Last Updated on August 6, 2023 by Goya
Everything You Need to Know Ahead of Your Solo Trip to San Diego
As you might have already seen on my Instagram, I had the pleasure of visiting San Diego earlier this month. While my free time there was rather limited (it was a work trip), I still managed to squeeze in some nice moments between meetings and lectures.
And honestly, it would be a crime not to take advantage of the sun shining 24/7 and temperatures of 20+ degrees Celsius in the middle of February… Oh, and of course, all the food!
With the city’s golden rays as my guide, I embarked on a personal quest to unearth its hidden treasures, indulging in its culinary symphony and immersing myself in its liberating embrace.
Join me as we embark on a virtual tour through this coastal paradise, discovering the top 10 solo attractions that San Diego has to offer — from iconic landmarks whispering tales of history to tantalizing dining experiences that ignite the taste buds, chart a course through charming stays, unveil the secrets of wanderlust-inducing day trips, and ultimately, unlock the art of savouring one’s own company amidst San Diego’s endless wonders.
This is your invitation to dive into “Solo Trip to San Diego” — a narrative of solitary exploration, flavoursome delights, and the sheer magic of embracing life, one solo adventure at a time.
Hope you enjoy it! ☀️
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Top 10 Things to Do Alone in San Diego
Wondering what to do in San Diego as a solo traveller?
San Diego, California is a vibrant city that offers a mix of beachy vibes, historic landmarks, and delicious cuisine. So, whether it’s relaxing on the beach, taking day trips, or trying out the best food, rest assured that the city has everything a solo (female) traveller could ask for.
#1: Explore the Historic Gaslamp Quarter
Stroll through this lively district, filled with Victorian-era architecture, eclectic boutiques, and vibrant nightlife.
Visiting the Gaslamp Quarter stands as a paramount experience for solo travellers exploring San Diego.
This historic district pulsates with electric energy, offering an enticing blend of entertainment, culture, and vibrant street life. As you wander its cobblestone streets, you’ll find yourself immersed in a captivating fusion of Victorian charm and modern allure.
The Gaslamp’s dynamic atmosphere ensures there’s always something happening, making it a haven for solo adventurers seeking both exploration and connection. From eclectic shops and lively bars to art galleries and live performances, every corner holds a new possibility for discovery.
No matter what time of the day, you are bound to find a nice meal and a cool spot to hang out in Gaslamp Quarter. But if you really want to see it in fool bloom, drop by at night time!
As you might have noticed, quite a few of my restaurant recommendations below are actually from this neighbourhood. That is because Gaslamp Quarter is truly the hub for nightlife and dining in San Diego… and because our hotel was in Downtown SD! 🙂
#2: Balboa Park
Immerse yourself in culture and nature with museums, gardens, and the renowned San Diego Zoo nestled within this urban oasis.
Balboa Park is a cultural oasis spanning over 1200 acres. Home to seventeen museums, the Spanish Village Art Center, a multitude of gardens and the famous San Diego Zoo, you can easily spend a whole day (or even a couple of days!) here.
Don’t have much time? Don’t worry, neither did I, but still managed to catch a live organ show at Spreckels Organ Pavilion, take a peek at the beautiful Japanese Friendship Garden, and check out the Lily Pond (sadly, the Botanical Garden behind it was closed at the time), and Spanish Village Art Center (a collective where you can see and join artists at work).
So it’s perfectly possible to just pay a short visit in a single afternoon!
#3: Wander Around Old Town San Diego
Transport yourself to the past as you explore this historic neighbourhood, brimming with adobe buildings, speciality shops, and cultural experiences.
Referred as “the birthplace of California”, this is the oldest neighbourhood in San Diego and the site of the first Spanish settlement in California.
Being an open-air museum with well-preserved buildings from the 1800s, as well as home to several shops and restaurants, it has quite a unique setup – which is well worth a visit!
If you can, try to visit Fiesta de Reyes, a shopping, dining and entertainment complex with 19 unique locally owned and independently operated speciality shops, two restaurants and a constant feel of party. You won’t regret it!
#4: Indulge in Retail Therapy at Seaport Village
Peruse an array of charming boutiques and eateries while taking in breathtaking harbour views.
This is probably where I spent most of my time in San Diego, as it was right next to the hotel where the conference took place.
At this sun-soaked, waterfront shopping and dining complex adjacent to San Diego Bay, you can:
- Grab a nice iced coffee from Spill The Beans Coffee and Bagels
- Check out the shops, each with a treasure trove of items, gifts and souvenirs
- Grab a deck chair and enjoy the street performers, or
- Relax by the koi pond.
#5: Discover the USS Midway Museum and Maritime Museum
Step aboard this iconic aircraft carrier turned museum, delving into naval history and aviation marvels.
Once at Seaport Village, you can follow the waterfront path all the way to San Diego’s most popular attractions: USS Midway Museum, Embracing Peace Statue, and Maritime Museum — A trio of wonders offering a glimpse into the rich history, profound symbolism, and awe-inspiring vessels that have shaped the region’s maritime legacy.
#6: Visit Coronado Island
Discover this charming island with historic architecture and beautiful shoreline.
Situated just across the bay from downtown San Diego, Coronado is a charming beach town that I can only describe as a dream within a dream!
From pristine beaches with crystal waters to a vibrant main street lined with quaint shops and restaurants, all only a short 15-minute drive over Coronado Bridge or a quick ferry ride away from the centre of San Diego, Coronado really has it all!
If you are short on time but want to make the most out of your visit, you can take a cab directly to Coronado Beach to enjoy the view, sun and breeze. Then when you’re ready, you can walk/bike past the sand dunes, to the famous Hotel del Coronado, then up Orange Avenue all the way to the Coronado Ferry Landing, where you can take the ferry back to Downtown.
As you take a stroll down Orange Avenue, don’t forget to grab an ice cream from MooTime Creamery and all your heart’s stationery and gift desires from Seaside Papery (their charcoal cactus soap ($14) was an instant win with Mister!).
Fun fact: Did you know that the San Diego sand dunes on Coronado beach spell out a hidden message?
#7: Embrace the Beauty of La Jolla Cove
Witness breathtaking ocean vistas, sunsets, and perhaps catch a glimpse of the resident seals at this picturesque coastal gem.
Just a short drive away, La Jolla offers stunning coastal scenery, pristine beaches, and the opportunity to explore the charming village with its galleries, boutiques, and marine life.
Don’t forget to check out the Sunny Jim Sea Cave, where you can step into history through the tunnel entrance and witness nature’s artistry as sunlight dances on cave walls.
#8: Hike the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Embark on scenic trails offering stunning ocean vistas and unique flora, a perfect escape into nature.
Nestled within San Diego, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve offers a stunning coastal escape just a short drive away. Solo travellers can immerse themselves in nature with scenic hikes along rugged cliffs, offering panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. Or simply reconnect with the great outdoors while relishing the tranquil beauty of this local gem.
The reserve’s diverse ecosystems, including rare Torrey pine trees, make it an ideal spot for birdwatching and nature photography.
#9: Catch a Sunset at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
Witness the sun’s descent over rugged cliffs and crashing waves at this serene and captivating spot.
Sunset Cliffs Natural Park stands as an idyllic haven for solo adventurers seeking a moment of contemplation and awe. As the sun paints the sky with hues of gold and orange, these dramatic cliffs provide a stunning backdrop to one of nature’s most breathtaking displays.
Wander along the winding paths, find a secluded spot to watch the waves crash against the rugged shore, and immerse yourself in the tranquillity of the Pacific Ocean.
#10: Sample Local Culinary Delights on a Food Tour
Embark on a gastronomic journey, savouring San Diego’s diverse flavours and culinary innovations.
Embark on a delectable adventure by indulging in a food tour that unveils the rich tapestry of San Diego’s culinary landscape. Whether you’re a solo traveller seeking a solo feast or a social explorer eager to mingle, a food tour is the perfect way to celebrate San Diego’s diverse gastronomic heritage:
- San Diego: Buffet, Brunch, and Cruise Tour
- San Diego: Little Italy Food Walking Tour with Tastings
- San Diego: Old Town Tales, Tacos, and Tequila Walking Tour
Where to Eat in San Diego?
Brunch in San Diego
Between sleepless nights due to jetlag and a conference starting at 7:30 AM every single day, it’s fair to say I didn’t really have much time for breakfast. Except for this one glorious Sunday morning, where I and one of my colleagues stumbled upon:
#1: Cafe 21 Gaslamp
Located in the famous Gaslamp Quarter, the heart and soul of downtown San Diego, this is a gorgeous space spread across two floors and an outside seating area. Their concept is “small” plates (which is essentially standard European portions :)) created using locally grown organic ingredients for a socially conscious, farm-to-table dining experience.
As we were told to order 3-4 plates for two, we went for their shrimp corncake, tomato + egg, turkey Benedict and tiramisu pancakes. They were all amazing, but in hindsight, three dishes for me and my rather petite colleague would probably have been more than enough.
Of these four dishes, my absolute must-try items would be shrimp corn cake and tiramisu pancakes. I still crave those pancakes to this very day! Honestly, they were a DREAM!
Their signature lattes, of which we tried “Peas of Mind” with lavender and “Midas Touch” with golden turmeric, were also delicious and worth a try by the way.
Although my visit to this restaurant wasn’t technically a solo escapade, its laid-back ambience exudes a welcoming atmosphere that would undoubtedly make it an ideal haunt for solo travellers seeking a relaxed brunch experience.
Lunch/Dinner in San Diego
Unlike breakfasts, these, I had a lot of!
Unfortunately, my camera roll isn’t as jam-packed as I’d like it to be. The practical side of me held back from becoming a stealthy photographer during meals with my US colleagues and external experts — you know, keeping it professional and all.
While some of these get-togethers weren’t exactly solo escapades, I couldn’t resist sharing some of these delectable moments with you anyway, making sure to pinpoint the ones that would make for awesome solo pit stops.
So, without further ado, here’s a peek into these mouthwatering memories that added a flavorful twist to my journey.
#1: Puesto at the Headquarters
The location of this restaurant — minutes away from the conference hotel — was the reason why we chose it for a quick lunch. But it was definitely their amazing food that made us go back later during the week, and it was their margaritas that made us stay until late!
Now, I have to be honest with you, when my colleague suggested we get the Fiesta Guac instead of the classic one, I thought to myself: “But why, why mess with a classic?”… But of course, then I did the British thing, donned my most professional look and calmly responded: “Sure, that sounds great!”
And you know what, I am glad I did! Turns out Fiesta Guacamole, which is regular guacamole mixed with roasted peppers, tahini and chilli oil, is AMAZING! 🥑
The restaurant’s chill vibe offers a perfect spot for solo travellers after a laid-back dining experience — particularly perfect as a lunch stop.
#2: Wicked Maine Lobster
I had made a promise to Mister that I would explore this particular spot during my time in San Diego, but the bustling week left me with no chance.
And so, with just an hour left before heading to the airport, I found myself indulging in a delightful “Maine Lobster Roll” at Little Italy Food Hall San Diego — my solo farewell to a culinary adventure.
Was it good? Oh yes, it was — and I know Americans will disagree with this statement — a good portion of lobster that came in a nice buttery bun and…. with the most perfect fries on the side. But was it mind-blowing? I would have to say: “Not really”.
I think the dish could use a little more oomph… So next time, I will definitely go for the more zingy “California Lobster Roll” which comes with bacon, lettuce, tomato, and avocado topped with homemade lemon garlic aioli sauce!
#3: Rustic Root
We visited Rustic Root for a quick drink before our dinner reservation elsewhere, but the weather was so nice, the service so delightful and the atmosphere so pleasant that we ended up staying a little longer for some rooftop apéro.
We had their delicious Rustic board (pictured below already devoured), firecracker shrimps with sriracha aioli, a selection of cocktails, as well as the award-winner Windansea Wheat by Karl Strauss, an unfiltered Bavarian hefeweizen with aromas of banana and clove with a bitter finish. All pure perfection!
Though not a strictly solo outing, the restaurant’s relaxed ambience creates an inviting haven for solo travellers looking to unwind over a leisurely meal. I can easily picture it as a delightful spot to grab a drink and savour some light bites alone, all while enjoying some satisfying people-watching on the side.
From Rustic Root, we moved to Saltwater at the end of the same street, where the setup and service were more formal. The food was delicious and the wine selection was extensive.
My choice for the night? A divine Maine Lobster Pasta, with homemade fettuccine and spicy marinara!
Unlike others on the list, this particular gem might lean towards being a tad too fancy or romantically inclined for solo dinner ventures — at least for me. I would perhaps recommend planning a future visit with a friend or a loved one to fully appreciate its charm.
Looking for fine oceanfront dining to take your San Diego getaway to the next level? Well, look no further… From amazing views across the bay to stellar modern Mexican food, this place has you covered!
We had some plates to share, so I went for a simple yet delicious Ahi Tuna Tostada as a main and two epic margaritas:
- What the Fig?! with mission fig & vanilla bean infused Herradura Blanco, Licor 43, lime juice, agave nectar and cinnamon sugar rim
- El Jefe, with Olmeca Altos Blanco, jalapeno, lime juice, agave nectar, habanero bitters and tajin rim
But I definitely intend to come back here with Mister to try their amazing raw bar with ceviche, oysters and chilled seafood tower — which I am told is truly a tower with six oysters, six bay shrimp, ceviche clasico, Acapulco ceviche, scallop aguachile, habanero mignonette, salsa cruda, and fire-roasted cocktail sauce.
Like Saltwater, this too might be a tad too formal to dine alone at, especially during nighttime. Nevertheless, you can explore its daytime charm (which is much more casual) or venture to some of the other welcoming eateries on Harbor Island.
On the List for the Next Time
As much as I longed to immerse myself in every corner of this vibrant city, time constraints sometimes had other plans.
So, consider this a prelude to the journey that continues beyond my steps — an invitation for you to venture where I haven’t yet tread, to savour the flavours I haven’t tasted, and to discover the places I’ve heard echoed with praise:
Other Recommended Bars and Restaurants in San Diego
- Ironside Fish & Oysters
- La Puerta
- Morning Glory
- Carruth Cellars Wine Garden
- Stone Brewing Tap Room – Kettner
- The Church by the Lost Abbey
- Casa Guadalajara
- George’s at the Cove
Perhaps you’ll try them for me?
San Diego Accommodations for Solo Travellers
Although I, regrettably, lack firsthand experience with these accommodations (due to staying at a business hotel), I’ve curated a list of top-tier options that have garnered resounding praise from the solo traveller community. From budget-friendly havens to indulgent retreats, prepare to immerse yourself in San Diego’s vibrant culture while resting your head in one of these highly acclaimed establishments:
- Budget: HI San Diego Downtown Hostel – Ideal for budget-conscious solo travellers, this downtown hostel offers affordable dormitory-style rooms, a social atmosphere, and a central location for easy exploration.
- Mid-Range: Hotel Z – Situated in the Gaslamp Quarter, Hotel Z offers modern comfort with a lively ambience. Solo travellers can enjoy stylish accommodations and convenient access to attractions.
- Luxury: Pendry San Diego – Situated in the heart of downtown San Diego, Pendry offers a luxurious urban escape for solo travellers. Experience upscale accommodations, chic design, and a vibrant social scene within walking distance of the city’s top attractions and entertainment.
Day Trips from San Diego
Just a short journey south of San Diego, Tijuana beckons solo travellers with its lively atmosphere and cross-cultural experiences.
Approximately 20 miles away, this Mexican border city offers a vibrant mix of markets, art galleries, and authentic street food, where you can stroll down Avenida Revolución to shop for souvenirs and crafts, savour delicious tacos and seafood, and immerse yourself in the local art scene.
Tijuana’s bustling energy and unique charm make it a day trip rich in cultural exploration.
Temecula Wine Country
A bit farther afield, around 60 miles north of San Diego, Temecula Wine Country beckons solo travellers with a taste for exploration and fine wine. This renowned wine region boasts over 40 wineries set amidst rolling vineyards.
Visitors can embark on a solo wine-tasting journey, savour award-winning varietals, and take in the picturesque views. Or, indulge in the region’s culinary delights and enjoy the opportunity to unwind and appreciate the finer things in life.
Heading eastward, approximately 60 miles from San Diego, lies Julian — a historic gold-mining town nestled in the Cuyamaca Mountains.
Solo travellers can embrace its small-town charm and indulge in freshly baked apple pies, a local speciality. Or explore quaint shops, discover Julian’s gold rush history at the Pioneer Museum and venture into the nearby Cuyamaca Rancho State Park for hiking and nature walks.
Julian’s rustic ambience and scenic landscapes create a perfect day trip for solitude seekers.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Approximately 85 miles northeast of San Diego, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park invites solo adventurers to experience the beauty of the desert landscape, where vast sand dunes, unique rock formations, and blooming wildflowers (seasonal) await exploration.
Solo adventures can hike the trails of Palm Canyon, discover ancient pictographs at Blair Valley, and marvel at the stark beauty of the Badlands.
Anza-Borrego offers a serene and mesmerizing retreat for those seeking a connection with nature.
Less than 90 miles up the coast, Laguna Beach provides a serene escape for solo travellers seeking coastal beauty and artistic inspiration. This charming seaside town boasts picturesque beaches, including the famous Main Beach, known for its tide pools and vibrant arts community.
Solo travellers can wander through art galleries, explore the Laguna Art Museum, or simply relax on the sandy shores. Laguna Beach’s natural beauty and creative spirit make it an ideal retreat for solo adventurers.
Best Day Trips from San Diego [Mapped]
FAQs: Solo Trip to San Diego
Is San Diego Safe for Solo Travellers?
San Diego is generally considered safe for solo travellers. Stick to well-populated areas, practice common-sense precautions, and you’ll likely enjoy a secure experience.
Is San Diego Safe for Solo Female Travellers?
San Diego is generally a safe destination for solo female travellers. However, it’s important to take precautions like staying aware of your surroundings and avoiding isolated areas at night.
What Is the Best Time of Year to Visit San Diego?
San Diego can be visited year-round due to its temperate climate. However, the summer months tend to be the busiest and most expensive.
What Are Some Must Solo Activities in San Diego?
Explore Balboa Park, stroll through Gaslamp Quarter, relax at La Jolla Cove, and discover maritime history at USS Midway Museum for an enriching solo adventure.
Are There Good Dining Spots for Solo Travelers?
Absolutely! Try local eateries in Gaslamp Quarter, join food tours for a diverse culinary experience, and enjoy oceanside cafes along the coast.
Do I Need a Car to Get Around San Diego? How Is Public Transportation for Solo Exploration?
While San Diego is a car-heavy city, it’s still possible to get around without a car. San Diego offers an efficient trolley and bus system, making it convenient to explore major attractions and neighbourhoods without a car. Ride-sharing apps are also readily available.
How Is the Attitude Towards Solo Travelers?
San Diego locals are generally friendly and accustomed to tourists, making it easy for solo travellers to engage and enjoy the city’s warm hospitality.
San Diego is a solo traveller’s paradise with endless activities to explore. Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventures or cultural experiences, this city has it all. If you have never been to SD, I hope this post has got you thinking about your very own little solo San Diego getaway.
And if you have already been (or are a local), feel free to let me know how I did in the comments! I am already counting the days until I can go back to San Diego, so any tips would be very welcome! 🙂
Until then, take care!
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