Couple hiking through Cabrillo National Monument State Park

Spend a day hiking around Cabrillo National Monument State Park. (Photo: Marriott International)

Weekend Getaways

Seek Out a Weekend of Adventure in San Diego, California

San Diego offers a happy mix of laid-back vibes and adventurous activities. Select a speed that fits your crew and let America’s Finest City live up to its name.

It’s not all about the beaches, either: There’s hiking, expansive parks, art-packed museums, historic architecture, more incredible food than you could experience in a long weekend and lots of wildlife-watching.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Friday: Explore Balboa Park

Couple walking through Balboa Park
Tour botanical gardens, public green space and more than 16 museums in Balboa Park. (Photo: Marriott International)

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better introduction to San Diego than Balboa Park, the physical and cultural heart of the city. With 17 museums, 65 miles of gentle trails, more than a dozen restaurants and a famous zoo, the 1,200-acre emerald oasis deserves its own dedicated day.

Start the morning with a moment of zen at the Japanese Friendship Garden. Enjoy a peaceful stroll through the paths lined with black pine trees, green shrubs and pink azaleas. Kids will love crouching over brightly colored koi and searching for shishi-odoshi, bamboo water features built to scare off deer.

Enjoy a snack at the Tea Pavilion before strolling over to Spreckels Organ, where you can marvel at one of the world’s largest outdoor instruments, featuring 5,000 pipes crowned by a carved stone arch.

Next stop? You guessed it. No trip to Balboa is truly complete without a visit to the San Diego Zoo, home to more than 3,700 rare and endangered animals from all across the world.

Watch elephants take a trunk-powered shower, see gorillas cradle their young, watch hippos swim underwater and feed 20-foot-tall giraffes. Expect steep inclines and a fair amount of foot traffic, but you can hop aboard the bus if walking becomes too much.

If time and energy allow, make your way to the Museum of Us for exhibits centered on ancient cultures and mythical beasts, or explore the impressive collection at the San Diego Air & Space Museum. Cap off the day at Panama 66, which features dozens of local beers on tap and farm-to-table fare, all tucked inside the San Diego Museum of Art‘s stunning sculpture garden.

Saturday: Hit the Beach

person looking out at the La Jolla Cave overlook on a cloudy day
Keep your eye out for seals and sea lions at La Jolla Cove. (Photo: Marriott International)

San Diego’s 70-mile coastline has enough beaches to fulfill all your summer fantasies. For a break from the crowds, head north to the city of Encinitas where the surf’s up year-round.

Stake out a stretch of sand at Moonlight Beach — there’s more than enough to go around — and watch the tide roll out (or in). Conveniently located water fountains, play spaces and a concession stand will help keep kiddos content.

For lunch, walk a half-mile uphill to downtown Encinitas for Baja-style fish tacos at the Taco Stand, a San Diego mainstay. Buttery battered fish is piled with crisp lettuce, cilantro and slightly spicy chipotle crema. Walk off lunch with a stroll along the 101 to window-shop at the beachy boutiques and eclectic vintage stores.

Jump back in the car and snake south along the coast, stopping at La Jolla Cove. At this little village, you can trade sandy shores for rocky, wave-beaten cliffs. Sure, it’s a little campy and dubiously priced, but the Cave Store packs a big punch into a 15-minute tour. Pay your way to descend down through a bootlegger’s tunnel toward Sunny Jim’s sea cave.

Budget an hour to watch the seals and sea lions play at the Children’s Pool — the pinnipeds are full of personality, and cute pups can be spotted from June to October. Book a rooftop terrace table at George’s at the Cove to enjoy award-winning seafood with magical views.

Sunday: Experience the City’s Vibrant Culture

Despite its designation as one of California’s 14 official cultural districts, the southern San Diego region of Barrio Logan remains a hidden gem. In the 1970s, the city stalled on its promise of a public park in the historically Hispanic neighborhood, spurring activists to protest by way of creating and showcasing colorful outdoor art.

Today, the National Historic Landmark now known as Chicano Park features an extensive collection of murals and sculptures. Browse the outdoor art and enjoy the gardens and playgrounds before fueling up with a dulce de leche latte or horchata cold brew at Por Vida Café, right across the street.

Wander down Logan Avenue to find a number of warehouses turned art galleries, including Bread & Salt, the iN Gallery and Nevería Los Mochis, which also serves ice cream and sorbet.

Drive just a few miles north to visit the first area of the city to be settled by Spanish colonizers — aptly named Old Town. At Old Town State Historic Park, you can experience history in motion. Find 19th-century structures, including a former schoolhouse, a working blacksmith shop and old adobe ranch homes.

Don’t miss the Whaley House, a Greek Revival residence constructed in 1857 by Thomas Whaley that’s notorious for paranormal activity. Opt for a self-guided daytime tour — or head back after dark for a spooky experience.

Couple near lighthouse in Cabrillo National Monument State Park
Visit a lighthouse-turned-museum in Cabrillo National Monument State Park. (Photo: Marriott International)

You shouldn’t leave San Diego without a proper viewing of the city’s sunset. Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma is a tough vantage point to beat. Channel your inner marine biologist at the tide pools before you find a park bench to soak in the show.

Look closely and you might even see the elusive “green flash” — under the right conditions, the sky turns viridescent just as the sun dips below the horizon.