The ultimate 3 day San Diego itinerary for outdoorsy travelers – includes 3 days of hiking, beaches, sunsets, and the best outdoor views.
I just visited San Diego for the first time and I absolutely loved it.
When I arrived, I was taking an Uber from the airport to my friend’s apartment.
My Uber driver was a local and she asked me what I wanted to do while I was visiting San Diego.
I said something along the lines of “beaches, hiking trails, parks, basically anything outside and exploring nature”.
She was honestly baffled and confused. She kept saying “What about the San Diego Zoo? What about Sea World? Or Belmont Park Amusement Park? What about the museums?” etc. etc.
As much as I appreciate museums and touristy attractions, I just wasn’t interested in that part of San Diego.
I just wanted to see the beautiful nature I had seen in photos. Cliffs, palm trees, sandy beaches, the bright blue Pacific. That’s what drew me to San Diego!
So after that Uber ride, I decided I would write about what to do in San Diego if you’re an outdoorsy traveler.
This San Diego itinerary is almost exactly how I spent my 3 days there.
If you’re an outdoorsy traveler like me, I hope this itinerary gives you an idea of what to do in this stunning Southern California city.
Before we get into the San Diego itinerary, I’ll just quickly discuss some travel tips for the area such as where to stay and how to get around.
How To Get Around San Diego
The easiest, fastest, and most popular way to travel around San Diego is by car.
You can either rent a car or take Ubers/Lyfts.
Renting a car is convenient, but you’ll have to pay for parking, gas, and fees.
Ubers and Lyfts can add up in cost, but they’re the easiest way to get around San Diego.
There is public transport in San Diego, such as trolley and bus. Check the local transit website for maps and schedules.
A bus or trolley ride is $2.50 one way. This is easily the cheapest way to get around San Diego.
If you’re not in a rush and you’re trying to save money, take public transport around the city!
I split most of my transport between Lyfts and bus rides. Normally I would always take the cheapest option, but some places in the city just aren’t easily reachable by bus. Lyfts save lots of time and most rides cost around $20.
Where To Stay In San Diego On A Budget
San Diego has lots of distinct neighborhoods that are popular among travelers.
There are also some highly rated hostels in the city for around $40 – $60 per night (pricey for a hostel, but still cheaper than a hotel!)
For this 3 day San Diego Itinerary, you’ll be heading up north to Torrey Pines and La Jolla Cove. You’ll also be exploring Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach, and Downtown.
I stayed near Pacific Beach and it was a super convenient location. Ocean Beach would also be a good spot, though Pacific Beach is closer to Torrey Pines and La Jolla.
You can also stay in downtown San Diego near Balboa Park, Little Italy, and the Gaslamp Quarter. If you want to experience the nightlife after all your outdoorsy activities during the day, I’d recommend staying here.
Here are some top-rated hostels to consider for your San Diego itinerary.
- California Dreams Hostel, Pacific Beach: Dorms from $57 per night, 9.2/10 rating
- Samesun Ocean Beach, Ocean Beach: Dorms from $45 per night, 9.6/10 rating
- Gaslamp Hostel, Gaslamp Quarter: Dorms from $43 per night, 9.0/10 rating
3 Day San Diego Itinerary for Outdoorsy Travelers
Now that we’ve covered where to stay and how to get around, let’s get into the 3 day San Diego itinerary for outdoorsy travelers.
I’ll recommend a few food places as well. San Diego is full of delicious food, so you really can’t go wrong with wherever you choose to eat.
Get ready to explore the best of San Diego’s beaches, walking trails, and more!
Day 1 in San Diego
Morning: Torrey Pines
Hiking in Torrey Pines is one of the best things to do in San Diego, especially for those who love being active outdoors.
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a protected piece of land in the north of the city.
Expect to see layers upon layers of rugged sandstone cliffs, most framed by the extremely rare Torrey Pine tree.
There are 6 main hiking trails in Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Most trails are around 1 mile long. Check this website for a map and more info about each trail.
Because the trails are short and not too strenuous, you can easily hike all of the trails in one epic morning.
Some trails lead down to the beach as well where you can go for a refreshing swim.
I think the Razor Point Trail and Yucca Point Trail had some of the best views.
Afternoon: Pacific Beach
After hiking Torrey Pines for the first part of the day, head down to Pacific Beach. An Uber or Lyft is the easiest way to travel to and from Torrey Pines.
Pacific Beach is a hub for young people in San Diego, and there is so much to do here.
First, do a little sightseeing. Stroll along the walkway next to the beach. You’ll get amazing views of the ocean and the classic California palm trees.
There are also some grassy areas where you’ll see people doing yoga and having picnics.
You could also enjoy the beach! Go surfing, swimming, or sunbathing on the sand.
After soaking in the scenery, wander through the streets. There are tons of bars, cafes, restaurants, and shops.
There are so many food options in Pacific Beach, but I recommend Oscar’s Mexican Seafood. They have incredible smoked fish tacos and a variety of homemade sauces.
Evening: Kate Sessions Park
Make sure you watch the sunset for every night of your 3 day San Diego itinerary!
California sunsets are just as dreamy as everyone says they are.
Kate Sessions Park is a popular hangout spot. From Pacific Beach, it’s a 5-minute drive or a 35-minute walk.
This large grassy hill offers a lovely view of downtown San Diego. You’ll see lots of people up here drinking, eating, playing with their dogs, and enjoying the views.
After watching the sunset in Kate Sessions Park, the rest of the night is up to you!
Head back to Pacific Beach for a night of bar-hopping, or have a relaxing night to gather more energy for day 2 of your outdoorsy San Diego itinerary.
Day 2 in San Diego
Morning: La Jolla Cove
La Jolla Cove is one of the most beautiful places in San Diego. Outdoorsy travelers should definitely include it in their 3 day San Diego itinerary!
There are buses that go to La Jolla, so you should be able to spend most of today traveling by public transport to save money.
La Jolla Cove is a gorgeous little strip of white sand surrounded by palms, cliffs, and the turquoise ocean.
Walk along the cliffside path to get the best views of the cove. The path leads to some incredible sea caves and rock formations as well.
For an extra dose of adventure, you can book a kayaking tour.
Kayaking is one of the best ways to see La Jolla Cove. You can get up close to the sea lion colonies and actually paddle through the sea caves.
Afternoon: Coastal Walk from La Jolla
After kayaking La Jolla Cove, spend the next couple of hours leisurely following the coastal walking trail that heads south.
This mostly flat trail is the best way to see the coastal scenery.
You’ll pass lots of nice beaches and grassy parks, and you might even see some dolphins frolicking in the ocean.
Be sure to check out the Children’s Pool, a small, white-sand beach protected by a seawall.
The Children’s Pool is beautiful, but it’s not great for swimming because lots of sea lions and seals call the beach home.
Continue on down the coastal walk for more swimming spots.
I recommend stopping at Windansea Beach. This beach has great waves for surfing as well as some calmer spots for swimming.
Continue walking along the coast for as long as you want. You’ll eventually have to cut inland, but you can walk all the way down to Pacific Beach if you want.
Evening: Ocean Beach
After the coastal walk, head down to Ocean Beach for sunset.
Ocean Beach is another one of San Diego’s most popular neighborhoods.
Go surfing, walk along the Ocean Beach Pier, explore the lively streets, have a picnic, hit up a happy hour, or just chill on the sand.
Mike’s Taco Club on Newport Ave has delicious burritos and tacos (I ate lots of Mexican food in San Diego – all of it was amazing!)
This is an awesome area to watch the sunset, relax on the beach, and have some fun.
Day 3 in San Diego
Morning: Balboa Park
For the last day of this 3 day San Diego itinerary, head to the famous Balboa Park.
Balboa Park is one of the top San Diego tourist attractions.
It’s full of world-class museums, cool monuments and architecture, and walking trails.
Outdoorsy travelers can roam through the forests and gardens. There are giant trees, landscaped gardens, canyons, and more within Balboa Park.
The Japanese Friendship Garden is a top attraction as well.
If you’re interested in museums and culture, you can visit any of the following places within Balboa Park:
- San Diego History Center
- Reuben H. Fleet Science Center
- San Diego Natural History Museum
- San Diego Museum of Art
- San Diego Air and Space Museum
My favorite Balboa Park attraction was the Spanish Village Arts Center. This colorful little village is full of local art galleries and workshops.
Afternoon: Downtown San Diego
Balboa Park is located near downtown, so from here there are numerous different places you could go.
Even if you’re an outdoorsy traveler who wants to be hiking or on the beach at all times, I still definitely recommend checking out some of downtown San Diego.
But I wanted to leave this section of the San Diego itinerary a bit open-ended. Every traveler is different, and there are so many cool things to do in this area of the city.
For your afternoon, choose any of the following fun San Diego activities:
Little Italy: Wander through Little Italy and indulge in some delicious Italian food (this is how my friend and I spent our afternoon. Highly recommend!)
Gaslamp Quarter: This is the heart of San Diego’s nightlife. But even during the day, the Gaslamp Quarter is full of cool bars, cafes, and restaurants. Consider a guided walking tour of the area!
Dolphin and Whale Watching Cruise: Head to the San Diego Harbor and go on a dolphin and whale watching cruise! I love anything to do with wildlife, so this would be an awesome thing to do in San Diego.
Coronado Island: Drive or get an Uber across the scenic Coronado Bridge to Coronado Island (It’s a 10-minute drive from Balboa Park, or a 3-hour journey by bus so driving is the way to go). Spend the afternoon at Coronado Beach!
Evening: Sunset Cliffs
The last destination of your 3 day San Diego itinerary should absolutely be Sunset Cliffs. There are buses that connect this area with downtown.
Sunset Cliffs are accurately named, because these rugged, oceanside cliffs are the perfect sunset-watching spot.
There is a walking trail that follows the top of the cliffs. Just go for a stroll, admire the gorgeous coastal scenery, and bring some drinks for sunset.
Along the walkway on Sunset Cliffs, there are numerous wide open areas where people gather for sunset.
There is a spot along the cliffs called “The Arch” where you can go cliff jumping.
It’s a 20-foot jump from the top of the arch into the ocean.
Technically this is illegal and you can get fined. But when I visited I saw tons of people jumping safely. If you want to take the risk, this is an adrenaline-pumping way to end your visit to San Diego!
Thanks for reading my 3 day San Diego itinerary for outdoorsy travelers!
I had an awesome time in San Diego! (Shoutout to my friend Matt for being my host and tour guide, and my friend Shara for sharing in the fun)
Even though the main tourist attractions include the museums, the San Diego Zoo, Belmont Park Amusement Park, and other things like that, you can still enjoy the city while just being outside.
There is so much hiking and exploring to do here. With so many gorgeous beaches and cool parks and cliffs to explore, outdoorsy travelers will have a blast in San Diego.
This outdoorsy itinerary is also a great way to explore San Diego on a budget.
This city isn’t cheap, and paying steep entry fees for museums and other tourist attractions can add up. The best of San Diego is all free and provided by nature!
For my fellow outdoorsy travelers out there, here are some other articles that might be helpful or inspiring:
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