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What can you see in San Diego in one day that will give you a taste of what this diverse city is all about? Our Day Trips Traveling Mom is a native and shares her downtown walking tour for a 1 day itinerary in San Diego. There are several options, depending upon if you have younger or older children with you. This itinerary will take you from breakfast, museum play to lunch on the bay. There’s also time for maritime adventures, a ferry ride, plus dinner and exploration on Coronado Island.
1 Day Itinerary for San Diego
The Day’s Highlights:
Breakfast at Walker’s Pancake House
New Children’s Museum (for families with younger kids)
Tuna Harbor Park
USS Midway Museum
Harbor Cruise to Coronado
Coronado Tidelands Park
Dinner at Candelas on the Bay
Getting Around Downtown San Diego
Downtown San Diego is quite easy to navigate. Blocks are on the shorter side, fairly evenly spaced and on a grid. Some areas of San Diego are on a hillside (Little Italy) but most blocks are flat. Bring comfortable walking shoes, a sun hat, sunscreen and a lightweight jacket. Bicycles are also welcome on this itinerary! If you have young kids with you, be sure to bring a stroller; you’ll be covering several miles.
The trolley system in downtown San Diego is easy to use and reasonably priced. The trolley line maps are posted at the stations. Simply purchase your ticket at a station kiosk before boarding and hop on. You won’t need to use the trolley for this itinerary unless it’s to get to breakfast from your hotel or back to your hotel at the end of the night.
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Big Breakfast to Start the Day
Richard Walker’s Pancake House
520 Front St.
Our itinerary starts with breakfast (most important meal, right?) We begin at Richard Walker’s Pancake House. Breakfast starts at 6:30 am and the line down the street builds up shortly after that. The restaurant does not accept reservations, so either arrive early or plan to wait. Bring your patience inside with you as well because food is cooked to order. The famous baked pancakes can take up to 20 minutes to cook.
My family and I arrived at 7 am sharp and were promptly seated. Service was friendly and quick and we soon had fresh juice and hot coffee. The restaurant grinds its prime roasted coffee beans sourced from Central America fresh, one pot at a time. I’m not a coffee drinker but my mother-in-law is. She said it was amazing!
What to Order at the Pancake House
Richard Walker’s Pancake House is known for enormous baked pancakes. In particular, the apple pancake made with fresh Granny Smith apples and pure imported cinnamon glaze. We ordered one to share at the table. It was delightful and sweet, a dessert-like treat after we’d finished our platters. It’s so large and sweet I can’t imagine eating this by myself (though a woman at the table next to us was!)
Omelettes are oven baked here too. My mother-in-law wasn’t crazy about the brown crust on the outside of the eggs on her Sante Fe Omelette. However she ate around the toasted parts and said the rest was delicious (especially the spicy salsa that was served on the side).
My kids each ordered something different – Summer Raspberry Crepes, Blueberry Belgian Waffle and Chocolate Pancakes. Lots of food and these kids cleared their plates! I chose one of Richard Walker’s personal favorite dishes, the San Diego French Toast. Grilled just right and laden with plenty of sliced bananas, strawberries and blueberries. Real whipped cream was the perfect topper.
Prices are a little steep but portions are large. This heavier-than-usual breakfast meant that we skipped lunch and snacked mid-day instead.
TravelingMom Tip: By the time we left the restaurant, the line was already trailing down the street! The early bird gets the pancakes, so aim to arrive before 7:30 am for the best chance at a table without an extraordinary wait.
Make Time for Little Kids to Play
New Children’s Museum
200 W Island Ave.
A Walk Along the Bay
849 W. Harbor Dr.
A half-mile walk (just over 10 minutes) west towards the harbor is Seaport Village. This 14-acre venue is the ideal place to pick up souvenirs, wander along the bay and have lunch or a snack. Buster’s Beach House is a favorite for dining with a tropical twist. If you’re looking for seafood, there are several restaurants to choose from, many with bay side views.
After dining, take a walk through Embarcadero Marina Park North located in Seaport Village. This flat, grassy peninsula takes about 20 minutes round trip to walk. It offers a beautiful view of the bay. The area is also usually blessed with a great breeze making it the ideal location to fly a kite!
TravelingMom Tip: The walk from Seaport Village to the waterfront along Harbor Lane is in direct sun. Grab a water bottle, refresh your sunscreen or bring an umbrella to block the sun.
Exploring the San Diego Waterfront
Tuna Harbor Park
3 Tuna Lane
If you’re traveling with older children, the San Diego waterfront is a nice combination of maritime history and adventure. There are grassy parks to run in, a boardwalk to walk along and ships to explore.
As you walk north from Seaport Village along Harbor Lane (about 10 minutes), take a stroll down to Tuna Harbor Park. There is a bay overlook here as well as an iconic art statue, “Embracing Peace.” Also located in the park is the The National Salute to Bob Hope and the Military.
USS Midway Museum
910 N Harbor Dr.
Right next to the park is the USS Midway Museum. You can certainly spend an entire day exploring the 60+ exhibits on board this retired aircraft carrier. Allow at least 3 hours. Consider taking the family self-guided audio tour (included in admission), which visits about half of the available exhibits. It is most appropriate for elementary ages and up. Babies and toddlers won’t have a lot to do, therefore you should spend more time at The New Children’s Museum earlier in the day.
TravelingMom Tip: Looking for a seafaring experience that isn’t too overwhelming, especially if you have little ones? Walk another 10 minutes up the harbor to visit the Maritime Museum. You won’t be able to bring a stroller aboard however you can wear baby in a front carrier. Here you can hop aboard several of the docked vessels. The Star of India is the world’s oldest active ship and a highlight of the museum.
A Harbor Cruise to Coronado
990 N. Harbor Dr.
Located just feet away from the USS Midway, Flagship Cruises offers visitors a chance to get on the water. There are dinner cruises and tours around the bay available. We took the 15-minute ferry ride from the downtown harbor across the bay to Coronado Island. A one-way ticket is less than $5 per person and departs every hour on the hour. Riders will be deposited at the Coronado Ferry Landing just north of the Coronado Bay Bridge.
TravelingMom Tip: There is indoor and outdoor seating on the ferry and you are permitted to take a bicycle on board. The last ferry ride is at 9 pm so be sure to return back to the landing in time!
Coronado Ferry Landing
As the day wanes, take an easy walk through the Coronado Ferry Landing. There are palm-tree lined shops and a view of downtown San Diego that can’t be missed. Depending upon what you’d like to see and do in Coronado, you have several options for the evening.
Coronado Tidelands Park
2000 Mullinex Dr.
We enjoy taking a walk along the Bayshore Bikeway. Continue one mile south to Coronado Tidelands Park. A small sandy beach area, playground and restrooms make this an ideal evening pit stop.
1101 1st St.
If you prefer a shorter trek, walk 5 minutes in the opposite direction from the landing. Centennial Park offers large grassy lawns and a San Diego skyline viewpoint. It can get windy and chilly along the bay once sun sets, so bring a jacket.
Candelas on the Bay
1201 1st St. #115
Candelas on the Bay is located just a few minutes walk from the ferry landing. You can’t beat the view of San Diego’s downtown. There is both indoor and outdoor seating and umbrellas overhead for most outdoor tables.
The Queso fundido with chorizo is tasty, with just a little bit of spice from the chorizo. Pollo al chipotle is delicious, with a smokey and spicy white wine chipotle sauce. What a lovely location for dinner or even just cocktails and happy hour. Grab a mojito, they are top notch!
Hotel for the Night
While parents like having a hotel that’s centrally located and with multiple amenities, we all know what kids want – a pool! While most downtown San Diego hotels lack this feature, the Residence Inn San Diego Downtown Bayfront has a swimming pool the kids will love. And there’s a lovely view of the harbor as well. Hotel address is 900 Bayfront Ct, San Diego, CA 92101, a five-minute walk from Flagship Cruises along the downtown harbor.