The ultimate San Diego bucket list: 44 unique activities for foodie outdoorsy folks

It’s been over a year of San Diego living, yet I haven’t crossed off all the things on my bucket list!

(San Diego is huge! It’s so hard to get to know every detail of the city because it has sooooo much to offer!)

So today, I’m sharing my San Diego bucket list with you all- to help you plan out unique, not always touristy experiences when you visit!

Because it’s mine, it’s affordable for the average US person (well, I mean I don’t talk about $100 mediocre 4 oz steaks, like all the other San Diego bucket lists. I do talk about ~$50 all-you-can-eat food). It’s also more targeted to things to do that aren’t what people first think of when they come to San Diego (so don’t worry, I’m not going to say “visit the zoo”). Technically, I have done a few of these since staring this list, but the rest are on my bucket list still after hearing about them from friends who have lived here longer!

Pssst – Still need a place to stay on your San Diego trip? Here’s a guide to where to stay in San Diego!

la jolla beach

In This Post

San Diego bucket list activities for foodies

Get AYCE Sunday Polynesian brunch and champagne at Bali Hai

On Shelter Island lies Bali Hai, an iconic Polynesian fusion restaurant. On Sundays, they have an all you can eat and drink brunch with champagne, huli huli chicken, pho, and Korean short ribs- and standard US brunch staples like eggs benedict and pancakes. The only thing is it’s $44.

Get AYCE brunch on a cruise ship (with your dogs)

Hornblower Cruises regularly does all you can eat/drink champagne brunch cruises along San Diego Bay- which sounds like a unique concept on its own (do other cities do this regularly??). But every year, they throw ones where you can bring your dogs! Mimosas, eggs benedict, and puppies?? UMMMM yes.

Get themed dinners on a cruise ship (like a Nightmare Before Christmas one)

These are by Flagship Cruises and include a prime rib dinner one, and a brunch one like above (see here for the full list of upcoming themes). But most bucket list-y is their (seasonal?) NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS AND BEER THEMED CRUISE. I’m telling you, I’ve really never heard of these cruise on the bay things until San Diego- are they a thing where you are?

Try authentic & tasty Mexican food

It’s really easy to find “San Diego California Mexican food” in San Diego- not necessarily “authentic Mexican food”. Not to say it’s bad (like I eat at these taco shops three times a week), but I’ve always wanted to try “authentic” Mexican food (for some reason, I always get ramen or poke in Tijuana). Many people recommended Super Cocina to me as the legit, homestyle place- plus they allegedly give you samples to help decide what to try!

Try all of San Diego’s local foods while actually in San Diego

Okay, this one is not hard to do. And it’s what people will probably end up doing without this list, but you can’t go to San Diego without trying California burritos, carne asada fries, fish tacos, etc! For more info, check out this post.

carne asada fries from san diego

Have potentially the best pastries in San Diego

At Wayfarer. This place was really talked up at least to me, after I complained to a bunch of people that I couldn’t find the high quality pastries everywhere in Seattle here.


Saying “there are a lot of craft beers in San Diego” is an understatement. I thought I lived in craft beer holdouts in the Pacific Northwest, but there are so much more here. Trying to visit them all as they crop up is probably an entire bucket list in itself- here’s a complete list of San Diego breweries.

Go to a <Harry Potter | Zoo | Mac n Cheese | etc > themed beer festival

There are so many beer festivals here! Is this a thing in other places too? Eventbrite may have the most current list of upcoming beer festivals, but I’ve seen Harry Potter beer festivals, ice cream and beer festivals, empanadas and beer festivals, and beer festivals at the San Diego Zoo! Some of these are all you can drink, and some are all you can eat and drink! Just remember- it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Find secret tiki bars

Is tiki culture as big in other cities? Is the trend where bars are inside bars or restaurants a thing? Either way, in San Diego there are a ton of tiki bars with the best cocktails and Polynesian fusion food.

Take pictures at an Instagrammable cafe

So some of these actually have really good drinks, but that’s not why everyone else goes there!

Do a coffee flight

We’ve all heard of beer flights, right? San Diego has a ton of unique other flights- my favorite being coffee! For example- at Communal Coffee which has latte flights, or Second Nature, which has a coffee flight of differently brewed coffee (ex. nitro cold brew vs cold brew).

Do a vodka flight

Like harder alcohol experiences with your dinner? If so, check out the Russian restaurant Pushkin’s for their vodka flights (and pierogis!).

Do a margarita or tequila flight

Margaritas are essential to a true San Diego experience. Why not try as many flavors as you can (including a spicy one) with a margarita flight? Or, if you just want the tequila, with a tequila flight Many bars and restaurants in San Diego offer these.

Do all you can drink margaritas

f you have a higher tolerance, all you can drink margaritas might be a better fit. Other cities just have all you can drink mimosas or maybe bloody mary’s- but San Diego has those all over the city AND all you can drink margaritas on Tuesday happy hour at the Blind Burro.

Play arcade games with adults in bars

There are a couple of bars that also double as arcades in San Diego – which is the perfect way to spend the night going out, while feeling like you’re still able to play video gams inside.

Eat the food that you only see on Instagram

Freakshakes, phorritos, unicorn lattes, mermaid bowls- I had never lived in a place that actually sold these things, until I moved to San Diego. And I thought they were all gimmicky and terrible, but in San Diego- they’re actually really good (and cute). For example, for the best unicorn latte/hot chocolate/milkshake, check out Creme and Sugar.

lattes at creme and sugar in san diego

Also proof that just because you’re in an Instagrammable cafe, doesn’t mean you know how to take Instagrammable pictures

Drink the best Japanese tea in Balboa Park

The Tea Pavilion in the Japanese Garden at Balboa Park has the best teas. You need to check this place out if you want good tea in San Diego!

Pretend you’re in the UK with afternoon tea

Yes you can get tea time in the UK, and inside of US hotels, but San Diego has places that exist only for tea time.

Road trip to Ensenada for the original fish tacos

Though Baja style fish tacos are everywhere and tasty here, Ensenada is their birthplace. Wouldn’t it be awesome try them in the homeland? Which brings me to…

Outdoor/active San Diego bucket list activities

Road trip to Baja California

Yes San Diego’s coast looks gorgeous, but so do the pictures of Baja California! Can you drive even all the way to Cabo? Only one way to find out.

Do the 5-Peak Hiking Challenge

The actual challenge where you could win a thing is over, but you can still try to hike all five peaks in San Diego’s Mission Trails Regional Park! This was on my bucket list before traveling to Ecuador and doing 13ers daily. I think I’m more than ready for these peaks now.

Hike in Anza Borrego State Park

Anza Borrego is the biggest state park in California, but it often gets overshadowed by places like Joshua Tree or Death Valley. Take a road trip over here and go on some unique desert hikes- just make sure you stay prepared with these desert hiking tips.

hiking in the anza borrego desert

Off-road in Ocotillo Wells

If you like off-roading, you’ve got to check out Ocotillo Wells outside of San Diego.

Go outdoor bouldering at the Santee Boulders

Usually when people think of Southern California and bouldering, Joshua Tree comes to mind. But this is closer to San Diego, a popular spot, and has beginner areas so even if you’re just learning, you can check it out!

Learn how to longboard surf

Not sure what this is actually called, but for a surfing alternative, try learning how to surf on a longer surfboard. Perhaps it’s like longboarding, but in the ocean. For me personally, I still need to learn how to swim, but eh.

Hike Potato Chip Rock

Okay, yeah this is like one of the most sought after hikes because of Instagram in San Diego (though technically is far from the city center) probably after Torrey Pines, but I’m just making sure you do it, ya know?

Cliff jump legally

People have told me there are areas where you can do this… technically in Sunset Cliffs it’s illegal though.

Do adrenaline water activities in Mission Bay

Like jet skiing, intertubing, jetpacking (!)

Do lowkey water activities in Mission Bay

Like paddleboarding, kayaking, seaboating. The water here is really calm, which makes all the above even more relaxing.

Rave under the starry desert sky

I don’t know how I found out about this particular rave (or what it was called… #drugs), but keep your eye open for these events – like said about, the desert has some gorgeous views of the stars. That plus your favorite trance music means a really psychedelic experience.

Paint by the Sea

If you’re anything like me, doing stuff on the beach makes it 100x better. So Painting by the Sea hosted by the iconic Hotel del Coronado is basically a Paint Nite- but on the beach!

Yoga at the Beach

Again, if you love the beach and if you love yoga, this is the perfect zen relaxing moment that you can only do year round in places like San Diego!

Yoga with a wine

If you’re not thinking “OMG this sounds amazing” or “wait, no I don’t drink”, then I know what you’re thinking- “that sounds like something I don’t want to do, even though I love wine and yoga.” Actually- it’s really relaxing, and you should check it out! And I’ve really only seen this in San Diego (#alcohol). You know what’s actually overrated though? Paddleboard yoga. Too difficult…

Salsa on the Beach

Hopefully I don’t have to explain why this sounds awesome.

Throw axes for fun

Is crossfit dying down and being replaced by axe throwing? Or is it just coincidence that old crossfit buildings are turning into axe throwing buildings? This is what it sounds like – you can throw axes for fun at a few places in San Diego including with Bad Axe Throwing.

Hot air balloon in North County

North County has so many rich people experiences- like hot air ballooning!

Play frisbee golf

San Diego is home to famous golf courses, but that can feel a little pretentious if you don’t know anything about golf. So why not try a funky alternative with frisbee golf- which also has a few courses in San Diego!

Bike around Coronado

Sure many people say the Hotel del Coronado is what you should check out here, and yes- it’s a gorgeous, historical hotel. But if you’re not so into art or history, it’s not that exciting. A better way to spend the day in Coronado is to bike around the island.

Urban hiking in Balboa Park

Sure everyone comes here for the museums and zoo, but there are also some trails in Balboa Park if you want something more active! It’s unique because you don’t have to go far from the city to go on a quick hike, and you have gorgeous nature views in addition to gorgeous Spanish architecture views.

Seasonal things you could try to check out

See desert cacti bloom after a rainy winter

Who knew that cacti bloom?? In the Anza Borrego Desert especially, the spring after a rainy winter the desert is filled with beautiful, blooming cacti. To see reports of whether they’re blooming or not, check out this site.

Attend “two scientists walk into a bar”

This happens at some frequency (check their website for the latest information), but this is basically an event where two scientists will hang out at a local San Diego bar and answer your science questions! Each bar has a different science field theme. It’s perfect for all the nerdy drinkers out there.

Eat pumpkin apple pie in Julian

We’ve all heard about Julian’s amazing apple pies (if not – you need to add this to your San Diego bucket list!), but in the fall, many bakeries also have a pumpkin apple pie! We need to make this a thing! They are amazing!

See the bioluminescent waves caused by red tides

This happens once in a while (earlier this year and before that 2013) but sounds absolutely beautiful. Sometimes when the red tide comes in in San Diego, plankton are in the waves that cause the water to glow. You can read more here. If it happens while you’re in San Diego, you’ve got to check it out!

bioluminescent waves

Underwater Lightning” by Kevin Baird is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Visit Balboa Park at night in December for December Lights

December Lights is an annual event in Balboa Park where the whole park is filled with beautiful Christmas lights, Christmas carolers, Christmas food, and other fun Christmas activities. Plus, if you don’t mind crowds, the museums are free on this night!

And there you have it- my San Diego bucket list! What are you most excited for? I’ve only been here for a year- what would you add? Are the $100 steaks in other lists really worth it? Let me know in the comments!


Traveler. Foodie. Student debt haver. I love finding the best things to do and eat when traveling, and sharing them with everyone else who likes experiencing local culture or exploring the outdoors too! You can read more about me in my about page.


  1. December 1, 2018 / 2:22 pm

    ahhh this all looks amazing but I have always wanted to do “two scientists walk into a bar” ever since I first heard of it. And how good are tiki bars? My absolute fave!!!

    • Angelica
      December 1, 2018 / 9:46 pm

      Same here, it’s such an interesting concept! Hopefully it expands to many other cities. And right?! I love tiki bars too!

  2. December 1, 2018 / 3:09 pm

    Ok this is an EPIC LIST!!! I’ve only been to San Diego once, and loved it, but clearly didn’t spend enough time here… the bike ride sounds so lovely, and your food photos are ON POINT. I’m also huge on hiking, so this is awesome. P.S. Yes, I will try to visit every single brewery, thank you πŸ™‚

    • Angelica
      December 1, 2018 / 9:48 pm

      No worries, once is hard to get everything done! Haha I know, I am so up for the every single brewery challenge :P. Thank you so much for your comment!

  3. December 1, 2018 / 4:00 pm

    I love San Diego! Great food, vibe, view and the people are super nice! Great Bucket list. Can’t wait to try that pumpkin pie πŸ™‚

    • Angelica
      December 1, 2018 / 9:50 pm

      That pumpkin pie is so good, I hope you get the chance πŸ™‚

  4. Elizabrth
    December 5, 2018 / 6:36 pm

    So glad I found this! We’re going to be staying a few days in San Diego on our way home from Hawaii this summer!

    • Angelica
      December 5, 2018 / 9:57 pm

      That’s awesome- you get two gorgeous places for one! Hope it helps and that you have a blast πŸ™‚

  5. December 6, 2018 / 12:07 am

    You had me and my kids at Unicorn lattes !! Mermaid bowls πŸ˜‰ Wow this post was a treat to my eyes!! The BIOLUMINESCENT WAVES sound absolutely intriguing!

    • Angelica
      December 7, 2018 / 11:20 am

      Unicorn lattes and mermaid bowls both are so cute but actually taste just as good as they look! Hope you and the kids enjoy πŸ™‚

  6. December 8, 2018 / 12:56 am

    This is quite a list. Going to take me a while to get through all of these, so I’ve pinned it for later!

    • Angelica
      December 8, 2018 / 8:30 pm

      Thank you for the pin!

  7. December 8, 2018 / 1:52 am

    I have to admit even though I have headed to LA a few times, and driven through San Diego I am yet to stop in and visit. After reading your list though I am really tempted.

    • Angelica
      December 8, 2018 / 8:31 pm

      I can totally understand- there’s so much to do in LA already it’s hard to add other trips! Hopefully you get the chance to stop and visit πŸ™‚

  8. December 8, 2018 / 3:52 am

    I am not a very sportive person, but urban hiking, salsa on the beach, and yoga with wine I can do πŸ™‚ Thanks for so many awesome suggestions! Will not miss the Mexican food!

    • Angelica
      December 8, 2018 / 8:33 pm

      Yesss, those all sound like the perfect activities to me πŸ˜€

  9. December 10, 2018 / 8:14 am

    Hey Angelica, thanks for such a comprehensive post!! We haven’t been to San Diego in a while and when we did it, it was with the kids when they were little. We spent much of the time in LEGO land and the world famous SD Zoo. I’d love to hike in Anza Borrego state park and chat with the scientists. I’ll pin your list so I remember the places to visit.

    • Angelica
      December 10, 2018 / 8:20 am

      Thank you!! It sounds like you and your family still had an amazing time though :). I haven’t been to Legoland yet actually so it’s on my list too!

  10. December 13, 2018 / 8:55 am

    San Diego is one of my faaaaavorite cities! But I’ve only been to a few of these places. Adding the rest to my list for next time!

    • Angelica
      December 13, 2018 / 10:21 am

      Yes, I could totally see that. There’s just so much stuff to do here!

  11. Johnny
    December 15, 2018 / 9:31 am

    That’s a really cool bucket list. Wish I had as many things as yours on mine for next year at the moment. I like how you’ve broken it down into activities, food and seasons too. Hope you can get all of them down!

    Johnny | Johnny’s Traventures

    • Angelica
      December 15, 2018 / 10:22 pm

      Thank you! Yes, there’s probably way too much that can fit in a year πŸ˜‚. I did do some of them already but still!

  12. December 16, 2018 / 12:13 pm

    So many amazing ideas! I love San Diego & I’ve been twice and I haven’t even done 1/4 of what is on this list! It is such a beautiful city!

    • Angelica
      December 16, 2018 / 8:39 pm

      There’s too much to do in San Diego! I’m glad you enjoyed your trips though!

  13. December 16, 2018 / 3:39 pm

    Aaaw… thank you so much for sharing this. Very useful. Bookmarking it for sure πŸ˜šπŸ‘β€

    • Angelica
      December 16, 2018 / 10:21 pm

      Thank you for reading! πŸ˜€

  14. December 16, 2018 / 4:11 pm

    I’m all for $50-all-you-can-eat and definitely not ‘visit the zoo’ kind of traveller. An an Aussie, I love spending time at the beach, so I’m particularly interested Painting by the Sea and salsa by the beach. And umm psychedelic experience? Now, that is something I could get into ;p especially when it’s all happening under starry night skies in the desert.

    • Angelica
      December 16, 2018 / 10:22 pm

      Hahaaa I know, I’m sure you have those psychedelic desert experiences in Australia too πŸ˜›

  15. December 16, 2018 / 4:22 pm

    Super exhaustive list! The cafe Creme and Sugar looks amazing though I am afraid I would die of diabetes but would be a good way to go. Would love love to try out Yoga and wine, and yes I don’t even like yoga.

    • Angelica
      December 16, 2018 / 10:24 pm

      Haha yes diabetes is a total concern for that place, even though the drinks aren’t that sweet, there are just so many toppings on top! And if you don’t like yoga but do like wine, it will be an awesome experience πŸ˜›

  16. December 17, 2018 / 1:49 am

    Great post Angelica. This can be the ultimate follow list for anyone coming to San Diego. I would personally be interested in doing 5 peak hike, yoga with wine and hot air balloon in North County.

    • Angelica
      December 17, 2018 / 10:10 am

      Good choices! I like the balance of active-ness and they’re all going to have pretty scenery πŸ™‚

  17. Rahat Arora
    December 19, 2018 / 3:13 am

    Vibes of San Diego is amazing and is an incredible place. Thanks for sharing great information.

    • Angelica
      December 20, 2018 / 10:25 pm

      Thank you for reading!

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