Downtown San Diego is one of the most well-known destinations in Southern California. Here, you’ll find a wide range of attractions and activities to keep you occupied all day long. From free museums and stunning architecture to beaches, parks, shops, restaurants, and nightlife – it’s easy to see why so many people choose this part of San Diego as their home base when exploring the city.
The downtown area includes Gaslamp Quarter, Little Italy, and the Embarcadero. Each of these neighborhoods offers its own set of attractions and activities. If you're visiting Downtown San Diego be sure to check out this list of the top things to do in Downtown San Diego.
Table of Contents
- 1. Stroll the Embarcadero
- 2. Tour the USS Midway Museum
- 3. Board the Maritime Museum of San Diego Ships
- 4. Visit Seaport Village
- 5. Run up the San Diego Convention Center steps
- 6. Catch a show at The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park
- 7. Catch a Show at the San Diego Civic Theatre
- 8. Take a Selfie with Unconditional Surrender
- 9. Take a ride around town in a pedicab
- 10. Hop on the Ferry to Coronado Island
- 11. Cool off at Waterfront Park
- 12. Shop, play and eat in Little Italy
- 13. Go out in Gaslamp Quarter
- 14. Enjoy a Padres game at Petco Park
- 15. Check out the Central Library
- 16. Check out Barrio Logan
- 17. Stand-up paddle or kayak in the San Diego Bay
1. Stroll the Embarcadero
Embarcadero is a historic downtown area of San Diego and a perfect place to walk or jog. It's located on the waterfront and features many shops, restaurants, and attractions such as the Maritime Museum. Embarcadero also offers amazing views of the city skyline and bay. It runs from the end of Broadway Pier (across from the airport) to Seaport Village.
2. Tour the USS Midway Museum
The USS Midway Museum is another popular attraction located right in the central downtown area of San Diego. The museum was actually a retired aircraft carrier, which has now become a national historic landmark. Visitors can explore over 60 different exhibits on the ship's nine decks, view fighter jets and helicopters when you step outside onto the flight deck, and watch flight simulators in the flight deck theater.
3. Board the Maritime Museum of San Diego Ships
The Maritime Museum of San Diego is a collection of historic vessels that offer tours and educational programs. The museum has four ships, including the oldest active ship in California, which is still used for public tours. You can also see historic tall ships, submarines, steam yachts, and much more. The Star of India, for example, is the world's oldest active sailing ship and was originally built in 1863 for a single-country voyage around the world.
4. Visit Seaport Village
Seaport Village is another great place to visit in downtown San Diego, especially on a sunny day. The open-air shopping village has more than 50 shops and restaurants, many of which are waterfront eateries that you can enjoy while taking in the views. There are also live music bands and street performers, making it a fun place to spend an afternoon or evening. Along the bay, you will also find some impressive yachts docked.
5. Run up the San Diego Convention Center steps
If you're feeling energetic, why not stop by the San Diego Convention Center and run up the stairs to get your heart pumping? The steps are a favorite training spot for runners and fitness enthusiasts from all over San Diego, as well as an iconic landmark with amazing city views. You can see people running up the stairs at any time of day, but the best views are at sunrise and sunset. And if you're up for a challenge, try running up the steps multiple times to really get your heart racing!
6. Catch a show at The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park
Another great activity in downtown San Diego is catching a show at the Rady Shell at Jacobs Park. Located right on the water, this outdoor theater hosts many events throughout the year, including concerts, ballets, plays and other performances. So if you're in town during the summer or fall months, be sure to check out what shows are playing at the Rady Shell and enjoy an evening of entertainment right by the water. In August 2021, we saw one of our favorite comedians, Sebastian Maniscalco, perform at the Rady Shell, which was an unbelievable show.
7. Catch a Show at the San Diego Civic Theatre
The San Diego Civic Theatre is one of the premier attractions in downtown San Diego for fans of the performing arts. It's an amazing venue that regularly hosts performances by the San Diego Opera, San Diego Symphony, and other major musical acts. The theatre also has a large selection of Broadway shows, including well-known favorites like Wicked and The Lion King.
8. Take a Selfie with Unconditional Surrender
Unconditional Surrender is a statue of a well-known kissing couple in times square. You can find this 25-foot tall work of art at the end of the San Diego Embarcadero on Harbor Drive, near the Maritime Museum. It features a sailor embracing an ecstatic woman during World War II, making it one of the most iconic attractions in San Diego.
9. Take a ride around town in a pedicab
One of the best ways to explore downtown San Diego is by hopping on a pedicab with your friends or family members. Not only do these slow-moving, human-powered vehicles provide an eco-friendly way to get around, but they also allow you to see more of the city's attractions and enjoy some fresh air at the same.
10. Hop on the Ferry to Coronado Island
If you're looking for a fun day trip from downtown San Diego, consider hopping on a ferry to Coronado Island. The 15-minute journey will take you across the bay to this charming island city that is home to world-class beaches and many great restaurants. You can also visit the famous Hotel del Coronado, which opened in 1888 and is one of the oldest resorts in the country. So if you're looking for a relaxing day away from the hustle and bustle of downtown San Diego, hop on a ferry to Coronado!
11. Cool off at Waterfront Park
Waterfront Park is another great place to visit in downtown San Diego, especially on a sunny day. This 12-acre park has walking trails, lush green space, and beautiful views of the bay that you can enjoy while playing some sports or simply relaxing with your friends and family. There are also public art installations throughout the park, so be sure to stop and take a look at these unique works of art as you explore this beautiful park.
12. Shop, play and eat in Little Italy
If you're looking for a fun day in downtown San Diego, be sure to check out Little Italy. This vibrant neighborhood is home to dozens of great restaurants, shops, and cafes that you can explore with your friends or family members. You can also spend some time at the local park, which has great views of the water and a playground for the kids. So whether you're looking for a day of shopping, dining, or just enjoying some outdoor space, Little Italy is a great place to visit in downtown San Diego! The Little Italy sign is located at India Street and Fir Street with lots of restaurants on India Street.
13. Go out in Gaslamp Quarter
Looking for a fun and exciting night out in downtown San Diego? Head to the Gaslamp Quarter, one of the city's most vibrant and exciting neighborhoods. Here you'll find dozens of great bars, clubs, and restaurants that are perfect for an evening out on the town. Whether you're looking for live music, dancing, or just a great selection of craft cocktails, the Gaslamp Quarter is the place to go for a fun night out in San Diego.
14. Enjoy a Padres game at Petco Park
The Padres season starts in April, so if you're visiting San Diego during the summer months, don't miss a change to catch a home game at Petco Park. This stadium is one of the best places to watch a Major League Baseball game in all of California, featuring great views and lots of fun activities for sports fans of all ages. Petco Park was built in 2004 and is located in the heart of downtown San Diego, making it easy to walk or bike there from anywhere in the city.
So if you're looking for a fun activity during your time in San Diego, be sure to check out a Padres game!
15. Check out the Central Library
If you're looking for a spot to spend a quiet afternoon in downtown San Diego, be sure to check out the Central Library. This beautiful building is located next to Petco Park and it features large atriums, skylights, and reading rooms that make it a great place to relax and catch up on your reading. The Central Library opened in 2013 and it is home to over 1.5 million books it cost almost $200m to construct.
16. Check out Barrio Logan
If you're looking for some local flavor during your time in downtown San Diego, be sure to check out Barrio Logan. This diverse neighborhood is home to a wide range of restaurants, bars, and shops that reflect the many cultures that make up the city's vibrant history. Whether you want to try some delicious Mexican cuisine or just watch the world go by on a sunny afternoon, Barrio Logan is a great spot to explore during your stay in downtown San Diego.
17. Stand-up paddle or kayak in the San Diego Bay
If you're looking to get out on the water during your time in downtown San Diego, be sure to check out stand-up paddle or kayak rentals in the San Diego Bay. Here you'll find a wide range of rental options for all skill levels, so whether you're a beginner or an experienced paddler, there are plenty of great spots to explore along the San Diego Bay. You can also take in some amazing views of downtown San Diego and Coronado Island from the water, making this a truly unique experience during your time in California's beautiful coastline.
Whether you're looking for a day of shopping, dining, or outdoor recreation, downtown San Diego has something for everyone. From the vibrant Gaslamp Quarter to the beautiful San Diego Bay and everything in between, this diverse city offers countless opportunities to explore and enjoy all that southern California has to offer. So why not book your trip today and start exploring everything downtown San Diego has to offer?