15 Best Things to Do in Downtown San Diego

Downtown San Diego is a buzzing urban hubbub located right in the heart of the sprawling Californian city. From the historic Gaslamp Quarter to the waterfront of San Diego Bay, Downtown is a suburb which has got everything you’ll ever need to keep you entertained twenty-four hours a day.

Take in the sights on an old-fashioned trolley car, eat fresh seafood down by the marina or party the night away in DT San Diego’s sophisticated bars and clubs. Investigate maritime history, view contemporary art or watch a play at the theater. Whatever your interests, Downtown San Diego doesn’t disappoint, and it has to be said, is culturally diverse.

Make sure you don’t miss out on anything and add these fifteen of the best things to do in Downtown San Diego to your must do list. Have fun!

1. Trolley Tour

Trolley Tour, San Diego

Source: Leonard Zhukovsky / shutterstock

Trolley Tour, San Diego

Hop on one of the cheerfully bright, green and orange, trolley cars at the Petco Park or the Gaslamp Quarter stops in Downtown San Diego to tour the streets in style. Get off anytime you like to explore a different downtown district, or any other stop, on this lengthy loop tour, then when you’re ready to move – jump back on again.

Riding the trolley car is a great way of getting orientated and finding out where all the exciting things to do in the Downtown San Diego area are. You’ll get to see some fantastic Pacific Ocean views too as the trolley route runs down Harbour Drive past the Embarcadero and down to Seaport Village.

It’s all aboard, and when the trolley sets off, the driver narrates the history of the area you’re passing through. Don’t forget your camera for this one.

Suggested tour: Old Town San Diego: Hop-on Hop-off Narrated Tour

2. Altitude Sky Lounge

View from Altitude Sky Lounge

See all of Downtown from the Altitude Sky Lounge, a rooftop bar, at the Marriott Hotel in The Gaslamp Quarter. The bar is on the twenty-second floor and has incredible views over the city.

Look down on the pedestrians below while sipping a drink by the glass-walled balcony, look out over the Petco Stadium or just soak up the vistas of the bay.

Get there for when the Sky Lounge opens in the late afternoon, and as dusk sets in, you can watch Downtown San Diego light up building by building. If the night air is chilly, move over to one of the fire pits and warm up next to the glowing flicker of the flames.

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3. Maritime Museum

Maritime Museum of San Diego

Source: f11photo / shutterstock

Maritime Museum Of San Diego

Step onboard the fascinating exhibition of antique ships at the Maritime Museum of San Diego. The collection of fully restored vessels date from the mid-1800’s to modern day and include a fully functioning replica of a Spanish Galleon from 1542.

You’ll probably recognize the tall ship HMS Surprise which featured in the popular Pirates of the Caribbean films though don’t expect to see Johnny Depp walking the gangplank.

The oldest ship exhibited is the Star of India which vies for attention with the museums two submarines. Collectively they offer an interesting insight into a historic life on the ocean waves.

4. Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar

Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar, San Diego

Source: facebook.com

Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar, San Diego

Downtown San Diego, with its coastal location, is the perfect place to tuck into some fresh seafood. Ironside Fish and Oyster Bar is a modern restaurant with a vintage atmosphere that serves up some incredible plates of food.

Slurp down raw oysters followed by some rockfish ceviche or red snapper cooked to order. Octopus with chorizo, clam chowder or crab cakes, if that’s too much, grab a bucket of peel and eat shrimp.

Ironside Fish and Oyster Bar is seafood heaven, but watch out for the Holy Shit mixed seafood platter which is enough for four very hungry diners. Those are the exact words you’ll utter when you’re presented with the bill.

5. Seaport Village

Seaport Village, San Diego

Source: Gimas / shutterstock

Seaport Village

Get in some serious retail therapy while enjoying waterfront views at Downtown San Diego’s shopping complex, Seaport Village. Wear comfortable shoes. There are over fourteen acres of shops, boutiques, galleries, and eateries to wander around.

Browse stores selling everything from American flags to nautical décor for the home to bags and accessories which light up when exposed to the sun. There’s an exclusive Harley Davidson outlet and a kite shop where you can fly your kite before you buy it.

After shopping until you’re ready to drop, sit back and sip on a glass of wine at the San Pasqual Wine Tasting Room. Alternatively, go Greek at the Greek Islands Cafe or fill up on a delectable fish dish on the bayside terrace at Marion’s Fish Market.

6. Balboa Theater

Balboa Theater, San Diego

Source: f11photo / shutterstock

Balboa Theater, San Diego

Located in a historic, nineteen twenties domed building on Downtown San Diego’s Fourth Avenue, the Balboa Theater is as impressive inside as it is outside. The interior décor is lavish from the foyer’s cupola ceiling to the statuettes in alcoves either side of the stage.

The theater has a seating capacity for over one thousand three hundred spectators. It was originally used for productions of vaudeville, but the theater now offers a varied array of diverse live performances ranging from comedy to sing-a-long Sound of Music shows.

7. Museum Of Contemporary Art

Museum Of Contemporary Art, San Diego

Source: mcasd.org

Museum Of Contemporary Art, San Diego

The Museum of Contemporary Arts or MCASD Downtown on Kettering Boulevard houses an extensive collection of artworks which date back to the 1950’s.

Enter the doors and into the thirty thousand square feet of exhibition space and expect some thought-provoking pieces to smack you in the eye. Vibrant, colorful sculptures, paintings, and photography as well as many other forms of media.

The MCASD usually has two centers, but La Jolla, the main MCASD museum, is temporarily closed for renovation and extension work. If you’re visiting Downtown San Diego, check their website for news of the grand opening.

8. Petco Park

Petco Park, San Diego

Source: Max Herman / shutterstock

Petco Park

Catch a home game of the San Diego Padres baseball team at Petco Park. The massive stadium has a seating capacity for over forty thousand and has seen some record-breaking games on its fields.

Spectators not only get to see the game but, depending on where they are seated, get fantastic views of Downtown San Diego or San Diego Bay.

Apart from Major League Baseball, Petco Park is used as an event venue for other sporting activities as well as music concerts plus has restaurants and bars distributed throughout its six levels.

9. Enigma Escape Room

Enigma Escape Room

If you hate to be outwitted by conundrums and mysteries, you’ll love the Enigma Escape Rooms on Front Street in Downtown San Diego. Compared to other escape rooms, these are definitely different.

The Enigma Rooms are equipped with enough state of the art technology to bamboozle your brain as you try to solve the story based problem.

Your mission will be to help the Enigma organization prevent the underworld Labyrinth group from stealing their collection of invaluable and irreplaceable magic artifacts.

10. Gaslamp Quarter

Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego

Source: meunierd / shutterstock

Gaslamp Quarter

The Gaslamp Quarter is the social center of Downtown San Diego. It’s a neighborhood crammed with bars, clubs, restaurants and well, one or two amazing all-night dives too.

The Gaslamp Quarter covers over thirty-eight acres which is sixteen blocks worth of mega entertainment. At a glance, it looks as though the Quarter is stuck in the Victorian era, and it is classed as a historic district, but the nightlife in the Quarter is bang up to date.

There are just too many pubs and eateries to mention by name, so to see how Downtown San Diego parties, you’re just going to have to go there and find out for yourself.

11. USS Midway Museum

USS Midway Museum, San Diego

Source: meunierd / shutterstock

USS Midway Museum

The USS Midway is an aircraft carrier which has been turned into a museum and is now permanently docked in Downtown San Diego. Until you get close up to it, it’s hard to imagine its colossal size and just how many planes, personnel and equipment it can carry.

Explore the carrier from the engine room up to the bridge, through the crew’s quarters and galley, then go out on the flight deck. The carrier houses thirty aircraft plus several helicopters some of which you can even get into the cockpits.

There are interactive displays onboard, a multi-media theater plus flight simulators where you can have a virtual attempt at piloting an aircraft as it takes off from the flight deck. It’s fantastic!

12. Waterfront Park

Waterfront Park, San Diego

Source: f11photo / shutterstock

Waterfront Park, San Diego

If sightseeing in Downtown San Diego gets you overheated, head to the Waterfront Park on Pacific Highway and you’ll soon cool down.

The park, which faces onto San Diego Bay, has garden terraces, play zones and picnic areas plus the biggest attraction, interactive water fountains where you can swim and splash.

The Waterfront Park also hosts regular outdoor events including a weekly Farmer’s Market and various festivals.

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13. Mission Brewery

Mission Brewery, San Diego

The Mission Brewery began producing craft beer over a century ago. Interrupted by the restrictions of prohibition, it went out of business only to be resurrected years later.

Visit the premises on L Street in DT San Diego to find out why this microbrewery has won endless awards for their beer and is rated as the best in San Diego county.

Take a tour of the brewery, then stop in in the tasting room for samples and get the inside information on what you’re drinking from the in-house beer ambassadors.

14. Fogo de Chão

Fogo De Chão, San Diego

While seafood seems to be the preferred menu item in Downtown San Diego, there are some places which also rustle up a great steak. The Fogo de Chão on 6th Avenue in the Gaslamp Quarter is a Brazilian steakhouse with its roots in the churrasqueiro or traditional Brazilian barbecue.

Indulge in some beef ribs salt rubbed then slow grilled for hours or picanha which is thinly sliced prime sirloin. It’ll be hard to choose between those, fire roasted chicken, marinated pork ribs or lamb steaks.

The chefs at Fogo de Chão have grilling down to a fine art.

15. Omnia Nightclub

Omnia Nightclub, San Diego

Strut your social stuff at the Omnia Nightclub on the Gaslamp Quarter’s 6th Avenue. This lively upmarket venue is one of the in-places to party in DT San Diego.

The club has a rooftop terrace where you can dine or just take a chill out drink and watch the sun go down before the night begins. Hit the dance floor under the strobe lights and dance until dawn.

The Omnia isn’t just a nightclub, just like all of Downtown San Diego – it’s an experience.

Where to stay: Best Hotels in San Diego, California (CA)
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List of Image Sources

15 Best Things to Do in Downtown San Diego:

Trolley Tour, San Diego

  • Trolley Tour, San Diego: Leonard Zhukovsky / shutterstock
  • View From Altitude Sky Lounge: masochismtango / Flickr
  • Maritime Museum Of San Diego: f11photo / shutterstock
  • Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar, San Diego: facebook.com
  • Seaport Village: Gimas / shutterstock
  • Balboa Theater, San Diego: f11photo / shutterstock
  • Museum Of Contemporary Art, San Diego: mcasd.org
  • Petco Park: Max Herman / shutterstock
  • Enigma Escape Room: www.enigmahq.com
  • Gaslamp Quarter: meunierd / shutterstock
  • USS Midway Museum: meunierd / shutterstock
  • Waterfront Park, San Diego: f11photo / shutterstock
  • Mission Brewery, San Diego: Allan Ferguson / Flickr
  • Fogo De Chão, San Diego: get.google.com
  • Omnia Nightclub, San Diego: omniaclubs.com