5 things to do in san diego

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:

San 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.

#1 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 😉

My 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!

#2 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.


If 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 😉

One 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.

#3 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.

My 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.

The 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.

#4 Witness an incredible sunset in the harbor

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.

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 Walk down Ocean Boulevard

I 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.

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 😊