How To Experience Unforgettable 48 Hours in San Diego by Bike
Visiting San Diego by bike is the best way to discover the city. It allows you to get a real feel for the city and discover places you’d miss whizzing by in a car while taking full advantage of the year-round nice weather. Most importantly, the more you bike, the more tacos you’ll be able to eat. And you’re going to want to eat a lot of tacos. So if you’ve got 48 hours in San Diego, get your fat butt out of an Uber and onto the seat of a bicycle instead.
48 Hours in San Diego by Bike Overview
Where to Rent You Bike
This is a no-brainer.
Rent your bike from Pete of Stay Classy Bike Rentals. He’s like the Uber of bike rentals. Instead of having to go to a shop to rent a bike, he brings the bike to you. And when you’re finished with it, just lock it up where you are, take a picture of it, message Pete the location, and he’ll pick it up.
Bikes from Pete are $35 for the first day, then $10 each day thereafter, so for your 48 hours in San Diego it’ll cost you $45.
Where to Stay
Don’t make the same mistake as us when choosing where to stay for your 48 hours in San Diego. We reserved an Airbnb in a cool but not central neighborhood (South Park) and ended up spending a lot more time and money than we needed to Ubering, bussing, and biking to and from there.
Stay somewhere around downtown instead. While it’s probably not the coolest or most beautiful part of town, it’s the best home base for getting the most out of your 48 hours in San Diego. It’s conveniently close to the airport, there’s plenty to do at night in the Gaslamp area or Little Italy, and it’s the starting and ending point for the two bike loops below.
A Note on Biking in San Diego
There are some downsides to biking in San Diego. Most importantly, the roads suck. Riding around town is rarely smooth because there are potholes, bumps, and cracks everywhere. Also, designated bike lanes are few and far between, so you’ll normally have to share the roads with cars.
On the bright side, our experience was that the drivers were amazingly courteous and respectful of us bikers. It seems they haven’t learned to hate and recent cyclists like they do in our hometown of Vancouver. At four-way stops they’d always wave us through (even when they had right-of-way), they gave us wide berths when passing us, and they’d stop for us at crosswalks.
San Diego in 48 Hours By Bike Maps
Use these maps to guide you as you cycle your way through the must-see places San Diego has to offer. Highlights from the day 1 itinerary are in blue and those for day 2 are in yellow.
San Diego in 48 Hours Day 1: The Inner Hipster
Total Biking Distance Approximately 22 km. / 13 mi.
For the first half of your 48 hours in San Diego, venture inland to bike, eat, and drink your way through the most hip(-ster) areas of town.
Before checking out San Diego’s currently hip neighborhoods, check out its past with a quick ride through the historical Spanish colonial buildings and gardens of Balboa Park. While you could theoretically spend days exploring the museums and the San Diego zoo of Balboa Park, a slow cruise through was enough for us.
Exit the northwest corner of Balboa Park to enter Hillcrest, San Diego’s gay neighborhood. As is the case with seemingly every city’s gay neighborhood, it’s a lively, friendly area with funky cafés and laid-back breakfast spots. Stop wherever suits your fancy. Hash House A Go Go was recommended a couple times to us.
Continue east on University Avenue for about a mile and a half of not-so-interesting and not particularly pleasant cycling, and you’ll hit San Diego’s most developed hipster neighborhood, North Park. This is where you’ll want to get lunch at a place like Carnita’s, Underbelly, or Lucha Libre and maybe also a beer from one of 30th Street’s many, many bars and microbreweries.
Once you and your belly have had your fill of North Park, roll on down 30th avenue towards its up-and-coming hipster cousin South Park. We found South Park to be a lot like North Park, just smaller and quieter. Since you’ve probably had enough to eat and drink, you’ll probably be content with just cruising through and window shopping before heading on to the next spot: Barrio Logan.
A couple miles from South Park, Barrio Logan is a traditionally Mexican-American neighborhood that is rapidly gentrifying. Check out the murals at Chicano Park then dig into some tacos from Salud or Las Cuatro Milpas (beware it closes at 3pm!) and a beer from Border X Brewing across the street.
From Barrio Logan, you’ve only got a short bike ride back downtown to the Gaslamp Quarter. If the timing’s right (5-7 p.m.), stop by for happy hour at Altitude Sky Lounge, on the 22nd floor of the Marriott hotel. Don’t worry about being in your stinky bike clothes, since there’s no strict dress code.
Freshen up back at your hotel or Airbnb then return to the Gaslamp Quarter, where the dinner and drinks options are endless. Call it an early night so that you can better digest all your food and seize the day tomorrow, day number two of your 48 hours in San Diego by bike.
San Diego in 48 Hours Day 2: West Coastin’
Total Biking Distance Approximately 31 km. / 19 mi.
Day two of your 48 hours in San Diego is all about the beach as you’ll cruise along gorgeous beaches and equally gorgeous houses from the far north of the city all the way down the coast.
Instead of starting off on your bike, put your bike on the express 150 bus and ride up north to the University of California, San Diego.
If you’re hardcore, you can choose to bike the 15 miles up instead of take the bus. We did, but in retrospect we would’ve much preferred to save the time and energy and spend the $2.50 on the bus. The vast majority of the ride is unrewarding and uninteresting cruising on roads that are adjacent to big highways.
Getting off the bus on the beautiful campus of the University of California, San Diego, bike west towards the ocean. If you’d like a snack or coffee, stop by Bella Vista Café, where you can sit among scientists and students and enjoy views of paragliders floating above the oceanside cliffs.
From there, it’s a short cycle to the trailhead for all-natural Black’s Beach. And we mean all-natural. On top of being a scenic Cliffside natural location, it’s an au-natural clothing-optional beach. The walk down is a steep 10-15 minutes, but it’s worth it for the scenery and the opportunity to air out your private parts and freshen up with a dip in the sea.
Hiking back from Black’s Beach to your bikes, it’s a four mile ride to your next stop, La Jolla Cove. Even though La Jolla Cove is an excessively popular tourist destination, it’s worth passing to get a quick up-close view of the seals and sea lions. A few minutes is enough, as seeing all those fat seals and sea lions is bound to make you hungry. Lucky for you, The Taco Stand is only a few minutes away. Of the many tacos Kim and I devoured while in San Diego, our favorites were from The Taco Stand, so don’t miss out. But don’t go too crazy, because there’s more food to come. A lot more.
Mid Afternoon (Happy Hour Part 1)
Continue south about three miles, following the signs for the scenic bike route and admiring the beautiful houses on the way. Stop by whenever you wish to check out any of the many secluded beaches too before you get to your next dining destination: Oscar’s. If you time your trip well, you’ll manage to be there between 2:30 and 4:40 p.m. to take advantage of their incredible 99 cent fish taco happy hour deal.
Late Afternoon (Happy Hour Part 2)
Carrying on south from Oscar’s, you’ll soon arrive at the north end of Pacific Beach, from which you’ll be able to take the beachside boardwalk all the way along, through Mission Beach. Jump into the ocean wherever you see fit, enjoy the people watching, and, if you’re thirsty or have an insatiable appetite, try a happy hour at one of the bars or restaurants along the boardwalk such as JRDN or PB Shore Club.
At Belmont Park, make a quick detour inland to cross the Mission Bay Channel, then head back towards the coast and Ocean Beach. Buy a beer or two from a local store and take in the sunset from aptly named Sunset Cliffs beach.
From Sunset Cliffs beach, bike back to Newport Avenue, Ocean Beach’s main strip. There you can choose to get an informal dinner of burgers and shakes from Hodad’s or put your bikes on the 923 bus to return downtown.
Once downtown, lock up your bikes somewhere secure, let Pete from Stay Classy Bike Rentals know where you left them so he can pick them up, then conclude your whirlwind San Diego adventure by exploring the dining and drinking options along India Street in Little Italy.