A Guide to Exploring San Diego’s Must-See Destinations and Hidden Gems

Vacation in San Diego is a cliche for a reason. The sandy beaches, bustling city and beautiful nature make San Diego one of the most desirable tourist destinations. When the sun is shining, there’s no limit to the activities to do across the city!

Here are my top five tourist destinations in San Diego.

Little Italy

Little Italy is filled with endless bars, restaurants, shops and outdoor events.

Little Italy is home to many Italian restaurants and fine dining experiences. Photo by: Katelynn Robinson

It is just one of the many stops along the Green Line or Blue Line of the MTS Trolley system. This is extremely convenient because parking can either be tricky to find or quite expensive.

On Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. there is a farmers market in the town square. The farmers market is a very social event. It is a great place to spend time with friends and get some fresh air. Attendees chat with the vendors, sample new foods and can even make connections! The street is lined with vendors selling everything from home-grown fresh produce to hand-made jewelry. Many of the vendors are their very own small businesses.

Live street performers are typically found outside the Little Italy food hall. The courtyard is filled with seating so you and your friends can eat and enjoy the entertainment.

Violinist Raphael Batista performs alongside a tap dancer in the Little Italy courtyard located outside the Little Italy Food Hall. Photo by: Katelynn Robinson

On a hot summer day, Salt & Straw is my go-to for a cold treat. My favorite ice cream to get is a scoop of the cinnamon snickerdoodle, and a waffle cone is a must! For the perfect brunch date, I recommend the restaurant Civico. In addition to its vegan options, the salmon dish was one of the best meals I have ever tasted. It comes with seared salmon, creamy risotto with arugula and lemon zabaione. I had it over a year ago and still think about it to this day.

Just a short walk towards the harbor is Water Front Park. Many community events are hosted in front of the San Diego County Administration Center. There is a small park and Splash Pads for children. If you are looking for a special dining experience after exploring Little Italy and an incredible ocean-view try Ketch’s Grill for lunch or dinner. For brunch and lunch options try Taps or Miguels’s Cocina.

Waterfront park provides an amazing view of the city and includes water displays, a park, and splash pads for children. Photo by: Katelynn Robinson

Balboa Park

Balboa Park is the perfect location for a family outing or a weekend activity with a group of friends. Bring your skates and bring your dogs, and bring your walking shoes. This is a huge outdoor space, almost two miles, with lots of activities. You can enjoy 16 different museums, architecture and live performances throughout the entire park.

A magician amazes his audience with his wondrous tricks along the walkway of Balboa Park. Photo by: Katelynn Robinson

Balboa Park offers day passes for individual museums or pass bundles that vary in price for adults and children. More information about purchasing passes can be found on the Balboa Park website. Another bonus about the park is that visitors have 11 free parking lots to choose from.

Performances of live magic, music and even living statues can be found in each corner of the park… Don’t be afraid to interact with the performers!

The free organ concert that took place on Sunday, June 4 and was hosted by the Spreckels Organ Society is just one example of the many free community events at Balboa Park. Photo by: Katelynn Robinson

The park is so large you could spend an entire day there, especially with restaurants and cafes to provide you with sustenance throughout your stay. Daniel’s Coffee is perfect for a drink to sip on as you walk, but if you’re looking to rest your feet try The Prado for lunch or dinner. The park is also conveniently located right next door to the San Diego Zoo!

North Park

North Park, a relatively quiet area, is located just ten minutes north of Balboa Park and is truly one of the hidden gems of San Diego. Bring your wallet and loosen those purse strings because the shops will be calling your name.

North Park is home to several eateries, shops, saloons and daytime activities. Photo by: Katelynn Robinson

Here you can find some very unique boutiques, trade shops and thrift stores. My favorite shop at this location was Verbatim Books. Finding a bookstore with lots of personality is rare, and the atmosphere in the store is like no other. The bookshelves tower up to the second-story ceiling and are filled with everything from Twilight to Shakespeare.

Verbatim Books buys, sells and trades in books from members of the community. Photo by: Katelynn Robinson

If you decide to buy a souvenir on your trip to San Diego, and you are looking for something unique I recommend shopping in North Park.

The North Park farmer’s market takes place every Thursday from 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Although it is a bit smaller and less elaborate than the Little Italy farmer’s market, over 30 vendors line up on Mainstreet with their stands filled with fruits, vegetables, yogurts, breads, flowers, crafts and more!

Mission Beach

We all know what everyone really comes to San Diego for…the beach! There are a lot of great options to choose from, but my personal recommendation will always be Mission Beach. The thing that makes Mission Beach stand out is Belmont Park.

Lifeguard tower 14 stands in the center of Mission Beach, right across from the weekend Beach House restaurant. Photo by: Katelynn Robinson

Belmont Park includes restaurants, an arcade, laser tag, an escape room, ziplining, carnival games and a roller coaster. There are also a couple of small rides and a jungle-gym for kids. All of these things do cost money; each activity has a separate fee, but it does many for an elevated beach experience.

Belmont Park is home to carnivals games, an arcade and its very famous roller coaster; Giant Dipper. Photo by: Katelynn Robinson

Mission Beach itself has free parking at the surrounding lots which is a major plus, although parking can be difficult to find during the busy hours.

Along the boardwalk are restaurants, bike rental shops and surf rental shops. The Mission Bay Aquatic Center is within walking distance of the beach. There you can sign up for lessons to kayak, paddle board, surf and sail.


Gaslamp is a must-have experience when it comes to experiencing San Diego nightlife. When the Gaslamp streets are lit with neon signs you are sure to hear clubbing music around every corner. Try any nearby restaurant for dinner, then be prepared for several places to turn into dance clubs after 9 p.m. and become exclusive for those who are 21 year-old and up.

The Gaslamp Quarter is part of historic San Diego and is one of the most popular nightlife locations. Photo by: Katelynn Robinson

There is a club for every vibe in Gaslamp. Looking for elegance and class? Try Lionfish Modern Coastal Cuisine. This is a great option for sea-food lovers. The menu is full of elaborate dishes like Spicy Grilled Octopus, Wild Mushroom & Potato Gnocchi, and even Sushi or Sashimi dishes. The drink menu is also widespread with something for everyone. The restaurant offers beers, wines, scotch, cocktails and more.

Looking for a more casual dining option? The Whiskey Girl has drinks, burgers and a dance floor. The restaurant hosts live music on Thursday night, and is a family-friendly environment by day. At night it’s a 21 and up crowd with a dance floor, bar and on select nights karaoke!

There are an endless number of clubs to try out in Gaslamp, but my favorite place is the Tipsy Crow. There is no cover, and on weekends head on down to the basement level for a dance-heavy atmosphere. The music is DJ operated and typically ranges from pop to hip hop and even reaches back into music of the 2000s at times. Head upstairs to the two upper levels to shoot some pool, play games or have casual drinks with friends.

If you are looking for a fancier clubbing experience the Onyx Room Nightclub has quality drinks with quality service.

If you are not 21 yet, don’t be discouraged. Several clubs in Gaslamp host special nights that are for attendees who are 18 years old or older. F6ix hosts 18 plus nights which are listed on their event calendar.

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