How to Spend 3 Days in San Diego: The ULTIMATE Local Guide

Here’s how to spend the perfect 3 days in San Diego!

A massive hello from the USA! I’ve managed to escape the Australian winter. Currently, I’m cruising through California in the sunshine on my American Dream Topdeck Tour. My sincere apologies for taking so long to update you all on the progress of my journey… Is having too much fun a terrible excuse? I’m two weeks in, and time really does feel like it is flying by!

Already I’ve traveled through three different states. as you can imagine, I have many adventures to share with you. You can follow along on Instagram or Facebook for all my latest updates. I’ll also be posting photo diaries and city guides on PDP throughout my travels!

Now, before I get ahead of myself, let me take you back to the very beginning of my journey. After flying an easy direct flight from Sydney to Los Angeles with Qantas, my lovely friend Rachelle picked me up from LAX and drove us back to her hometown of San Diego.

There really is nothing like being shown around a place by a local. Rachelle created a truly spectacular San Diego itinerary for our time. This city really has so much to offer. I was lucky enough to see the best of the best of the city from a local’s perspective! From the incredible beaches, delicious Mexican food, historical richness, endless lookouts and a buzzing nightlife, it’s seriously hard to run out of things to do here.

Hence, I’ve created for you the ULTIMATE three day guide to the city of San Diego!

How to Spend 3 Days in San Diego

Day 1: La Jolla & Del Mar

Morning:

Wake up early and head to La Jolla to go kayaking along the bay. La Jolla Cove is a part of San Diego’s Underwater Park Ecological Reserve due to its abundance of marine life, and is home to dolphins, sea lions, seals and even whales. Kayaking is a great way to get up close and personal with this majestic marine life, and also gives you a chance to marvel at La Jolla’s incredible sandstone cliffs and caves.

Seal Beach, San Diego

Afternoon

Walk over to Seal beach from La Jolla Beach, where you will indeed find dozens of seals lounging along the beach. Once you’ve had your share of these furry creatures, head back up and grab some lunch at one of the many eateries along the La Jolla strip.

Restaurants tend to be a little pricey around this area, so if you want a cheap eat, hit up Jose’s for some inexpensive but delicious Mexican food. 

Tip: La Jolla is about 30-minutes from the city of San Diego, so if you don’t have a car or your own local tour guide, try this day trip excursion  instead. 

Evening

Head to El Agave in Del Mar for the perfect spot for cocktails at sunset. This place boasts a lively atmosphere, quirky décor, and a nice assortment of cocktails. The watermelon margarita is particularly delicious. Once you’ve had your tequila fix, walk down along the beach to watch that golden ball set beneath the ocean.

Day 2: Old Town San Diego, Mission Beach, & Ocean Beach

Morning

Head to Old Town San Diego, the historic centre of the city. Located only 30 minutes away from the border of Mexico, there is a massive cultural influence to the town, making it the perfect place to experience a little taste of Mexico without having to brave border control.

Wander the streets and explore the many historical sites in Old Town, including the Church of the Immaculate Conception, the Alvarado House, and the Whaley House, which is supposedly the most haunted house in California. Pick up a sombrero, ukulele, or sugar skull from one of the many souvenir shops or markets, and indulge in some delicious Mexican food from Casa de Reyes.

Head to Mission Beach and hire bikes! With an abundance of bike rental shops in the area, for as little as $10 a day you can take a leisurely cycle along the Pacific Beach Boardwalk or do a more intense ride around Mission Bay like this one. Once you are done, hit up WaveHouse for the most gigantic ice cream cone of your life, then ride the famous roller coaster at Belmont Amusement Park located along the beachside.

Evening:

Take a stroll along the Ocean Beach Pier, the second biggest pier on California’s west coast! Originally created for fishing, the pier is now a popular spot for tourists. This is because it boasts magnificent views over the the beach and even has a little cafe at its half way point. Once you have walked the pier, head over to Sunset Cliffs (it appears everything is very aptly named in California). It’s the perfect spot to watch the sun descending beneath the ocean. Make the most of the experience by putting together a picnic and sitting on the edge of the cliff to soak it all in!

Day 3: Balboa Park & the Gas Lamp District

Morning:

Head downtown to Mister A’s for a brunch you will not forget in a hurry. If the delicious food and unbelievably good service isn’t enough to convince you, Mister A’s boasts one of the best views over San Diego city! Sit and watch planes land scarily close to the city whilst you eat. The carrot cake French toast is enough to send you to food heaven  (and will only set you back $12, which is a steal for somewhere so fancy). Be sure to make a reservation in advance and the place is quite fancy so be aware of the dress code.

Afternoon:

Walk from Mister A’s down to Balboa Park. Here you’ll will find a massive 1,200 acre urban cultural park situated in the middle of the city. Wander though open space areas, gardens and natural vegetation zones, check out the many museums and theaters in the area or take a trip to the renowned San Diego Zoo (book tickets here). You’ll find stunning Spanish architecture dotted the park, such as the Casa de Balboa, which is located along the main strip of the park and is definitely worth checking out. 

For a more guided experience of Balboa Park, check out this tour with a local.

Evening:

Head downtown to the Gas Lamp District and experience San Diego’s buzzing nightlife. If you are after a nice dinner spot, check out Meze, a Greek fusion restaurant with great Mediterranean food and a lively atmosphere. Once you’ve had your share of feta and hummus, you’ve got an endless selection of bars and clubs to choose from on 5th Avenue.

Check here if you’d rather do a walking tour of the Gas Lamp District and learn more about its history.

Tips for Visiting San Diego

Travel Insurance

Do NOT forget travel insurance for San Diego (and the US as a whole). The healthcare here is notoriously expensive, so you don’t want to wind up with an ER bill that costs more than your trip. I recommend World Nomads if you’re travelling with tech gear and Safety Wings if you’re looking for something more affordable.

Getting Around

California, like most of the US, is pretty spread out, so you’ll most likely want to rent a car when you come. If you’re uncomfortable driving, you may want to book some tours, like this one, to get around.

Where to Stay

Of course, I stayed with Rachelle, but if you’re looking for places to stay, try staying around La Jolla, the Gas Lamp district, or Old Town

What to Wear in San Diego

I’ll leave you with this. If you are ever visiting California, don’t leave San Diego off the list. This city is brimming with its own unique charm and I  guarantee you’ll find something to love about it. I hope this guide helps to inspire your visit!

As Ron Burgundy would say… Stay classy, San Diego!

For more California travel, check these posts nexts:

If you enjoy this guide to 3 days in San Diego, pin this post for later!

How to spend 3 days in San Diego, California
Nicola Easterby Bio Image

HEY THERE, I'M NICOLA!

I am on a mission to discover the BEST destinations & dishes from around the world. Whether it’s hopping on a plane or into the kitchen, come join the adventure!

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