As a local, I think three days in San Diego is a perfect amount of time to start getting to know the city.
The only issue is, how do you best spend your three vacation days?! There are so many different experiences San Diego has to offer!
Do you focus your trip on history— getting to know the monuments and districts dedicated to San Diego’s indigenous people, conquistador colonizers, Mexican past, and US military history? Do you take an artsy, cultural trip, exploring San Diego’s multitude of museums and doing DIY walking tours of the most artsy neighborhoods? Do you just relax in your beachfront rental, enjoying the sun, since you’re likely coming from somewhere that doesn’t usually have it???
If you want those experiences, scroll away. Or click the links I added which go though how you can do them.
This San Diego 3 day itinerary is for anyone who loves adventuring and alcohol. If you want to spend your trip exploring San Diego’s unique natural beauty, getting your adrenaline rush on, and enjoying the best local craft drinks, this itinerary is for you! Since these are some of my favorite things to do in the city, and my friends are all like me, this is the San Diego itinerary I always use when they visit!
In This Post
Where to stay
I have a full neighborhood guide to San Diego here. You can check it out, but since this itinerary goes all over the city, I recommend staying in one of the districts we’ll be exploring, like in a beachfront rental in Mission or Pacific Beach or a hotel in the middle of everything in Gaslamp or Little Italy.
How to get around
We’re going all over the city with this itinerary to experience all the unique corners of San Diego, so you’ll want to rent a car or take a bunch of Ubers. Preferably Uber if you don’t have a DD. San Diego doesn’t have the best public transportation, and especially not to all the places I talk about!
What to pack
Even if you’re only in San Diego for three days, don’t forget:
- Waterproof phone case
- A hat
I apologize in advance for the people who actually read every single sentence in my posts, because I will remind you about packing these things a lot. But if you skim read, you might not notice.
There’s not a lot of shade when you’re kayaking or hiking in San Diego, and I don’t want you to lose your phone during water activities!
San Diego 3 Day Itinerary
We’re starting today exploring arguably what San Diego is most known for- the laid back, beach lifestyle!
Bike along the boardwalk
Start your day early in Mission Beach, one of San Diego’s popular beachfront districts. Often there will be a surf or skate competition going on here, and you could try those activities out too. But today we’ll be renting bikes or electric scooters to explore Mission Beach Park, then head up to Pacific Beach along the boardwalk- about 1.5 miles. Use apps like Bird or Ubers rather than a store so you don’t have to worry about dropping them off where you got them!
Brunch with mimosa flights
Once you get to PB, after all that “exercise”, we’re getting mimosa flights!
There are actually a few places in San Diego where you can get these. One of the most popular is a fun, vibrant, top San Diego brunch restaurant called Crushed, which is also Instagram famous for having cinnamon roll pancakes. One of my other favorites is at Second Chance, a more laidback, hipster spot.
Not into mimosas? Crushed also offers craft beer flights and Second Chance has kombucha flights!
Kayak and/or snorkel in La Jolla Cove
After you’ve tried some mimosas, grab an Uber because next we’ll be heading to La Jolla, a ritizier and arguably more beautiful beach district. One of the famous attractions here are the coves, where seals and sea lions hang out, and we’ll be getting up close with by kayaking or snorkeling!
There are tours you can go on which I highly recommend if you’ve never kayaked in the ocean before. In fact, if the ocean is too rough, the only way you can go out is with a tour! Unless you bring your personal kayak with you when you travel. You should also book these in advance because they can fill up. But if you’ve kayaked in the ocean before, you could just rent one and go on your own.
Another beautiful option is snorkeling through the coves. La Jolla is home to an underwater ecological preserve, and you can find tons of animals, depending on the season- like octopus, starfish, sea turtles, leopard sharks, etc! While the water isn’t warm like water in like the Philippines or clear like the water in the Cook Islands, I’ve seen way more animals snorkeling in La Jolla!
You could also go on a tour or on your own here, but I prefer the tours since they give you more information. And there are some tours that combine both snorkeling and kayaking! The ones I’ve taken my friends on were pretty expensive, but they were worth it for us.
- Don’t forget to bring a waterproof phone pouch if you want to take pictures on your phone! And a waterproof bag if you want to bring anything else. Even if you’re on a kayak, the water can get rough. People have lost their phones!
Skydive or hike in Torrey Pines
North of La Jolla is Torrey Pines, another gorgeous, partly coastal neighborhood. Torrey Pines may be familiar to you because its golf course hosted a US open, but today we’re going to be exploring its natural beauty.
Because Torrey Pines is also home to a natural reserve that’s fully of short, scenic hikes. These are all super easy, but incredibly beautiful, and it makes Torrey Pines my personal favorite place in San Diego. The only danger is there’s only a little shade, so don’t forget sunscreen and a hat!
If you want a slightly less busy trail, head south of the natural reserve to hike La Jolla Trail instead. It’s just one short hike unlike the many in the natural reserve, but it’s also free, unlike the reserve. If you’re looking for a slightly harder, even shorter hike, also try Ho Chi Minh Trail which connects to La Jolla Trail at one point.
I prefer Torrey Pines since you can hike for longer, but if you’re on a budget, La Jolla Trail is still gorgeous and has a similar jagged cliff / ocean view.
If you want something with higher adrenaline (the next two days are full of hikes- so you won’t be missing out) and if you have even more money, you could instead check out Torrey Pines Gliderport to paraglide or hanglide along the beautiful coast and beaches!
Club or self pour beer the night away
After a long day of activities, head back to Pacific Beach for the nightlife. I didn’t mention this earlier, but this district is where a lot of college students live, so there’s a ton of crazy nightlife.
If you’re feeling high adrenaline, check out the clubs like Mavericks or bars along the beach like Waterbar. If you’re feeling more lowkey, head to the self pour beer houses like Barrel Republic. If you haven’t been to a self pour beer place before- it’s literally what it sounds like. You get a wristband and can pour as much of different beers in your cups as you want!
Now that you’ve explored the beautiful coast, it’s time to check out some of the unique neighborhoods around the city. San Diego is definitely a city of sprawl, but each district has its own character. This itinerary doesn’t go through all of them, but if you have more time, check them out!
Do cereal shots at brunch
We’re starting today in Gaslamp, another lively party district close to downtown.
Drinking doesn’t really end in Gaslamp, and in fact San Diego is one of the few places where you can start your day with cereal and alcohol mixed together for you in a shot glass! Specifically at Werewolf. Even though they’re pricey, they’re so fun!
Fun fact: This place is a factor in San Diego being named 5th best food city in the US with their pork belly eggs benedict if you’re trying to decide what to eat too!
Urban hike or bike in Balboa Park
A quick Uber from Gaslamp is Balboa Park, the largest park in the US. You could easily spend all day here exploring the gardens, museums, and the San Diego Zoo (plus the zoo has margaritas. It’s awesome).
For this itinerary though, I’m just suggesting walking through and appreciating the plants and architecture (but the zoo and margaritas are a ton of fun). Or if you want to do more than leisurely stroll, there are so many biking and hiking trails you can do.
Note: Please don’t do more than walk if you had too many shots at brunch. After just one beer, even my extreme biking friends have hurt themselves. Don’t underestimate the power of liquid confidence!
Party with margaritas in Old Town
Old Town is a colorful district with lots of historical colonizer significance. But the real reason we’re here is to get margaritas. You can find great margaritas all over San Diego, but the restaurants in this district feel like where you should get a margarita when you’re visiting.
Like, the performers will sing and play music for you (but you should leave a tip). The restaurants are bright and festive. The servers wear beautiful traditional Mexican clothes. It just feels right.
Catch the sunset at Sunset Cliffs
Okay, I know that this is supposed to be the city section, but Sunset Cliffs is one of the most beautiful parts of San Diego in my opinion. Even if you don’t go during sunset, the coastline is gorgeous. There are a few walking trails you can do around here to catch the cliffs at all the perfect angles.
If you have a few hours before sunset (read: if you didn’t have too much fun with the margaritas) also check out the Point Loma Tidepools nearby. These tidepools are another beautiful, natural area with some easy hikes, and small sea critters in the actual tidepools!
Drink the night away in Gaslamp or Ocean Beach
Gaslamp is perfect if you want the party club nightlife with fancy clubs like Omnia OR if you want to play arcade games and drink at an arcade bar, check out Coin Op, aka one of my favorite places in San Diego (they even have adult capri sun!).
Ocean Beach is a perfect if you just want craft beers in a calm setting. This is more of a legit hippie area, some say it hasn’t changed since the 70s. Some of San Diego’s top craft breweries are here and it’s close by to the cliffs.
Yoga on the beach
Start off your day doing one of the most hip San Diegan things ever- yoga on the beach. If your day 3 is a Sunday, there’s free beach yoga in Mission Beach. For a more complete list of beach and other outdoor yoga classes in San Diego, check out this article.
But if the days or times don’t line up for your San Diego trip, you could consider just stretching on your own at the beach. It’s so relaxing!
Do a real hike
Once you’re relaxed, it’s time to do a real hike! These three are some can’t miss moderate hikes in San Diego:
- Potato Chip Rock is the iconic San Diego County hike. You’ve probably seen this on Instagram, but it’s a longer and moderate level hike. And if you want that Instagram pick, expect to wait in a line (it was an hour when we went!). Also note that it’s outside of San Diego the city so this one you may really need a car rental or not mind doing a pricey Uber to make it work.
- Ironside Mountain is another popular hike near Potato Chip Rock that has less Instagram people, so I personally like it a bit more. It’s just nicer being at a more calm summit with views up to the coast where people are just enjoying the scenery (if you’re an old, anti Instagram person like me). Some people do both in a day, but note that they’re 5-7 mile hikes each.
- Cowles Mountain (pronounced “coals”) is a shorter but steeper hike in the city that will give you panoramic views of San Diego and Mexico, on a sunny day. If you didn’t rent a car, this is probably the most economical hike to get to!
If you want more hiking, you should do one of the first two, and if you want more time for beer, you should do Cowles Mountain.
And if you missed this in the earlier day outlines, bring a hat and sunscreen! San Diego hikes don’t have a lot of shade. You don’t want sunburn or heat exhaustion.
Craft beer crawl in North Park
And last, we’re ending this San Diego itinerary with another thing that’s so important to San Diego’s culture: craft beer. In fact, you can do your own walkable beer tour of some of the best breweries in San Diego! If you haven’t noticed yet, San Diego is home to like hundreds of local craft breweries, and North Park is a hip neighborhood where there are like at least two breweries on each block. You won’t make it to the other side if you stop by all.
Make sure you especially check out:
- Belching Beaver
- Mike Hess Brewery
- Modern Times
- Thorn Street Brewery
- Rip Current
These are some of my favorites out of the top breweries in San Diego!
If you prefer going with a tour which could help get you more information on the breweries and beers, check out Airbnb Experiences or Viator. I personally haven’t done one of these in San Diego, but I see how it could be useful if you want to learn more since you’d be going with someone knowledgeable of San Diego’s beer scene!
Extra adventurous things to do and alcoholic things to drink
This list does not cover all the adventurous and alcoholic things San Diego has to offer- like I left out:
- Wine bars
- Dirt biking
- Craft whiskey
- Kite surfing
- Jet skiing
- Margarita flights
- Hot air ballooning
Fit these in if you can!
And, there you have it- how to spend 3 epic days in San Diego if you love drinking and going on adventures! I hope you have a ton of fun in San Diego, and let me know in the comments if you need more help planning things out!