Downtown San Diego is a lively urban hustle in the heart of the sprawling California city. From the historic Gaslamp Quarter to the waterfront of San Diego Bay, Downtown is a suburb with everything you need to keep you entertained 24 hours a day.
Take in the views from a vintage trolley ride, eat fresh seafood by the marina, or spend the night partying at DT San Diego’s sophisticated bars and clubs. Investigate maritime history, watch contemporary art or watch a play at the theatre. Whatever your interests, downtown San Diego won’t disappoint and, it has to be said, is multicultural.
Make sure you don’t miss a thing and add these 15 best things to do in downtown San Diego to your must-do list. have fun!
1. Tram Tour
Hop on a cheerful trolley at Petco Park or among the bright, green, and orange trolleys that stop in downtown San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter and tour the streets in style. During this long loop tour, you can get off at any time, explore the different downtown areas or any other stop, and then when you’re ready to move – hop on again.
Taking the trolleybus is a great way to locate and find out where all the exciting things to do in downtown San Diego are. You’ll also get some fantastic views of the Pacific Ocean as the tram route follows Harbour Drive past the Embarcadero to Harbour Village.
All in the car, and when the trolley sets off, the driver tells the history of the area you’re passing through. Don’t forget your camera.
Suggested Tour: Old Town San Diego: Hop-On Hop-Off Interpretive Tour
2. Altitude Sky Lounge
The Altitude Sky Lounge, the rooftop bar at the Marriott Gaslamp Quarter, has a view of the entire city center. The bar is located on the 22nd floor with incredible city views.
Sip a drink on the glass-walled balcony overlooking the pedestrians below, overlooking Petco Stadium or simply soak up the views of the bay.
Get there when the Sky Lounge opens in the late afternoon, and when dusk sets in, you can see the buildings lit up in downtown San Diego. If the air is cold at night, move to one of the fire pits and warm up next to the flickering flames.
3. Maritime Museum
Embark on a fascinating exhibition of antique ships at the Maritime Museum of San Diego. The fully restored vessel collection dates from the mid-1800s to the modern day, including a fully functional replica of a 1542 Spanish galleon.
You might recognize the tall ship HMS Surprise from the popular Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but don’t expect to see Johnny Depp take the springboard.
The oldest ship on display is the Star of India, which competes with the museum’s two submarines for attention. Together, they offer interesting insights into the historical life of the waves.
Book Online: San Diego Maritime Museum Tickets
4. Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar
Downtown San Diego’s coastal location is the perfect place to enjoy fresh seafood. Ironside Fish and Oyster Bar is a modern restaurant with a retro atmosphere serving incredible dishes.
Sip on raw oysters, followed by some grouper ceviche or red snapper made to order. Octopus with sausage, clam chowder or crab cakes, and if it’s too much, grab a bucket of peels and eat shrimp.
Ironside Fish and Oyster Bar is seafood heaven, but watch out for the divine mixed seafood platter, which is more than enough for four very hungry diners. These are the exact words you will say when you receive your bill.
5. Harbour Village
Get some serious shopping therapy while enjoying waterfront views at Seaport Village, a mall in downtown San Diego. Wear comfortable shoes. There are over 14 acres of shops, boutiques, galleries and restaurants to hang out.
Browse stores that sell everything from American flags to home nautical decor to bags and accessories that glow when exposed to the sun. There is a Harley-Davidson store and a kite shop where you can fly a kite before buying.
After shopping, until you’re ready to get out of the car, sit back and enjoy a glass of wine in the San Pascual tasting room. Alternatively, eat Greek food at the Greek Islands Cafe or enjoy a delicious fish dish on the Bay Terrace at the Marion Fish Market.
6. Balboa Theater
Housed in a historic 1820s dome on Fourth Avenue in downtown San Diego, the Balboa Theater is impressive inside and out. The interiors are luxurious, from the domed ceiling in the foyer to the figurines in the niches on either side of the stage.
The theater can accommodate more than 1,300 spectators. It was originally used to make vaudeville shows, but now theaters offer a wide variety of live performances, from comedy to long-running The Sound of Music.
7. Museum of Contemporary Art
The Museum of Contemporary Art on Kettering Avenue or downtown MCASD has a large collection of art dating back to the 1950s.
Step through the doors and into the 30,000-square-foot exhibition space, expect some thought-provoking pieces to catch your eye. Vibrant, colorful sculpture, painting, photography, and many other forms of media.
MCASD usually has two centers, but the main MCASD museum, La Jolla, is temporarily closed for renovation and expansion work. If you’re visiting downtown San Diego, check out their website for news of the grand opening.
INCLUDED IN: San Diego Go City All-Inclusive Pass
8. Petco Park
Watch the home game of the San Diego Padres baseball team at Petco Park. The massive stadium seats more than 40,000 people and has seen some record-breaking games on its grounds.
Spectators can not only watch the game, but also get a great view of downtown San Diego or San Diego Bay, depending on the seat.
In addition to Major League Baseball, Petco Park is used as an event venue for other sports and concerts, and has restaurants and bars spread across its six floors.
Book Online: Petco Park Stadium Tour
9. Room Escape
If you don’t want to be fooled by puzzles and mysteries, you’ll love the Enigma Escape Room on Front Street in downtown San Diego. These are definitely different compared to other escape rooms.
Enigma Rooms is equipped with enough advanced technology to confuse your brain as you try to solve a story-based problem.
Your mission will be to help the Enigma Organization prevent the Underground Labyrinth Group from stealing their collection of priceless and irreplaceable magical artifacts.
10. Gaslamp Quarter
The Gaslamp Quarter is the social hub of downtown San Diego. It’s a neighborhood packed with bars, clubs, restaurants, and an amazing overnight dive or two.
The Gaslamp Quarter spans over 38 acres, the equivalent of 16 blocks of large entertainment venues. At first glance, the area appears to be stuck in the Victorian era and classified as a Historic District, but the nightlife in the area is up to date.
There are too many bars and restaurants to mention, so to get an idea of how to party in downtown San Diego, you just have to go there and find out for yourself.
Tour: Gaslamp Segway Tour from San Diego
11. USS Midway Museum
The USS Midway is an aircraft carrier that has been turned into a museum and is now permanently docked in downtown San Diego. Until you get close to it, it’s hard to imagine its enormous size and how many planes, people and equipment it can carry.
Explore the carrier from the engine room to the bridge, through the crew quarters and galleys, and set off on the flight deck. The carrier has thirty planes and several helicopters, some of which you can even get into the cockpit.
There are interactive displays, a multimedia theater and a flight simulator on board, where you can virtually try to fly the plane as it takes off from the cockpit. This is fantastic!
Skip the Line: USS Midway Museum Admission Ticket
12. Seaside Park
If sightseeing in downtown San Diego overheats you, head to Seaside Park on the Pacific Highway and you’ll cool off in no time.
Facing San Diego Bay, the park features garden terraces, play and picnic areas, and the biggest attraction, interactive fountains where you can swim and splash.
Waterfront Park also hosts regular outdoor events, including a weekly farmers market and festivals.
13. Mission Brewery
Mission Brewery started craft beer more than a century ago. Restricted by prohibition, it collapsed and was resurrected a few years later.
Take a tour of the facility on L Street in DT San Diego and learn why this microbrewery has won numerous awards for its beers and was voted the best brewery in San Diego County.
Take a tour of the brewery, then stop for a sample in the tasting room and get an insider’s look at what you’re drinking from an in-house beer ambassador.
14. Fogo de Chao
While seafood seems to be the go-to menu item in downtown San Diego, there are places where you can also get great steak. Located on 6th Avenue in the Gaslamp Quarter, Fogo de Chão is a Brazilian steakhouse that originated with churrasqueiro or traditional Brazilian barbecue.
Indulge in some salt-rubbed beef ribs and slow roast for hours or picanha, which is a thinly sliced prime brisket. It can be hard to choose between fire-roasted chicken, marinated ribs or lamb chops.
The chefs at Fogo de Chão have turned grilling into an art.
15. Omnia Nightclub
Show off your social presence at Omnia nightclub on Sixth Avenue in the Gaslamp Quarter. This lively upscale venue is one of DT San Diego’s party spots.
The club has a rooftop terrace where you can dine or have a relaxing drink and watch the sunset before night falls. Jump on the dance floor under the strobe lights and dance until dawn.
Omnia isn’t just a nightclub, like all places in downtown San Diego – it’s an experience.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in San Diego, CA, CA
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