San Diego in One Day: An Itinerary

The ultimate guide to seeing this beautiful southwestern destination in one day.

Sailboats in the San Diego Bay, in the evening. Photo by Chris K., taken in July 2022.

San Diego: it’s a city home to over 1.5 million people, and is a destination on millions of people’s bucket lists. With plenty to see and do, it would be utterly impossible to see the whole city and what it has to offer in the span of 24 hours. However, with much of the city being extremely walkable and offering adequate public transit, a lot of it can, in fact, be seen in a single day.

This is the third entry in my “One Day: An Itinerary” article series, with the other two installments thus far being Philadelphia and Chicago. What will follow in this article is a brief guide on the major sights to see in the city, and when. This guide assumes that you have the full day in San Diego, beginning and ending there. If you’d like me to do the same for other cities, be sure to Clap for this article, and let me know in the comments or on Twitter @chriskirsch01.

1. U.S.S. Midway Museum (10:00 a.m. — 1:00 p.m.)

You probably were not expecting an itinerary list for San Diego to begin with a museum, but here we are. The U.S.S. Midway Museum is not just a simple museum, but rather, it is an entire floating fortress free for you to explore. This historical naval aircraft carrier, which was built in 1945, spans a length of 1,001 feet and three full decks. Located right in the heart of Downtown San Diego, the ship’s central location is easy to get to if you’re staying in the core area of the city or near a Trolley line.

Once you arrive, get your tickets at the window and proceed into the main deck. Check out the lower deck which features everything from the soldiers’ living quarters to the kitchens, to the hospitals and dentists, pipe and valve rooms, and much more. Then head upstairs to the flight deck to check out some sick planes and helicopters, and even tour the captain’s bridge. When it’s all done, you’ll be about three hours removed from when you started, and that’s all fine.

India Street in Little Italy, San Diego. Photo by Chris K., taken in July 2022.

2. Lunch in Little Italy (1:30 p.m. — 3:00 p.m.)

When your tour of the ship is finished, hop on the Trolley (which is really a tram) two stops north to Little Italy, or you can walk 1 mile (20 minutes) there. As a native New Yorker, I am pretty much an expert in Little Italy areas and Italian cuisine, and most cities I have been to claim they have authentic Little Italy neighborhoods, but they’re just not (looking at you, Baltimore). But San Diego’s Little Italy is legit, and the food is fantastic. Get yourself some lunch in this hip destination, as you won’t regret it or the fullness you’ll experience shortly thereafter.

View of some historic buildings in Balboa Park, San Diego, CA.

3. Balboa Park (3:30 p.m. — 5:30 p.m.)

After you grab some epic Italian lunch in Little Italy, you’ll want to Uber on over to Balboa Park. This huge urban park contains some of the oldest and most grand Spanish architecture in Southern California. Check out sweet spots such as the Bea Evenson Fountain and the Museum of Us, and cross the historic Cabrillo Bridge to get some sick shots of San Diego and the low-flying planes landing at the Airport. And yes, the San Diego Zoo, which is one of the most famous Zoos in the world is located in Balboa Park, but that requires a day of its own.

Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres. Photo by Chris K., taken in July 2022.

4. Padres Game (6:00 p.m. — 8:30 p.m.)

Following your time in Balboa Park, you’ll want to head on down to the lavish Petco Park, and see yourself a Padres game. In my other Itinerary articles thus far, I have recommended catching baseball games in those respective cities, but for San Diego, I absolutely recommend it as Petco Park is a beautiful destination, both for baseball and for views of the vista, and is one of the main staples of the city.

As mentioned in my other Itinerary articles, the only caveat with this one is that you will have to visit San Diego during the spring or summer months in order to catch a game, and even then, there’s a chance the Padres will be away that day; thus, be sure to check the MLB schedule before you plan your trip.

Sailboats in the San Diego Bay, in the evening. Photo by Chris K., taken in July 2022.

5. Ferry to Coronado, Beach (9:00 p.m. — 10:00 p.m.)

There’s no denying this one: San Diego is for the beach bum. If you want to catch those sweet sun rays and get a tan as dark as coal, then you’ll have to do that during the day and sacrifice one of the other items on this list. But Coronado is a beautiful destination right across the river from San Diego, and luckily for you, there’s a ferry from Downtown that goes right to it. Catch a Trolley or drive to the ferry stop, which is located right next to the U.S.S. Midway, and get on that ferry and take it across the bay.

Once you land in Coronado (a 15 minute boat ride), take a stroll through the marketplace and grab some stunning nighttime views of San Diego, then wander down Orange Avenue to the Hotel del Coronado, where you’ll suddenly be in the midst of lavish, upper-class galas along the shoreline. When you finally start to get tired, you can head back to the hotel and put a nice bow on your one-day adventure in San Diego, California (or some clubbing and bar-hopping. Up to you). How sweet it is.

If you would like me to create a one-day itinerary for other cities, be sure to Clap for this article, and let me know in the comments or on Twitter @chriskirsch01.

Chris is a writer and publisher who travels America, and loves doing it. He also loves pizza, video games, and sports, and can tell you a thing or two about each. Follow him on Twitter and on Medium to be informed of new articles.

Note that all images in this article are property of Chris K. These images may not be used for any purpose without express permission.

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Chris K

Native New Yorker. Pizza, Sports, Games, Life. Writing about whatever my heart desires. Follow me here and on Twitter for more articles!