Apr 25, 2024California, City, North America, USA0 comments

Known for its mellow surfer vibe, sunny weather, many museums, and of course Comic-Con, San Diego is the perfect destination for a relaxing but fun weekend trip. Discover fascinating history, experience US-Mexican culture, tour exciting museums, enjoy delicious meals, and spend some time relaxing at the beach – you are sure to have a blast in San Diego!

But if you only have two days for this vibrant city, the problem isn’t so much to have fun (because that is easy to do) but how to choose just a couple of the many activities on offer. There is just so much! No worries, I can help you with that.

Over the years, I have visited San Diego numerous times, both for longer stays and on day trips. While I still haven’t seen everything in town (but am getting there) and some things have changed over the years (I can’t believe Horton Plaza is gone), I do have a pretty good idea what is really worth your time on a first visit.

So after some hard thinking I have come up with this 2 day San Diego itinerary to help you plan your trip. Read on and find out what you should see, where to stay, and which restaurants I recommend.

Skyline of San Diego

San Diego is a great destination to spend two days or even longer

Practical Information for visiting San Diego

How to get to San Diego

San Diego International Airport is located close to downtown and is served by many national and international carriers. From here you can catch a bus to the nearest public transit hub or directly into the city.

If you prefer, you can also travel to San Diego by train. Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego is served by Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner several times per day.

How to get from the San Diego Airport to downtown San Diego

If you don’t have much luggage, bus route 992 is a great option. For a low price, it will take you in just 15 minutes from the airport terminals directly to Santa Fe Depot in Downtown San Diego. Alternatively, there is a free shuttle to Old Town Station, a major transportation hub. From here you can take buses or trains to anywhere in the city or indeed the wider San Diego region.

Of course, you can also grab a Lyft, Uber, or taxi to get to your hotel. This is probably the best choice if you have a lot of luggage and as the airport is quite close to the city it won’t be too expensive!

Tracks and train station at Santa Fe Depot in San Diego

Santa Fe Depot is located right in downtown San Diego and offers Amtrak as well as Coaster service

Best time to visit San Diego

Due to the city’s location close to the Mexican border, the weather in San Diego is warm and balmy almost all year long. May to June are known for a bit of fog and gloom, but this doesn’t mean that it stays dreary all day– often the sun will burn off the fog as the day goes on and afternoons will mostly be sunny.

Every season is good for a visit to San Diego – the weather is pretty much the same year-round with temperatures generally between 16 °C and 27 °C. The ocean will be warmest in August but even then, the water remains fairly chilly.

Unless you are in town specifically to attend Comic-Con, I would recommend avoiding a visit in early July when the event takes place. Unless you are booking months in advance you won’t be able to find a hotel room during this time anyway. And if you do it will be much more expensive than during the rest of the year!

San Diego has a huge conference center so availability and prices for accommodation will fluctuate according to which conference is in town. If you have some flexibility, it may be worth playing around with the dates of your trip a bit to find the best deal.

Old Town Transit Center with bus bays and tracks

Old Town Transit Center is a major transportation hub with many train, tram, and bus options

How to get around San Diego

Luckily, San Diego has a great public transportation system. Aside of the touristy Old Town Trolley, there are the regular San Diego Trolley, many buses, ferries, and trains. And of course, there are also the usual rideshare services!

  • Walking: San Diego isn’t a huge city and there are many walkable areas, like the seafront or Coronado. Also, the pleasantly sunny and balmy climate make for a great stroll.
  • Trolley: This light rail service (not to be confused with Old Town Trolley, a cute bus with Hop-on-Hop-of-feature) connects downtown San Diego with areas to the north, east, and south.
  • Ferry: A ferry ride to Coronado Island is great fun and a highlight of any visit. You can also take the bus across the bridge to get to Coronado, but I recommend that you use the ferry in at least one direction.
  • Buses: There is a large network of bus routes, and you can get most places without problems.
  • Trains: Trains from either Santa Fe Depot or Old Town Station will take you to nearby beach towns like Carlsbad or Encinitas or even all the way north to San Clemente and Los Angeles.

In contrast to many other US cities, public transit in San Diego is pretty good. There is no need to rent a car for your two days in San Diego.

How expensive is a trip to San Diego?

Accommodation in San Diego is not cheap. Hotel prices will fluctuate depending on the time of year and what is going on in town, but most hotels will run at least $150 per night and $200 may be a more realistic budget at least in summer.

Restaurant prices are pretty much in line with other major US cities. $50 seems a realistic budget per day if you plan on one regular meal in a restaurant and a smaller/fast food meal.

Luckily, public transportation is inexpensive and there are plenty of low-cost activities, like the beaches, Coronado Island, or Balboa Park.

How much your trip will cost will depend on your personal travel style, especially on what kind of hotel you choose, where you eat, and whether you want to visit some of the more expensive San Diego attractions, like Seaworld or the San Diego Zoo.

Is 2 days enough in San Diego?

San Diego is a wonderful city with a lot of history and many attractions so you could easily spend longer than two days. As a matter of fact, four or five days might be better as you could also explore the wider San Diego area a bit. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, stylish Del Mar, and the gorgeous botanical gardens of Encinitas are always worth a visit!

However, two days are enough to hit the highlights and give you a good first impression of this mellow town with its Mexican vibe.

Hotel Del Coronado is definitely worth a visit

As soon as I get rich I will stay at the Hotel Del Coronado

Where to stay for 2 days in San Diego

We usually visit San Diego either on day trips from our timeshare in Solana Beach or have stayed via a timeshare exchange. Which is lucky – on my recent trip I was truly shocked about the San Diego hotel prices – even the cheapest motels were well over $150!

But San Diego is a great destination so it is worth spending a bit more on the hotel (or maybe go during a slower season).

Best areas to stay in San Diego for this itinerary

For a short two day stay, I would recommend a hotel either near Old Town, near Santa Fe Depot, or on Coronado. The areas near Old Town and Santa Fe Depot are best in terms of ease of getting around but Coronado is just so charming that it makes up for a little less convenience (at least in my eyes).

Hotel Recommendations

Here are my personal recommendations for hotels I have either stayed at, visited, or researched:

Luxury: Hotel Del Coronado

If I had the money, there would be no doubt in my mind. This hotel is just so iconic (and pretty) that it would be top of my list (if I could afford it).

We have stayed just across the street from the Del Coronado and the area is great (though you are a bit remote for touring) with many restaurants, stores, a wonderful beach, and a buzzy vacation vibe.

The pink and white balustrated building houses the Hotel Cosmopolitan right in Old Town San Diego. It looks like it is straight out of a Western.

I want to stay here so bad!

Mid-Range: Cosmopolitan Hotel

I had no idea that you can actually stay WITHIN Old Town San Diego State Park. This hotel looks like it stepped right out of an old-time Western movie and I bet you feel like you went back in time when staying there.

I love hotels that are different/quirky so the Cosmopolitan Hotel is on the very top of my list for my next trip (as the Hotel Del Coronado likely won’t be within my budget).

Mid-Range: Holiday Inn Express San Diego Airport-Old Town

I ended up booking here for my trip and was happy with the hotel. It was was clean, had all the regular amenities (including breakfast), and is close to Old Town.

Unfortunately, the hotel is also right next to a very busy street and part of a fairly generic chain hotel. There was absolutely nothing wrong with it and it is a good choice if you can get it at a reasonable price but there may be more exciting alternatives at a similar cost.

Mid-Range: Coronado Beach Resort

We have stayed here via a timeshare exchange and loved it! The location is great – it is right across the street from the Hotel Del Coronado. The various studios/apartments offer varying amenities and there are hotel activities you can take part in.

Budget: Old Town Inn

Location, reviews, and price make this an attractive option (I dithered too long and it was sold out for my trip so no personal experience).


Even though I am not a hostel type (at all) I was tempted to book one for my recent one-night stay as hotel prices were just crazy.

I ended up chickening out but if you are more adventurous than me (or maybe hostel experienced) it could be an option as there were several with pretty good ratings.

Ultimate 2 Day Itinerary San Diego

Short Summary

Welcome to the ultimate itinerary for 2 days in San Diego which will cover some of the best sights and attractions the town has to offer. There is much more to see and do in this city by the sea, but this will give you a good first introduction to the city.

This itinerary assumes that you arrive the evening before so that you can get started exploring early on the first day.

Day 1:

Take the Old Town Trolley Tour, explore the USS Midway, stroll through Old Town San Diego, and end the day with a food or ghost tour

Day 2:

Explore the museums of Balboa Park, check out Seaport Village, take the ferry to Coronado Island, and spend the afternoon enjoying the beach, touring famous Hotel del Coronado, and browsing in Coronado’s quaint stores

Old Town Trolley HoHo-Bus parked at Old Town San Diego

Not really a trolley but a good way to get an overview of San Diego

Day 1 – Get to know the city

Old Town Trolley Tour

Start your first day in San Diego with a ride on the Old Town Trolley. This Hop-on-Hop-off bus passes by most of San Diego’s major tourist destinations and gives you a good basic overview over the city’s layout.

There is likely to be a stop near your hotel so just hop on there. However, if you would rather not go on the HoHo bus, you can use public transit to visit the various stops on this day’s itinerary.

USS Midway with San Diego skyline in background

This photo of the USS Midway is pretty bad (not sure what happened) but it is the best I got (the others are worse)

USS Midway Museum

Get off the Trolley at Stop C Embarcadero Marina. This is the starting point for several popular San Diego activities, like the Maritime Museum and Harbor Cruises. My recommendation however is a visit of the USS Midway Museum.

In this interactive museum you can explore America’s longest serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century. Learn more about this “floating city at sea” with a self-guided audio tour of the flight deck, hangar deck, and below deck (available in English, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, German, and French). In addition, there are volunteer docents stationed on the Midway who are happy to share personal stories and information about this impressive carrier.


Touring the USS Midway will take up most of the morning. If you are hungry for lunch, Miguel’s Cocina is an upscale Mexican restaurant located just 10 minutes by foot further north along the harbor. The food is tasty and fairly authentic (after all Mexico is right around the corner). But the best part is the view of the harbor from the tables on the outside deck.

After your meal, jump back on the Trolley (Stop B should be closest) and continue your tour of San Diego. Depending on your interests and how long you spent at the USS Midway you could get off at one of the shops along the way to explore the Gaslamp Quarter or Little Italy in more detail.

The terracotta tiles, white walls, old wood, exotic plants, and bright merchandise at Old Town San Diego give it a very Mexican vibe.

Old Town San Diego may be touristy but I love it

Old Town San Diego State Park

However, you shouldn’t spend too much time there to make sure you get to Old Town San Diego State Park (Stop A on the Trolley) by 3 pm at the latest.

Old Town San Diego is a combination of restaurants, shops, and open-air museums. It is the ideal place to learn a bit more about the history of San Diego and pick up cool souvenirs. Here you will find something for everyone and in any price range, from unusual Mexican sodas and brightly colored pottery to more expensive art.


There are plenty of nice dining options here but if you would rather not eat Mexican food twice in a day, the Gaslamp Quarter is a great alternative with many different culinary offerings.

If you are traveling solo and don’t love going out to eat on your own (dining solo is not easy), you could join one of San Diego’s Evening Food and Drink Tours.

Another great evening activity would be one of the Ghost Tours offered – what a fun end to the day!

Botanical Building at Balboa Park with pond and flowers in foreground

You could easily spend two days in Balboa Park alone

Day 2 – Balboa Park and Coronado

Balboa Park

Your second day in San Diego starts at Balboa Park (easily reached via public transport).

Balboa Park is one of the country’s biggest city parks, but it is even better known as the home of 17 museums as well as the famous San Diego Zoo.

As this itinerary only allocates half a day to Balboa Park (there is just so much else to discover in San Diego!), you will have to pick and choose what to see.

Take some time to stroll through the gardens and admire the Spanish-Moorish architecture. Don’t forget to check out the Botanical Building and Lily Pond, a definite must-see spot in San Diego!

Then decide on one of the many museums scattered through the park. The San Diego Air & Space Museum, the San Diego Automotive Museum, and the San Diego Museum of Art are some of the most popular picks. Alternatively, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum is a great choice if you are looking for something a bit more playful.

There are various Explorer Passes on offer that give discounts for visiting several museums. With only half a day at Balboa Park these discount tickets are probably not worth it for this itinerary but if you have more time in San Diego they may save you money.

Seaport Village in San Diego

San Diego’s Seaport Village is a good place for a short break

Seaport Village

Once you are done at the museum of your choice, take public transit to Seaport Village. This complex is rather touristy, but it is still fun to stroll through the neat stores and admire the kite flying on the nearby lawn.

If you are hungry, this would also be a good place to grab a bite to eat at one of the many food stalls or restaurants.

While Seaport Village is fun, it is not the most crucial stop so if you are running late after spending too much time at Balboa Park you could skip this stop and head straight to the ferry terminal instead.

Skyline of San Diego in the sunshine

On the ferry to Coronado you have a great view of San Diego

Ferry Ride to Coronado Island

Walk northwards to Broadway Pier (right next to the USS Midway) and take the ferry across to Coronado. This inexpensive boat ride is one of the best things to do in San Diego!

On the way across the bay you have a great view of the San Diego skyline and can enjoy the fresh ocean breezes. The crossing takes only 15 minutes and the ferry runs about every 30 minutes.

Coronado Island

You will arrive at Coronado Ferry Landing, a smaller version of Seaport Village. If you did not have time for lunch before your ferry ride you could get a light meal here. Lil Piggy’s Bar-B-Q is a good choice.

The main attractions of Coronado Island are a bit further from the ferry landing. Luckily, in the summer Coronado offers a free bus shuttle between the landing and the center of town. However, if the shuttle does not run during your visit, you can take the local public bus instead.

Hotel Del Coronado with white building, red roofs, and manicured gardens

The Hotel Del Coronado is a must-see on any San Diego itinerary

Hotel del Coronado

Get off the bus/shuttle near the Hotel del Coronado. This white mansion with its red roofs is one of the most iconic hotels worldwide. It has a long history of illustrious visitors and is famous as the setting of movies like Some like it hot with Marilyn Monroe. No question – Hotel del Coronado is definitely worth a visit!

Head inside to check out this luxury property. There are numerous food outlets and stores (beware though – prices are quite high!). In addition, (for a fee) the Hotel del Coronado offers tours and activities you can take part in even if not staying there. This is a good chance to feel like a millionaire without breaking the bank!

Coronado Beach

No trip to San Diego would be complete without going to the beach. Coronado Beach with its long swath of white sand is definitely one of the best beaches anywhere! However, be prepared for chilly water – just like everywhere in California the water temperatures never rise very high.

When you have had enough of sun and surf there is still more to do in Coronado. Stroll along Coronado’s Orange Avenue and browse in the cute stores and boutiques. You will also find various ice cream shops and bars along this main drag. Due to the many soldiers training at Coronado’s Navy SEAL’s base, the atmosphere can get quite lively!

There are several popular restaurants right here on Coronado Island. You can find anything from inexpensive pizza and tacos to the swanky Serea at the del Coronado.

For your way back to your hotel (unless your hotel is on Coronado) you can either take the ferry or a bus across the impressive bridge connecting Coronado with San Diego on the mainland.

Safety on this 2-day San Diego Itinerary

For a large American city, San Diego is on the safer side. 

This itinerary covers mostly popular tourist areas and you should have no problems as long as you stick with commonsense safety measures e.g. keep an eye on your belongings and stay away from deserted areas after dark.

Overall, I have always felt safe in San Diego and would recommend it for solo female travelers (and anyone else).

View of Cove in La Jolla with pelicans and sea lions

La Jolla is definitely worth a visit

What else is there to do in San Diego?

Plenty! I have tried hard to plan this two day itinerary so it hits most of the highlights of San Diego. But with only two days it will be a bit rushed.

If you have more time, you can enjoy the attractions with more leisure instead of just getting a taste of each. You could definitely spend an entire day on Coronado or in Balboa Park!

Some of the sights and activities I did not include are the San Diego Zoo and Seaworld (each of which needs an entire day), Mission Bay & Belmont Park, Point Loma as well as La Jolla.

This is easily enough for four or five days but if you have even longer, I highly recommend some day trips to Northern San Diego County (easily and inexpensively accessible with the Coaster train service). 

Hiking at Torrey Pines, climbing in Annie’s Slot Canyon in Solana Beach, and visiting the County Fair or Horse Races in Del Mar (depending on the time of your visit) are just some of the possible options.

Final thoughts

This itinerary for San Diego will give you a great first introduction to the city. Still, San Diego has so much to offer that you could easily spend twice as long without running out of things to see and do.

But no worries: You are sure to fall in love with this mellow city by the sea. And on your next trip you can experience all the other attractions San Diego has to offer – from La Jolla to the San Diego Zoo!

Outside display of various Mexican souvenirs. In the foreground are large flowerpots with colorful flowers painted on them.

Hi, I am Kitty and I love to travel! Welcome to my blog, where I share all I have learned on my trips - good and bad - to help you have a better, cheaper, and more perfect vacation!


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