Bisected by the San Diego River, Mission Valley lies just east of Downtown San Diego. Named after San Diego de Alcalá, California’s first Spanish mission, this vibrant neighborhood in the heart of San Diego County is a shoppers’ paradise with some of the city’s biggest malls. Mission Valley also has plenty of lovely parks to stroll and relax in.
Sprawling malls like Fashion Valley promise endless retail therapy, along with plenty of excellent restaurants and state-of-the-art movie theaters. If you prefer being outdoors, you can practice your swing at the Riverwalk Golf Club or wander around the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. Catching the San Diego State Aztecs in action at the Snapdragon Stadium is a must!
Ready to explore this historic neighborhood on your San Diego vacation? Set out your plan with this comprehensive guide for what to see & do, where to eat & drink, and where to stay in Mission Valley, San Diego.
Looking for more ideas for your trip? Check out our California Travel Guide for more tips & recommendations on when to visit, where to go & what to do on your vacation!
What to see & do in Mission Valley
Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala
History buff or not, the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá will wow you! Dating back to 1769, the Franciscan mission was the first mission in California of its kind, marking the introduction of Christianity in the American West.
Founded by Spanish Friar Junípero Serra, the beautifully restored mission features a 46-foot-tall bell tower with five distinctive bells. Take a guided tour of the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá and discover this remarkable historical shrine’s role in bringing Catholicism to this part of the world.
Visit the small museum and admire ancient artifacts from the Kumeyaay tribe. Learn the story of the extraordinary dedication of the Spanish priests who worked tirelessly to promote their religion. After your tour of the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá, stroll through the tranquil gardens with elegant fountains surrounding the building.
The Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá is still in use today as an active church and cultural center and is one of the most popular attractions in San Diego for visitors. If you’re religious, you can also attend one of the daily Catholic Mass services.
Take some time out of your San Diego trip itinerary to head to the imaginative and innovative Civita Park. Located on Civita Boulevard, the multi-level, 14-acre park has a wealth of fun and quirky attractions.
Wander through a charming community garden with multiple sensory gardens, including a winged garden designed for attracting different birds, a succulent garden, and a fragrant scented garden. Keep an eye out for the small rabbit sculptures dotted about the gardens.
Head to the splash pad to cool off on a hot summer’s day and relax in one of the quirky outdoor living rooms, with interactive picnic tables that double as chess boards and ping pong tables. Enjoy a quiet barbecue in one of Civita Park’s creative outdoor dining rooms while the kids burn off energy in the playground.
A jogging/walking track winds through Civita Park, and you’ll find plenty of bars for a post-run stretch. A games plaza boasts a giant chess board, basketball courts, and ample space for other outdoor activities.
One of the coolest features of Civita Park is the story-telling tunnel. Wander through the tunnel and admire the brightly painted murals that tell the historic story of San Diego over the past century.
Treat yourself to a day of world-class shopping at one of Southern California’s trendiest destinations: Fashion Valley. Designed to reflect the coastal-chic lifestyle, this sprawling outdoor mall features beautiful swaying palm trees, living succulent walls, and elegant fountains.
You’ll find over 200 stores for every budget, from leading department stores and international fashion houses to home décor shops and fast-fashion chains at Fashion Valley. Stroll around the stylish open-air mall and browse or shop in the sunshine.
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Give your credit card a break and take a load off at the 18-screen movie theater or one of the many eateries sprinkled around Fashion Valley. Tuck into your favorite slice at The Cheesecake Factory or try something new at the highly acclaimed Tommy Bahama Marlin Bar.
Riverwalk Golf Club
Meet on the green and practice your swing at the Riverwalk Golf Club. Formerly known as the Stardust Country Club, the Riverwalk Golf Club has over 200 acres of pristine fairways, greens, and tees. The San Diego River adds to the beauty of the course, and you’ll find challenging water features and a spectacular waterfall around the signature hole.
Follow in the footsteps of golf legends who played the 18-hole, par-72 course during the 1950 San Diego Open. Enjoy first-class facilities from a double-sided, night-lit driving range and short game area to an elegant clubhouse with a top-notch restaurant and full-service golf shop.
If you want to improve your game, join one of the club’s instructional programs led by professional golfers. Located within minutes of Hotel Circle in the heart of Mission Valley, the Riverwalk Golf Club is the perfect place to spend an afternoon on the green on a day trip from San Diego.
Go Aztecs! Catch the San Diego State Aztecs football team in action at their home ground, the Snapdragon Stadium. Set on the San Diego State University grounds, the stadium boasts a natural grass playing surface. In addition to football, it’s also used for other sports, including soccer, rugby, and baseball.
Snapdragon Stadium was once the home of the San Diego Padres Major League Baseball team from 1969 to 2003 before they moved to Petco Park on the edge of the Gaslamp Quarter in Downtown San Diego.
The 35,000-seat state-of-the-art stadium is also used for concerts and other large-scale events – the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Guns’ n Roses, and Jimmy Buffet are set to play at the Snapdragon Stadium this year!
Walk in the place of California’s early European settlers at Presidio Park. The historic city park is set where the first European settlements in the Western United States were founded in 1769. The park features several beautiful old buildings and fantastic exhibits that tell the story of life in the late-1700s.
Nestled on a hill overlooking Old Town San Diego, Presidio Park has 40 acres of beautiful green spaces with lawns, picnic areas, and breathtaking San Diego River Valley views. As you stroll around the park, watch for historical markers, colorful murals, and monuments dotted throughout the space.
Meander through the Arbor with its ornate Corinthian columns and admire the sculpture of a Native American honoring the Kumeyaay tribe, the area’s first inhabitants. Admire the Padre Cross monument, created from materials from the original Presidio fort that once stood on the hill.
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Spend some time in the iconic Junipero Serra Museum and learn the fascinating history of San Diego. Explore exhibits of artifacts collected during archaeological digs in the area, such as tools, clothing, furniture, and art.
Where to eat & drink
Worked up a hunger from all that exploring? When it’s time to refuel, Mission Valley has an excellent choice of places to eat & drink.
If you’re wandering around Fashion Valley Mall and feel like something fresh and healthy, head to True Food Kitchen. You’ll find a stylish, laid-back eatery with a delicious chef-driven menu of seasonal fare. Think wild-caught tuna tostadas, teriyaki quinoa bowls, and pan-seared bass! There are also burgers and pizza on the menu with a healthy twist.
For hearty, comfort cuisine, like steaming pot roast and handmade pasta, try the Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar in Westfield. This relaxed, lodge-chic chain is renowned for its global comfort cuisine and cozy ambiance. Dishes like BBQ bison meatloaf and chicken cordon bleu spring to mind. You can even order ready-made TV-dinner-style takeaways that simply need to be reheated.
When it comes to fresh fish, King’s Fish House won’t disappoint! The third-generation-run restaurant knows its crab from its craw, and you can expect seafood so fresh it smacks of the sea. Tuck your bib in and dig into heaving platters of fresh-caught oysters and clams, catch-of-the-day fish, and chunky lobsters.
Need a morning caffeine fix or a quick pick-me-up while shopping? Make your way to King’s Craft Coffee Co. This classic coffee shop serves all the usual suspects, from cappuccino to cortado, along with drip coffee, pour-overs, and cold brews.
Beer o’clock time calls for the Yard House, where you’ll find a massive selection of craft and local beers on tap, signature cocktails, and classic pub grub. Warm, cozy interiors and big-screen TVs sporting the games create a relaxed and laid-back vibe.
Celebrate true Americana with a visit to a classic roadhouse for a burger and shake. Mr. Peabody’s Burgers & Ale has been a neighborhood stalwart since the early 90s, and if it’s roadhouse grub you want, this is where to get it. Feast on towering burgers, greasy fries, spicy chicken wings, and taco baskets.
Where to stay
Although there’s a ton of accommodation options here, Mission Valley is one of the most “fringe” choices for where to stay in San Diego. For most travelers, areas like Old Town San Diego, the Gaslamp Quarter, Downtown San Diego, Pacific Beach, or Mission Beach offer a better overall vacation experience. Nonetheless, if you’re dead set on staying in Mission Valley, here are a few lodging ideas…
Step back to the 1960s at this super-cool, retro-budget hotel. Flanked by palm trees and just half a mile from Interstate 8, the Kings Inn is a casual, motel-style retreat with a laid-back vibe. Relax by the outdoor pool, dine on classic Mexican cuisine at one of two restaurants, and enjoy live music at the hotel bar.
Legacy Resort Hotel & Spa
Enjoy all the bells and whistles at the Legacy Resort Hotel & Spa. Kick back in stylish suites with private balconies. Pamper yourself in the luxury spa and unwind beside the enormous outdoor pool. Catch a movie in the entertainment center’s theater and get all your souvenirs at the resort craft market.
Holiday Inn Express & Suites San Diego – Mission Valley, an IHG Hotel
Classic and comfortable Holiday Inn Express & Suites San Diego – Mission Valley, an IHG Hotel, is ideal for a family stay. Tuck into a complimentary breakfast buffet and enjoy facilities like a fitness room, an outdoor pool, and a hot tub. Coin-operated laundry services are available, and you can stay connected with free Wi-Fi.