There’s no denying that Seattle and San Diego are brimming with natural beauty. But this is where their similarities end. From their climate, the views they offer, and their attractions, they’re vastly different.
Both cities know how to give their visitors a fun time. But if you can’t decide where to go yet, you’ll find out which city fits you best below.
One look at Seattle’s skyline will give you a glimpse of what makes the city such a unique destination. You’ll find tall skyscrapers, mountains on either side, and a verdant urban jungle all in one frame.
Seattle got its nickname, the Emerald City, as it’s overflowing with evergreen trees, making the city green year-round. But to some tourists, this moniker has a new meaning as Seattle is one of the best cannabis-friendly cities in the country.
With a vibrant art scene and a strong coffee, wine, and beer culture, and more, Seattle is such an eclectic city. There are so many reasons to visit the city. But if you’re still looking for a good one, you may find a reason to head to Seattle below.
What Makes Seattle Unique?
A Breathtaking Emerald City
Popular cities in the US often have a nickname, and Seattle is no exception. The city has an incredible nickname of the Emerald City, which can be intriguing to some who don’t know the story behind the moniker. This nickname, so well-embraced by the locals, is due to Seattle’s perpetual green views.
In Seattle, you’ll find abundant greenery in and surrounding the city year-round. The city is so dense with evergreen trees that keep their emerald-like color no matter what time of the year. And this gives Seattle such an incredible natural beauty that makes the city famous.
What may be surprising to some is that Seattle is less green during the summer. Seattle is one of the rainiest cities in the country. And during the rainy season is when the city’s greenery flourishes the most.
Adding to the city’s scenic beauty is its fascinating landscape. Cradling Seattle are bodies of water and mountains, so there are endless natural wonders here. More than that, the city has easy access to the desert, farmland, and even a volcano.
The city lies on a narrow and hilly land in the middle of Lake Washington and Puget Sound. This means that you’re never too far from an idyllic waterfront. Whether you want to try some watersports or relax and take in the views, you’ll always find a spot to do so.
You’ll find the Olympic Mountains to the west, Mount Rainier in the south, and the stunning Cascade mountain range to the city’s east. Venture off further east and you’ll get to East Washington’s desert plains. In Seattle, you’re always a stone’s throw away from incredible hikes and breathtaking views.
If you don’t want to go too far from the city, Seattle’s downtown area has tons of parks too.
On Magnolia Bluff lies the stunning Discovery Park which overlooks Puget sound. It’s the largest park in the city, great for waterfront views, hiking, or learning some history. But with over 485 parks within Seattle’s limits, you’re spoiled for choices to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Unique and Quirky Attractions
It isn’t all about the breathtaking natural sights in Seattle. The city boasts a vibrant urban charm that you’ll find in a bustling metropolis.
So walking around Seattle, you’ll find no shortage of interesting landmarks to explore. Some are fascinating, such as the iconic Space Needle, while some add a ton of quirk factor to the city, like the Gum Wall. But no matter where you go, Seattle won’t fail to surprise you.
When people think of Seattle, the stunning Space Needle is the first that comes to their mind. This is the unmissable symbol of Seattle, an obligatory stop on any trip to the city. While you can see it from a viewpoint, there’s more to experiencing it than marveling at it from afar.
Climb up the Space Needle and you’ll find an observation deck to get 360-views of the city and the natural wonders that surround it. Sit on a floating glass bench, stand on its rotating glass floor, and more. You can even dine at the restaurant on this observation deck!
Another popular site in Seattle is the famous Pike Place Market. This bustling site is full of wonders not only for the food but the iconic site that lies within its limits too.
Here you’ll find an odd attraction, the gum wall. On Lower Post Alley, there’s a long wall filled with gum. This wall is just outside a theater, and patrons in the distant past would stick their gum here before entering.
Now, you can be a part of a sticky history too, and offer your tribute to the Gum Wall!
Also in the Pike Place Market, you can feed Rachel the Pig. This is a large piggy bank in the market, used to raise money for the Market Foundation. Stop by and say hi, or drop a coin to contribute to various institutions like the childcare center, senior center, and downtown food bank!
Another iconic landmark of Seattle is harder to find as it’s hidden away under a bridge. The Fremont Troll is a massive public sculpture that lives under the Aurora Bridge. In one of its hands, the troll holds a real Volkswagen Beetle that used to hold the project’s time capsule.
Thrilling Gastronomic Adventures
Seattle is a part of Washington State, a highly productive agricultural region. And as you can expect, the city is brimming with fresh produce.
On both sides of the city are rich waters filled with a diverse array of seafood. And around Seattle are fertile lands of orchards, farmlands, and more. All these are up fuel the vibrant food scene Seattle has, making the city heaven on Earth for foodies.
As it’s on the coast, seafood dominates Seattle’s culinary landscape. Oysters, tuna, crabs, whatever seafood you want, Seattle has it and serves it well.
If you want to have a plate of the fresh catch of the day, head to Pike Place Market! The market has a wealth of restaurants to choose from. But elsewhere across the city, you’ll find plenty more restaurants to dine at!
More than seafood, Seattle also has a well-renowned Asian food scene. You can get a taste of cuisine from various Asian countries here, from Japanese to Vietnamese to even Filipino food!
Still, Seattle gives you a taste of foreign flavors from around the world. Mediterranean, Italian, Caribbean, and many other cuisines are easy to find here. So no matter what you’re craving, Seattle has a restaurant to keep you satisfied.
The gastronomic delights don’t end here though, as Seattle is the coffee capital of the country. It’s the birthplace of Starbucks, which shaped the city’s coffee culture. In some areas, there are several Starbucks within a two-block radius.
You’ll find the oldest Starbucks right at Pike Place Market. And there’s almost always a line there.
But the city’s local coffee scene is much more diverse and interesting. There are thousands of coffee shops in the city. And this doesn’t consider cafes, restaurants, and bakeries that serve coffee.
Incredibly Vibrant Art Scene
Seattle’s fun-loving and playful attitude is evident in its art scene. The city is home to a plethora of museums, pop-up galleries, and art studios. More than that, Seattle has an exciting art scene with tons of performing art venues.
With this, Seattle is an art lover’s paradise. And you have tons of ways to uncover the city’s artistic side.
An unmissable part of Seattle’s art scene is its major art museums and galleries. The most popular one is the Seattle Art Museum, a massive museum of global ancient and contemporary art. A smaller one is the Frye Art Museum, where you can view 19th- and 20th-century artworks for free.
These major institutions aren’t the only worthwhile spots to indulge the art lover in you.
You can marvel at colorful and intricate glass creations at Chihuly Garden and Glass. Or explore the best of pop culture, from movies to music, at the Museum of Pop Culture where sci-fi and fantasy exhibits run year-round. There’s also the Olympic Sculpture Park, a sprawling park filled with abstract and modern sculptures.
There’s more to Seattle’s art scene than paintings and sculptures. The city is home to a plethora of musicians, dancers, and writers, too, that proudly showcase their talent in many ways.
Head to Seattle Symphony, where they put an unexpected twist on popular soundtracks. At the Pacific Northwest Ballet, you’ll get entertained by cutting-edge ballet choreographies. And if you’re a theater lover, Seattle has over 80 theater companies to dazzle you with impressive productions on stage.
Thrilling Indulgences for Adults
Seattle may be famous for coffee, but it’s not the only drink that the city’s obsessed with. Seattle loves to do things its own way, and that also applies to its local booze. And much like coffee, Seattle knows how to make wine and beer well.
The city lies in Washington state, one of the largest producers of premium wine in the US. But in Seattle alone, you’ll find dozens and dozens of wineries, spoiling you for options.
But if you want to go on an adventure, there are still tons of places to explore the city’s wine scene. Only 30 minutes away from the city center are hundreds of wineries and tasting rooms for you to taste the best wines they have to offer.
If you’re more of a beer person, then Seattle is a paradise for you. The city is home to one of the most independent breweries in the US too.
To make things more exciting, the beer scene in the city is as diverse as it gets. You’re never too far from a small brewery in the city experimenting with interesting beer blends. From Scottish Pale Ales to Belgian Ales to German lagers, you’re bound to find a favorite in the city!
Adding to the list of adult-only indulgences in the city is Seattle’s famous weed tourism. The recreational use of weed is legal here, making Seattle a great “green” destination!
Some of the best and most environmentally conscious weed in the country is from Seattle. Many local farms here cultivate cannabis without using any toxic pesticides.
Keep in mind that you have to be over 21 years old to buy recreational weed. To add, you can’t use them out in public too.
But Seattle is such a cannabis-friendly city that many accommodations here allow you to take part in its weed tourism on their premises. From hotels to Airbnb, you have tons of stay options if you’re headed to the city for its weed tourism.
On the southernmost end of the Golden State lies the sunny city of San Diego. Pristine beaches, jaw-dropping views, and bustling nightlife are only some of the reasons why it’s one of the most visited cities in the world.
San Diego’s undeniable allure lies in its intensely varied attractions.
Relax with the sea lions on the shore in the morning, meet a polar bear in the afternoon, and enjoy a drink at a vibrant speakeasy at night. From the city, you can visit six national parks, drive to snow-clad mountains, or explore a desert. Enjoy its binational culture, a marriage of the best of Southern California and Mexico, through food.
There are only a few cities in the world that can offer you all these at your fingertips. And one of them is San Diego.
If you’re not convinced yet, below are only some reasons why San Diego is a well-loved destination among tourists.
What Makes San Diego Unique?
Endless Fun in Beautiful Beaches
San Diego boasts 70 miles (113 km) of shoreline, offering an exciting variety of beaches for you to choose from. Some beaches have shores that are flat and wide, while others feature rocky cliffs. Some are great for surfing, while others have gentle waves that are perfect for kids.
One of the most popular beaches in the city is Mission Beach as it has something for everyone. With manned lifeguard towers, laid-back restaurants and bars, and a wide range of activities, it’s the go-to beach in the city. Whether you want to play beach volleyball, go on a romantic stroll on the boardwalk, or have a drink by the shore, you won’t get bored here.
If you’re looking for a more scenic beach, La Jolla Cove Beach is arguably the most beautiful beach in the city. Because it’s sheltered by a rocky point, the waves here are gentle, making it perfect for swimming and scuba diving. Its curving coastline is a scenic beauty, making it one of the most photographed sites in San Diego.
Maybe surfing is how you’d want to spend your day on the beach, and there are tons of worthy spots for this in San Diego. But one of the best beaches for surfing is the north side of Cardiff State Beach, where pro surfers go to catch some waves.
The daredevil in you may need a bit more thrill, go cliff diving at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. If you want to splash around with your four-legged friend, make your way to the famous Dog Beach. Or if you want to sunbathe in the nude, make your way to Black’s Beach.
With such a diverse collection of beaches, you’re bound to find your favorite in San Diego!
Incredible Scenic Beauty
With balmy weather all year long, there’s no reason not to explore San Diego’s spectacular natural beauty. Countless scenic gems await you in the city. And you’ll find no shortage of opportunities to immerse yourself in nature here.
The amazing Balboa Park alone is enough of a reason to go to San Diego, as it’s one of the best places to explore in the city. It’s the largest urban park in North America and is home to tons of attractions. This sprawling green oasis has a laid-back, backyard vibe, with gorgeous natural backdrops at every turn.
But there are still so many more scenic spots to explore in San Diego.
Venture off into a land so filled with a rare tree that the park is named after. The Torrey Pines Natural Reserve is one of the most beautiful sites in the city.
This reserve is home to the Torrey Pine, the rarest native pine in the country, and maybe even the world. It only naturally grows in two places, in San Diego and on Santa Rosa Island. And this itself makes the reserve one of the more unique visits in San Diego.
If you prefer to get a view of the coast, you’re never too far from one in the city. But the best coastal views San Diego has to offer are at Torrey Pines Gliderport. It sits on a cliff that overlooks the ocean, and you can even go paragliding or hang gliding here.
What’s more exciting about San Diego is that you’re only a short drive away from more exciting natural wonders.
If you want to escape into the wilderness, San Diego is close to six national parks! There’s Cabrillo National Monument and Joshua Tree National Park, to name a few.
You can also easily go from incredible beaches to a winter wonderland in San Diego. Big Bear is only a few hours away, where you can marvel at snow-covered mountains and sledding hills.
On the other end, you can explore a nearby desert too! San Diego is close to Borrego Springs, where you can go sandboarding to your heart’s content.
Exciting Wildlife Encounters
A chance to meet a vast array of wildlife is one of the biggest draws of San Diego. Not only is it home to world-class zoos. But it’s easy to spot some friendly animals right on the city’s long coast!
Known worldwide as one of the best zoos on Earth is the century-old San Diego Zoo. This zoo is home to close to 4000 animals, 660 species of animals, and hundreds of thousands of exotic plants. It’s a wonderland for animal lovers, and you’ll have 100 acres (40 hectares) of land to explore here.
What makes San Diego Zoo such an exciting visit is the diversity of wildlife that live here. Divided by ten bioclimatic zones, you’ll see just about every animal there is here. A still around the zoo will take you from the arctic tundra down to a rainforest.
Polar bears, koalas, Chinese alligators, and giant pandas are only some of the animals you can see here. More than that, the zoo has had breeding programs to help take animals off the endangered list. This includes pandas and the California Condor.
You can also explore an African Safari without having to leave San Diego. The San Diego Safari park is another place to see wildlife, a much larger land to view exotic animals. There are around 3500 animals here from 300 species, and they range from Sumatran tigers to gazelles.
If you’d rather focus your trip on marine exploration, there’s the famous SeaWorld San Diego. Or, you may want to get a deeper look at marine and invertebrate habitats at Birch Aquarium. And if birds are your favorite, you can interact with hawks, falcons, and vultures at Sky Falconry.
You don’t even have to go into a zoo in San Diego to see wildlife.
See some adorable seals and sea lions lazing on the shore at La Jolla Cove. They aren’t quite camera-shy, so feel free to take a few pictures of them!
And if you’re lucky to visit San Diego from December to April, you can go on an exciting whale-watching trip. During these months, California gray whales pass by the coast of San Diego to migrate.
Spectacular Food and Night Scene
San Diego offers an exciting adventure for your tastebuds too. The city has a vibrant and thriving culinary scene that takes advantage of farm- and ocean-fresh ingredients. And with so many restaurants to choose from, you’ll never go hungry in San Diego.
Being so close to Mexico, San Diego’s culinary landscape is quite binational. The city blends the Southern Californian and Mexican flavors seamlessly. But Asian and Mediterranean culinary influences are strong here too, and you’ll find them everywhere.
Whether you want a burst of fusion food in your mouth or authentic foreign flavors, you’ll find them everywhere here.
One of the best food scenes in the city is right within Little Italy though. Its culinary scene is a blend of old-world traditions and innovation. Pass through Little Italy’s cobblestone streets and you’ll find no shortage of top-notch eats.
Other than the food, San Diego also has a superb craft brew scene. The city is home to over 150 breweries, some of which have award-winning blends.
Some restaurants in the city turn into bustling bars at night, so there’s still so much to do when the sun sets in San Diego.
At the heart of San Diego’s night scene is the historic and lively Gaslamp Quarter. Just around 16 and a half blocks big, it’s jam-packed with over 10 nightclubs, 50 bars, and 180 restaurants!
Is Seattle Better Than San Diego?
None of these cities is better than the other. But in choosing a destination, one of them is better for you based on what you want out of your trip.
One of the biggest differences between the two is the climate. If you’re looking for a warmer retreat, San Diego is warm year-round. In contrast, Seattle has milder and rainier weather.
These aren’t the only things you have to consider though. So below is a quick summary of each city’s strengths.
If you’re a history buff, San Diego is a better destination for you. San Diego has a fascinating history, with a wealth of historical landmarks to discover. The Old Town State Historic Park and Point Loma are only some of the popular ones.
If you’re a foodie, go to Seattle. The city is best known for its fresh seafood and renowned Asian food scene. But its food scene is quite diverse, offering you flavors from around the world.
If you’re a night owl, choose San Diego instead. The city has such a vibrant night scene right in the Gaslamp District, which is so dense with a diverse mix of bars, clubs, and venues.
Finally, choose San Diego if you’re a beach lover or an avid hiker. San Diego has a diverse mix of beaches that goes well with its balmy weather. And it also has tons more hiking options.
Seattle to San Diego Distance
The straight line distance between Seattle and San Diego is around 1064 miles (1712 km). But if you’re traveling by land between the two cities, expect a longer distance. On the shortest route, the driving distance between the two cities is around 1255 miles (2020 km).
Seattle to San Diego Flight Distance
The flight distance from Seattle to San Diego is around 1064 miles (1712 km).
Seattle to San Diego by Train
A train ride from Seattle to San Diego will cover a distance of around 1064 miles (1712 km). The travel time on this journey takes around 39 hours and 7 minutes on average. And even if you ride the fastest trains, it will still have a travel time of roughly 39 hours.
Due to the long distance between the two cities, you have to expect a high price tag on this train trip. On average, a train from Seattle to San Diego will cost around 140 USD.
Keep in mind that there is only one train that travels from Seattle to San Diego daily. Usually, the train departs from Seattle at around 9:00 AM. To start your trip, you can catch a train at the Seattle station.
Other than that, there is no direct train on this route. So you will need to take a connecting train at some point on your trip. A part of your trip will also include a different ride, such as an express shuttle or a bus.
The busiest day to travel between both cities falls on a Thursday. Due to competition with other travelers, tickets are much more expensive on this day too.
Seattle to San Diego Drive
You have four route options if you want to drive from Seattle to San Diego. This will depend on how much time you’re willing to spend on the road and whether you want to go sightseeing or not.
If you want to get to San Diego right away, the fastest, most direct option is to take Interstate 5 all the way on your trip. This has a distance of 1255 miles (2020 km) and a drive time of around 19.5 hours.
You can also take the Pacific Coast Highway via Routes 1 and 101. This has a distance of 1585 miles (2551 km), with a drive time of around 32 hours. This is one of the most scenic drives in the country, though this is the longest and slowest route option.
An off-the-beaten-path option is to travel further inland, via the national parks of Crater Lake and Lassen Volcanic. This route has a distance of 1349 miles (2171 km) and a drive time of 23 hours.
Or, you can take the Idaho–Nevada route, driving through Las Vegas, Death Valley, and Joshua Tree. This has a distance of 1786 miles (2874 km) and a drive time of around 28 hours.
Seattle to San Diego Drive on 101
When driving from Seattle to San Diego via Route 101 is one of the most scenic drives in the US. You’ll cover a distance of 1585 miles (2551 km) and this will take around 32 hours of driving time. You’ll be combining this trip with Route 1 in California too.
From Seattle, drive to the west to the ocean. You can stop by the Olympic Peninsula loop if you have the time to get a stunning view of the national park. But if you don’t want to, make your way to the town on Aberdeen, go on Highway 10, and continue driving south.
You’ll need to make stops along the way to sleep. There are tons of options on this route where you can stay overnight. This includes Astoria, Eureka, Santa Maria, San Francisco, Santa Monica, and Venice Beach.
Along the way, you’ll pass by some exciting sites. And these beautiful stops are what make this route option so popular.
This includes Redwood National Park, where you can wander around a land full of massive trees. San Francisco is also a popular stop, where you can see the Golden Gate Bridge and even go on a day tour of Alcatraz.
San Diego to Seattle Mileage
You’ll be covering a distance of 1255 miles (2020 km) when driving from San Diego to Seattle via Interstate 5. This is the shortest, most direct route option though. So if you’re looking for a more scenic drive, you’ll be covering more miles.
Taking the most scenic route, the Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll drive a distance of around 1585 miles (2551 km). This is the longest route you can take, and it also goes through Routes 1 and 101.
A lesser-traveled yet scenic route is going through Crater Lake and Lassen Volcanic National Parks. If you choose this, you’ll cover a distance of around 1349 miles (2171 km).
Another option is going through Las Vegas, Death Valley, and Joshua Tree via the Idaho–Nevada route. You can expect to drive 1786 miles (2874 km) on this route.
Seattle to San Diego Drive Time
Your drive time from Seattle to San Diego will depend on the route you choose. The fastest route is possible to complete in one day. But it’s not the most scenic option to take.
If you choose the shortest, fastest route, Interstate 5, you’ll have a total drive time of around 19.5 hours. But the recommended travel time on this route is around 3 to 7 days, though it’s possible to complete in a day.
If you go through the most scenic option, the Pacific Coast Highway via Routes 1 and 101, expect a drive time of 32 hours or so. It’s recommended to spend 5 to 10 hours on this route.
If you travel further inland to visit Lassen Volcanic and Crater Lake National Parks, your drive time is around 23 hours. And to make the most out of your trip, it’s advisable to spend 5 to 10 days on the road.
If you choose the Idaho–Nevada route, you’ll have a total drive time of around 28 hours. But you’re going through Las Vegas, Death Valley, and Joshua tree on this route. So it’s best to take your time here and spend a few days on this route!
Seattle to San Diego Road Trip Distance
The road trip distance from Seattle to San Diego will depend on your chosen route.
Interstate 5 is the shortest, most direct route if you are traveling between the two cities. This option has a distance of around 1255 miles (2020 km).
Keep in mind that you won’t go through many scenic stops on this trip. So if this is a priority to you, choose from the routes below.
If you want to get the best views, you’ll have to take the Pacific Coast Highway via Routes 1 and 101. It’s one of the most beautiful drives in the country, but it’s also the longest route you can take. If you choose this, you’ll cover a distance of around 1585 miles (2551 km).
It’s also possible to reach San Diego if you drive through Crater Lake and Lassen Volcanic National Parks. On this route, you’ll drive a distance of 1349 miles (2171 km).
One of the most exciting routes from Seattle to San Diego is driving through the Idaho–Nevada route. You can stop by popular spots on this route, such as Las Vegas, Death Valley, and Joshua Tree. On this route, you’ll have to drive around 1786 miles (2874 km).
San Diego to Seattle Road Trip Time
The road trip time from San Diego to Seattle will depend on which route you choose on your trip.
If getting to your destination right away is a top priority, go through Interstate 5. It’s the fastest route, with a drive time of around 19.5 hours. It’s possible to complete this trip in a day, but only if you don’t make stops and if there’s no traffic.
If scenery is important to you, then choose any route below.
The most scenic route to take when traveling between the two cities is the Pacific Coast Highway. You’ll be going through Routes 1 and 101 too, both of which have tons of scenic spots too. This route has a total drive time of around 32 hours.
If you love parks, you can go inland on your journey. You’ll go through the national parks of Lassen Volcanic and Crater Lake. This option has a drive time of around 23 hours.
If you’re not in a rush to get to Seattle, take the Idaho–Nevada route instead. This way, you can have fun in Las Vegas and enjoy the views of Death Valley and Joshua Tree. This has a drive time of 28 hours.
Seattle to San Diego in 3 Days
If you’re headed for a 3-day road trip, drive on the Pacific Coast Highway, the most scenic option you can take. This route is technically Route 1 in California. But then it overlaps with Route 101 in Washington.
Because of this, you’ll drive along the whole Pacific Coast on your trip. You’ll have a stunning view of the ocean all throughout your journey. And you’ll also pass by tons of popular spots along the way!
To travel this route, drive out of Seattle and go to the west, heading to the ocean. You can stop by the Olympic National Park on the way too. If not, head out to Ocean Shores and make your way to Aberdeen.
From there, go to Highway 101 and continue your drive to the south.
This is the longest route option you could take. So if you need a place to spend the night, you have tons of options. This includes Astoria, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Monica.
The Pacific Coast Highway is around 1585 miles (2551 km) long. You’ll have a total drive time of around 32 hours. But you’re free to spend as much time on the road as you like!
Seattle to San Diego Road Trip in 7 Days
If you have 7 days to spare on your trip, take the Idaho–Nevada route! This is the most exciting route to take as you can spend a day or two in Las Vegas. Enjoying the scenery at the national parks of Death Valley and Joshua Tree is also a popular option on this route!
To go on a thrilling adventure, you can head out to Mount Rainier, which sits just outside of Seattle. From there, you can traverse the desert that’s to the east of Oregon. And then you can go to Boise, Idaho.
From Boise, make your way to Great Basin National Park. It’s among the least visited national parks in the country, so you can visit it without busy crowds. Highlights here include Lehman Caves and Wheeler Peak, which is home to the only remaining glacier in Nevada.
Now, you can make your way to Sin City, Las Vegas! With so many attractions here, this is probably where you’ll spend a ton of time.
From Vegas, make your way to Death Valley NP. You’ll pass by Rhyolite here, a ghost town. Now you can stop by Joshua Tree, which is only around 3 hours away from San Diego!