photo of cityscape and body of water
Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.

One Day In San Diego California: Ultimate 24 Hour Itinerary [2024]


There are so many things to do in San Diego, known as America’s Finest City, and you can see a lot within your one day in San Diego.

It’s a big city, and I’ve been writing about different activities that you can do in San Diego for years. With all this experience, I’ve come up with an itinerary that covers many iconic attractions in San Diego that you can see if you are short on time.

Even with just 24 hours in San Diego, you can see the famous USS Midway Museum, Old Town San Diego (the birthplace of California), enjoy a beach in La Jolla or check out the Mission Beach Boardwalk, and be back in Downtown San Diego for dinner in the Gaslamp Quarter.

With a packed itinerary, you’ll get to see much of what this city has to offer. But it takes some time to get from one attraction to another. The best mode of transportation for your one day in San Diego is either a rental car or an Uber.

Ready to get into this 24 hours in San Diego itinerary? Let’s get started with a quick overview of the day and then check out each attraction in more detail.

One Day in San Diego: Quick Overview


  • 8:30 AM: Start your day with breakfast at Richard Walker’s Pancake House in downtown San Diego, known for its delicious pancakes and omelets.
  • 10:00 AM: Visit the USS Midway Museum. This historic aircraft carrier turned museum offers a fascinating glimpse into naval history and life at sea.
  • 1:00 PM: After exploring the museum, enjoy lunch at the Fish Market Restaurant located nearby, offering fresh seafood and views of the harbor.


  • 2:30 PM: Head to one of these iconic destinations outside of Downtown San Diego. Choose which interests you most:
    • Explore Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, visiting historic buildings, museums, and shops. This area is the birthplace of California and is rich in Hispanic heritage and history.
    • For a laid-back afternoon, go to the Mission Beach. Enjoy a leisurely walk along the boardwalk, relax on the beach, check out Belmont Park, or even try beachfront rollerblading.
    • Another beautiful beach is La Jolla Cove, where you can enjoy watching sea lions, exploring tide pools, or simply taking in stunning ocean views.


  • 6:00 PM: Drive to the Gaslamp Quarter.
  • 7:00 PM: Dinner in the Gaslamp Quarter. For a unique dining experience, try Rockin’ Baja Lobster – Gaslamp Quarter, known for its Baja-style dining.
  • 8:30 PM: After dinner, enjoy a stroll through the lively streets of the Gaslamp Quarter. This historic area is bustling with energy, featuring Victorian-era buildings and a wide variety of shops, restaurants, and entertainment options.
  • 9:30 PM: End your night with a drink at one of the rooftop bars in the area, like ALTITUDE Sky Lounge, offering great views of the city.

Note: The times are approximate and can be adjusted based on your pace and interests. Also, consider the travel time between locations, especially during peak traffic hours. San Diego can have significant traffic, so it’s wise to check current conditions and plan accordingly.

One Day in San Diego: Stop #1 Richard Walker’s Pancake House

brown and white pastry on white ceramic plate
Richard Walker’s Pancake House offers a wide selection of breakfast foods, including French Toast.

Richard Walker’s Pancake House is a renowned breakfast and brunch spot in San Diego, celebrated for its exceptional pancakes and a wide variety of breakfast items. Established in 1948, it has a long-standing tradition of serving high-quality, made-from-scratch meals.

The interior of Richard Walker’s offers a cozy, welcoming atmosphere, ideal for both family breakfasts and casual dining.

Location (Map): 520 Front St, San Diego, CA 92101

After breakfast, you can go on a refreshing walk to the USS Midway Museum (opens at 10:00 AM). It takes around 20 minutes to get there on foot!

One Day in San Diego: Stop #2 USS Midway Museum

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

A must-visit is the USS Midway Museum, located downtown at Navy Pier. This historic aircraft carrier, commissioned after the end of World War II, served the United States for an impressive 47 years.

The USS Midway, now a dedicated museum, offers an immersive experience into naval history and aviation. As the longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century, it allows visitors to explore a floating city at sea. The self-guided audio tour, narrated by Midway sailors, brings various areas of the ship to life, including the flight deck, hangar deck, and living quarters.

What makes the USS Midway Museum stand out is its collection of more than 30 restored aircraft, ranging from World War II bombers to modern-day fighter jets. The museum also offers flight simulators and interactive exhibits, providing a hands-on experience for all ages.

For history buffs and families alike, the USS Midway Museum is a poignant reminder of American naval history and a testament to the men and women who served.

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

After USS Midway Museum it’s lunchtime. Head out to the nearby Fish Market Restaurant. It’s just a 5 minute walk!

One Day in San Diego: Stop #3 Fish Market Restaurant

sliced bread on white ceramic plate
The Fish Market Restaurant offers really fresh fish with a nice view of the bay.

Perfectly situated on the waterfront, The Fish Market Restaurant offers a spectacular view of San Diego Bay. Renowned for its fresh seafood, The Fish Market sources its fare daily, ensuring a top-quality dining experience.

Don’t forget to make a reservation, if you want to secure a spot for the lunch time.

The menu boasts a wide array of choices, from local catches to lobsters and oysters, catering to all seafood lovers. The Fish Market delivers an authentic taste of the city’s coastal cuisine.

Location (Map): 750 N Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101

After a nice lunch, Uber or drive to the next location that you choose. The drive in the afternoon should take around 20-40 minutes.

One Day in San Diego: Stop #4.1 Old Town San Diego

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

In your 24-hour San Diego journey, a visit to Old Town San Diego is a step back in time to the early days of Californian history. Known as the “Birthplace of California”, Old Town is where the first European settlers established their roots. This historic park is a vibrant tribute to the city’s Hispanic heritage.

Strolling through Old Town, you’ll encounter historic sites like the Whaley House, one of California’s most famous haunted houses, and the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, which showcases the region’s rich history through museums and living history demonstrations.

The area is also famous for its authentic Mexican cuisine. Restaurants here serve some of the best tacos and margaritas in the city.

The Bazaar del Mundo and various local shops offer unique shopping experiences, selling everything from handmade crafts to traditional Mexican artifacts that make great souvenirs. The lively atmosphere is often complemented by live music and folklorico dancing, especially during festivals and weekend evenings.

Old Town San Diego is not just a tourist attraction but a lively community hub that offers a glimpse into San Diego’s past while celebrating its present. It’s a must-visit for anyone wanting to experience the city’s historical and cultural richness in a single, vibrant location.

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

One Day in San Diego: Stop #4.2 Mission Beach

The Mission Beach boardwalk
The Mission Beach Boardwalk is an iconic place in San Diego.

Mission Beach is known for its lively boardwalk and pristine sands. It stretches nearly two miles along the Pacific Ocean, making it an ideal spot for sunbathing, surfing, and people-watching.

The Belmont Park, located in the heart of Mission Beach, is a major attraction. This historic amusement park features the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, an iconic wooden coaster that has been thrilling visitors since 1925. Alongside the roller coaster, Belmont Park offers various rides, games, and typical beachside eateries, making it a fun visit for all ages.

For those seeking a more relaxed experience, the beach itself provides ample opportunities for sunbathing, beach volleyball, and swimming. The boardwalk, bustling with joggers, skaters, and cyclists, is perfect for a leisurely stroll or an active bike ride, offering stunning ocean views.

As the sun sets, Mission Beach reveals its vibrant nightlife. The area is dotted with a variety of beach bars and casual eateries, where you can enjoy a meal or a drink while soaking in the coastal ambiance. Mission Beach is not just a beach; it’s a lively community that embodies the laid-back, sunny spirit of San Diego.

Location (Map): 3000 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109

One Day in San Diego: Stop #4.3 La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove
La Jolla Cove is famous for its sea lion and seal populations

Nestled within a small cove flanked by cliffs, La Jolla Cove is renowned for its stunning ocean views and abundant marine life. As a part of the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve, La Jolla Cove is a haven for snorkelers, scuba divers, and nature enthusiasts.

The waters around the Cove are exceptionally clear, making it an ideal location for snorkeling and scuba diving. Here, you can swim alongside a colorful array of fish, rays, and even harmless leopard sharks.

The Cove is also famous for its sea lion and seal populations. These playful marine mammals can often be seen lounging on the rocks or frolicking in the waters, providing an excellent opportunity for wildlife observation and photography.

For those who prefer to stay dry, the scenic walking paths along the cliffs offer breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. The grassy areas above the beach are perfect for picnicking or simply relaxing and enjoying the panoramic seascape.

La Jolla Cove is not just about natural beauty; it’s also adjacent to the charming village of La Jolla, known for its boutique shops, art galleries, and upscale dining.

Location (Map): San Diego, CA 92037, United States

One Day in San Diego: Stop #5 Rockin’ Baja Lobster

person holding white ceramic mug
Rockin’ Baja Lobster serves the delightful Baja-style seafood.

After seeing San Diego outside of Downtown, it’s time for dinner. Let’s return to Gaslamp Quarter for a hearty meal.

In your San Diego adventure, a meal at Rockin’ Baja Lobster is a delightful culinary experience. This vibrant restaurant, known for its Baja-style seafood, offers a unique twist on coastal cuisine. The highlight is their famous Baja Buckets, brimming with a mouth-watering assortment of lobster, shrimp, and other seafood, all seasoned with their signature Baja flavors.

Located in the lively Gaslamp Quarter, the ambiance of Rockin’ Baja Lobster is as inviting as its menu. With its colorful decor and festive atmosphere, it’s an ideal spot for both families and groups looking to enjoy a casual yet flavorful meal.

The restaurant also boasts a variety of Mexican-inspired cocktails, perfect for toasting to a day well-spent in San Diego.

Location (Map): 310 Fifth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

After the meal, stroll through the famous Gaslamp Quarter and soak in the San Diego vibes in the evening.

One Day in San Diego: Stop #6 Gaslamp Quarter

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

The Gaslamp Quarter, spanning 16 blocks in the heart of Downtown San Diego, is renowned for its rich Victorian architecture and lively nightlife. The area seamlessly blends the old and the new, with beautifully restored 19th-century buildings housing an array of modern restaurants, bars, and shops.

During the day, the Gaslamp Quarter offers a diverse shopping experience, from boutique stores to art galleries. It’s also a culinary hotspot, boasting an impressive range of dining options. Whether you’re craving farm-to-table fare, international cuisine, or gourmet treats, you’ll find it here.

As the sun sets, the Gaslamp Quarter truly comes to life. The streets buzz with energy, making it the perfect place to experience San Diego’s nightlife. The neighborhood is dotted with rooftop bars, lively nightclubs, and cozy pubs, catering to all tastes and moods. Live music venues and theaters add to the area’s entertainment options, providing endless possibilities for evening fun.

Location (Map): Downtown San Diego

If the stroll through the Gaslamp Quarter hasn’t tired you out, go for a drink with an epic view at the ALTITUDE Sky Lounge.

One Day in San Diego: Stop #7 ALTITUDE Sky Lounge

orange juice
Have an evening drink in the ALTITUDE Sky Lounge with breathtaking views of the skyline and Petco Park.

For a night to remember in San Diego, ALTITUDE Sky Lounge is an essential destination. Perched 22 stories high atop the Marriott Gaslamp Quarter, it’s the city’s highest rooftop bar, offering breathtaking views of the skyline and Petco Park. This sleek, modern lounge stands out for its sophisticated ambiance and panoramic vistas.

Guests at ALTITUDE can enjoy a variety of craft cocktails and fine wines, along with a selection of light appetizers. The atmosphere here is upscale yet relaxed, making it perfect for unwinding after a day of exploring.

Location (Map): Gaslamp Marriott Quarter, 660 K Street Atop, 660 K St, San Diego, CA 92101

As the day comes to an end, be happy about the adventures and impressions that you have enjoyed while exploring the must-see things in San Diego.

Where to Stay in San Diego

If your one day in San Diego will also include staying for the night, you have great options at all price ranges.

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.

One Day In San Diego FAQ

What’s the best time to visit San Diego?

The best time to visit San Diego is typically from March to May and from September to November. During these periods, you can enjoy mild weather and fewer crowds compared to the peak summer months.

How to get from San Diego Airport to the City Center?

Getting from San Diego International Airport to the city center is quite convenient, with several options available:

  1. Public Transportation:
    • MTS Bus: The Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) operates Route 992, a bus service that connects the airport with downtown San Diego. The buses run every 15 minutes on weekdays and every 30 minutes on weekends and holidays. This is an economical option and the journey takes about 20-30 minutes.
  2. Taxi:
    • Taxis are available at the transportation plazas outside each terminal. A taxi ride to downtown San Diego typically takes about 10-15 minutes, depending on traffic.
  3. Ride-Sharing Services:
    • Services like Uber and Lyft operate at San Diego Airport. You can use their respective apps to book a ride. The pickup locations might vary depending on the terminal you are at. Prices vary based on demand and the type of service you select.
  4. Car Rentals:
    • If you prefer driving yourself, there are several car rental agencies at the airport. You can rent a car and drive to the city center, which is about a 10-15 minute drive from the airport.
  5. Walking:
    • If you have light luggage and enjoy walking, downtown San Diego is about 3 miles from the airport. This can be a pleasant walk, especially if the weather is nice.

Each of these options has its own advantages, depending on your budget, time, and preference for convenience.

How long to stay in San Diego? Is 1 day enough?

One day in San Diego is quite limited to fully experience what the city has to offer. While it’s possible to get a taste of the city in a day, ideally, you would want to stay longer to enjoy its diverse attractions and relaxed vibe.

I would recommend starting 3-4 days to fully experience the different attractions that San Diego has to offer.

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 USS Midway with 50% off.

Final Thoughts: One Day in San Diego, California

San Diego is a big city and has a lot to offer to its visitors. While you can pack a lot in a one-day itinerary of San Diego, there are still a lot of iconic places and sights that you just need more time to see.

I hope that this one-day itinerary of San Diego was helpful to you. These are the top sights and places that I’d personally visit if I had only one day to see San Diego.

If you wish to see more of San Diego, here are other things to do here:

What to Do in Balboa Park for Free?

17 Cheap Romantic Things to Do in San Diego

5 Best Whale Watching Tours in San Diego

6 Best Segway Tours in San Diego for Families