This post was most recently updated on January 18th, 2020
Doing the San Diego Harbor is really fun. One of my favorite things to do is pick someone up from the San Diego airport (or drop them off!). Especially if I have nothing scheduled immediately afterwards. The San Diego airport is very close to downtown San Diego and its beautiful harbor, and I love any excuse to hang out there. There’s so much to do and see along the downtown San Diego harbor.
Here, let me just show you!
The best way to see the harbor is while walking. But if you have a car, I suggest driving to Spanish Landing and Harbor Island first.
At Spanish Landing, there’s the Spanish Landing Park and the Cancer Survivors Park, and both are directly across from the entrance of the San Diego International Airport. In fact, if you have a long layover, this would be a perfect place to hang out. There’s lots of parking and great views of the water and marinas.
The park for Cancer Survivors is relatively new and makes a great contribution to the beauty of this area. And I suppose it offers hope to those struggling with cancer as well.
Next stop: Harbor Island. There’s lots of parking here, too, and you can walk along the water and enjoy the views of downtown San Diego. Here you can enjoy a picnic, just relax, shoot some photos or even fish. Harbor Island is also known for some great restaurants: Tom Ham’s Lighthouse, Island Prime, C-Level, and Coasterra. I’ve only eaten at Tom Ham’s (crab cakes are amazing), but the views are incredible! And just so you know, no one is allowed to limit access to the coastal sidewalk, so you can enjoy the same views as the restaurants by following the coastal walk behind each restaurant.
And here’s the link to a virtual tour of the Coasterra restaurant views, if you’d like to see how gorgeous they are!
Park Your Car and Walk Along the San Diego Harbor
After leaving Harbor Island, I like to park my car and walk along the waterfront. Here’s a tip to remember: there are still quite a few metered parking spaces as you get closer to downtown, but you won’t find them on any google map of San Diego!
As you drive along Harbor Drive from the airport towards downtown, you will see tiny little entrances to a one-lane road that parallels Harbor Drive on your right. Get on that road as soon as you can. It will take you through several small parking lots (6 or 7 spaces each) right on the water. If I look for parking before 10 AM, I can ALWAYS find a spot in one of these lots. And once you feed the meter, you can park for four hours. It’s a little over a mile walk from these parking lots all the way to Seaport Village. Very manageable. And it’s great to park so close to the waterfront!
Now that you’re parked, walk along the harbor from north to south. The first thing you will see on your left is the San Diego Administration Building and new Waterfront Park.
This park wasn’t here when I was raising my children, but I’m definitely going to take my grandchildren there! And I may dip my feet in as well. 🙂
Maritime Museum and Star of India
On your right, as you continue along, you will come across the Maritime Museum, the Star of India (the world’s oldest active sailing ship), and some waterfront restaurants: Star of the Sea, Anthony’s and Anthony’s Fishette (the most affordable). Update: these restaurants have been demolished to make way for San Diego’s new Portside Pier, to be completed in 2019.
B Street Cruise Terminal
Next, you will come to the B Street Cruise Terminal. Often you will see HUGE cruiseships parked alongside this pier with crowds of people loading or unloading. And sometimes it will be as quiet as can be. Like this day. You can enjoy the colorful murals on the walls.
Broadway Pier on the San Diego Harbor
A lot of San Diego’s waterfront has been much improved over recent years. The city has added very classy-looking kiosks for ticket sales, souvenirs, and visitor information, with beautiful little parks in between, restrooms, and directional signs. They’ve upgraded the Broadway Pier and added tables with umbrellas and bright red benches. And they’re planning to build an observation deck soon.
Broadway Pier was completely revamped in 2010, creating another cruise ship terminal and facilities for special events while still maintaining public access to its parklike setting. This is one of the best places to view 4th of July fireworks, too.
Continue to stroll south from the Broadway Pier, and you will come to a beautifully tree-lined area of war memorials, the Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum, Tuna Harbor Park, and the G Street Pier for commercial fishermen.
USS Midway and more Parks Along the San Diego Harbor
Tuna Harbor Park has beautiful trees and the famous “Kissing Sailor” statue, a tribute to Bob Hope, and the Fish Market restaurant.
G Street Pier and Seaport Village
G Street Pier is open to the public, but hardly anyone ever ventures there except the commercial fishermen who keep their boats moored there. But it’s a great place to explore! Right now, the pier is loaded with hundreds of lobster traps and fishing nets, as the fishermen gear up for lobster season. Pelicans and seagulls hang out on the pier and will let you get pretty close before flying away. Walk to the very end and you will be treated with views of Seaport Village and the Coronado Bridge.
Well, I’ve covered a lot here.
But there’s actually a little more you should know about the San Diego Harbor…
- Seaport Village is a quaint collection of boutique and specialty stores with cobblestone sidewalks, ponds & fountains, a carousel, and plenty of places to eat. If you have time, definitely go there too. There are often performers (think sword-swallowers or rock-stackers!). Embarcadero Park just beyond Seaport Village is also worth a stroll.
- It’s not technically on the waterfront, but the Santa Fe Train station is celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2015. You can see it from the B Street Cruise Ship terminal, so you might want to go check it out too.
- If you don’t want to walk, you can rent a bicycle from one of many Decobike rental stations in downtown San Diego. Rates are $12 for two continuous hours; other time periods available also. Or you can take a ride on a pedicab or rent a scooter!
- There are public restrooms on the Broadway Pier, near the information and ticket kiosks, at the Waterfront Park, and at Seaport Village.
- The San Diego Convention Center is also on the waterfront. Enjoy patios with great views of the water, fun sculptures and art, plus a funicular elevator ride, too!
- If you are lucky enough to see food vendor trucks parked along the water, be sure to take advantage of their food and reasonable prices!
- Links you might be interested in: Maritime Museum, USS Midway Museum, Seaport Village
I sure hope you enjoyed this little tour of the San Diego Harbor and waterfront, but I hope you get to do it in person sometime. It is beautiful, and I know you’ll enjoy it. It is ALWAYS our go-to place when we have out-of-town visitors. I’ve lived here 30 years, and I never get tired of it. Hope I run into you there!
You’ll be glad to learn that I’ve partnered with GPSmyCity to create a GPS-embedded guide for this article. You can download my article FREE or you can upgrade to the GPS-embedded article for a small fee. That way, you can follow my path along the San Diego harbor without needing internet or using your mobile data! I’ll receive a few cents and that helps me to keep bringing you more fun travel tips.
Looking for more ideas for things to do in San Diego?