They don’t call San Diego “America’s Finest City” for no reason. From the beach to the city, to the hills, San Diego is the perfect location for your next girls’ getaway. Read on for our complete guide covering where to stay and what to do during your time in the city.
Over the years, I’ve spent more long weekends in San Diego than I can count. I’ve visited family and friends; celebrated birthdays, Mother’s Days, and special occasions; attended conferences; run a half-marathon; and celebrated my bachelorette party. You name it, I’ve done it.
I’ve stayed downtown, on the beach, and up the coast. I’ve visited as a meat-eater, pescatarian, and vegetarian. Through the years, I’ve racked up countless San Diego memories and have experienced both the tourist spots and the local favorites. And each time, I discover something new that makes me fall in love with the city all over again. Outdoor activities. Breweries. Wineries. Museums. Beaches. Gastronomy. Culture. There is something for everyone in San Diego, making it one of my favorite destinations to visit with groups.
Getting there + around
Getting to San Diego is a traveler’s dream – especially if you are only staying for a short while. Once you land at the airport, grab an Uber, and in less than 20 minutes you can be enjoying cocktails on a swanky rooftop downtown, or have your toes in the sand at one of the city’s many beaches. When you only have a handful of days to soak in a destination, who wants to spend hours getting to and from an airport? Not me!
Although the city lacks great public transportation options (welcome to SoCal), I’ve always found getting around the city is a breeze. Uber and Lyft are readily accessible with decent fares throughout the entire San Diego County (basically, as far north as Oceanside). If you want a little more independence or flexibility, renting a car can be a good idea – especially if you want to explore some of the more remote beaches, hiking trails, and communities.
Where to stay
San Diego County is home to countless unique and thriving communities, each with its own identity and vibe. When choosing your home base for your girls’ getaway, it’s important to select a neighborhood that will cater to the type of trip your crew is after.
This is where the action is at my friends! Smack dab in the middle of downtown, the Gaslamp Quarter provides street after street filled with some of the best restaurants and bars in San Diego. If you’re looking to be close to the party, this is the neighborhood for you. You’ll find all the mainstay hotels here – Intercontinental, Kimpton, Marriot, Hilton. My favorite is the Marriot Marquis. It offers one of the best resort-style pools you’ll find in the city, as well as killer views of Coronado Island and the entire San Diego Bay. If you’re looking for luxury and glam, check out The US Grant, an iconic hotel steeped in history.
Fair warning, though: staying in and going out in the Gaslamp Quarter can get pricey night after night. And, what the neighborhood provides in terms of nightlife, it lacks in charm and warmth.
Stay here if: you want to party and be in the heart of the action.
Ah, Little Italy. The first time I visited this neighborhood, it stole my heart. Located about a mile north of the Gaslamp Quarter, this neighborhood offers more charm and character than you’ll find in the heart of the downtown.
The neighborhood is more than just the city’s home for delicious, homemade Italian food. It is also home to a killer farmer’s market on Saturday mornings, a diverse restaurant scene, countless cafes, inspiring art galleries, and my favorite of the San Diego breweries – Ballast Point.
Stay here if: you want your taste buds satisfied with every meal.
Mission Beach & Pacific Beach
Continuing north from Little Italy are the beach communities of Mission Beach and Pacific Beach. Mission Beach is home to Belmont Park, a beachfront amusement park that is home to the Giant Dipper, a wooden roller coaster that was built in 1925. From Mission Beach, it’s a 30-minute walk along the boardwalk to reach Pacific Beach. With a bit more to offer in terms of restaurants and nightlife, Pacific Beach is my top recommendation for your girls’ getaway. It offers a laidback, classic California vibe, local eateries and cocktail bars to keep you satisfied, and rental options to comfortably accommodate all of your friends.
My girlfriend’s and I celebrated my bachelorette weekend in Pacific Beach. We rented this Airbnb, right off the main street (Garnet) and just three blocks from the beach. It was seriously perfect for a crew of 10 – plenty of space, a killer rooftop deck, and all the action we needed at our doorstep.
Stay here if: you want to be close to the action AND steps from the beach.
Continuing north from Pacific Beach is La Jolla. Known for its family-friendly atmosphere and upscale amenities, La Jolla is a great option if you’re hoping for some peace and relaxation on your girls’ getaway. La Jolla is also as far north as I would recommend staying if you want to explore the more central sites in San Diego. Similar to Pacific Beach, there are a ton of Airbnb options, like this one, that provide a little luxury and a lot of space for your group to enjoy.
Stay here if: you want to enjoy the finer things in life (who doesn’t?!) with a little peace and quiet.
Coronado is a picturesque resort community located across the bay from downtown San Diego. It is technically a peninsula (it connects back to the mainland further south near Imperial Beach) and, until the San Diego – Coronado Bridge opened to the public in 1969, the only way to reach the island was by ferry or boat. Today, you can reach Coronado in 15 minutes by either car or ferry from downtown San Diego.
Coronado is home to the Hotel Del Coronado, a historic beachfront hotel (it was built in 1888!) with an unmistakable, red-roof rotunda that is known the world over. Fun fact: my grandmother was a waitress in the Crown Room at the Hotel Del Coronado during World War II! If luxury is what you’re after, you’ve found your spot in the Del.
But it’s certainly not the only choice for accommodation on the island. A more budget-friendly option is the Marriott, located on the bay with fantastic views of the San Diego skyline. Or, check out the Hotel Marisol Coronado for a boutique hotel experience in the center of town.
Stay here if: you want to feel like you live in a little slice of paradise, if only for the weekend.
See + do
Hit the beach (duh!)
You can’t come to San Diego without having a classic California beach day. Round up the girls, pack your sunscreen and beach hat, and head to one of these beaches for a day of fun in the sun.
This is my favorite beach in San Diego, hands down. It is constantly ranked as one of the top 25 beaches in the United States, and for good reason. Wide, white sandy beach. Gentle waves. And a postcard view of Point Loma. It truly doesn’t get better.
Pro tip: if spending the night at Hotel Del Coronado is out of your price range, don’t despair! For just $30 a day, you can rent a beach chair, umbrella, and have access to some delicious food and beverage from the hotel. This might be the best $30 I spend while vacationing in San Diego.
Mission Beach and Pacific Beach
These are both great beach day options as well. Especially if you want to bar hop and people watch with your girls. The boardwalk between the two stretches nearly two miles and is dotted with beachfront bars and restaurants the entire way. Start in Mission Beach and if you’re feeling brave, take a ride on the Giant Dipper rollercoaster before making your way north. At Pacific Beach, be sure to take a walk on the pier and admire the historic beach cottages.
La Jolla Shores
Further north, this beach has a more relaxed atmosphere compared to Mission Beach and Pacific Beach and is the perfect spot to kayak or learn to surf. Bring a picnic, umbrella, speaker, and enjoy a relaxing day in the sun.
San Diego is consistently rated in the top five of the most healthy and active cities in America. With nearly perfect weather year-round, it’s easy to see why. From the ocean to the mountains, a girls’ getaway to San Diego would be incomplete without a little physical exercise to balance out all those fish tacos and craft beer (we’ll get to those later…).
If sea kayaking is of interest, you can’t miss kayaking through the La Jolla caves. We spent a morning with Everyday California as they took us on a tour of the La Jolla Ecological Reserve and the seven sea caves. Navigating through the caves was exhilarating, and you also have the chance to get up close and personal with the famous La Jolla sea lions, sunbathing on the rocks in front of you.
San Diego has no shortage of hiking options. From seaside cliffs to dense forest trails for all skill levels, there’s plenty of nature to explore on foot. My favorite is the Sunset Cliffs Trail located between Ocean Beach and Point Loma. It’s an easy two-mile trail with some of the best views of the California coastline.
San Diego is also incredibly bike-friendly. No matter where you decide to stay in the county, you won’t be far from a bike rental shop and excellent bike paths. If staying in Pacific or Mission Beach, take a ride along the boardwalk that connects the two. If staying in Coronado, be sure to check out the flat, straight path on the Silver Strand. And if staying in Gaslamp or Little Italy, cruise through Seaport Village and the marina paths.
Surfing and San Diego go hand-in-hand. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert surfer, the variety of San Diego’s coastline has something for every skill level. Check out Pacific Surf for private, semi-private, or group lessons. They have more than 1,200 five-star reviews on TripAdvisor, so it’s safe to say you’ll be in good hands.
Explore the sites
The options are endless when it comes to exploring San Diego. Below are my top destinations to consider adding to your girls’ getaway itinerary. Because you can’t drink mimosas and lay on the beach every day! (Or…can you…??)
Cabrillo National Monument
Located on the tip of Point Loma, Cabrillo National Monument offers the best view in all of San Diego. It commemorates the landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in San Diego in 1542 and is part of the National Park Service. From the lookout, you can see the U.S. Navy activity on North Island, watch planes land and take off from San Diego’s International Airport, and admire the beauty of the entire San Diego region. You can even see the iconic red roof of the Hotel Del Coronado from here! I suggest arriving early to avoid the crowds and tour buses, and to have the lookout all to yourself.
After admiring San Diego from afar, head north, to the other side of Point Loma, and spend some time at the Cabrillo Tide Pools. They are breathtaking.
You’ll notice this is the only San Diego activity I suggest that is not outside. And it’s on purpose: the USS Midway is just THAT good. Maybe it’s because my father was in the U.S. Navy and I’ve always wanted to understand more about life on board a naval ship. Or it could just be that the USS Midway does a fantastic job of making you feel like you’re experiencing history, not just seeing it through an exhibit or museum.
Either way, I recommend everyone visit the USS Midway at least once. I know, it might not seem like the most fun thing to do on a girls’ getaway, but at least keep it in your back pocket. Who knows, it might rain one day and this is the perfect rainy day activity.
Balboa Park isn’t your typical city park. It is the cultural hub of San Diego, housing more than 17 museums, a theater, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. You could spend days exploring all the park has to offer. If you have only a few hours, though, I recommend watching artisans create their masterpieces in the Spanish Village, learning about rare plant species in the botanical building, and grabbing an afternoon cocktail at Panama 66 in the San Diego Museum of Art.
Hit the water!
With a large group, chartering a private catamaran or sailboat for the day is more cost-effective than you might think. We used Sail Fun Cat for my bachelorette party, and could not recommend them enough for your girls’ getaway. The captain provided everything we needed and more and shared some fun facts and history as we sailed.
Catch a show at The Shell (summer)
I haven’t experienced the Shell yet. No one has, actually. It was scheduled to open for its first season in Summer 2020. But, spoiler alert, Covid-19 put a stop to that. Before the permanent Shell was built, the San Diego Symphony held a summer series called Symphony by the Bay. I saw Amos Lee perform with the talented symphony, and it was a night to remember. I can only imagine how fantastic an evening it will be once the Shell is open for visitors.
Watch the races (summer)
Headed to San Diego during summer? Head north to Del Mar and spend a day watching races at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. You can snag tickets for as little as $6, plus any money you wager on the races. I love watching the horses in the paddock before a race, putting a wager on the prettiest one, grabbing a beer, and hoping for the best!
Even better: visit the racetrack on a Friday, and stick around for the Friday Night Concert series, which is included in your admission ticket. In years past, performers have included Ziggy Marley, Chase Rice, and Ben Harper.
Eat + drink
Little Italy Mercato
If you’re in San Diego on a Saturday, do not miss the Little Italy Mercato. The neighborhood comes alive with street vendors, cafe lines spilling out into the street, the smell of delicious baked goods, and virbrant handmade crafts. You can pick up fresh produce to cook in your Airbnb, breakfast sandwiches to eat while shopping, kombucha, local coffee, fresh flowers – the list goes on. I’m a self-proclaimed market lover, and the Little Italy Mercato is one of my favorite in the world.
San Diego is the microbrewery capital of the country, with more than 150 active breweries. Insane! A few you must check out are Modern Times, Ballast Point, and Stone Brewery. All three produce fantastic and creative brews, and have exceptional tasting rooms.
If I had to choose, my favorite is Ballast Point. Their tasting room and garden in Little Italy is the best place to spend a low-key night with your girls. Snag a table or, even better, reserve a private cabana and enjoy a crisp San Diego night.
If you’re looking for the other type of brew, check out Better Buzz Coffee Roasters. They have locations throughout the city, including in Mission Beach and Pacific Beach. Their brew brew provides the perfect pick-me-up after a night out.
The restaurant scene in San Diego is…intense. I discover a new hot spot every time I visit, and my list of favorites keeps growing and growing…and growing. Eater San Diego is the foremost authority on the hottest, most up-and-coming restaurants in the city. Before any trip to San Diego, I always check out their most recent list of standout restaurants, and suggest you do the same.
Below are my go-to restaurants in San Diego. These are places I’ve dined at again and again and have always had great service and great food.
- Cucina Urbana: If I had to tell you the one restaurant you must go to while visiting San Diego, it’s this one. There’s nothing outlandish or over the top about it. They just serve up fantastic Italian food with a full wine shop inside. And it never disappoints.
- Civico 1845: In the heart of Little Italy, Civico’s menu focuses on fresh ingredients. It’s the one Italian restaurant I leave without feeling like I need a nap. If vegan is your thing, I come here specifically for their vegan lasagna.
- Crack Shack: This place is pure FUN. Come here for friend chicken and daytime drinks, and stay for the fun and games. Located in Little Italy, it’s always a party at Crack Shack.
- Blue Water Seafood: Come here if you want the best seafood in the city. The setup is simple (you place your order at the counter), and you really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. The line will be out the door around lunchtime, so go early if you can.
- Puesto: This is the spot in Seaport village for a modern take on classic Mexican dishes. No matter where I stay in the city, I always find a way to make it here for at least one meal.
Whether your girlfriends are party animals, luxury-seekers, adventure junkies, nature enthusiasts, or foodies, San Diego has it all covered. All you need to do is coordinate schedules and get your crew to San Diego stat –an unforgettable time on your next girls’ getaway is guaranteed.