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  • San-Diego-Harbor-Island - Harbor Island in San Diego Bay.
  • San-Diego-Oceanside-Pier-2 - Oceanside Pier near San Diego, California.
  • San-Diego-Downtown-skyline - The Downtown San Diego skyline from Point Loma.
  • San-Diego-Old-Town-shop - Shopping in Old Town, San Diego.
  • San-Diego-La-Jolla-Shores-kayak - Kayakers at La Jolla Shores near San Diego.
  • San-Diego-Old-Town-park - Heritage Park in San Diego, California.
  • San-Diego-Anza-Borrego - Anza-Borrego mountain landscape, near San Diego.
  • San-Diego-Cabrillo-Lighthouse - The Cabrillo Lighthouse in San Diego.
  • San-Diego-Downtown-sailboats - Downtown San Diego skyline with sailboats.
  • San-Diego-Gaslamp - The Gaslamp District in San Diego.
  • baked-Alaska-Oceanaire-San-Diego - Baked Alaska at the Oceanaire Seafood Room in the Gaslamp District of San Diego
  • San-Diego-Trolley - Old Town Trolley offers tours of San Diego.
  • San-Diego-La-Jolla-seals - Mother and baby seal on La Jolla Coves Beach near San Diego.
  • San-Diego-Coronado-handstand - Handstands on the beach at Coronado, California.
  • San-Diego-Coronado-Bridge - The Coronado Bridge as sunset in San Diego, California.
  • San-Diego-USS-Midway - Kids on the USS Midway flight deck in San Diego Harbor.
  • San-Diego-Coronado-family - A family on Coronado Beach near San Diego.
  • San-Diego-Waterfront-kids - Fountains in Waterfront Park in San Diego, California.
  • San-Diego-Waterfront-Park - Waterfront Park on the Embarcadero in San Diego, California
  • San-Diego-Seaport-Village-performer - A performer at Seaport Village, San Diego.
  • San-Diego-Del-Mar-dogs - Dogs on the beach in Del Mar, near San Diego, California.
  • San-Diego-Mariachi - Mariachi in Old Town, San Diego.
  • San-Diego-Mission-Beach-surfers - Surfers on Mission Beach, San Diego.
  • San-Diego-Oceanside-Pier - A couple at Oceanside Pier near San Diego.
  • San-Diego-Presidio - Presidio Hill in Old Town, San Diego.
  • San-Diego-performer - A performer in Old Town, San Diego.
  • San-Diego-Parakiting - Parakiting over Torrey Pines near San Diego, California.
  • San-Diego-La-Jolla-Cove-2 - La Jolla Cove beach, just outside San Diego.
  • flight-officer-USS-Midway - Flight deck officer on the USS Midway in San Diego. The USS Midway Museum, located right in front of the ship, is open to visitors.
  • San-Diego-sailboats - Sailboats in San Diego, California.
  • San-Diego-Torrey-beach-2 - Torrey Pines Beach near San Diego, California.
  • San-Diego-Torrey-beach - Torrey Pines Beach looking south toward San Diego.
  • San-Diego-Torrey-Pines - Torrey Pines, near San Diego, at sunset.
  • San-Diego-Pt-Loma-tidepools - Tidepools at Pt. Loma, San Diego.
  • San-Diego-La-Jolla-shop - La Jolla, near San Diego, offers a variety of upscale shops.
  • San-Diego-Del-Mar-Races - Del Mar racehorses at the starting gate.
  • San-Diego-Mission-Bay-jetski - Jet skiers in Mission Bay, San Diego.
  • San-Diego-La-Jolla-Shores - La Jolla Shores Beach is perfect for children.
  • San-Diego-Coronado-skating - Holiday Ice Skating Rink at the Hotel Del Coronado near San Diego.
  • San-Diego-Coronado-volleyball - Beach Volleyball in Coronado, near San Diego, California.
  • San-Diego-Cruise-Ship-Terminal - The San Diego Cruise Ship Terminal in downtown San Diego.
  • San-Diego-Cuyamaca-horseback - A horseback rider in Cuyamaca near San Diego.
  • San-Diego-La-Jolla-Cove - La Jolla Cove beach, just outside San Diego.
  • San Diego-Cafe-Coyote - Old Town Café Coyote, San Diego.
  • san-diego-zoo-giraffe.jpg - A giraffe at the San Diego Zoo.
  • san-diego-zoo-reindeer-1.jpg - A reindeer shows off its stately antlers at the San Diego Zoo.
  • san-diego-zoo-tiger.jpg - A Malayan tiger at the San Diego Zoo.
  • san-diego-zoo-koala.jpg - A male Queensland koala at the San Diego Zoo.
  • san-diego-zoo-panda.jpg - A panda in repose at the San Diego Zoo.
  • polar-bear-underwater.jpg - A polar bear swimming underwater in the Conrad Prebys Polar Bear Plunge area of the San Diego Zoo.
  • san-diego-zoo-oryx.jpg - A young scimitar oryx at the San Diego Zoo. It has two horns, but by viewing it from the side you can see how the legend of the unicorn was born.
  • san-diego-zoo-panda-bear.jpg - Striking a pose: One of the three panda bears at the San Diego Zoo.
  • butterfly-san-diego2.jpg - A colorful butterfly at San Diego Safari Park, just outside the city.
  • carlsbad-flower-fields-1.jpg - See buttercup ranunculus in different hues at the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch near San Diego.
  • carlsbad-flower-fields2-1.jpg - See buttercup ranunculus in different hues at the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch near San Diego.
  • poppies-in-san-diego-1.jpg - You can see golden poppies, or California poppies, growing in fields and grasslands throughout California.
  • wildflowers-Anza-Borrego-Desert-State-Park-1.jpg - Colorful wildflowers bloom in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in Southern California.
  • wildflowers-jessica-Anza-Borrego-Desert-State-Park-1.jpg - Jessica Hartmann of Cruiseable poses amid a field of wildflowers in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, two hours north of San Diego.
  • san-diego-skyline.jpg - The skyline of San Diego, seen on a Hornblower brunch cruise.
  • san-diego-skyline-horizontal-1.jpg - The skyline of San Diego, seen on a Hornblower brunch cruise.

San Diego travel guide & photo tour

our guide

The vibe

With arguably the best weather in the United States, picture-perfect waves, a steady stream of visitors and some of the friendliest people around, San Diego is nothing if not unrelentingly pleasant. San Diego’s downtown area may have skyscrapers and countless rows of bars and restaurants, but the majority of the city is made up of beautiful outdoor parks and sandy beaches. From Balboa Park and the Gaslamp district to endless stretches of boardwalk, San Diego is both a good-time hotspot and a beach lover’s paradise.

Featuring 70 miles of glorious coastline and lovely temperatures all year, San Diego is a great place for cruise visitors. It is a prime spot for swimming, windsurfing, snorkeling, kayaking, bicycling, and skating. Balboa Park and three world-famous animal parks are located here, and the nightlife in this city is booming. Although once a small Navy town, this city has become a cultural mecca for those in search of a great time.

Cruise ships that call on San Diego

Top reasons to go

  • Diverse beaches. Coronado is a family beach with the backdrop of the famous Hotel del Coronado. Mission Beach offers an old time amusement park and a walkable/bikeable promenade. La Jolla has upscale shopping and dining close to La Jolla Shores beach.
  • The SS Midway Museum. This retired aircraft carrier was home to 225,000 Midway sailors over the year and is like a floating city.
  • The San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park offer unique animal experiences and rare species rarely found in other parts of the world.
A young scimitar oryx at the San Diego Zoo. It has two horns, but by viewing it from the side you can see how the legend of the unicorn was born.
Cburnett / Creative Commons BY SAA young scimitar oryx at the San Diego Zoo. It has two horns, but by viewing it from the side you can see how the legend of the unicorn was born.

Things to do & see in San Diego

Balboa Park

Spend some time in sun-splashed Balboa Park. On weekends its 1,200 acres, 17 museums and dozens of trails are packed with locals and visitors alike. Make sure to stop in the Botanical Building, a century-old lath structure filled with more than 2,000 plants; free admission.

San Diego Zoo

This legendary zoo is located in Balboa Park and houses over 4,000 animals. The San Diego Zoo (619-231-1515) also features shows, exhibits, and Chinese pandas. There are two tours offered on the grounds: The thirty-five-minute guided bus tour, and the birds eye Skyfari that travels above the zoo. The Children's Zoo is a great activity for kids, as the hands-on petting area will appeal to eager children.

Old Town Trolley

Old Town Trolley offers tours of San Diego.
Brett Shoaf / Brett Shoaf Artistic VisualsOld Town Trolley offers tours of San Diego.

An independently owned open-air bus, the Old Town Trolley (619-298-TOUR) travels continuously around the city in a loop. Showcasing all of the sights and wonders of San Diego, the tour lasts about two hours but it allows you to go at your own pace by stopping at sights along the way.

Shopping

Located between Broadway and G Streets in downtown San Diego is Horton Plaza, featuring over 165 world-class shops and dining facilities. David Zapf Gallery (619-232-5004) can be found at 2400 Ketner Blvd. and is a fantastic place to see or purchase a piece of California artwork.

Golf

The Torrey Pines Golf Course (800-985-4653) at 11480 N. Torrey Pines Rd. is the premier location in San Diego to play a round. Here, you can feast your eyes on a breathtaking stretch of Pacific coastline. The 18-hole course at Balboa Park Golf Course (2600 Golf Course Dr., 619-570-1234) is a lovely spot where you can enjoy a leisurely afternoon of golf and sunshine.

Torrey Pines Beach looking south toward San Diego.
Lisa Field / Courtesy of SanDiego.orgTorrey Pines Beach looking south toward San Diego.

Beaches

Imperial Beach is the most popular beach in San Diego for surfers. Coronado Beach is lovely and wide open. The sparkling white beach is quite conducive to strolling and relaxing. Ocean Beach is a great spot to enjoy a picnic. A pier with facilities and restaurants is available there as well. Further north, be sure to visit La Jolla Shores, 18th Street at Del Mar, and Wind 'n Sea beach.

Hit a brewpub

San Diego boasts perhaps the nation's best craft beer scene (120 in all). One well-regarded spot is the Brew Project, a small bar in Hillcrest that switches up its beer menu daily: Choose from offerings such a coffee and vanilla nitro stout. 

Kayakers at La Jolla Shores near San Diego.
Anne Pearson / Courtesy of SanDiego.orgKayakers at La Jolla Shores near San Diego.

YOLO (You only live once!)

If you are craving a smaller vessel, there are a variety of sailboats to charter throughout the region. Whether you want to try your hand at sailing along Mission Bay or charter a sailboat tour for family and friends, there are plenty of options if you want to get some additional time on the sea.

Best bets for dining

With gastronomic influence coming from the city’s geography, ethnic mix and sustainable ingredients, San Diego cuisine is just as diverse as it is fresh.  For a French, Mediterranean and Californian-style fusion restaurant located beachside at La Jolla Shores, The Marine Room (858-459-7222) is famous for its high-end dishes and dramatic ocean views. El Agave Tequileria (619-220-0692) is an authentic Mexican restaurant situated in Old Town, and famous for its Mexican nouvelle cuisine and tequila list of over 100 brands. A visit to the Gaslamp district is sure to whet your appetite, as a variety of up-and-coming stars of the culinary world are trying out the latest dishes here. In South Park, Buona Forchetta serves up perhaps the city's best pizza, with heat-blackened crusts topped with fennel sausage and burrata, drawing crowds and two-hour waits. 

Best time to go

There are no bad seasons in San Diego; the weather is usually pleasant all year round. However, if you don't want to deal with the high-density tourist seasons in summer, March through May and September through November are ideal.

A performer in Old Town, San Diego.
Courtesy of SanDiego.orgA performer in Old Town, San Diego.

Fun facts

  • The same statue next to the USS Midway called Unconditional Surrender, a returning sailor kissing a woman, is also located in Civitavecchia, the port of Rome. Whenever you arrive also there by cruise ship, take a look.
  • The U.S. Navy air base Miramar Naval Air Station is just outside San Diego. It’s where major parts of the 1986 movie "Top Gun" with Tom Cruise were filmed.
  • Charles A. Lindbergh’s plane The Spirit of St. Louis was built in San Diego in 1927 still giving today the local airport the name Lindberg Field.
  • Annual events in San Diego include Comic-Con, the world's largest fair for comics fans.

When you arrive

Docking information

Cruise ships dock directly on 1140 North Harbor Drive on the B Street Pier right in front of the skyline of San Diego. On busy days the Broadway Pier, just a few steps away, is also used. You can hop on a bus or take a taxi to your destination in the city.

Getting around

Taxi: It's fairly easy to catch a taxi around town. Usually, the cab driver will take credit cards. Some even offer a flat rate and a meter price and you’ll have to pay the lower amount of both.

Light rail: San Diego is served by San Diego Trolley light rail. It operates on three lines (green, orange, blue) with the closest stops from the cruise dock being Santa Fe Depot, also known as Union Station (Kettner Boulevard).

Bus: The city's bus system is extensive and will take you to many of the most visited destinations in the city. There are over 100 bus routes that traverse the city.

Car rental: Because San Diego is spread out over such a wide area, you may want to rent a car if you're spending the day and heading to multiple locales. 

Free Wi-Fi

The Port of San Diego offers a free wifi connection to cruise guests for a limited number of hours in the terminal called OpenPort. There are also numerous restaurants and Starbucks coffee houses in the downtown offering free wifi services.

Need to know

Store hours: Stores in San Diego are open typically from 9 am to 9 pm, seven days a week.

Tipping: A 10% to 15% tip on the restaurant/taxi bill is greatly appreciated. Sometimes a tip is automatically added to your bill; check your credit card slip before adding additional tip.

Safety: San Diego is one of the safest cities in the United States. But as always, don’t flash cash around and stay in well-lit areas at night.

ShoreFox contributed to this review.

Your take

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The Cruiseable editorial team consists of award-winning travel writers, cruise bloggers and journalists.

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Overheard

“The Museum of Photographic Arts is one of Balboa Park's hidden gems. Its impressive 7,000-print collection, inside a restored Spanish neo-Renaissance-style building, includes such 20th century giants as Dorothea Lange, Alfred Stieglitz, and Henri Cartier Bresson. ”

Travel + Leisure

“Queue up with the locals at Oscar's, a divey taqueria in north Pacific Beach where the smoked-fish tacos — a San Diegan obsession — come loaded with avocado and three types of house-made salsa. There are only 25 seats, mostly outdoors, at the flagship location, but you can walk a few blocks to the shore for an impromptu picnic.”

Travel + Leisure

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