Ultimate 3 Day Weekend in San Diego Itinerary

This post may contain affiliate links. Read our Disclosure Policy here

A weekend in San Diego will see you enjoying beautiful, white sand beaches, epic Pacific coast scenery and that laid back Californian lifestyle.

San Diego is one of the most iconic destinations in California because the city epitomizes everything that the state is best known for.

Any San Diego itinerary needs to include the famous Balboa Park, where you can spend hours walking through the city’s best museums and galleries, before visiting San Diego Zoo.

Enjoy the diverse mix of Spanish, Mexican and American influences, indulge in the great food and enjoy the bars too. 

A weekend in San Diego is one of the best experiences in southern California, and to help you to plan your visit, here’s our ultimate 3 day San Diego itinerary. 

Don’t leave home without: Top 10 San Diego (Pocket Travel Guide)

Ultimate Weekend in San Diego Itinerary

Before you dive into this itinerary, we recommend that you plan on purchasing a pass for a unique way to the see the city.

While most cities offer large double-decker buses, San Diego has a super cool Hop On Hop Off Trolley.

Much like the buses, this trolly will take you around to 10 strategically planned stops, where you can get off and explore that area of the city. When you’re done, you hop back on and move to the next place.

The passes for this trolley come in one and two day options, to ensure you can see all of the best sights on your San Diego itinerary.

Balboa Park San Diego

Day 1: Weekend in San Diego

The first day of your long weekend in San Diego has to begin at Balboa Park, the city’s most famous public space.

You’ll spend the day delving into the city’s rich culture and heritage, as you learn all about San Diego’s past, present and future. 

Balboa Park

Balboa Park is easily the best place to visit on your San Diego itinerary. This enormous public park is the heart of the city, but it’s not quite like any other park that you might find elsewhere in the world. 

Balboa Park isn’t the sort of park where you just sit around on the grass – although, of course, you can do that if you wish.

Balboa Park is the cultural center of San Diego because it’s here that you can find 17 different museums, each dedicated to a different aspect of history, culture, art or science. 

Our Top Recommended Tours:

Panda at San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo is also found within Balboa Park – yes, it’s an enormous park, and you’ll be spending the entirety of the first day of your San Diego itinerary here! – and it’s one of the best-known zoos in the United States.

San Diego Zoo is home to thousands of animals and hundreds of different species.

The zoo is based around the concept of cageless exhibits – where possible anyway – and animal welfare is a priority. 

You can find different exhibition areas, ranging from an Outback Australian experience to a showcase of African wildlife.  

Our Top Recommended Tours:

Museum of Natural History in San Diego, California

Museum of Natural History

After exploring San Diego Zoo, you can head to the Museum of Natural History to learn even more about the natural world around us.

Also found in Balboa Park, this is one of the best museums to include on your San Diego itinerary.

Dating to the 1870s, this is one of the oldest museums in California, and the range of exhibits that have been collected here over the years is staggering.

You’ll find complete dinosaur skeletons, taxidermy animals and much, much more at the San Diego Museum of Natural History.

3 day weekend in San Diego

Museum of Man

Keeping within Balboa Park, you can move on from the Museum of Natural History to the Museum of Man, where you can learn about humanity instead of wildlife.

The Museum of Man is an anthropology museum, housed in the grand buildings that were built for the famous 1915 Exposition.

The museum itself began life at the Expo and has since evolved into a comprehensive display of all things human, be it the history of the species or our ever-changing cultures and traditions across the world. 

Our Top Recommended Tours:

San Diego History Center

San Diego History Center

To learn more about the city’s history, then take a walk through the San Diego History Center – which again, is located within Balboa Park.

The museum looks at the often convoluted history of southern California, from the region’s Native American inhabitants to the Spanish colonization and then the US expansion.

You can see how the city has evolved over the years, into the multicultural destination that you find here today. 

Our Top Recommended Tours:

3 day weekend in San Diego

San Diego Museum of Art

If you still have time left in the day or haven’t yet had enough of the museums, then take a trip to the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park too.

Here you can delve deep into the city’s cultural heritage and traditions, as you admire the many collections of predominantly fine art that’s housed at the institution. 

Day 2: Weekend in San Diego

The second day of your weekend in San Diego will see heading further afield.

As you leave Balboa Park behind and explore the rest of the city, from the historic Old Town to the fascinating USS Midway Museum.

San Diego USS Midway Museum

USS Midway Museum

Start the day by visiting the USS Midway Museum. It’s a popular attraction in San Diego, so get here when the museum opens to avoid the crowds. 

San Diego has an important history as a US Navy base on the Pacific coast because the city’s deep, natural harbor and strategic location made it an excellent place for the navy to be based.

The navy still play a huge role in local life, and for tourists, a popular place to visit is the USS Midway Museum, a former aircraft carrier turned tourist attraction. 

The USS Midway was built at the end of World War II, and for over a decade it was the largest ship in the world and was only decommissioned in 1992. 

Our Top Recommended Tours:

San Diego Old Town

San Diego Old Town

After exploring the flight deck and aircraft hangars of the USS Midway Museum, head across the city to San Diego Old Town.

The Old Town is designated as a State Historic Park because this is where the city can trace its humble roots from.

The Old town dates back to 1769 when Spanish missionaries first began heading north along the California coastline from Mexico and founded missions and settlements along the way.

The Spanish and Mexican influences in San Diego are, of course, incredibly important.

Within the Old Town, you can visit the colonial-era buildings that have been preserved from this period in the city’s history.

It’s in the Old Town that the city celebrates Cinco de Mayo each year too.

Visit the old Spanish mission call into the quirky souvenir shops and art galleries, and soak up the glorious history of San Diego in the Old Town. 

Our Top Recommended Tours:

San Diego Sea World

San Diego Sea World

In the afternoon, on the second day of your three day San Diego itinerary, it’s time to visit the fabled Sea World.

This is perhaps the most famous of San Diego’s attractions – arguably more famous than San Diego Zoo – and it’s a great chance to see the city’s love of wildlife up close.

You can see orcas, seals and many more different marine animals at Sea World while learning about these beautiful creatures, and learning about the threats to our oceans. 

Our Top Recommended Tours:

Day 3: Weekend in San Diego

The final day of your weekend in San Diego is a chance to see the city’s surrounding areas, and to head out of the city center.

This is the best way to experience the nature that is close by, from Mission Bay to the beautiful beaches and coastline of La Jolla. 

Mission Bay California

Mission Bay

Mission Bay is just on the edge of downtown – actually the same area you would have visited to get to Sea World on Day 2 of your San Diego itinerary.

Start by taking a stroll along Mission Bay Boardwalk, where you’ll have excellent views over the Pacific Ocean.

The bay is one large marine park – one of the largest parks in the country, in fact.

As well as taking in the views, you can get more adventurous, and spend your morning jet skiing, swimming, water skiing and any other water sport you could possibly imagine. 

Mission Bay is essentially one giant sports hub, and you’ll find all sorts of outdoor activities to get you active in San Diego.

You can tee off at the golf course, you can rent a kayak and paddle your way to the Pacific Ocean, or you can play volleyball, go hiking, and much, much more at Mission Bay. 

Mission Bay is home to great cafes and restaurants overlooking the water too, and you can enjoy a spot of lunch, before heading further out of the city for your last afternoon in San Diego. 

Need to book a car for your road trip adventure? We use Discover Car Hire for comparing car prices to find the best deal. They search both local & international rental companies.

La Jolla, California

La Jolla

Head north from Mission Bay, and you’ll be leaving the city behind as you follow the beautiful highway along the coast.

This is southern California at its best, and you’ll have marvelous views over the Pacific Ocean, while if you have your own vehicle, there are lots of beaches and small communities to stop at.

Aim for the community of La Jolla, which is located just 20 minutes away from downtown San Diego.

This is small-town California, where you can escape it all and experience some of the best beaches in the area. 

It’s a great place to spend your last afternoon San Diego, and you can visit the dramatic scenery of the Torrey Pines State Reserve to explore the incredible local canyons before lazing around on the beaches along the coast.

La Jolla itself is a charming town, and you can visit the local shops and enjoy small-town life, in an exceptional location.

Hang around for dinner and drinks in La Jolla, and you can try out the local food scene, as the sunsets over the Pacific Ocean.

Our Top Recommended Tours:

Where to Stay in San Diego

The two best options, in my opinion, for accommodation in San Diego are either to be close to the ocean or near Old Town.

In Old Town, we stayed at the Best Western Plus Hacienda Hotel Old Town and loved its charm. The rooms are big and well-appointed with comfortable beds. The hotel has an old west feel with a flair of Mexican decor. You can’t beat the location either, close to plenty of great Mexican restaurants.

If you want to be on the ocean and prefer upscale accommodations, you cannot miss a stay at the Hotel del Coronado. This hotel is all but an official castle overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The property is private and stunning. If you can swing the price, it will be a stay to remember!

More on USA Travel:

Did you like this story? Share it!


Looking to get started on your trip planning process? Let us help!

Travel Gear & Packing: Check out our packing lists and travel gear guide to ensure you're bringing the right items on your trip.

Book Your Flight: Ready to fly? Check out our tips for finding cheap flights.

Find A Car Rental:We use Discover Cars to compare car prices, find deals and book rentals.

Book Your Hotel: Compare prices and book with our recommended hotel search engine. You should also check out our tips for finding cheap accommodation.

Find Vacation Rentals: Search vacation rentals & apartments on VRBO for the best prices and options.

Protect Your Trip:Don’t forget your travel insurance! Protect your investment and yourself. Read Is Travel Insurance Worth It?

If you need more help planning your trip, be sure to check out our Step by Step Trip Planning Guide where we break down our process for getting the trip planning process right every single time.

About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. We are also a member of other affiliate programs. For more info please read our disclosure page

Leave a Comment

Divergent Travelers- Adventure Travel Blog