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Discovering San Diego: A 48 Hours Getaway Guide

San Diego is the quintessential Southern California coastal city. The year-round weather is perfect, with beautiful beaches, a laid-back atmosphere, and a wide array of activities that will have you out and about exploring. It’s a must-stop destination when exploring the west coast and gets you in the right state of mind to just relax.

Spending two days here will allow you to explore a wide range of attractions. We want to give you a simple itinerary of things to do to make the most of your time here. These are all interchangeable with your personal preferences or recommendations from friends and family. You can also consider the time of year you can go and research if any special events or festivals are happening during that time. There is plenty of easy accommodations around San Diego to fit your budget needs and within easy driving distance of all these destinations. Let’s dive in!

San Diego Day 1

Old Town San Diego

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

Here is the heart of the city and a preferable place to start your travels. This neighborhood has plenty of things to do in Old Town San Diego. Start your day early so you can maximize your time and all the fun. My personal favorite and highlight that helps showcase the abundant history and culture is the Old Town San Diego Historic State Park. This is where you will find preserved buildings showcasing the city’s early days. It’s almost an open-air museum the way it has been set up for you to just walk around and explore at your leisure.

These contain a tobacco shop, blacksmith, and even a stable and barn-turned museum filled with restored horse-drawn carriages and wagons. The restored Cosmopolitan Hotel is also in use if you choose to stay on the grounds. The park employees are even in period clothing to help give it a more realistic feel to the grounds.

Old Town San Diego
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

Outside of the park you will see the streets are lively. Filled with boutique shops, locally owned stores, outlets, and some delicious food options focused on Mexican cuisine. The supposedly haunted but historically recognized Whaley House is just directly a block away from the park entrance. A walking or food tour in Old Town is a great way to take a deep dive into the Spanish history and culture here. It’s a picturesque location with plenty to see and do. This is also a good place to pick up a ticket for the hop-on, hop-off bus tour that will take you throughout most of San Diego.

Little Italy

San Diego Little Italy
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

This cozy neighborhood has become a trendy and culinary hotspot. Here is where you can find some of the best Italian food in the city along the cobblestone streets. You can find some traditional pastas, wines, and more modern menu choices. Consisting of only a few blocks, what it lacks in space it makes up for in activity for the locals and tourists. Here it’s colorful, vibrant, and always busy it seems.

There are plenty of bars, restaurants, and cafes in this area. Come by on a Saturday for the weekly farmers market for fresh produce, street food, artisanal goods, and diverse crafts. Relax at the European-style piazza in the neighborhood’s center and listen to live music into the night

It’s close to the city waterfront and an easy walk to explore the Maritime Museum of San Diego and USS Midway once you’ve spent a few hours here.

Balboa Park

  • San Diego Balboa
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  • San Diego Balboa
  • San Diego Balboa
  • San Diego Balboa
  • San Diego Balboa

This public park is 1,200 acres of pure enjoyment and a hub of culture! Most likely you will want to spend the majority of your day here as it has the most diverse activities either by yourself or with others. Impressive buildings built here are from Spanish Colonial architecture. There is so much to do here you would need to come back just to finish it all, a day is simply just not enough time.

It contains the San Diego Zoo, one of the most popular and famous zoo’s in the entire world. With 100 acres dedicated to the rare and endangered animals, most travelers agree this is the best zoo to visit. If you have the opportunity sign up for the Roar & Snore Safari where you can camp overnight in basic or glamping style in the zoo and see the animals even after hours along with ziplining and other activities.

What is great for you is that nearly all the museums are in one central location and within easy walking distance of each other. Museums include Art, Natural History, Air and Space, Photography, Automotive, and Science. Each one of these can fill up your time learning with their exhibits and attractions.

If you prefer a more natural setting, the multiple gardens throughout the park are beautiful. There is the Japanese Friendship Garden, Desert Garden, Lily Pond, and even the Botanical Building. Each one showcases different trees and species of plants carefully cultivated for all of our enjoyment.

A personal favorite is the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages. This small area is a mini United Nations in the park. Each cottage showcases a specific country. Going inside you will learn about the culture, food, fun activities, and day-to-day lives that help promote multi-cultural collaboration and unity.

Gaslamp Quarter

Finish your first day here at yet another historic and popular neighborhood. The area has been renewed but kept its original Victorian-style buildings to give off that downtown charm. There is plenty of things to do in the Gaslamp Quarter. Here is where you can find some of the best dining with casual eateries and upscale restaurants. Afterwards the premier nightlife begins to start with lounges, rooftop bars, and clubs for you to take your pick before heading back to your home. There are annual events held here where locals come from all over to participate in. It’s a very busy scene here so plan on using rideshare transportation instead of looking for parking.

San Diego Day 2


It’s time to hit the sand and surf. You have some of the best beach coastlines here in San Diego with sandstone cliffs, great waves for surfing, and seeing some of the local wildlife. Begin with a breakfast at one of the local cafes with some great ocean views before heading down to the sand.

Start over at LaJolla Beach to see the caves where the sea lions along with seals and pelicans reside in their natural habitat. It is a very popular tourist attraction and can be crowded so plan to come early.

Mission Beach is more family-friendly with Belmont Park, an amusement park, and a boardwalk. Roller coasters, bumper cars, arcade games, and mini golf will keep your family well-occupied. The calm waters are also a good start for beginner surfers; you can find several classes and teacherson the surf.

Once you are finished with these take the Coronado Bridge to this island gem. The sands are clean and the shoreline is longer so the people are pretty spread out. It is an island paradise here with its boardwalk on the beachfront, views of the downtown skyline, and small-town charm even though it’s right next to the city.

Chicano Park

Located in the Barrio Logan, you only need to spend a short amount of time because you really are here to just see the impressive and beautiful murals lining up on the concrete pylons that hold the Coronado Bridge through the park. Each one depicts a different representation of the Chicano and Mexican communities that continue to engage and embrace their cultural heritage and achievements.

You may even catch a game of Mesoamerican Hip-Ballgame, known as ulama. It was the ancient sport played in Mexico and Central America and currently has its own sports organization and teams, AJUPEME USA. This is just interesting to watch especially as it was an ancient game that continues to be popular in communities today.

USS Midway

San Diego is the home for many involved with the U.S. military. There are bases scattered all over the city associated with the different branches. A historic naval aircraft carrier now turned museum, for those fans of military history as well as aircraft this ship provides it all. Walk the flight deck and view all the restored aircraft over the past 50 years. Inside you will find flight simulators, interactive exhibits, and self-guided or guided tours from sailors explaining the ship’s history and naval traditions and life aboard a ship.

Mount Soledad

Mount Soledad
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

For a good hike, you should head to Mount Soledad. It has good 360° panoramic views of the surrounding areas once you reach the top, which is the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial. It is the large cross surrounded by walls with plaques and displays that honor specific members of the military.

From here you can pick a number of trails, join a morning exercise class, or just sit and enjoy the scenery of the ocean and cities.

Other San Diego Activities

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve – Coastal state park and one of only two locations of the native pine tree makes it a wonderful location with hiking trails of varying difficulty and views of cliffs, beaches, and canyons. You also have the Torrey Pines Gliderport for those interested in paragliding for a unique and worthwhile experience.

Seaport Village – A quiet waterfront complex with upscale shopping and fine dining along the San Diego Bay. You get beautiful views of the bay and boats arriving and disembarking. Nearby you can take several harbor cruises or a whale-watching tour for 1-2 hours. Or if you prefer to just walk the long stretch of cobblestone paths that wind it’s way through the shopping and eateries for a delightful afternoon.

Liberty Public Market – Another perfect location for the foodie enthusiast. This market has enough independent food stalls to cater to everyone’s taste buds. It’s grate for if you are with a large group or simply want to try something new and different. It has a lively community atmosphere so you should find it very busy and exciting.

Golf Courses – San Diego is a top destination for golfers. You have courses (at least 70) all over the city with top scenic views of the city and coastline. Most are private clubs requiring membership but there are municipal courses at Balboa Park, Torrey Pines, and Mission Bay. This is a great way to unwind and enjoy the simple pleasures if this is your type of relaxing activity.

Day Trips – Don’t feel like you need to spend your entire 48 hours in San Diego. There are plenty of smaller cities and towns just outside of San Diego that are just as fun and relaxing. You can find plenty of things to do in Carlsbad and nearby Encinitas. These really help showcase more of the coastal lifestyle you will come to know and love.

Whatever kind of travel you are looking to have in California, it can be found here in San Diego. It’s a great place to make some memories and have stories to share.

This article originally appeared on The World Overload. Featured Photo Credit: Unsplash

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