San Diego Itinerary – 3 Days in San Diego for First Timers

Got a few days to spend in San Diego but unsure what to do?

Sun, sand, and savings — what’s not to love? There’s a reason San Diego has been called one of the best places to vacation in the entire country, and it isn’t just the beautiful San Diego neighborhoods and near-perfect weather!

World-class museums, zoos, and amusement parks are as plentiful in San Diego as beaches and palms.

We’ve put together a 3 days in San Diego itinerary to help you make the most of your time in town, from theme parks to museums and beyond.

This 3 day itinerary includes:

  • LEGOLAND® California
  • Museum of Making Music
  • SeaWorld® San Diego
  • San Diego Zoo
  • San Diego Natural History Museum
  • San Diego Air and Space Museum
  • Reuben H. Fleet Science Center plus IMAX

Only have a few days in San Diego? We’ve also put together a 1 day in San Diego and 2 day itinerary.

Save on Attraction Admission

Pick up a 3-Day Go San Diego® Card and save off combined admission vs paying at the gate.

Remember, this 3 day itinerary is just one of many ways to experience San Diego.

The Go San Diego® Card gives you the flexibility to create your own itinerary, so you can choose from dozens of top attractions and create a vacation tailored to your interests.

Planning to visit other spots in California? Then take a peak at our California road trip itinerary. We dare you to not have any fun with these recommendations.

DAY 1

Stop #1: LEGOLAND® California

LEGOLAND-California-1A family trip to San Diego wouldn’t be complete with a visit to amazing LEGOLAND® California!

This epic theme park brings your children’s favorite toys to life in new and exciting ways that evolve each year.

From classic exhibits to new installations, you’ll find so much to enjoy at this popular attraction that you’ll never want to leave.

With more than 60 rides, slides, and attractions, it’s all here at LEGOLAND® California.

Please note that LEGOLAND is primarily intended for children ages 12 and under. So if you’re traveling with adults or older children, you should substitute this attraction with another — maybe the USS Midway Museum?

We recommend reserving between 4-5 hours for this attraction.

Getting In: LEGOLAND® California tickets are included on the Go San Diego Card.

Lunch at LEGOLAND®

There are tons of dining options at this popular attraction. From burgers and hotdogs to healthier fare and Asian-inspired cuisine, you can find anything that suits your palate at one of the 14 different dining venues.

OR, if you didn’t visit LEGOLAND,

Lunch in Carlsbad

Since you’re going to be in Carlsbad (just north of San Diego) for your next attraction, it makes sense to drive up here for lunch. There are plenty of dining options that include everything from seafood to Mexican to fast-casual fare.

Stop #2 – Museum of Making Music

Museum-of-Making-Music-1Next, pay a visit to the charming Museum of Making Music. Located conveniently in Carlsbad, right next to LEGOLAND®, this attraction illuminates the history of music in America over the last 100 years.

Interactive and immersive exhibits highlight key movements in American musical history, including everything from the emergence of ragtime to the rise of digital technology in music-making.

We recommend reserving about an hour for this attraction.

Getting In: Museum of Making Music tickets are included on the Go San Diego Card.

Dinner in Carlsbad

We recommend pairing your first day with some time to explore and shop in Carlsbad Village and Antique Mall located in downtown Carlsbad and end with a meal and glass of wine at Relm.

Other dining options include good old American comfort food to surf n’ turf (plus, of course, more basic fare like pizza, pasta, and sandwiches), you’ll find anything you’re interested in within a quick drive of your last attraction.

DAY 2

Stop #1: SeaWorld San Diego

SeaWorld-San-Diego-1 (1)SeaWorld San Diego is another must-do attraction on your San Diego itinerary.

The whole family will love the combination of excitement and education that comes with a visit to this popular destination.

Plus, with your Go San Diego Card, you get to skip the line and go straight to the turnstile — a huge time-saver in the busy season.

We recommend reserving between 4-5 hours for this attraction.

Getting In: SeaWorld San Diego tickets are included as an option on 3, 5, and 7-Day Go San Diego Cards.

Lunch at SeaWorld

Like LEGOLAND®, this park has plenty of dining options within the grounds for you to choose from.

Consult a park map to find the one closest to you, or the one with the most appealing cuisine.

Stop #2: Cabrillo National Monument (free!)

Just outside of the SeaWorld area is historic Point Loma, with a lighthouse and the Cabrillo National Monument to explore.

Don’t forget about the famous Point Loma tide pools, where you can see a microcosm of San Diego’s marine life in one teeny tiny little vignette.

It’s a great vantage point from which to see San Diego, Coronado, the naval base, and even all the way to Mexico, so don’t forget your camera!

If you want to learn more about this amazing area, consult the National Park website for more information about the tide pools and the natural landscape.

Getting In: We recommend reserving about 1 hour for this attraction.

Dinner near SeaWorld

After you’ve finished exploring for the day, scope out some of the nearby dinner options just across the San Diego River.

You’ll find everything from Mexican and beachside dining to sandwiches and healthy veggie options.

DAY 3

Stop #1: San Diego Zoo

 

Image Credit San Diego Zoo by Damien Lasater

Image Credit San Diego Zoo by Damien Lasater

Begin your day with some time spent at one of the best zoos in the entire country – the world famous San Diego Zoo. (We’re not kidding: it was recently voted #1 Zoo in the World by a TripAdvisor poll.)

Informative, innovative, and just plain exciting, this zoo is a must-do for your San Diego vacation.

Hang out with the world-famous Giant Pandas (there might even be a baby around, depending upon when you visit!), scope out the snow leopards, examine tiny tree frogs, and meet creatures you’ve never even heard of before.

Spanning 107 acres and hosting over 800 species from around the world, this zoo is one impressive attraction.

We recommend reserving between 4-5 hours for this attraction.

Getting In: San Diego Zoo tickets are included on the Go San Diego Card.

Lunch at the San Diego Zoo

As with the other large theme parks that require a significant time commitment, you should also plan to eat lunch here, at one of the many and varied restaurants on the zoo grounds.

From Mexican and seafood to pasta and salads, you can find basically anything you’d like here.

Stop #2: San Diego Natural History Museum

natural-history-museum-san-diego-museumsBalboa Park is filled with museums, gardens, and other attractions, so you’re definitely in the right spot after leaving the zoo to do some more exploring.

So, stop in the Natural History Museum to immerse yourself in their extensive collection.

With a particular focus on Southern California’s natural history, this institution features five floors of interactive exhibits and installations plus a unique calendar of rotating exhibitions.

Some of the highlights of their collections include dinosaur fossils, photography, live animals, and even rare books.

They’ve also got a free 3-D theater, which is a fun addition to any visit.

We recommend reserving about 1 hour for this attraction.

Getting In: San Diego Natural History Museum tickets are included on the Go San Diego Card.

Stop #3: San Diego Air and Space Museum

air-space-museum-san-diego-museumsNext, pop over to the nearby Air and Space Museum. This dynamic and exciting museum is filled with exhibits and artifacts that tell the history of aviation in San Diego, which is, after all, one of the great aviation hubs in the country.

You’ll see everything from models of the original Montgolfier brothers’ hot air balloon to carefully preserved aircraft like the Navy F6F Hellcat.

All of the planes are beautifully restored and lovingly preserved – there’s no other institution like it in California.

We recommend reserving about 1-2 hours for this attraction.

Getting In: San Diego Air & Space Museum tickets are included on the Go San Diego Card.

Stop #4: Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

reuben-h-fleet-science-centerThe Fleet Science Center is another favorite among tech lovers and kids.

This educational institution allows visitors to “play scientist for a day” and engage with technological innovations from all across the scientific fields.

From engineering skyscrapers to examining real images from the Hubble Space telescope, there are so many exciting things to play with at this scientific complex.

Don’t forget to stop by their historic IMAX theater – you get one daytime show free with your Go San Diego® Card!

Please note that admission to this attraction is free; your pass provides you with IMAX tickets.

We recommend reserving about 1 hour for this attraction.

Getting In: Reuben H. Fleet Science Center with IMAX Movie tickets are included on the Go San Diego Card.

Dinner near Balboa Park

There are plenty of restaurants on the park’s grounds, including The Prado, a famous California-style eatery, where Go San Diego Card customers can receive $10 off a purchase of $40 or more.

You can also venture just a few blocks in any direction for tons more options. You’re also only a short drive from downtown, which offers even more restaurants to choose from.

Let’s Recap

Enjoy your three days in San Diego by checking out this list of things to do and see.

Designed to highlight a wide variety of San Diego attractions, this itinerary will help you achieve a truly rich vacation experience.

Visit all of these attractions on our San Diego itinerary with a 3-Day Go San Diego® Card and save on combined admission costs.

Go Card holders can save even more with additional included discounts on dining, shopping, and attractions!
Go San Diego Card

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