San Diego, at the southern end of California, is known for sunny skies year-round and mild temperatures even in winter. It’s the perfect city to enjoy the outdoors. With beaches, waterfront parks, and foothills, San Diego beckons you to visit and amble along, taking in coastal views and moving through tree-filled, tranquil places.
You may be looking for a short, easy walk on fairly flat terrain. Some days call for leisure, while you save the longer, steeper trails for another time when you want to hike. The choices for walks in San Diego are endless. To help you narrow down what you may most enjoy, I can tell you about a few favorites I highly recommend. I am fortunate to call this city my home, so I’m out and about often. Here are San Diego walks you will love as I do, in a variety of settings.
1. Stroll Along San Diego Bay At The Embarcadero
Downtown San Diego borders San Diego Bay. For a bayside walk with views of the graceful Coronado Bridge and the island of Coronado, walk along the water in Seaport Village. Sailboats and kayaks glide by, and the Harbor Cruise chugs back and forth in these waters.
Veer off the path to wind around the cobblestone streets of the village. Stores offer kites, hammocks, and homemade fudge. A historic carousel fills the air with music. And take a break from your walk to slurp on a tasty ice cream cone.
Continue north along the waterfront on your Embarcadero adventure. Sights include the USS Midway aircraft carrier. The Midway was commissioned in September 1945 and was active until 1991, making it the longest-serving carrier in U.S. Navy history. When commissioned, it was the largest ship in the world at 1,000 feet long. Today, it appears as it did on its last journey.
In the small park next to the Midway, you can’t help but notice the outsized World War II statue of The Kiss. Make a detour off the main pathway to gaze up at this statue from its base and take a few photos.
Next you will come to the Maritime Museum with the iconic Star of India sailing vessel. The Maritime Museum also includes the HMS Surprise, the steam ferry Berkley, and a Soviet submarine. You can purchase a ticket and board all of these seafaring treasures.
Conclude your Embarcadero walk by crossing the street to visit the San Diego County Waterfront Park. Children will love the creative playground. And the young at heart of any age can frolic in the splash fountains.
Pro Tip: If you have a half-day to spend at the Embarcadero, tour the Midway or the Maritime Museum. Both are fascinating, unique experiences.
2. Trace San Diego History In The Gaslamp Quarter
Just a few blocks from the water in downtown San Diego is the Gaslamp Quarter, billed as “The Historic Heart of San Diego.” First settled in the early days of the city, in the mid-19th century, the Gaslamp now offers 16 square blocks of Victorian-era buildings mixed with modern skyscrapers. Famous for a lively nightlife, this area features more than 100 restaurants, nightclubs, and pubs. And it’s much more than a party scene. Boutique shops, offices, and residential lofts are scattered throughout. If it’s culture you’re after, the Gaslamp also is home to theaters, art galleries, and concert venues.
Be sure to include Horton Plaza Park in your walk. The park has grassy lawns, ice cream and coffee vendors, and an interactive fountain.
Keep an eye out for historic buildings now housing modern business. A few favorites are the Yuma Building, the Spencer Ogden Building, the Old City Hall, the Keating Building, the Louis Bank of Commerce, the St. James Hotel, and the Royal Pie Bakery Building.
An interesting bit of history is that the Gaslamp was once home to Wyatt Earp, the most famous lawman of the west. After battling outlaws at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, Earp ventured to San Diego in 1885. Here he ran gambling halls, organized gambling excursions in Mexico, and prospected for gold.
The Gaslamp Quarter covers the streets between Broadway, 4th, 6th, and the railroad tracks.
3. Tour Colorful, Flavorful Little Italy
Little Italy is a lively neighborhood north of downtown San Diego packed with Italian restaurants, cocktail bars, and pubs. Upscale boutiques are plentiful. A weekly farmers market draws locals and tourists alike with its offerings of gourmet foods, produce, and crafts.
Greenspace is here, too. The Piazza della Famiglia is a 10,000-square-foot European-style piazza on W. Date Street between India and Columbia. The ambiance includes a lovely, tiled fountain and cobblestones. Grab a coffee or savor lunch outside while you gaze on the views of San Diego Bay.
If you are with your pooch, check out the Little Italy Dog Park in Amici Park.
In the mood for an unusual museum? The Firehouse Museum fits the bill. The Old Fire Station 6, built here more than 100 years ago, is now home to a museum featuring early fire engines, a horse-drawn steamer, and firefighting equipment. There’s even a piece of steel from the World Trade Center in honor of the firefighters of New York who responded on 9/11.
You’ll be hungry for Italian food if you visit Little Italy, and you will have many great choices. My favorite is Filipi’s Pizza. Opened in 1950, Filipi’s is the quintessential Italian restaurant experience, complete with hanging wine bottles and red-checked tablecloths. And the pizza is simply the most delicious you will find in San Diego.
To get to Little Italy, go to Front Street and Cedar and then browse the neighborhood. You’ll likely smell the fresh-baked bread and Italian seasoning as soon as you arrive!
4. Go To Mission Bay Park For Constant Views of Blue Waters
Tranquil bay waters combine with paved paths and streets in Mission Bay Park, giving you the opportunity to walk as far as you like. Whether you have a half-hour or a half-day, you can walk and feel the calm of the blue bay.
You can also walk just a little further and hit the ocean. Mission Beach boardwalk gets busy but is a great place for a stroll right along the ocean, accompanied by the sound of the crashing waves.
Pull up a map on your GPS to figure out your route and how far you want to go. Several parking lots are throughout the area. Mission Bay is bordered to the east by the I-5 freeway and East Mission Bay Drive, to the west by Mission Blvd, to the north by Grand Avenue, and to the south by West Mission Bay Drive and Sea World Drive. Ingraham Street runs north-south dead through the middle of the park via a series of islands and bridges.
Places of interest include Sail Bay, with its wide running path; Quivera Basin, with waterfront shops and restaurants; Dana Landing, a busy, picturesque marina; and East Mission Bay Park, where you’ll find an information center and playgrounds. Fiesta Island is a dune-covered island that also has an off-leash dog beach.
Pro Tip: If time is short, cut through the Catamaran resort reception area at 3999 Mission Boulevard and head out to the paved path along the water. You can also rent kayaks and standup paddleboards here if you want to get out on the water.
5. Venture Through Balboa Park On The Walking Loop
Balboa Park, known as the Jewel of San Diego, is within walking distance of the Gaslamp Quarter and Little Italy. If you are staying downtown on a trip to San Diego, you can walk to the park, entering along Sixth Avenue. More than 1,200 acres of walking paths, historic buildings, museums, restaurants, and gardens make up this sprawling park, “where culture, science, and nature collide.”
The park grew to its present size when San Diego was set to play host to the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. The small “City Park” needed a new name fitted to the prestigious occasion, and so Balboa Park was born.
You can base yourself in the middle of the park and its museums and walk along the pillar-lined avenues. Notice the park’s landmark tree, the Moreton Bay fig, that covers a block north of the Natural History Museum. This tree, planted before 1915, is over 60 feet tall with a spread of 120 feet. The Lily Pond is nearby, and the historic Botanical Building is one of the largest lath structures in the world. It’s telling that the view of the Botanical Building with the Lily Pond in front of it is one of the most photographed scenes in Balboa Park.
Another option for an interesting walk in this park is the Balboa Park Loop. This is a 4.5-mile loop trail that winds through canyons where wildflowers bloom in the spring. Your pup is welcome if on a leash.
6. Take A Walk In Charming Coronado
Coronado is an island a few minutes’ drive from downtown San Diego over a curving bridge. You can also take a ferry from the Embarcadero across the water to Coronado’s Ferry Landing. The flat streets are lined with lovely homes and gardens. It’s an easy and ideal place to walk, whether you want to explore the neighborhood or stick to the sidewalk that borders the beach. Breathe in the ocean air and you’ll be whisked away to a relaxing world.
A premier walk in Coronado is from the historic Hotel Del Coronado north along the ocean. Locate the hotel with its signature red roof and white-wood buildings. It’s at the end of Orange Avenue. Park on a nearby side street. Go around to the beachside of the hotel and start your walk on the paved path.
If you go for about a half-hour, you’ll arrive at Coronado Dog Beach. Smile at the dogs dancing in the waves. And of course, if you are with your own dog, you will love this place. It also works well to start your walk here and go south toward the hotel.
Pro Tip: A fun secret about this walk is that the dunes just north of the hotel spell out “Coronado.” It’s hard to see when you are on the ground, but if you know to look, you’ll get it. The letter “O” is the easiest to find.
7. Get Out In Nature At Mission Trails Regional Park
For a fascinating walk in the inland area of San Diego, drive to Mission Trails Regional Park. It’s just 8 miles from downtown, off busy Mission Gorge Road near the 8 Freeway, adjacent to settled neighborhoods. But pulling off the road into the park, you immediately leave behind all the noise and busyness of urban life. This park contains more than 7,000 acres of land that includes hills, valleys, and the San Diego River. It’s easy to spend an hour or a day out in nature here.
Run by the San Diego Park System, Mission Trails is crisscrossed by more than 6 miles of trails. Some trails are steep and long, but if you’re looking for an easy, pleasant walk, you have a couple of wonderful options. The loop trail from the Visitor Center can easily be walked in about an hour. You’ll see parts of the river, and the trail is flat.
The walk I most often choose is along the road out of the Visitor Center to the Old Mission Dam. The road is blocked to traffic on one side, so you can walk without watching out for cars. Look for low-water plants as well as trees and brush, as this area is essentially desert. The Old Mission Dam sits about 1 and 3/4 of a mile from the center and was built to store water for the Mission in San Diego.
This area was once home to the Kumeyaay. You can see their grinding rocks along the river. Exhibits at the Visitor Center show what life here was like long ago.
Park at the Visitor Center lot to walk either of these trails.
San Diego offers so many easy, picturesque walks. Choose those that most interest you and then get out and explore -- and enjoy!