This past March, my family and I traveled to San Diego, California for the first time. Within seconds of arriving; it was clear to see why the city was dubbed America’s Finest City. With awesome beaches, a variety of activities to choose from and amazing food; this city on the water quickly became one of our favorites and we wish we had planned more time to explore. If San Diego is on your upcoming adventure list for a short weekend getaway; this guide is for you. A Quick Guide to how to spend a long 72 hour weekend in San Diego plus all details on where to stay, eat and things to do in San Diego on a time crunch.
Where to Stay: Best Places to Stay in San Diego, California
San Diego is a very large and sprawling city with no shortage of accommodations from Airbnb’s to hotels of all classes. The other unique thing about San Diego is its very diverse themed neighborhood. For the best experience of the city, we had the pleasure of staying at two very different locations (Mission valley and Bayfront/Downtown). While many options were available we enjoyed both locations for very different reasons.
Mission Valley: Doubletree by Hilton San Diego- Mission Valley
The Doubletree by Hilton San Diego – Mission Valley property is located as its name suggest in the Mission Valley Neighborhood of San Diego. Not only was it located in close proximity to a ton of shopping but also the historic neighborhood of Old Town San Diego which is the heart of the city and the birth place of San Diego and California dating back to 1820.
You’ll find an authentic experience and a vibrant Mexican culture nearby. If you plan to visit San Diego for popular attractions such as the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld or Balboa Park then this is the best centralized location for you. Click HERE for a detailed guide on our stay at Doubletree by Hilton San Diego-Mission Valley.
Hilton San Diego Bayfront
For a city vibe that represents the true San Diego city on the water feel, the Hilton San Diego Bayfront does not disappoint. The Hilton San Diego Bayfront property is located in Downtown San Diego with both sweeping city and ocean views.
If you are looking to enjoy quick access to city life, popular districts like Little Italy and the Gas Lamp Quarter or enjoy a game at the famous Petco Park then this is the location for you. Though a bit more expensive, you can’t beat the walkable location, scenic views and easy access to a ton of activities in the area. Click HERE for a detailed post about our stay at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront property.
What to Eat: Best San Diego Food
If you’re coming to San Diego for any amount of time, FOOD should be a priority on your itinerary. San Diego is one of the most diverse and delicious cities in the world and the selections do not disappoint. Here are a couple of the food spots that couldn’t pass up on our Getaway:
Shrimp Heads Seafood
If you’ve been following me for any amount of time, you know that I absolutely love crab legs and seafood. Being so close to the ocean, I immediately went on the hunt for good crab legs. Shrimp Heads was finger lickin’ GOOD. Although clusters were expensive, the seafood was nice and fresh and their house made Cajun sauce was super tasty.
My husband enjoyed the lobster tail and sausage and shrimp poppers as an appetizer. The shrimp poppers were the highlight of his meal as they are large shrimp wrapped in bacon and served with a house made spicy mayo. If crab boil type restaurants are your thing, you’ll really enjoy this spot in town. Click HERE to visit their site.
The Great Maple Dinette-Hillcrest San Diego
If you’re a sweet or savory breakfast type of person, The Great Maple is the place to accomplish Both. Though they have many locations in various San Diego neighborhoods, we stopped by the Hillcrest location and it did not disappoint. I indulged in their famous Maple Bacon donuts which are delicious maple glazed donuts in a set of three. Everything good about Maple Bacon + Donuts you can find in their recipe.
My husband enjoyed Pigs in a Blanket. Make no mistake, this dainty sounding breakfast meal is beast. The sausage is Savory and the Pancake is Massive. Coupled with maple syrup, they make magic. Two things are important to note: If you are visiting on a weekend, making a reservation for Brunch is essential. The lines start early and long so be sure to reserve your spot. Also, each location offers a different menu so be sure to visit their site HERE to read the menu ahead of time.
Pizza & Pasta in Little Italy
Italian food is one of my favorite cuisines. So, when I heard that I could get authentic Italian food in the heart of the city, I took my opportunity. According to Yelp, there are tons of highly rated Italian restaurants in that district and the choice was hard. We ended up choosing to eat at Buon Appetite and I do not regret it one bit. The food was so good that I actually forgot to catch a picture of it! Visit their website HERE for menu selections.
Beer Fish San Diego
If anything is quintessentially San Diego, its Baha Fish Tacos and Burritos. When I discovered Beer Fish’s famous Surf and Turf Burritos in Instagram, I knew that I had to give it a try. The Surf n’ Turf Burrito is a juicy Carne Asada and Grilled Shrimp Burrito with Cheddar Cheese fries and sauce.
This Burrito is massive but perfect in every bite! My husband enjoyed the Fish and Chips which were perfectly battered and fried to perfection. The Beer Fish location is in an eclectic University Heights neighborhood and you will enjoy the beach shack ambiance. Though parking is free, it is limited and can be hard to find a spot. Plan to park elsewhere and walk a short distance. Visit Beerfish HERE.
Cheap Things to Do In San Diego
San Diego has no shortage of activities to see or do. This city is full of history and each neighborhood is super diverse in experiences. You could easily spend a week or more exploring the city and all its best attractions. Unfortunately, we only had about three days and really wanted an easy- going vacation. The following recommendations are what we experienced on a time crunch:
What to do on Coronado Island: Beach Day at Coronado Beach
Chances are, you know San Diego from Its iconic Coronado Beach which technically is its own island and town. This beach was made famous for being featured in a 1950s Marilyn Monroe movie “Some Like It Hot” and while it’s quintessentially a California beach, much of it feels nostalgically Hollywood including the inside of Iconic “Hotel Del” which sits right on the beach.
Coronado Beach is easily one of my favorite beaches we’ve been to with scenic views of the coastline and the picturesque hotel’s panoramic view. We also enjoyed that the beach is completely free to enjoy. While you can rent an Umbrella and chairs from the hotel for a steep price, you can make the beach day completely free by bringing a towel or blanket out. Parking is also free in the nearby residential neighborhoods but prepare for a walk if you arrive after midday. This beach is the perfect spot for a beachside picnic (although, beware of the aggressive seagulls).
I also highly recommend taking some time to explore the inside of the historic hotel. Though the outside is bright and beachy, the inside is a gorgeously stark reminder of old Hollywood glamour. We even stumbled upon a hidden gem in the basement. Sundae’s is a gelato style ice cream shop straight out of the 1950s with tons of awesome flavors to choose from. Grab a cone or two while you’re on property to enjoy. I love gelato so this was easily a highlight in my day.
San Ysidro Pedestrian Border Crossing
San Diego is so incredibly close to the Mexican border that you can see Tijuana from the southern part of the city. While we didn’t have the time to cross, we did drive by to see the boarder and the Tijuana Arch. On the US side of the border crossing, there is a shopping outlet for you to enjoy or grab lunch. If you have some time, I suggest bringing your passport and crossing to boarder to grab some authentic Mexican food and capturing the moment with a picture. I also suggest bringing your passport even if you just plan to drive by. This exit is the last exit in San Diego and its quite confusing as you exit the highway. In fact, you briefly cross into Mexico for a split second to turn North bound. All in all, this was a cool experience and next time we visit San Diego we plan to cross the border for Tacos.
Explore Some of the Coolest Neighborhoods in San Diego
San Diego’s Neighborhoods each have unique sites to see and explore. From the Bayfront Hilton Hotel, we were able to walk to the Petco Park, Gaslamp Quarter and hop on the MTS to explore places like Little Italy and more. In these special districts, you will find shopping, restaurants and entertainment.
There are a whopping 17 Neighborhoods in San Diego and they are all connected by the Public Transit system and pedestrian friendly. If you’re on a budget, skipping a rental car and exploring the neighborhoods on foot is a great option. Many of them also have a cool art scene with murals and markets.
Honorable Mentions: More Things to Do for 72 Hours in San Diego
We started our trip intending to explore the city a lot more than we did but honestly, our hotel was so nice that we chose a relaxing pool day and a relaxed itinerary over a ton of activities. We also had family in the area and took some quality time off to be with them while we were in town. Some of the things we were supposed to explore were:
Sea World San Diego: A family friendly marine life amusement park in San Diego. I highly recommend spending a half day in the park to take advantage of all attractions and marine life shows. If you have a valid military ID, click HERE to read about how you can visit Sea World for FREE with their Waves of Honor Program.
The San Diego Zoo: The San Diego Zoo has constantly been rated as one of America’s best Zoos and Safari Parks with over 3,500 animals and 650+ species. I also recommend devoting a whole day to this activity.
Kayaking and Sea Lion Watch at La Jolla: La Jolla is a beach town that you can quickly access with the San Diego freeways or using the Metro system. La Jolla is known for its stunning caves, kayaking adventures and sea lion and seal animal view points. La Jolla is an adventure on its own and you can easily spend a day or two exploring.
Balboa Park: Balboa Park is a cultural park with tons of museums, artisan markets, tours and attractions. If you happen to be staying in Mission Hills, I highly recommend spending some time in this area and devoting a Half day or more to the attractions here.
In the end, San Diego ended up being one of our Top 5 Favorite cities in the United States. It truly is charming, a great introduction to California for us and we hope to return soon. I left the city feeling like it was okay that we had not rushed and explored everything. We are moving to the West Coast soon and it will for sure be our weekend Getaway spot more often.