you have sore feet and tired legs!)

For an added adventure, consider trying the gondola ride for a unique perspective of the zoo.

An orange and black tiger walks along the side of the glass cage.

While the entrance fee is steep (starting at $70), we really felt like the San Diego Zoo lives up to its reputation, offering a fantastic display of animals and experiences, and that it was definitely worth the money. 

We spent around four hours exploring, and only covered about 75% of the zoo – you really could spend all day here! 

To avoid the hassle of long queues, I highly recommend purchasing your tickets online in advance. This way, you can bypass the ticketing lines and head straight to the animals.

Get your skip the line tickets for the San Diego Zoo here

Coronado Island

A sidewalk leading across the beach with palm trees and beach houses lined up next to the path.

Located just off the coast near downtown San Diego, Coronado Island is considered an idyllic getaway with its beautiful beaches and architecture. This must-visit destination is connected to the mainland by a car-only bridge.

While on the island, you can visit Hotel del Coronado. It’s a historic wooden hotel on the island that has hosted many celebrities over the years. You can walk inside and around the hotel and admire its impressive architecture – the beach vibes are strong!

A woman in a light pink dress stands in front of a large white and red hotel with steeples and a huge amount of rooms and windows.

Next, journey along the paved coastal path that stretches alongside the island’s shoreline. If you don’t have a bike, no worries—bike rentals are readily available for you to enjoy a ride while taking in the island’s views.

A mother and daughter hold hands walking throughout the bush and sand.
A mom and daughter in pink and yellow dresses hold hands walking along the shore of Coronado Island.

You’ll find captivating sand dunes on Coronado Island, and a few have been landscaped with some patches of grass that spell out the word “Coronado” when viewed from above. 

And of course, don’t forget the long and wide beach that’s waiting for you. Stake out your space for relaxation, sunbathing, and beach activities. Take a leisurely stroll, build sandcastles, or simply bask in the sun and then stay to enjoy one of San Diego’s magnificent sunsets.

A large beach with an island on the right side with the sunset making the entire beach a hot pink.

We LOVED Coronado Island – it was possibly my favorite spot that we visited during our 4 days in San Diego!

Dinner: Miguel’s Cocina

A large white plate with crispy tortilla chips, guacamole, lettuce, cheese, and salsa.

Miguel’s Cocina is a large and lively Mexican restaurant with a great atmosphere. Their courtyard provides a nice seating area and the food is so delicious, especially the thin, crispy, and freshly fried chips with delicious salsa and yummy queso. We got the nachos and tostada – both were fantastic

San Diego Day 3 Itinerary

Day 3 in San Diego is all about hitting up a wide variety of locations – you’ll have a lot of interesting experiences today!

Little Italy

A red brick Italian restaurant on the outside of the street with a flag and a large patio.

Little Italy is a small neighborhood filled with Italian shops and restaurants and a really cute vibe. As the sun sets, the area transforms into a lively hub, with restaurants offering patio seating on the sidewalks, decorated with twinkling string lights, and filled with the cheerful buzz of people.

During the day, Little Italy showcases its picturesque beauty, with its charming streets and an inviting ambiance. But Saturday mornings bring an exciting treat with the highly popular farmers market. 

 A woman stands in the middle of a farmers market with lots of stands lined up across the streets parallel to the palm trees.

At the farmers market, you’ll find many fresh and juicy produce, along with a variety of artisanal goods. You can browse through stands selling handicrafts. 

The market is also a food lover’s paradise, with a lot of stands offering sweet and savory options like gourmet cookies, stuffed hashbrowns, smoothies, juices, and Indian delicacies. Come hungry!

A pastry with dough wrapped around with chocolate stuffed in and whipped cream and strawberries on top.
A large market stand with rows and rows of fresh berries

I recommend trying the chimney cake, a Hungarian dessert made by wrapping dough around a cylinder and baking it to create a cone-like shape. We tried one stuffed with chocolate, strawberries, and cream – absolutely delicious.

Hours: 8:00-2:00 on Saturdays

USS Midway Museum

A large US aircraft carrier with lifeboats attached to the sides and lots of different compartments and levels. There are large planes on the top deck with a command center on the top.

For another unique experience in San Diego, head to the USS Midway Museum. This historical “museum” is in fact an actual aircraft carrier from World War II and the Vietnam War. 

As you enter through the main hangar of the ship, you’ll be greeted by a display of old airplanes and exhibits about the USS Midway. The museum provides various interactive elements, including cockpit access to some aircraft and flight simulators.

A green metal archway leading throughout the ships passage ways with rooms leading on different sides.
A woman holds the steering wheel in a section of the ship with lots of dials and pressure knobs.

The real excitement begins with the three self-guided tours that take you through different sections of the ship’s inner workings. You’ll have the chance to walk through areas like the mess hall, engine room, and captain’s quarters.

Each room is equipped with informative signs, placards, and an optional audio tour to enhance your understanding of their functions, and occasionally wax figures depicting individuals engaged in specific activities.

The top of the aircraft carrier with lots of large planes attached to the top and a control station on the other side.

One of the highlights is the tour that takes you up to the flight deck, where you can stroll around and observe the airplanes and other elements situated on the top of the aircraft carrier.

The USS Midway Museum provides an authentic experience, with original conditions preserved throughout the ship. We had a fantastic time here and both me and my tween daughter thought seeing all the inner workings of a navy ship was absolutely fascinating. 

  • Hours: 10 am (last admission at 4 pm), museum closes at 5 pm
  • Cost: $31 (ages 13+). I’d recommend buying your tickets online in advance, so you can skip the lines and head straight onto the ship. 

Get your skip the line tickets for the USS Midway here

Maritime Museum of San Diego

A huge ship with lots of complicated sails and ropes up against the dock with lots of shining blue water.

If you want even more history, a visit to the Maritime Museum of San Diego will scratch that itch. It showcases a complex of four historic ships, all docked along the pier at the Embarcadero.

These well-preserved (and extremely cool-looking) vessels share a glimpse into the maritime heritage of the region. You can see the world’s oldest active sailing ship, the Star of India, and the replica of an 18th-century Royal Navy frigate, the HMS Surprise,  and learn the unique story of each one of them. 

Lunch: Filippi’s Pizza Grotto

Two large pieces of garlic bread on top of a red and white checkered tablecloth. The garlic bread has lots of different flakes of spices and garlic cloves.

Filippi’s Pizza Grotto is a delicious, budget-friendly, and old-school restaurant in Little Italy focused on Southern Italian red sauce dishes. 

This restaurant looks like a store when you enter, but the restaurant is in the back and smells amazing.  Their pizzas have delicious, thick crusts and they also serve generous portions of pasta options. Their garlic bread is one of the best I’ve tasted!

La Jolla

La Jolla is a charming and upscale coastal town known for its beautiful beaches and coastline. Start by strolling through town and checking out all the cute shops and scenery.

Then head down to the water and follow the coastal path. You can admire the craggy, rocky coastline that San Diego is so famous for.

Lots of brown seals rest on moss covered rocks in the middle of the rocks with the blue ocean in front.

La Jolla is also popular for all the seals that swim in the waters and come lie out on the rocks along the shore. There can literally be hundreds and hundreds of seals on the beach and rocky shoreline of La Jolla. 

A large beach shore with water crashing onto the sand and rocks looking out at the ocean and other side of La Jolla.

One of the highlights is La Jolla Cove, a popular destination with a small beach nestled in a semi-protected cove. The beach features a mix of sandy and rocky areas, and you can even explore a quaint sea cave. 

A woman stands on the small rocks in the ocean in front of the small carved rock. There are rocks further out in the distance with seals sleeping on top.

Nearby is Sunny Jim Sea Cave, where you descend 145 steps through a tunnel to reach a hidden cave open to the sea. There’s a large opening out to the ocean, and the views of the water through the cave are really spectacular.

A carved rock with an opening looking at the ocean with a large blue water wave coming in.

It’s a popular attraction, so I’d avoid visiting on the weekend, if possible. Cost is $10 per adult. 

La Jolla Shores is one of the most popular and beautiful beaches in the area, and is a perfect spot for anyone wanting to relax on the sand. 

And of course, La Jolla is an excellent spot to watch the sunset. 

Dinner: The Spot

Finish off your evening in La Jolla at The Spot, a casual restaurant serving delicious meals and seafood.

San Diego Day 4 Itinerary

Your final day of your 4 days in San Diego takes you to the oldest place in the city, and to a few different beautiful coastal areas – the perfect way to end your San Diego vacation.

San Diego Harbor Cruise

A large scenic view with the ocean in front of the different buildings and skyscrapers.

Wrap up your time in San Diego by experiencing the city and coastline from the water. Harbor cruises are a fun and popular activity in San Diego, and this narrated tour will take you past some of San Diego’s most important monuments and locations, while enjoying the refreshing sea breeze. 

This is the perfect way to finish your 4 days in San Diego.

Check prices and availability for the harbor tour here

Old Town San Diego

A large row of old buildings with lots of different colors and people walking around.

Old Town San Diego is a destination that holds significant cultural and historical value, and is a really cute step back into the past. 

Here, you can see the first settlement of the city, which has homes and buildings from the 1800’s. Many of these buildings today house shops and restaurants, but there are a few areas that function almost as “museums,” and showcase what life was like back in the old west days. 

A girl sits on a covered wagon in front of a bright pink vintage hotel.

Definitely stop by the blacksmith shop, where actual blacksmiths are working and will demonstrate ironworking tasks for visitors. There are also some cool wagons and carriages in the blacksmith yard to admire. 

Grab a picture by the covered wagon on display, stop by the museum at the Colorado House, the First San Diego Courthouse Museum, and the Schoolhouse Museum for a look at how people lived their lives in the 1800’s.

People stand in front of a  water table with rocks and gold in it. People are holding black pans to sift through for fools gold.

I’d also recommend a stop at the Mormon Battalion Historic Site – the presentation about the LDS pioneers traveling to and settling in California is exceptionally well-done and very interactive, and you can pan for gold afterward (and the religious messages are pretty minor).  

The Old Town area has a plethora of great Mexican food options – grab a taco before you leave!

Torrey Pines State Park

A large side of a cliff with different brush around with a gorgeous overhang looking out at the clear blue water and waves.

For outdoor lovers, the natural beauty of Torrey Pines State Park is worth exploring. A coastal gem located just north of San Diego, this expansive park is known for its rare Torrey pine trees, which are among the rarest pine species in the world. As you drive through the park, you’ll go up to the sandstone bluffs, offering a great view of the Pacific Ocean.

For hiking enthusiasts, Torrey Pines State Park has a variety of trails that wind along the oceanfront bluffs. You can choose to start from the main entrance and challenge yourself with the uphill walk or park at the top and dive straight into the trail system. 

The Guy Fleming Trail is an easy loop that provides benches with panoramic views of the ocean, perfect for spotting dolphins. The Beach Trail leads you to the beach with a must-see stop at Red Butte, where you can take in the shoreline vistas and watch paragliders soaring above. Other trail options, such as Razor Point and Yucca Point, offer further exploration opportunities.

If you’re interested in learning more about the park’s history and ecosystems, join one of the guided nature walks led by Torrey Pines docents. These walks take place on weekends and holidays and provide insightful information about the Kumeyaay Native Americans, the Torrey pine, and the park’s geology. 

For those looking to enjoy the water, Torrey Pines offers a popular beach area too. This can be found along the front of the main entrance. 

Extraordinary Desserts

A large display of assorted treats and desserts with lots of bright colors on a white table.

Extraordinary Desserts is a great dessert destination in San Diego. This establishment has a wide selection of delectable treats, including cheesecakes, brownies, bread pudding–it’s a real paradise for dessert lovers!

In addition to its impressive dessert menu, they also serve a variety of lunch and dinner options. We had the tomato soup (SO good, definitely recommend) and a variety of desserts, which were all excellent. 

Have more than 4 days in San Diego, and want to do more exploring? Here are some ideas: 


A marine-themed park with captivating shows, interactive exhibits, and thrilling rides. It’s a must-visit for people seeking entertainment, education, and conservation in one place. 

Get your tickets for Sea World here

Joshua Tree National Park

Witness iconic Joshua trees, massive rock formations, and opportunities for hiking, rock climbing, and stargazing. 


As San Diego is less than 2 hours from Disneyland, it’s super easy to add a day or two in the happiest place on earth to your San Diego itinerary. 

Practical Information

Is 4 Days in San Diego Enough? 

4 days is plenty of time to see and visit a lot of the top attractions in the city. Of course, San Diego is a vibrant city with lots of things to see and do – you could spend weeks here. I do think 4 days is a perfect vacation length to hit many of the top highlights of the city.

Do You Need a Car?

Having a rental car is definitely the best way to get around. While you could Uber, and there are *some* public transit options, most places are definitely easiest to visit with a rental car. 

I recommend (and personally use) for my rental car needs. I’ve found they have some of the best prices, availability, and car options of any provider.

You’ll want to book your rental car ASAP – prices go way up and availability goes way down as your travel dates approach.

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