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Coolest things to do when someone visits San Diego

Whenever a visitor arrives, you, as a host, start racking your brain for every quintessential San Diego activity to introduce them to. Right? Of course you do.

Whenever a visitor arrives, you, as a host, start racking your brain for every quintessential San Diego activity to introduce them to. Right? Of course you do. Their impending stay means that you’ve got to roll out all the stops, pull out your best San Diego magic and try to impress whoever it is, whether it’s your parents or friends.

This list of 25 activities is a good place to start.   

1. Take a hike through Torrey Pines

Show off the big blue ocean to your out-of-town guests. With unbeatable views and easy terrain for every level, it’s the perfect pit-stop to burn off some of those taco calories.

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Hayne Palmour IV

2. Sunset Cliffs

While most of the nation is freezing through winter, we’re lucky enough to have decent weather and beautiful beach trails, like Sunset Cliffs, to make staying in shape a bit easier. The cliffs wind around Ocean Beach on an easy-to-follow dirt path with epic sunset views at the finish.

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Amy T. Granite

3. Stroll through Balboa Park

Pop into one of the many museums. Bonus: On each Tuesday of the month, select museums are free for locals, so while your guests still have to pay, your wallet won’t take the hit.

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Peggy Peattie

4. Tour the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier

As the longest-serving U.S. Navy carrier of the 20th century, the USS Midway is one of the most popular attractions to experience. Guests can hop aboard the massive ship with more than 29 aircrafts on display, walking in the footsteps of 225,000 Midway sailors who served our country.

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USS Midway. (Courtesy photo)

5. Little Italy Mercato

If you and your date love starting your day off shopping for fresh organic food and crafts, then head down to the Little Italy farmers market on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Rain or shine this market has tons of options for coffee, flowers, fruits and vegetables for you both to enjoy. Grab a snack (and check out our next date suggestion) or find some fresh food to cook together later that night. littleitalysd.com/mercato

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Howard Lipin

6. Go on a craft beer crawl

Take your visitors through the craft breweries that put San Diego on the map. Brewery Tours of San Diego hosts public and private tours that include Mission Brewery, Ballast Point, Karl Strauss Brewing Co. and Stone Brewing Co.

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Jared Gase

7. Rock out to a concert at the Belly Up

As one of San Diego’s most iconic music venues, the Belly Up spotlights some of the best artists in the entertainment industry, performing on stage in front of a full bar and snug seating.

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Jimmy Buffett and his band, the Coral Reefers, perform Tuesday at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach.

8. Dine in Little Italy

The neighborhood is one of the hottest dining areas in San Diego right now, burgeoning with restaurants sure to impress a guest. Stop through for some of Top Chef Richard Blais’ fried chicken at The Crack Shack or his more upscale eats at Juniper & Ivy, or check out Brian Malarkey at Herb & Wood. But no trip to the this neighborhood would be complete without a stop at one of the many Italian eateries offering coffee, gelato or heaping piles of pasta.

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A five-piece order of Jidori free-range, all-organic chicken at the Crack Shack restaurant in Little Italy. (Nancee E. Lewis)

9. Have a drink on one of the many rooftop bars

Our favorites include Kettner Exchange or Born and Raised in Little Italy, Rustic Root or The Nolen downtown or for beach vibes try Hello Betty in Fish House in Oceanside. For a full list of rooftop bars around San Diego, read more here.

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Cocktails from Kettner Exchange, including (from left) "Spicy Gallagher," "I Go to Rio" and "Afternoon Delight." (Nancee E. Lewis)

10. Dinner cruise on Hornblower Cruises

Sail away with your one-and-only on a three-hour cruise with your own private, reserved table. Each attendee will receive a glass of champagne upon boarding, as well as free-flowing champagne all night. A three-course menu will be prepared fresh with choices that include seasonal incredients. The cruise will also feature a DJ, dancing and views of the beautiful San Diego Bay. 

Grape Street Pier, 1800 N. Harbor Dr., downtown. hornblower.com

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Hornblower Cruises. (hornblower.com)

11. Catch a Padres game at Petco Park

Explore some of the renovated dining options the ballpark now has to offer. If it’s the off season, schedule a tour that includes a stop in the Padres dugout.

100 Park Blvd., downtown, sandiego.padres.mlb.com

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K.C. Alfred

12. Eat a taco at Oscar’s Mexican Seafood

Located in Hillcrest, Pacific Beach, North PB and downtown, Oscar’s is one of San Diego’s most popular taco spots. Try the mixed fish and shrimp ceviche, as well.

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Danny DeSanti

13. Catch a flick outdoors at Cinema Under the Stars

The heated patio with comfortable lounge chairs is unbeatable, and the film lineup is just as good. Enjoy both new releases and old Hollywood films here.

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The heated patio with comfortable lounge chairs is unbeatable, and the film lineup is just as good. Upcoming films include "Steve Jobs," "Spotlight" and "The Big Short." (Sean M. Haffey)

14. Dine at an oceanfront restaurant

With too many to choose from around San Diego, our picks include JRDN at Tower23, George’s at the Cove, Island Prime, The Marine Room, Wonderland Ocean Pub and Eddie V’s in La Jolla. 

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George's on the Cove. (Courtesy photo)

15. Ride bikes around Coronado Island

You can cruise around the entire island in a couple hours, with some pit-stops to take photos and grab ice cream along the way. 

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16. Visit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

More than 3,500 animals live in open areas, and visitors can take a range of safari-style tours, such as the cheetah safari tour, the caravan safari or the “Roar & Snore” safari, an overnight experience.

Babies at the San Diego Zoo and Zoo Safari Park
CHULA VISTA, CALIFORNIA, USA -- APRIL 6, 2017 MANDATORY CREDIT: PHOTO BY NELVIN C. CEPEDA, SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE Shauni a reticulated giraffe and her baby named Sharifa was born April 3rd this year. Her name means distinguished in Swahili.

17. See a show at The Old Globe

The Old Globe is one of the most esteemed regional theaters in the country and produces 15 plays and musicals annually, including the renowned Summer Shakespeare Festival and Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas

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18. Mission Beach boardwalk

The concrete-paved course allows runners to jog right on the coast of Mission Beach as they pass by locals, tourists and of course, a gorgeous ocean view. The path stretches from North Pacific Beach to South Mission Beach a little over three miles. Starting at Belmont Park and continuing to Crystal Pier is a great first-run to try here. 

3714 Mission Blvd., Mission Beach. sandiego.org 

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U-T file photo

19. Have a beach bonfire on Mission Beach

Fire pits are spread around the sand to accommodate large groups of friends.

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20. Sip a craft cocktail at a speakeasy

Fronted by a “bougie” bottle shop filled with boutique spirts at the this speakeasy at Westfield UTC mall is like no other. Once inside the Raised by Wolves bar, expect a one-of-a-kind cocktail list and a uniquely designed space with iron, wood and glass details from local designer Basile Studio. Make sure to call ahead for a reservation at this liquids-only location. Read more here.

4301 La Jolla Village Dr., Ste. 2030 at Westfield UTC, 619.629.0243

21. Play some games at Coin-Op

Located in the heart of North Park and in the Gaslamp, Coin-Op provides more than 20 coin operated retro video games and pinball machines. Visit on the last Sunday of the month for free play. coinopsd.com

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Coin Op in North Park. (Courtesy photo)

22. Satisfy your sweet tooth at Extraordinary Desserts

The dessert-focused restaurant has two locations in Hillcrest and Little Italy. The intricately-decorated treats will leave a lasting impression on your guest. 

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23. Visit an art exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

The La Jolla location sits on the coastline and showcases a dynamic schedule of art exhibits. 

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24. Rediscover Old Town San Diego

There are guided tours, museums, galleries and shops to explore where the Europeans first settled in 1850. Stop into a traditional Mexican restaurant while there to indulge in some tasty tacos.

Fiesta Old Town Cinco de Mayo
Possibly the most iconic party in San Diego, the 34th annual Fiesta Old Town Cinco de Mayo celebration took place from Friday, May 5 to Sunday, May 7 in Old Town. (Bradley Schweit)

25. And of course: Visit the beaches

From Coronado to Ocean Beach, La Jolla Shores to Del Mar, there’s more than 70 miles of coastline to explore in sunny San Diego. See our favorite beaches here.

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John Gastaldo