green grass and trees near white concrete building during daytime
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48 Hours In San Diego: Ultimate 2 Day Itinerary [2024]


San Diego is an awesome city that’s always sunny, chill and has tons of cool stuff to do. Whether you’re into hanging out at the beach, learning about history, or grubbing on some good eats, you’ll find something that floats your boat here.

If you’ve been following my journey, you know I’ve been writing about San Diego’s attractions for a few years now. (And if you missed it, check out my 24-hour guide to this city right here on the blog!)

In this guide, I’m taking you through a jam-packed 48-hour adventure in America’s Finest City. We’ll explore everything from the bustling streets of downtown to the serene beaches of La Jolla.

So, grab your sunglasses, and let’s dive into the ultimate two-day San Diego itinerary!

48 Hours In San Diego: Quick Overview

Day 1:

  • 8:30 AM: Breakfast at Morning Glory (Little Italy)
  • 10:00 AM: Explore Balboa Park
  • 1:00 PM: Lunch at The Prado at Balboa Park
  • 2:30 PM: Visit the USS Midway Museum
  • 5:00 PM: Stroll along the Embarcadero
  • 7:00 PM: Dinner at Ironside Fish & Oyster (Little Italy)
  • 8:30 PM: Sunset at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

Day 2:

  • 8:30 AM: Breakfast at Cody’s (La Jolla)
  • 10:00 AM: La Jolla Cove and Seal Rock
  • 12:30 PM: Lunch at George’s at the Cove
  • 2:00 PM: Explore the Birch Aquarium
  • 4:30 PM: Head to Old Town San Diego
  • 6:00 PM: Dinner at Café Coyote (Old Town)
  • 7:30 PM: Evening in Gaslamp Quarter

Day 1, Stop #1: Breakfast at Morning Glory (Little Italy)

Kicking off our ’48 Hours in San Diego’ adventure, we headed to Morning Glory for breakfast. This place isn’t just about good food; it’s an experience! Picture this: pink plush seats, quirky decor, and a vibe that’s as vibrant as the city itself.

Their menu? A delightful twist on breakfast classics. Their Japanese soufflé pancakes are a must-try – they’re like eating clouds! And for those who crave something savory, their Fried Rice is a game changer. It’s not your typical breakfast fare, but trust me, it’s worth stepping out of your comfort zone.

The best part? The staff makes you feel right at home. They’re all about sharing their love for unique dishes and adding that personal touch.

Morning Glory isn’t just a meal; it’s the perfect start to our San Diego escapade. Don’t just take my word for it, though – make sure to swing by and taste the magic yourself!

Location (Map): 550 W Date St Suite #C, San Diego, CA 92101

Day 1, Stop #2: Explore Balboa Park

palm trees near white concrete building under blue sky during daytime
In January, you can enjoy the various activities in Balboa Park without the crowds.

After fueling up at Morning Glory, we hit Balboa Park, a true gem in the heart of San Diego. Think of it as a cultural playground, sprawling over 1,200 acres with a bit of everything for everyone.

In our tight three-hour window, we focused on the park’s highlights. First up, is the Botanical Building. It’s one of the largest lath structures in the world and, let me tell you, the inside is just as impressive as the outside. Packed with tropical plants and flowers, it’s like stepping into a green wonderland.

Just a stone’s throw away is the Spanish Village Art Center. This spot is all about local art. Wander around, chat with artists, and maybe snag a unique souvenir.

And you can’t miss the architecture of the park’s buildings. The Spanish-Renaissance style is stunning, especially at the Casa de Balboa and Casa del Prado. Perfect for those Instagram shots!

Balboa Park is huge, but these spots are close together, making it easy to soak in the best bits without feeling rushed.

Location (Map): 1550 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101

Day 1, Stop #3: Lunch at The Prado at Balboa Park

Post our mini-adventure in Balboa Park, we were ready to chow down. The Prado at Balboa Park was our lunch spot, and oh boy, does it hit the spot! Nestled right in the heart of the park, this place is as convenient as it gets for a mid-exploration meal.

The vibe here? It’s like a cozy retreat with outdoor seating amidst lush gardens. Perfect for soaking up that San Diego sun! And the food – it’s a delightful mix of American cuisine with a creative twist. The Prado Paella is a flavor bomb in the best way possible.

What really stands out is their attentive service. Despite the lunchtime rush, the staff can make you feel like the only ones there.

Lunch at The Prado is definitely a must-visit for a tasty, relaxing break!

Location (Map): 1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101

Day 1, Stop #4: Visit the USS Midway Museum

a large ship in the water
USS Midway Museum features the longest-serving aircraft carrier in the 20th century.

Next up on our San Diego whirlwind tour is the USS Midway Museum. This isn’t just any old museum; it’s a massive aircraft carrier turned into a historical treasure trove. Walking onto the Midway is like stepping into a piece of living history.

The self-guided audio tour, narrated by Midway sailors, really brings the stories to life. You get to explore over 60 exhibits, including a bunch of restored aircraft.

The coolest part? You can actually climb into the pilot seats of some of these planes. Talk about a photo op!

And don’t skip the flight deck – the views of the San Diego skyline are unbeatable. Plus, watching the planes take off and land is pretty surreal.

The USS Midway Museum is a real testament to the naval history of the U.S. and an eye-opener to the life of a sailor.

Location (Map): 910 N Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101

Day 1, Stop #5: Stroll along the Embarcadero

a group of sailboats floating on top of a body of water
The Embarcadero is a scenic waterfront promenade. It’s a perfect spot for a leisurely stroll, lined with historic ships, vibrant art installations, and lush green spaces.

After the USS Midway, take a leisurely stroll along the Embarcadero. This waterfront walkway is the perfect chill-out spot after a day of exploring. It’s got this laid-back vibe with stunning views of the harbor – a real treat for the eyes!

The Embarcadero is lined with all sorts of neat things. There are art installations and sculptures that make for great photo ops. And if you’re into ships, you’ll love seeing the historic vessels docked along the way, including the Star of India.

You can grab some gelato from a nearby kiosk and just enjoy the sea breeze. It’s a great way to people-watch and soak in the local scene. Plus, there are plenty of benches to just sit and watch the boats glide by.

This waterfront walk is a must for anyone visiting San Diego. It’s a slice of calm right next to the bustling city, offering a moment to slow down and just enjoy the moment.

Location (Map): Embarcadero area

Day 1, Stop #6: Dinner at Ironside Fish & Oyster (Little Italy)

Oyster on black ceramic plate

For dinner, head back to Little Italy to check out Ironside Fish & Oyster. Let me tell you, this place is a seafood lover’s dream! The moment you step in, you’re greeted by this cool, nautical-themed decor that sets the perfect mood.

Their menu is all about fresh, locally sourced seafood. Start with their oyster selection – super fresh and served with a variety of sauces. For the main course, I highly recommend the =] It’s packed with flavor and the bread is just perfection.

What really sets Ironside apart is their craft cocktail menu. Each drink is a unique blend of flavors that pairs wonderfully with the seafood. The staff are pros at giving recommendations, so don’t hesitate to ask.

The combination of great food, awesome drinks, and the lively atmosphere of Little Italy makes Ironside a perfect dinner spot in San Diego. Definitely a highlight of any trip!

Location (Map): 1654 India St, San Diego, CA 92101

Day 1, Stop #7: Sunset at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

Sunset Cliffs
Sunset Cliffs is an idyllic spot for watching the sun dip below the horizon, painting the sky in vibrant hues.

Ending Day 1 with a sunset at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is nothing short of magical. This place is a local favorite for a reason. The cliffs offer an unobstructed view of the Pacific, making it the ideal spot to catch a San Diego sunset.

As the sun dips, the sky turns into this brilliant canvas of oranges, pinks, and purples. It’s like watching a live painting. The sound of the waves crashing against the cliffs adds to the whole ambiance – it’s super calming.

Tip: Get there a bit early to snag a good spot, as it can get crowded. And don’t forget your camera – this is a moment you’ll want to remember.

There’s something truly special about watching the sunset here. It’s not just the colors or the ocean; it’s the feeling of being at the edge of the world, watching the day come to a beautiful close. A perfect end to our first day in San Diego!

Location (Map): 1100 Sunset Cliffs Blvd, San Diego, CA 92107

Day 2, Stop #1: Breakfast at Cody’s (La Jolla)

Day 2 in San Diego kicked off with breakfast at Cody’s in La Jolla. This place is a cozy little gem with a view that’s hard to beat. Picture this: you’re sipping coffee while gazing out at the ocean – it’s the perfect morning scene.

Cody’s menu is a delightful mix of classic and innovative. Try out the Crab Cake Benedict – a fresh take on an old favorite. If you’re into something sweeter, their French Toast is top-notch, fluffy, and just the right amount of sweet.

The vibe here is laid-back and friendly. You can tell it’s a local favorite because of the warm welcomes and chit-chat from the staff. Plus, their outdoor seating is ideal for soaking up that morning sun and sea air.

Location (Map): 1025 Prospect St #210, La Jolla, CA 92037

Day 2, Stop #2: La Jolla Cove and Seal Rock

a group of sea lions resting on the rocks by the water
May is the perfect month for kayaking in La Jolla Cove. You may even get to see some sea lions basking in the sun!

Post-breakfast, stroll down to La Jolla Cove and Seal Rock – a must-see in San Diego. This spot is all about nature’s beauty and, of course, the seals and sea lions! The cove, with its crystal-clear waters and rugged cliffs, is breathtakingly picturesque.

The stars here are the seals and sea lions lounging on the rocks. Watching them in their natural habitat is a real treat. They’re playful, totally adorable, and great for photo ops – but remember to keep a respectful distance.

Snorkeling and kayaking are popular here, thanks to the clear waters and abundant marine life. Or, if you’re like me, just sitting on the rocks, watching the waves and wildlife is enough to feel totally at peace.

La Jolla Cove is a serene, beautiful experience that you won’t want to miss.

Location (Map): 1160 Coast Blvd, San Diego, CA 92037

Day 2, Stop #3: Lunch at George’s at the Cove

After soaking up the sun and sea at La Jolla Cove, head to George’s at the Cove for lunch. This place is a real treat, especially if you grab a table on the Ocean Terrace. The view? Absolutely stunning – you’re looking right out over the Pacific.

George’s menu is a celebration of Californian cuisine. Try out the Grilled Fish Tacos – fresh, light, and packed with flavor. If you’re feeling fancy, their Lobster Roll is a hit too. And for something to sip on, their craft cocktails are both refreshing and inventive.

What makes George’s stand out is the combination of their mouth-watering food and the breathtaking ocean view. It’s the kind of place where you want to linger, enjoy your meal, and just soak in the beauty of La Jolla.

Lunch at George’s at the Cove is definitely a highlight of any San Diego trip!

Location (Map): 1250 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA 92037

Day 2, Stop #4: Explore the Birch Aquarium

a woman taking a picture of a fish tank
Birch Aquarium is part of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

Post-lunch, head to Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. This place is a wonderland for anyone fascinated by the ocean and its inhabitants. It’s not just an aquarium; it’s a window into marine science.

The exhibits here are super interactive and educational. The Hall of Fishes is amazing, showcasing a variety of marine life from all over the world. But the real showstopper is the giant kelp forest tank – it’s like peering into an underwater forest, complete with leopard sharks and moray eels!

Don’t miss the outdoor tide pools. You get to touch starfish and sea cucumbers, and the view of the Pacific Ocean from here is just incredible.

Birch Aquarium is smaller than some other famous aquariums, but that’s part of its charm. It’s intimate and hands-on, and you can really take your time at each exhibit. A visit here is both fun and insightful, perfect for families or anyone interested in marine life and conservation.

Location (Map): 2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla, CA 92037

Day 2, Stop #5: Head to Old Town San Diego

green plant near white and brown house
Old Town San Diego is known as the “Birthplace of California”.

As the afternoon rolled in, make your way to Old Town San Diego, the historic heart of the city. Stepping into Old Town is like taking a trip back in time to the early days of California. The area is a colorful tapestry of history, culture, and vibrant Mexican influence.

Wandering through the historic buildings and shops is a real treat. You’ll find everything from old-school blacksmiths to candle makers. Don’t miss the Seeley Stables for a glimpse into 19th-century transportation – it’s fascinating!

The live mariachi music and the aroma of fresh Mexican food fill the air, adding to the immersive experience. It’s hard not to get swept up in the lively atmosphere.

Old Town is a lively, spirited area where history and modern-day San Diego blend seamlessly. It offers a charming slice of Californian heritage.

Location (Map): 4002 Wallace St, San Diego, CA 92110

Day 2, Stop #6: Dinner at Café Coyote (Old Town)

Continuing our Old Town adventure, grab dinner at Café Coyote. This place is an institution in San Diego for authentic Mexican cuisine. The moment you step in, you’re greeted by the lively atmosphere and the delicious smell of Mexican spices.

The menu at Café Coyote is a feast for the senses. Dive into their handmade tortillas, made fresh right in front of you – they’re a game changer. I highly recommend the Carne Asada; it’s flavorful, tender, and everything you want in a Mexican dish. And if you’re a fan of margaritas, you’re in for a treat – they have a fantastic selection.

What really sets Café Coyote apart is its vibrant ambiance. With live mariachi music and colorful decor, it feels like a celebration every night.

Dining at Café Coyote is about experiencing the heart and soul of Mexican culture right in the middle of San Diego. It’s the perfect way to wrap up a day exploring Old Town.

Location (Map): 2461 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110

Day 2, Stop #7: Evening in Gaslamp Quarter

Gaslamp Quarter
Gaslamp Quarter is renowned for its rich Victorian architecture and lively nightlife

To cap off our San Diego escapade, head to the Gaslamp Quarter for the evening. This bustling neighborhood is the heart of San Diego’s nightlife and a total contrast to the laid-back vibe of the beach areas. The Gaslamp Quarter is a lively mix of historic buildings and modern energy, making it the perfect spot for a night out.

The streets here are lined with bars, restaurants, and nightclubs, each with its own unique flavor. Hop into a couple of bars, each offering a different vibe – from swanky rooftop lounges to cozy, dive-bar gems.

But it’s not all about the nightlife; the Gaslamp Quarter is also great for just a relaxed evening stroll. The historic architecture, combined with the neon lights, creates a cool, almost cinematic backdrop.

Whether you’re into lively bars, fine dining, or just soaking up the nighttime atmosphere, the Gaslamp Quarter has something for everyone. It’s the perfect place to experience San Diego’s vibrant urban side and a fantastic way to wrap up our 48-hour adventure in this amazing city.

Location (Map): Bounded by RR tracks, Broadway, 4th, and 6th Aves., San Diego, California

Where to Stay in San Diego

If you’re planning to stay in San Diego for two days, I’ve got you covered with three great hotel options that fit any budget.

Staypineapple, Hotel Z

Photo: Expedia

Staypineapple, Hotel Z, Gaslamp San Diego is a vibrant and welcoming destination for travelers seeking a unique stay in the heart of San Diego. This pet-friendly hotel stands out for its commitment to providing a comfortable and enjoyable experience for all guests, including their furry companions.

The hotel boasts an excellent location in Downtown San Diego, making it a prime choice for those looking to explore the city’s dynamic Gaslamp Quarter. Its proximity to top attractions, restaurants, bars, and public transport ensures guests have easy access to the best San Diego has to offer.

Rooms at Staypineapple, Hotel Z are designed with comfort and convenience in mind. Each room features a flat-screen TV, and select rooms include a cozy seating area. The private bathrooms are well-appointed with showers, guest bathrobes, and complimentary toiletries, adding a touch of luxury to the stay.

For those looking to explore the city in a fun and eco-friendly way, the hotel provides free use of bicycles. This unique amenity is perfect for guests who want to experience San Diego’s vibrant culture and scenic beauty at their own pace.

Moxy San Diego Gaslamp Quarter

Photo: Expedia

Moxy San Diego Gaslamp Quarter is a stylish and modern hotel located in the heart of San Diego, offering a unique blend of comfort and convenience for its guests. This 4-star hotel is known for its vibrant atmosphere and excellent facilities, making it an ideal choice for both leisure and business travelers.

One of the highlights of Moxy San Diego Gaslamp Quarter is its fitness center, allowing guests to maintain their workout routine even while traveling.

The on-site bar is a great place to unwind, offering a good selection of drinks in a relaxed setting. Additionally, the hotel offers a variety of breakfast options each morning, including American, vegetarian, and gluten-free choices, catering to diverse dietary preferences.

Located near popular points of interest like the San Diego Convention Center, USS Midway Museum, and the San Diego – Santa Fe Depot Amtrak Station, the hotel’s location scores highly for convenience.

Gaslamp Plaza Suites

Photo: Expedia

Gaslamp Plaza Suites is a historical, European-style hotel set in the vibrant Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego. Built in 1913, this hotel combines historical charm with modern amenities, offering a unique experience for its guests.

The hotel’s architecture features original marble walls and stairways, adding to its elegant and historical ambiance. The rooms at Gaslamp Plaza Suites are stylishly designed, providing a comfortable seating area. Suites include a refrigerator, coffee machine, and microwave, ensuring guests have everything they need for a pleasant stay.

Dining options at the hotel include The Melting Pot restaurant and the Syrah Wine Parlor, offering an extensive selection of wine by the glass or bottle. The Melting Pot Restaurant is particularly notable for its multi-course fondue dining, with a menu that includes flavorful cheeses, fresh salads, appetizing entrees, and decadent desserts.

The hotel’s location is a major draw, with the San Diego Zoo just 3.2 km away and Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, within a 13-minute walk. The 5th Avenue Light Rail Station is 700 meters from the hotel, providing easy access to various attractions.

48 Hours In San Diego: FAQ

Segway tours in San Diego
A Segway tour is definitely worth it if you’re looking for a fun, efficient way to explore a new area, and you’re comfortable with riding a Segway.

Is 2 days enough in San Diego?

Is 2 days enough in San Diego? Well, it’s definitely a whirlwind!

Two days let you hit the highlights – think Balboa Park, the vibrant Gaslamp Quarter, and the chill vibes of La Jolla. You’ll get a good taste of what San Diego offers: great food, stunning views, and a laid-back Cali lifestyle.

But, like with any city rich in attractions, more time means diving deeper – exploring hidden gems, relaxing on its many beaches, and really soaking in the local culture.

So, while 48 hours is enough for a snapshot, San Diego definitely has more layers worth peeling back with a longer stay.

What is the first must-do in San Diego?

Head straight to Balboa Park. It’s like the city’s cultural heartbeat, packed with museums, gardens, and the famous San Diego Zoo.

This park isn’t just a quick photo op; it’s a place where you can spend hours and still find new things to see. It perfectly captures the essence of San Diego – diverse, laid-back, and beautiful.

Whether you’re into art, or nature, or just love wandering around, Balboa Park is the ideal starting point to get a real feel for what San Diego is all about. Plus, it’s a great introduction to the city’s vibrant history and lifestyle!

Spreckels Organ
For a special experience at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, attend the free Sunday concerts at 2:00 PM, a tradition since 1917. Arrive early to enjoy a leisurely picnic and secure the best seating.

What is the most popular part of San Diego?

That’s got to be the Gaslamp Quarter. It’s the epicenter of the city’s nightlife and urban charm.

By day, it’s a bustling area with historic buildings and trendy shops. But as the sun sets, it transforms into a vibrant hub of activity.

With its array of bars, restaurants, and nightclubs, the Gaslamp Quarter offers a taste of San Diego’s lively side. It’s a melting pot of entertainment and culture, making it a must-visit for anyone wanting to experience the city’s dynamic energy and modern pulse.

How long should you spend in Old Town San Diego?

Spending about half a day in Old Town San Diego is just right. It gives you enough time to immerse yourself in the rich history and vibrant culture of this historic area.

Wander through the historic buildings, check out the unique shops and museums, and definitely indulge in some authentic Mexican cuisine.

Old Town is a blend of history, culture, and flavors, and a few hours here allow you to soak it all in without feeling rushed.

a large ship with a lot of flags on it
In February, you can take advantage of the San Diego Museum Month and visit museums like the USS Midway with 50% off.

What is the cheapest month to visit San Diego?

The cheapest month to visit San Diego is typically January or February. After the holiday season, tourism dips, leading to lower prices in accommodations and flights.

The weather is cooler compared to the summer months, but it’s still pretty mild – especially if you’re coming from a colder climate. Plus, the city is less crowded, so you’ll have more space to explore the sights and attractions.

It’s a great time for budget travelers to enjoy San Diego’s charm without the peak season prices or crowds. Just pack a light jacket, and you’re set for a cost-effective San Diego adventure!

Spanish Village Art Center
Visit the Spanish Village Art Center midweek to avoid crowds and see artists at work. It’s a perfect spot to find unique, handcrafted souvenirs and engage with San Diego’s creative community.

Final Thoughts: 48 Hours In San Diego

Wrapping up our 48 hours in San Diego, it’s clear this city has so much to offer. From the lush landscapes of Balboa Park to the lively streets of the Gaslamp Quarter, there’s a unique blend of nature, culture, and urban energy. San Diego manages to be both laid-back and vibrant at the same time, a rare combo that makes you want to stay longer.

What stands out most is the variety – one moment you’re exploring historic sites in Old Town, and the next you’re lounging by the sea in La Jolla.

And the food? It’s a delicious journey through local and international flavors.

Two days here give you just a taste of what San Diego is all about. You’ll leave with memories of stunning sunsets, friendly faces, and a list of things to do when you return.

Because let’s face it, a return trip is almost mandatory after a teaser like this!

Additional San Diego Travel Blogs

One Day In San Diego California: Ultimate 24 Hour Itinerary

Should I Rent a Car in San Diego? Getting Around San Diego

San Diego California Map: Where is San Diego Located?