San Diego Itinerary
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3-Days in San Diego- The Ultimate San Diego Itinerary

Do you want to go on a San Diego getaway? Only have 3 days in San Diego? No problem. This 3-day San Diego itinerary will be perfect to help you plan your trip. 

There are lots of amazing things to do in San Diego. You might not have time to do them all if you only have 3 days in San Diego, but you will still have a fun time and enjoy what time you do have.

There is a San Diego 3 Day Pass that includes much of what I am including in this post at a reduced rate.

We recently had 3 days in San Diego and had a blast.  Ultimately, we accomplished a lot in the short amount of time we had!

In this post, we will cover the best time to visit San Diego, the best way to get to San Diego, and all the activities you will want to include on your San Diego itinerary!

Let’s explore all the options so you can plan your 3 day trip to San Diego!

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Best Time to Visit San DiegoBest cities in California to visit - Southern Cali

There is not a bad time to visit San Diego!

Weather in San Diego

The weather is perfect all year round in San Diego!  The Highs in San Diego from December – to May are in the ’60s and from June- November it is in the ’70s.

My favorite time to visit San Diego is in August because the ocean water is warm.  I also like to visit in December because when it is snowing at home, 60 degrees feels like heaven!

I think San Diego has the best weather compared to anywhere else in the USA.  So no matter what time of year you decide to go on a San Diego getaway the weather is not a problem!

What is the Best Time to Visit the Beach in San Diego?

The best time to visit the beach in San Diego is June – September.  The ocean water is warmer.

What is the Busiest Time to Visit San Diego?

The busiest time to visit San Diego is June – August.  Many people love spending their summer vacation in San Diego.

Hopefully, this helps you decide when you want to plan a weekend in San Diego.  It is always a great time to visit San Diego!

How Many Days Should I Spend in San Diego?

Best Cities in California to Visit - San Diego - Beach

In this post, we are going to focus on 3 days in San Diego and create a San Diego itinerary based on that number. However, as you explore all the activities in San Diego you can decide if you would rather make it a 4-5 day San Diego itinerary.

3 days in San Diego is a good amount of time to touch the surface but you could easily spend a week in San Diego exploring all the sites.

Getting to San DiegoGetting to San Diego for Los Angeles

Getting to San Diego is easy.  You can easily drive or fly.

Flying to San Diego

San Diego has a major airport that is close to all the San Diego attractions.

Getting Around San Diego

You can rent a car or take an Uber from the airport.  It really depends on what you include on your San Diego itinerary.  If you plan to spend a full day at a site you may not need to rent a car.  You can just take an Uber from site to site.

If you are more adventurous and want to explore as much as you can in a short amount of time a car would be the better option.

Driving to San Diego

Los Angles is the closest major city to San Diego.  It takes about 2 hours drive time.

Where to Stay in San DiegoLegoland Hotel in San Diego

If you have younger kids I highly recommend staying at the Castle or Legoland Hotel.  It is incredible.  There is great food, amazing games, and it is completely themed.  This is the best family resort I have EVER stayed at.

If staying on a beach for your San Diego getaway is more what you had in mind the Hotel del Coronado is a historical hotel located right on the beach.  It is an iconic San Diego location.

We also like to stay at Marriott Hotels.  There are a lot of really nice options in San Diego.

San Diego Itinerary Day 13 days in San Diego itinerary Legoland

Some of the San Diego attractions listed in this post could take a full day to enjoy. Legoland and SeaWorld are examples.  If you are planning on doing one or more of these activities allocate an entire day. The San Diego Zoo is another full day option but I included it in Day 3 of the San Diego itinerary

Day 1 – San Diego Itinerary 

Choose one full day activity:

  • Legoland
  • SeaWorld
  • San Diego Safari Park (or Zoo)

You can easily see how these locations alone could be a 4-day San Diego itinerary.  But you only have 3 days in San Diego so pick the attractions that sound the best to you.  

Let’s learn about more of these locations so you can decide which one to add to your San Diego itinerary

SeaWorld San DiegoSea World Vacation Orca Show

If I had only 3 days in San Diego, SeaWorld would be on my list.  We recently went and had a phenomenal time!  My kids loved it!

Plan A Trip To SeaWorld San Diego

Going on a SeaWorld San Diego vacation was really the highlight of our entire trip!

If you want to plan your trip to SeaWorld be sure to check out our detailed post of everything you know about SeaWorld San DiegoSeaWorld appeals to all ages from toddlers to Grandma and Grandpa.

The shows are incredible.  Our favorite shows were the sea lion and otter show and the orca encounter.  We loved seeing the beautiful animals and learning all about their habitats and how they were rescued or trained.

Also, we loved the rides. My kids had a blast and want to go back to SeaWorld San Diego.

LegoLand California ResortLegoland San Diego

Legoland California is in the San Diego area (Carlsbad) is a great place to go if you have little ones under the age of 10.  My little kids love this park!  Most of the coasters are junior coasters.  Their Ninjago ride is a fun interactive ride that is really worth giving a try.

Legoland is included in the San Diego 3 day passThis is a great option if you are planning on adding many activities to your San Diego itinerary!

Our Experience

On our last trip, we did not do Legoland California but we have in the past.  The best part for us was staying in the Legoland Resort Hotel.

The hotel is the most themed hotel I have ever stayed in.  We stayed in a pirate-themed room.  It was awesome.  The hotel offers fun games, scavenger hunts, and dance parties.  It was really an amazing experience staying there.

Day 2 San Diego ItineraryOld town San Diego itinerary

On Day 2 of your San Diego itinerary, I suggest exploring San Diego a little more!

Day 2 San Diego Itinerary

  • USS Midway (Visit Marina District)
  • Gaslamp Quarter
  • Old Town San Diego
  • Beach

Let’s explore these San Diego attractions a little more!

Old Town San Diego

Old Town State Historic Park

Old Town San Diego State Historic Site is a great way to spend half a day!   This area features historic buildings from the early days of San Diego from the years of 1820 – to 1870.

Mormon Battalion Museum

We went to the Mormon Battalion Museum, which is a fabulous place for kids.  You get to pretend you are in an American army marching to the Mexican American War.  After watching a video and demonstration of what kinds of weapons and supplies the soldiers wore you get to pan for gold.  Also, you get a free old-timey photo to take home.

Old Town San Diego City Center 

After the museum, we headed to the center of Old Town and walked through many buildings that have historic exhibits. There is an Old Town San Diego Trolley Tour available that will lead you around the area.

In Old Town, people dress in clothes from the period and demonstrate different activities such as soap and candle making.  There are also street stores that sell souvenirs.

If you go at the right time of the year street performers will sing some lovely mariachi tunes for you.

Eating in Old Town San Diego

The highlight for us was eating the Mexican food in this area. There are lots of restaurants to choose from.  We ended up going to Cafe Coyote.  I really liked it!  They have a musician that sang to me because it was my birthday!

I highly recommend adding this to your San Diego itinerary!

USS Midway MuseumMarina District USS Midway

The Marina District is where the USS Midway Museum is located, a historic aircraft carrier.  It is located really close to the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego, which is a shopping and restaurant district.

We loved the USS Midway Museum.  I knew my 4-year-old boy would love seeing all the planes and being on a ship.  My older kids loved using the audio guide and learning about how the navy ship operated.

USS Midway Museum Video Presentation

Once you enter the ship, head to your right and there is a video offered for you to watch about World War II.  It really opened our eyes to the sacrifices that our military makes for us to enjoy our freedoms.

I recommend checking this museum out.  I would love to go again on a less busy day.

San Diego Harbor Cruise

Also in the Marina District is the option to take a harbor cruise. This would be a great opportunity to explore this area!

Gaslamp Quarter

Located in the downtown area of San Diego is Gaslamp Quarter.  This area is a great place to get lunch and enjoy some shopping.

I probably wouldn’t want to do this activity with children.  To me, it would be stressful as we saw lots of homeless people just outside of the shopping area.

But if I was on a couple’s getaway this would be a great romantic spot to enjoy the waterfront area of the San Diego Marina District and have a romantic dinner. Plus, there are great tours in this area. 

We did not fit this in on our 3 days in San Diego trip, but we could have easily substituted this in, in place of one of our beach adventures, or by not sleeping in.

Day 3 San Diego Itinerary3 days in San Diego itinerary

3 days in San Diego isn’t enough…..for everything but don’t worry you can pick and choose what makes sense for your trip. Here are my suggestions for Day 3.

Day 3 San Diego Itinerary

  • Beach
  • Balboa Park
  • Zoo or Safari Park
  • Little Italy

Let’s explore these activities in more detail to help you decide if you would like to add them to your San Diego itinerary.

San Diego Beaches Carlsbad State Beach

We were able to go to two beaches on our 3 days in San Diego. When you don’t live near an ocean, the beach is a treat.

Coronado 

Driving out to the Island of Coronado was something we have always wanted to do, and so we decided to go for it.  We wanted to see the famous Hotel Del Coronado and check out the sunset.  If this is something you may be interested in there is a Coronado tour available.

You will be given a tour of the hotel and shown certain locations were movies were filmed. You will also get to go on a ferry ride on the ocean.

Our kids had so much fun running around that we decided we needed to make another stop to the beach the next day.

Carlsbad State Beach

The next day we headed to Carlsbad State Beach.  It was incredible!  This was another high point on our trip.  Even though it was December, my kids were playing in the ocean in their swim suits with no problem.  Coming from Utah it felt like summer!

La Jolla and San Diego Beaches and Trolley Tour

If you are interested in seeing all the amazing beaches in California, the San Diego beaches trolley tour  maybe a great option.  I really wanted to go to La Jolla but we just didn’t have enough time.  There is an kayaking area where you can explore caves and see tide pools.  La Jolla is also the area where the seals lay on the beach all year round.

Balboa Park San DiegoBalboa Park San Diego

Balboa Park is a great place, and honestly you could spend an entire day here because there are over 15 museums in this location.  The San Diego Zoo is in the Balboa Park area of San Diego. If the zoo is not for you (because of prices, crowds, or animals are simply not your thing), there is still plenty to do in the area.

A guided tour of Balboa Park may be a great option if you want to spend more time in this area and learn all about it.

Museums at Balboa Park San Diego

We wanted to get a taste of this amazing place so we spent about two hours at the San Diego Natural History Museum and surrounding area.   Having an ASTC Museum Pass allows us free entry to many museums when we are traveling out of state.

There are actually two museums in the area included with this pass.  The Natural History Museum and the Fleet Science Center.  Obviously, if you wanted to explore different museums in the area there are plenty to choose from.

Some people simple come here to enjoy the free parks, playgrounds, and walking trails located all around Balboa Park.

San Diego Zoo and Safari ParkSan Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park may be the main reason you are heading to San Diego.  The Zoo has earned a reputation for being the best in the country.

There are so many choices with only 3 days in San Diego, we opted to not go to the zoo or safari park on our 3-day trip, but we have been in the past.

The San Diego Zoo has the famous panda bears and they really do a great job making your experience at the zoo incredible.

Safari Park

The safari park is located in a separate location from the zoo and is an entirely different park.  (And when I say a separate location, I don’t mean next door.  The San Diego Safari Park is about 30 miles north of the zoo!)

Once you are in the park, you can walk around.  But the highlight is boarding a bus that circles the central safari area, where you can see animals in areas intended to resemble the animals’ natural habitats.  The bus tour reminded me of the safari ride at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida.

Little Italy San Diego

San Diego Little Italy
Image Courtesy of San Diego Tourism

Little Italy is a great spot for adults.   It is located about 1 mile from Balboa Park. This is an amazing neighborhood to enjoy great food!

We didn’t have enough time to stop in Little Italy this last trip.

Getting Treats In San Diego’s Little Italy

We were debating if it was a good stop with kids.  Some local friends told us it was an expensive area and that we should just take the kids to a local ice cream store instead of getting gelato.

One thing I did find out was that there are amazing Italian pastry shops and fun Italian bakeries that would probably have been worth the stop.

Also, I did see that there is a Little Italy San Diego app that kids can use to get a tour of the area.

3 Days in San Diego Itinerary

SAn Diego temple

This is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints San Diego Temple. It is so beautiful!

During our three days in San Diego, we didn’t do all of the activities listed above (we were traveling with another family and had 10 kids with us), but we fit in

  • An Amusement Park (SeaWorld)
  • Two Beach Excursions
  • Old Town San Diego
  • USS Midway
  • Balboa Park

You could easily do the zoo instead of an amusement park. Or you could spend more time in historic and shopping areas if amusement parks are not your thing. Yes, you can’t do it all in three days. But if you plan it right, you will be surprised at how satisfying of a trip it will be for you!

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108 Comments

  1. This is a great guide for anyone wanting to visit for a short period of time. I would be overwhelmed for sure! There’s too many things to see and do. Love to visit the beaches, the parks and the restaurants.

  2. Wow! You did a lot in three days! I have been to San Diego but have not spent time there. It is on the bucket list!

    1. I love San Diego! I used to live in San Diego county, and can attest that all of these places are great places to visit! I need to go back again just to experience some if these things once more.

  3. I’ve never really considered a trip to San Diego before but after reading your article, I want to visit! I’m adding San Diego to my travel wishlist for 2020.

  4. I love those attraction passes you can get in bigger cities! We use them all the time and are such a good deal! Looks like a lovely trip! Thanks for sharing!

    1. I love having an all in one pass. It is so convenient, and I don’t worry as much about money because I already spent it!

  5. I love San Diego! We used to visit every year but once we had kids it just got so expensive to fly that we stopped. Now that they are a bit older we need to reinstate that trip as I think they would love it!

  6. Between Sea World, Legoland and the Zoo, my kids would have an absolute blast! There definitely looks to be more than enough to do to fill a multiple day stay! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Wow, lots to do, you obviously know the place really well! With all this expertise, what would you recommend as the top 6 things to do for a 3-day, first-time visitor?

    1. My brother lived in Carlsbad for about 5 years so I was able to go a lot. We also made it our go to vacation for years when our kids were little. I guess it depends on if you have kids and how old they are. We like amusement parks so I would go to seaworld and legoland if I had little kids. The beach was awesome! If I was going on a couples getaway I would stay at the hotel del coronado. If I had older kids I would spend more time in La Jolla.

    1. We just wanted a quick trip but if you wanted to do more amusement parks a few more days would be go especially if you ventured up to LA

  8. San Diego is a great getaway in the winter! I love Sea World and the beaches. Thanks for all of the other ideas!

    1. We didn’t do all that in three days. We picked some activities listed and did all we could. We have been so many times that we have done them in the past.

  9. I would love to go spend a long weekend in San Diego. I think I would spend all my time at the beach and piers though.

  10. Sam Diego is one of my favorite cities…all of your recommendations would make a trip to San Diego a very memorable experience.

  11. We were there for 2 weeks and did only half of what you’ve done! ? maybe next time. Sounds like you had a fun and packed 3 Days

  12. You have a lot of really great recommendations for San Diego! We’ll be there for just a night (2 days) after a cruise in March and I’m going to sift through this post to find the best options for our family!

  13. I haven’t been to San Diego but this is the 2nd post I have read in a few days about it and SO want to check it out! Old town sounds like so much fun and the zoo! And all the museums! It seems like such a fun place to explore while I am out here living in LA!

  14. Your trips are like mine, we go, go, go.! San Diego is on our list, so all your posts have been extremely helpful.

  15. Thank you for all this information. I know so little about San Diego. It looks like it has a lot to offer. Visiting the San Diego Zoo is high up on my list of places I would like to go to.

    1. San Diego Zoo is kinda famous and I think my expectations were too high when I went. I think when I go again it will be a different experience!

  16. San Diego is my all-time favorite getaway it’s a few hour from where I live and you shared Everywhere that I love to go to!

  17. My family loves San Diego. One place I would add to this list is Cabrillo National Monument. We had a lot of fun hiking and visiting the lighthouse there.

  18. My husband and I were just talking about planning a short trip to San Diego with the kids this year. This is so great thank you for the info. I am definitely going to be saving this. Have you ever been to sea world in Florida? We did this last year so I’m wondering if it’s worth going to the sea world in California also.

    1. I haven’t been in Florida, Just San Antonio and San Diego. We thought it was fun but I am not sure of the differences.

  19. My son wants to visit the LEGOLAND in San Diego ever since we went to the one in Florida. I would love to see the zoo. That 3 day pass sure sounds like a great deal!

  20. Love San Diego! I’ve been to the zoo, Sea World, and the beaches, but there’s so much more I need to explore!

  21. SeaWorld, Beaches, and the Corner Bakery Cafe are what I would do in those 3 days! Where I live, all of the Corner Bakery Cafes went out of business so I was surprised to see that! I thought the entire company when out!

    1. That’s funny! We were just in San Diego in December and I snapped that shot as we were going through Gaslamp of Corner Bakery. We still have Corner Bakery in Utah. What I wish we had was Panera Bakery!

  22. This is great Lisa, next time I go to California, I am going to have to drive further than San Francisco/Sacramento! You’ve inspired me to get to San Diego!

  23. I visited with my family a few times and we still seem to miss Balboa Park. The zoo took an entire day so we are set on going there for a while. Thanks so much for the ideas! San Diego is always a favorite place to visit.

    1. I have been many times and it is hard to fit everything into one trip! That is why I keep going back! Love San Diego

  24. It’s been over a decade, but the one time we traveled out to San Diego we didn’t do as much as we should have. This post showed there is sooooo much to do – so it needs to be added to the must-visit again list.

  25. This is a wonderful guide to spending a few days in San Diego! So many options and activities. I look forward to visiting some day.

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