San Diego is one of my favorite cities in the world! Even though I hate travelling to the same place more than once, I always find myself back here time and time again. Spending 4 days in San Diego gives you plenty of time to relax and see all the sights! Luckily the area is relatively small so you can easily see everything San Diego has to offer in a short weekend get away.
Home to perfect weather, beautiful beaches, adorable shops, great people, and best (kill me for actually admitting to say this word) vibe! In these 4 days in San Diego, you will get to see all the romantic stops like Sunset Cliff Natural Park, San Diego Zoo, romantic dinners in La Jolla Cove, and SO much more!
The first time I ever visited this city was on a romantic weekend getaway with my boyfriend, Joseph, and we had the most amazing time. We have been back several times since it is a short 4 hour car ride from our home in Las Vegas, so I condensed all of our favorite actives into a four day guide.
If you plan to see San Diego while exploring more of California, be sure to check out my 7 day California itinerary! It squeezes in all the best sites from San Francisco to San Diego! OR if you are planning a trip with your girls, don’t miss my Girls Weekend in San Diego guide!
There’s a chance that this post contains affiliate links. I may receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you), that goes directly towards little Rosie’s dog treats!
What to pack?
I keep a list of all my summer essentials and favorite finds on this guide here. I am constantly updated it after every warm destination – tried, true & tested! I also have a list of my 10 travel essentials I can’t live without, you can read those here!
If you are traveling to San Diego in the winter months, I would still bring summer clothes + a few light jackets. It gets cool at night, but still sunny and warm during the daytime!
My top 3 recommendations that are specific to San Diego are:
1. Bluetooth speaker for the beach
I doubt I’m the only one who loves listening to music for any occasion. What makes happy hour better? Live music. What makes getting ready when you’re tired better? My favorite songs. What makes relaxing on the beach better? Relaxing music! All of this is possible with a Bluetooth speaker and one of the main reasons why I bring this on 99% of the trips I take. Click here for the Bluetooth speaker I have.
2. Cute bathing suits
Nothing gets you more excited for a summer destination than a new bathing suit! I get my bathing suits from a variety of sites, but my all-time favorite and most affordable swim suits are from ASOS. You can browse their current ones here!
3. Sunblock Packets
I always apply a full amount of sunblock before leaving the hotel, but bring sunblock packets with me in my purse. They take up almost no space and are super easy to quickly re-apply. They are about the size of a ketchup packet and can even fit in your pocket. Click here for the packets I use.
Where to stay in San Diego?
There are three main areas to stay in, all offering a completely different vacation. There is the bustling Gaslamp district, trendy Pacific Beach, and romantic La Jolla. I have stayed in all three areas, and am indifferent. I think they’re all great spots and it just depends on what you prefer! If you are following my 4 day San Diego itinerary, I would recommend staying in Pacific Beach so you are in the middle of all the sights on this guide.
Also known as downtown San Diego, this is where you will find far less expensive hotels, better restaurants and more nightlife options. The only downside is you are not walking distance from the beach, which if you are looking for a beach vacation, this would not be your best option.
You can easily catch an Uber/Lyft/Taxi to the beach, which I would recommend because if you rent a car you have to pay to park it downtown ($$$) and have to drive through beach traffic.
Pacific Beach is an adorable beach town with margarita bars and surfers galore. You are only a few steps from a beautiful, beach sunset and good restaurants. The hotels in this area are more expensive because you will be on the beach, but there are a lot of airbnb or house rental options if you are coming with a big group.
This area also has a lot of nightlife options, but a lot different than the Gaslamp district. They have more of a beach-bar vibe with live music and fruity cocktails versus Gaslamp has more night clubs and higher-end bars.
I think this area is the best option if it’s your first time visiting San Diego.
La Jolla is more luxurious with gorgeous views of the ragged California coast line. The beaches here are not as nice as Pacific Beach, but the coastal views and golfing courses make up for it. If you have ever seen pictures of the seals and sea lions in San Diego, you will find 99% of them in this area.
The nightlife is quiet and mature, so a great option for a romantic get-a-way!
Best way to get around San Diego?
I usually have my car from road tripping from Las Vegas, but if you don’t have a car, you can easily use Uber/Lyft to get around. Beach traffic or downtown traffic are not fun to drive in and can turn a relaxing vacation into, well, a not-so relaxing vacation!
I would recommend renting a bike from your hotel and using that to get around your area. If you choose to leave the area you are staying in, just grab an Uber/Lyft.
Keep in mind that most hotels have a hefty fee to park your car at the hotels. Even if you think you are saving money by getting a rental car, you may have to pay $50+ per night just to park the darn thing!
Day 1: Fly into San Diego
You can fly into the large, international airport in the heart of San Diego. This itinerary is based in Pacific Beach, but you could realistically stay in any area of San Diego and is still completely doable.
Once you check into your hotel / Airbnb, go to my favorite Pacific Beach spot: Baja Beach Cafe! This is my favorite spot for several reasons: They have an entire page of margarita options, the margaritas are the size of your head (seriously), the have an adorable outside patio right on the beach, and the best happy hour EVER! They have 2-for-1 drinks from 4pm – 8pm every Monday-Friday (the happy hour special does not give you the extra large size though, they are still big but not as big as pictured below).
TIP: If you want to go for sunset, I would get their early to score a spot on their patio!
After you drink your weight in margaritas, you’re ready for your night out on the town! If you’re in town on a Wednesday night, make your way over to PB Shore Club for their Goldfish races! What are goldfish races you might be thinking…. PB Shore club has two, long and vertical fish tanks that are aligned side-by-side. They will give you a straw to blow into the water to guide the goldfish toward the other end of the tank. They change the winnings constantly, but the last time I did the fish races the winner got open bar for the night.
TIP: Don’t choke and come in second place like I did, sigh…
Day 2: San Diego Zoo
Grab yourself a acai bowl at The Mad Beet, and head over to the San Diego Zoo!
Prepare yourself for a long day of walking and picture-taking because this place is huge! The best time to go to the San Diego Zoo is during a weekday and early in the day. It gets extremely crowded later in the day with long lines to everything from entry to food stands.
The zoo is open from 9am-5pm, so I would plan to buy your tickets in advance and show up right when the gates open at 9am. This will give you the most pleasant experience and allow you to have a lot of your day left once you leave the park.
End your night by grabbing a bite to eat and a bottle of wine (don’t forget the wine opener like we did, ha!) and head over to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park for sunset. The smell of the ocean, sound of the waves crashing and feeling like you’re the only two people in the world is my favorite moment out of all the times I’ve been to San Diego!
If are driving to Sunset Cliffs, there will be plenty of parking along the coast. Plan a 15-20 minute drive to get to Sunset Cliffs from Pacific Beach, The Zoo, or Downtown. Once you get the the cliffs, you can pretty much hike out and find a secluded area.
TIP: If you love beautiful cliff side views, be sure to check out my guide on driving the most beautiful coast in the USA: Big Sur Road Trip!
Looking for more picturesque spots? Be sure to check out my friend’s guide on Best Instagram Spots in San Diego!
End your night either bar hopping in the Gaslamp Quarter or a date night in Little Italy (both downtown San Diego). Little Italy is an adorable area filled with trendy cocktail bars, yummy Italian restaurants, breweries and clothing boutiques. You could easily spend an entire afternoon here.
Day 3: La Jolla
Sleep in and head to Mister A’s for a high-end brunch. This luxurious restaurant is located at the top floor of a building in downtown San Diego. Since it is near the airport, you get to see the planes take off and land over the bay thanks so their floor to ceiling windows. Not only is the view and atmosphere lavish, but the food… OMG. THE FOOD. Click here to see their brunch menu!
After brunch, drive over to La Jolla Cove to walk off some of that food. This is a cliff-side town that has shopping, cafes and SEALS! If you didn’t get your animal fix from the zoo, you can walk down to the cliffs and take a picture with the millions of seals and sea lions!
WARNING: This area STINKS. Not the entire area, but along the cliff where all the seals are. Snap your quick photo and head back inland, ha!
If you have some time to stay in the area for a while, there are many excursions that take your snorkeling through the caves, kayaking or surfing. I’ve never done this because where seals/sea lions are, usually sharks are! If you are feeling adventurous, click here to choose a tour!
What is unique about this area of San Diego is the beaches are similar to those in Portugal where you hike down to little hidden beaches. La Jolla has steep, cliff drop offs, but there will be stairs or paved walking paths down to the popular beaches.
Now that your souvenir shopping is done and you walked off your brunch, it’s time for more eating! My favorite restaurant in all of San Diego is the cliff-side restaurant, Crab Catcher. Located right in La Jolla, you will get outstanding views regardless if you are outside on the patio or inside the restaurant.
Enjoy your dinner watching the best sunset of your life while drinking one of their world-renowned martinis! I don’t normally like martinis, but they have a ton of flavors that aren’t too sweet. I recommend the pear flavor! 🙂
Day 4: Beach Day + Fly or Drive Home
If you’re ending your trip on a Sunday, head over to the Catamaran Resort for the best buffet-brunch of your life! For only $62, you get bottomless champagne and king crab legs / sushi! I know $62 seems like a lot, but SO much is included. Joseph and I go here every time we go to San Diego, I can’t recommend it enough!
Since the Catamaran Resort Buffet is located on Mission Bay, rent some paddle boards to work off some of that food when you are finished. There are many paddle board rental companies along the bay that start at $18/hour.
If exercising while in a food coma doesn’t sound appealing to you (doesn’t to most people), just lounge at Pacific Beach before your flight or drive home.
That’s a wrap! This 4 day San Diego Itinerary has all of my favorite things from all my times visiting this beautiful city. Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below so I can check it out on my next trip!
Want more guide on California Travel? I think you would love these!
- Ideas for the PERFECT girls weekend in San Diego!
- 3 Day Weekend in Carlsbad, California
- Wine Tasting in Temecula
- Big Sur Road Trip Itinerary
- Quick Guide to Visiting Monterey, California
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