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Downtown San Diego

Things To Do In Downtown San Diego

Unforgettable Things To Do in Downtown San Diego on Vacation!

San Diego’s lively city center brims with thrilling adventures sure to etch an unforgettable chapter into your travel diary. This bustling hub offers an eclectic mix of cultural attractions, historical landmarks, and gastronomic delights that will leave you yearning for more. The unique blend of sun-kissed beaches, high-rise buildings, and lively neighborhoods provides an unforgettable backdrop to your vacation. Including Downtown San Diego in your trip plan isn’t just an option — it’s a must-do to truly experience the beauty and charm of this Southern Californian city.

Maritime Museum of San Diego

Maritime Museum of San Diego

The Maritime Museum of San Diego stands as a testament to the city’s maritime heritage. Housed within historic vessels, including the world’s oldest active ship, Star of India, the museum tells a fascinating tale of exploration, commerce, and warfare at sea. As you wander through, you’re transported back in time, immersing yourself in the world of sailors, explorers, and shipbuilders.

Not only is the museum a historical jewel but it also provides a unique perspective on San Diego’s development, its relationship with the sea, and how this has shaped its culture and economy. Participating in one of their at-sea adventures, such as a sailing trip on the Californian or a tour on the restored 1914 Harbor Pilot boat, delivers an immersive and unforgettable experience.

This is why the Maritime Museum of San Diego deserves a prime spot on your itinerary. It offers not just a tour, but a journey — one that provides deep insights into San Diego’s past and present. When you leave, you’ll carry with you not just pictures but stories of a city and its lifelong bond with the sea.

Things To Do at the Maritime Museum of San Diego

Upon entering the Maritime Museum of San Diego, you’re bound to be awestruck by the sheer scale and variety of exhibits. Each one of these vessels has its own unique story to tell. The Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship, is a must-see. Its sturdy structure, complex rigging, and fascinating history of voyages around the globe make it a symbol of maritime endurance and adventure.

But, that’s not all the museum has to offer. You’ll find the HMS Surprise, a replica of an 18th-century British frigate, which starred in the film “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.” Walking its deck, you feel like you’ve stepped into a cinematic world, with the ship’s detailed construction embodying the grandeur of the Age of Sail.

Then there’s the B-39 submarine, a Soviet-era diesel-electric sub that offers a glimpse into life under the sea during the Cold War. The confined spaces and complex array of controls highlight the challenging conditions faced by submariners.

Additionally, the museum hosts a variety of temporary exhibits that delve into various aspects of maritime history and technology. Interactive displays and educational programs are part of the museum’s offerings, engaging both children and adults alike.

When you need a break, the museum’s Pantry Café serves a range of snacks, drinks, and light meals, providing an idyllic waterfront view.

Remember to check out the museum’s gift shop before you leave. A variety of maritime-themed souvenirs, books, and clothing are available, offering you a tangible memento of your visit to this remarkable museum.

To sum up, experiencing the Maritime Museum of San Diego is among the key things to do in Downtown San Diego. Here, you are plunged into the fascinating realm of maritime history, exploration, and adventure. Whether you’re navigating the historic vessels, engaging with the interactive exhibits, or absorbing the rich heritage, it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

USS Midway Museum

USS Midway Museum

The USS Midway Museum holds a distinguished place in San Diego’s history and is a must-visit for any traveler. Docked along Navy Pier, this historic naval aircraft carrier museum pays tribute to the U.S. Navy’s longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century. The Midway, named after the pivotal Battle of Midway during World War II, served the United States for 47 years, including operations in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm.

As you step aboard the USS Midway, you are transported into a floating city at sea. With more than 60 exhibits and 29 restored aircraft, the museum offers an in-depth look into the daily operations of a naval aircraft carrier. Audio tours narrated by Midway sailors themselves guide visitors through the ship, exploring sleeping quarters, the engine room, the ship’s jail, and even the control tower on the flight deck.

Including the USS Midway Museum in your trip plan is an opportunity to experience history firsthand. It’s not just about naval warfare or military history, it’s about understanding the sacrifices, camaraderie, and technological progress that shaped the world we live in today. When you step off the Midway, you’ll leave with a profound respect for the men and women who lived and worked on this extraordinary ship. It’s an experience that extends beyond vacation, a memory to cherish, and a story to tell. This is why the USS Midway Museum is a crucial part of your San Diego itinerary.

Things To Do at the USS Midway Museum

Embarking on a tour of the USS Midway Museum is akin to stepping into a time capsule, a stark reminder of the power and complexity of naval warfare. The museum’s highlights include more than 60 exhibits, each showcasing a unique aspect of life aboard the aircraft carrier. One such exhibit is the Engine Room, the heart of the ship, where you can marvel at the immense power it took to propel the mammoth vessel through the ocean.

Perhaps one of the most exhilarating experiences is walking through the Flight Deck, where 29 meticulously restored aircraft await, each with a remarkable story to tell. From iconic fighter jets to helicopters, this collection brings to life the dynamic operations of an active aircraft carrier. Don’t miss the Control Tower on the Flight Deck, it offers an unparalleled view of San Diego Bay and gives you a pilot’s perspective of landing an aircraft on a moving carrier.

The Hangar Deck, just below the Flight Deck, hosts a range of interactive exhibits, including flight simulators where you can experience the thrill of flying a jet. It also houses the Battle of Midway Theater, which presents a compelling audiovisual experience of the historic battle that turned the tide of World War II.

Guided by the authentic voices of Midway sailors on the audio tour, you’ll discover the intricate spaces of the ship, from the enlisted men’s berths to the officers’ quarters, all the way down to the Mess Deck where thousands of meals were served daily. The tour also includes a trip to the ship’s Brig, or jail, a sobering look at naval discipline.

For younger visitors, the Junior Pilot Program is a fantastic opportunity to learn naval aviation history through a scavenger hunt. Upon completion, they even receive a set of pilot wings!

The museum’s Fantail Café serves as the perfect spot to refuel with a variety of sandwiches, salads and beverages on offer. Before you depart, be sure to visit the Ship’s Store for souvenirs, mementos, or books to remember your visit.

Seaport Village

Seaport Village

Situated in the pulsating heart of Downtown San Diego’s waterfront, Seaport Village is a charming 14-acre complex that harmoniously blends the vintage allure of a coastal marketplace with the city’s vibrant culture. Founded in 1980, this waterfront shopping and dining hub takes its cues from San Diego’s rich maritime history, providing visitors with an eclectic mix of heritage, cuisine, retail therapy, and amusement. 

Making the list of the top “Things To Do in Downtown San Diego,” a visit to Seaport Village is an enchanting journey not to be missed.

Walking along the winding pathways of Seaport Village, you can’t help but be transported back in time. The village’s architecture mirrors the charm of an old harbor town, with cobblestone streets and rustic wood-framed storefronts paying homage to San Diego’s past as a bustling seaport. This quaint aesthetic is a delightful contrast to the modern San Diego skyline that serves as its backdrop.

But, history is not the only allure of Seaport Village. The complex boasts over 50 unique shops, ranging from local boutiques offering San Diego-themed souvenirs to art galleries showcasing the works of local artists. Your culinary journey could span the globe in one afternoon with the variety of dining options available, from traditional American cuisine to international delicacies. The village is also home to several outdoor performers and musicians, adding a lively beat to your stroll through the shopping complex.

Including Seaport Village in your San Diego itinerary offers more than just a shopping experience. Taking a trip to San Diego is like opening a vivid book of the city’s past, savoring the distinct tastes that define its culinary scene, and plunging headfirst into the pulsating rhythms of its local culture. Its distinctive character and charm make it a must-see for any visitor seeking to explore the heart and soul of the city beyond the typical tourist attractions.

Things To Do at Seaport Village

Venturing into Seaport Village, you are welcomed by a myriad of sights, sounds, and experiences that beckon you to explore further. One key attraction is the historic Looff Carousel, a merry-go-round dating back to 1895 that adds a touch of nostalgia to your trip. For those with an interest in intricate puzzles and brain teasers, the Upstart Crow Bookstore and Coffeehouse stands ready with an array of unique puzzles and quality books. Take a moment to enjoy a hot cup of coffee while browsing through the vast selection of literature.

The heart of Seaport Village lies in its shopping scene. From the eclectic collection of kites and wind chimes at Kite Flite to the unique handmade pieces at San Diego Surf Co, visitors are offered an array of shopping experiences. For art aficionados, the Wyland Galleries showcase marine life paintings and sculptures by renowned artist Wyland, an experience that is a feast for the eyes.

Foodies will delight in the dining selection at Seaport Village. The Harbor House offers fresh seafood dishes and a panoramic view of the bay, while Eddie V’s Prime Seafood serves up prime steaks and world-class wine with live jazz in the V lounge. For dessert, a stop at Ben & Jerry’s or Seaport Cookie Company for freshly baked cookies is a must.

As the sun dips below the horizon, Seaport Village stirs into a lively scene of local musicians and artists. Their performances echo throughout every nook and cranny, infusing your visit with an intoxicating rhythm and energy. The weekends often see special events like open-air movies and live concerts at the East Plaza Gazebo contributing to the lively atmosphere.

Visiting Seaport Village isn’t just about the shopping or dining; it’s about immersing yourself in the culture of San Diego, the history, and the unique coastal charm that it has to offer.

Little Italy

Little Italy

Little Italy stands as a shining beacon of San Diego’s multicultural legacy, brimming with the authentic charm of Italy amid the city’s urban pulse. This bustling neighborhood masterfully intertwines the allure of the Old World with San Diego’s contemporary spirit, offering a flavorful slice of Italy right at the city’s core. This quaint area is one of the most dynamic food and art scenes in San Diego, with its authentic Italian restaurants, artisan shops, and frequent cultural festivals. 

Dating back to the 1920s, Little Italy was home to the city’s flourishing tuna fishing industry, predominantly controlled by Italian families who brought their cultural heritage to the shores of San Diego.

Encapsulating the spirit of the old country, the community is adorned with colorful murals, the aroma of freshly baked bread, and the melodic lilt of Italian conversations. It’s easy to lose yourself in the charm of the piazza-style courtyards and the street-side cafes, reminiscent of a traditional Italian town.

Integrating a visit to Little Italy into your itinerary is a crucial part of the “Things To Do in Downtown San Diego.” This district offers more than just tantalizing cuisine and an intriguing art scene; it allows you to delve into a strong communal atmosphere, steeped in history and the influences of Italian-American heritage. Little Italy’s distinctiveness lies in its unique fusion of history, culture, and charm, making it an essential stop when journeying through San Diego.

Things To Do in Little Italy

From the moment you set foot in Little Italy, the lively spirit of the place is unmistakable and instantly engaging. The neighborhood is bustling with activity, from the lively farmers market every Saturday, known as the Mercato, to the charmingly lit Piazza della Famiglia — a European-style piazza that serves as the community’s social hub. Here you can enjoy a freshly brewed coffee while witnessing the neighborhood come to life.

Art lovers must not miss the Kettner Art Walk, which takes place on the second Saturday of each month. In this event, local artists open their studios to the public, providing an intimate look at their creative process. Street murals, particularly the vivid “Gesso Italiano” or the iconic “Little Italy Landmark” sign, are another testament to the neighborhood’s flourishing art scene.

India Street, the main thoroughfare, is lined with authentic Italian restaurants like Filippi’s Pizza Grotto and upscale eateries such as Born & Raised, offering an exquisite culinary journey that traverses pizza, pasta, gelato, and beyond. Don’t forget to visit Mona Lisa Italian Foods, a family-owned deli and market offering imported Italian goods, local wines, and delicious sandwiches.

For a touch of greenery, head to Amici Park, where you can enjoy a picnic or catch a boccie ball game. Additionally, make sure to explore the Firefighters Museum, a tribute to the brave firefighters who have served the community.

New Children’s Museum

New Children’s Museum

The New Children’s Museum in San Diego is a dynamic and interactive space designed to inspire children and families to think, play, and create. The museum, established in 1983, has a history of providing exciting, immersive experiences that merge art, education, and community engagement. This museum’s uniqueness lies in its ever-changing exhibits and programs, encouraging children to engage with contemporary art in ways that are meaningful and fun.

By including the New Children’s Museum in your San Diego trip, you not only provide an enriching experience for your children but you also support an institution that fosters creativity, critical thinking, and an appreciation for art from a young age. The museum’s innovative approach to children’s learning through tactile and interactive experiences makes it a highlight in any San Diego visit. Whether it’s climbing through the “Whammock!” exhibit, creating their own masterpiece in the clay studio, or attending one of the daily programs, your children will leave the museum with a lasting memory and a sparked curiosity.

This unique institution lends a colorful dimension to the city’s character, stimulating creativity and inspiring minds of all ages. Including it in your trip plan offers your family a meaningful and enjoyable experience that goes beyond the traditional museum visit. It’s about making art accessible, engaging, and exciting for everyone, regardless of age.

Things To Do at the New Children’s Museum

Upon entering the New Children’s Museum, you’re immediately greeted by the grandeur of its three-story atrium. The centerpiece, a massive climber called “Whammock!,” invites children to navigate through a netted interactive maze suspended from the ceiling, providing an exciting and physical adventure.

Next, explore the “Rain House” installation, where children can learn about the importance of water conservation in an imaginative and tactile way. The “Sketch Aquarium” is an exhibit you simply can’t miss. Here, children’s imaginations are given a unique platform as they craft their own sea creatures. They then witness the magic of their creations springing to life in an electrifying digitized aquarium spectacle.

For budding sculptors, the clay studio offers an opportunity to mold their own clay creations under the guidance of trained artists. The outdoor garden, meanwhile, is an excellent space for kids to engage with nature and learn about sustainable gardening practices.

While visiting, don’t miss the museum’s varied schedule of daily programs. These range from hands-on workshops, interactive performances, and innovative art-making experiences that are included with admission. Studio projects change regularly to provide fresh, new ways to engage with art.

Finally, head over to the museum’s on-site cafe, Bean Sprouts, for some healthy and creative kid-friendly meals to refuel after a day of exploration.

Visiting the New Children’s Museum in San Diego is more than just a day out, it’s an opportunity for children to interact with art in a meaningful way, nurturing their creativity and broadening their understanding of the world.

Take a San Diego Seals Tour and an Old Town Trolley Tour

San Diego SEAL Tour vehicle in the water

San Diego SEAL Tours

This popular adventure offers visitors a one-of-a-kind opportunity to view San Diego’s best sights in a whole new way! This distinctive Hydra-Terra vehicle is road-ready and seaworthy all at once, with an open-air cabin that offers you panoramic views of San Diego. The Embarcadero, USS Midway, the Star of India, and the breathtaking panorama of the city from the safety of the relaxing waters of San Diego Bay are all on the agenda. And, of course, there’s always a chance you’ll encounter some cute, rotund sea lions sunbathing without a care in the world. This is a whole different level from your average bus tour. This tour is a great thing to do in Downtown San Diego.

Old Town Trolley in front of star of india

Old Town Trolley Tours

Old Town Trolley Tours offers a charming historic voyage through the heart of San Diego, showcasing all the city’s iconic landmarks. This hop-on, hop-off tour is the perfect way to explore the city at your own pace, with the freedom to pause at various points of interest. The trolley winds its way through Old Town, the birthplace of California, where you’ll see preserved historic buildings and learn about the city’s early days. Be sure to spend some time at the Old Town State Historic Park, home to a collection of 19th-century homes and businesses. The tour also covers the Gaslamp Quarter, Balboa Park, and the Maritime Museum, among other attractions. The knowledgeable guides provide entertaining narratives packed with historical facts and trivia, making the tour both fun and informative. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the architectural beauty of the city and the culture of San Diego.


What are some popular attractions in Downtown San Diego?

Downtown San Diego is teeming with attractions, including the MCASD, offering an expansive collection of modern and contemporary art. A San Diego SEAL Tour provides an exciting marine wildlife experience, while an Old Town Trolley Tour provides a charming historical journey through the city’s iconic landmarks. Don’t miss the bustling Seaport Village for shopping and dining by the waterfront.

Are there any family-friendly activities in Downtown San Diego?

Downtown San Diego offers several family-friendly activities. The New Children’s Museum encourages creativity and learning through interactive exhibits. A visit to the San Diego Zoo is a must, renowned for its diverse collection of animals. The USS Midway Museum provides an insightful look into naval history, and Balboa Park, with its many museums, gardens, and the renowned Old Globe Theatre, promises a fun-filled day for the whole family.

Are there any art and cultural experiences in Downtown San Diego?

Yes, Downtown San Diego is rich in art and cultural experiences. The MCASD offers an immersive journey into modern and contemporary art.

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