San Diego is hands down one of my favorite vacation destinations to take the kids.
The San Diego skies are blue and sunny, and the temperature is perfect.
Additionally, the ocean views are incredible!
Finally, you cannot forget all the amazing attractions and beaches to take the kids!
If you have never been to San Diego, it can be a bit daunting deciding what you want to do especially if you are limited on time.
This is why I created this San Diego 4-day itinerary for you!
Where to stay in San Diego?
Our favorite place to stay in San Diego is the The Homewood Suites San Diego Airport-Liberty Station.
We love the Homewood Suites specifically because it has large suites that fit our family of six, but I would recommend ANY hotel in the Liberty Station area.
One of the many great things about Liberty Station is its proximity to the airport. It is just over a mile from the airport to Liberty Station.
The other thing I LOVE about staying at Liberty Station is that it is walkable to many shops and restaurants. It also has a great bike trail along the water and a sprawling grassy area to play.
The first day will be your arrival day and because you are probably flying in from somewhere east of San Diego, most likely you will arrive in the morning or early afternoon.
Once you get your rental car and settle into your hotel, you will be ready to do some exploring.
On this first day, I would recommend heading to Balboa Park.
Balboa Park is a great place to start your San Diego vacation. You can mosey around and explore the gorgeous grounds as well as head into a museum or two.
For kids, I would suggest the Model Railroad Museum, Fleet Science Center, or San Diego Air and Space Museum.
The San Diego Zoo is part of Balboa Park, but I would recommend saving another day for the zoo.
Besides the museums, you will want to check out some of the iconic sights at Balboa Park including the Cabrillo Bridge, California Tower, Spreckels Organ Pavilion, the lily pond in front of the Botanical Building, and the fountain near Fleet Science Center. These are all fantastic photo opportunities as well!
I would recommend entering Balboa Park via El Prado. This will take you across the Cabrillo Bridge and by the California Tower. It is just a more grandiose entrance to Balboa Park.
After Balboa Park, I would recommend heading to Old Town San Diego for dinner. This is just an eight minute drive from Balboa Park. I like Barra Barra Saloon which is Mexican Cuisine. There are many other options in Old Town as well!
Following dinner, you could explore Old Town San Diego a bit or head back to your hotel and enjoy a relaxing evening there.
If you are looking for a good sunset, drive to the Sunset Cliffs which is about a fifteen minute drive from Old Town.
On day two, you could spend a good part of your day doing an Old Town Trolley Tour to really give yourself a great overview of the area.
I recommend the 1-day Trolley Hop On Hop Off tour. This tour allows you to get off the trolley and spend a little more time at any of the stops, and then hop back on when you are ready.
Typically, the trolleys come to each stop about every 30 minutes.
The trolley has 11 stops and travels 25 miles around San Diego including over the Coronado Bridge to Coronado.
Old Town Trolley Tours also has a SEAL Tour which is super fun for the kids. The SEAL Tour utilizes an amphibious vehicle meaning it is both bus and boat. This tour is unique in that it is part land tour and part water tour.
The SEAL Tour is 100 minutes long so if you just do the SEAL Tour, you will have extra time to do something else on this day.
Note: The SEAL Tour departs from Seaport Village. You will want to buy your tickets ahead of time for the SEAL Tour as you need a reservation for it. I also suggest buying tickets ahead of time for the Hop On and Hop Off Tour.
The Hop On Hop Off Tour can be accessed from a few different places including both Old Town and Seaport Village stops. Personally, I enjoy departing from Seaport Village as it is right on the bay as well as a great place to grab a bite to eat and walk around after your tour.
We have done both the 1-Day Hop On Hop Off and SEAL tours with our children, and both are great! The decision as to what tour to do really depends on how much time you want to spend on the tour and what you want to see.
After the trolley tour, you could grab a bite to eat at Seaport Village. There are many great restaurants and quick eats here as well as shops to check out.
One restaurant I recommend is the Edgewater Grill. The Edgewater Grill has an amazing view of the bay.
Another more casual recommendation for your family is Mr. Moto Pizza.
If you have time to fit in something else besides the trolley tour, I have a few suggestions.
One, you could do the USS Midway tour. Make sure you check the schedule though to ensure you have enough time to visit it. This ship is amazing and the kids will love it! You will definitely want at least 2 hours here.
Another option would be to drive over to Coronado and wander along the beach there and see the Coronado Hotel.
A third option would be to head over to Point Loma and see the Cabrillo National Monument. This is only open until 5pm everyday so again be mindful of your time.
If you decide you do not want to do any of the Old Town Trolley Tours, here is option 2 for your second day in San Diego.
First, I would plan to be at Point Loma and the Cabrillo National Monument by opening at 9am. The views here are so breathtaking.
You can view the monument, check out the visitor center and museum, see the Point Loma Lighthouse, and walk on the trails overlooking the bay.
I would plan 1-2 hours here.
Next, head to the USS Midway aircraft carrier. The kids will love seeing all of the aircraft and learning what it was like to actually live and work on this ship.
The USS Midway can take about 2-3 hours.
After the USS Midway you can spend some more time on the Embarcadero, and then head over to Seaport Village for a late lunch or early dinner.
As I mentioned before there are many great restaurants at Seaport Village. Additionally, the Gaslamp Quarter which is about a mile away has some great shops and restaurants too!
If you are looking for something to do in the evening, you could head over to Coronado to watch the sunset if you haven’t already.
As soon as you get going in the morning, if you are interested in exploring the San Diego Zoo, I would put this as your priority for the day.
The zoo can get very busy so it is best to get there early. When you get to the zoo, you may want to do the bus tour right away or make sure you print out a map ahead of time to plan your zoo route for the day.
The zoo can take anywhere from a half day to most of the entire day.
For dinner, plan to check out one of the great restaurants in the Liberty Station area. My San Diego Family Vacation post details some of my favorites. The Corvette Diner is especially fun for kids.
In case you are looking for another great place to view a sunset or do an evening walk along the beach, you could drive to Ocean Beach Pier. This is about a 13 minute drive from Liberty Station.
If going to the zoo isn’t on your San Diego bucket list, some other options of things to do on day three include SeaWorld or spending the afternoon at one of the many beaches in the San Diego area.
Additionally, this would be a great day to do any of the attractions listed above that you didn’t get to see yet or wanted to spend some more time exploring.
Day four may be your day of departure. If your departure isn’t until later in the day, I would recommend spending the morning at La Jolla.
La Jolla is about a 20 minute drive.
At La Jolla, you can see the seals and go into the Sunny Jim Sea Cave. This sea cave does have an admission cost but only takes about 15 minutes to do. I recommend it!
If you have time for lunch, La Jolla has some great lunch spots downtown as well!
San Diego 4-Day Itinerary Recap
Day 1: Arrival, hotel check in, Balboa Park, dinner at Old Town San Diego, Sunset Cliffs
Day 2: Option 1– Trolley tour, eat at Seaport Village, optional add-ons: USS Midway, Coronado Beach, or Point Loma OR Option 2 – Cabrillo National Monument at Point Loma, USS Midway, Embarcadero and Seaport Village with dinner at Seaport Village or the Gaslamp Quarter, watch the sunset at Coronado
Day 3: San Diego Zoo with dinner at Liberty Station OR do SeaWorld or a local beach, end the evening with a sunset walk on Ocean Beach Pier
Day 4: La Jolla
I hope this San Diego 4-Day itinerary helps guide you as you plan your San Diego vacation.
Each day can be flexible and modified to fit your family’s needs. This is simply a guide for how you can spend your days in San Diego. The most important thing to remember is to savor the moments and memories each day with your family.
Check out my post San Diego Family Vacation for additional details on attractions and restaurants.
SAVE and PIN this post as a guide for your San Diego vacation. May you love your adventure! KW