(credit: Liz Laing)

(credit: Liz Laing)

With 70 miles of coastline, San Diego is best known for the sunny weather, fabulous museums, a world-renowned zoo, golf courses and theme parks, not to mention the many places to enjoy great food, purchase top-of-the-line merchandise and historical sites in the downtown quarter. San Diego is one of the few cities in the country that will give you a big city experience set within a small town atmosphere.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

What To Do

San Diego is home to many big-name attractions, such as SeaWorld and Legoland, both offering near endless theme park opportunities for visitors from around the world. Or for a more historical adventure, take a look across the bay from atop Cabrillo National Monument, which was named after Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European to set foot in California.

Other area must-see attractions include Balboa Park (a local favorite), Mission Beach, PETCO Park (home of the San Diego Padres), Little Italy, Belmont Park and the Maritime Museum of San Diego. Harbor cruises are also available, offering fabulous views of downtown and other historical areas of San Diego.

Go shopping at Fashion Valley Shopping Center, which offers an outdoor shopping experience like no other. Or go exploring Old Town, where you can experience San Diego’s history up close and enjoy some food, shopping and fun while there.

San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park are sister parks that offer a unique zoo experience. At the San Diego Zoo, you can enjoy a leisurely, self-guided tour of the zoo which is home to more than 4,000 rare and exotic animals that are exhibited in a natural garden setting. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park offers a chance to see large animals in a safari setting, with an on-site petting area for hands-on time with tame critters. Do not forget to make a stop at Birch Aquarium to see the different sea creatures in a setting designed right out of an ocean-themed story book.

No trip to San Diego is complete without a visit to the beach. There you can play in the surf, go for a swim and even participate in a sandcastle-building competition. Let’s not forget the breathtaking views of the sunset.

Related: Best Cheap Long Weekend Trips Near OC

(credit: W Hotel San Diego)

(credit: W Hotel San Diego)

Where To Stay

When deciding on a place to stay in San Diego, it is important to know what you plan to do during your visit. Different districts throughout the city offer unique accommodation options and easy access to different attractions, restaurants and entertainment venues.

Downtown hotels are very popular among convention-goers and tourists. This is because many of these hotels have large convention centers, are conveniently located near the San Diego Trolley and are close to the city’s most popular attractions. Keep in mind that if there is a big convention in town, it might be difficult to find a vacancy in the downtown area. Popular downtown San Diego hotels include the Best Western Cabrillo GardenThe Bristol Hotel, the Sofia Hotel and Hotel Indigo.

If you are on a tight budget, make plans to stay away from the downtown area, where prices are a bit cheaper. Other locations in San Diego that are also great places to stay include Hotel Circle and Mission Bay. Both areas will put you close to the attractions, while keeping you out of the immediate downtown area. Hotels in the Hotel Circle area include the Best Western Seven Seas Lodge, Kings Inn Hotel, Travelodge Mission Valley and Vagabond Inn San Diego. Hotels in the Mission Bay area include Hilton San Diego Resort, Dana Inn and Marina and the Catamaran Hotel.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Where To Eat

San Diego is home to many fine dining restaurants and some unique, not-so-fine dining places to eat. There is always a new restaurant opening up in the area, which is why the dining experience is continually changing. The uniqueness of the cuisine served in this area is another reason why San Diego is the perfect place to visit on your next vacation.

Because there are so many places in San Diego to grab a bite to eat, it is near impossible to break it down into must-enjoy locations. Here is a list of the top neighborhoods in San Diego for those looking for a place to eat:

  • Clairemont: This area is home to the area’s finest Asian cuisine, offering everything from Korean barbecue, Thai, ramen, sushi and Chinese takeout.
  • Downtown: This area offers a variety of different restaurants to help cater to the conventions happening in the area. Everything from formal attire/fine dining restaurants to a simple sandwich and salad café are located in this area.
  • East Village: You do not have to wait for a baseball game to visit this area. Take time to explore the dining venues of East Village where you will find many sports bars and local brew houses.
  • La Jolla: This area is home to fancier and more expensive restaurants. However, if you look hard enough, you may still be able to find a place to get a pizza and a beer or a gourmet cup of coffee.
  • Mission Beach: Restaurants in this area are really stepping things up, offering fabulous places for breakfast and restaurants offering famous, mouth-watering fish tacos. Plus, you cannot beat the view you will have while dining at just about every restaurant in this area.
  • Little Italy: Looking to gain a few pounds? Then visit the restaurants in the Little Italy area, where you will be treated to a variety of irresistible Mediterranean cuisine and lots of pasta.
  • Pacific Beach: This area is home to a series of restaurants serving everything from greasy bar food to burritos. This is definitely the place to go if you are looking for shots and a night of drinking.
(credit: istockphoto)

(credit: istockphoto)

Planning Your Trip

Before making your plans to visit the San Diego area, you need to first do some research and decide what you will want to do and see while there. Your activities list will help you determine where you will stay, if you need to rent a car, how long you will stay and how you plan to get there. Remember, depending upon what you want to do, there may be no need to rent a car while there. The San Diego Trolley will take you to all of the exciting spots in downtown and all of the area’s popular attractions. If the trolley does not go somewhere you want to go, chances are the bus system will be able to take you there.
The weather in San Diego is beautiful from February through the end of April and again in July through October. Just keep in mind that though the weather is beautiful most of the year, you may encounter “gray” days in May and June when skies are filled with clouds. The busiest travel months for visitors coming to San Diego are July and August, so be prepared for heavy crowds.

Related: How to Plan a Day Trip with the Family

Every year, millions make their way to San Diego for vacations, business trips and to visit family. While there, everyone takes time to explore the city and see the unique collection of activities available throughout the year. Make plans to find out what the talk is all about and visit San Diego for your next vacation.
Heather Landon is a freelance writer with more than 20 years of experience. She has combined two of her passions – writing and travel – to share her experiences with others. You can read more of her articles at Examiner.com.