Being a San Diego local comes with many perks like 70 miles of golden sandy beaches, world-class craft brews, sweeping views, and perfect weather. But living here also means having to play host, a lot, with friends and family expecting you to be their vacation tour guide for all intents and purposes. After all, you should be able to show them a mighty good time in the home of the California burritos, right?
Well in case you need some inspiration on how to dazzle your guests with the magic of this remarkable city, here is this list of the best things to do in San Diego when your friends or family are visiting.
We included free activities like beach hopping to the best-paid attractions like watching a majestic sunset on a Harbor Bay cruise. Whether you are a local looking for things to do in San Diego while your friends or family are in town or a visitor looking for the best things to do here while on vacation, we’ve got you covered.
Let’s dive right in!
Table of Contents
Free Activities / Attractions In San Diego When Your Friends Or Family Are Visiting
Spend a day exploring Mission Beach on a bike, walking on the boardwalk or enjoying a beach day with your favorite humans. Explore the iconic Belmont Park right in the heart of Mission Beach or make a pit stop by Mission Bay which includes playgrounds, grassy lawns for picnicking/ sports, and a 12-mile path for biking and hiking.
Just a few blocks away from Pacific Beach, you can ride your bike or walk along the boardwalk that connects both beach towns together filled with beach views on one side and bars/eateries on the other. Come for sunset and stay for a beach bonfire at one of their fire rings scattered around, details are found here.
Have A Picnic At Sunset Cliffs
Picturesque Sunset Cliffs is known by locals as the spot to catch a breathtaking sunset with a side of boundless ocean views outlined by dramatic cliff formations. It’s the perfect spot for a morning or sunset picnic with the fam to enjoy the views and feel the ocean breeze. Don’t forget to pack your favorite refreshments/ snacks.
Bonus tip:If you're going for sunset, it tends to get pretty packed 30 minutes before sunset so plan to arrive at least an hour early to snag a good spot. If you go in the morning you can hike the rest of the coastline trail. This San Diego Natural Park borders the historic hippy neighborhood of Ocean Beach home to some of San Diego’s best brews and burgers.
Just 5 minutes from downtown is the historic Balboa Park. A 1,200-acre urban cultural park right in the heart of San Diego featuring gorgeous architecture, gardens, and home to the San Diego Zoo.
The park ground is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Admission to the grounds is free and access to their many gardens, botanical gardens, and trails. They have events on the weekend and around the holidays. Bring a blanket to lay out on the green grass and watch the planes come in or check out their cactus or rose garden. The museums and zoo are not free and require an admission fee typically ranging from $25-$65 with some discounted rates for locals.
Old Town is a State Historic Park and neighborhood with attractions that reflect its Mexican roots. Teaming with craft shops, the neighborhood is surrounded by 1800s-era colonial-style buildings and vibrant Mexican restaurants that feature happy hours and strong margaritas.
It is home to the historic Whaley Museum and other historical landmarks. Window shop with your gang while you eat a churro or freshly made tortilla from cafe coyote.
Go For A Hike On Mission Trails
With over 8,000 acres and 65 miles of trails, Mission Trails Regional Park is one of the largest urban nature parks in the country. Mission Trails is home to Cowles Mountain, the most popular hike in the city, the East Fortuna Staging Area (Equestrian Staging Area), Kumeyaay Lake and Campground, Old Mission Dam Historic Site, Kwaay Paay Peak, and many additional areas to hike, bike, and explore. Bring lots of water and sunscreen.
Visit A Farmers Market
On any given day of the week, there is a farmers market going on in one of San Diego’s colorful neighborhoods. Enjoy browsing through the different food and artisanal vendors. You can explore the urban and hipster farmers market in Northpark or the charming sophisticated neighborhood of Little Italy maybe buy some fresh-cut flowers and artisanal finds, and later maybe stop by to eat some of the best Italian food San Diego has to offer. View the calendar here for a list of the farmer’s markets by neighborhood.
Seaport Village is a perfect place to take a stroll with loved ones as you gaze out into the San Diego bay. It’s known for its many waterfront gift shops, live music, performers and eateries which feature fresh catch of the day seafood directly from the fisherman’s hands as well as pizza, ice cream and tacos.
The long and winding trail will take you along the marina filled with boats and sails and lead you directly to the USS Midway and waterside dining mecca portside pier. This easily makes our list of things to do in San Diego when your friends or family are visiting. Bonus tip: if you shop at one of the stores or dine at the restaurants they will validate your parking.
Paid Activities/ Attractions In San Diego When Your Friends Or Family Are Visiting
It’s no secret San Diego revolves around water. Experience San Diego with a unique Whale watching experience as you hop aboard the historic 139-foot yacht America and whale watch for the day with the entire family or your group of friends. Next Level Sailing Whale Tours offers a Whale sighting guarantee: If you don't see a whale, you get to come back for free. Plus a ' No seasickness' guarantee: Lose your lunch, and they give you a $25 gift card. Don’t miss the chance to see these gentle sea giants in the Pacific Ocean.
Cabrillo National Monument
Dating back all the way to 1542 when Juan Cabrillo set foot on the first piece of West Coast land, Cabrillo Monument is San Diego’s very own National Park surrounded by panoramic views of the city harbor and coastline. It's a way to explore the best of San Diego’s history, culture, and nature as you meander through the landmarks, tidepools, and nature hikes.
There are tours of the lighthouse and grounds offered daily in addition to interactive exhibits demonstrating the historic function Cabrillo Monument served as. This can easily be an entire day activity for the family.
Cost: $20 per commercial vehicle
Hit up a speakeasy
San Diego’s secret bar and tiki scene is like no other and if you didn’t know, now you know! We have a separate blog dedicated to our favorite speakeasies in San Diego. Visit the one and only False Idolor the new and immersive alien experience at Mothership. Each speakeasy experience carries its own unique and creative trick to get in but it makes for a fun craft cocktail experience with friends or family.
Cost: No cost for entry but pay per drink
Do some good old fashion bar hopping through some of San Diego’s legendary craft breweries that put the city on the map for craft beer. Scavenger Beer and Adventure tours host public and private tours that include some of the best breweries like Ballast Point, Belching Beaver. and Stone Brewing Co. They also offer tacos and tequila tasting tours for tequila lovers. No doubt one of the best things to do in San Diego when your friends or family are visiting.
Take in the breathtaking views of the San Diego skyline and Coronado bridge as you explore downtown on a Sunset Harbor Cruise. Enjoy a guided tour narrating the history of San Diego while you sit back and relax and sip on your favorite cocktail. Flagship Cruises is San Diego's longest-running harbor tour company locally and family-owned. Bonus tip: They also have dinner sunset cruises and mimosa brunch options! It’s easily one of the best boat activities in San Diego.
It’s safe to say your family or friends will have love in their eyes by the time they are done exploring this true California gem that is San Diego. Happy adventuring and remember to follow us on instagram @sandiegohumor for your latest and funniest San Diego updates.