5 things to do in San Diego in a day – roadtrippin’ the United States

5 things to do in San Diego in a daySan Diego is such an incredible city and you have a million things to do there. Unfortunately, when you have time to visit it for only one day, you must carefully choose what you would see. Here are my 5 things to do in San Diego in a day, as I did them, when I traveled to wonderful San Diego.

Getting to San Diego is a breeze, no matter where you come from. You can literally get into San Diego by any means of transportation – by plane (from San Diego Airport (SAN), Los Angeles Airport (LAX) or even Tijuana International Airport (TIJ)), by boat (!!), by train, by bus or by car. I, of course, on a fine December morning, took the car out for a drive and ended up in San Diego – only joking, I planned a little bit ahead for this one-day trip. Driving from Anaheim (my residence during my trip to the States) to San Diego took me about 2.5 hours. It is actually shorter, but…what can you do… here’s a Starbucks, there’s an In and Out… all those possibilities 😛 on the interstate leading to the city.

I knew I was short on time, so I tried to organize myself as much as possible, although I don’t like doing that when I travel. You should definitely not miss on the following, when you are visiting San Diego and are short on time:

Get a biplane ride over the San Diego coast

I have heard of how wonderful this kind of ride is from some of my friends back in Romania. Being a total sucker for airplanes, I could not miss something like this. After a quick google search (thank God for technology!), I found the guys at San Diego Sky Tours and made an appointment with them. They were so nice to accommodate me on such a short notice, but I was very lucky. They usually are very busy so, if you want to ride with them, you have to book in advance.

They offer so much more than bi-plane rides – they even do some air combat sessions, where two planes do various things in the air. I could definitely not do it, no matter how much I loved airplanes 😉5 things to do in San Diego in a day

5 things to do in San Diego in a dayMy ride was this beauty – a brightly colored, red and blue biplane, just waiting for me to hop on and fly up and away. Now, you might wonder if I was nervous or anything. Let me reassure you from the beginning – all the pilots from San Diego Sky Tours are former US Air Force pilots. If that doesn’t sooth you instantly, I don’t know what will. Plus, you are provided with a short training on how the plane functions and an equipment.

The tour lasted approximately half an hour, we flew around the beaches and I got the chance to take some exquisite photos, of both the beaches and the ocean. The color of the ocean in December is amazing. I could not get enough of it.

At one point, of course, you need to leave your camera aside and just enjoy the rush the ride is giving you. There’s a sense of calmness up there that you won’t find on the ground and I somehow understood why pilots are so much in love with that they do.

That smile on my face should tell you what a great time I had!5 things to do in San Diego in a day

Visit the San Diego Zoo

After I got off my plane, I reluctantly said good-bye to my pilot and went on to check the next big San Diego attraction – the San Diego Zoo.

5 things to do in San Diego in a dayOne of the reasons I wanted to visit the San Diego Zoo is because I had read a lot about how well they are treating the animals. The San Diego Zoo was one of the pioneers in the concept of open-air, cage less exhibits that re-create natural animal habitats. Let me just tell you – everything I have read was true. The Zoo is enormous and it houses over 3000 animals. They are held in open spaces, with a lot of room to develop and they are attended to by Zoo employees every minute (there was literally someone with the animals every time I passed an exhibit).

My personal favorite animal, the giraffe, had a big space to wallow in. At meal time, children are allowed to feed them and they are very happy to interact with them. By the time I got to see the giraffes, there were so many people around, I did not get the chance to take a shot.

Being so large, the Zoo is organized in various zones, which you can visit by hop-on/hop-off buses. If you do decide to walk, you better bring some comfortable shoes.5 things to do in San Diego in a day

5 things to do in San Diego in a dayIf you have children, the Zoo is perfect for them. They have so many activities for children, getting them engaged in the life of the animals and how they should be treated. The Zoo also offers education on endangered species and how to protect them further.

The Zoo is definitely a place where you can spend an entire day, easily. Since I did not have much time, I visited only the animals I really wanted to see (apart, of course, from the giraffes!!) – elephants, polar bears and pandas. The polar bear even gave me a treat – a small show of hide and seek, where he would hide in the water and re-appear by himself 😊

The pandas were, as usual, not to be bothered and despite all the commotion caused by all the people that wanted to see them, they ignored everybody graciously and continued with their daily, very important activities, like sleeping 😉

Check out the naval wonders in San Diego Harbor

The San Diego Harbor is enormous. It is intensively used by maritime travelers, but it also a great attraction for more “down to earth” tourists. The Maritime Museum of San Diego offers various exhibitions related to naval ships from various periods of history. Two of their main attractions are the B-39 submarine and Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship (the ship actually began her journey in 1863 and sailed around the world 21 times!). Tickets to the museum can be bought either online or at the venue and they are pretty cheap considering the marvels that the museum hosts – around $15.

5 things to do in San Diego in a dayMy personal favorite in the harbor, though, was the USS Midway. For those of you who know a little bit of history, Midway was the location of the most important battle of WWII – the battle in which the United States decisively defeated Japan, in 1942. Named after this extraordinary turn point in the US history, USS Midway is an aircraft carrier, who served the US Naval Force between 1945 and 1992, making it the US’s longest serving aircraft carrier. Nowadays, it is decommissioned and was transformed in a museum in 2004. Over a million tourists visit it every year and I can easily understand why.

5 things to do in San Diego in a dayThe ship is simply extraordinary. Imagine it as a city out at sea. With a crew with more than 4000 members, during each deployment, the ship would act as home for long periods of time. On the ship, a sailor could find anything he needed, as if he were on shore. The sailors were performing not only military duties, but some had to perform more “domestic” activities, such as cooking or doing laundry. I really enjoyed walking down the narrow hallways of the ship and explore it thoroughly. I have spent the most time there and, still, I feel like I must go back and explore some more.

The biggest surprise was that, from place to place, there were volunteers telling you stories about the ship. It turned out that they were actually former service members, who, at one point in their careers, served on the Midway and were no volunteering. I could have stayed to listen to those stories a long time. They were very cheerful and would teach you practical stuff, apart from telling the stories – like how not to get lost on that gigantic ship.

Witness an incredible sunset in the harbor

As I was about to leave the USS Midway, the sun had already started to make its descent to the sea. At one point, after taking my photos, I just decided to sit on one of the benches and just watch the sunset. I am a complete sucker for a good sunset and the San Diego one did not disappoint at all.5 things to do in San Diego in a day

There are a lot of restaurants in the harbor where you can enjoy a glass of wine and something to eat, while enjoying your sunset view, but I preferred to give all the credit to this majestic show of Mother Nature. There is nothing like seeing the sun go down the horizon, while the figures of the small ships docked in the harbor provided the necessary visual contrast.5 thing to do in San Diego in a day

Walk down Ocean Boulevard

5 things to do in San Diego in a dayI am sure this name sounds familiar to you… It somehow rang a bell in my mind, but I was literally incapable of pin pointing any movies or books or songs that reminded me of this name. I just took it as it was and enjoyed a nice walk down the approximately 5 km (3.2 miles, for those of you with another metric system 😊) long beach front. When I reached Crystal Pier, I just had to stop to take some photos of the last remains of the sunset. Photos at twilight are a little bit tricky, but I think my phone camera managed to take some beautiful shots. Both Ocean Boulevard and Crystal Pier are highlights of Pacific Beach – which encompasses an actual neighborhood, not only the beach front, as I found out chatting to some locals.

The beach front is full of restaurants, bars, shops and hotels and it is generally crowded with pedestrians, cyclists, rollerbladers, and shoppers. Buy yourself a coffee or a drink, like I did and enjoy the evening breeze of the Pacific Ocean. I did not even realize how much I had walked until my phone started buzzing and letting me know that I had reached my daily step target. What do you know? Beautiful scenery, good music in your ears and the ocean breeze really take your mind off things. 5 things to do in San Diego in a day

Driving back to Anaheim, an entire list of things to see and do in San Diego came to mind and I realized that I will definitely come back to San Diego in this lifetime 😊

If you want to know more of my stories from my trip to the States, go here.

 5 things to do in San Diego in a day



  1. You’re a braver person than me to get in that biplane! However, I can imagine the views must have been incredible over San Diego. Nothing beats a good sunset, and your photos remind me why I love them so much. I hope to visit one day soon.

    1. It was an amazing experience that I would repeat anytime 🙂 🙂 Sunsets are one of my favorite part of the day too 😛

  2. you made the most out of your 1 day…very productive i must say…i would luv to try biplane..looks an incredible experience…thanks for all the info..beautiful pictures…have bookmarked this post for future..

    1. Glad to hear you’ve enjoyed this. you definitely need to try out the biplane ride, if you are ever in San Diego 😛

  3. What a great story! How many people can say they rode in a bi-plane?! I went to San Diego a year ago for work, so I didn’t get much time, but we were staying on the ocean which was lovely. A beautiful city.

  4. What a great experience! How many people can say they flew in a bi-plane? I have only been there once, last spring for a work event, so I didn’t get to explore as much as I wanted. It was really lovely staying on the beach, though.

    1. Hahahah 🙂 guess the first comment didn’t come through until later 🙂 thank you so much for both comments 😛

  5. Wow! I also prefer one day trips because I usually don’t have so much time to explore. But I’m in love now with biplane ride!! Wooow – looks really amazing! I would like to do it one day. Thanks for sharing!

  6. San Diego is one of my favorite US cities. You can go to Little Italy and feel like you’re in Italy with only Italian being spoken around you. And the food and beaches are just incredible. We liked the zoo but not as much as the botanical gardens! Looks like I’ve already done everything on your list except the bi-plane tour. Will have to check into that the next time we’re there.

    1. hmmm… so, it looks like I still have tons to do while there 😛 good to know, I might go back there sooner rather than later 🙂

  7. Visiting San Diego is one of my dreams and this list makes my feet itchy! That biplane ride sounds amazing, I’m sure the views from up there are simply breathtaking!

  8. I’m heading to California in August so this post was definitely very helpful to me! I love that the city sits right on the water and you can bask in those beautiful sunsets. A biplane ride over the coast sounds like a dream, definitely on my bucket list!

  9. I’ve yet to visit this side of the world, but hoping to one day, so will add bi plane over San Diego to my ever-growing bucket list, cos that looks like my kinda activity! Such an adrenaline rush! x

    1. It was, indeed! And you can do more tours, which are way more exciting that the one I took… the guys there have such an array of offers 😛

  10. What a busy day!! I’ve never been in a biplane but it looks awesome! Would love to do that. I’m not usually a big fan of zoo’s because I find them cruel and uncomfortable so it’s really good to hear what you are saying about how they treat the animals much better. Will have to check it out sometime.

    1. Yees, you have to ride the biplane. it is a marvelous experience. As for the zoo, I can tell you I have the same issue, but here they are so free and well taken care of 🙂

  11. Oh nice! I love the plane and naval museum. How easy is it to get on the plane, does it cost much? Wold love to try.
    As an engineer, I also like all the naval cities and this one new for me. Thanks for sharing this lovely place.

    1. When I did it, it was around 200 dollars. But it was worth every penny. It was an amazing experience. San Diego is a great place for an engineer 😛

  12. It’s amazing to know about the cage-less open-air zoo in San Diego. I will forward this post to a friend`s parents who are visiting in May. They will get some pro-tips from your article.

  13. I have heard so much about the San Diego zoo – in fact since I was a kid. I have that associated with the city and that is the first thing that pops up in my mind. Glad to add some more associations now. I would love to do the Biplane ride. And the Ocean Boulevard does sound like a nice place to unwind. Hope to be able to getto this famed place/

    1. Just hop on an airplane and that’s that 🙂 🙂 I wish I can take my own advice right now and fly there, I miss it so much 😀

  14. I had no idea there was so much to do in San Diego! The biplane ride looks fun.

    I can’t see or hear “San diego Zoo” without thinking of the film Madagascar! It doesn’t look much like Africa after all 😉

    1. Hahahah 🙂 🙂 Right, I haven’t thought about that, in regards to the zoo 😛 The plane ride was incredibly fun :D:D

  15. I am that kind of person, who loves witnessing sunrises on the mountains, and sunsets on the beach, making San Diego, an amazing destination for me. Witnessing the sun set over the horizon, while taking a walk along the coast, with cool breeze hitting your face, is a joy, that can only be experienced in person, and the lesser the crowd, much intense is the feeling. The flight looks like an exciting thing to be in.

    1. I hope you get to experience the sunset over San Diego Harbor sooner rather than later. The plan ride was also an amazing experience 🙂

    1. Hahahah! Your post is really interesting too! I guess I have to try out your options when I get to San Diego next.

  16. Wow this is a great list of things to do but I’d have to say the plane ride and watching the sunset in the harbour are the top of my list! Gorgeous scenes and perfect photo ops!

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