beach and cliff view of la jolla

A Long Weekend in San Diego: The Perfect 3-Day Itinerary

Planning a long weekend escape in America’s Finest City? With 70 miles of stunning coastline and a diverse range of beachfront, downtown, and suburban neighborhoods, deciding where to start can be a bit overwhelming. Worry not! Here at Island Palms Best Western PLUS Hotel & Marina, we’ve curated a comprehensive 3 day San Diego itinerary, helping you make the most out of your getaway.

Day One:


First things first, we have to kick off the start of an action-packed Day 1 of exploring San Diego with a delicious, hearty breakfast! Get the energy you need and the taste you crave right here at our hotel. Before heading out for the afternoon, stop by our waterfront restaurant, Blue Wave Bar & Grill, and enjoy tasty dishes including our Smoked Salmon Benedict, Island French Toast, and Short Rib & Eggs. Check out the full menu here!

breakfast burrito overlooking the marina at blue wave restaurant

(Photo: @bluewavebarandgrill)



If there’s one place you undoubtedly must add to your San Diego bucket list, it’s Balboa Park. It’s one of the city’s most beloved and visited attractions, drawing in both locals and tourists alike, and located just 5.4 miles from our hotel. The 1,200-acre green space is even larger than New York’s Central Park and Chicago’s Millennium Park combined, so you know you’re going to be spending a good chunk of time here (and it’s well worth it!). We recommend starting your adventure off by exploring the park’s hotspots, including the Japanese Friendship Garden, the Fleet Science Center, and the Botanical Building & Lily Pond (perfect for a photo-op!).

Balboa Park fountain in San Diego CA

After you’re done exploring the world-class museums, gorgeous architecture, and lush gardens of Balboa Park, it’s time to grab some lunch. Let’s head over to The Prado, a historic restaurant right in the park, complete with whimsical Spanish decor, creative cocktails, and a diverse cuisine menu including an array of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and more. Grab a seat on the patio, sip their signature Sangria, and enjoy the view of Casa del Rey Moro Garden as you prepare for your next adventure!

sign at entrance of san dieg zoo

Next up, you don’t have to wander far, we’re headed to the world-famous San Diego Zoo — located right inside Balboa Park! The 100-acre zoo is home to over 12,000 rare and endangered animals. In fact, there are so many creatures that it would probably take a full day to see them all! If you just have a few hours to spend, we recommend mapping out a plan for your must-see favorites or taking a guided tour.



What a long day, and it’s not over yet! We still have a long night ahead, so let’s grab a quick bite to eat over in nearby North Park at The Taco Stand, famous for its authentic tacos, burritos, and freshly prepared Rosarito-style churros. Don’t skip out on the sauces either  — their Chipotle Sauce is out of this world!

taco stand meal laid out on table

(Photo: @letstaco_)

To end the day, let’s head back over to our hotel room to change and get ready for an evening of delicious drinks and amazing music. Take a five-minute stroll down the street to our sister hotel on Shelter Island, Humphreys Half Moon Inn, and stop by Backstage LIVE. Every night of the week, their intimate, waterfront lounge is filled with the sounds of nationally renowned artists and rising local talents. Take a peak at their events calendar here!

bar seating with marina background in windows at backstage live

(Photo: @backstagelivesd)

Whew, that was a long day! Time to hit the hay and head back to your hotel room to get some much-needed sleep for the day ahead.


Day Two:


After such a fun-filled previous day, we seriously earned a leisurely morning. Let’s start the day off right by grabbing a coffee and Breakfast Burrito to-go from Blue Wave and a walk alongside the Shelter Island Marina. Or, take advantage of our complimentary two-hour bicycle rentals and pedal alongside the bay. Breathe in the fresh, coastal air, and enjoy the serenity that comes with our island oasis.

mom and young son walking along the marina pathway by the hotel

(Photo: @trishtrang)



Get ready for the ultimate treat: La Jolla, the Crown Jewel of San Diego, sits just over 11 miles up the coast. This picturesque beach neighborhood is a treasure trove of stunning views, top-notch restaurants, irresistible shopping, and endless exploration. Your journey begins at La Jolla Cove, where sunbathing seals and sea lions await to welcome you.

harbor seals with pups resting on shore in la jolla

Then, embark on an unforgettable adventure with a fully guided kayak tour, navigating through the famous La Jolla sea caves! Say hello to leopard sharks, sea lions, and even the occasional pod of dolphins. Our friends over at La Jolla Kayak will share cool facts about La Jolla, making this a fun and safe journey along the stunning coastline.

bright orange sunset at sunset cliffs

When visiting San Diego, a trip to Sunset Cliffs is a must — especially during sunset time. Next up, let’s head 10 miles down the coast back towards the hotel to soak up picturesque golden hour views at this breathtaking viewpoint.



But, the views don’t end at Sunset Cliffs! Let’s head over to Coasterra for dinner, located on nearby Harbor Island. This upscale casual restaurant and bar is situated right on the San Diego Bay and overlooks unbeatable views of the water, downtown skyline, and Coronado Bridge. You truly cannot go wrong with anything on their menu, but we highly recommend trying the Barley Finished Australian Skirt Steak and Ahi Tuna Tostada!

waterfront dining overlooking downtown skyline at coasterra

(Photo: @coasterra)

Time for a nightcap! Searching for a hush-hush hideaway to wind down for the evening? Look no further than Noble Experiment, located in the downtown district of East Village. However, when you visit this speakeasy, you’ll want to make a reservation well in advance. That’s the only way to get a seat in the immaculately appointed space, located inside the Neighborhood eatery. Secret Tip: The entrance of the speakeasy is through a wall of empty kegs stacked near the restrooms!

outdoor hot tub overlooking marina views

Now, it’s time to head back to the hotel! Before cozying up for the night, treat yourself to the epitome of relaxation with a visit to one of our two outdoor hot tubs. It’s the perfect way to unwind and make your evening truly rejuvenating before your final day in San Diego.


Day Three:


It’s the final day! Time to make the most out of your next 24 hours in San Diego. First, let’s wake up bright and early to head over to Bali Hai Restaurant, located just a half mile up the street on Shelter Island, for a delicious waterfront brunch. Grab a Bali Hai Mimosa, and treat your taste buds to Nutella French Toast, Crab Benedict with Hollandaise, Korean Short Ribs, and plenty of other offerings. Check them all out here!

food and drinks at bali hai overlooking the bay

(Photo: @balihairestaurant)

For the rest of the morning, we’ve penciled in a trip to the USS Midway Museum, located just five miles along the waterfront from our hotel. Embark on a unique adventure perfect for the whole family to explore the historic aircraft carrier, with self-guided audio tours, flight simulators, climb-in aircraft, guided tours of the bridge, and more!



Wrap up your museum adventure and stroll just half a mile down the road to Seaport Village, where an afternoon of shopping, dining, and breathtaking views awaits! Spanning over 14 acres, this waterfront gem hosts over 70 shops, galleries, and restaurants – a paradise for exploration. When it’s time for lunch, treat yourself to an over-the-water dining experience with delectable dishes at Portside Pier, Ketch Grill & Taps, or Malibu Farms. Seaport Village is your ticket to a perfect blend of leisure and culinary delights!

girl standing at portside pier, with ocean views all around

(Photo: @portsidepier)



After you’ve explored all of Seaport Village, let’s head back for an early evening back at the hotel. Whenever you’re feeling hungry, stroll on over to Blue Wave for Happy Hour (daily 4pm – 6pm) and score some delicious sips and bites, including Mac & Cheese Dippers, Smoked Wings, and Hot Honey Pimento Cheese. By this time, it’s probably around sunset — grab a glass of wine and soak up those beautiful waterfront views as you unwind from the day. For dinner, we highly recommend trying our Tiki-Style Halibut or Smoke Dome Ribeye. Yum!

(Photo: @island_palms)

We hope this 3 day San Diego itinerary helped bring some travel inspo to get your vacation planning started! Ready to book your dream getaway to Island Palms Best Western PLUS Hotel & Marina on Shelter Island? Visit our Special Offers & Packages today!