By Darren Griffiths

48 Hours in San Diego: Highlights Itinerary for 2 Days

2nd February 2023

Last updated on April 23rd, 2023 at 05:18 am

San Diego is an amazing city to visit. With the constantly perfect weather, beautiful beaches and parks, and delicious food and craft beverage scene, it’s hard to not fall in love. There’s always something to do in the city, but sometimes all you have is a couple of days!

How do you make the most of it? I’ve been taking my friends who visit for the weekend around, so making the most of two-day trips is my speciality! Here’s my recommended itinerary for 48 hours in San Diego.

Day 1 – Morning: Balboa Park

48 hours in san diego balboa park
Balboa Park botanical gardens

Balboa Park is San Diego’s biggest park. In fact, it’s bigger than Central Park! There are a ton of activities to do here depending on what you’re interested in.

For example, if you love animals or are traveling with kids, San Diego Zoo is in the park. It’s huge with many open areas for the animals, and also margaritas and craft beer for the adults. If you just love parks or nature, you can stroll through the park itself or one of its many gardens- including a rose garden, a Japanese garden, and a botanical garden. Note that some gardens (like the last two) close at night.

If you love museums, there are over 15 museums to visit – art museums, history museums. Too many for 48 hours in San Diego! Even if you’re broke, the Timken Museum of Art is always free, and if you have a Bank of America card, the San Diego Museum of Art and the Museum of Photogenic Arts are free on certain days.

If you love art, check out the Spanish village. These are historic buildings turned art galleries and stores which have a lot of their work for sale. Even just walking through this area is a fun experience. Last, if you love Spanish colonial architecture, this style of building is all over the park.

As you get hungry, there are a few restaurants in the park and in the zoo. I would also recommend eating a large and filling breakfast burrito from one of San Diego’s many taco stands beforehand or bringing a picnic lunch to the park, which you see a lot of other people doing.

Day 1 – Afternoon: Oldtown

48 hours in san diego old town
San Diego Old Town

Continuing the theme of history and beauty in this 48 hours in San Diego itinerary, head to the Oldtown. This is a historic district in California because it’s the state’s first European settlement. There are a lot of preserved old buildings from this time, now turned into museums that have exhibits on what they were used for back in the day, as well as on the native Kumeyaay population and the African American history. There’s even a haunted house if you’re feeling up for a spooky tour!

To get oriented with all of the history and buildings, they have free walking tours that you can learn from. Similar to Balboa Park, art is a huge thing here. There are a ton of more Mexican style trinkets you can find at the shops.

If you’re feeling tired from all the exploration, there are many Mexican restaurants here! Even the touristy restaurants are fun because of the colorful decorations and mariachi bands that play you music (if you tip). If you’re not feeling like Mexican food, there are also a couple of sushi restaurants in this area.

Day 2 – Morning: Mission Beach to Pacific Beach

san diego pacific beach
Pacific Beach

So for day 2 of your 48 hours in San Diego, head to the city’s beaches! For a fun morning, rent a bike, roller skates, or a scooter, and travel along the 2ish mile boardwalk from Mission Beach to Pacific Beach. There’s also a mini carnival in Mission Beach with arcade games and a roller coaster, and food and drinks along the boardwalk.

If you want to jump in the water, surfing is popular in this area. There are many board rental places and also groups that offer surfing lessons.

If you just want to relax, feel free to lounge on one of the beaches and soak up the sun or grab drinks at one of the bars by the water.

Day 2 – Afternoon: Explore La Jolla

48 hours in san diego la jolla
La Jolla Beach

La Jolla is a neighborhood north of San Diego that shouldn’t be missed if having just 48 hours in San Diego. La Jolla is also has a gorgeous coastline but with more rocky, sand swept cliffs than the beaches of Mission and Pacific. You can still bike or stroll around this coast. But, if you’re looking for something more adventurous, there are many kayaking, paddle boarding, and snorkeling opportunities where you can explore La Jolla’s seven coves.

The other interesting thing about La Jolla is that seals and sea lions come and hang out at these beaches. You can see them lounging on the rocks, but don’t get too close because they can be aggressive!

If you want to go on more of a hike, head north of La Jolla to Torrey Pines Natural Reserve. This area is used to protect endangered flora species, and you can learn about them as you walk through the many (easy) trails which start in the reserve and can end at the beach.

Evenings for 48 Hours San Diego

48 hours in san diego at night
San Diego at night

Depending on what kind of night you’re interested in having, there are a quite a few San Diego neighborhoods to check out!

Gaslamp is perfect if you want a lively night out in San Deigo, with high energy bars and clubs and dancing all around. North Park is great if you’re looking for something more tame with hip food and alcohol choices. If you want a more sophisticated night, check out Little Italy which has more upscale bars and restaurants for a spot of romance.

If you don’t drink alcohol, both Gaslamp and North Park also have arcade bars where you can just play games and have fun. Also, Little Italy is lovely to simply walk around and explore at night. It gets busy with a buzzy atmosphere and often has street performers performing Italian ballads.

And that’s a quick tour of 48 hours in San Diego! 2 days in San Diego is obviously not enough time to get to do everything in the city, but hopefully, with this itinerary, you’ll be able to find a lot to love about San Diego.

About the Author

This guest post was written by Angelica who is a travel and food blogger at Things to do & Eat. She is based in San Diego, and when she’s not gallivanting around the city, she’s probably travelling to new places and trying their food or getting lost in their nature.