The San Diego Convention Center is one of the most sought-after convention destinations in the U.S. The weather is impeccable, the people are friendly, and the convention center is conveniently located right in the heart of downtown: near all the major shops, hotels, bars and restaurants. If you ran out of time to compile a San Diego bucket list, don’t worry. We know it can be overwhelming, so our locals compiled a list of the top 10 must dos in downtown San Diego.
1. Eat at Puesto, located in The Headquarters
San Diego is renowned for their authentic Mexican Cuisine. Any visit to San Diego warrants at least one tasty trip to a Mexican restaurant, and Puesto is some of the finest Mexican food around. While it isn’t exactly a traditional taqueria (taco shop) experience, the quality of their food is undeniable. The tacos range from the traditional carnitas and chicken al pastor, to the adventurous lamb barbacoa and zucchini/cactus. Make sure to place a reservation or get there early–the wait can get pretty long during peak hours!
2. Grab an Ice Cream at Ghirardelli
Sweet tooth? Although Ghirardelli was founded in San Francisco, the San Diego location offers an equally magical experience–the chocolate and the ice cream are so good! Ask for your ice cream in a bowl, or a chocolate-dipped cone if you’re feeling extra decadent. There are plenty of flavors to choose from. Conveniently located right on 5th avenue in the heart of Gaslamp, the Ghirardelli shop is in the center of all the action–ideal for a quick bite before you head back to the convention center, or a pick-me-up after a long day. Usually, they are sampling some of their chocolate as well, so if you tend to favor savory over sweet, you can try just one piece… so you can say you did. Mmm!
3. Eat breakfast/brunch at Cafe 21
Cafe 21 has 2 locations in San Diego, and their downtown location is conveniently close to the convention center on 5th Ave. Although there are numerous restaurants in Gaslamp all offering fantastic options, Cafe 21 is a must-have for breakfast or brunch. Their breakfast menu includes unique options such as a lamb omelette, tiramisu pancakes and strawberry stuffed french toast, but make sure you save room for one of their insanely delicious craft cocktails. In the mood for bubbly? Try the mimosa flight for 6 flavors of your favorite sparkling brunch treat. Cafe 21 can get quite busy on weekends, but it’s the perfect spot to try out mid week before a long day at the convention.
4. Enjoy a Pedicab ride
Pedicabs are a quintessential part of the San Diego experience. If you’re unfamiliar with pedicabs, they are also called cycle rickshaws or bike taxis. Since San Diego’s weather is consistently beautiful, pedicabs offer a scenic, unique and exciting way to get around the city. Most of them are equipped with lights and music, so feel free to take your carpool karaoke to the next level. You can also ask for a tour of the harbor and the city if you’re looking for a more relaxing experience. Keep in mind all pedicab drivers are independent contractors, so you will want to negotiate a price before stepping inside one. To guarantee you receive VIP service, you may call or text PICKUP to (619) 648-4847. Have your location ready! If you know you’ll need help navigating Gaslamp or you want to book a tour in advance, you can buy tickets in advance.
Ask your driver to take you to some of the destinations on this list!
5. Visit the Midway Museum
The Midway Museum opened in June 2004, desiring to become “Become America’s Living Symbol of Freedom.” This experience allows you to step onboard one of the longest-serving aircraft carriers in the US Navy, operating from 1945-1992. You may participate in an audio tour to learn more about the Midway and the Navy at the time, check out vintage aircraft, and even dine at a restaurant on the Midway itself!
6. Attend a show at Music Box SD
Historically, San Diego has not boasted a prominent music scene. Often times big bands would skip San Diego altogether on their tour, in favor of California cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco. However, San Diego has undergone a musical “renaissance” in recent years, with new venues opening and old venues gaining popularity among casual concert-goers. Music Box is officially the newest venue in town, and has already impressed audiences with a wide array of popular acts. From rock to rap to reggae, Music Box SD will book a band for every fan at competitive prices. Located in the heart of Little Italy, it’s the perfect spot to pair dinner and a show.
7. Shop at Seaport Village
Opened in 1980, Seaport Village is a 14 acre waterfront shopping, dining and entertainment complex recreating a harbor side setting of a century ago. It includes 54 one of a kind shops, 13 casual dining eateries, 4 fine dining waterfront restaurants, and it’s located in close proximity to local hotels. Seaport Village is a beautiful walk (or pedicab ride) along the harbor from the convention center, making it the perfect afternoon destination during your free time at a convention.
8. Petco Park Stadium
If you’re a baseball fan, Petco Park is the place for you. Regardless of how you feel about the Padres, Petco Park is undoubtedly one of the more beautiful stadiums in the league, and it’s completely integrated into downtown SD. Even if you’re visiting during the offseason, Petco Park is open to the public and you can walk inside, take a picture next to the Tony Gwynn statue and look straight into the field from the center field angle. Bonus: if you’re craving more tacos, Lolita’s is right across the street. Win-Win!
9. Balboa Park
Need some nature? Balboa Park is one of the biggest attractions in San Diego, and the perfect getaway when Gaslamp gets too hectic. At Balboa Park, you can explore numerous museums and exhibits, stroll leisurely through the botanical gardens, be serenaded by a street performer, and even bring your furry friend to the dog park. It’s a bit of a distance from the convention center, so you will want to secure some transportation, but it’s worth seeing while you’re here. Art fan? Check out the list of museums in Balboa Park. From Photography to Anthropology and Natural History, there’s something to pique anyone’s interest.
10. Altitude Sky Lounge
If you’re into nightlife, you must check out Altitude Sky Lounge on the top of the Marriott in Gaslamp Quarter. This lounge offers a breathtaking view overlooking the city, giving a unique perspective into prominent attractions such as Petco Park and the Coronado Bay Bridge. In addition to an amazing view, Altitude also offer a trendy yet cozy ambiance, with fire pits and multiple bars on both ends of the lounge. Since it’s a cozy place, it fills up quickly. Get there early to secure your spot!