2024 San Diego Family Vacation Guide
Home to stunning beaches, intriguing historical landmarks, and some of the most acclaimed museums in the United States, San Diego never fails to impress. This laid-back Southern California city has it all, from great seafood restaurants to fine shops to an endless array of cultural attractions and entertainment opportunities. Visitors from near and far will never be bored in San Diego. Source: sandiegocommunitysearch.com
San Diego is located in Southern California and is one of the second-largest cities in the state of California. It is known for its multicultural population as well as its Spanish colonial heritage and key role in the region’s rich history. The city is easily accessible by San Diego International Airport, Amtrak, car, bus, and boat as well as McClellan-Palomar Airport and Tijuana International Airport in neighboring Tijuana, Mexico. The city also boasts a robust public transportation system that includes light rail and bus services.
The city is simply packed with great attractions and fun things to see and do. From beaches to museums to shopping, San Diego has it all. One of its premier attractions is the expansive and beautiful Balboa Park, home to extensive greenery as well as some of the city’s finest museums and cultural attractions. Visitors to Balboa Park can enjoy its endless range of leisure and recreational activities as well as explore its rich museums such as the San Diego Museum of Art, the San Diego Air and Space Museum, the San Diego Museum of Natural History, the San Diego Museum of Man and many more to discover. Balboa Park is also home to the acclaimed San Diego Zoo, one of the largest and most comprehensive zoos in the world, as well as lush botanical gardens, fascinating historical sites, and renowned performing arts venues such as the Old Globe Theatre.
Another top visitor destination in San Diego is Old Town, one of the city’s most historic and colorful districts. Home to a wealth of beautiful colonial architecture as well as fine shops and restaurants, Old Town boasts renowned cultural and historical landmarks like Heritage Park, the Whaley House, and the fascinating Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. Tours of this lively and historic district are readily available throughout the year.
Elsewhere in San Diego, visitors will find a wealth of other attractions. Downtown San Diego boasts historic sites like the Gaslamp Quarter as well as must-see museums like the Maritime Museum of San Diego. World-class beaches can be found in neighborhoods like La Jolla and Loma Point while other attractions include renowned amusement parks like SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
San Diego Downtown Hotels
Tourist attractions, nightlife, and the business area are all a part of downtown San Diego. Right on San Diego Bay, downtown is where the Padres Major League Baseball Team calls home. The district that started in the mid-1800s is made up of important contemporary neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are the heart and soul of the city and draw tourists as well as businesses. In the northwestern end on the Bay is Little Italy. Like stepping into Italy, the shops and restaurants give the atmosphere and flavors of that culture. Gaslamp is the historic downtown area. Historic buildings, shops, and entertainment venues are in this quarter. Marina is the southern waterfront neighborhood. Besides marinas, the waterfront has the Convention Center as well as apartment condominiums and upper-class shopping. The Padre’s ballpark is in the East Village neighborhood. Downtown has much to offer. Theaters and shopping malls, sports venues, and historic sites are all found downtown. Additionally, several marvelous parks provide a place for outdoor activities. The heart of sunny San Diego is thriving in a growing metropolis. Downtown Hotel Service offers Hotels near Downtown San Diego that are quality hotels at an affordable price. Use our Search box above or click here to see available hotels!
About Downtown San Diego
Home to gleaming office towers, stunning waterfront views, and many of the city’s best shops, restaurants, and cultural attractions, Downtown San Diego is the beating heart of the city. The district is home to a wealth of entertainment, cultural and recreational activities and offers a little bit of something for everyone to love. A must-visit destination for anyone going to San Diego, this district is pulsing with energy and things to do at any time of the year.
Downtown San Diego is the historic core of the city and serves as its primary center of business and government. It is very walkable and offers plenty of transportation options, including the San Diego Trolley. Downtown San Diego offers a plethora of attractions and landmarks to explore and can be reached by car as well as by the public transportation options offered by the city’s Metropolitan Transit System.
The district is filled with great attractions and fun things for all visitors to do. Downtown San Diego plays host to the historic and lively Gaslamp Quarter as well as a wealth of museums like the Children’s Museum of San Diego, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum, the Chinese Historical Society and Museum and many more. It also boasts the Maritime Museum of San Diego, one of the largest and most comprehensive maritime museums in the United States.
Downtown San Diego is also home to a multitude of parks, cultural venues and entertainment options to discover. It holds beautiful parks and public spaces such as Embarcadero Park and superb shopping destinations like Seaport Village and Horton Plaza. Elsewhere in Downtown San Diego, visitors can explore acclaimed restaurants, pulsing nightlife spots and enjoy the district’s many theaters, sporting venues, and music venues such as the San Diego Repertory Theatre and PETCO Park, the home of the San Diego Padres baseball team.
With its unmatched array of shopping, dining, and nightlife opportunities as well as its wealth of historical sites and museums, Downtown San Diego is always pulsing with energy. No matter what you’re interested in, this district is sure to have something that catches your attention.
San Diego Weather
San Diego might be considered almost world-renowned for its year-round mild weather. The city lies at a border between the mild Mediterranean and semi-desert climates. Because of this, San Diego is warm and sunny nearly every day of the year.
As many visitors and residents alike have discovered, San Diego has one of the most unusual summer climates of any U.S. metropolitan area. On nearly every day in the months of May and June, a cool marine layer will blanket the area in the morning, followed by its burning off in the afternoon. (This occurrence is often referred to locals as the “May Gray” and the “June gloom.”) The end result is an average high around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, making this time of year the perfect time to enjoy the area’s coastal beauty.
This unending sequence of morning fog followed by afternoon sun continues well into late summer and early autumn. Sometimes temperatures will rise high to eliminate the morning gloom; in that case, August temperatures will occasionally reach well into the 90s.
Another common yet mostly infrequent feature of San Diego’s weather is a phenomenon known as the Santa Ana winds. These winds blow hot, dry winds from west to east in the late summer and early fall. Often, they are responsible for San Diego’s record high heat. They are also usually responsible for exacerbating the spread of wildfires that occasionally plague the area.
Winters in San Diego score among the mildest of any city in the United States. Snow has only been recorded 5 times since the city’s weather was first recorded over 125 years ago. The lowest temperatures ever recorded was just 25 degrees, some odd degrees below the freezing point of water. For the most part, winter in this urban area is characterized by persistent cloudiness and occasional rain showers. On average, annual rainfall accumulates to a total of 12 inches. These dry conditions are responsible for San Diego’s designation as a borderline semi-desert climate.
It is worth noting that San Diego’s “rainy season” in the period from December to March makes precipitation infrequent. Appropriately, this makes the city subject to both droughts and flooding at different seasons throughout the year. On a very rare and unfortunate time of year, the average visitor to San Diego might experience a thunderstorm or even a hurricane. But such an event is incredibly unlikely, given that it has only occurred a handful of times in the region’s recent history. If you should find anything amazing or surprising about the weather in San Diego, it is that amazingly consistent and unchanging.
San Diego Transportation
Most travelers will find that renting a car is the best way to get around the city. The city is very spread out, and there is a lot of distance between many of the most popular tourist attractions. Travelers can pick up a rental car when they arrive at the airport, or there are many rental car offices around the city as well. Most of the areas that tourists are in will have metered parking, so bring change to feed the meters to avoid parking tickets. Be aware that traffic can get very bad in San Diego. Allow extra time to get to destinations, especially when driving during rush hour.
The Metropolitan Transit System operates the bus network in San Diego. Buses are not a very good way to get around town. They are very slow and infrequent. Many times trips require visitors to take long rides into the center of the city where the Metropolitan Transit Hub is, and then they transfer to another bus to get to their destinations. This means it can take a couple of hours to go by bus to a destination that someone could drive to in 30 minutes.
San Diego Trolley
This trolley service is mostly designed to ferry travelers from downtown San Diego to the Mexican border, but it does make a few stops in between. It is very useful for tourists who want to go to Mexico for the day. They can ride the trolley down to Mexico and still come back to stay in their downtown San Diego hotels at night. There is also another trolley line that runs east-west, but it is much more aimed at residents than tourists.
The weather in San Diego is pretty close to perfect all year, so walking is very pleasant. It really only makes sense for visitors who will be staying downtown or at the coast for the day. The city is just too spread out to make walking practical outside of these two areas.
Again, the gorgeous weather in San Diego makes riding a bike to get around very attractive. It is certainly a great way to get up and down the coast to explore the San Diego beach neighborhoods. It is also quite a pleasant downtown, where there are bike lanes to make it comfortable for cyclists to share the busy roads with cars. Just be sure to always lock up bicycles securely when they are not in use. Bicycle theft is very common in the city, so it is better safe than sorry.
San Diego Attractions
San Diego became the first community in the state of California during the early 1800s. Guests now experience life during those early years when visiting Old Town San Diego. The location has over one dozen living museum destinations that include everything from a typical residential home to historic law enforcement offices and medical facilities. Additionally, Old Town features an equal amount of shops and stores housed within historic buildings. Proprietors offer a glimpse into the past by demonstrating skills needed during the Victorian period.
Just minutes from downtown San Diego and spanning approximately 1,200 acres, the expansive Balboa Park offers a place to relax, visit agricultural exhibits and museums or engage in a number of recreational activities. Explore the more than two dozen gardens that represent various world countries and eco-systems. The many themes of the 15 different museums in the park include aerospace, dinosaurs, fine and folk art, history, and sports. Youngsters always enjoy the park carousel, miniature railroad and a trip to the zoo.
San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Experience exotic animals in their natural habitat when visiting the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The specially designed reserve encompasses 2,100 acres and represents landscape much like that seen in the home countries of the various animal species. Pathways meandering through the park allow visitors to view the wildlife while on foot or by convenient tram system.
San Diego Harbor
San Diego Harbor features a number of attractions and activities for guests of all ages. A boardwalk lines the coastal area, providing the perfect opportunity for walking, cycling or skating. Venture down to Seaport Village. The complex has over 50 shops and 17 eateries in addition to entertainment provided by street performers. Explore the USS Midway Museum, an authentic retired naval aircraft carrier. During active duty, the vessel held 4,500 crew members and women. Visitors have the opportunity of touring over 60 locations on the ship from the depths of the engine room to the heights of the control tower.
While touring the harbor, guests commonly visit the Maritime Museum. The destination has one of the best collections of historic ships on the planet. The extensive fleet of ships on display includes the oldest active Star of India ship, the H.M.S. Surprise, used for the filming of the Hollywood movie “Master and Commander.” See the 1898 steam ferry called the Berkeley and the 1904 steam-powered yacht dubbed Medea. The location also features a Russian B-39 attack sub. Besides touring the vessels, guests have the option of taking a cruise on a 1914 pilot boat or an authentic California tall ship.
San Diego Dining
The United States’ eighth largest urban center, San Diego in California is found in the southwestern corner of the state. In that location, the city is close to Mexico, and it has a long and proud history of connections with that country. Additionally, the city’s culture is influenced by United States military personnel from regional bases and by people who have moved into a prosperous region from all over the world. Residents and city guests can sample the rich international flavors and cuisines, and food tours are superb for experiencing San Diego’s food scene.
District Food Culture
However as the city has several districts, its diverse food culture is best understood from the individual districts rather than the entire metropolis. Here are some examples of districts and dining establishments:
Downtown San Diego Restaurants
Besides the downtown business area with its many eateries, Gaslamp and Little Italy are two excellent neighborhoods in the downtown area in which to find restaurants. The historic Gaslamp Quarter is where downtown San Diego got its start, and it has numerous small eateries, small businesses, shopping and entertainment. In Gaslamp, Escape Fish Bar is a new and popular restaurant that offers wonderful seafood. Then, Little Italy is definitely the place to step into the Italian culture and culinary delights. In this quarter, Buon Appetito is a top local establishment with traditional Italian fare.
To the east from Balboa Park, Mid-City has theatres, trendy-chic boutique shops and locally-owned restaurants were residents of the neighborhood love to go. Decorative neighborhood signs are landmarks of the area. Adam’s Avenue Grill is a local favorite restaurant for breakfast and brunch. The lunchtime menu features freshly-baked pies. The authentic American cuisine is home-style.
Mission Beach Restaurants
In this community, many small shops and restaurants are found. The beach scene is lively in Mission Beach with a Coney Island-type atmosphere, one of the most popular places to enjoy the sand and surf culture of Southern California. Taco Surf is one of the best places to eat in the area with heavenly tacos and burritos.
San Diego Dining
Anywhere in this large and beautiful city on the southern Pacific Coast with its nearly perfect weather, fantastic food is not hard to find. Locally owned places put heart and local fresh ingredients into their dishes. Tried and true food favorites are available as well as amazing and unusual, but delicious flavors. Eating in San Diego is definitely a fabulous culinary adventure.
San Diego Events
San Diego Restaurant Week
San Diego’s restaurant week is an annual event that showcases the culinary skills of some of Southern California’s most popular chefs. It takes place during the last two weeks of January at over 120 restaurants located in Mission Valley and the Old Town District.
Some of the most popular events that occur during this fun event include cooking contests, cooking demonstrations and food tastings. Be sure to visit the food tastings that take place in the Old Town District to sample some of San Diego’s most popular locally grown produce.
San Diego County Fair
The San Diego County Fair is an annual summer tradition that celebrates the arrival of summer’s beauty and splendor. It takes place at the Del Mar County Fairground Complex each July.
Some of the fair’s most popular attractions include carnival rides, a video game arcade and a large food court. Other popular attractions include a large beer garden and two modern pavilions that host several concerts each day.
Adams Avenue Street Fair
This popular fair celebrates the musical talents of San Diego’s most popular musicians. It takes place each September near several popular eateries located on Adams Avenue including the Belly Up Tavern and the Maui Sugar Mill.
Some of the fair’s most popular attractions include a giant carnival, four beer gardens, a large food court and a large art market. These attractions offer visitors many ways to socialize before they attend one of the 90 concerts that are staged on Adams Avenue.
These concerts are famous for showcasing the talents of San Diego’s most popular blues and jazz musicians. They are also famous for showcasing the talents of many legendary rock groups that got their start in San Diego. Be sure to attend one of the concerts that feature San Diego’s newest rock groups to see why San Diego is one of the nation’s most influential music hubs.
San Diego Film Festival
The San Diego Film Festival is an annual festival hosted by the San Diego Film Foundation that showcases the talents of some of the world’s most popular filmmakers. It takes place each September at several theaters located in downtown San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter.
Some of the festival’s most popular attractions include seminars and workshops that teach visitors about how modern films are produced. Other popular attractions include lectures that introduce movie fans to some of the world’s most innovative independent filmmakers.
These attractions are the perfect backdrop for the festival’s movie screenings that introduce movie fans to many new comedies, documentaries and dramas. Be sure to attend the movie screenings that are staged during the festival’s opening night gala to meet some of the world’s most innovative filmmakers in person.
Family Fun near Downtown San Diego
San Diego is a wonderful destination for a family trip. There are many family-centered activities that are enjoyable to both adults and children in this city on the coast of California. The city is rich with historical relevance and family-friendly attractions. These five attractions represent the best that San Diego has to offer for families.
San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo is unique among zoos in that it features exhibits with several species of animals together in the same habitat much as they would cohabitate in the wild. Educational information at each exhibit describes the animals in great detail along with the native fauna that would be found in their home region. Visitors will be treated to the rare sight of giant pandas and can learn about their habits and diet in great detail. A large arctic exhibit gives families the opportunity to explore arctic wildlife in the sunny comfort of San Diego.
San Diego Bay
The San Diego bay is the perfect place for the family to take in a dose of history and do some shopping in the area’s unique shops. Several historic ships that have been turned into museums are anchored at the bay. Families can explore the nautical past of San Diego while floating in the bay waters. Tour boats are available for charter to those who wish to further explore the bay.
SeaWorld San Diego
This combination aquarium and amusement park is always a hit for the entire family. The main draw of SeaWorld San Diego is the killer whale show. The nine whales give intricate daily performances that delight the audience. A number of other animals can be viewed throughout the park such as polar bears, walruses, whales, penguins and dolphins. Various roller coasters offer visitors overhead views into animal habitats.
Ruben H. Fleet Space Theatre and Science Museum
This is not a typical museum. The displays and exhibits are all meant to be totally hands-on, a policy that is a delight to children. Children are encouraged to experience scientific phenomena first hand by interacting with displays and learning how everything works. An IMAX theater plays educational movies that help children learn about the world in a fun way.
This amusement park is about 30 minutes away from San Diego but remains one of the top family attractions in the area. It is a must-visit destination for lovers of the colorful building blocks. Along with thrilling roller coasters, LEGOLAND has a water park. Lego stations are scattered around the park to allow visitors to take frequent Lego building breaks.
Shopping near Downtown San Diego
The San Diego area offers a multitude of shopping experiences. Whether you are looking for a great bargain, unique items, or something with an ethnic flair, you are sure to find it here. The following are excellent places to spend an afternoon browsing.
Seaport Village is located at 817 West Harbor Drive. With over 50 unique shops you’ll find a variety of clothing, gift items, and souvenirs. Food can be found at any of the 17 wonderful eateries scattered throughout the village. There is plenty of entertainment as well, but the best part is the view of the waterfront lagoon and marina. There’s even a carousel. Seaport Village is open daily from 10 am to 9 pm.
Mission Valley Shopping
Mission Valley Shopping Center has everything you need in one spot. Shoppers can pick up great deals on cell phones, clothing, and bath products, among other items. There is the AMC Mission Valley 20 Theater for entertainment and great services such as jewelry repair and eye doctors. Fast food, snacks, and dinner are served in the 30 onsite eateries. Mission Valley Shopping Center is located at 1640 Camino Del Rio North.
Bazaar Del Mundo
If you want a terrific ethnic shopping experience, the Bazaar del Mundo is for you. Located at 4133 Taylor Street, one can find clothing, accessories, seasonal items, home décor, and jewelry, all with a Mexican flair. Their restaurants serve up flavorful Mexican cuisine.
Kobey’s Swap Meet
There is something for everyone at Kobey’s Swap Meet every Friday through Sunday. Enjoy over 1,000 merchants at the San Diego Sports Arena from 7 am to 3 pm. It’s the country’s largest outdoor market with an endless amount of wares. Don’t worry; they give newcomers a map as you enter. Here you’ll discover great flea market finds, new merchandise, services, and bulk food. Bring cash as many vendors won’t take credit cards. Don’t be afraid to haggle, it’s all part of the fun.
Fashion Valley at 7007 Friars Road has over 200 stores in an elegant outdoor setting. It is a wonderful way to combine shopping with a day in the San Diego sun. Here you’ll find traditional favorites like J.C.Penney and Macy’s, unique shops such as the Disney Store and Lego, as well as name brands. There are 20 eateries, and an 18 screen movie theater for all your dining and entertainment needs.
Map of Hotels in San Diego
- Lindbergh Field Airport – Find hotels near Coronado & Loma Portal.
- San Diego Downtown – Find hotels near Balboa Park & Gaslamp
- San Diego State University – Find hotels near Tallmadge & Del Cerro
- Silver Strand State Beach – Find hotels near Imperial Beach & San Diego Bay
- Sea World San Diego – Find hotels near Mission Bay Park & Old Town San Diego
- Cabrillo National Monument – Find hotels near NSC San Diego Point & Coronado
- San Diego Zoo – Find hotels near Hillcrest & Balboa Park
- San Diego Balboa Park – Find hotels near Park West & Cortez
- USS Midway Museum – Find hotels near Balboa Theatre & Marina
- Old Town San Diego State Historic Park – Find hotels near Mission Hills & Riverwalk Golf Club