San Diego   Travel Guide

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places to visit in california san diego

32 Fun Things to Do in San Diego

Perched on the scenic Southern California coastline, San Diego's diverse neighborhoods offer something for everyone – whether you're on a family vacation, a girls' getaway or traveling solo. Head to Balboa Park for world-class museums,

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  • 3-Day Itinerary

places to visit in california san diego

Balboa Park Balboa Park free

U.S. News Insider Tip: Leave your car in one of the parking lots and take the free Balboa Park Tram that runs every 10 to 15 minutes to get around. Save money with a Balboa Park Explorer Pass, which offers discounts at park museums. – Sharael Kolberg

Home to the renowned San Diego Zoo , this 1,200-acre park is the city's cultural hub. Located in downtown San Diego (about 1 ½ miles north of the city center), Balboa Park is a great place for a stroll, a bike ride or a picnic. Wander around the park's many gardens while admiring the intricate Spanish-Renaissance architecture that permeates the grounds (the best examples are the California Building and the reconstructed House of Hospitality). The Botanical Building is a great starting point in Balboa Park. The building is one of the most photographed places in Balboa Park and is one of the largest lath structures in the world. But don't just look at it. The famous botanical building features more than 2,100 permanent plants, including striking collections of tropical plants and orchids. Balboa Park also features a cactus garden, a rose garden, a Japanese-style garden as well as a palm tree canyon, among many others.

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USS Midway Museum USS Midway Museum

U.S. News Insider Tip: Feel what it's like to be a jet pilot in air-to-air combat in the thrilling flight simulator (for $10 per person; reservations required). Then head to the Flight Deck to see the aircraft up close. – Sharael Kolberg

San Diego is a big military town. You'll likely see bases scattered about while exploring the city, especially around parts of San Diego Bay. The USS Midway is one of these affiliated sites that offers an insider's look into what is normally closed off to the public. The USS Midway is the longest-serving American aircraft carrier of the 20th century, having played host to more than 200,000 sailors over the course of its 47 years of service. This historical relic offers patrons the opportunity to explore approximately 60 different exhibits and more than 30 restored aircraft, including some that have flown in World War II, Operation Desert Storm and the Korean War. During the self-guided audio tour, you'll see the crew's sleeping quarters, the engine room and the primary flight control room, among other areas of the 4-acre flight deck. There are also flight simulators, a cafe and a gift shop.

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San Diego Zoo Safari Park San Diego Zoo Safari Park

U.S. News Insider Tip: Spend the night with the animals on a Roar & Snore Safari. Guests sleep in comfortable tent cabins with cots and heaters. Witness the animals' activity after dark and roast s'mores around the campfire. – Sharael Kolberg

If you want more of the San Diego Zoo , head about 35 miles north to its Safari Park in Escondido. Here, you can view some of Africa's most beloved animals – including lions, elephants and cheetahs – roaming free (well, relatively). There are also meerkats, zebras, gorillas and bald eagles, to name a few. True to its name, the park offers a variety of different safaris, including a zip line safari and a wildlife safari in an open-air truck.

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Popular Tours

San Diego Whale Watching Tour

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San Diego Harbor Dinner Cruise

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San Diego Harbor Cruise

San Diego Harbor Cruise

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San Diego Bay Cruises San Diego Bay Cruises

San Diego is known for its beaches and beach activities, and one of the best ways to experience the city is from the ocean. Along the city's Embarcadero, you'll find many cruise options, each offering a different experience. Finding the right experience and type of trip depends on your interests and time constraints. There are many one- to two-hour cruises available for people of all ages. Some are whale watching focused , as San Diego is one of the top places for whale watching in the country. Others, such as Flagship Cruises and Events' San Diego Harbor Tour, are sightseeing cruises , which visitors enjoy thanks to the engaging tour guides who narrate as the boat passes notable San Diego landmarks. Families with young children may appreciate the city's SEAL tours, which are narrated by guides on an amphibious vehicle; the tour consists of a 30-minute ride on land coupled with an hourlong ride on the water where passengers often see seals and other wildlife. Couples may be more interested in fine dining cruises, which provide guests with meals or drinks as they float along the city's bay. Options include a luxury dinner cruise from City Experiences or the Champagne brunch cruise from Flagship Cruises and Events . Then, there are cruises for thrill-seekers: Complete with whipping winds and splashing water for a 30-minute ride, boat adventures like the high-speed Patriot Jet Boat ride are not for the faint-hearted. 

Cruises depart from various ports within the harbor. Other attractions like Seaport Village , the USS Midway Museum and the Maritime Museum of San Diego are also nearby, so there are plenty of activities to keep you busy before or after your cruise.

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Coronado Beach Coronado Beach free

Compared to Mission Beach , this popular shoreline boasts fewer sunbathers and calmer waves. Just across the bay from San Diego, Coronado Beach is popular with families and couples alike thanks to its long shoreline (affording plenty of room for beachgoers), clean sands, peaceful atmosphere and idyllic location in the "Crown City" (in Spanish, "Coronado" means "crowned one"). In fact, not only is it one of the best beaches in San Diego , it's also considered one of the best California beaches .

While you won't have access to a bustling boardwalk (like that at Mission Beach), you will have plenty of picturesque scenery to admire (besides the surf): magnificent mansions sit behind the beach on Ocean Boulevard. And the Hotel del Coronado – a National Historic Landmark that made its debut in 1888 and appeared in the 1959 Marilyn Monroe film "Some Like It Hot" – is perched just beyond the sand. When you're not boogie boarding or building a sand castle, heed the advice of recent visitors and simply walk the approximately 1.75-mile-long shoreline. Even if you're visiting San Diego during the winter season (December through February) when the water is a little too chilly for swimming, you should still plan to make a stop here for the scenery. And if you enjoy ice skating, the Hotel Del Coronado offers the unique opportunity to ice skate right alongside the beach.

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Petco Park Petco Park

Often considered one of the top baseball stadiums in the country, Petco Park is a must-visit for San Diego Padres fans or for anyone who wants to witness a baseball game and take in the striking San Diego skyline. The park, which was built in 2004, sits beside the city's historic Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego's East Village. The stadium reflects its Southern California location through the light sandstone exterior and decorative palm trees and vegetation. San Diego's notoriously sunny and dry weather also makes Petco Park an ideal baseball stadium: The Padres rarely see home games rained out, so it's highly unlikely visitors will need to worry about their plans getting canceled.

The stadium offers tours for anyone who wants to learn more about the ins and outs of the park. The daily tours highlight the press box, the dugout, the Padres Hall of Fame and more. Tours last about 80 minutes and tickets cost $38 for adults. Visitors can purchase tickets online or in person at the Western Metal Supply Building Ticket Windows on Seventh Ave and K Street up to 30 minutes before the tour starts. (The tour schedule differs depending on game days.) On game days, visitors can take a pregame tour. These tours cover most of the same sights as the daily tours, but also let visitors witness the excitement and energy of game preparation; game-day tours may also include the opportunity to watch batting practice. Prices vary depending on the day and time of the tour.

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Legoland California Legoland California

Legoland California features much more than the company's ubiquitous plastic building blocks. It boasts an amusement park – one of the top California theme parks – with more than 60 rides and a 10-acre water park with several slides. It also has an interactive aquarium with more than 6,000 animals. Other activities include Lego-related live shows and 4D movies. For a low-key activity, head to MINILAND USA, which features miniature replicas of major cities like San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York City and Washington, D.C., all constructed from millions of Legos. New in 2023, there's also a replica of San Diego that includes Lego reconstructions of all of the city's famous landmarks. 

If this seems like too much to do in a single day, you can reserve one of the resort's hotel rooms , which, of course, are outfitted in decor inspired by Lego product lines. What's more, each room has a separate sleeping area for kids. The park itself houses several restaurants serving kid-approved fare like burgers and pizza, as well as a barbecue eatery that appeals to adults thanks to its craft beer menu.

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La Jolla Cove La Jolla Cove free

La Jolla Cove is the jewel of La Jolla. Located across the water from La Jolla Shores , La Jolla Cove may not be much in terms of a beach, but its striking beauty and snorkeling reputation more than make up for it among recent visitors. The site is an ecologically protected area that is home to vibrant wildlife both in and out of the water. In fact, it's not uncommon to spot sea lions hanging close to the cove's bluffs and tide pools. Oftentimes, they even come on the beach. 

This is also an excellent spot for beginner snorkelers. Advanced snorkelers should take advantage of the sea caves located along the bluffs, but only with a guide. If you aren't an advanced snorkeler but still want to see the caves, you can take a kayak tour , or visit the Cave Store, which is home to a human-made tunnel that goes directly inside the Sunny Jim Cave. Travelers say even if you don't plan on swimming or snorkeling, you should still visit the attraction for its picture-perfect setting. 

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Best of the Bay 90-Minute Harbor Tour in San Diego

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from $ 34.26

San Diego Whale Watching Cruise

San Diego Whale Watching Cruise

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from $ 85.00

San Diego Seal Tour

San Diego Seal Tour

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Mission Beach Mission Beach free

Mission Beach – one of the top San Diego beaches – is popular with families thanks to its variety of amenities and laid-back vibe. In addition to its approximately 2-mile-long boardwalk, the beach is also home to Belmont Park , a beachfront amusement park featuring arcades and numerous rides, including the Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster – a nearly 100-year-old National Historic Landmark. Mission Beach is also a great spot for beginner surfers (several surf schools offer lessons here).

When lunchtime rolls around, head to one of the many beachside eateries that flank the boardwalk or Mission Boulevard (the area's main thoroughfare), or have a picnic at Bonita Cove, the bayfront park located across the street from Belmont Park that also features a playground as well as several restrooms.

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Old Town San Diego Old Town San Diego free

Take a trip back in time at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, an approximately mile-long and half-mile-wide area contained stretch of preserved or reconstructed shops and houses on the grounds of the first European settlement in California. Widely considered the "birthplace of California," Old Town San Diego shows visitors what it was like to live through different eras of California history, from the time of Spanish explorers to the California gold rush. Some important stops include the adobe Casa de Estudillo, a house built in the 1820s that is one of the oldest surviving Mexican-Spanish-style structures of its type in the state. The park also shelters a reconstruction of San Diego's first brick building, a courthouse first built in the mid-19th century. Nearby the park, the Junípero Serra Museum, named for the Spanish missionary who helped colonize San Diego and other areas of California, is also a must-see because its architecture and location have helped make it a famous San Diego landmark. It sits on a hill in Presidio Park near green spaces, picnic areas and memorials, and it provides great views of the city and the Pacific Ocean. The Whaley House, another of the city's early brick buildings (and one some believe to be haunted), also sits near the park.

There are plenty of shops in the Old Town area, many of which sell handcrafted items from Mexico and other Latin American countries. The town's Mexican heritage is also preserved through the various restaurants that dish out authentic Mexican food. Favorite eateries include El Agave, Cafe Coyote and Tahona Bar. Previous visitors enjoyed simply strolling through the streets, relaxing on the green spaces and listening to mariachi bands. For a little help navigating the area, sign up for one of the best San Diego tours .

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Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

This oceanfront reserve features 1,750 acres of unspoiled land, including the Torrey pine, America's rarest pine tree. There are approximately 3,000 Torrey pines in the reserve alone, and aside from San Diego, the only other place in the country the pines grow are on Santa Rosa Island off the coast of Santa Barbara . The reserve also houses one of Southern California's last salt marshes and waterfowl refuges. What does that mean for you? Plenty of hiking opportunities (8 miles to be exact). Trails offer a chance to get up close and personal with the attraction's famously beautiful sandstone ravines and badlands, as well as breathtaking views of the coastline. And if you come during the spring, you'll see wildflowers on full display.

Popular trails include the short Guy Fleming Trail (0.7 miles round trip), which features two ocean overlooks, and the longer Razor Point Trail (1.4 miles round trip), which tours more of the sandstone geological features of the reserve. There is also the nearly mile-long Beach Trail that leads to Torrey Pines State Beach. Of all San Diego's beaches , a long walk along Torrey Pines State Beach is a must simply for its views of the towering sandstone cliffs that border it.

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San Diego Zoo San Diego Zoo

Spanning 100 acres in Balboa Park , the San Diego Zoo is not only one of the largest zoos in the country, it's also home to one of the largest collections of rare and endangered animals in the world (more than 12,000 animals in total). Amur leopards, jaguars, red pandas, giraffes, elephants and koalas (the largest collection outside of Australia) are just a few of the many animals that call the San Diego Zoo home. The exhibits are linked by an expansive series of trails, such as the Monkey Trail, the Hippo Trail or the Tiger Trail. On these designated pathways, you'll come face to face with numerous exciting creatures, including hippos and bonobos in the Lost Forest, polar bears in the Northern Frontier, rhinos in the Urban Jungle or Chinese alligators in the Discovery Outpost. You'll need plenty of energy – and a map (or smartphone app) – to see everything the zoo has to offer. Should your feet grow weary while exploring, the zoo offers a 35-minute guided bus tour of the park. There's also the Skyfari Aerial Tram that transports visitors from one end of the park to the other, offering a bird's-eye view of the exhibits below. The zoo also hosts animal presentations and animal encounter programs daily, and houses a 4D movie theater that screens educational wildlife films. 

Travelers almost unanimously agree that the San Diego Zoo is the best zoo they have ever visited. Recent visitors were impressed with the vast number of animals on display and the various activities. In fact, many said a daylong visit isn't enough time to see everything. Travelers suggest wearing quality walking shoes, as the distance between some exhibits is considerable. Some recommended hopping on the Kangaroo Bus that stops at four different places in the park, going on the guided bus tour or taking the Skyfari just for the views alone. Though a few reviewers express disappointment with the amount of walking involved and the high prices of admission and concession, visitors say the experience is worth it.

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Birch Aquarium at Scripps Birch Aquarium at Scripps

If you're looking for a more affordable alternative to SeaWorld San Diego , consider this small aquarium in La Jolla. Located at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, the Birch Aquarium overlooks the Pacific Ocean, the source of the fish and invertebrates housed in its more than 60 habitats.

Creatures here include sea turtles, sharks and seahorses (which are a key focus of its conservation efforts). The interactive institution has outdoor pools that allow visitors to have hands-on experiences with young sharks, rays and sea cucumbers. It also offers daily behind-the-scenes tours. Other highlights include a two-story, 70,000-gallon giant kelp forest and a blue penguin exhibit (blue penguins are the world's smallest penguins).

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Small-Group Sunset Sailing Experience on San Diego Bay

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San Diego Zoo 1-Day Pass: Any Day Ticket

San Diego Zoo 1-Day Pass: Any Day Ticket

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San Diego Hop On Hop Off Trolley Tour

San Diego Hop On Hop Off Trolley Tour

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Sesame Place San Diego Sesame Place San Diego

Sesame Place is a kid-oriented destination inspired by the "Sesame Street" TV series. It features a neighborhood constructed to resemble the show's set with recognizable locations like Hooper's Store and Big Bird's Nest. This is where children can have their photos taken with some of their favorite puppet characters (or adults dressed to look like them) or hear them tell stories. Sesame Place also has a variety of themed rides, including Super Grover’s Box Car Derby (a family-friendly roller coaster) and the Sunny Day Carousel, as well as numerous water slides. Sesame Place also stages live parades and shows featuring Bert, Ernie and the rest of the gang. In addition, it has several on-site eateries, such as Oscar's Grouchy Grub and Grover's Grill.

Visitors – adult ones, anyway – point out this is primarily a place for children to romp and may be of limited interest to anyone else. Some say that despite the "Sesame Street" trappings, it’s essentially a water park. (Indeed, it was adapted from the former SeaWorld Aquatica San Diego water park.) And others grumble that it can get rather expensive. Even so, many say that if you enter knowing what to expect, and with companions of the appropriate age in tow, you can have a magical time here.

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Pacific Beach Pacific Beach free

Pacific Beach – one of the top San Diego beaches – is popular with college students thanks to its lively atmosphere and proximity to bars and restaurants. Families looking for a quieter stretch of sand may want to venture a little farther south to Mission Beach . Pacific Beach is a popular surf spot that's home to Tourmaline Surfing Park, which is known for its slow waves that are ideal for novices. This section of Pacific Beach is not swimmable, but even if you don't want to try your hand at surfing it's still a fun place to watch others ride the waves, according to past travelers.

Pacific Beach earns high marks from reviewers for its beautiful views and clean shores. Others appreciate the variety of eateries that sit within walking distance of the sand. Aside from Mission Boulevard, you can find a heavy concentration of bars and nightlife options on Garnet Avenue and Grand Avenue. If you don't want to experience this side of Pacific Beach, take a walk along Crystal Pier or stick to the beach north of this pier (a popular area for families). 

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Little Italy Little Italy free

U.S. News Insider Tip: For a Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand breakfast, head to the whimsical, pink-themed Morning Glory restaurant. The soufflé pancakes, dim sum cart and spro (espresso) are worth the long wait in line. – Sharael Kolberg

Centered around the 10,000-square-foot Piazza della Famiglia, a European-style plaza connecting Columbia and India streets, Little Italy is a neighborhood teeming with restaurants, cafes, art galleries, craft beer taprooms and boutiques. Here, old-school eateries like Mona Lisa Italian Foods, Filippi's Pizza Grotto and Waterfront Bar & Grill neighbor trendy, upscale establishments like Kettner Exchange, Juniper & Ivy and The Crack Shack.

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Gaslamp Quarter Gaslamp Quarter free

The Gaslamp Quarter's 16 blocks are peppered with Victorian-style buildings that now house a variety of shops, art galleries, theaters and trendy restaurants, not to mention plenty of bars and clubs. The area stretches from L Street all the way up to Broadway, including Sixth, Fifth and Fourth avenues as well as out to First Avenue at G Street. The Gaslamp Quarter Association, the city of San Diego and other groups devised a plan to transform some of these streets into car-free plazas collectively called the Gaslamp Promenade. The best place to start your tour of the Gaslamp Quarter is at the Gaslamp Quarter Gate itself, located at L Street and Fifth Avenue. Fifth Avenue is considered downtown San Diego's main thoroughfare. You'll find the most action here, especially at night. Thanks to all of its amenities, the Gaslamp Quarter is San Diego's premier nightlife destination. If you're not a night owl, another way to experience the Gaslamp Quarter's lively atmosphere is to take advantage of the patio seating offered at some of the neighborhood's restaurants, or venture to one of the many rooftop bars (the Andaz San Diego  boasts 360-degree views of the city's skyline). For help navigating the neighborhood, sign up for one of the best San Diego tours .

Past visitors say this is the area to stay in if you're looking for a hip, busy scene. The Gaslamp Quarter also hosts many annual events year-round, including San Diego Comic-Con. However, because it's so popular, travelers also warn that parking can be limited, especially when there's a game or event at Petco Park . Consider using public transportation instead; several bus lines stop in the area. If you do drive, you can park at Horton Plaza Park or one of the other structures in the area (where rates vary by day of the week, time of day and length of your stay). To avoid all parking fees, you can park at the Old Town Transit Center for free and take the trolley from there, which goes straight into downtown San Diego. You'll find the Gaslamp Quarter in the heart of San Diego, southwest of Balboa Park . The bars, restaurants and stores maintain different hours of operation, so check out the neighborhood's website for more information and to read more about upcoming events.

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Seaport Village Seaport Village free

If you want to spend the afternoon watching ships float in and out of the harbor while sipping coffee or shopping for souvenirs, Seaport Village is the place to go. Located on the San Diego waterfront not far from the USS Midway Museum and the convention center, the 14-acre village is home to more than 50 shops, 13 casual dining outlets and four fine dining restaurants. Even visitors who aren't particularly fond of shopping said they still enjoyed strolling the 4 miles of cobblestone paths winding through the sunny outdoor complex. What's more, it's the jumping-off point for one of the best California tours within San Diego: the San Diego Seal Tour. If you're looking for panoramic sea views, grab a bite at Edgewater Grill. And at the end of the day, Seaport Village is a great place to watch the sun set over the Pacific. Many visitors also appreciate the view it affords of the Coronado Bridge.

Seaport Village is also a popular entertainment venue. If you're visiting San Diego in March, don't miss Busker Fest – a free event showcasing street performers from all over the globe. There is also live music every weekend on stages in the Carousel and Lighthouse districts.

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San Diego Premier Bottomless Mimosa Brunch Cruise

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Skip the Line: USS Midway Museum Admission Ticket in San Diego

Skip the Line: USS Midway Museum Admission Ticket in San Diego

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Dolphin & Whale Watching Sunset Cruise

Dolphin & Whale Watching Sunset Cruise

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La Jolla Shores La Jolla Shores free

Known for its gentle waves and active beachgoers, La Jolla Shores is an ideal place to relax for a few hours. Locals and tourists hit this beach to surf, see marine life and enjoy the clean ocean water and sand. Families flock to La Jolla Shores and appreciate the reliable lifeguard presence and ample public restrooms. Adjacent to the beach is the La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve, which houses two artificial reefs meant to attract marine life. Its perimeter is marked with buoys to enforce the strict no fishing rules. Along with fishing, collecting seashells is prohibited, as the area is part of the Marine Life Refuge used by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography for research. Away from the protected refuge, surfers and boogie boarders come to catch waves in designated zones. Additionally, kayak and snorkeling gear rentals are available and visitors can sign up for scuba diving classes ahead of time.  La Jolla Kayak  and  San Diego Bike and Kayak Tours  are two companies that offer rental equipment.

There are a handful of dining options where visitors can grab a quick bite or nice meal just a short walk from the shore. For a prime vantage point, visitors suggest seeking out one of the rooftop decks at the local bars, where you can enjoy shoreline views and vibrant sunsets over cocktails.

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Liberty Public Market Liberty Public Market free

If you find yourself hungry and near the San Diego Bay, look no further than Liberty Public Market for a delicious solution. Housed in a former Navy training building within the Arts District of Liberty Station, the market features more than 30 independently run food stalls, each with its own unique flair. Visitors can stroll through the bustling market and sample a variety of cuisines, including pizza, tacos, salads and more. Some stalls have more specific products, such as Baker & Olive, which sells premium olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or Old Town Soap Company, which offers natural self-care and wellness products. Beer, wine and cocktails are also available.

Visitors say the Liberty Public Market is perfect for anyone traveling with a large group, as everyone is sure to find something they like. For more shopping, guests can venture outside to the various other accessory stores around Liberty Station.

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San Diego Golf Courses San Diego Golf Courses

With more than 70 courses and temperate weather year-round, the San Diego area ranks as a top destination for golfers. The city of San Diego operates three municipal courses: Balboa Park Golf Course, which boasts views of the nearby downtown area as well as the Pacific Ocean; Mission Bay Golf Course, the only one in the city with night lighting; and Torrey Pines Golf Course, which also features ocean views and has hosted some prestigious professional competitions. All three are regarded as among the best in the area.

Recent players called the Balboa Park course both challenging and fun, and enjoyed its scenic views. Golfers regularly describe the Mission Bay course as small, but frequently cite the friendliness of the staff. Golf enthusiasts rave about the Torrey Pines course with some saying their time there was the highlight of their trip to San Diego. Visit the city's parks and recreation department's website for information on reserving tee times.

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Children's Pool in La Jolla Children's Pool in La Jolla free

Animal lovers are sure to enjoy Children's Pool beach in La Jolla. Because of the California coast's sometimes harsh waves, a seawall was built in the 1930s on a portion of the beach to make the waters calmer for children. However, builders didn't realize the calm waters would appeal to seals as well. In recent years, seals have started flocking to Children's Pool to bask in the sun, play in the water and give birth to their pups. The wildlife phenomenon has turned the beach into a must-see tourist attraction.

Visitors can walk out onto the seawall to watch the seals from above, and many agreed Children's Pool was one of the highlights of their San Diego trip. They suggest bringing binoculars to see the seals and jackets as it can get chilly on the seawall. They also warn the abundance of seals can sometimes result in a rather pungent scent, but seeing the animals in their natural habitat is worth it.

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Maritime Museum of San Diego Maritime Museum of San Diego

The Maritime Museum offers a hands-on look at San Diego's days as a bustling seaport. You can tour all types of historic vessels, from sailing ships to submarines, including the world's oldest active ship, the Star of India. If exploring boats doesn't satisfy your craving for a nautical experience, set sail on one of the museum's vessels, such as the Californian, the official tall ship of the state of California. Prices and tour availability vary by boat, so make sure to check the website for more information. 

Recent visitors said the boat tours gave them a new understanding of the workmanship and skill required of sailors. Past travelers also note that you should allot yourself plenty of time to explore the various ships. Along with the boat tours, you can also tour several permanent and visiting exhibits that detail San Diego's maritime legacy through art and artifacts. Travelers say the exhibits are fascinating, even for youngsters. 

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Small-Group San Diego Afternoon Sailing Excursion

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Small-Group San Diego Sunset Sailing Excursion

Small-Group San Diego Sunset Sailing Excursion

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San Diego Zoo Safari Park 1-Day Pass: Any Day Ticket

San Diego Zoo Safari Park 1-Day Pass: Any Day Ticket

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places to visit in california san diego

Belmont Park Belmont Park

A trip to San Diego is not complete without a visit to beachfront amusement park and boardwalk Belmont Park. The park, which has been in operation since 1925, offers something for everyone. Those looking for a thrill can ride the iconic Giant Dipper Roller Coaster and the spinning Beach Blaster, while those who prefer something calmer can enjoy the carousel, go mini golfing or hit the arcade. Additional activities and attractions include rock climbing, bumper cars, zip lining and laser tag. Despite the park's busy location ( Mission Beach ), previous visitors were pleased that the lines were usually short. However, they advise going in the morning or evening to minimize wait times regardless. Belmont Park also features a variety of retails shops and equipment rental vendors. Visitors also enjoy Plunge San Diego, the park's indoor pool that features beach views.

Belmont Park serves typical amusement park fare (like hot dogs, ice cream and burgers). The park is also home to a handful of upscale restaurants, including seafood and sushi spot Cannonball, which offers one of the city's largest rooftops and overlooks Mission Beach.

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Torrey Pines Gliderport Torrey Pines Gliderport

Travelers can take in Torrey Pines' unique coastal scenery from a new perspective at Torrey Pines Gliderport. The gliderport is one of the top spots in California for paragliding, hang gliding, remote control models and sailplanes. In operation for almost a century, this unique adventure hub allows visitors to witness the beautifully preserved California coastline from above. Each tandem paragliding and hang gliding flight (in which you fly with an instructor) lasts 20 to 25 minutes and gives visitors the chance to witness the sandstone cliffs, golf courses and vibrant water from the sky before landing back where they started – 350 feet above Black's Beach. (Or, depending on wind conditions, gliders may land on the beach itself and hike back to the top of the cliff.) Anyone of any age can sign up for a tandem gliding ride, but minors must get formal approval from their parents or guardians.

Visitors say the rides are worth the price because it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many; they rave about the guides who made them feel safe and also made the ride fun.

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SeaWorld San Diego SeaWorld San Diego

Though you may spot wildlife at any one of San Diego's beaches (especially Pacific and Mission beaches) none put on quite as good a show as the performers at SeaWorld. Here, you'll get to see a range of animals, including dolphins, California sea lions, California otters and sea turtles, among others. As for the rides, travelers love the lightning-fast Manta roller coaster, but caution against the Journey to Atlantis or Shipwreck Rapids rides if you don't want to get wet. In 2022, the park added the Emperor, which it bills as California's tallest and fastest roller coaster with a 14-story vertical drop and speeds of up to 60 mph. For something a little more low-key, head to any one of the park's animal exhibits, such as the underwater shark-viewing tunnel or the penguin habitat, which features nearly 400 penguins. There's also the Sesame Street Bay of Play (included in your SeaWorld general admission ticket), which features various wet and dry playgrounds, as well as a bounce house, climbing structure and smaller rides suited for children and toddlers.

Recent visitors had a blast at SeaWorld, especially those with kiddos in tow. Travelers say you can't miss a show, with many being fond of the dolphin show in particular. Make sure to arrive early though, as lines can get long. Travelers also highly recommended wearing quality walking shoes and bringing an extra jacket or change of clothes in case you get wet on the rides or at the shows (there's a splash zone for most). Travelers who didn't bring a change of clothes said they were miserable walking around the park wet and balked at the high price of clothing available at the park.

places to visit in california san diego

Cabrillo National Monument Cabrillo National Monument

The southernmost tip of Point Loma is where you'll find the Cabrillo National Monument. The statue depicts Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who, in 1542, was the first European explorer to navigate the California coast. Situated about 10 miles southwest of downtown San Diego, this monument is much more than just a memorializing effigy. The main reason people make the journey to the monument is for its incredible views. From the monument, you can enjoy sweeping views of the Pacific as well as downtown San Diego, Coronado, and on a clear day, the mountains of Tijuana, Mexico.

Once you've gotten your fill from the top, walk or drive down Cabrillo Road to experience the Point Loma Tide Pools, or take a scenic walk along the coastal trail. There's also the 2.5-mile Bayside Trail that cascades down into the east side of the point and ends right above the bay waters. For those more interested in the historical aspect of the attraction, the National Park Service site features ranger talks further explaining the story behind the Cabrillo Monument as well as the restored Old Point Loma Lighthouse, located a short walk south from the monument on Humphreys Road. 

places to visit in california san diego

Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial free

Situated in La Jolla, less than 3 miles south of La Jolla Shores , the Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial was built in 1954 to honor every U.S. veteran, living or deceased, from the Revolutionary War to the present day. Along with a massive cross, there are also a series of 11 walls displaying more than 3,500 granite plaques devoted to individual military persons and their accomplishments. Volunteer docents are on hand to answer questions. The memorial conducts ceremonies honoring veterans each Friday morning as well as special events on holidays like Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

In addition to its solemn purposes, the site atop its namesake mountain boasts exceptional views of the Pacific Ocean, downtown San Diego and, to the east, the mountains. Visitors frequently remark on the beautifully realized tribute to servicemen and women, as well as the unrivaled views of the surrounding area.

places to visit in california san diego

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places to visit in california san diego

Silver Strand State Beach Silver Strand State Beach

Situated on a sand-spit between Coronado and Imperial Beach, Silver Strand State Beach stretches for 2 ½ miles on the Pacific Ocean and another half-mile on San Diego Bay and offers exceptional views of both bodies of water. It's a popular spot for boating, surfing, picnicking, water-skiing, fishing, volleyball and camping. The Bayshore Bikeway – a 24-mile bike route that extends from Coronado through Imperial Beach and Chula Vista into downtown San Diego – passes through the area. Silver Stand takes its name from the iridescent oyster shells that cover the sand and make it a popular destination for shell collectors. South of the beach, a trail leads to San Diego Bay Wildlife Refuge.

Recent visitors say Silver Strand is an attractive and clean place with a relaxed atmosphere. They also confirm that it's a popular spot for RV camping.

places to visit in california san diego

Sunset Cliffs Sunset Cliffs free

A few miles from Cabrillo National Monument , Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is another excellent place for ocean views in Point Loma. Situated about 9 miles due west of downtown San Diego, Sunset Cliffs stretches across 68 acres and runs 1.5 miles along Point Loma peninsula's western shoreline. The dramatic sandstone cliffs and untouched vegetation along with its stunning ocean vistas make for an unforgettable stroll. The area is also home to a few secluded beaches as well, though getting to them can be tricky. There is a beach popular with locals at the beginning of Cordova Street off of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, but you have to traverse down the steep cliffs to get there. For an easier descent, head to the end of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard at Ladera Street and take a walk down the available stairway. It won't lead you to the beach, but it will get you just above the crashing waves. You can reach the sand by wading through water on the rocky shore. Nicknamed Garbage Beach for the kelp covering the rocks, the area is pretty popular with surfers, so expect to see lots of locals catching waves. If you venture farther up into Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, you'll find plenty of walking trails right along the ocean and through the coastal scrub that dot the area. 

As its name implies, sunset is a popular time to visit the park and recent visitors say arguably the best. If you want to avoid the crowds at dusk, try to plan a mid-week trip rather than a weekend visit. Travelers recommend bringing along a sweatshirt in case the ocean breeze gets a little too chilly. Past visitors also suggest using the restroom before stopping here as there are no facilities on-site. You can get to Sunset Cliffs via public transportation. If you're staying downtown, take the trolley to Old Town Transit Center then catch the No. 35 bus and it will take you to the beginning of the cliffs. Sunset Cliffs has no opening or closing hours, though it's best to go when there's light for maximum visibility. People have had accidents falling off of the cliffs, so be sure to observe the signs marking unstable cliffs. For more information, visit the parks and recreation website .

places to visit in california san diego

San Diego Wine Tasting & Tours San Diego Wine Tasting & Tours

San Diego is home to numerous, mostly family-owned, wineries and tasting rooms located in areas throughout the county, including Escondido, Julian, Solana Beach, Ramona, Carlsbad and in the city proper. The climate and soil are conducive to growing grapes for award-winning artisan wine. You'll find everything from sprawling vineyards like Bernardo Winery with 2,500 vines, or Pali Wine Co.'s charming tasting room in Little Italy , to beachside wineries, such as Gianni Buonomo Vintners, or mountain wineries like Hawk Watch Winery. There is a large range of varietals grown in this area, such as pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, petite syrah, sangiovese and more. Original offerings include almond Champagne and chocolate port by Wilson Creek Winery & Vineyards.

Whether you want to get out of town and take a scenic drive to visit one of the winery estates or just want to stop by a quaint wine tasting room in downtown San Diego, these hidden gems are worth exploring while in the area. If you'd rather let someone else do the driving, consider signing up for one of the best Temecula wine tours . Located in the hills of Southern California's wine country between Los Angeles and San Diego, Temecula is home to dozens of wineries.

places to visit in california san diego

The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park

The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park is a state-of-the-art outdoor concert venue operated by the San Diego Symphony. Located at the Embarcadero Marina Park South, this venue, which opened in 2021, was a five-year collaboration between the San Diego Symphony and leading architects, design firms, sound engineers, construction experts, fabricators and audiovisual teams. It's recognized for its unique and stunning shell design, which it describes as "acoustically superior." Visitors can listen to a variety of live music at this waterfront venue while dining on locally sourced culinary offerings. Musical performances range from classical to pop, with concerts by artists like Michael Bolton, Van Morrison and Counting Crows, to name a few.

Past visitors raved about the scenic waterfront venue, applauding the acoustics and the stunning harbor views.

places to visit in california san diego

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18 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in San Diego

Written by Karen Hastings and Lisa Alexander Updated Mar 20, 2024 We may earn a commission from affiliate links ( )

Located in Southern California, not far from the Mexico border, San Diego is the oldest town in California. It has an enchanting natural beauty and a mild Mediterranean climate, with plenty of sunshine – perfect for outdoor adventures.

Some of the city's most popular tourist attractions are the museums, gardens, and Spanish Colonial-style architecture found in Balboa Park; the world-famous San Diego Zoo; and the Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum.

For a little history and shopping, you can stroll the streets of Old Town San Diego State Historic Park or wander through the Gaslamp Quarter.

If you want to soak up the year-round sunshine and sea breezes, San Diego beaches are some of Southern California's best , with more than 68 miles of coastline in and around the city for sunning, swimming, and surfing.

Discover the best places to visit and things to do in this beautiful SoCal city with our list of the top tourist attractions in San Diego.

1. Balboa Park

2. san diego zoo, 3. gaslamp quarter, 4. midway aircraft carrier museum, 5. seaport village, 6. san diego beaches, 7. old town state historic park, 8. point loma and cabrillo national monument, 9. mission beach, 10. sunset cliffs natural park, 11. san diego harbor cruises, 12. mission basilica san diego de alcala, 13. san diego museum of art, 14. san diego whale watching cruises, 15. san diego air & space museum, 16. outdoor adventures, 17. the new children's museum, 18. seaworld san diego, where to stay in san diego for sightseeing, tips and tours: how to make the most of your visit to san diego, map of tourist attractions in san diego, best time to visit san diego, ca.

Balboa Park

Balboa Park is a one-stop wonderland for tourists. This 1,400-acre site encompasses historical buildings, numerous museums, gardens, and green space. The park was created for the Panama California Exhibition of 1915-1916, and most of the buildings remain from that event. The predominant architecture is Spanish-style, with low-rise buildings that blend in with the natural surroundings.

Among the highlights of the park are the botanical gardens and lily pond, the Museum of Man, the Museum of Natural History, the San Diego Museum of Art, and the famous San Diego Zoo . Even if you never go into a building, the park is simply a beautiful place to visit.

Address: 1549 El Prado, San Diego, California

Official site:

Tiger at the San Diego Zoo

A top tourist attraction in Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo is one of the largest and most famous zoos in the United States . Visiting this family-friendly attraction is also one of the top things to do in San Diego with kids . Plan at least a whole day here to really get the most out of your visit.

You can see all kinds of exotic animals here, including gorillas, grizzly bears, koalas, leopards, bonobos, polar bears, rhinos, and sloths. The zoo attempts to replicate a natural environment for each animal, such as rocks for Amur leopards and a chilly pool for the polar bears.

The San Diego Zoo includes a Safari Park . In this area, all the animals roam free within large-enclosure natural settings. For instance, giraffes graze in a savanna; cheetahs dart through a jungle; and elephants wander through a sheltered valley. Because the Safari Park offers guided tours in an open-air truck or cart (with no walking required), it's a good option for families with kids. (Some tours have a minimum age requirement of three years and older.) Insider's Tip: Bring binoculars!

The Safari Park's carefully designed habitats support the zoo's mission to educate visitors about protecting the environment. The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance invests in conservation projects around the world that are dedicated to restoring wildlife populations in their natural habitats.

Spread out along a beautifully landscaped canyon, the zoo also displays an impressive botanical collection – more than 700,000 plants from around the globe grace the grounds.

Want to have more time with your favorite animals? You can upgrade your experience by signing up for behind-the-scenes and close-up animal experiences.

If your feet get sore from walking around the park, you can always hop on the Kangaroo Bus or glide over the exhibits in the Skyfari Aerial Tram . Better still, purchase a Skip-the-Line San Diego Zoo ticket , which includes admission, as well as unlimited rides on the bus and tram. You'll also avoid any long lines at the entrance.

The San Diego Zoo is about a 40-minute drive north of downtown San Diego.

Address: 2920 Zoo Drive, Balboa Park, San Diego, California

Official site:

Gaslamp Quarter

Adjacent to Petco Park and the Convention Center, the Gaslamp Quarter National Historic District is the hub of the city's nightlife. It's a great place to visit if you're looking for things to do in downtown San Diego – especially after dark.

Restored late-19th- and early-20th-century Victorian buildings house buzzing entertainment venues, trendy shops, art galleries, and restaurants serving every kind of cuisine you can imagine, from Persian food to pizza. This is a great place to catch some live jazz, comedy, or theater performances.

The district runs for about 16 blocks, from Broadway to San Diego Bay, and it's easily walkable, but you can also hop on bike taxis if your feet need a break.

Thanks to its great location in the heart of the city, the Gaslamp Quarter is also a great place to stay. High-end hotels range from boutique properties like the Pendry San Diego to big-brand properties like the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego , a short stroll away from all the action.

Official site:

Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum

Walking along the San Diego waterfront on the Embarcadero, you might be surprised when you come across one of the US military's largest ships. The decommissioned USS Midway is permanently berthed at Navy Pier.

The highlights of a visit to the USS Midway Museum include more than 60 exhibits and over 30 restored aircraft. More than 225,000 military service personnel served on the ship, and you can take a self-guided audio tour to learn all about its history. For an additional fee, you can also try a flight simulator on board.

To save time on your busy sightseeing agenda, consider purchasing a Skip the Line: USS Midway Museum Admission Ticket . This will allow you to bypass the crowds at the entrance, so you have more time to visit other top San Diego attractions.

Address: 910 North Harbor Drive, San Diego, California

Official site:

Seaport Village

San Diego's Seaport Village is a delightful place to stroll around and spend an afternoon. Located right on the waterfront, this area of unique shops and restaurants is one of the city's must-sees.

Picnic tables, benches, and waterfront patios are sprinkled throughout the area, and weekends can be very busy. Eclectic performers take to the outdoor stage regularly in the afternoons. Kids love riding the historic carousel with hand-carved wooden horses.

The area is easily accessible on foot from many of the nearby attractions, including the USS Midway . Since there is limited and expensive parking at Seaport Village, it might be best to park a little distance away and enjoy the stroll along the waterfront to the site.

Address: West Harbor Drive and Pacific Highway, San Diego, California

Official site:

Aerial view of Black's Beach

Year-round sunshine and miles of beautiful surf-washed coastline make San Diego a perfect place to visit for a beach vacation. No matter what you like to do, San Diego's best beaches offer conditions for every type of activity.

For basking in the sunshine and people-watching, head to Mission Beach with its buzzing beachfront boardwalk and seaview cafés. Ocean Beach delivers a dose of hippy chic, and pet owners can let their pooches run off-leash here at the aptly named Dog Beach . Surfing is also popular at these famous beaches.

If surfing is your top priority, Del Mar is one of the most consistent locations. Other popular surf spots include Pacific Beach, Trestles, Swami's, and Black's Beach, and beginner surfers should head to Oceanside or La Jolla Shores .

Want to take the kids for a day of sun, sand, and sea? The best family-friendly beaches are Del Mar, Silver Strand, Coronado Beach, and La Jolla Shores . And if you prefer a wild and rugged slice of coastline, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve fits the bill, with scenic hiking trails and soaring sea cliffs.

Wondering about the best time to visit San Diego for a beach vacation? It depends on your chosen activity. If you're a surfer, winter storms bring big swells. If you're a swimmer, summer is the best time to take a dip, and if you're headed to the coast to soak up some sunshine or stroll along the shore, you can do that at any time of the year.

Old Town State Historic Park

At the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, you can travel back in time and soak up some of the rich culture from San Diego's early days. The park recreates the feel of the Mexican and early American periods, from 1821 to 1872, when this settlement grew from a small Mexican pueblo.

Visit a working blacksmith studio, shop for authentic Mexican crafts, browse the art studios, enjoy live Mariachi music, and dine on a sunny patio at one of the atmospheric restaurants. Many of the historic buildings, including five original adobe structures, have been repaired, and newer buildings that have been added are in the same historical architectural style.

The Old Town State Historic park is one of the most visited state parks in California. There is no admission fee, and many of the attractions are free. You can also sign up for free walking tours offered twice daily (at 11am and at 2pm).

Address: 4002 Wallace Street, San Diego, California

Official site:

Point Loma and Cabrillo National Monument

Breathtaking views out over San Diego and the Pacific Ocean make Point Loma one of the best places to visit in this beautiful city. You can start soaking up the vistas on the scenic road up to Point Loma. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Mexico, and you might even be lucky enough to spot dolphins or whales.

This is where Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo first landed on the west coast of the United States in 1542. You can learn about the history of his incredible "Voyage of Discovery" through a variety of displays and exhibits at the Cabrillo National Monument. A large statue dedicated to Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo gazes out over the land he discovered.

Also located on Point Loma is the Old Point Loma Lighthouse , built in 1858. Visitors can tour the refurbished lighthouse building.

Hiking the scenic trails is another popular thing to do here. If you have children in tow, take the one-mile Bayside Trail to the tide pools.

Official site:

Boardwalk at Mission Beach

The seaside neighborhood of Mission Beach epitomizes San Diego's sunny Southern California lifestyle. The beautiful blonde-sand beach is the focal point here.

Swimming, sunbathing, surfing, and beach volleyball are popular things to do, and a three-mile scenic boardwalk skirts the shore. Come here on a sunny day, and you'll see locals rollerblading, skateboarding, strolling, and cycling along here, or dining at one of the many beachside cafés or restaurants.

A highlight of Mission Beach is Belmont Park , an East-Coast-style seaside amusement park complete with a historic roller coaster, excellent restaurants, fairground eateries, and street performances. It's a favorite San Diego attraction for kids.

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

Romantics will appreciate the awe-inspiring experience of a Southern California sunset. One of the best places to visit is Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, which stretches for 68 acres along coastal bluffs above the Pacific Ocean. The location provides an incomparable viewpoint to take in the ocean panoramas as the sun transforms the horizon from blue to glorious rosy-toned hues.

During the gray whale migration season, the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park offers a chance to spot these graceful creatures as they migrate to Baja California in Mexico.

San Diego harbor cruise

San Diego sits right on the water, and boat tours are a great way to do some sightseeing while soaking up the sunshine and fresh air. Hopping aboard a San Diego harbor cruise also gives you a fresh perspective of this beautiful seaside city. On this one- or two-hour narrated cruise, you can learn a little history, see the city skyline, and possibly spot some seals and sea lions basking along the rocky shore.

Tours include a cruise under the Coronado Bridge, and you can choose to sit either indoors or out on deck. Snacks and beverages are also available for purchase.

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala was California's first mission. In 1769, the Spanish Franciscan Father from Majorca, Junipero Serra, founded the mission stations, the first of which was built in San Diego. A few years after it was founded, however, it was moved six miles inland because disputes had arisen between the Spanish troops and the Indians.

In 1775, the Indians set fire to the new mission, the Fathers sought refuge with the army, and it wasn't until 1777 that they built a new mission station with the help of the Indians.

Today, the mission is a National Historic Landmark , and it's a wonderful place to learn about San Diego's early history. Highlights include visiting the old church with a bell tower, declared a basilica in the 1970s; strolling around the peaceful gardens ; and browsing the fascinating exhibits at the Padre Jayme Museum .

You can take a self-guided tour or book a guided tour in advance through the website.

Address: 10818 San Diego Mission Road, San Diego, California

Official site:

San Diego Museum of Art

Art lovers looking for a dose of culture should head to the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park. Its distinctive facade is a copy of the 17th-century University of Salamanca, in the so-called plateresque style, with finely-chiseled terra-cotta work. Busts of Spanish painters adorn the entrance, and their artworks are among the many eclectic exhibits displayed here.

The museum's collection covers a broad spectrum of works from around the world, including pieces that date back 7,000 years. Highlights include works by Spanish and Italian old masters, along with South Asian paintings and art from the Americas, including 19th- and 20th-century paintings and sculptures.

Address: 1450 El Prado, San Diego, California

Official site:

Whale watching in San Diego

San Diego is one of the best places in Southern California to spot migrating whales. Blue whales, gray whales, humpbacks, and minke whales swim these waters at different times of year, and you also have the chance to spot seals, dolphins, and even orcas.

Whale watching trips are one of the top things to do in San Diego from December through April , when the gray whale migration kicks into gear. Blue whales usually migrate during the summer months, from mid-June through September .

The best way to see these gentle giants up close is aboard a San Diego whale watching cruise . This 4.5-hour cruise takes place aboard a replica of the old sailing schooner that won the 1851 America's Cup. In addition to an exhilarating sailing experience, you'll also learn about the different species of marine life, as well as US Navy sites you pass along the way. Drinks, snacks, and a whale sighting guarantee are all included in the tour.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

For anyone interested in aviation and space flight history, this museum in Balboa Park is not to be missed. The museum educates the public about aircraft and space-age technology, with exhibits that help visitors understand the chronology and the pace of progress.

The museum begins its presentation of flight history with a model of the first hot air balloon, launched by the Montgolfier brothers in 1783, and a reproduction of the Wright brothers ' gliders. The presentation continues with exhibits of rare historical aircraft that date back to World War I. Also on display are mint-condition military aircraft from World War II, including the Navy F6F Hellcat and the A-4 Skyhawk Jet.

With a wide variety of collections, from aircraft, spacecraft, and flight simulators to photographs and film archives, the San Diego Air & Space Museum pays tribute to the rich aviation heritage of San Diego.

Visitors can stop at the museum's gift shop to pick up flight-themed souvenirs, such as books, puzzles, T-shirts, telescopes, model airplanes, and astronaut-autographed plaques. The gift shop even sells mini spacesuits for your little aspiring astronaut.

Address: 2001 Pan American Plaza, San Diego, California

Official site:

Cycling at the San Diego Harbor

With its year-round balmy weather and sunshine, San Diego is a top destination for outdoorsy types. Local residents enjoy an active lifestyle in all seasons, but tourists can also take advantage of the many things to do in San Diego during a visit.

Travelers can participate in outdoor adventures , from biking along coastal trails and sailing in the bay to hiking in Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. The wide range of water sports and other activities will appeal to all types of outdoor enthusiasts.

The New Children's Museum

A world of creativity and exploration awaits at The New Children's Museum. This innovative museum delights kids with engaging play areas and interactive exhibits, designed to encourage the imagination and critical thinking.

Contemporary artists developed the art installations for this unique museum. Each exhibit takes up the space of an entire room. Children enjoy looking at the art, as well as playing in the rooms. There are also art studios and workshops , where visitors can make their own art such as clay objects and paintings. Parents can participate in the art projects with their kids.

The multi-level modern building provides an inviting space for the museum exhibits. Eco-friendly construction techniques were used to build the 50,000-square-foot museum.

The New Children's Museum has a store that sells art supplies, games, puzzles, educational toys, children's books, and whimsical apparel.

As amusing as the museum's exhibits, the Bean Sprouts cafe offers healthy, organic seasonal meals and snacks designed to wow kids. The café serves breakfast and lunch with a special children's menu, plus allergy-friendly options. Kids love the café's "Imaginibbles," which feature fun, creative presentations, such as the "Grilledzilla" grilled cheese sandwich and the "Crocamole" avocado hummus, resembling the face of a crocodile.

Official site:

Penguins at SeaWorld in San Diego, CA

One of the top things to do in San Diego with kids, a visit to SeaWorld is sure to be a memorable experience for the youngsters in your family. Little ones delight in watching the friendly dolphins and frolicking otters, while bigger kids are awed by the shark exhibits and killer whale presentations.

SeaWorld San Diego combines the features of an aquarium and an amusement park . There are sea animal exhibits and thrilling roller-coaster rides, as well as more gentle rides for the little ones. Set on 100 acres of Mission Bay Park grounds, SeaWorld gives kids the chance to learn about sea animals such as walruses, sea lions, sea turtles, penguins, and flamingos.

Besides the sea animal shows and exhibits, SeaWorld also offers close-up encounters with dolphins (by reservation).

A new attraction at SeaWorld, Sesame Place is designed for kids who love the Sesame Street television show. Sesame Place includes Sesame Street -themed rides, a wave pool, character shows, and a musical play area.

Parents will appreciate the facilities at SeaWorld, including restaurants such as Big Bird's Bistro (suitable for children aged two years and older) and The Waterfront restaurant overlooking Mission Bay. SeaWorld also has several gift shops and boutiques where visitors can purchase T-shirts, sweatshirts, sea animal plush toys, and other souvenirs.

Address: 500 SeaWorld Drive, San Diego, California

Official site:

In San Diego, the prime tourist attractions are spread out over a large area. However, staying downtown affords easy access to many of the top sites, including the Gaslamp Quarter; Balboa Park; San Diego Zoo; the harbor; Horton Plaza shopping; Little Italy; and Petco Park, where the Padres play. From downtown, it's about a 10-minute drive to the quieter shores of Coronado, a popular weekend escape. Here are some highly rated San Diego hotels in a convenient, central location .

Luxury Hotels:

  • In San Diego, luxury-seeking travelers don't have to sacrifice sea views for a central location. The Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego overlooks the sparkling San Diego Bay, a short hop from Seaport Village, the Gaslamp Quarter, and the USS Midway Museum.
  • In the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter, The US Grant is steeped in historic elegance, while the Omni San Diego Hotel is connected to Petco Park via a pedestrian skywalk. Both are near other top attractions, such as Balboa Park and Little Italy.

Mid-Range Hotels:

  • In the Gaslamp Quarter, with views over Petco Park, the hip Hotel Indigo San Diego - Gaslamp Quarter is a pet-friendly property with an eco-friendly roof garden.
  • Also in the Gaslamp Quarter, the Courtyard by Marriott San Diego Downtown resides in an evocative 1920s bank building. This three-star hotel has a restaurant, fitness center, and concierge.
  • Not far from here, The Bristol Hotel San Diego is a stylish boutique hotel within walking distance of all the downtown action, as well as the USS Midway Museum and Horton Plaza.

Budget Hotels:

  • Travelers watching their wallet but still seeking a central location should consider the Comfort Inn Gaslamp Convention Center , in the heart of its namesake district, and the Days Inn by Wyndham San Diego , five minutes by car to Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo.
  • Another affordable, good-value option is Old Town Inn , a 10-minute walk from Old Town, with easy access via the trolley to Balboa Park, the Gaslamp Quarter, and the harbor.

Sightseeing Tours :

  • To see all the top sights in San Diego, the Hop-On Hop-Off Trolley Tour is the way to go. With the city's year-round mild climate, this is the perfect tour in any season, and it allows for complete flexibility. Get off and explore the areas that interest you or just stay on to see the city at a leisurely pace without having to worry about driving or parking. One or two day passes are available.

Since the city's weather is warm and sunny for most of the year, the best time of year to visit San Diego is from March through May and September through November, when the rates for hotels and airfare are cheaper. The weather is typically warm and sunny during these times of year, and the chance of rain is low for most of these months - except March, which can be wetter than the rest of spring and summer.

In April through May , spring weather usually brings warm weather, with temperatures in the 60s. Flowers bloom in local gardens, including the botanical gardens in Balboa Park, and you'll find fewer crowds. Keep in mind that May can be a little foggy - locals often refer to this as "May Gray," but saving money on accommodation and airfares might be worth visiting at this time.

In the fall, from September through November , you can expect crystal-clear sunny days; warm daytime temperatures, which can sometimes exceed summer temperatures in September; and fewer crowds at the city's top attractions. October and November (excluding Thanksgiving) are the cheapest months to travel at this time of year.

Peak season is June through August, during summer break, but June tends to have less sunshine than all the other summer months. At this time of year, warmer inland temperatures suck moisture in from the ocean, creating a thick blanket of fog along the coast , which the locals call "June Gloom." Early summer is also when crowds tend to swell as schools close for the summer high season. But the late summer — July, August, and September — brings the best beach weather .

Low season is typically during the winter months, from January through March. Rain is more likely during these months, but if no storms are in the forecast, you can expect the weather to be clear and sunny, with no fog, so it's worth taking a chance if you want a Southern California city fix at this time of year.

No matter what time of year you visit, it's also a good idea to bring layers because nights can be cool, even in summer.

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More Things to See and Do near San Diego : If you have more time up your sleeve, you might want to include some San Diego day trips in your travel itinerary – you can even take a quick trip to Mexico. Looking for an active vacation? Check out some of the top outdoor adventures in San Diego , from kayaking and sailing to hiking and biking the beachfront bike trails.


San Diego Family Travel : If you're traveling with children, San Diego has plenty of rewarding things to do with kids . Wondering where to stay in San Diego for a kid-friendly vacation? Check out some of the best resorts for families. And if you're also bringing your furry family members, San Diego has some excellent pet-friendly hotels.

San Diego (Downtown) Map - Tourist Attractions

More on California

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Surfing, safaris and scenic delights: here are the best things to do in San Diego

Sep 17, 2021 • 7 min read

Sunset at beautiful San Diego

Enjoy Central San Diego's beach scene on Pacific and Mission Beaches © cenkd / Getty Images

San Diego bursts with world-famous attractions for the entire family, including the zoo and the museums of Balboa Park. Then there's the excellent seafood, a buzzing Downtown and beautiful hikes for all.

Plus, more than 60 beaches and the USA's most perfect weather. Spend your fall vacation on a sun-drenched beach in San Diego and make the most of our list of the best things to do there when you're done sunbathing.

Stroll the oceanfront boardwalk 

Central San Diego's best beach scene is concentrated in a narrow strip of land between the ocean and Mission Bay. There's great people-watching along the Ocean Front Walk, the boardwalk running from South Mission Beach Jetty to the Pacific Beach pier. It’s crowded with joggers, in-line skaters and cyclists any time of the year. On warm summer weekends, the beaches are packed with people frolicking in sand and sea. While there’s lots to do, perhaps the best use of your time is to walk along the boardwalk, then spread a blanket in the sand, or kick back over cocktails and take in the scenery.

Best beaches in San Diego   

A close-up shot of a large cat with tan fur and black spots

San Diego Zoo

One of SoCal’s biggest attractions, San Diego's justifiably famous zoo has more than 4000 animals representing more than 650 species in a beautifully landscaped setting. The park is divided into geographical zones and bioclimatic environments, and typically enclosures replicate a species' natural habitat. You can see African and Indian elephants, a community of lemurs, dwarf crocodiles, leopards, gelada baboons and meerkats.

The zoo also has the largest colony of koalas outside Australia. Get close up views of polar bears, hippos grazing in the water, and admire the endangered red panda. Its sister park, San Diego Zoo Safari Park , focuses on free-range big game enclosures and is in northern San Diego County. Arrive early at both, as many of the animals are most active in the morning – though some perk up again in the afternoon.

A building with a tall bell tower in landscaped parkland

Balboa Park and museums

Balboa Park is a 1200-acre space with a number of gardens, reflecting different horticultural styles and environments, including a formal, Spanish-style garden and Palm Canyon, with more than 50 species of palms. The park is also home to more than 16 museums and cultural institutions.

Key attractions include  San Diego History Center  with exhibitions on the city;  San Diego Air and Space Museum , which is a shrine to all things aviation; the interactive anthropological  San Diego Museum of Us ;  San Diego Natural History Museum , packed with 7.5 million specimens;  San Diego Museum of Art  and the zoo. All attractions are easily walkable, or jump aboard the park's tram to whizz around them all at speed.

A vast hotel complex with white external walls and red roofs and turrets. People in the foreground play beach volleyball

Hotel del Coronado

Marvel at San Diego's history and architecture at "The Del" , one of the world's most iconic hotels. It's a beachfront all-timber whitewashed architectural fantasy dating from 1888, complete with conical towers, cupolas, turrets, balconies, dormer windows and cavernous public spaces.

The Del achieved its widest exposure when it was featured in the 1959 movie Some Like It Hot, which earned it a lasting association with Marilyn Monroe. Other guests have included 11 US presidents and various world royalty whose pictures and mementos adorn the hotel’s history gallery. Visitors are welcome in public areas, and tours of the hotel are available. 

A surfer holding an orange board surveys the waves from the shore. The beach is busy with people.

San Diego is a dream playground for surfers – a good number of residents moved here just for the surfing – and there are many excellent wave-riding beaches. Beginners should head to Mission or Pacific Beach for beach breaks (soft-sand bottomed). About a mile north of Crystal Pier, Tourmaline Surfing Park is a crowded but good improvers' spot for those who are comfortable surfing a reef break.

Want to learn more without getting wet? Then spend an hour in the heartfelt California Surf Museum . It has surf artifacts, a timeline of surfing history, and a radical collection of boards, including the one chomped by a shark when it ate the arm of surfer Bethany Hamilton. 

A sign reading "Old Town San Diego State Historic Park" stands in front of an old-fashioned wooden building with a pointed roof

Old Town Historic Park

On the site of San Diego's first European settlement, Old Town Historic Park consists of a cluster of restored or rebuilt historic 19th-century buildings filled with quaint exhibits, souvenir stores and cafes. Start at the visitor center in Robinson-Rose House; see the neat model of the pueblo and pick up a self-guided tour pamphlet . Free hour-long guided walking tours depart from Robinson-Rose House daily at 11am and 2pm on a first-come, first-served basis.

Look for the Casa de Estudillo, the most magnificent of the restored adobe mansions, with a lovely garden and furnished period rooms. Another highlight is the Seeley Stable where you can marvel at old stagecoaches, an ox-drawn cart and a massive two-wagon freighter. While you're in the area, grab a bite of authentic Mexican food at the legendary  Old Town Mexican Cafe .

A night time shot of a busy street scene. A large banner sign reads "Gaslamp Quarter: historic heart of San Diego".

Gaslamp Quarter

The central Downtown area, now known as the Gaslamp Quarter, is prime San Diego real estate. Handsomely restored 1870s to 1920s buildings house restaurants, bars, galleries, and theaters amid wrought-iron, 19th-century-style street lamps, trees, and brick sidewalks. This 16-block area, south of Broadway between 4th and 6th Aves, is designated a National Historic District. Learn more about and join a guided tour at Gaslamp Museum and Davis-Horton House .  Shout House  is one of the city's best live music venues with high-energy shows and musicians playing requests.

Several seals sun themselves on a rock

Seal watching in La Jolla

Built in the 1930s behind a wave-cutting seawall, La Jolla ’s Children’s Pool was created as a family beach but has since been invaded by herds of seals and sea lions. Tourists come in droves to see them larking around, swimming, fighting and mating, viewed from the plaza above the cove. There's strictly no touching, feeding or selfies to be taken with the residents – these are wild animals and visitors must give them space. The future of the seals remains in debate: divers and swimmers claim the mammals' presence increases bacteria levels in the water; animal-rights groups want to protect the cove and make it an official seal rookery. 

New Children's Museum

The interactive New Children's Museum offers endless activities for kids. Installations are designed by artists, so the future generation can learn the principles of movement and physics while simultaneously being exposed to art. Exhibits change every 18 months or so, so there's always something new. Workshops rotate daily and include clay and paint sessions.

A large grey warship with a communications turret displaying several flags

USS Midway Museum

The hulking aircraft carrier USS Midway was one of the navy’s flagships from 1945 to 1991, last playing a combat role in the First Gulf War. On the flight deck, walk right up to some two dozen restored aircraft, including an F-14 Tomcat and F-4 Phantom jet fighter. Admission includes an audio tour along the narrow confines of the upper decks to the bridge, the admiral’s war room, and below deck to the sick bay, galley, laundry and engine room.

Little Italy

Bounded by Hawthorn and Ash Sts on the north and south, and Front St and the waterfront on the east and west, Little Italy was settled in the mid-19th century by Italian immigrants, mostly fishermen and their families, who created a cohesive and thriving community based on a booming fish industry and whiskey trade (which some claim was backed by local Mafia). The community still thrives in the many restaurants and cafes along busy India St. In recent years, the area has had an influx of galleries and gourmet restaurants. Design and architecture businesses have transformed Little Italy into one of the hippest places to live, eat and shop in downtown San Diego.

The best day trips from San Diego  

A rocky bluff out into the ocean with a boardwalk weaving through the headland

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve preserves the last mainland stands of the Torrey pine (Pinus torreyana), a species adapted to sparse rainfall and sandy, stony soils. Steep sandstone gullies have eroded into wonderfully textured surfaces, and the views over the ocean and north, including whale-watching, are jaw-droppingly superb. Several easy trails (ranging from 0.5–1.5 miles long) wind through the reserve and down to the beach. 

Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail

A waterhole surrounded by large boulders with a setting sun

A 20-minute drive inland finds a series of wonderful, mostly flat, shady and sunny paths snaking through a lush valley and past a cascading waterfall surrounded by volcanic rock. The main 7-mile pathway of Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail is moderately trafficked with runners, walkers and mountain bikers. Look out for butterflies, mule deer and bobcats. Stay alert when exploring – rattlesnakes also favor these arid pathways. 

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21 best free things to do in San Diego    Best time to visit San Diego    Best hikes in San Diego

This article was first published Jun 17, 2021 and updated Sep 17, 2021.

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Gaslamp Quarter

The best things to do in San Diego right this minute

This city is much more than beaches. From parks and museums to its famous zoo, check out the best things to do in San Diego

San Diego is much more than Los Angeles ' super chill cousin to the south. This multicultural city has an international border and some of the world's best beaches. There's also incredible culture and world-class museums, amusement parks, a strong military footprint, authentic Mexican food, and more than 150 craft breweries. You'll love the laid-back surfer vibe here.

San Diego's year-round temperate climate is a big draw for visitors since they can usually count on the weather being an optimal 72 degrees and sunny. There are major events like San Diego Comic-Con, San Diego Beer Week, and several marathons and triathlons that draw folks to America's Finest City.

While here, don't miss attractions like Balboa Park, the world-renowned zoo, farmers markets, and water activities like whale watching, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding. San Diego's 70 miles of coastline are made up of charming beach towns with diverse offerings. But one thing is consistent throughout the county: the beautiful landscape. 

Here we've compiled the very best things to do in San Diego right now. If you're here with the family, there are also plenty of things to do with kids . 

RECOMMENDED: 🍽️  The best restaurants in San Diego 🏨  The best San Diego hotels 🍹  The best bars in San Diego 🏘️  The best Airbnbs in San Diego

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Fun things to do in San Diego

Balboa Park

1.  Balboa Park

  • Attractions
  • Park Laurel

San Diego is not short of beautiful parks, but Balboa is the undisputed king of them all. You’re going to want to factor in at least half a day for this, as the 1,200-acre park is home to 18 fantastic museums, some international houses, organ pavilion concerts, and the unmissable Old Globe Theatre. You could get lost for hours strolling through gardens and admiring architecture, but if you want to do it properly, book a walking tour of the park. 

San Diego Zoo

2.  San Diego Zoo

Oh yeah, Balboa Park is also home to San Diego Zoo. Did we mention that? Well anyway, add it to your list, because this zoo is a must-see in San Diego. The first zoo to introduce cageless, open-air exhibits, San Diego Zoo pioneered these natural animal habitats, which are really something to behold. It’s one of the only places outside China where you can spot Giant Pandas, and the zoo offers everything from strolls at sunrise to overnight camping. And if you can't get enough, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park  is nearby too. 

Belmont Park

3.  Belmont Park

  • Mission Beach

The thrilling centerpiece of this vintage amusement park in Mission Beach is called the Giant Dipper—and it's a national, historic landmark in its own right. Why? Because the construction of this incredible wooden roller coaster dates back to 1925, the so-called "Golden Age" of wooden coasters, but it can still be ridden today thanks to a $2 million restoration. For just $8 per person, you can ride its famous dips and turns (at 48 mph!) while you take in beautiful views of neighboring Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean — if you keep your eyes open, that is.

San Diego Whale Watch

4.  San Diego Whale Watch

Whale-watching trips from the city are both plentiful and fruitful, with blue whales at the center of attention between June and September and their gray cousins taking over from December through April. San Diego Whale Watch offers year-round excursions for $59 per person. Don't worry—if you don’t see a whale or dolphin during your tour, your next trip is free!

La Jolla

5.  La Jolla

Dubbed the “jewel of Southern California,” La Jolla is a curiously quaint Mediterranean-style village just a few minutes drive from downtown — but feels like you’ve accidentally taken the exit for Greece or Italy. There’s plenty to keep you entertained here, including some of the city’s finest restaurants like Nine-Ten in the Grande Colonial Hotel. Don't miss the nearby Legends Gallery , which boasts a nice collection of artwork by former La Jolla resident Dr. Seuss, or the Instagram-friendly La Jolla Cove , where you’ll almost always find groups of seals and sea lions sunbathing.

Torrey Pines Gliderport

6.  Torrey Pines Gliderport

  • Sports and fitness
  • La Jolla Shores

Enjoy a bird’s-eye view of San Diego’s exceptional Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve by swooping serenely overhead in a paraglider. Torrey Pines Gliderport is home to one of the most successful paragliding schools in North America, and flight experiences start from $175 ($165 if paying with cash). You’ll be strapped to a qualified pilot so there’s nothing to worry about except enjoying the sweeping ocean views of the 2,000-acre reserve, its numerous hiking trails and sandstone cliffs beneath you.

Petco Park

7.  Petco Park

Home to the San Diego Padres MLB team, Petco Park baseball stadium is located smack-dab in the middle of downtown San Diego, and it's a great family-friendly destination to watch America's favorite pastime. Sure, hot dogs and beer are par for the course here, but some of San Diego's top restaurants also have food stalls within the stadium for a high-end culinary experience. And there's no shortage of craft beer options, so it's also a great chance to try different local brews. Depending on the game, tickets can be found for as low as $18, and from certain seats you can even spot the ocean or catch a sunset. 

Gaslamp Quarter

8.  Gaslamp Quarter

  • Greater San Diego

As the alluringly charismatic and historic heart of downtown San Diego, the 16-and-a-half-block Gaslamp Quarter blends Victorian charm with a 21st-century entertainment, shopping and nightlife scene. Impressively, the Gaslamp Quarter celebrated its 150th anniversary in recent years. As the former site of San Diego's red light district in the 19th century, the area has been revitalized over the last 25 years and is now home to more than 100 retail stores.

Del Mar Racetrack

9.  Del Mar Racetrack

Opened in 1937 by singer Bing Crosby, Del Mar Racetrack was once a playground to the stars who rode the train down from Hollywood for a day of fun on the turf. General admission tickets are just $8 and minimum bets can be made for only $2. So it doesn't cost much to put a little skin in the game by picking your favorite pony to win each race. The summer racing season runs from July through September, and the fall season is typically held through the month of November. 

USS Midway Museum

10.  USS Midway Museum

The monumental USS Midway was the longest-serving aircraft carrier in U.S. Navy history when it was decommissioned in 1992. Now the feted ship—the size of a floating city—is a maritime museum open to the public, berthed along San Diego Bay in downtown. Climb aboard for a fascinating insight into what naval life is really like, courtesy of a self-guided audio tour narrated by some (refreshingly honest) former Midway sailors. Plus, if you've got young ones who love being onboard, you can find activities for little skippers.

Barrio Logan neighborhood

11.  Barrio Logan neighborhood

You’re tantalizingly close to the border, but you don’t need to cross it for some seriously authentic Mexican food. Beeline for the Barrio Logan neighborhood, the epicenter of San Diego’s Hispanic community, for lunch or dinner. The city’s freshest handmade tortillas can be sourced at Las Cuatro Milpas , an unassuming eatery with lines often extending around the block. For dessert, stroll to nearby Panchitas Bakery , which holds legendary status among San Diegans for its homemade Mexican pastries and steaming hot chocolate.

Whaley House Museum

12.  Whaley House Museum

The Whaley House in San Diego’s Old Town is one of only two officially designated haunted houses in California (yes, official!). Built in 1857, on the town’s former gallows’ site, the house was once home to the wealthy but troubled Whaley family—and rumor has it that various members of the clan never left. Other ghosts said to haunt the house include a grand larcenist who fought ferociously to keep himself alive at the gallows.

Cabrillo National Monument

13.  Cabrillo National Monument

  • Wooded Area

Sitting proudly amongst the astonishing cliffs of Point Loma, Cabrillo National Monument commemorates the historic moment when Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed into San Diego Bay under the Spanish flag in 1542 . The monument boasts spectacular 360-degree views of San Diego Bay, downtown and the surrounding region. On a clear day, you can even see the hills of Tijuana, Mexico. Once you've taken in the incredible vista, check out the quaint exhibit hall next to the monument, which is dedicated to the Cabrillo's life.

San Diego Museum of Art

14.  San Diego Museum of Art

The region’s oldest, largest and most-visited art museum, San Diego Museum of Art has a nationally renowned permanent collection that includes Spanish and Italian old masters, as well as 19th-century American paintings and sculptures. They also throw some of the best after-hours parties in the city, including Culture & Cocktails and Bloom Bash. Don't miss the outdoor sculpture garden!

Little Italy Mercato Farmers’ Market

15.  Little Italy Mercato Farmers’ Market

To get a feel for the real San Diego, do as the locals do: Grab your reusable bag and head for the Little Italy Mercato Farmers’ Market, where you'll discover an array of beautiful, fresh, local produce and straight-outta-the-ocean seafood. There's also live music and made-to-order food. If you can't make this one held Saturdays and Wednesdays, farmers’ markets take place every day of the week, with more than 30 held across the city every weekend. For a complete schedule, visit the San Diego Farm Bureau .

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá

16.  Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá

The first and grandest of the California missions is Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala, founded by the Spanish in 1769. The Basilica—nestled down in stunning Mission Valley near the San Diego River—is a beautiful and serene place to visit. History buffs can make reservations for a tour, attend mass in the original chapel, visit the mission’s museum and stroll the oldest known cemetery in California.

Surf Diva

17.  Surf Diva

With an impressive 70 miles of coastline, San Diego is a surfer’s dream. Turn up the volume and drive down to watch the action—but don’t attempt any waves yourself unless you’re an experienced surfer. If you’re a novice but want to try the sport, visit Surf Diva in La Jolla , the world’s first all-woman surf school, for a private lesson.

Oscar's Mexican Seafood

18.  Oscar's Mexican Seafood

Pretty much every local has an opinion on the best fish taco in town, but one definite standout is Oscars, a traditional Mexican seafood joint with three locations around the city. You might have to stand in line but trust us, the taco special (shrimp or smoked fish + your choice of scallops or octopus with cabbage, onion, tomato, cilantro and cheese) is well worth the wait. Just thinking about it has our mouths watering.

More great things to do in San Diego

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57 Best & Fun Things To Do In San Diego (California)

By: Author Jerric Chong

Posted on Published: June 22, 2020  - Last updated: October 16, 2023

Things To Do In San Diego

More than 35 million people visit San Diego each year, and they all go for something different.

Some flock to the beaches and their high-rise condos and resorts; others are more interested in the quirky, funky places that house the city’s art, food, fashion and music.

Why are you interested in San Diego?

Are you going for the cruises or the cocktails?

Are you dying to see the baseball stadiums or the sunken submarines?

Maybe you want to experience it all. That’s okay, too.

We can help with planning your trip until your itinerary is just the way that you want it.

Are you ready to explore one of the finest vacation spots in the United States?

Here are 57 things to do in San Diego, California!

Disclaimer: This article may contain affiliate links. If you make a booking through these links, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Table of Contents

1. La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove

kan_khampanya / Shutterstock

La Jolla Cove is one of the most photographed destinations in San Diego, and once you’re snorkeling underwater with a school of bright, colorful fish darting all around the bubbles, you’ll understand why.

The water is beautiful. The beaches are tropical.

Local marine life includes everything from starfish to sea lions, and the landscapes range from sandy cliffs to grassy hills and slopes.

Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty of cool things to do at La Jolla Cove, too.

It’s a popular site for swimming, kayaking, scuba diving, hiking, biking and picnicking.

Since it’s part of a marine refuge area, there are restrictions against things like motorized boats, but you’ll find plenty of entertainment elsewhere.

Consider a trip to La Jolla Cove if you have a water-resistant camera and a love for photo ops.

You’ll definitely fill your reel in a place like this!

Check details, prices and reviews here.

Address: 31100 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92037, United States

Looking for more thrills around La Jolla? Be sure to check out some of the things to do in La Jolla .

2. San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo

Sherry V Smith / Shutterstock

You’ve been to zoos before, but you’ve never been to the San Diego Zoo .

Home to more than 3,500 animals, the San Diego Zoo is considered one of the best in the world.

Tigers stalk around canyons. Monkeys swing from trees. Birds and butterflies flutter in open-air houses.

You don’t have to feel guilty about your patronage, either.

The San Diego Zoo is dedicated to wildlife conservation, so your money is going to a good cause.

In fact, they actually pioneered the “cageless” habitat design that would later become standard in zoos.

Do you love animals? Do you want to enjoy tours, shows, rides, theaters and aerial trams?

The San Diego Zoo offers such a good time that it’s basically a vacation within a vacation, so you’ll definitely want to stop by while you’re in California.

Address:  2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101, United States

3. iFLY San Diego

iFLY San Diego

vivooo / Shutterstock

Sky diving is one of the most fun things to do in San Diego, and you don’t even need a plane.

With indoor skydiving facilities like iFLY , you can experience all of the thrills with none of the risk!

The secret lies in their wind tunnel.

Built with revolutionary technology, it mimics the sounds, speeds and sensations of a death-defying dive, but you’ll actually just float in an enclosed tunnel.

There will even be flight instructors nearby to supervise.

Kids and adults are both welcome at iFLY.

There are some age restrictions for very young children, but even if they aren’t allowed in the wind tunnel, they can appreciate the demonstrations, snacks, simulations and more.

If you’re looking for cool things to experience on your vacation, stop by iFLY.

It isn’t the only indoor skydiving facility in California, but it’s one of the best, and it’s centrally located near San Diego for those who are vacationing there.

Address:  2385 Camino Del Rio N, San Diego, CA 92108, United States

4. MooTime Creamery

Mootime Creamery

Wayne Hsieh / flickr

Locals have been going to MooTime Creamery for generations.

Despite its popularity, it retains a cozy, nostalgic atmosphere that will take you right back to the days of neighborhood ice cream shops.

It’s the kind of place where you and your own kids can form a new tradition.

Flavors rotate daily and include the classics as well as fun, creative inventions like “brownie batter” and “black raspberry chunk.”

You can order old-fashioned cones or new-school novelties like waffle tacos and cookie sandwiches.

Seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis, and the place is always packed, so you’ll want to get there early.

Another option is to grab your frozen dessert and enjoy it on a stroll through San Diego’s sunny streets!

California can get hot.

Use the MooTime Creamery to cool yourself down amidst fun flavors and vintage-style charm.

Address:  1025 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA 92118, United States

5. Downtown San Diego

Downtown San Diego

Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

With everything from hole-in-the-wall diners to luxurious spas and resorts, downtown San Diego is one of the most fun, diverse places in the city.

Whether you’re traveling for work or leisure, you can find plenty of activities to show you a good time.

Bars and clubs are there for the hopping.

Symphonies and orchestras can offer amazing date nights.

If you’re into history, there are gaslamp historical quarters teeming with museums, monuments and landmarks.

If you’re more modern, there are trendy cafes and glitzy boutiques located in parks, plazas and shopping malls.

The list of things to do in downtown San Diego is so large that it could be its own list, so trust us when we say that it’s a bustling place filled with possibility.

If you’re thinking about what to do on your San Diego vacation, downtown is an absolute must.

Check out these awesome things to do in downtown San Diego!

Visiting other parts of California? Be sure to check out our lists of things to do in Santa Cruz & things to do in Orange County !

6. Balboa Park

Balboa Park

Dancestrokes / Shutterstock

You can’t visit San Diego without a trip to Balboa Park .

Packed with trails, gardens, museums, zoos, theaters, concert stages and recreational facilities, it’s one of the biggest tourist attractions in the entire state of California.

Nature lovers can stroll through dozens of landscapes that include everything from lily ponds to zen gardens.

History buffs can take tours through museums, memorials, art houses, science centers and cultural institutes.

Do you like culture? Someone is always hosting an open-air concert or theater production.

Do you like games? There are ballparks, bowling alleys and remote-controlled racetracks.

There are even fun and unique places to visit like archery ranges!

There are so many cool places to see in Balboa Park that you might need to plan a second vacation just to experience it all.

It’s easily one of the best things to do in San Diego, California, so give yourself plenty of time to explore it!

Check out this awesome walking tour in Balboa Park here.

Address: 1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101, United States

7. 10 Barrel Brewing Company

10 Barrel Brewing Company (San Diego)

10 Barrel Brewing Company (San Diego)

Vacations can be stressful. If you need to crack open a cold one to relieve some stress, visit the 10 Barrel Brewing Company .

Located inside a two-story warehouse, this microbrewery is the definition of “industrial chic.”

Gigantic windows cast sunshine over hardwood floors; ceilings have light bulbs hanging from exposed wood beams and criss-crossed metal tracks. Outside, a rooftop bar is always packed with people.

If crowds aren’t your thing, you don’t have to be near them.

You can go to the brewery for nothing more than its collection of craft beers.

They have so many to choose from that you could get drunk just by sampling different kinds!

The 10 Barrel Brewing Company is one of the best spots to grab a beer in San Diego.

In a city with hundreds of bars and brewpubs, it stands out from the crowd for both style and substance.

Address:  1501 E St, San Diego, CA 92101, United States

8. Old Point Loma Lighthouse

Old Point Loma Lighthouse

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Situated on top of a cliff, the Old Point Loma Lighthouse used to be the most elevated lighthouse in the United States.

It was so tall, in fact, that the clouds often hid it from view, so lighthouse keepers would fire shotguns at approaching ships to keep them away.

Things are much less dramatic now, but the Old Point Loma Lighthouse is still great in terms of San Diego attractions.

You can take a tour, explore the grounds, visit the on-site museum and catch a show from historical re-enactors.

On the lighthouse’s birthday, the actual tower is open to the public, so you can climb the steps and gaze at San Diego from on high.

You won’t want to miss the Old Point Loma Lighthouse if you’re a fan of fun landmarks and monuments.

Just the fact that it’s still standing is a testament to its strength!

Give it a visit while you’re touring the California coast.

Address:  1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr, San Diego, CA 92106, United States

9. Belmont Park

Belmont Park

It’s hard to miss Belmont Park .

With a gigantic wooden roller coaster that winds around the San Diego coastline, it’s the kind of destination that will stop you right in your tracks.

The roller coaster is just the beginning.

For high-octane fun, you’ll have your choice of slides, carousels, ziplines, tilt-a-whirls, vertical plunges and bumper cars.

For entertainment on the ground, there are things like laser tag and mini-golf.

There’s even an old-fashioned arcade for adults who enjoy the nostalgia!

If the sights don’t get you, the sounds and smells will.

Belmont Park is the kind of place where pretzels are always cooking and grand prizes are always jingling.

It’s a must do for folks who aren’t afraid of color, noise, food, fun and excitement.

To unleash your inner child in San Diego, take a trip to Belmont Park.

It’s one of the hottest tourist spots in the state, and it’ll leave you breathless from the sun and the rides!

Address:  3146 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109, United States

10. The Casbah

The Casbah

Tristan Loper / flickr

Are you ready to rock the casbah ?

This entertainment venue is one of the best in San Diego, especially if you’re a fan of live music.

It has live performances at least 5 – 6 times per week!

Some are indie bands that you won’t recognize.

Others are famous names like Alanis Morissette and Blink-182.

The Casbah even hosted Nirvana back in the day, so it isn’t some rinky-dink stage; it’s one of the major points of interest of San Diego.

A full bar keeps the alcohol flowing.

A lounge area offers a pool table and other amenities.

There’s even a semi-secret room that’s only opened during sold-out shows when the space is needed, so there are actually benefits to going when there’s a crowd!

If you’re wondering what to see in San Diego, California, stop by the Casbah for some beer, billiards and bands.

It isn’t a place to bring the kids, but it can provide adults with a lot of fun.

Address:  2501 Kettner Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101, United States

Traveling to other parts of California? Why not check out our lists of things to do in San Jose , things to do in Palm Springs  & things to do in Anaheim ?

11. Cedros Avenue Design District

Cedros Avenue Design District

Cedros Avenue Design District

If you like to explore off the beaten path, let your wandering feet take you to the Cedros Avenue Design District in San Diego.

It has more than 80 vendors packed into 2.5 blocks, and most of them are local, independent artisans who specialize in homemade goods and trendy services.

Book lovers will appreciate the collections of rare and secondhand volumes.

Fashionistas will enjoy the boutiques and street stalls that sell everything from jewelry to luxury footwear.

Health nuts will appreciate the juice bars, smoothie stands and tea shops.

The atmosphere ranges from thrifty to upscale.

The businesses can be fun and trendy or old, battered and authentically vintage.

The Cedros Avenue Design District is one of the most unique things to do around the San Diego region.

There’s simply nowhere else in the city like it.

If you’ll be in town, you’ll definitely want to drop by and pick up a souvenir or two.

Address: Cedros Avenue, Solana Beach, CA 92075, United States

12. Embarcadero


Located just a few miles from downtown San Diego, Embarcadero is one of the busiest waterfront destinations in California.

It has plenty of tourist attractions, including a floating maritime museum, but it also boasts a rich and colorful history as a port.

People have been flocking to Embarcadero for generations.

In the old days, they fished off its piers and docked along its harbors; today, they’re more likely to go dining, shopping, cruising or sightseeing.

The seafood is fresh. The attractions are awesome.

The bars and restaurants are always lively, and if you visit during the summer months, there’s a festival just about every week.

Consider a trip to Embarcadero if you’re looking for fun things to do in San Diego along the coast.

There’s a reason why it’s considered one of the top sites in California!

Address: Harbor Drive between Market and Grape streets Broadway Pier, San Diego, CA 92101, United States

13. Spanish Village Art Center

Spanish Village Art Center

The Spanish Village Art Center offers a sensational collection of art.

For starters, it has a constant rotation of artists who work with felt, paint, metal, beads, photos, glass and clay.

There’s always something new to see even if you’ve visited before, so the locals of San Diego enjoy it just as much as the tourists.

Thanks to the diversity of its artists, there’s also a lot of variety in its subject matter.

The displays range from sharply critical contemporary paintings to soft and mellow vintage-style prints.

A global atmosphere is very much present.

Stop by the Spanish Village Art Center for a trip into the imaginations of diverse international artists.

Their work is the definition of creativity, and you’ll have a blast as you explore it.

You can travel the world without ever leaving San Diego, California!

Address:  1770 Village Pl, San Diego, CA 92101, United States

14. San Diego Air and Space Museum

San Diego Air and Space Museum

Have you ever seen the planet from a bird’s eye view?

At the San Diego Air and Space Museum , it’s not just possible; it’s a standard feature.

This museum offers all kinds of pictures, videos, displays, exhibits and models that celebrate the intersection of science and technology.

The halls are filled with reproductions of aircraft and spacecraft.

The galleries immortalize the names and faces of pilots, astronauts, engineers and other important people in the field.

There are even interactive portals where you can watch a rover in action or snap a selfie in a space suit!

If you’ve ever watched The Martian and dreamed about having Matt Damon’s job, the San Diego Air and Space Museum is your chance to get up close and personal with the skies.

It’s easily one of the best places to visit in San Diego.

Address:  2001 Pan American Plaza, San Diego, CA 92101, United States

15. Lake Hodges

Lake Hodges

Autumn Sky Photography / Shutterstock

With an activity roster that includes everything from kayaking to barbecuing, Lake Hodges is one of the most fun places in California.

It’s about a half-hour drive from San Diego, so you’ll need to be okay with taking a detour, but escaping the city lights will be worth it.

You’ve never seen a glittering blanket of stars like this one.

The lake itself is a reservoir that stretches for more than 1,200 acres.

That translates to miles and miles of shoreline that can be used for boating, fishing, picnicking and more.

A concession stand offers snacks, and a bait and tackle shop has rentals and licenses for various activities.

There’s nothing like deep lungfuls of fresh, clean air to make you feel connected to nature.

At Lake Hodges, you’ll be absolutely dizzy with it.

It’s the best lake in the San Diego region for getting away from it all!

Address: 20102 Lake Dr, Escondido, CA 92029, United States

Going on a road trip around California? Check out our lists of things to do in Santa Barbara & things to do in Sacramento !

16. Grand Tea Room

Grand Tea Room

Genevieve Prentice / flickr

There’s nothing like a good cup of tea, and the Grand Tea Room is the place to get it.

Nestled in the historic district of downtown Escondido, it has a quaint, cozy atmosphere where the tables are covered in lacy doilies and the decorations range from ornate portraits to padded couches straight out of a vintage novel.

The menu is just as charming as the furnishings.

If you’re short on time, have just a cup or two of chai, red bush, darjeeling or classic black tea.

If you want one of those high afternoon tea experiences that you’ve always seen on Downton Abbey, reserve a two-hour slot that includes a full platter.

You’ll be served scones, fruit bowls, petite desserts and dozens of varieties of loose-leaf tea.

The Grand Tea Room isn’t one of the flashier tourist spots.

In fact, its tucked-away location is easy to miss.

Fortunately, it’s worth the effort of finding it, especially for tea addicts who are always on the prowl for their next fix.

Go and see what flavors that California teas can offer you!

Address: 145 W Grand Ave, Escondido, CA 92025, United States

17. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

Jon Bilous / Shutterstock

With a name like “Sunset Cliffs,” you might expect this place to be amazing.

The good news is that you’d be right.

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is one of the most gorgeous locations in San Diego, so it’ll make an unforgettable memory for you during your vacation.

The first step is actually getting there.

For the best views, you’ll need to hike to one of the clifftops to watch the sun sink behind the horizon.

You can also explore caves, caverns and coastlines with amazing rock formations and colorful displays of nature and sea life.

One of the best tourist spots is an underground cave with an open ceiling where you can watch the clouds and stars drift by.

Another popular location is a bluff where you can go cliff diving into the water.

If you’re looking for fun things to do in San Diego at night, swing by Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.

It more than lives up to its name with its breathtaking summits.

Address:  Ladera St, San Diego, CA 92107, United States

18. Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

Are you wondering what to do in San Diego on a rainy day?

It’s a rare phenomenon for such a sunny place, but it does happen, and it doesn’t have to be a vacation ruiner.

Just visit somewhere like the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) .

MCASD houses many different types of art, including paintings, sculptures, scrolls and 3D art installations that jut out from the walls and dangle from invisible strings.

The only requirement is that they don’t date back further than 1950.

They have to be modern.

Visitors to the museum can take self-guided tours or attend special events like lectures and auctions.

Their calendar is always packed, so it’s just a matter of choosing something that interests you while you’re in San Diego.

Don’t let a rainy day put a damper on your vacation.

With places like the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, you can still enjoy a fun afternoon in the city.

Address: 1100 Kettner Boulevard (between Broadway and B Street), San Diego, CA 92101, United States

19. San Elijo Lagoon

San Elijo Lagoon

Marcel Fuentes / Shutterstock

Coastal wetlands are disappearing from California, but the San Elijo Lagoon is one of the few remaining holdouts.

It’s fiercely protected by local environmental groups because of both its beauty and its biodiversity.

Visitors to the San Elijo Lagoon are encouraged to start at the nature center.

It was built with recyclable, sustainable materials and runs on solar power, so it gets a gold seal when it comes to eco-friendliness.

It’s filled with samples from the lagoon and artifacts from the Native American tribes who used to live on it.

When you’re ready to go outside, there are ample trails for walking and hiking.

They range in difficulty depending on their length, terrain and elevation.

Some wind around the marshes and shrubs for miles; others are just short treks to see the birds.

The San Elijo Lagoon is proof that San Diego attractions don’t have to be razzle-dazzle to be awesome.

A quiet afternoon on the trails will be just as fun as some of the other things in the city!

Address:  2710 Manchester Ave, Cardiff, CA 92007, United States

20. Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach

ESB Professional / Shutterstock

Ocean Beach is such a famous place in San Diego that its residents have their own name: “OBceans” or “OBecians.”

They’re proud to live there, and fortunately, they’re happy to welcome tourists as well.

The main draw of Ocean Beach is its potential for a shopping extravaganza.

Hundreds of vendors call it home, and most of them are small, independent retailers selling books, flowers, furniture, jewelry, baked goods, antique collectibles and all of the kitschy souvenirs that you could ever need.

Some big-name businesses have tried to set up shop in Ocean Beach, but they’ve always been stopped by the community.

People organize protests every time.

This is one of the only places to visit in San Diego that hasn’t been commercialized!

Are you visiting the coastal cities of California?

Do you want cool things to see in a neighborhood like none other?

Grab a reusable shopping bag and make a trip to Ocean Beach.

Address: Newport Ave, San Diego, CA 92107, United States

Visting other areas of California? Check out our lists of things to do in San Francisco  & things do in Los Angeles !

21. Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave

Sunny Jim's Sea Cave

Jenelle Jacks / Shutterstock

If you’re pouring over a map of San Diego and wondering where to go, consider Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave .

Formerly a smuggler’s tunnel, it’s become one of the best known attractions in the city for folks who like cool historical locations.

Your journey starts in a small, wood-shingled beach shop.

There are hundreds like it in California, but this one has a secret exit that will lead you down sandstone cliffs and into a sea cave.

The trip will be dark, wet, humid and slippery.

There are stairs and rails, but they’re built directly into the caverns, and the tides wash over them quite often.

The danger is part of the appeal, however.

It truly looks and feels like the bootlegger’s passage that it used to be.

If you want to make some fun, lasting memories while you’re in San Diego, grab your flashlight and venture into Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave.

Address: 1325 Cave St, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92037, United States

22. Bahia Belle

Bahia Belle Cruise

Bahia Belle Cruise

Travel to Mississippi without even leaving California when you take a cruise on the Bahia Belle .

It’s a gigantic, turn-of-the-century sternwheeler boat, and it meanders through San Diego’s bays and harbors like something out of Gone With the Wind.

Hours of operation are 6 PM – 1:30 AM, so it’s a nighttime adventure.

Families can enjoy a wholesome “sunset cruise” with snacks and beautiful views of the water.

Singles can mingle with “after dark” parties that include cocktails, live music and other forms of entertainment.

Bahia Belle is operated by the Bahia Resort Hotel, and it’s free to all guests.

You can also purchase one-time tickets if you aren’t staying at the hotel.

A trip on the Bahia Belle is one of the top things to do in San Diego.

It’s such a fun and unique setting that everything will feel like new, so even if you’ve taken cruises before, buy a ticket for the sternwheeler tonight!

Address:  998 W Mission Bay Dr, San Diego, CA 92109, United States

23. Aquatica

Aquatica San Diego

Aquatica San Diego

Amusement parks are always a popular option for tourist attractions in San Diego, but there’s something special about Aquatica .

Maybe it’s the fact that it’s the perfect way to cool down during a hot day in San Diego.

With everything from thrill rides to lazy rivers and pools, you can swim, splash, slide and dive to your heart’s content.

Maybe it’s the fact that it offers lots of fun activities outside of the water, too.

You can catch a marine show, dine at a seafood restaurant or have a close encounter with a dolphin or penguin.

Either way, if you’re looking for family-friendly undertakings in San Diego, Aquatica is a must do.

You can buy day passes or season passes depending on the length of your vacation.

Stay for the afternoon; stay for the summer.

Aquatica will always welcome you!

Address:  2052 Entertainment Cir, Chula Vista, CA 91911, United States

24. Cardiff State Beach

Cardiff State Beach

DBSOCAL / Shutterstock

California is known for its beaches, but with miles and miles of coastline to choose from, how are you supposed to pick the right vacation destinations?

One option is Cardiff State Beach in San Diego.

Protected by the government, it offers clean, sandy slopes and warm waves that are suitable for swimming and surfing.

You can even take the dog for a walk as long as he stays on a leash.

There are plenty of scheduled activities to choose from as well.

Do you like working up a sweat? Join a yoga class or volleyball game on the beach.

Do you live for camping? There are campgrounds nearby where you can set up your RV.

By offering endless amounts of fun, Cardiff State Beach has cemented itself as one of the best beaches in San Diego.

If you only have time to hit a couple while you’re in town, make sure that Cardiff is on your list.

Address: Highway 101, Cardiff by the Sea, CA 92007, United States

25. Legends Gallery

Legends Gallery

cultivar413 / flickr

Did you know that Dr. Seuss lived in San Diego?

While not a real doctor, his “prescription for fun” endeared him to the masses to such an extent that he has the place of honor in San Diego’s Legends Gallery .

Filled with all of the delightful whimsy that you’d expect, the Legends Gallery is a place where renowned authors and illustrators have their work showcased to the world.

There are early, unreleased sketches from famous books; there are 3D models of beloved characters brought to life.

Dr. Seuss isn’t the only legend on display, either.

You can learn about Tom Everhart, Mackenzie Thorpe and many others.

Some hail from San Diego; others are international creators.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the Legends Gallery is one of the best attractions in San Diego.

It fills a fun little niche that you didn’t even know existed, but once you visit, you’ll be glad that you did.

Address:  1205 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA 92037, United States

26. Compass Balloons

Compass Balloons

GizaDog / Shutterstock

Located a few miles outside of San Diego, Compass Balloons is a hot air balloon company that offers scenic rides over southern California.

You’ll marvel at everything from city towers to remote valleys and vineyards in wine country.

Depending on your budget, you’ll also have options for public, private or group tours, so it’s the kind of experience that you can customize.

Are you hoping for a romantic date night?

Book a his-and-her ride during the sunset.

Are you traveling with co-workers and looking for team-building exercises?

Toast to a successful product launch while you’re hundreds of miles in the air.

Compass Balloons will let you experience all of the amazing sights of southern California from an unforgettable vantage point.

Anyone can take a walking or biking tour, but how many people can say that they’ve taken an aerial tour?

As long as you don’t mind a short drive outside of San Diego, Compass Balloons is one of the best places near the city to have an adventure.

Address:  1969 Villa Cardiff Dr, Cardiff, CA 92007, United States

27. San Diego Model Railroad Museum

San Diego Model Railroad Museum

Tiago Pestana / Shutterstock

You never really outgrow a childhood obsession with trains, and at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum , you can embrace that fact.

It’s a place that you won’t find in a lot of travel guides, but as the largest museum of its kind in the entire world, it’s a valuable sightseeing location in California.

Model trains cover every inch of the space.

Some are miniature replicas of historic, real-life locomotives; others are imaginative toys built for kids that have colorful pieces and moving parts.

If you like learning about trains, there’s a reference library in the back of the museum, and it includes books, videos, manuals, blueprints and antiquated footage that was saved from the ravages of time.

Visit the San Diego Model Railroad Museum if you’re looking for cool places to go that aren’t listed in every single brochure about San Diego.

Sometimes, the little-known spots can offer the best experiences.

Address:  1649 El Prado Modern and Contemporary Art and Dynamic, San Diego, CA 92101, United States

28. Children’s Pool Beach

Children's Pool Beach

Manuela Durson / Shutterstock

Are you looking for fun things to do in San Diego with kids?

You might like Children’s Pool Beach .

Originally commissioned as a place where children could swim without the danger of high waves, it quickly became a nesting spot for local seals.

They flocked to the area by the hundreds, and it actually became unsafe for kids to be in the water because of their bacteria.

If you visit Children’s Pool Beach this weekend, you’ll find that swimming is technically allowed but highly discouraged.

Kids still love it, however, because of the seals.

They dive, splash, call to each other, sunbathe on the rocks and generally have the time of their lives in their adopted habitat, so it’s a sightseeing opportunity like none other.

If you love animals, Children’s Pool Beach is one of the best places to visit in San Diego.

It offers a zoo-like experience of getting close to wildlife, but it’s all natural.

Your kids will be talking about this memory for years to come.

Address: 850 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92037, United States

29. Petco Park

Petco Park

Home to the San Diego Padres, Petco Park is a baseball stadium where you can take the whole family out to a ball game.

It’s filled with state-of-the-art features that include everything from gigantic videoboards to smaller HDTVs scattered around the bars and concession stands so that you’ll never miss a moment of the action.

Baseball isn’t the only thing to enjoy at the stadium, either.

It’s also been a place for rugby, basketball, golf and tennis as well as concerts and motor sports.

It even held American Idol auditions back in the day!

Long story short, there’s lots of stuff to do at Petco Park.

It’s just a matter of looking at their schedule and seeing what options are available to you while you’re in San Diego.

Are you ready to chomp some peanuts, watch some hoops or bang your head to some metal music?

Petco Park has it all!

Address:  100 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101, United States

30. San Diego Museum of Art

San Diego Museum of Art

FrimuFilms / Shutterstock

You can’t miss the San Diego Museum of Art .

Its front doors are located in a gigantic, cathedral-style facade that took a full two years to build, and they can be seen from every direction if you’re in the neighborhood.

They’re that big.

Inside, the collections are just as impressive as the exterior.

The museum is home to hundreds of paintings, sculptures, documents, artifacts and general historical pieces, and they date all the way back to 5000 BC.

You can explore the entire rise and fall of an ancient civilization just by passing through a particular hallway.

Tours are available, but they’ll need to be scheduled in advance.

If you’re hoping to go this week, call as early as possible.

They can get booked up quickly.

The San Diego Museum of Art is one of the major points of interest in the city.

Don’t resist the temptation to peek inside.

Once you see those humongous doors, let them guide you to a wonderful tribute to art and culture.

Address:  1450 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92102, United States

31. Little Italy

Little Italy San Diego

GagliardiPhotography / Shutterstock

You can smell the pastas and sauces.

You can hear the drifting notes of violins in the air.

This is Little Italy , and it’s located right in the heart of San Diego.

You don’t have to travel to Europe for an authentic Italian experience.

Thousands of miles away, this bustling block offers everything from food to fashion for lovers of Italian culture, making it one of the coolest places to visit in California .

Dine at the restaurants. Sip cocktails in the open bars and umbrella-covered patios.

Watch street performers do their thing, and empty your wallet at upscale clothing boutiques and souvenir stalls.

San Diego is no stranger to exotic cultures.

For example, it also boasts a Chinatown and an Asian Pacific Historic District.

There’s just something special about Little Italy, so if you’re looking for unique things to do while you’re in the city, stop by for a deep-dish pizza with all of the fixings!

Check out this awesome walking tour of Little Italy here.

Address: 1668 Columbia St From Laurel south to West A Street, San Diego, CA 92101-2502, United States

32. Villa Montezuma

Villa Montezuma

Roaming Panda Photos / Shutterstock

Also known as the “Spook House,” the Villa Montezuma of San Diego is a haunted mansion that has been baffling and frightening residents since its foundation in 1887.

It was built by a famous pianist who died quite suddenly after playing a single, final note of a piano performance.

His friends at the dinner party had no idea what was wrong since his fingers were still poised over the keys.

After his cremation, the mansion was passed from owner to owner, and they all reported strange incidents and occurrences.

There was a corner where nothing would grow.

There was a hidden passageway that defied all architectural logic.

Today, the Villa Montezuma is one of the biggest places of interest for supernatural spooks.

People come from all around the U.S. just to see San Diego’s haunted mansion.

If you dare, it can be a fun stop on your travel itinerary as well.

Address:  1925 K St, San Diego, CA 92102, United States

33. Mission Trails Regional Park

Mission Trails Regional Park

A hike in Mission Trails Regional Park is one of the best things to do in California .

The whole preserve spans more than 7,000 acres, and depending on where you enter, you can see everything from bare, rocky cliffs to green fields bursting with life.

Outdoor enthusiasts will love the wide range of activities offered at the park.

You can walk on the trails or bike along the river; you can camp in the mountains or go picnicking in the plains.

There are even areas for horseback riding if you want to try some fun vacation activities that you can’t get at home.

The Mission Trails Regional Park is one of the most beautiful places to visit in San Diego, and since it’s open 365 days per day, you don’t even have to plan your trip around it.

It’ll always be there.

Just grab your hiking boots and go!

Address: 1 Father Junipero Serra Trl, San Diego, CA 92119, United States

34. UTC Ice Sports Center


San Diego might be known for its sunshine, but there are plenty of places to go if you’re in the mood for something chillier.

One of these sites is the UTC Ice Sports Center .

Located in a shopping center, the UTC Ice Sports Center offers an indoor ice-skating rink for visitors of all ages.

Free skating is their popular pastime, but they also have shows, classes, hockey games, ice polo lessons and more.

Your skill level doesn’t matter.

You can be a complete beginner and still have fun.

They actually offer free classes if it’s your first time on the ice!

The UTC Ice Sports Center is a little piece of winter even during the blazing days of a California summer.

It’s one of the best things to do in San Diego when you’re tired of the heat, and thanks to its full rotation of shows, classes and lessons, you’ll never want for things to do.

Another bonus is that it’s located within a shopping center, so when you tire of skating, just put your regular shoes back on and hit the theater or the food court!

Address:  4545 La Jolla Village Dr, San Diego, CA 92122, United States

35. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Aleksei Potov / Shutterstock

With breathtaking views of sandstone canyons and tree-lined beaches, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is one of the most beautiful places to visit in the US .

Despite its popularity as a tourist attraction, it offers a glimpse into the rugged, untamed beauty of California’s wilderness.

Part of its wild nature comes from the fact that it’s protected land.

Home to the endangered Torrey pine tree, it’s monitored closely by ecologists to ensure that this precious species is preserved for future generations.

You can still find plenty of action at the reserve, however.

There are dozens of trails, cliffs, gardens and beaches for the outdoor explorer.

There’s even a nude beach for adults!

Take a trip to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve if you’re wondering where to visit in San Diego.

It has a different kind of magic than the urban sprawl of the city, but it’s still a wonder to behold.

Address:  12600 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, CA 92037, United States

36. Coronado Bridge

Coronado Bridge

Sean Xu / Shutterstock

Built in 1967, the Coronado Bridge is an architectural marvel.

It’s instantly recognizable as part of the San Diego skyline, and it winds and twists around the bay for a distance of more than 11,000 feet.

It even lights up at night!

You might not think of a bridge as a must see travel location, but you will after you’ve driven over the Coronado.

It offers panoramic views of blue water in every direction, and if you roll your windows down, you can enjoy a fresh ocean breeze that fills your lungs and whips the hair around your face.

It’s basically a scenic drive on a busy highway, so you can experience the best of both worlds.

The one drawback of the Coronado Bridge is that there’s no path for pedestrians, so you’ll need a car.

Another option is to find a tour or travel guide that will take you in a bus or van.

If you can find a way to cross the bridge, however, it’s worth the effort.

In fact, it’s pretty much a crime to visit San Diego without seeing the Coronado Bridge.

Put it on your to do list and get the full San Diego experience!

Address: State Route 75 South Embarcadero, San Diego, CA 92101, United States

37. Barona Resort and Casino

Barona Valley Ranch Resort and Casino

Are you feeling lucky?

Hit the slots at the Barona Resort and Casino .

It’s a little outside of San Diego, so you’ll need to be comfortable with leaving the city limits and hitting up another region of California, but it’ll be worth the gas money if you make it all back!

Table games include everything from poker to roulette.

The restaurants offer fine dining as well as classic, comfortable fare like burgers, wings, noodles, pizzas and steaks.

The resort will be ready for you when you get tired.

The casino will be waiting when you wake up again.

The Barona Resort and Casino is one of the best attractions near San Diego.

If you’re ready to court Lady Luck, call and book a room tonight!

Address:  1932 Wildcat Canyon Rd, Lakeside, CA 92040, United States

38. Red Fox Steakhouse and Piano Bar

Red Fox Steakhouse and Piano Bar

Red Fox Steakhouse and Piano Bar

Located in a single dimly-lit room with red walls and wooden furnishings, the Red Fox Steakhouse and Piano Bar is like a blast from the past.

It has the kind of rustic charm that defined old-school California architecture, so when you step through the doors, you half-expect to see miners or gold rushers kicking up their boots after a long day of work.

The menu, however, is thoroughly modern.

There are steaks and kebabs; there are crab legs, lobster tails and shrimp cocktails.

When you’re done with the main course, order some cheesecake or chocolate mousse pie for dessert!

Another fun thing about the restaurant is that it has a piano bar.

Several nights per week, you can enjoy live music from local musicians.

Some will even sell their music after the show if you want to take home a souvenir from San Diego.

The Red Fox Steakhouse and Piano Bar is a must see while you’re in San Diego.

Not only does it have a one-of-a-kind atmosphere, but its steak is some of the best in the city.

You’ll definitely leave this place with a loosened belt!

Address:  2223 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92104, United States

39. San Diego Bay

San Diego Bay

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Bursting with shops, resorts, restaurants, malls and other hubs of events and activities, San Diego Bay is one of the most vibrant waterfront communities in California.

There are so many things to see and do that your neck will have a permanent crick as you try to look at everything all at once.

Are you hungry?

Grab a bite to eat at one of the many burger joints and shrimp shacks.

Are you restless?

Hit the water with a boat, kayak, yacht or cruise ship.

Are you looking for a cultural experience?

Check out one of the floating museums or art galleries.

Depending on when you visit the city, you might also catch some spectacular annual events.

There are fireworks on the Fourth of July and a parade of holiday lights during Christmas.

Check the bay’s website to see if there’s anything happening this weekend!

If you’re wondering what to visit in San Diego, make time for the San Diego Bay.

It’s a must see for tourists, but even the locals have fun here.

40. California Tower

California Tower

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With the mountains to the east and the ocean to the west, the views from California Tower have to be seen to be believed.

Not only will you enjoy a stunning panorama of sky, air, land and water that stretches in every direction, but you’ll get to do it from eight stories high.

Tours are available every day.

You reserve a ticket for a specific time, and a guide will take you up the tower while sharing facts and stories about everything that you pass on the ascent.

It takes about 40 minutes in total, and when you’re done, you’ll be at the eighth-floor observation deck.

You might also like the view from the ground.

The California Tower has an ornate and intricrate design that combines features of Baroque, Plateresque and Gothic architecture.

It’s the kind of landmark that you can admire from great distances as it looms over San Diego.

Do you like historic monuments?

Do you enjoy aerial views in 360° visibility?

Make the climb up the California Tower.

You won’t regret it.

Address:  California Tower, 1350 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101, United States

Doing a road trip around California? Be sure to check out our lists of things to do in Long Beach  & what to do in Pasadena !

41. Liberty Public Market

Liberty Public Market

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When asking people for recommendations on what to do during a trip to San Diego, they’ll probably mention Liberty Public Market .

It runs all day and every day, and it offers a staggering amount of goods from dozens and dozens of vendors.

Whether you’re looking for rare books, artisan cheeses, homemade jewelry or cheesy t-shirts saying “I Heart California,” you can find them here.

The market is housed in an old Navy building, so there’s an industrial feeling to the space even as you move among bouquets of fresh flowers and bread that’s still warm from the oven.

You can drink and dine; you can shop ’til you drop.

Every corner holds a new opportunity, especially if you’re open to trying new foods or swapping stories with stall owners.

Expect a crowd.

Liberty Public Market is one of the major points of interest of San Diego, so there are always folks milling near and within it.

If you don’t mind a little hustle and bustle, however, Liberty Public Market is definitely one of the best stops in San Diego.

It’s the kind of iconic destination that you have to visit at least once!

Address:  2820 Historic Decatur Rd, San Diego, CA 92106, United States

42. Del Mar Thoroughbred Club

Del Mar Thoroughbred Club

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Located a few miles outside of San Diego, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club offers the latest and greatest in horse racing.

Spectators fill the seats in their finest fashion; gamblers are allowed to bet on more than a dozen races per day.

Its southern-style charm has been transported from Kentucky to California.

There are even kid-friendly days if you’re looking for San Diego attractions that the whole family can enjoy.

Though it’s primarily a place for adults, the racetrack has also been used for concerts, carnivals, food truck festivals and more.

California’s gambling laws can be complicated, but at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, everything is legal and regal.

It’s a high-class attraction for folks who are ready to hit a jackpot.

Address:  2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd, Del Mar, CA 92014, United States

43. Nico’s Mexican Food

Nico's Mexican Food

Nico’s Mexican Food

If you’ve never had fries stuffed inside of a burrito, you’re missing out on a southern California classic.

It might sound like a strange combination of ingredients, but it’s served in just about every food truck and food court in the area, including San Diego.

Nico’s Mexican Food is one of the best places to try this savory wonder.

Their tortillas come stuffed with meats, cheeses, fries and your choice of beans and salsas.

They’re tidily wrapped to start with, but once you bite into them, you’ll turn into a wild animal savaging at its kill.

They’re that good.

Other menu options include tacos, enchiladas, tostadas and sides like beans and fried rice.

Everything lives up to the “Mexican” part of the restaurant name.

Truly, though, the crowning jewel is the fry-filled burrito.

It’s known as the “California burrito.”

Once you’re converted to its goodness, you’ll never go back.

Address:  4918 Newport Ave, San Diego, CA 92107, United States

44. Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala

Natalia Bratslavsky / Shutterstock

There are dozens of basilicas in the state of California, but the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala is the most iconic.

Founded in 1769, it has the white stucco walls and metal bells that mark classic Spanish architecture, and it also boasts many “firsts” for the region.

It was the first basilica built in San Diego.

It was the first to martyr and entomb a Christian priest.

It was one of the first to be registered as a National Historic Landmark.

Today, the basilica still functions as a church.

You can attend mass or say your prayers under the tiled archways as the bells ring.

Tours are also available; you can stroll the grounds, listen to the stories and get a closer look at the religious history of California.

You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala.

It’s one of the biggest points of interest in San Diego for both the devout and the secular.

Address:  10818 San Diego Mission Rd, San Diego, CA 92108, United States

45. Mount Woodson Trail

Mount Woodson Trail

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The Mount Woodson Trail isn’t for beginners.

Let’s make that clear right away.

It’s a six-mile hike through dense and difficult landscapes, so if you’re headed to California to relax, a sweaty climb through the mountains probably won’t be your idea of a good time.

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, however, and you live for the burn of your muscles as you ascend to new heights, the Mount Woodson Trail might be right up your alley.

Not only will you challenge yourself with your rise to the top, but you’ll also see amazing rock formations along the way.

The most popular is a jutting platform over thin air that you can actually stand on, but there are others as well, and they all make amazing photo ops.

Not everyone finds it fun to test themselves with new challenges.

If you aren’t afraid of a little sweat, however, the Mount Woodson Trail might be the best spot for you to get your heart pumping.

Have more time to explore California? Why not check out some of the best things to do in Solvang  & the top things to do in Fresno ?

46. Fleet Science Center

Fleet Science Center

The Fleet Science Center isn’t your usual science center.

Founded in 1973, it was the first museum to build a planetarium and IMAX dome on site, offering its guests a wide range of entertainment options even as it educated them on scientific subjects.

Other museums quickly went “hey, that’s a good idea” and copied the design, and now, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a museum dome.

The good news is that the Fleet Science Center is still just as fun as it was in the ’70s.

Offering all kinds of interactive exhibits and learning stations, it’s a place where visitors can get hands-on with science.

Kids and adults will both love it!

If you’ll be near the Fleet Science Center while you’re in San Diego, it’s worth a pit stop.

Its displays, games, events and classes are sure to keep you busy, especially if you’re already a fan of STEM learning.

Address:  1875 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101, United States

47. SeaWorld San Diego

SeaWorld San Diego

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SeaWorld San Diego is one of the top places to see in the city.

Part aquarium and part amusement park, it combines games and activities with fun learning experiences for the whole family.

Visitors of all ages will have a blast at SeaWorld!

You’re probably familiar with its popular events like orca and dolphin shows.

But did you know that it also has movies, rides, slides, gondolas and play centers?

There are even roller coasters that will send you careening all through the park!

Kids will love the interactive exhibits and animal habitats.

Adults will enjoy the more sophisticated offerings like the aquatic-based Cirque du Soleil performances.

It’s held at night, so it’ll be perfect for romantic dates with a special someone.

SeaWorld San Diego is a top 10 stop in the city.

It might be a bit cliche in terms of tourist attractions, but there’s a reason why thousands of visitors flock here every year.

It’s fun!

Address:  500 Sea World Dr, San Diego, CA 92109, United States

48. Waterhorse Charters

Waterhorse Charters

Waterhorse Charters

There are few things as fun as diving to the sunken ruins of a wrecked ship.

However, it can be a difficult hobby for beginners to get into, so it’s a bucket list item that usually goes unfulfilled.

Waterhorse Charters can change that.

Offering supervised dives for visitors of all skill levels, they’ll take you on ghostly underwater journeys to ships, canyons, coral reefs and kelp forests.

They’ll provide transportation to and from, and they’ll offer refreshments while you wait.

You’ll basically enjoy a mini-vacation on board while they take you to cool dive spots.

Again, it doesn’t matter if you’re a complete novice.

They’ll guide you.

They make diving a fun and accessible activity for anyone with the guts to try it.

Are you ready to swim with the fishes through the remains of the HMCS Yukon or P38 Aircraft?

It’ll be lots of fun, especially if you’re clamoring for unusual things to do while you’re in San Diego.

Contact Waterhorse Charters today and ask about their dives!

Address:  1617 Quivira Rd suite b, San Diego, CA 92109, United States

49. Oxford Social Club

Oxford Social Club

Oxford Social Club

California might be known for its sun and sand, but there are plenty of establishments where you can enjoy a classier atmosphere, and the Oxford Social Club is one of them.

Like its name suggests, the Oxford Social Club isn’t the “sloppy drinks and neon lights” kind of club.

It’s an upscale place where you can socialize with others while enjoying a drink or a dance.

If you want to cut a rug, there’s an entire floor for tangos and lambadas; if you’d prefer to unwind in the lounge area, that’s an option as well.

Bottle service is available for well-to-do patrons.

Plush couches and hanging chandeliers will complement trays and trays of cocktails.

If you’re wondering what to do while vacationing in San Diego when you have a more refined palate than most, consider a trip to the Oxford Social Club.

You’ll feel like royalty as you enjoy a sophisticated club experience in one of California’s trendiest cities.

Address:  435 Fifth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101, United States

50. The Cat Cafe

The Cat Cafe

The Cat Cafe

You might be familiar with the cat cafes of Asia, but they’re much rarer in the United States.

San Diego is one of the few cities to have one.

If you’ve never been to a cat cafe, they’re exactly what they sound like: places where you can chill out, enjoy a cup of coffee and cuddle with a friendly feline.

In San Diego, the Cat Cafe even works with a local animal rescue in hopes that its “employees” will be adopted.

Drink some tea. Eat a scone.

Swish a feather on the table until a calico pounces on it like a ferocious lion.

This is an average day at the cat cafe, so if you love kitties, make sure to stop by one of the most fun and creative establishments in California!

Address:  472 Third Ave, San Diego, CA 92101, United States

Looking for more adventures around California? Why not check out some of the best things to do in Temecula ?

51. Spreckels Organ Pavilion

Spreckels Organ Pavilion

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If you’ve never heard a gigantic pipe organ played in an open-air pavilion, have you really lived?

Fortunately for your bucket list, the Spreckels Organ Pavilion offers weekly performances of its outdoor organ.

You can bring a picnic blanket or enjoy the shade of its umbrella-covered tables as you listen to a variety of tunes played on 5,000 different pipes.

You see, the organ isn’t limited to just “organ” sounds.

It can mimic everything from pianos to classical horns, so you’ll get to hear a lively performance from what sounds like a full-time band but is actually a single, city-employed organist.

San Diego is one of the only cities in the world to have a designated organist.

You’ll regret it if you pass up the opportunity to hear them play, so visit the Spreckels Organ Pavilion this weekend for a rare treat!

Address:  2125 Pan American Rd E, San Diego, CA 92101, United States

52. Bernardo Winery

Bernardo Winery

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The Bernardo Winery is one of the oldest in southern California.

It’s family-owned and operated, and it specializes in old-world hospitality as well as dazzling vintages that you can’t get anywhere else in San Diego.

Tastings are available by the glass and by the bottle.

Tours can teach you all about the process of winemaking, and you’ll get to explore both the winery and the outside grounds.

They’re dotted with gardens, vineyards and village shops, so there are lots of cool things to admire.

If you come out of the experience with a new favorite brand, they sell plenty of products on location, and they also have an online store that you can peruse when you get home.

Put the Bernardo Winery on your list of San Diego attractions that you won’t want to miss.

Even if you aren’t a big wine drinker, it’ll offer a relaxing afternoon among the grapes.

Address:  13330 Paseo Del Verano Norte, San Diego, CA 92128, United States

53. San Diego Zoo Safari Park

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

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You’ve been to the zoo. You’ve been to the aquarium.

What if you still haven’t had your fix of nature’s coolest creatures?

Take a trip to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park .

Covering almost 2,000 acres, it’s one of the largest wildlife preserves in all of California, and it’s teeming with lions, rhinos, antelopes, giraffes and everything else that you’d expect to see on a real safari.

The Lion Camp is probably the biggest draw of the park, but there’s also a Tiger Trail and a Gorilla Forest.

Additional enclosures house everything from birds to lizards.

If you love animals, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is the best place to visit for wildlife observation in San Diego.

It might even be better than the zoo and the aquarium since it’s so much larger!

You’ll have tons of fun here, and if you pay attention to the informational exhibits, you might just learn something as well.

Address:  15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd, Escondido, CA 92027, United States

54. Old Town

Old Town San Diego

Gabriele Maltinti / Shutterstock

Take a step back in time with Old Town .

Like its name implies, it’s a historic part of San Diego where everything from the architecture to the commerce has a vintage-style charm.

It’s the oldest settlement in the city, too, and it might just be one of the oldest in the entire state of California.

The houses and hotels have adobe walls.

The old-fashioned courthouse sits next to telegraph offices and newspaper shops.

There are historical demonstrations every day from blacksmiths, farmers, jewelers and general re-enactors.

Travel in May and you’ll get to participate in the annual Cinco de Mayo celebration.

Travel in December and you can have wonderful experiences during Fiesta Navidad.

If you’re a history buff, Old Town is one of the top travel destinations in San Diego.

It’s a must do in terms of art, history and cultural significance, so you should definitely put it on your wish list.

No matter when you want to go, you’ll find something nifty to enjoy.

Address: 34002 Wallace St, San Diego, CA 92110, United States

55. Del Mar City Beach

Del Mar City Beach

Kyle Sprague / Shutterstock

Beaches are a dime a dozen in San Diego, so they need something special to stand out.

At Del Mar City Beach, it’s the grunions.

If you’ve never heard of a grunion, it’s basically a small, silvery fish that looks like a sardine.

Every year, they congregate in the thousands to swim and spawn on California shores, and people come to watch during much-celebrated “Grunion Runs.”

Del Mar City Beach isn’t the only place to enjoy a Grunion Run, but it’s one of the best.

It gets so many fish that the water seems to turn silver, and when you’ve filled up your camera roll with all of the pictures that you can possibly take, there are other local amenities to keep you occupied.

If you’re looking for fun and unique experiences in San Diego, try a Grunion Run at Del Mar City Beach.

It’s the kind of thing that you can brag about for years to come whenever people ask about the coolest stuff that you’ve seen or done.

Address: 1700 Coast Blvd, Del Mar, CA 92014, United States

56. Spruce Street Suspension Bridge

Spruce Street Suspension Bridge

Stretching for almost 400 feet across open air, the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge is the best way to give yourself a gut check in San Diego.

Do you have what it takes to walk the entire length?

Can you handle the swaying motions and the howl of the wind as you travel so far above the ground?

It isn’t a famous attraction.

In fact, it’s considered something of a hidden gem of San Diego since it’s hidden among cliffs and canyons.

There are local residents who don’t know about it!

If you’re looking for fun times in California, however, the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge will give you a vacation story that’s worth sharing.

If you dare, you can even stop halfway across and take a selfie or two.

Address:  W Spruce St, San Diego, CA 92103, United States

57. Hotel del Coronado

Hotel del Coronado

You might not think of a hotel when making a list of San Diego’s finest attractions, but the Hotel del Coronado is an exception.

Not only does it offer lush, comfortable rooms, but its activity roster is brimming with possibilities.

Get pampered at the spa. Ride a gnarly wave during a surf lesson. Roast smores at a private beach bonfire.

You can enjoy all of these activities and more at the Hotel del Coronado.

Additionally, there are seasonal events that you won’t want to miss if you’re traveling to San Diego at particular times; from fireworks to holiday shows, there’s always something fun going on.

Ask them about their wintertime “Skating by the Sea” event where they set up an ice skating rink right there on the beach!

The best things to do on vacation aren’t always amusement parks and other screaming delights.

Sometimes, they’re relaxing mornings spent on a fold-out lounge chair as you sip cocktails and enjoy the sunshine.

Book a suite at the Hotel del Coronado for luxury California living.

Address:  1500 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA 92118, United States

Keen to explore other areas of California? Why not check out some of the fun things to do in Big Bear  & some of the best things to do in Pismo Beach ?

Start Planning Your Trip To San Diego

Whether you’re interested in sun, surf or turf, these are just a few of the best things to do in San Diego, California.

They’ll definitely cross some activities off your bucket list, so get to packing!

Southern California is waiting for you!

Happy travels.

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Discover the World

25 Top Tourist Attractions in San Diego

By Alex Schultz · Last updated on May 4, 2024

A lovely place to visit and live, sun-kissed San Diego is often called ‘America’s Finest City’ and it is easy to see why. Besides boasting a huge stretch of scenic coastline, the city is blessed with natural beauty, a mild southern California climate, and is famed for its laidback vibe and surfer culture.

Set alongside the twinkling waters of the Pacific Ocean, there are a myriad of amazing museums and historic tourist attractions in San Diego with many relating to its rich maritime heritage. In addition, plenty of great shops and restaurants are dotted about with brilliant bar and nightlife scenes on offer at both Mission and Pacific Beach.

Map of San Diego

San Diego Map

Add in excellent outdoor activities and easy access to Tijuana in nearby Mexico to the list of things to do in San Diego, and it is no wonder that California’s second-largest city has long been a popular tourist destination.

25. San Diego Air & Space Museum

San Diego Air & Space Museum

Home to a huge array of historic aircraft and sparkling spacecraft, the superb San Diego Air & Space Museum can be found not far from the city centre in Balboa Park. Its extensive collection of artifacts and numerous exhibits are housed within the fabulous Ford Building which sports such a delightfully distinct design.

Since being established in 1961, the museum has expanded considerably and now has replicas of Wright Brothers’ gliders on show alongside gleaming jets and rockets sent into space by NASA. As you wander around its galleries full of planes, photos, and displays, you’ll learn all about the history and evolution of aviation and space exploration.

24. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

Just fifteen minutes’ drive west of downtown San Diego, you can find a stunning stretch of coastline known as the Sunset Cliffs. Now protected as a natural park, the area is named for its steep coastal cliffs that look out over the ocean and is a very popular place to watch the sun set over the Pacific.

Tumbling their way down to the ocean, the sheer cliffs and craggy coastal bluffs certainly make for a dramatic sight with hidden coves, tidal pools, and beaches lying at their foot. Aside from enjoying its spellbinding scenery and sunsets, visitors can sometimes spot California gray whales migrating along the coast from atop of the cliffs.

23. Little Italy

Little Italy

One of the best places to shop, dine and go out in the city is undoubtedly Little Italy which lies in the northwest of downtown. Located not far from Waterfront Park and the Embarcadero, it is dotted with Italian restaurants, grocery stores, and art galleries and hosts a fantastic weekly farmers’ market.

Once the center of the city’s tuna industry, the lively neighborhood is now instead home to pizza places, bodegas, and breweries that opened after the canning factories closed down. Besides strolling about, shopping, and stopping for a bite to eat or coffee, locals and tourists can enjoy the numerous festivals and events related to Italian culture that the community hosts each the year.

22. Belmont Park

Belmont Park

With a lovely old-style look and feel, the historic Belmont Park certainly makes for a fun day out thanks to its roller coasters and rides, attractions, and eateries. Since 1925, the beachfront amusement park has been one of Mission Beach’s main draws and can be reached in just fifteen minutes from downtown San Diego.

Although it is home to some charming carnival rides such as a carousel and bumper cars, the park’s standout sight is its iconic Giant Dipper roller coaster which is now a National Historic Landmark. Aside from shooting along its wooden tracks and taking in the ambience, guests can try Belmont’s newer features which include ziplines, escape rooms, and laser tag.

21. SeaWorld San Diego

SeaWorld San Diego

With more than 130 million visitors since its opening in 1964, SeaWorld is the leading tourist attraction in San Diego and one of the most popular marine-life parks in the world. Through shows, displays and enclosures people can learn about the world’s oceans and the creatures that inhabit them such as dolphins, killer whales, walruses, penguins and Polar bears.

Rides include a flume roller coaster, rafting through the Shipwreck Rapids and a simulated helicopter ride to experience the Wild Arctic.

20. Pacific Beach

Pacific Beach

Just north of Belmont Park, you can find the popular Pacific Beach which is actually connected to Mission Beach by a three-kilometer-long boardwalk. Much livelier than its southern neighbor, the beachside town is renowned for its nightlife and boasts one of the best bar scenes in San Diego.

While lots of college students and young adults head here for its many clubs and party atmosphere, families also visit for its lifeguard-supervised swimming areas and excellent amenities. In addition to strolling along its bustling boardwalk or the peaceful Crystal Pier, Pacific Beach has some great surf spots for you to check out and countless shops and restaurants in the center of town.

19. Seaport Village

Seaport Village

Home to dozens of shops and dining outlets, Seaport Village can be found just a short distance from the center, nestled along its waterfront. Designed to look like a village, the complex’s cobbled paths lead you past lovingly landscaped lakes and gardens with lots of attractive architecture on display.

Since opening in 1980, it has been a firm favorite with visitors due to its delightful design and its superb shops and waterfront restaurants that now number more than seventy in total. With so much going for it, Seaport Village really is a great place to grab a bite to eat, shop for souvenirs, or simply enjoy wonderful views over the water.

18. Maritime Museum of San Diego

Maritime Museum of San Diego

Also located along the waterfront is the marvelous Maritime Museum of San Diego which offers up a fascinating look into the city’s seafaring past. Besides boasting one of the largest collections of historic vessels in the States, it also has interesting artifacts and exhibits that highlight San Diego’s rich maritime heritage.

Founded in 1948 along the Embarcadero, the museum now has everything from ferries and frigates to yachts and submarines to explore. Its main attraction, however, is undoubtedly the Star of India; a remarkably well-restored ship that dates back to 1863 and still sails about the bay from time to time.

17. La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove

Hemmed in by some spectacular sea cliffs, the small and scenic La Jolla Cove is one of the most picturesque and photographed places along the Californian coastline. Part of a marine life refuge, it offers up all kinds of excellent activities and lies just twenty minutes’ drive northwest of the center.

As well as lounging on its lovely beach, visitors can swim, snorkel, and kayak about its waters. Just north of the cove are some sea caves to explore with seals and sea lions sometimes spotted sunning themselves on the surrounding rocks. There are also quite a few cafes and restaurants nearby with fabulous viewpoints dotted along the top of the cliffs.

16. Birch Aquarium

Birch Aquarium

Just to the north of La Jolla Cove is another of the city’s many marine attractions – the brilliant Birch Aquarium. Perched on a bluff overlooking the ocean, it has lots of incredible aquaria to explore, full of shimmering shoals of fish and amazing aquatic animals.

Part of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, one of the world’s largest marine research institutes, the aquarium opened in 1903 and has been a favorite with locals and tourists ever since. In total, it houses over 5,000 fish and countless sharks, sea turtles, and stingrays in its sixty or so aquaria. It also has a special seahorse feature and touch tank where you can stroke sea snails and small sharks.

15. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Also located along the Pacific coastline north of the city is the stupendous scenery, landscapes, and nature of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. One of the wildest remaining stretches of shoreline in Southern California, it contains everything from craggy cliffs and pristine beaches to salt marshes, badlands, and a large lagoon.

Thanks to its unspoiled wilderness, the reserve boasts a wide array of fauna and flora and has lots of scenic hiking trails and views for you to enjoy. While bobcats, racoons, and coyotes reside among its remote reaches, migrating seabirds and whales can sometimes be spotted along the coast.

14. Comic-Con


Every year, thousands of cosplayers, comic book lovers, and costumed superheroes descend upon San Diego for one of the most colorful and chaotic events in the calendar – Comic-Con. What started as a small convention in 1970 has since morphed into a massive multi-day celebration of comic books and pop culture with countless events, exhibits, and award ceremonies taking place.

Centered on the San Diego Convention Center, the festival has interesting panels and workshops for you to attend as well as gaming events, film screenings, and even a costume contest. In addition, a myriad of stands and stalls sell collectibles, movie memorabilia, and, of course comic books.

13. Mission Beach

Mission Beach

If you’re after some sun, sea, and sand instead, then you can’t beat the lively seaside town of Mission Beach which lies just fifteen minutes northwest of the center. Set on a sandbar between the Pacific Ocean and Mission Bay, it offers a wealth of outdoor activities and is known for its beachside bars and happening nightlife scene.

Connected to Pacific Beach by its gorgeous golden sands and long and bustling boardwalk, Mission Beach is a great place to relax and unwind with lots of other attractions and entertainment options lying nearby. Besides Belmont Park you can find SeaWorld San Diego and Tiki Town Adventure Golf with fun watersports also being on offer.

12. Petco Park

Petco Park

Another fun thing to do when in town is to watch the San Diego Padres play baseball at the state-of-the-art Petco Park. Considered to be one of the best stadiums in Major League Baseball, it exhibits some lovely architecture and boasts fantastic views over the skyscraper-dotted downtown.

Opened in 2004, the striking stadium is clad in sandstone, stucco, and white steel which are meant to evoke the sandy color of the city’s beaches and cliffs. While watching an exciting game is certainly the highlight of any visit to the ballpark, there is also an entertainment zone for kids to enjoy as well as lots of food stands and a fabulous Hall of Fame.

11. Torrey Pines Gliderport

Torrey Pines Gliderport

While exploring San Diego’s scenic shoreline is always a treat, slowly soaring through the sky and seeing the coast and ocean from above really makes for a unique and unforgettable experience. At Torrey Pines Gliderport, guests can enjoy exhilarating hang gliding and parasailing with phenomenal views and a fun time guaranteed.

As the gliderport lies alongside the natural reserve of the same name, the twenty minute or so flights pass above some of the most pristine scenery and nature in Southern California. Besides basking in breathtaking views of the coast, you can also see the centre of San Diego sparkling in the distance.

10. Children’s Pool Beach

Children's Pool Beach

One of the most popular and memorable places to visit in town is undoubtedly the Children’s Pool Beach which lies just twenty minutes’ drive from the center in La Jolla. While its sturdy seawall was originally erected to protect swimmers from San Diego’s rough waves, it is instead seals and their pups who enjoy its golden sands and gentle waters.

Built in 1931, the concrete breakwater shelters a small stretch of sand at which a colony of harbor seals and sea lions now sun themselves, play about, and even give birth. Watching them from the top of the seawall flopping about at such close quarters is an amazing experience and is now one of San Diego’s top attractions.

9. San Diego Zoo Safari Park

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park, located near Escondido, is one of the best attractions in San Diego when traveling with kids. The 1,200-acre zoo has more than 300 species of animals, especially those that are endangered in the wild, concentrating on breeding them and then reintroducing them back into their wild native habitat.

Visitors can take a tram tour of the zoo or see it from above via a hot-air tethered balloon. Other activities include watching a cheetah run at up to 70 mph, a petting zoo, walking among the lemurs and visiting an aviary. San Diego Zoo Safari Park is one activity that appeals to the young as well as the young at heart.

8. Old Town San Diego

Old Town San Diego

Though Native Americans lived in the area for thousands of years, the area known as Old Town wasn’t “discovered” until 1542 by a Spanish explorer. Old Town is considered the birthplace of California since it was the first permanent Spanish settlement in California, with Father Junipero Serra establishing his first mission here on Presidio Hill.

Today, Old Town is a great place to see San Diego’s colonial roots. Casas, or houses, built in the 19th century, are now museums, shops or restaurants; adobe churches add to the color of Old Town.

7. Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument

Located at the tip of Point Loma, the Cabrillo National Monument honors Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the Spanish explorer who landed at San Diego Bay in 1542, thus becoming the first European to set foot on the West Coast of what is now the United States. The Cabrillo National Monument offers plenty of activities for visitors who enjoy the great outdoors.

Activities range from watching for Pacific Gray whales that swim by during the winter months to hiking the two-mile Bayside Trail with its stunning views of the city and bay. Other trails lead to tidal pools and the restored Old Point Loma Lighthouse, one of the first lighthouses on the West Coast.

6. La Jolla Shores

La Jolla Shores

La Jolla Shores is one of the San Diego area’s best beaches. La Jolla is an upscale community sometimes referred to as the “jewel of San Diego,” but this gem really shines when it comes to its beaches.

La Jolla Shores is a mile-long beach that is popular with locals and visitors alike for a variety of water activities: swimming, surfing, scuba diving and kayaking. But the fun doesn’t end when the sun goes down as beachgoers light fires to roast hot dogs and party awhile longer.

5. Gaslamp Quarter

Gaslamp Quarter

The Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego’s premier dining, nightlife and shopping center, dates back to 1850, when a San Francisco man, William H. Davis, built a home for his family on land he wanted to develop into a town. That venture failed, but his house survives. Seventeen years later, another San Franciscan was more successful at developing the waterfront, though in later years it became known as a Mecca for gamblers and prostitutes.

Decades later, this Victorian district was cleaned up, both in appearance and reputation, and became known as the Gaslamp Quarter. Now home to more than 200 restaurants, plus boutiques and art galleries, it is on the National Historic Register.

4. Balboa Park

Balboa Park

Balboa Park isn’t just another park. It has plenty of green space, flora and fauna, naturally, but it also contain 15 museums, a carousel, miniature railroad, the renowned San Diego Zoo and the historic Old Globe Theatre, among other attractions. The list of museums include a couple of art museums while others are devoted to natural history, air and space, science and the famous Museum of Man.

Numerous gardens are devoted to native plants, roses, cactus, a veterans memorial and a children’s garden. The nation’s largest urban garden also includes restaurants, and biking and hiking trails.

3. USS Midway Museum

USS Midway Museum

The USS Midway Museum, located on the Embarcadero’s Navy Pier, offers visitors a chance to explore, from stem to stern, one of the longest-serving aircraft carriers in the U.S. Navy. Nearly a quarter-million sailors served on the Midway from 1945 to 1992, when it was retired.

It has been a San Diego tourist attraction since 2004, receiving more than one million visitors annually, making it one of the world’s most visited ship museums. Guided tours take visitors to the ship’s sleeping and officer quarters, engine room and galley. There’s even a flight simulator for more adventuresome guests.

2. Coronado Island

Coronado Island

Travelers who want to put themselves in a relaxing mood may want to head to Coronado Island, where a laid-back small-town atmosphere prevails. The quaint island community is connected to San Diego by the San Diego-Coronado Bridge.

Whether strolling on the beach or riding a rental bike around the inland, visitors can partake of the charm of this community, home to the Coronado museum of History and Art, the shops and art galleries at Ferry Landing, and views of San Diego across the bay. A “must” stop is the Hotel del Coronado, which is said to be the inspiration for the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz.

1. San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo is one of the most famous zoos in the world with over 4,000 animals of more than 800 species. The sunny maritime climate of southern California is well suited to many animals and almost all of the major exhibits of the San Diego Zoo are in the open-air.

The San Diego Zoo is also extremely active in conservation and preservation efforts and many species are bred in captivity for release into their native habitats where appropriate.

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Home » North America » San Diego

21 BEST Places to Visit in San Diego (2024)

A large coastal city in California, San Diego is famous for its long sandy beaches, great warm and sunny weather all throughout the year, and for being home to one of the best zoos in the world. There’s a wealth of amazing places to visit in San Diego, ranging from gorgeous parks and interesting museums, to historic neighbourhoods, ethnic enclaves, and cool amusement parks. With excellent shopping opportunities, exciting dining options, and a vibrant nightlife, there’s no end to the fun in San Diego. Plus, there are even more fantastic things to do and see in the wider San Diego County.

As the eighth biggest city in the USA, exploring San Diego can be somewhat intimidating. Knowing what to include on your bucket list and where to begin with your sightseeing in San Diego can be tricky.

Don’t stress though! Our dedicated team of travel writers has created the ultimate list of the best places to visit in San Diego to help make planning your holiday a whole lot easier. Including things for all types of travellers, a good mixture of popular tourist attractions in San Diego and hidden gems, and something to suit all interests, having the time of your life will be easy!

Some of these best places to visit in San Diego are sure to amaze you!

Need a place quick? Here’s the best neighbourhood in San Diego:

These are the best places to visit in san diego, faq on the best places to visit in san diego, more fantastic places to visit in san diego.

Old Town, San Diego

Old Town is an area of San Diego that marks the birthplace of the state of California. It is the site of the first Spanish settlement in the early-1800s and today still retains much of its historic charms and architecture.

  • Visit the Junipero Serra Museum to see exhibits and displays on the life in Old Town.
  • Enjoy incredible Mexican fare at Casa De Reyes.
  • Visit the Whaley House Museum, which is rumoured to be the most haunted house in America.

If you’re looking for a comfortable place to stay, check out our guide to the best vacation rentals in San Diego if you need more information on where to stay in San Diego .

And, with those travel tips covered, here are the best places to visit in San Diego:

places to visit in california san diego

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#1 – San Diego Zoo – Possibly one of the most important places to visit in San Diego

San Diego Zoo

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  • Award-winning zoo;
  • Home to more than 650 species of animals;
  • Conservation, preservation, and education efforts;
  • Various ways to explore San Diego Zoo.

Why it’s awesome: One of the best places in San Diego, the world-famous and award-winning San Diego Zoo appeals to old and young alike. Home to more than 650 animal species today, the zoo started from taking care of animals abandoned after an exhibition. A leading open zoo (whereby animals aren’t kept in cages), there are several fascinating zones throughout the large complex. The zoo is active in conservation, education, research, and preservation projects and is one of just a few global zoos that successfully breeds pandas. If you don’t feel like walking too far there is a gondola and a tour bus around the zoo, and there are plenty of places to take a break and enjoy refreshments.

What to do there: Observe a huge array of animals from around the world in the various well-designed zones around the expansive zoo. Catch the tour bus to cover most parts of the zoo and save your leg power or soar above the animals for a bird’s eye view from the Skyfari. Discover the zoo’s different areas, designed to closely replicate wild habitats.

Visit Panda Canyon to observe the cute pandas, learn more about the difficult-to-breed creatures at the Giant Panda Discovery Centre, and follow the Panda Trek to see more animals from China. Spot various monkeys from Asia and Africa along the Monkey Trails, visit Polar Bear Plunge, experience Africa at Ituri Forest, watch creatures from Australia in the Outback area, and much more.

#2 – USS Midway Museum – One of San Diego’s coolest historical sites!

USS Midway Museum

  • Former naval aircraft carrier;
  • Displays of different aircraft;
  • Informative audio tour;
  • Long and interesting history.

Why it’s awesome: The USS Midway Museum is on a historic warship, the naval aircraft carrier called Midway. It was the USA’s longest-serving aircraft during the 20 th century and was in operation for the entire duration of the Cold War. It was involved in several missions and humanitarian work. After retirement, the enormous vessel was turned into a museum. It contains more than 30 aircraft and provides excellent information about war history and aviation. There are diverse activities for people of all ages and the museum regularly hosts special events.

What to do there: Follow the self-guided tour around the mighty former warship, peeking into the living quarters, kitchen, engine room, officers’ quarters, flight deck, chapel, laundry areas, and bridge, all while listening to interesting facts and personal accounts on the audio guide. See various restored planes and helicopters and discover the roles they have played throughout US history.

Take your seat in the theatre to relive the dramatic Battle of Midway, learn what it’s like to pilot an aircraft in the flight simulators, and chat with volunteers who actually served on the ship and in the military. Younger visitors can join the Junior Pilot program and there are overnight adventures for groups of 20 or more youths too.

places to visit in california san diego

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#3 – La Jolla – A perfect place to visit in San Diego if you are on a budget!

La Jolla

  • Trendy seaside community;
  • Long and popular sandy beach;
  • Various activities and attractions;
  • Relaxed atmosphere.

Why it’s awesome: La Jolla features a rugged coastline, a sandy beach, and a hip community on the hillsides. There’s no cost to bask on the sandy shores and soak up the sunshine, and it’s a great place to enjoy a day at the seaside. The town is also an interesting place for a wander and you’ll find plenty of things to see and do, with something to suit all budgets. There’s an arty vibe and the atmosphere is laid back. There’s a variety of places to eat, drink, sleep, and shop, and although close to the heart of San Diego it feels like another world completely. This is the perfect day trip from San Diego .

What to do there: One of the most popular hotspots in San Diego, head to La Jolla for a fun day at the seaside. Sunbathe, take a dip in the refreshing waves, admire the views, and take part in water sports like snorkelling, kayaking, and surfing. Spot creatures like leopard sharks, colourful fish, marine birds, and seals.

Sit around a fire-pit and watch the sun go down for a romantic evening. Let kids have fun at the play area and visit attractions like the Birch Aquarium, La Jolla Playhouse, art galleries, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Stroll along Prospect Street and Girard Avenue for some window shopping in charming boutiques, enjoy the diverse eateries, and see interesting street art.

#4 – Seaport Village – A great place in San Diego if you love to shop!

Seaport Village

  • Good selection of shops;
  • Varied dining options;
  • Outdoor entertainment;
  • Lovely setting.

Why it’s awesome: Seaport Village, located in downtown, is a popular place for shopping and leisure. It’s built on reclaimed land that was once used as a burial ground for sailors who had died onboard their ship from scurvy. Today, pathways lead through the charmingly designed complex, with various architectural styles including Spanish Revival and Victorian English. There are great views of San Diego Harbour too. There’s a wide assortment of shops as well as restaurants and cafes that serve diverse cuisine. Street performers are scattered through the complex and there are regular free music performances in the afternoons.

What to do there: Browse in the varied shops, with goods that range from clothes, art, and toys, to crafts, homewares, and souvenirs. Stop for a bite to eat in a restaurant or café and enjoy dishes from around the world as well as typical fast food and Americana. Visit the food court in the afternoon to listen to a variety of musical performances. As you wander through the pedestrianized complex you’ll come across artists who have skills like caricature drawing, face painting, and balloon art. Stroll along the waterfront promenade and enjoy the great views of the harbour, Coronado Island, and Coronado Bridge.

#5 – Balboa Park – One of the nicer places in San Diego to sightsee!

Balboa Park

  • Large urban park;
  • One of the oldest parks in the USA;
  • Varied leisure options;
  • Family friendly.

Why it’s awesome: When you’re planning what to do in San Diego, visiting Balboa Park should definitely be on your list. One of the most famous places in San Diego, the large Balboa Park covers some 1,200 acres (490 hectares) and is one of the oldest parks in the USA. Indeed, it’s a National Historic Landmark. There are wide open spaces with lots of nature as well as cultural attractions, gardens, museums, diverse entertainment and leisure facilities, places to eat and drink, and gift shops. The park is a place where nature, history, and art meet. It’s easy to spend several hours at the park and find plenty to fill your time, and there’s no charge to enter the park (though charges may apply for attractions within the park).

What to do there: Enjoy the beautiful landscaped gardens, including the Palm Canyon, Zoro Garden, Rose Garden, and Marston House Garden. Explore the world’s botany in the Japanese Friendship Garden, the Australian Garden, the Alcazar Garden, and the Florida Canyon Native Plant Preserve, and remember those who passed away and fought for freedom in the Veterans Memorial Garden.

You can take a tour to learn more about the park’s history, nature, and cultural institutions, and there are several museums (including San Diego Art and Space Institute, Timken Museum of Art, and San Diego History Centre) to visit. The sprawling San Diego Zoo, a San Diego must do, is within the huge park and you’ll find a good selection of venues where you can watch fantastic performing arts. Watch as kids have fun on the carousel and mini train, spot landmarks like the El Cid Statue and California Tower, and take a look in the diverse retail establishments.

#6 – Gaslamp Quarter – A great place to see in San Diego if you love architecture

Gaslamp Quarter

  • Blend of old and new architecture;
  • Popular nightlife area;
  • Historic heart of San Diego;
  • Atmospheric.

Why it’s awesome: The Gaslamp Quarter (often referred to locally as the Gaslamp District) is San Diego’s historic core, with a history dating back to the 1860s. It is named for the many gas lamps that light the streets in the evening. Soaring skyscrapers sit alongside quaint and elegant buildings from the Victorian era.

A major place for leisure and entertainment, there are many shops, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs to keep people happy throughout the day and night. A number of major events are held in the area throughout the year, including the vibrant Mardi Gras celebrations. You can also find some great hostels to stay in close to all the fun in this district.

What to do there: Take a walk through the Gaslamp Quarter and see the diverse architecture; it’s a haven for photography lovers . Take a tour to learn more about the area’s past, present, and developments. There are around 70 restaurants to choose from when you feel peckish, with diverse menus to cater to all tastes. In the evenings you can sip a drink in one of many bars and dance the night away in the vibrant nightclubs. Don’t miss seeing the famous gas lamps illuminated in all their glory too!

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#7 – Embarcadero – Great place to visit in San Diego for couples!


  • Scenic waterfront vistas;
  • Varied attractions;
  • Lively vibe;
  • Numerous eateries.

Why it’s awesome: One of the major points of interest in San Diego, Embarcadero is the area alongside San Diego Bay and next to the harbour. A pleasant place for a stroll, the walkway provides terrific views across the water. The atmosphere is simultaneously lively and relaxing and it’s a top spot to indulge in some people watching. There are diverse monuments and statues to see as well as a great selection of places to eat and stop for some quick refreshments. Cool boat tours depart from the area and there are several top-class museums.

What to do there: Walk along the Embarcadero hand in hand with your love as you soak up the vibe and views. Visit the USS Midway Museum and the Maritime Museum, both offering interesting insights into maritime and naval military history, and see the diverse monuments and pieces of public art. There are some 30 sculptures along the walkway, each created by a different artist and all covering different themes. Call by Embarcadero Marina Park for some quiet time and a delightful picnic. Take a boat ride to see many cool landmarks in San Diego from a different perspective.

#8 – Point Loma – A beautiful and scenic place to check out in San Diego

Point Loma

  • Hilly seaside community;
  • Historical significance;
  • Interesting landmarks;
  • Wildlife spotting opportunities.

Why it’s awesome: Point Loma was the first place where Europeans went ashore in California and the hilly coastal peninsula has a rich history. The rugged cliffs offer terrific views and there are stunning natural sights along the coast. It’s also sometimes possible to spot whales swimming off the coast. There are also significant and attractive landmarks. The marina has varied boat trips and there’s a cool artist area close to hand. Diverse activities in the area include fishing, surfing, photography, and diving.

What to do there: Take a walk along the craggy cliffs and enjoy the views and the sounds of the waves crashing beneath you ( remember to stay safe by not walking too close to the edge though). See an abundance of aquatic life in the tide pools and join a whale-watching boat trip. Admire Point Loma Lighthouse, a major landmark in San Diego, and see the historic Cabrillo National Monument. Soak up the arty vibe around Liberty Station and see the diverse architecture and visit Humphreys Concerts by the Bay to watch live entertainment right on the waterfront. Stick around until the early evening to witness a stunning sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

#9 – Petco Park – Cool place to see in San Diego with friends!

Petco Park

  • Major baseball park;
  • Concert venue;
  • Great views;
  • Interesting architecture.

Why it’s awesome: Petco Park is a large baseball ground. Home of the San Diego Padres, the park has been open since 2004. Built from gleaming white-painted steel and decorated with stucco and Indian sandstone, the grounds have been designed so as to resemble the colours of San Diego’s beaches, cliffs, ocean, and boats in the bay. Some seating areas provide great views of the ocean and Balboa Park.

There are restaurants, bars, and shops throughout the ballpark, all of which have large TV screens to make sure that fans don’t miss any of the action. As well as being a major baseball ground, Petco Park is also used for rugby, football, and golf matches. Additionally, concerts are frequently held here, with former big names including the Rolling Stones, the Eagles, Madonna, Taylor Swift, and Aerosmith.

What to do there: Book tickets to watch a match and cheer on the local MLB team, the San Diego Padres. Experience the electric energy, particularly as the crowds go wild when their favourite team scores. But baseball merchandise in the shops and enjoy a meal in one of the ground’s eateries. Take a tour of the baseball park to learn more about its history, great moments in the sport, personalities, and more, and go behind the scenes to see places that are normally off-limit to visitors.

#10 – SeaWorld San Diego – Certainly one of the most exotic places to see in San Diego!

SeaWorld San Diego

  • Home to a large array of aquatic animals;
  • Exciting shows;
  • Thrilling rides;
  • Family-friendly attraction.

Why it’s awesome: SeaWorld San Diego is a San Diego must-see, especially for families. Covering 190 acres (77 hectares), the park has a huge selection of aquatic animals in various habitats, large aquariums, awesome shows and educational experiences, and cool interactive encounters. Add to that a selection of exciting rides, places to eat and drink, and great merchandise in the shops and you’ve got a lot of fun for a day! There are special activities and attractions for younger visitors too, letting them really get to know the ocean deep.

What to do there: Enter Explorer’s Reef for a fabulous underwater adventure where small fish will gently nibble at your hand and you can interact with rays and sharks. Discover the various aquariums and exhibits, coming face to face with water creatures from across the globe. See things like gigantic orcas and beluga whales, sea lions, otters, penguins, walruses, dolphins, turtles, and a plethora of fish in all sizes and colours.

Be mesmorised by amazing shows, including Polynesian fire dancing and the story of how marine animals are rescued, rehabilitated, and released back to the wild. Get a rush on the high and twisty roller coaster of Electric Eel, get your heart racing on Tidal Twister, get wet and wild on Shipwreck Rapids, and ride the flume of Journey to Atlantis. Little ones can enjoy rides like Elmo’s Flying Fish, Aqua Scout, Octa Rock, and Tentacle Twirl.

#11 – San Diego Museum of Man – A fascinating educational place to visit in San Diego

San Diego Museum of Man

  • Learn more about civilisations;
  • Delve deeper into human behaviours;
  • Excellent cultural attraction;
  • Beautiful architecture.

Why it’s awesome: Located in Balboa Park, the Museum of Man is not only an educational and fascinating museum, but it’s also one of the most unusual things to do in San Diego . A top place for fans of cultural anthropology, the Museum of Man gives insights into anything and everything related to human beings. There’s a wide selection of artefacts, photographs, and historic objects accompanied by comprehensive information.

The buildings themselves are striking, dating back to the early 1900s, with the distinctive California Tower that really catches the eye. It is normally possible to go to the top of the tower to enjoy splendid views over Balboa Park and beyond.

What to do there: Explore the museum’s various exhibits and displays, learning more about human beings, behaviours, ancient and modern civilisations, myths, connections and emotions, and more. You can even learn about the history of beer!

Ponder race and whether people really are that different to each other, feel a shudder as you learn more about cannibalism (and dispel common myths), enter the world of monsters, and see the connections between humans and animals and the bonds that the different species can make with one another. Travel back in time to delve into ancient civilisations, including the ancient Egyptians and Mayans, Don’t miss seeing the rare painted wooden coffins and burial masks. Art lovers shouldn’t miss the Facing Artifacts and Graffiti Art Murals displays.

#12 – Mission Beach – Easily one of the most fun places to check out in San Diego

Mission Beach

  • Community built on a sandbar;
  • Something for all ages;
  • Lovely sandy beach;
  • Diverse activities.

Why it’s awesome: When you travel to San Diego , Mission Beach is one of those top places you should visit at least once (although, you’ll probably find yourself being drawn back many times during your San Diego vacation!). The atmosphere is jovial and lively and it’s a great place to enjoy the sunshine. The beach is appealing for families, couples, and friends of all ages. There’s a long boardwalk and diverse activities to suit all interests and tastes. From amusement park rides and mini golf to a fabulous selection of restaurants, boat trips, and kids’ play areas, you’re sure to find plenty to keep you amused and busy at Mission Bay.

What to do there: Relax on the sandy beach and join in with activities like sailing, beach volleyball, diving, surfing, and boogie boarding. Swim in the sea and cool down in the refreshing waters. Take boat rides to look for whales in the wild. Unwind in green and leafy parks, complete with lots of space for children to run and let off steam, play areas, and picnic areas.

Have fun on the rides at Belmont Park, home to a cool restored roller coaster from the mid-1920s, tackle the rock climbing course, go wild in the bumper cars, and play a game of miniature golf. Stroll along the boardwalk and admire the views, or rent a bicycle to explore under peddle power. If you’re looking for a sizzling nightlife be sure to return to Mission Beach in the evening.

places to visit in california san diego

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#13 – Convoy Street – A must-see for foodies!

Convoy Street

  • Numerous eateries;
  • Lots of Asian fare;
  • Foodie tours;
  • Well-stocked international food supermarkets.

Why it’s awesome: Slightly away from some of more famous attractions in San Diego, Conway Street is one of the best places to eat in San Diego. Indeed, it’s often said to be one of the top destinations in the whole country for sampling a wide selection of Asian cuisine which is why you may need to ask a friend to hide your money , but not because it’s dangerous. You’ll just be way too tempted to spend it all in the assortment of restaurants here.

There are over 100 eateries to choose from dishing up a huge and enticing selection of specialities from the Far East, with Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Thai, and more to tempt hungry visitors. The vibe is distinctly Asian too, and many restaurants have eye-catching décor and furnishings that help to transport you overseas. Various operators run food tours through the area too if you simply just don’t know where to start!

What to do there: If you have a hankering for a particular type of Asian cuisine, seek out an establishment with that speciality and feast to your hearts content. Alternatively, stroll along the vibrant street and let your senses guide you! Do come hungry though as you’re likely to want to sample a few places. Or, you can schedule repeat visits to truly satisfy your cravings! Sink your teeth into things like Vietnamese pho, Peking duck, tangy pad Thai, a wide assortment of dim sum, sushi and sashimi, crispy noodles, spicy soups, Korean BBQ, steaming hot pot, and much, much more. Pick up authentic goods in the Asian supermarkets and pop into local bakeries.

#14 – Mission San Diego de Alcalá – One of the most religious places to see in San Diego

Mission San Diego de Alcalá

  • Gorgeous Spanish-style building;
  • Long history;
  • Wine-making heritage;
  • Self-sufficiency practices.

Why it’s awesome: Mission San Diego de Alcalá was established in July 1769 by a Spanish friar. California was previously a province of New Spain and Mission San Diego de Alcalá was the first of several Franciscan missions in the area. Interesting, the city of San Diego itself is named after a Spanish Franciscan brother. The present white building is the fifth church to stand at this spot, with the current church dating back to the early 19 th century. In the past, the mission aimed to be self-sufficient, and farming practices were developed. The mission also planted the first vineyards in California and it went on to produce wine.

What to do there: Admire the white-washed church from the outside, complete with its large bell wall that contains five bells. Visit the remains of the 1806 friars’ home and see an array of historic artefacts, including clothes, tools, and pottery, in the museum. The museum also has old photos and documents that help you to understand more about early Catholicism in the area. Explore the recreated Casa de los Padres for a journey into times gone by, and see the nearby replica oven from the past. Enjoy tranquillity in the meditation garden and admire the flora. Step inside the church to marvel at the beautiful religious artworks and absorb the spiritual air. It is still an active place of worship and you can attend a religious service too if you like.

#15 – Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve – A beautiful outdoor place to visit in San Diego

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

  • Picturesque coastal state park;
  • Fantastic views;
  • Diverse wildlife;
  • Excellent walking trails.

Why it’s awesome: Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is definitely a great addition to any San Diego itinerary . Located in La Jolla, it’s one of Southern California’s most rugged and wild coastal stretches. It covers around 2,000 acres (809 hectares). A National Natural Landmark, the plateau has craggy cliffs that look over the beach.

The lagoon attracts many types of migrating ocean birds, and the reserve has a rich array of flora and fauna. Eight trails run through the reserve, varying in length and difficulty levels. Each offers the perfect way for keen hikers to enjoy the great outdoors, see glorious views, and spot a range of wildlife.

What to do there: Follow the walking trails through the scenic Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, looking out for creatures like rabbits, skunks, foxes, and bobcats. There are many birds too, both on dry land and in the pretty lagoon. Keep an eye open for sightings of whales in the water from the top of the cliffs during migration season—you might get lucky! The area is known for the Torrey pine, a rare type of tree.

Snap pictures of the unusual Flat Rock and sunbathe on the beach. Want an even suntan? Check out Black’s Beach, San Diego’s unofficial nudist spot. You can visit the small museum on top of the cliffs to learn more about the area’s nature and geology.

#16 – Lemon Grove – Quite the quirky place in San Diego!

Lemon Grove

  • Gigantic lemon statue;
  • Whale-watching opportunities;
  • Many lemon groves;
  • Family-friendly attractions.

Why it’s awesome: Close to the border with Mexico, San Diego’s city of Lemon Grove has a wealth of great things to see and do. It is also home to one of the most unusual things to do in San Diego—seeing a humungous statue of a lemon ! Often said to the biggest lemon in the world, the mammoth 1,360-kilogram (3,000-pound) lemon reflects the area’s lemon-growing past.

There are still abundant lemon orchards throughout the city as well as fun things like museums, golf courses, sporting events, clubs, and whale-watching trips. The city was also once home to other unusual and interesting features—mummified bodies! Stolen from caves in Mexico, the bodies were hidden in a garage in Lemon Grove for some 14 years before being discovered again!

What to do there: Pose for selfies in front of the huge bright yellow lemon statue for some unusual vacation pictures to remind you of your trip to San Diego. Check out the local events calendar, filled with things like reading clubs for people of all ages, farmers markets, play days for kids, keep fit classes, bird-watching trips, and more. Get your swing in order with a game of golf and explore the city’s local attractions.

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#17 – Elfin Forest – An unknown (but awesome!) place to see in San Diego!

Elfin Forest

  • Outdoor adventures
  • Lots of nature and wildlife
  • Off the beaten track
  • Tales of the paranormal

Why it’s awesome: San Diego’s Elfin Forest is a relatively under-visited residential area with a beautiful recreation park. Homes sit on hills in the foothills of the Santa Rosa Mountains and the rural suburb is peaceful and quiet. There are fruit orchards and horse ranches to further add to the pastoral air. The coastal scrub offers outdoor activities and nature watching as well as terrific views. Various endangered and rare animal and plant species live/grow in the area. Spookily, Elfin Forest is often said to be one of the most haunted places on the planet!

What to do there: Stop by a local store and pick up locally grown fruits like lemons, avocados, oranges, and grapefruits. Chat with locals to learn more about the ghosts and legends that surround the area. Follow the hiking trails through Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve, spotting the diverse nature and soaking up the views. Keep your eyes peeled for glimpses of the gnatcatcher—one of the area’s rarest and most endangered occupants.

#18 – Little Italy – An awesome place to visit in San Diego for half a day!

Little Italy

  • Historic heart of San Diego’s tuna fishing industry;
  • Cool ethnic enclave;
  • Delicious dining;
  • Cultural events.

Why it’s awesome: San Diego’s Little Italy started life as a fishing village, with mainly Italian residents. In times gone by, San Diego was known as the Tuna Capital of the western USA. Today, the vibrant and pretty neighbourhood reflects the heritage of the city’s Italian immigrants through its restaurants, shops, art galleries, and architecture. There are many festivals and events throughout the year to enjoy too. There’s plenty to see and do and the area has some of San Diago’s best hidden gems to explore.

What to do there: Browse in the diverse shops and art galleries and call into one of the restaurants for some tasty and authentic Italian meals, like pasta and pizza. If you’re visiting San Diego for the weekend, pick up fresh produce at the weekly Mercato (farmers market). Be inspired by Italian recipes engraved on the tables at the pleasant Amici Park, see the spot where the San Diego Macaroni Factory once stood, visit the San Diego Firehouse Museum, hunt for the hidden ring in the pavement along India Street, and see the intricate mural in the Our Lady of the Rosary Church. Download the local app for a free self-guided walking tour around Little Italy’s historic highlights.

#19 – Sunset Cliffs Natural Park – One of the most romantic places to visit in San Diego!

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

  • Beautiful family-friendly beach;
  • Nice hiking trails;
  • Great vistas;
  • Perfect place to watch the sunset.

Why it’s awesome: One of the top San Diego vacation ideas for couples, Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is filled with natural splendours. Located near Point Loma, the park boasts gorgeous unique landscapes, natural caves, unusual rock formations, coastal flora and fauna, and terrific ocean views. As the name suggests, it’s also one of the best places in San Diego to watch a glorious sunset with your love. The natural park covers some 68 acres (28 hectares).

What to do there: If you have your own vehicle, cruise along Sunset Cliffs Boulevard for amazing views and changing scenery. There are also routes that you can follow by foot to enjoy the scenery and vistas. Appreciate the natural treasures like small caves, sandy beach, rock formations, and rock arches that rest in the swirling waves. See ocean life in the intertidal pools and on the sands. In the migration season you might also spot whales out in the ocean. Do stick around until the evening to watch a beautiful sunset.

#20 – Queen Califia’s Magical Circle – One of the more unique places to visit in San Diego!

Queen Califia’s Magical Circle

  • Enchanting park;
  • Colourful mosaics;
  • Whimsical attraction;
  • Excellent photo opportunities.

Why it’s awesome: Located in Escondido and just a short drive from downtown San Diego, Queen Califia’s Magical Circle is one of the most unusual things to do in San Diego. Within Kit Carson Park, the stunning mosaic garden was designed by a French artist. The artist was inspired by local myths, nature, and heritage. There are huge colourful statues along with a snaking wall, a maze, and plenty of seating. Whimsical, vibrant, and more than a bit quirky, the playful garden is sure to appeal to your imagination.

What to do there: Make your way through the black, white, and mirrored entrance maze to emerge in a beautiful courtyard and a colourful wonderland. See the snake-topped wall that encircles the garden and admire the large and eye-catching statues. Be awed as you gaze upon the huge shimmering statue of Queen Califia with an eagle flying proudly overhead. Mythical figures, monsters, gods and goddesses, animals, humans, and symbols cover totem-pole-like structures. Rest for a while on the integrated benches around the wall and soak up the splendour. You can also see local plants and flowers throughout the garden.

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#21 – Old Town San Diego State Historical Park – One of the most incredible free places to go to in San Diego

Old Town San Diego State Historical Park

  • Peer into the past;
  • Period buildings;
  • No admission charges;
  • Varied activities.

Why it’s awesome: Old Town San Diego State Historical Park is one of the best places in San Diego for history lovers. Taking visitors on a trip back in time to the city’s early years, it features many restored historic buildings from the 1800s and a number of informative museums. Included on the National Register of Historic Places, the park was once at the heart of San Diego’s community before people abandoned the area in favour of the new town, AKA today’s downtown. It is preserved as it was during the Mexican and early American eras. There is no charge to enter the historical park and all of the museums are free to visit too.

What to do there: Stroll around Old Town San Diego State Historical Park and see the various historic buildings that were once central to the local community. Buildings include residential homes, the city’s first newspaper office, a school, and a blacksmith’s shop. Delve deeper into the past in the varied museums, which include Colorado House (once a hotel), San Diego Union Museum, and Seeley Stables with its historic carriages and wagons. You can also take a guided tour for greater insights. Pop into the shops to find an array of goods and to see craftspeople at work. There’s a good selection of places to stop for a tasty meal, with Mexican restaurants especially prevalent.

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Find out what people want to know about the best places to visit in San Diego

Is San Diego worth visiting?

If you’re a fan of long sandy beaches and great warm and sunny weather all throughout the year, then San Diego is definitely worth visiting. On top of that, there are endless cool places to visit as well!

What are the best places to visit in San Diego for families?

Families absolutely love these places in San Diego: – Balboa Park – Sunset Cliffs Natural Park – San Diego Zoo

Are there any places in San Diego that are free to visit?

Check out these free places to visit in San Diego: – La Jolla – Point Loma – Old Town San Diego State Historical Park

What are the coolest places to visit in San Diego?

San Diego is full of cool places to visit but these ones are the best: – USS Midway Museum – Petco Park – Mission Beach

There are many San Diego vacation ideas, with something for all ages and interests. Spend a few hours at Pacific Beach and Coronado Beach, climb Mount Soledad, follow Annie’s Canyon Trail, visit the Mormon Battalion Historic Site, escape the crowds at Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve, and explore the ocean deep at Birch Aquarium. Cross the suspension bridge in Banker’s Hill and take a stick to hit the unusual musical bridge at 25 th street.

When it comes to museums, San Diego has many to choose between. In addition to the ones already mentioned, others to add to your San Diego itinerary include Whaley House Museum, the Maritime Museum of San Diego, the Sheriff’s Museum, the Chinese Historical Society and Museum, San Diego Natural History Museum, San Diego Air and Space Museum, the San Diego Museum of Art, and the Fleet Science Centre.

In need of some time out and quiet time? Check out the Self Realization Fellowship Hermitage and Meditation Gardens. Have fun at Liberty Station, watch a performance at the Old Globe Theatre, and take trips to the Anza-Borrego Desert, Disneyland, and the wine region of the Temecula Valley.

There are so many fabulous places to visit in San Diego! Have a fantastic trip!

places to visit in california san diego

Art Patterson

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Home » Travel Guides » United States » California (CA) » 50 Best Things to Do in San Diego (California)

50 Best Things to Do in San Diego (California)

California’s birthplace and the first spot in the Western United States where Europeans stepped ashore, San Diego is a city with universal appeal.

To go with the comfortable climate and laid-back style, San Diego Bay and its natural harbour have a rich military heritage.

The colossal aircraft carrier USS Midway speaks to this, and stands as the mother of all museum ships.

San Diego’s easy-going culture and miles of beach breaks may awaken the surfer dude in you, while Coronado and La Jolla have two of the best family beaches in the whole country.

Set just north of the border, the city has a Mexican influence that spreads to its delectable cuisine, and there’s a deluge of culture at the museums, monuments and theatres of Balboa Park.

Let’s explore the best things to do in San Diego :

1. Balboa Park

Balboa Park, San Diego

You’ll keep returning to this 1,200-acre urban park for its world-class zoo, restful cultivated areas, museums in refined Spanish Revival buildings and live shows.

There’s a tapestry of gardens around the park, planted with more than 350 plant species hand-selected at the turn of the 20th century by the botanist Kate Sessions, the “Mother of Balboa Park”. An emblem for the park and San Diego is the Botanical Building, one of many splendid holdovers from the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition.

Among the largest lath buildings in the world, the Botanical House contains 2,100 individual plants and is fronted by a pond with annual displays of lilies and lotuses.

Suggested tour : San Diego Walking Tour: Balboa Park with a Local Guide

2. Embarcadero

Embarcadero, San Diego

San Diego’s walkable harbour-front is brimming with shops, interesting sights and eateries, and looks across the bay to Coronado Island.

A lot of the Embarcadero’s interest is literally floating on the water, at the USS Midway and the heritage ships belonging to the San Diego Maritime Museum.

This is also the place to board tour boats around the harbour and out in the ocean to spot whales.

When the mercury rises kids can go wild at the interactive fountains in the Waterfront Park and adventure through the creatively designed playgrounds.

In November the Embarcadero stages the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival, while the San Diego Symphony Orchestra plays the Bayside Summer Nights from late-June to the start of September.

3. USS Midway Museum

USS Midway Museum, San Diego

The longest-serving aircraft carrier in the world has been permanently moored at San Diego’s Embarcadero since 2004. Commissioned in 1945, the USS Midway served in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm, before becoming the largest museum dedicated to aircraft carriers and naval aviation anywhere. offers a self-guided audio tour of this humungous vessel, during which you’ll see over 30 restored aircraft, including 8 propeller planes, 14 jet aircraft and 8 helicopters.

You’ll be led through the galley, brig, crew’s sleeping quarters, pilots’ ready rooms and engine room, and hear exciting snippets from people who served aboard the Midway.

You’ll have lots of chances to get involved, testing simulators, climbing into cockpits and watching films documenting the dramatic events that took place where you stand.

4. Point Loma

Point Loma Lighthouse

The west side of San Diego Bay is embraced by a long rocky peninsula that merits a visit for jagged topography, thrilling history and views you won’t soon forget.

We’ll touch on a few of the sights on Point Loma later, but in 1542, this was the landing point for the first European expedition to what is now the West Coast of America.

Given the peninsula’s setting, protecting the west flank of the harbour, Point Loma has a military presence going back to the 19th century.

The 77.5-acre Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery (1882) is on the grounds of a former coastal artillery station.

There are more than 100,000 graves here, and solemn memorials like the USS Bennington Monument, recording an accident in San Diego Bay that claimed 66 lives in 1905. Head to the marina for whale watching expeditions, and to Osprey Point were climbers scale the rocks and fishers camp over the water.

Available tour : GPS Talking Tour Cars: Point Loma & Beaches Loop

5. La Jolla

La Jolla Shores, San Diego

The upscale oceanfront community of La Jolla is on a rocky headland poking out into the Pacific and surrounded by water on three sides.

La Jolla means fine dining, cliffs with sea caves and little coves where seals and sea lions rest on the sand.

We’ll stop by La Jolla many times on this list, visiting the famous Torrey Pines and its State Reserve, beaches and golf course.

La Jolla proper has a cosmopolitan, European feel in its cafes, boutiques, low-rise houses and steep stairways.

At Ellen Browning Scripps Park by La Jolla Point you can contemplate the majesty of the Southern Californian coast, catch open-air concerts on summer evenings and see the fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Make a detour to the Legends Gallery on Prospect Street, which has original art by former La Jolla resident Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr Seuss).

Available tour : Segway Tour in La Jolla

6. Food and Drink

Fish Taco

San Diego’s Spanish past and proximity to Mexico makes for amazing food.

We’re talking about some of the best fish tacos, carne asada, enchiladas around.

These dishes are underpinned by ultra-fresh ingredients like avocados, tomatoes, eggplant and fruit, all grown locally.

San Diego is the birthplace of the comforting California Burrito, which has French fries and carne asada.

Oscar’s Mexican Seafood makes a mean fish taco and great ceviche, and has four locations around the city.

The craft beer scene in San Diego is something to be reckoned with, and the Toronado craft pub (56 rotating draughts), and the multi-award-winning Societe and Ballast Point production breweries need to be in the plans of any beer aficionado.

San Diego Surfing

Surf culture is woven into San Diego’s identity and the county’s 70 miles of open ocean coastline has more surf spots than we could list here.

Much of the shore has southwest facing beach breaks, while there are rockier sections with reef breaks at La Jolla and Point Loma.

Avid surfers are always ready to travel for the perfect wave, and this might mean a trip up to the highly popular Swami’s, which was mentioned in the Beach Boys’ Surfin USA. The river mouth point break at Trestles is world renowned and hosts WSL competitions from May to September.

Honourable mentions go to the beach breaks at Oceanside and the spacious Del Mar, where you won’t have to jostle for a wave.

There are shops for gear rental near every major spot.

And if you’d rather keep your feet on dry land, you can watch some great surfing action from the rocks at Windansea in La Jolla.

8. Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument

At the southern tip of Point Loma you’ll stand where a European person first set foot on the West Coast.

Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo’s expedition arrived here on 28 September 1542, and he named the bay San Miguel (this would change to San Diego in 1602). The original heroic statue of Cabrillo was donated by the Portuguese government in 1939, while the current replica has stood since 1988. The national monument’s visitor centre has a movie and exhibits to retrace Cabrillo’s voyage along the Californian coast.

Outside you can still see the old coastal batteries that protected the harbour and check out the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which has been converted into a museum.

But maybe best of all is the widescreen view of San Diego’s skyline, the harbour, across to Coronado and down to Tijuana.

9. San Diego Old Town

San Diego Old Town

The site of the first European settlement in present-day California, the San Diego Old Town is a visitor-friendly neighbourhood with historic adobe buildings from the city’s early days between 1820 and 1870. There’s wonderful set of preserved streets in the State Historical Park, which we’ll talk about next.

In the 40-acre Presidio Park you’ll be at the site where the San Diego Mission and the San Diego Presidio, the first settlements in modern day San Diego, were founded in 1769. The Old town is a great place to go for real Mexican food and brims with specialty shops and art galleries.

There’s lots of colour during annual festivities like Fiesta Navidad, Cinco de Mayo and Día de Muertos in November.

Suggested tour : Old Town San Diego: Hop-on Hop-off Narrated Tour

10. Old Town San Diego State Historical Park

Old Town San Diego State Historical Park

A time warp back to the mid-19th century, the State Historical Park in the Old Town is scattered with restored historic buildings, including five original adobes, as well as detailed replicas.

The finest of the adobes is the Casa de Estudillo from 1827, one of the oldest remaining pieces of Spanish architecture in California.

The park is free to enter and gives a sense of the intersecting cultures, as a Mexican pueblo became an American settlement.

There’s constant activity, with burros to pet, shopkeepers happy to share their stories, and artisans showing off their knowhow: At the Black Hawk Smithy & Stable you can see a blacksmith working the forge.

There are shops, little museum and restaurants, while the Historic Plaza has a full schedule of cultural celebrations and events.

11. San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo

Founded by the physician Harry M. Wegeforth after he was inspired by the roar of a lion at the Panama-California Exposition in 1915, the San Diego Zoo is rated among the best in the world and houses more than 650 species.

This was one of the first zoos to build cageless exhibits, and opened the first ever moated lion enclosure in 1922. You can beat the heat and get around on a guided tour bus that covers three quarters of the park, or the Skyfari tramway from 1969. As with the best zoos, the enclosures tally with natural habitats, so there’s African rainforest inhabited by gorillas, some of the world’s largest free-flight aviaries, as well as Arctic woodland and tundra for polar bears.

The San Diego Zoo is one of only four zoos in the United States to have Giant Pandas, and these are in the Panda Trek, while the Giant Panda Discovery Center has clever multisensory exhibits revealing how these creatures sound and smell.

Book online : San Diego Zoo Ticket: 1-Day Pass

12. San Diego Harbor Cruise

San Diego Harbor Cruise

At the Embarcadero in the shadow of the USS Midway you can set sail on a 1-hour cruise around San Diego Bay with

A great way to get to know San Diego quickly, the cruise will give you a fresh angle on more than 50 landmarks and ships immortalised by movies and popular culture.

You’ll get a rare chance to see the San Diego-Coronado Bridge from the water, and spot wildlife like pelicans, herons and sea lions.

All the time there will be in-depth and entertaining commentary by an experienced guide, passing on anecdotes about the navy in San Diego and the work being done to improve the bay as a marine habitat.

13. Whale Watching

San Diego Whale Watching

Between December and April the California Gray Whale migrates from Northern Alaska to Baja California to give birth in warmer climes, passing by San Diego.

In this season you can head to the Embarcadero for a whale watching cruise, up to four hours long.

On this comfortable voyage with indoor and outdoor seating, you’ll be joined by a qualified naturalist from the San Diego Natural History Museum, giving riveting insights about these cetacean visitors.

The likelihood of seeing a dolphin or whale is high, to the point where you’ll get a free pass for another tour if you don’t see anything.

But you are guaranteed to spot plenty of sea lions and harbour seals, and can soak up San Diego county’s extraordinary Pacific coastline from the ocean.

Recommended tour : San Diego Whale and Dolphin Watching Cruises

14. Little Italy

Little Italy, San Diego

Right in downtown San Diego, Little Italy is a neighbourhood that has its roots in the city’s once lucrative tuna industry.

The last of the canneries closed in the 1980s, but those facilities and the boat fleets were manned by immigrants from mainland Italy and Sicily.

From the 19th century they settled close to the Embarcadero in what is now a congenial area of galleries, one-of-a-kind design shops, pizza spots, restaurants, bodegas, breweries and cafes that spill out onto patios.

The Saturday “Mercato” street market shuts down several blocks and has become a San Diego institution.

Get a snap of the “Little Italy” sign and take a piece of paper and pencil to the tables at Amici Park, which have bronze tablets with recipes for dishes like stuffed artichokes, fava bean spread and fish tacos.

15. Petco Park

Petco Park, San Diego

Right in downtown San Diego, the state-of-the-art Petco Park is lauded as one of Major League Baseball’s best stadiums.

In the stands you’ll get incredible vistas of the Sand Diego skyline and San Diego Bay at one of 81 regular season games (more if the Padres have a successful season). Petco Park opened in 2004, before which the San Diego Padres had to share the Jack Murphy Stadium with NFL’s Chargers.

There’s a real feeling of ceremony as you approach the steel and sandstone facade of this venue, passing through a palm court and water walls.

Petco Park has an entertainment zone to keep kids engaged, and you get to know the Padres’ history and great players at the new Hall of Fame.

Food is an essential part of the baseball experience, and you can get anything from sashimi to fish tacos, Roman-style pizza, BBQ, oysters and gourmet hotdogs at Petco Park.

16. La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove, California

This compact north-facing cove in La Jolla is one of the most photographed pieces of the California coast.

And with good reason as the scenery is breathtaking: The beach, within a 6,000-acre ecological reserve, is hemmed by rocks hollowed with caves by the relentless ocean.

Being a natural park there’s lots of wildlife from the seals and sea lions sunning themselves on the beach and rocks, to the barracuda, batfish and giant sea bass in the waters.

The surf can be powerful, so La Jolla Cove isn’t ideal for swimming.

But if you’re in the mood for adventure you can go diving to discover the ecological park’s underwater life, while kayak and bike tours are also on the agenda.

End the day at an oceanfront restaurant watching the sun go down.

17. Coronado Beach

Coronado Beach, San Diego

Pack a picnic in a cooler, and cross the monumental San Diego-Coronado Bridge for a day at one of the best beaches in America.

With the sophisticated architecture of the Hotel del Coronado and a parade of beachfront mansions in the background, Coronado Beach is long, flat and soft.

These sands even seem to glisten, an effect caused by their high mica content.

Point Loma in the west helps defend Coronado from the strongest Pacific swells, so the beach is safe for swimming and has a team of lifeguards on duty.

You can rent a bike or pedal cart and drift along Ocean Boulevard, while there are fire rings on the north end for smores as the sun sets.

Available tour : San Diego: Coronado Bay & the Beach Small Group Walking Tour

18. Mission Beach

Mission Beach

San Diego’s easy-going beach town is adored by 20-somethings for its party atmosphere and two miles of Pacific beach.

This is lined with a boardwalk, enlivened by Belmont Park’s vintage rollercoasters and amusements.

If you’d prefer peace and relaxation, the South Mission Beach area is a little more tranquil.

There’s prime beach weather in San Diego from June to September but the season extends to the spring and autumn months, and you’ll even see people lazing on the beach in December if the sun is out.

You can rent a bike and see the sights on the boardwalk, sign up for whale-spotting cruises, while there’s adventure golf, a string of playgrounds, surf shops and lush gardens with lofty palms.

19. San Diego Museum of Art

San Diego Museum of Art

An almost overwhelming medley of Spanish Renaissance and Baroque painting awaits at this museum in Balboa Park.

El Greco, Murillo, Goya and Zurbarán are all here, together with Italian and Dutch Masters like Veronese, Canaletto, van Dyck, Rubens and Frans Hals.

In the last few years, the museum was donated a raft of paintings from the Symbolist, Expressionist and New Objectivity movements, by Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Robert Delaunay, Otto Dix and Alexej von Jawlensky.

The venue is striking too, with an appropriate Plateresque (Spanish Renaissance) facade, taking cues from the Cathedral of Valladolid.

This was built in 1926 to harmonise with Balboa Park’s buildings from the 1915-16 Exposition.

The museum has a busy programme of cocktail evenings, film screenings and after hours viewings, as well as fun activities for kids on school holidays.

20. Belmont Park

Belmont Park, San Diego

A Mission Beach linchpin, Belmont Park was opened by the sugar magnate John D. Spreckels back in 1925. This amusement park has 12 rides, three oceanfront eateries, an 18-hole Tiki-themed mini golf course and a host of smaller attractions.

But the king of Belmont Park has to be the time-honoured Giant Dipper.

This wooden rollercoaster arrived with the park and is a National Historic Landmark of its own.

Riding the giant dipper is a rite of passage for kids growing up in San Diego, but there are also high-octane rides like Control Freak, Octotron and Beach Blaster to keep the adrenaline pumping.

At the Sweet Shoppe, see if you can handle a Monster Waffle Cone ice cream.

21. San Diego Natural History Museum

San Diego Natural History Museum

One of the first ports of call at Balboa Park is the San Diego Natural History Museum, the oldest scientific institution in Southern California.

The museum was established in 1874, and its current Spanish Revival home (1933) was given a Postmodern facelift at the start of the new millennium.

The exhibitions are compelling for people of all ages.

Take Fossil Mysteries, examining California and Baja California’s rich prehistory, and packed with spectacular fossils, models, dioramas, interactive stations and murals.

You can venture through Southern California’s varied ecosystems at Coast to Cactus, and study the state’s complicate relationship with H2O at Water: A California Story.

One medium-term show open until 2020 preserves the 130,000-year-old mastodon bones and tusks unearthed at a site in San Diego.

You can also watch eye-popping 2D and 3D presentations at the giant theatre, showing the wonders of the ocean and taking you back to the Ice Age.

Online tickets : San Diego Natural History Museum

22. Mission San Diego de Alcalá

Mission San Diego de Alcalá

Set up in 1769, this was the first Franciscan mission in the Californias, and was the location for the region’s first execution and its first Christian burial.

Beneath the chancel also lies the body of California’s first Christian martyr, Father Luis Jayme, killed by Native American Kumeyaay warriors in 1775. The current church is from the early 19th century and was restored in 1931 following a long abandonment.

The largest bell in the campanile is original, dating to 1805 and cast with a crown representing the King of Spain.

There are daily tours of the compounds, where you’ll the remnants of the “convento”, which housed the friars in the early 19th century.

In the church, see the 15th-century choir stalls, carved with vegetal patterns and strange beasts.

The Mission Museum has archaeological finds like tools, pottery and weapons, as well as examples of Kumeyaay handicrafts and photographs of their elders.

23. San Diego Air & Space Museum

San Diego Air & Space Museum

In Balboa Park’s fabulous Streamline Moderne Ford Building (1936) the San Diego Air & Space museum chronicles the evolution of human flight with models and genuine artefacts.

At this Smithsonian affiliate you can get in touch with the interwar Golden Age of Flight, represented by aircraft like an Aeronca C-3 Collegian, a Consolidated PT-1 Trusty and a Ryan STA. There are gleaming engines from this period and artefacts for the likes of Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh.

You can go back further to see faithful reproductions of the Wright Brothers’ gliders, and zoom forward to the Jet Age, represented by a Douglas A-4B Skyhawk, a Boeing GPS-12 Satellite and a the canopy of the game-changing North American X-15 rocket plane.

There are also flight simulators, an “Action Hangar” play area for little ones and a 3D/4D theatre for pulsating shows.

24. Gaslamp Quarter

Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego

There are 94 historic buildings in this 16 block heritage area in downtown San Diego, bordering Petco Park and the Convention Center.

The Gaslamp Quarter, heralded by a gateway arch on Fifth Avenue, dates from 1867 when the real estate developer Alonzo Horton envisaged a new city centre nearer the San Diego Bay.

If you’re in San Diego to sample the food scene and nightlife you’re sure to find yourself in the Gaslamp Quarter at some point, in a neighbourhood of more than 100 sidewalk restaurants, craft breweries, concept cocktail bars and rooftop lounges.

There’s lots going on here during Comic-Con in July, as well as big street parties for Mardi Gras and St Patrick’s Day.

Recommended tour : Gaslamp and Downtown San Diego Segway Tour

25. Birch Aquarium

Birch Aquarium

Roosted on a bluff over the campus of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, this noted aquarium reveals the spectrum of marine life of the Pacific Ocean.

You can get there in 20 minutes from downtown San Diego, and start with the Hall of Fishes.

This has an array of habitats, from the brisk waters of the North West to the tropical climes of the Indo-Pacific.

There’s a 260,000-litre kelp forest tank, coral reefs and a much-loved loggerhead turtle that was rescued.

At the Tide-Pool Plaza, youngsters can get to know the creatures inhabiting Southern California’s tide pools like starfish, hermit crabs, lobsters and sea cucumbers.

There’s Something About Seahorses is a showcase for this peculiar creature, while Feeling the Heat is a jolting look at the effects of climate change.

26. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Conserving some 2,000 acres of rugged Pacific coastline north of La Jolla, this National Natural Landmark is on a plateau skirted by high cliffs for a awesome views of the ocean.

There are eight miles of trails, and you can use the Beach Trail to get down to natural un-touristy beaches with almost no signs of civilisation.

The park is a vital habitat for the endangered Torrey Pine, which only grows in this location and off the coast of Santa Barbara on Santa Rosa Island.

During the migration season you may get to see gray and blue whales from the cliffs.

Stop by the charming pueblo-style visitor centre, which is the departure point for guided on walks on weekends and holidays at 10:00 and 14:00.

27. Torrey Pines Gliderport

Torrey Pines Gliderport

On the cusp of the State Reserve is a public platform for hang gliding and paragliding posted on cliffs above the Pacific.

If you’re intent on taking to the skies but have no experience you can take part in a tandem hang gliding or paragliding flight, starting at a couple of hundred dollars.

But most of the visitors to the Gilderport are here just to bask in the scenery and feel the ocean breeze.

There are benches to linger over the views of the Pacific and the coastline down to La Jolla, and you can watch the gliders take off, tuck into an outsized sandwich at the Cliffhanger Cafe and enjoy some live music on Saturday afternoons.

28. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

On the west flank of Point Loma is a glorious 68-acre park protecting rough-hewn ocean bluffs, caves, natural arches and tidepools.

There’s no mystery to the name, as you may not find a better spot within easy reach of downtown San Diego to watch the sunset.

And as with many high vantage points on the Southern Californian coast, there’s a good chance of spotting gray whales between December and April.

By road the scenery is sensational on the Sunset Cliffs Boulevard between Adair Street and Ladera Street.

29. San Diego Museum of Man

San Diego Museum of Man

Set in four imposing Spanish Revival buildings from the Panama-California Exposition, the Museum of Man has just celebrated its centenary.

Here you can study pre-Columbian history, getting to know local Native American cultures, as well as Mesoamerican civilisations like the Mayans.

The exhibitions approach these topics in fun, enlightening ways.

Take, BEERology, looking into the 10,000-year history of beer brewing and featuring a solid gold beer cup belonging to an Incan king some 600 years ago.

Monsters! is a family-oriented exhibition about mythical beasts like the Kraken, unicorns, dragons and the Yeti.

You can also delve into the origins of race on the second floor, and delight in one of the United States’ greatest collections of Egyptology, with masks, pottery, sarcophagi and two authentic mummies.

30. Hotel del Coronado

Hotel del Coronado, San Diego

The pride of Coronado is a magnificent Victorian beachfront hotel and National Historic Landmark, now owned by the Hilton brand.

When the Hotel del Coronado opened in 1888 it was the world’s largest resort hotel.

Counted among its distinguished list of guests are Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin, Mae West, Clark Gable, Babe Ruth and Edward VIII (then Prince of Wales). No fewer than 16 presidents have stayed at the Hotel de Coronado, in an unbroken line going back to President Eisenhower.

The building, easily identified by the conical roofs on its towers, has appeared in 12 films, most famously Some Like it Hot (1959). You don’t have to book a room to get the inside track, as there are daily 75-minute tours through the building and its ornamental gardens.

31. San Diego Zoo Safari Park

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Out in the semi-arid environment of the San Pasqual Valley you may wonder if you’ve stumbled into the real savanna at the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park.

In 1,800 acres, you’ll take road train and truck caravan rides through vast landscapes of the African Plains and Asian Savanna to view wildebeest, springboks, gazelles, giraffes, antelopes, rhinos and many more.

The recent Tiger Trail is a walking exhibit where you’ll come within inches of Sumatran tigers, while the Nairobi Village and Gorilla Forest have an aviary and habitats for meerkats, lemurs and the formidable Western Lowland gorilla.

The Lion Camp is home to a family of 13 lions, and you’ll see just how fast a cheetah can move at the Cheetah Run at the African Outpost.

For something unforgettable, take the Flightline Safari, a zip-line more than 40 metres over the giraffes and rhinos in the park’s African Plains.

Book online (skip the line) : San Diego Zoo Safari Park 1-Day Pass

32. Mormon Battalion Historic Site

Mormon Battalion Historic Site

The Mormon Battalion was the only unit formed along religious lines in the history of the United States military.

It comprised between 534 and 559 followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This infantry unit was commanded by Mormon company officers who answered to regular U.S. Army command.

The Mormon Battalion served for a year during the Mexican-American War of 1846-48 and is remembered for an almost inconceivable 1,900-mile march from Iowa to San Diego, together with 80 women and children.

The newly revamped visitor centre at the site of the battalion’s arrival point in the Old Town gives free daily tours and has interactive multimedia displays and artefacts shining a light on the unit.

You can also learn more about the livelihoods of the day, like panning for gold and brick-making, and get to know the inner-workings of muskets and cannons.

33. La Jolla Shores Park

places to visit in california san diego

Pushing on for a mile in northern La Jolla, this beach may be the best in the San Diego area for families.

While many of the beaches around La Jolla are sequestered little coves, La Jolla shores has an accommodating crescent of pale sand.

The beach is trimmed with grass and a line of towering palms, and blessed with majestic views north to the 30-metre cliffs of Torrey Pines.

What makes La Jolla Shores such a hit with families is the low surf and very shallow gradient.

In summer the waves are the gentlest of any San Diego beach, and this is down to La Jolla’s rocky headland screening the southwest side of the beach.

The light surf is just right for sea kayaking and diving, and passing by at night you’ll see the shore glinting with beach fires.

34. Fleet Science Center

Fleet Science Center, San Diego

A planetarium and interactive science museum, the Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park was a trailblazer when it opened in 1973. Younger children will get the most out of the self-guided permanent exhibitions where they can explore outer space, learn the ins and outs of San Diego’s water system and discover the unseen world of nanotechnology.

For toddlers the Little Learners’ Lab is a play zone with varying shapes and textures, while the Ball Wall has a little world of shoots, tracks and moving objects.

The Heikoff Giant Dome Theater has three IMAX shows screening several times a day.

In summer 2018 these were “Aircraft Carrier”, “Great Barrier Reef” and “Pandas”.

35. Pacific Beach

Pacific Beach, San Diego

Next door to Mission Beach and on the way to La Jolla, Pacific Beach is another belt of dreamy Pacific coastline, edged by Ocean Boulevard and its many amenities.

The beach seems never to end, continuing past the Crystal Pier where it becomes North Pacific Beach, preferred by families for its lifeguard supervision.

The area, Pacific Beach, has been gentrified since the 1990s and partying college students have moved down to Mission Beach to be replaced by plush condos, upmarket restaurants and a slightly older crowd.

Go for a stroll along Crystal Pier, which is flanked on the landward end by quaint weatherboard holiday cottages.

If you can avoid the many fishing rods, you can watch the waves break from the end of the pier and look back to the city and up to La Jolla.

36. Maritime Museum of San Diego

Maritime Museum of San Diego

On the Embarcadero’s Waterfront Park, a few steps from the USS Midway, is one of the nation’s largest collections of historic vessels, all ready to be boarded.

The Maritime Museum of San Diego has 11 heritage boats and submarines.

The most noteworthy is the Star of India (1863), believed to be the oldest ship in the world that still sails regularly.

Launched at the Isle of Man, this iron-hulled windjammer was built to carry cargo between Britain, India and New Zealand.

Fans of military hardware will waste no time boarding the Soviet B-38 and US Navy Dolphin submarines.

One ship you may have seen before is HM Surprise, a modern 18th-century British Navy frigate replica that appeared in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

The museum puts on a military-themed 45-minute harbour tour in a Vietnam War-era Swift boat.

37. Old Point Loma Lighthouse

Old Point Loma Lighthouse

One of San Diego’s oldest monuments, this lighthouse was raised in 1855 just five years after San Diego’s admission to the Union.

Its life as a beacon for ships navigating San Diego Bay was quite short and it was deactivated when the new lighthouse was built by the water, 120 metres down the cliffs in 1891. After the foundation of the Cabrillo Monument in the 1930s the complex was restored and is now a prominent landmark and museum.

You can see the keeper’s living quarters, log books, service equipment, turning mechanism and the original Fresnel lens that once had a range of 24 miles.

On certain days you may also be greeted by a re-enactor playing Captain Israel, a lighthouse keeper in the 19th century.

38. Point Loma Tide Pools

Point Loma Tide Pools

Something we haven’t mentioned about Point Loma is the richness of the nature residing in the tide pools at the foot of the cliffs on the western tip of the peninsula.

The rocky shoreline here is in the boundaries of the National Monument, which has kept it clear of development.

Check the tide charts and keep them in mind, because when the ocean withdraws you can scramble down the terraces of stratified rock to poke around the sea caves and look for ocean life in the rock pools.

You should spot sea anemones, starfish, lined shore crabs, hermit crabs, kelp crabs and maybe even an octopus.

39. Liberty Station

Liberty Station, San Diego

The humongous former Naval Training Center San Diego on Point Loma has been transformed into an exciting waterfront development.

That naval base was founded in 1923 and is on the National Register of Historic Places, with rows of interesting former mess halls and barracks.

The open space along the base’s old ship channel has become a waterfront park with play areas and jogging trails.

Liberty Station is divided into an array of districts: Office, Hotel, Educational, Retail and Residential.

For food, the Arts District, South Point and the Quarter are loaded with independent bars, eateries and cafes, well as nationwide chains like Five Guys, Tender Greens and Cold Stone Creamery.

The NTC Promenade at Liberty Station is a non-profit arts area, home to the San Diego Comic Art Gallery and Women’s Museum of California, as well as theatre companies, four dance groups and the LOT at Liberty Station theatre.

40. Whaley House Museum

Whaley House Museum, San Diego

San Diego’s first two-storey brick-built building, the Old Town’s Whaley House dates to 1857. What kindles fascination about the building is its spooky goings-on.

This National Historic Landmark was designated “haunted” by the U.S. Commerce Department in the 1960s.

It appears that the house’s owner and designer, Thomas Whaley chose San Diego’s former gallows as the plot for his home.

He claimed to hear one criminal, “Yankee” Jim Robinson (d.1852) stomping around on the top floor, and Whaley and his wife are believed to still be around, announcing themselves by the scent of cigar smoke and perfume.

In the same ensemble is the French mansard-roofed Verna House (1870s), moved to this spot to save it from demolition in 1965 and housing the gift-shop.

The interior, which also served as a courtroom for a period, has been frozen in time to the mid-1870s.

41. Children’s Pool Beach

Children's Pool Beach

The ocean in San Diego is always a thrilling sight, but the surf can be unsafe for children and less accomplished swimmers.

In La Jolla one solution was to construct a big concrete seawall to the west, shielding this beach from the waves and creating a scallop-shaped cove with calm waters.

The was gifted to the community by the philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps in 1931, but what nobody anticipated was how attractive the beach would prove for seals and sea lions.

December to May they come to wallow in the gentle waters and give birth to pups on the beach.

Access to Children’s Pool Beach is discouraged in this season, but you can head along the seawall to get a good look at the winter residents with their babies.

42. Seaport Village

Seaport Village, San Diego

Call it a tourist trap, but this waterfront mall has a few things to recommend it.

For one, there’s a series of restaurants like the Pier Cafe and Edgewater Grill, each with a front-row view of the bay.

Seaport Village is on the south end the Embarcadero within walking distance of the downtown.

You can make your way around a circular network of lanes lined with buildings in varying architectural styles from replicas of haciendas and adobes to Victorian houses.

There are more than 50 shops for twee souvenirs like hand-painted tiles and mugs, and you can enjoy some live music on summer weekends.

Look out for the carousel, dating to 1895, with beautifully rendered animals and mythical beasts to ride on.

43. Pacific Surfliner

Pacific Surfliner

If this railway line has a romantic sounding name that’s because it clings to the Southern Californian coastline between San Diego and San Luis Obispo.

The most scenic stretch is through the San Diego and Orange Counties when the train has a near constant view of the Pacific.

These carriages are so accustomed to surfers that there are even special racks for surfboards.

You could use the train for a day in Los Angeles, making sure to sit on the right side of the train on the return to San Diego to catch the sunset.

There are multiple departures each day, and you can get to Disneyland in Anaheim in two hours and Los Angeles Union station in three.

44. San Diego-Coronado

San Diego-Coronado Bridge

An abiding feature of the San Diego cityscape, the San-Diego-Coronado Bridge swoops across the San Diego Bay, carrying the State Route 75 to and from the island for a spellbinding perspective of the city.

The design came from the Modernist architect Robert Mosher and the bridge opened in 1969, just two years after construction began.

The reason for bridge’s signature 80° curve is that the Navy required a clearance of at least 61 metres for its aircraft carriers, and the structure needed extra space to reach this height on a safe gradient.

If you need to see the bridge up close there are guided kayaking tours under the bridge from Coronado.

45. Mission Trails Regional Park

Mission Trails Regional Park

This whopping 5,800-acre natural preserve is inside San Diego’s city limits to the northeast, and is the sixth-largest municipal park in the United States.

Snaking off into this rugged wilderness of scrubby hills and canyons are 60 miles of marked hiking, cycling and horse riding trails.

One route will take you to the summit of Cowles Mountain, the highest point in San Diego at 486 metres and with a panorama of San Diego County that merits the climb.

You can also track down a riveting piece of San Diego’s early history at the Old Mission Dam, a National Historic Landmark.

The dam impounded the San Diego River to irrigate fields owned by the Mission San Diego de Alcalá.

This modest construction represents the first colonial irrigation project on the United States’ Pacific coast.

46. Old Globe Theatre

Old Globe Theatre, San Diego

Established in Balboa Park during the California Pacific International Exposition of 1935-36, the Old Globe Theatre is a pillar of culture in San Diego.

Among the top regional theatres in the country, this Tony-award winning institution puts on 15 productions of classic, modern classic and new works each season, with Shakespeare at its soul.

The complex has three stages: The flagship Old Globe Theatre, the outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, both seating around 600, and the smaller Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, a theatre in the round.

For a snapshot of what to expect, there are two performances a day during the week and three on weekends.

In July 2018 you could catch a family-friendly production of Dr.

Seuss’s The Lorax, or live the drama of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

47. Liberty Public Market

Liberty Public Market

One of the former navy buildings at Liberty Station has been adapted for this enticing food destination.

Open seven days a week, 11:00 – 19:00, the Liberty Public Market is like an urban central market, showing off the best of the region’s wine, beer, fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, pastries, prepared foods, sauces and arts and crafts.

It’s a place for people who are concerned about food provenance to do their food shop, but is also a must for on-the-spot dining, with a dash of pop-up eateries and stands.

Think lobster rolls, jambalaya, craft sausages, farm fresh salads, Thai-style streetfood and cold-pressed juice.

48. Torrey Pines Golf Course

Torrey Pines Golf Course

The 36-hole municipal golf centre at Torrey Pines was established in 1957 and has real prestige.

This totally public facility played host to the 2008 U.S. Open, which as of July 2018 was the last major title claimed by Tiger Woods.

The U.S. Open is scheduled to come back to Torrey Pines in 2021. Plotted by the famed course architect William P. Bell and his son in 1957, Torrey Pines has two championship courses (North and South), and one of the largest golf shops in the Western United States.

The South course was remodelled by Rees Jones in 2001 and has since staged a host of big events.

You can be sure that this course is in demand, and to book a tee time non-residents have to sign up with San Diego’s parks and recreation department and book online up to three days in advance.

49. Little Italy Mercato Farmers’ Market

Little Italy Mercato Farmers' Market

Saturdays from 08:00 to 14:00 more than 200 tents take over Little Italy’s Date Street, between Kettner Boulevard and Front Street.

Local producers lay out regional meat, poultry, fruit, eggs herbs and vegetables, all seasonal and fresh from the farm, while there’s also fish, plants, spices, coffee beans, cheese, homemade sauces and relishes.

Bring an appetite because you can indulge in oysters shucked on the spot, and sea urchin caught hours earlier.

If that sounds too adventurous you might be tempted by paninis, crêpes, cheesecake in a cup, or go healthy with a green smoothie.

Amazingly, this is just one of 20 weekend farmers’ markets in San Diego.

50. Comic-Con

Comic-Con San Diego

What started as the Golden State Comic Book Convention, attended by 200 comic book fans in 1970, has burgeoned into the world’s largest annual pop culture festival attended by some 150,000 people.

If you don’t already know all about Comic-Con you’re sure to have seen its legions of cosplayers online or on TV shows.

Held at the San Diego Convention Centre, Comic-Con (roughly speaking) is a four-day extravaganza of seminars, panel Q&As, table reads, workshops, gaming events, award ceremonies, as well as an independent shot film festival, collectibles market, studio/TV company trade exhibition and a cosplay contest.

And where the scope was limited to comics in the festival’s early years, Comic-Con encompasses almost all forms of entertainment, even if there’s still a slight accent on comics and anime.

50 Best Things to Do in San Diego (California):

  • Balboa Park
  • Embarcadero
  • USS Midway Museum
  • Food and Drink
  • Cabrillo National Monument
  • San Diego Old Town
  • Old Town San Diego State Historical Park
  • San Diego Zoo
  • San Diego Harbor Cruise
  • Whale Watching
  • Little Italy
  • La Jolla Cove
  • Coronado Beach
  • Mission Beach
  • San Diego Museum of Art
  • Belmont Park
  • San Diego Natural History Museum
  • Mission San Diego de Alcalá
  • San Diego Air & Space Museum
  • Gaslamp Quarter
  • Birch Aquarium
  • Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
  • Torrey Pines Gliderport
  • Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
  • San Diego Museum of Man
  • Hotel del Coronado
  • San Diego Zoo Safari Park
  • Mormon Battalion Historic Site
  • La Jolla Shores Park
  • Fleet Science Center
  • Pacific Beach
  • Maritime Museum of San Diego
  • Old Point Loma Lighthouse
  • Point Loma Tide Pools
  • Liberty Station
  • Whaley House Museum
  • Children's Pool Beach
  • Seaport Village
  • Pacific Surfliner
  • San Diego-Coronado
  • Mission Trails Regional Park
  • Old Globe Theatre
  • Liberty Public Market
  • Torrey Pines Golf Course
  • Little Italy Mercato Farmers' Market


The 30 things everyone should do at least once in San Diego, according to Tripadvisor users

Posted: May 26, 2024 | Last updated: May 26, 2024

<p><a href="">Stacker</a> compiled a list of the highest rated things to do in San Diego on <a href="">Tripadvisor</a>. Tripadvisor rankings factor in the average rating and number of reviews.</p>

Highest-rated things to do in San Diego, according to Tripadvisor

Stacker compiled a list of the highest rated things to do in San Diego on Tripadvisor . Tripadvisor rankings factor in the average rating and number of reviews.

<p>- Rating: 5.0 / 5 (25,371)<br>- Type of activity: Speciality Museums<br>- Address: 910 N Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101-5811<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#30. USS Midway Museum

- Rating: 5.0 / 5 (25,371) - Type of activity: Speciality Museums - Address: 910 N Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101-5811 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (28,837)<br>- Type of activity: Zoos<br>- Address: 2929 Zoo Drive Balboa Park, San Diego, CA 92101<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#29. San Diego Zoo

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (28,837) - Type of activity: Zoos - Address: 2929 Zoo Drive Balboa Park, San Diego, CA 92101 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (13,023)<br>- Type of activity: Parks • Gardens<br>- Address: 1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101-1660<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#28. Balboa Park

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (13,023) - Type of activity: Parks • Gardens - Address: 1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101-1660 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (13,672)<br>- Type of activity: Beaches • Parks<br>- Address: 1100 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92037-3600<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#27. La Jolla Cove

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (13,672) - Type of activity: Beaches • Parks - Address: 1100 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92037-3600 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (3,786)<br>- Type of activity: State Parks • Nature & Wildlife Areas<br>- Address: 12600 N Torrey Pines Rd, San Diego, CA 92037<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#26. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (3,786) - Type of activity: State Parks • Nature & Wildlife Areas - Address: 12600 N Torrey Pines Rd, San Diego, CA 92037 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (4,511)<br>- Type of activity: Sports Complexes • Arenas & Stadiums<br>- Address: 100 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101-7405<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#25. Petco Park

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (4,511) - Type of activity: Sports Complexes • Arenas & Stadiums - Address: 100 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101-7405 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (4,872)<br>- Type of activity: Historic Sites • National Parks<br>- Address: 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr Lands End Road, San Diego, CA 92106-3601<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#24. Cabrillo National Monument

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (4,872) - Type of activity: Historic Sites • National Parks - Address: 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr Lands End Road, San Diego, CA 92106-3601 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (2,476)<br>- Type of activity: Historic Sites • Points of Interest & Landmarks<br>- Address: 6905 La Jolla Scenic Drive South Soledad Park, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92037<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#23. Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (2,476) - Type of activity: Historic Sites • Points of Interest & Landmarks - Address: 6905 La Jolla Scenic Drive South Soledad Park, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92037 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (2,113)<br>- Type of activity: Parks<br>- Address: 1253 Sunset Cliffs Blvd Rum Runner Point, San Diego, CA 92107-4015<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#22. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (2,113) - Type of activity: Parks - Address: 1253 Sunset Cliffs Blvd Rum Runner Point, San Diego, CA 92107-4015 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (5,793)<br>- Type of activity: Bridges<br>- Address: State Route 75 South Embarcadero, San Diego, CA 92101<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#21. Coronado Bridge

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (5,793) - Type of activity: Bridges - Address: State Route 75 South Embarcadero, San Diego, CA 92101 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 5.0 / 5 (1,467)<br>- Type of activity: Cemeteries<br>- Address: 1700 Cabrillo Memorial Dr, San Diego, CA 92106-3602<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#20. Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery

- Rating: 5.0 / 5 (1,467) - Type of activity: Cemeteries - Address: 1700 Cabrillo Memorial Dr, San Diego, CA 92106-3602 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (1,929)<br>- Type of activity: Historic Walking Areas • Geologic Formations<br>- Address: Lands End Road, San Diego, CA 92106<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#19. Point Loma

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (1,929) - Type of activity: Historic Walking Areas • Geologic Formations - Address: Lands End Road, San Diego, CA 92106 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (2,717)<br>- Type of activity: Beaches • Parks<br>- Address: 8300 Camino del Oro, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92037<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#18. La Jolla Shores Park

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (2,717) - Type of activity: Beaches • Parks - Address: 8300 Camino del Oro, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92037 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (1,789)<br>- Type of activity: Speciality Museums • Ships<br>- Address: 1492 N Harbor Dr Discovery Pier, San Diego, CA 92101-3309<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#17. Maritime Museum of San Diego

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (1,789) - Type of activity: Speciality Museums • Ships - Address: 1492 N Harbor Dr Discovery Pier, San Diego, CA 92101-3309 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (1,441)<br>- Type of activity: Lighthouses<br>- Address: Point Loma Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego, CA 92107<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#16. Old Point Loma Lighthouse

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (1,441) - Type of activity: Lighthouses - Address: Point Loma Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego, CA 92107 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (5,670)<br>- Type of activity: State Parks • Historic Walking Areas<br>- Address: 4002 Wallace St, San Diego, CA 92110<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#15. Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (5,670) - Type of activity: State Parks • Historic Walking Areas - Address: 4002 Wallace St, San Diego, CA 92110 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (1,455)<br>- Type of activity: Educational sites<br>- Address: 2800 Torrey Pines Scenic Dr Gliderport Trail, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92037-1004<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#14. Torrey Pines Gliderport

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (1,455) - Type of activity: Educational sites - Address: 2800 Torrey Pines Scenic Dr Gliderport Trail, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92037-1004 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (1,300)<br>- Type of activity: Beaches<br>- Address: not available<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#13. Pacific Beach

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (1,300) - Type of activity: Beaches - Address: not available - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.0 / 5 (10,235)<br>- Type of activity: Amusement & Theme Parks • Aquariums<br>- Address: 500 Sea World Drive, San Diego, CA 92109<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#12. SeaWorld

- Rating: 4.0 / 5 (10,235) - Type of activity: Amusement & Theme Parks • Aquariums - Address: 500 Sea World Drive, San Diego, CA 92109 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (2,046)<br>- Type of activity: Neighborhoods<br>- Address: 1668 Columbia St From Laurel south to West A Street, San Diego, CA 92101-2502<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#11. Little Italy

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (2,046) - Type of activity: Neighborhoods - Address: 1668 Columbia St From Laurel south to West A Street, San Diego, CA 92101-2502 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (905)<br>- Type of activity: Historic Walking Areas<br>- Address: The Embarcadero Seaport Village, San Diego, CA 92101<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#10. San Diego Bay Walk

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (905) - Type of activity: Historic Walking Areas - Address: The Embarcadero Seaport Village, San Diego, CA 92101 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (586)<br>- Type of activity: Beaches<br>- Address: 6800 Neptune Place, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92083<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#9. Windansea Beach

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (586) - Type of activity: Beaches - Address: 6800 Neptune Place, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92083 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (1,940)<br>- Type of activity: Natural History Museums • Aquariums<br>- Address: 2300 Expedition Way Scripps Institute, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92037<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#8. Birch Aquarium at Scripps

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (1,940) - Type of activity: Natural History Museums • Aquariums - Address: 2300 Expedition Way Scripps Institute, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92037 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.0 / 5 (4,722)<br>- Type of activity: Points of Interest & Landmarks • Piers & Boardwalks<br>- Address: 849 W Harbor Dr Downtown, San Diego, CA 92101-7744<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#7. Seaport Village

- Rating: 4.0 / 5 (4,722) - Type of activity: Points of Interest & Landmarks • Piers & Boardwalks - Address: 849 W Harbor Dr Downtown, San Diego, CA 92101-7744 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (1,828)<br>- Type of activity: Points of Interest & Landmarks<br>- Address: not available<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#6. Old Town San Diego

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (1,828) - Type of activity: Points of Interest & Landmarks - Address: not available - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (1,084)<br>- Type of activity: Gardens<br>- Address: 1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101-1660<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#5. Botanical Building and Lily Pond

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (1,084) - Type of activity: Gardens - Address: 1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101-1660 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (1,020)<br>- Type of activity: Historic Sites<br>- Address: 2510 Juan St, San Diego, CA 92110-2806<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#4. Mormon Battalion Historic Site

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (1,020) - Type of activity: Historic Sites - Address: 2510 Juan St, San Diego, CA 92110-2806 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (1,358)<br>- Type of activity: Beaches<br>- Address: 850 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92037-4254<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#3. Children's Pool

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (1,358) - Type of activity: Beaches - Address: 850 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92037-4254 - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (339)<br>- Type of activity: Beaches<br>- Address: not available<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#2. Torrey Pines State Beach

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (339) - Type of activity: Beaches - Address: not available - Read more on Tripadvisor

<p>- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (2,042)<br>- Type of activity: Beaches<br>- Address: 3200 Ocean Front Walk Surfrider Square, San Diego, CA 92109<br>- <a href="">Read more on Tripadvisor</a></p>

#1. Mission Beach

- Rating: 4.5 / 5 (2,042) - Type of activity: Beaches - Address: 3200 Ocean Front Walk Surfrider Square, San Diego, CA 92109 - Read more on Tripadvisor

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The Best Beaches in San Diego

By Marie Tutko and Archana Ram

Image may contain Nature Outdoors Sky Leisure Activities Person Sport Swimming Water Water Sports Sea and Horizon

Beach time never goes out of season in Southern California —and you’ll find some of the state’s best beaches in San Diego. It’s got perfect temperatures throughout most of the year, which means a sun- and- sea-filled trip doesn’t have to wait until summer. And with 70 miles of coastline, San Diego has many beach options that range in size, accessibility, and offerings, which means there’s a stretch of sand to suit all personalities and types of travelers . You can head up north to find wide sand beaches in Oceanside and less-crowded spots with wilder waves in Carlsbad and Encinitas, or venture south to Mission Beach or Coronado to enjoy calm waters with a festive amusement park or a historic hotel as a backdrop.

Pack up whatever you need for the perfect beach day–whether it’s a surfboard, volleyball, snorkel, or just a lounge chair and a good book –and find out why we think that these are the best beaches in San Diego.

Click the link to read our complete San Diego city guide .

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La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove is one of the most photographed beaches in San Diego, and it’s easy to see why: the coastline here is dotted with sea caves and attracts California sea lions and pelicans that bask in the sun on the rock outcroppings nearby. The cove itself is small and isn’t an ideal spot for spending a day on the sand, but it’s worth a stop to take some photos. From here, you can start a breezy coastal walk that offers scenic views. Visit the nearby Children’s Pool beach, a 10-minute walk south of La Jolla Cove, to see the Pacific Harbor seals that flock there to rest on the sand. The cove is right near the heart of La Jolla and by landmarks such as the historic La Valencia Hotel and recently renovated Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego .

Image may contain Water Waterfront Pier Flag Plant Tree Port Palm Tree Person Summer Outdoors Nature and Scenery

Pier View North Beach

The city of Oceanside lies a 45-minute drive north of San Diego and is a growing resort town. The beaches here are wide with soft sand and not as crowded as others in more tourist-centric parts of San Diego, and affordable paid lots offer parking within walking distance. Pier View North Beach is north of the Oceanside Municipal Pier, which is nearly 2,000 feet long and the longest wooden pier in the western US, and lined by the picturesque Roberts Cottages , a row of charming beach cottages dating back to the 1920s. Pier View North is close to Mission Avenue and the city’s downtown, which has seen a recent revival with new boutique hotels, shops, and the opening of restaurants such as Valle , one of five Michelin-starred restaurants in San Diego County. While you’re here, you can see the Top Gun house , the landmark Victorian-era cottage that was featured in the iconic film, or visit the California Surf Museum .

San Diego Beach Beaches Fletcher Cove

Fletcher Cove Beach Park Arrow

Fletcher Cove’s crescent-shaped beach is protected by bordering cliffs on both sides, with a groomed park that offers many public facilities. Paved paths down to the beach make Fletcher Cove much more accessible than other small beaches in the area. Families with kids will love the basketball courts, playground, outdoor showers, and picnic areas.

San Diego Beach Beaches Cardiff

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This state beach is known for some of the best surfing in San Diego, and the laid-back crowd that comes with it. On the north end, Cardiff Reef is where pro surfer Rob Machado and other locals catch their waves. A few steps away, Pacific Coast Grill offers two levels of ocean views and tasty fish tacos. Visit the tide pools at low tide to see hermit crabs, sea snails, and other sea creatures.

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Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve San Diego

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Arrow

A short 30-minute drive outside of downtown San Diego , this 1,750-acre oceanfront reserve promises sweeping ocean views for hikers. ( See our favorite San Diego area hikes here. ) The reserve is dedicated to preserving its namesake tree, the Torrey Pine, and surrounding wildlife, but travelers and locals come for the miles of trails through pine forests and sandstone canyons, and the 4.5-mile Torrey Pines State Beach. Torrey Pines is no hidden secret, but there's a reason crowds flock here. Plans to go are easy to make: The reserve is open 365 days a year, from 7:15 a.m. to sunset, and all entering cars must pay an admission fee, which ranges from $10-$25 (or free with a California State Parks Vehicle Day Use Annual Pass ), depending on whether you park in the the North or South Beach parking lots. The Visitor Center and Museum offers guided hikes at 10 a.m. every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, as well as on holidays–follow the road to the park’s upper level from the South Beach parking lot to get to the center.

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San Onofre State Beach

San Onofre State Beach is at the very northern end of San Diego County and is one of the most visited state parks in California—roughly 2.5 million people come every year for the famous surf breaks, camping and trails. It’s out in the wilderness straddling San Diego and Orange County, and interestingly near a military base and a decommissioned nuclear power plant which can easily be seen from the freeway. There’s over 3 miles of sandy beaches within the park which can be accessed with a day use fee for those who don’t plan on camping.

Moonlight State Beach San Diego

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This beach will keep you occupied, with facilities and rentals for everything from fishing to volleyball. Parking can be hard to come by, but once you arrive, you'll see that the trouble was well worth it. Of all the San Diego beaches, this feels the most family-oriented. It's not a quick in-and-out destination, but worth it for a beach day with the kids. 

San Diego Beach Beaches Windandsea

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A well-known, yet tucked-away surf spot with strong waves in La Jolla. Strong waves, big rocks, and a required climb to access make for an untamed gem of a beach. After your day at the beach, follow surfers to The Shack Bar & Grill —named after the Windansea surf shack—for fish tacos and a pint. This isn't a laid back beach and swimming here is not advised because of the big wave breaks. There are no public restrooms or other facilities and those in the water are skilled surfers only. Be aware that Windansea is a popular destination for wedding ceremonies and photos, particularly because of its historic palm-covered surf shack that can be used as an arch or canopy.

San Diego Beach Beaches La Jolla Torrey Pines State Park

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The La Jolla Underwater Park and Ecological Reserve at the La Jolla Shores draws adventurers who come to explore sea caves on kayak tours, and scuba divers who make their way toward the two underwater canyons. Harmless leopard sharks are known to congregate in the area during summertime, and can be easily spotted by divers or snorkelers. The beach is most appreciated on two ends of the spectrum: by travelers looking for an active day in the water, and by parents of smaller children who will enjoy the parks, playground, and gentle waves.

San Diego Beach Beaches Coronado

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Coronado is one of San Diego's most popular beaches with soft white sand, many watersports, and the iconic Hotel del Coronado as the backdrop. You can hit happy hour with your toes in the sand at the hotel’s Beach and Taco Shack or make reservations for a sustainable seafood dinner at Serẽa . Keep an eye out during low tide for the SS Monte Carlo , an old shipwreck that peeks out of the water, on the shore south of the hotel. At the north end of the island, Coronado’s Dog Beach is a favorite with those who wish to let their pup run off-leash.

San Diego Beach Beaches South Ponto

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This untamed shoreline is one of San Diego’s wildest beaches. Secluded by sand dunes, the vast stretch of sand provides a perfect canvas for countless water sports and activities. Just know that there are no businesses within sight of the beach—part of the appeal—so pack in whatever you'll need for the day. For post-beach nourishment, make the short drive south to the Alila Marea Beach Resort for oceanview dining and drinks, or Valentina Restaurant, a neighborhood bistro on Highway 101.

San Diego Beach Beaches Beacon's Beach

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Winding down the sandy path to Beacon's Beach, visitors are greeted by a patchwork of greenery on the sloping hills, and long surf breaks crashing in the sea below. With a neighborhood feel on the sand—and plenty of it for sunbathers—this beach is a local favorite. That walk though, tends to keep crowds away, so once you get down to the water you'll have plenty of space to yourself. Because of the effort involved in getting down to the water, this isn't typically a beach frequented by families. Some of San Diego's beaches can have a universally appealing, vanilla feel to them. Beacon's Beach is not one of them, lacking the masses of tourists, yet just as picturesque as San Diego's most popular beaches.

San Diego Beach Beaches Grandview

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This popular surf spot is aptly named for its view of the water as you descend the wooden stairs, with palm trees framing you on both sides. At the bottom, a narrow, yet seemingly infinite stretch of beach is backed by iceplant-laced cliffs. Onlookers congregate on the stairs to watch a cluster of surfers dotting the horizon. Once you’ve made the climb back up and worked up an appetite, head over to Fish 101 restaurant and try the day's fresh catch. If you finished your surf session in the morning, check out Atelier Manna, a new restaurant in the neighborhood that offers globally-inspired healthy brunch dishes. Grandview stretches on far as the eye can see in both directions, though sunbathers should come during low tide. The lack of restrooms and any other facilities means most visitors don't stay too long, instead taking in the view from the stairs or going for a quick beach walk before moving on elsewhere. All of this means less-crowded waters that surfers will love.

San Diego Beach Beaches South Mission

Mission Beach Arrow

Mission Beach has all the makings of a Beach Boys album cover: a bustling boardwalk, a colorful amusement park, and buzzing mix of locals and tourists. The most popular Mission Beach attraction is Belmont Park , an amusement park that houses the longstanding Giant Dipper roller coaster, built in 1925, bumper cars, and other classic carnival rides. The intersection of West Mission Bay Drive and Mission Boulevard, near Belmont Park, is considered the main drag in Mission Beach. Several businesses are within walking distance, including bike and surfboard rental shops, Draft restaurant on the boardwalk, the newest location of Pizza Port Brewing Co. , and Miss B’s Coconut Club tiki bar. Mission Beach never misses a beat: if you want to be where all the people are—especially the 20-somethings—this is a spot to hit in San Diego. If you're trying to “just get away from it all,” you might prefer other beaches that aren't as built up.


Alila Marea Beach Resort Encinitas

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From Sea Caves to Sunsets: La Jolla's Top Experiences

San Diego is a vibrant city famous for its beautiful beaches, lively culture, and sunny weather. Among its many neighborhoods, La Jolla stands out as a must-visit destination for anyone wanting to experience the essence of coastal living. Whether you're a local or a traveler, there's always something new and exciting to discover here.

La Jolla Adventures: Kayaking and Beyond

La Jolla isn’t just another beach town; it's an adventure hub that caters to all ages and interests. Start your day by heading to the shores to rent a kayak. The best part? You don’t need to be an expert. Many shops offer quick lessons to get you comfortable before you set off. As you paddle out, make sure to take advantage of a La Jolla kayak rental and explore the seven caves. You won't regret it. The caves are accessible mainly by water, providing a thrilling peek into natural marine architecture. While kayaking, keep your eyes peeled for local wildlife, including sea lions sunbathing on coastal rocks and dolphins playfully cutting through the waves.

Walking Through History and Art

After your kayaking adventure, dry off and walk through the heart of La Jolla. The streets here are lined with art galleries and historic buildings, each telling its own story of the area's rich cultural tapestry. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art, a small but impactful venue featuring works from around the globe. The museum's exhibits are thoughtfully curated to include both up-and-coming artists and established names, making it a perfect spot for art lovers of all tastes.

La Jolla’s Natural Beauty: From Land to Sea

Shift from human creativity to the splendor of nature by visiting La Jolla Cove. This small beach is tucked away between sandstone cliffs, offering stunning ocean views and a quieter atmosphere than the more popular beaches. It’s an ideal spot for snorkeling, where you can swim alongside colorful fish and even spot some lobsters if you’re lucky. As the day winds down, consider joining one of the whale-watching cruises in San Diego . These tours leave from nearby docks and provide a fantastic opportunity to see these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. Watching a whale breach the ocean's surface is an unforgettable sight and a perfect end to your day in La Jolla.

Exploring the Culinary Delights

After a day filled with art and adventure, it’s time to explore La Jolla's diverse culinary scene. The neighborhood boasts a variety of dining options, from casual seaside eateries to upscale restaurants. For a taste of local flavors, head to one of the seafood restaurants that line the coast. These spots often serve freshly caught seafood prepared with a unique San Diego twist. Don’t miss trying a regional favorite fish taco paired with a chilled local craft beer.

Shopping and Leisure in La Jolla's Heart

As the day's adventures fade, take the opportunity to indulge in some leisurely shopping in La Jolla. The neighborhood’s unique boutiques and high-end shops offer everything from beachwear and contemporary art to luxury goods and eclectic souvenirs. Stroll along Prospect Street, often called the “Rodeo Drive” of San Diego, where stunning ocean views and an upscale atmosphere complement the shopping experience.

La Jolla's retail scene reflects its coastal elegance, offering items that range from handcrafted jewelry made by local artisans to designer fashion that mirrors the laid-back, sophisticated style of San Diego. As you wander through these shops, you're not just buying items; you're collecting memories of your La Jolla experience. This shopping excursion isn't simply a pastime; it's a pleasant way to discover the local crafts and creativity that thrive in this vibrant community. Whether you're looking for the perfect gift or treating yourself, the shops in La Jolla provide a delightful ending to your day's journey.

Relaxing in La Jolla’s Evening Ambiance

As evening approaches, La Jolla transforms with a new vibe. The sunset views from Ellen Browning Scripps Park are breathtaking, making it a perfect place for a peaceful stroll or a quiet moment to reflect on the day. The park overlooks the ocean, providing panoramic views that are especially spectacular as the sun dips below the horizon. Nearby, street performers and live bands start their shows, bringing music and a lively atmosphere to the heart of La Jolla. It's a wonderful way to soak in the local culture and unwind after a bustling day.

The Endless Allure of La Jolla

La Jolla proves to be a microcosm of San Diego’s broader appeal, combining natural beauty, rich history, and vibrant culture. Whether you're taking a kayaking tour through mysterious caves, admiring contemporary art, or enjoying fresh seafood, La Jolla offers a unique blend of experiences that can cater to every visitor's interests. It’s a place where every day can be a different adventure, and one visit is never enough to fully embrace all that this enchanting neighborhood has to offer.  

Sandy Smith

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13 things to do in san diego this weekend: may 23–26.

Petco Park Events, Gallagher Square

By Ryan Hardison

Happy Memorial Day weekend! With an extra day to rest, there’s no excuse not to make the most of all the fun things to do in San Diego , from a Pulitzer-winning Hamlet retelling to a festival celebrating native plants and the critters that help them thrive. Here are 13 of the best upcoming events in the city.

Food and Drink | Concerts and Theater | Festivals and Art | More Things to Do 

Things to do this week and events in San Diego this weekend including the Vista Strawberry Festival on May 26, 2024

Food & Drink Events in San Diego This Weekend

Havana 1920 diplomático rum pairing dinner.

Cuban cuisine crafters Havana 1920 are launching a new dinner series , pairing their eats with a variety of cocktails that feature Diplomático Rum. This Thursday at 7 p.m., guests will enjoy an off-menu, three-course meal with mixed drinks designed for each dish. GBOD beverage director Ryan Andrews and Diplomático Rum brand ambassador Evan Charest will guide diners through their tasting experience with flavor facts and insights about each rum. The dinner costs $65 per person, including a $25 reservation deposit to secure your spot. 

Subscribe and get 1 year for $18

548 Fifth Avenue, Gaslamp

Cutwater Mezcal Cocktail Class

Curious if you could hold your own behind the bar? Test out your mixology skills with a special cocktail-making class led by bartender Hayley Wilcox this Thursday at Cutwater Tasting Room & Kitchen. Wilcox will teach attendees how to make a fresh and flavorful mezcal paloma and give them the chance to add a special twist to the drink with items from the garnish bar. Guests will also get to sample Mezcal Joven and take home a Cutwater cantarito mug. Spots for this class, which begins at 6 p.m., can be reserved for $35.

9750 Distribution Avenue, Miramar 

Vista Strawberry Festival

The community of Vista—once the strawberry epicenter of California—hosts its annual ode to the scrumptious red berry with a free fruit festival this Sunday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Attendees can enjoy a craft beer garden, contests, a community short film festival , and a smorgasbord of fresh strawberries plucked from local fields. The festival also includes a 5K and kids’ run (one mile or a quarter-mile) the morning of the festival; all runners aged 21 and up will receive one free beer at the festival.

170 Eucalyptus Avenue, Vista

Things to do this week and events in San Diego this weekend including a concert by Maggie Rogers at Petco Park's Gallagher Square on May 23, 2024

Concerts & Theater in San Diego This Weekend

San diego international fringe festival , through may 26.

As the San Diego International Fringe Festival enters its second week, see some of the event’s most innovative productions, such as No Regrets . Held at the Les Girls Theater in Point Loma, the show marries live jazz and burlesque to tell the true story of strippers standing up to corrupt local cops. The Best Man Show at the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre will make you squirm with secondhand embarrassment as a drunken best man speech turns into a full breakdown. Admission to each show is $13, plus the required $7 Fringe Tag. 

3790 Riley Street, Midway | 2130 Pan American Plaza, Balboa Park 

Maggie Rogers at Petco Park’s Gallagher Square

Fresh off the April 2024 release of her album Don’t Forget Me , folktronica artist Maggie Rogers—whose music moved Pharrell in a viral video taken when he visited her NYU classroom in 2016—will perform at Gallagher Square at Petco Park this Thursday night at 7 p.m. Before Rogers takes the stage, catch a supporting set from dream pop artist The Japanese House. Tickets range from $40 to $65. 

840 K Street, Downtown

Fat Ham at the Old Globe

Opens may 25.

The winner of the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Drama , playwright James Ijames’ Hamlet retelling follows Juicy, a queer Black college student tasked by the ghost of his father to pursue vengeance on his killer. Watch him decide whether to heed the call in this tender dramedy. The Old Globe will host 34 performances of Fat Ham during its month-long run on the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage. Tickets for this weekend’s pair of shows start at $42. 

1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park

Coronado Promenade Summer Concert Series

Begins may 26.

The City of Coronado’s free annual concert series returns this Sunday with the first of 16 shows at Spreckels Park. The tunes kick off with a performance from the Coronado Concert Band at 4:30 p.m., followed by Laurie Beebe Lewis & The Electric Underground at 6:30 p.m. Lewis, formerly of The Buckinghams and The Mamas & The Papas, will perform a repertoire of ’60s rock n’ roll hits from the biggest artists of the psychedelic era . 

601 Orange Avenue, Coronado 

Things to do this week and events in San Diego this weekend including the Kuumba Festival from May 24-26, 2024

Festivals & Art Exhibits in San Diego This Weekend

Colors of home exhibit at gallery 21, through june 3.

While venturing Balboa Park’s many cultural offerings , locals and visitors can check out a new exhibition from Encinitas-based artist Denise Cerro at Gallery 21, located within the Spanish Village Art Center. Cerro’s mixed-media works depict abstract yet familiar objects and spaces awash in hues of orange, green, and blue. The gallery will hold an opening reception for Colors of Home from 12 to 4 p.m. this Sunday.

1770 Village Place, Balboa Park

Kuumba Festival at the Educational Cultural Complex

Held in the heart of San Diego’s Black Arts and Culture District , the 32nd annual Kuumba Fest centers Black arts, culture, and dance. The three-day programming includes an African marketplace, reggae musicians, DJs, panels, keynote speakers, and many choreographed dance performances.

6727 Imperial Avenue, Encanto

Undocumented Times / Queer Yearnings at Oceanside Museum of Art

On display at the Oceanside Museum of Art through October 6, Undocumented Times / Queer Yearnings is a collection of poems and paintings depicting Mexican-American artist Alexa Vazquez’s coming-of-age story as an undocumented queer and trans woman immigrant. On Saturday, June 8, see Undocumented Times and the upcoming More Disruption exhibition at a dual opening reception that is free for museum members and $15 for visitors. 

704 Pier View Way, Oceanside

Pollinator Festival at Native West Nursery

From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Saturday, amateur botanists and green-thumb gardeners can help nurture nature at The Little Barn at Native West Nursery. Shop and take home more than 100 native plant species and enjoy live music, local craft vendors, educational booths, kids’ activities, and food from The Go Go food truck. Attendees can also buy herbal products, flower bouquets, candles, and glass art and learn about conservation, pollinators, plant species, and local environmental programs. RSVP for this free event here . 

1849 Leon Avenue, Tijuana River Valley 

Things to do this week and events in San Diego this weekend including astronaut Terry Virts speaker series in La Jolla

More Fun Things To Do in San Diego This Weekend

Terry virts: how to astronaut at the baker-baum concert hall.

Out of the billions of people to ever walk the Earth’s surface, less than a thousand have ever ventured through the Earth’s atmosphere into outer space. Astronaut Terry Virts is part of this esteemed club. As part of the La Jolla Music Society’s Speaker Series , Virts will reflect on his time as commander of the International Space Station and journey from flying F-16s to guiding the Space Shuttle Endeavour. He’ll share photos and videos shot on his zero-gravity expedition , giving the audience a glance at what life is truly like among the cosmos. Tickets for Thursday’s speaker event at The Baker-Baum Concert Hall, beginning at 7 p.m., range from $23 to $48. 

7600 Fay Avenue, La Jolla

Santee Street Fair & Craft Beer Festival

TThe Santee Chamber hosts a day of free, family-friendly fun at the 14th annual Santee Street Fair . In addition to exploring live music, art exhibitions, carnival rides, and more than 300 craft vendor and food booths, San Diegans can enjoy a pancake breakfast served up by local Boy Scouts and taste the best of local breweries at the craft beer garden. Ticket options for the beer garden include five six-ounce beer samples for $15 or 10 samples for $20. VIP beer and lunch tickets cost $25 and come with 10 tasters and a bacon-wrapped hot dog courtesy of Doggos Gus.

198 Riverview Parkway, Santee

Ryan Hardison is a freelance arts and entertainment writer and recent graduate of San Diego State. When he's not staring at his laptop, he's likely eating an adobada burrito or getting sunburnt at the beach.

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Things to do this weekend: Memorial Day weekend, Santee Street Fair and Craft Beer Festival and more

There’s always something fun to do in america’s finest city. our weekend events guide is here to help, by brenda gregorio-nieto • published may 23, 2024 • updated on may 24, 2024 at 11:51 am.

There’s always something fun to do in America’s Finest City. Our Weekend events guide is here to help. Get up. Get out. Play!

What to Know

  • Our Weekend Events guide is published every Thursday in our In Your Neighborhood section of
  • Like our mission always, our guide will do its best to span the county -- north, south, east, and west — to bring you fun, fresh and affordable things to do in San Diego
  • Have any events to share? Please send them to [email protected]

24/7 San Diego news stream: Watch NBC 7 free wherever you are

Friday, May 24

Jimmy's Buffet Santana Ways 9 p.m. at Belly Up| $22-$39 This nine-piece party will have you singing like a tailgater.  The Buffet always brings a wildly fun stage show, setlist & the musicianship of Steel Drums, Congas & real Caribbean Melodies. 

Get San Diego local news, weather forecasts, sports and lifestyle stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC San Diego newsletters.

Valley Center Stampede Rodeo & Memorial Festival 6 p.m. at Star Valley Park| $25 (Tickets for rodeo sold exclusively online . Festival entry is free) The Valley Center Stampede Rodeo & Memorial Festival is held annually in the rural town of Valley Center, CA over the Memorial Day weekend.

Stir 8 p.m. at The Old Globe| $89 A Globe-commissioned, world-premiere play about family, food, and healing. Two siblings, separated by distance and circumstance, meet to share their mother’s favorite recipe. 

Legacy Week 2024 Memorial Day weekend at the USS Midway Museum   This event features a Top Gun Maverick Party & Movie Night and exclusive encounters with aviators with their aircraft to a solemn Memorial Day Wreath Ceremony.

Barbie-Summer Movies in the Park 15 minutes before sunset at Waterfront Park|Free Summer Movies in the Park is the largest free and family-friendly outdoor movie series in San Diego County, with dozens of hosting sites and over a hundred screenings.

What else is happening around town?

places to visit in california san diego

Timeline: Giant pandas at San Diego Zoo

places to visit in california san diego

San Diego County parks showing 100+ movies for free this summer

Saturday, may 25.

Santee Street Fair and Craft Beer Festival 10 a.m. in Santee A one-day block party over Memorial Day weekend with live entertainment, art displays, a kids zone and more. 

Julian Rocks - Gem Show 10 a.m. at the Julian Town Hall| Free There will be fine minerals, gems, crystals, slab, homemade jewelry and more. Plus there will be local artists, crafts and over 20 retails dealers and vendors. 

The FABBA Show - Tribute to Abba • Dim The Lights  9 p.m. at Belly Up| $20-$35 Their awesome homage to ABBA is completely unique and full of fun and laughter. With hit after hit song including Take a Chance, Mama Mia, Dancing Queen and more.

Gloria Trevi 7 p.m. at Cal Coast Credit Union| $49-$150 Gloria is a Singer/Songwriter originally from Mexico, with more than 35 million albums sold. She will be making a stop in San Diego as part of her tour. 

Sing Dance Crawl 11 a.m. in downtown San Diego| $75+ This electrifying all-day affair features a selection of San Diego’s premier venues in the Gaslamp Quarter.

Sunday, May 26

Miramar National Cemetery Veterans Memorial Service 1 p.m. at the Miramar National Cemetery Amphitheater| Free A special program to honor and remember over 1.2 million American men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice defending our country. At Miramar National Cemetery, there are over 30,000 veterans and their families interred.  

2024 Vista Strawberry Festival 8 a.m. in historic downtown Vista| Free There’s something for everyone, like contests, kids play zone, entertainment, art, film festival, vendors and, of course, strawberries. 

Fat Ham 7 p.m. at The Old Globe| $47 The 2022 Pulitzer-winning, Tony-nominated sensation Fat Ham is a fresh and funny take on Shakespeare’s Hamlet that The New York Times called “a flat-out hilarious comedy.”  Coronado Concert Band 4:30 p.m. &6:30 p.m. at the Coronado Promenade The 2024 series features 16 concerts across five months. Performing this weekend is the Coronado Concert Band and Laurie Beebe Lewis & The Electric Underground.

Monday, May 27-Memorial Day

Mt. Soledad's Memorial Day Ceremony 2 p.m. at Mt. Soledad The memorial honors veterans, living or deceased, from the Revolutionary War to the current war on terror, with an image of the veteran.

Fort Rosecrans Memorial Day 10 a.m. in Point Loma| Free The Fort Rosecrans Memorial Day celebration is one of San Diego's largest and most celebrated memorials dedicated to our fighting men and women.

17th Annual Pancake Festival 8 a.m. at Webb Lake Park| $15 but breakfast is free to veterans, active duty and children under 3 The Rancho Bernardo Historical Society's 17th Annual Pancake Festival honors our Military on Memorial Day. There will be a special performance by the Gyminny Kids Circus Demonstration Team, face painting, and a silent auction along with great raffle prizes.

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Mission Bay July 3 Fireworks

Prepare for a summer spectacle like no other! In partnership with SeaWorld San Diego, we invite you to bask in the glow of a majestic fireworks extravaganza on Mission Bay, all set to a festive soundtrack in partnership with 101.5 KGB. Join us on July 3rd at 9pm for a breathtaking evening where the skies will dance with colors and lights, creating memories that will sparkle long after the night ends. Our partners across Mission Bay have crafted special programming to ensure that you have the best seat in the house including exclusive viewing areas, themed activities & entertainment, and food & beverage specials.

Let the symphony of fireworks against the stunning backdrop of San Diego’s Mission Bay elevate your summer celebrations. Why not turn the fireworks show into a holiday weekend escape? Take advantage of the special packages and promotions offered by our Mission Bay hotels. Extend your stay and enjoy all the amenities that make Mission Bay the gem of San Diego.

This July 3rd, let the sky above Mission Bay be your canvas for memories that will last a lifetime. Whether you’re a San Diego local or visiting from afar, bring your best oohs and ahhs, this event is one you won’t want to miss.

places to visit in california san diego

Neighborhood: Mission Bay and Beaches

Date & time.

Jul 3, 2024 9:00 PM - 9:30 PM

More to explore

Port of san diego big bay boom.

The Port of San Diego Big Bay Boom July 4th Fireworks Show is back, promising another spectacular display over San Diego Bay. Fireworks will be discharged simultaneously from barges placed strategically around the Bay off Shelter Island, Harbor Island, Embarcadero North, Marina District and Coronado Ferry Landing. The impeccably choreographed display will last approximately 18 minutes.

Come down to the bay and enjoy the biggest fireworks show in San Diego!

San Diego French Film Festival

San Diego Francophone Event of the Year

Bike the Bay

San Diego's finest annual cycling event across the Coronado Bridge and around the bay!

Ride the bridge, Bike the Bay for the 17th annual ride on Sunday, August 25, 2024! Cruise around San Diego Bay and enjoy your only opportunity to ride across the San Diego Coronado Bay Bridge. This non-competitive community bike ride is for riders of all abilities and will take you on a scenic, and primarily flat ride, around the San Diego Bay via the Bayshore Bikeway. Along the way, riders will travel through the surrounding cities of Coronado, Imperial Beach, Chula Vista, and National City before finishing back at the start/finish line at Embarcadero Marina Park in downtown San Diego.

San Diego County Fair

With a nod to nostalgia and a focus on fun, the 2024 Fair will give our yesteryears another moment in the San Diego sun. Bop your way around the happy days of the ‘50s. Twist, shout, and shake it into the bewitching ‘60s. Move and groove through the disco nights of the ‘70s. Moonwalk it back to the gnarly age of big hair, shoulder pads, and parachute pants of the ‘80s. And enjoy the era of flannel and floppy drives of the ‘90s.

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Migrants from around the world have made this stretch of California the top place to enter the U.S. illegally

People line up on a desert landscape with a small mountain behind

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At dawn came a dozen men, women and children from Nepal. Following in the twilight was a cluster of families from Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, along with half a dozen Chinese men.

Behind them were men from India and couples from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan carrying infants.

Scattered migrants kept arriving at the top of a steep dirt road to surrender to U.S. border agents in order to claim asylum.

“I am finally here, in America,” Justin Agbobli, 30, who had traveled from Togo in West Africa, proclaimed in French. “Today is a dream come true!”

People carry belongings on a desert terrain

San Diego County has become the most popular spot for migrants illegally entering the United States, according to the latest government figures. With 37,370 arrests last month, it was the busiest of the Border Patrol’s nine sectors along the southern border for the first time since the 1990s.

Tijuana, Mexico, Thursday, April 25, 2024 - Hundreds of asylum seekers who used a CBP phone app to make an appointment, are led to their interviews with U.S. customs agents at the San Ysidro Border Crossing. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

World & Nation

Migrants play ‘the asylum lottery’ on controversial U.S. government app

Depending on whom you ask, the federal immigration app CBP One is a solution to the border crisis, a human rights violation or a ploy to let anyone into the U.S.

May 9, 2024

Driving the numbers is a massive increase in people from countries that usually don’t account for much illegal immigration.

It has long been the case that the majority of migrants arriving along the 2,000-mile border come from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. But a dramatic shift has been underway along the 60-mile stretch that makes up the San Diego sector.

People climb over boulders

Between Oct. 1 and March 31, those four countries accounted for just 20% of the 185,469 apprehensions in the San Diego sector. The other 80% were arrests of people from China, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Turkey, India and a vast array of other faraway places.

The diversity here reflects a massive worldwide movement of people that has been attributed to a variety of factors, including continued economic fallout from the pandemic, rising political repression and increasing ease of international travel.

In this photo taken on Sept. 5, 2017, a little-known mural by Diego Rivera, "Water, the Source of Life," is seen inside a monument to Mexico City's water system called the Carcamo de Dolores, or the Dolores Sump. Originally painted to be viewed underwater, the pool was drained when it became clear that the work would slowly be ruined. The hydraulic structure is located inside the Second Section of the Mexican capital's Chapultepec Park. (AP Photo/Anita Snow)

This mega-city is running out of water. What will 22 million people do when the taps run dry?

The challenge in Mexico City, built amid lakes by the Aztecs, had long been getting rid of water, not storing it. Now its taps are running dry.

March 21, 2024

As to why San Diego has become the favored crossing spot on the U.S. border, experts point to a crackdown by Mexican authorities that has made it harder to reach Texas.

Migrants and the smugglers they hire have long sought out the path of least resistance.

That now appears to be San Diego.

On a recent morning in the tiny community of Dulzura, a 36-year-old industrial engineer from Turkey who had just crossed the border from Mexico would give only his first name, Melih.

“You might see me as an invader — and yes, you are right, in a sense, I am invading your country,” he said. “But I am coming to your country to commit no crime. This — crossing the border illegally — is the only crime I have ever committed in my entire life.”

He said he wanted to enter the country to work but was told there was a two-year wait at U.S. consulates in Turkey just to apply for a tourist visa. “Who can wait that long?” he asked before stubbing out a cigarette butt and heading uphill to join the line of some 100 migrants turning themselves in.

People wash with water at an outdoor spot

For much of the 1980s and ‘90s, San Diego was ground zero for immigration polemics.

“They keep coming,” intoned an inflammatory 1994 campaign ad for Republican Gov. Pete Wilson that included footage of dozens of migrant families charging up Interstate 5 just north of the border.

“Enough is enough,” Wilson declared at the end of the spot.

The furor about illegal immigration resulted in the Clinton administration’s signature Operation Gatekeeper, which militarized the border with a frenzy of fence-building, agent deployments and installations of sensors, lights and cameras.

Steel walls went up in places where the line once featured stands of repurposed metal sheets designed for makeshift military airstrips in Vietnam.

But more walls didn’t stop people from coming. Instead, the flow shifted east to Arizona and Texas.

The border wall glows in late afternoon sunlight

Now, a quarter-century later, human traffic along the border is moving west.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott asserts that’s because of his actions — posting National Guard forces and state troopers along the Rio Grande and installing barbed wire and other barriers.

“Our stiff resistance is working,” Abbott wrote on X in February.

CIUDAD JUAREZ , MEXICO - MARCH 21: Hundreds of foreigners who camped at the border, broke the fence with their hands, sticks and different tools they had, placed blankets over the spikes and entered the United States, through the area known as Gate 36 in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico on March 21, 2024. American authorities kneeled migrants waiting to be processed. On the Mexican side, an operation is implemented by the Municipal Police and the National Migration Institute, who they remained waiting for what might happen. (Photo by Christian Torres/Anadolu via Getty Images)

The standoff at Gate 36: Texas sends in the troops to block migrants from seeking asylum

Immigration enforcement has long been the domain of the federal government. Texas is trying to change that.

March 27, 2024

Experts said it is possible that talk about the Republican governor’s Operation Lone Star has steered some migrants away from Texas. Word spreads quickly on social media platforms where migrants share travel tips.

But a much bigger factor, experts said, is that Mexico — under pressure from the Biden administration to help curb illegal immigration — has clamped down on migrants hopping on freight trains bound for areas near Texas.

“Mexican authorities have put a lot of pressure on key migration routes to Texas, and that may be forcing people to try other routes further west,” said Cris Ramón, senior advisor on immigration for the Latino civil rights organization UnidosUS. ”Migration is a dynamic phenomenon, and people are going to adjust and find the circumstances where they have the best chance to reach the United States.”

Indeed, the total number of apprehensions along the entire border between Oct. 1 and March 31 — slightly exceeding 1 million — was nearly unchanged from the same period a year earlier. That’s because a 29% drop in the Texas sectors was counterbalanced by a 134% increase in the Tucson sector and a 69% rise in the San Diego sector.

FILE - A photo composite of people holding an image of their missing relative in Iguala, Mexico and surrounding towns, taken between April and August of 2015. Karla Quintana announced her resignation on Aug. 24, 2023 as head of Mexico's National Search Commission, an entity created to search for and identify a mounting number of disappeared people in Mexico. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, File)

Is the Mexican government hiding how many people have gone missing?

Critics say the government of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is trying to downplay how people have disappeared in recent years.

Feb. 15, 2024

Multibillion-dollar networks of smugglers quickly assess where enforcement pressure is most stringent and adapt. In Tijuana, so-called coyotes guide migrants to remote areas of eastern San Diego County, where border fencing is scant, or to gaps gouged in the metal wall near the giant port of entry in the U.S. border community of San Ysidro.

Migrants interviewed said smugglers had directed them to the Tijuana-San Diego corridor without explaining why — even though the trip here involves more than 1,000 miles additional travel compared with some points along the Rio Grande.

“The smugglers charged us $3,500 each from Ecuador — for me and my girlfriend — and I thought that was a pretty fair price,” said one 30-year-old who would give only his first name, Exar. “I know a lot of people paid a lot more.”

People sit and stand near large rocks.

Like many migrants, he said he put his faith in the professionals, choosing smugglers who were highly recommended by compatriots.

He and his girlfriend flew from Ecuador to El Salvador, and from there traveled in various cars through Central America to Mexico, he said. Once in Tijuana, the smugglers led him and his group to a hole in the border fence.

A mechanical engineering student from a middle-class family, he said he left Ecuador after gangs made extortion demands on his father, who runs a soldering shop. Now he was hoping to reach the home of a brother in New Jersey.

“I understand why Biden and Trump want to stop immigration,” he said. “But it’s a little late for that, no?”

The most dramatic increases in migrant apprehensions in the San Diego sector involve people from China. Between Oct. 1 and March 31, there were 23,890 arrests of Chinese.

That was 18 times the total during the same period a year earlier and accounted for nearly all Chinese migrants detained border-wide.

Increases in arrests were also substantial for other countries whose citizens previously accounted for relatively few illegal border crossings.

Ecuador: up 499% to 13,654.

Colombia: up 114% to 35,819.

Brazil: up 622% to 12,698.

Turkey: up 88% to 6,786.

India: up 331% to 6,560.

People crowd onto a van

Many migrants interviewed had flown from Africa, Asia or Europe to South America and trekked north through the Darién Gap, a 60-mile stretch of dense rainforest between Colombia and Panama. Getting people across the gap has become big business in recent years, boosting its allure as a conduit to United States. Last year it drew more than 500,000 migrants.

Others avoided the Darién, flying from Colombia to Central America or directly to Mexico, then made their way to Tijuana, which has an extensive infrastructure that caters to migrants.

“Why do people come to Tijuana and San Diego? It’s very simple,” said Rafael Fernández de Castro, who heads the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at UC San Diego. “Because Tijuana is the border city best equipped to receive migrants, where there are more shelters, more hotels, a major airport, more coyotes, more business — all the good and the bad we have in Tijuana.”

Once they cross the border, most migrants these days don’t run from the Border Patrol. They seek out agents to give themselves up to claim asylum — and eventually have a chance at legal residency in the United States. Many are unaware that a Biden administration policy change last year means that people who cross illegally are presumed ineligible for asylum.

On a recent morning, more than 100 men from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America huddled near a campfire at a rough camp within view of passing traffic on Interstate 8 outside the California high-desert community of Jacumba Hot Springs, an hour’s drive east of San Diego. Border Patrol agents had swung by the camp at dawn and picked up parents with children, but not single men, the stranded migrants said.

A Border Patrol agent speaks to a family

Several Chinese men were irate about having to wait for hours in the blustery weather.

“Why don’t American police like Chinese?” asked one man, who gave his name as Long, 35, and said that he was an engineer back home in Guangdong province and that he sought freedom and economic betterment in the United States.

Finally, agents showed up and led the Chinese men, along with others, to a Border Patrol bus waiting to take them off to detention.

Many detainees are soon freed with court dates a year or more away to appear for immigration hearings.

Almost daily, white buses contracted by the Border Patrol drop off scores of migrants at a trolley station parking lot in San Ysidro. Many express surprise at having been released from custody so quickly after having crossed illegally into the United States.

Performers bring the first night of celebrations to a close in Juchitan de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, Mexico on 17. Nov 2023.

The muxe, Mexico’s ‘third gender,’ are part of a worldwide LGBTQ+ movement

The muxe — Indigenous Zapotec people in Mexico — view themselves as neither man nor woman. They embrace a distinct ‘third gender,’ part of a burgeoning LGBTQ+ movement worldwide.

Jan. 22, 2024

Border Patrol agents load men into the back of a van.

“So this is California?” asked Hernán Torres, a 49-year-old former security guard from Colombia who was held for two days and planning to go to Denver to find work.

He surveyed the parking lot, where entrepreneurs speaking fast-paced Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic and other tongues were sizing up new arrivals, offering rides and other services. Money-changers bared wads of hundred-dollar bills.

The U.S. government was dispatching additional agents to the San Diego area in response to the recent increases in migrants arriving there, according to a senior Customs and Border Protection official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Mexican authorities were doing the same on their side of the border.

“Just like we’ve done in the past, when the cartels shift, we adjust our operations,” the official said.

Children play soccer in the dirt with a tent in the background.

Those efforts, he said, might eventually reduce migration in the San Diego sector. But he suggested that it was only a matter of time before new routes would emerge somewhere else.

“The cartels,” the official said, “are constantly trying to find ways to exploit and circumvent enforcement.”

Times staff writer Andrea Castillo contributed to this report.

More to Read

Tijuana, Mexico, Thursday, April 25, 2024 - Hundreds of asylum seekers who used a CBP phone app to make an appointment, wait to for a scheduled interview with U.S. border agents at the San Ysidro Border Crossing. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

San Diego is now the top border region for migrant arrivals

April 25, 2024

U.S. border, United States-May 11, 2023-U.S. border patrol agents make contact with migrants hoping to cross into the United States from Tijuana, Mexico on May 11, 2023. Some migrants have been waiting a week in an area south of the second border wall in anticipation of a change in immigration policy, Title 42, which may allow them to apply for asylum. U.S. border patrol agents give out one bottle of water and one granola bar to each person. There are approximately 500 people in this one camp. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Biden administration gives California $45 million to help recently arrived migrants

April 15, 2024

Asylum seekers from Columbia huddle against the cold and rain at a makeshift camp

Migrant arrests are up along the border in California and dropping in Texas. Why?

Feb. 26, 2024

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You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.

Foreign correspondent Patrick J. McDonnell is the Los Angeles Times Mexico City bureau chief and previously headed Times bureaus in Beirut, Buenos Aires and Baghdad. A native of the Bronx, McDonnell is a graduate of Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism and was a Nieman fellow at Harvard.

places to visit in california san diego

Robert Gauthier has been with the Los Angeles Times since 1994. He was the photographer for a project detailing the failings of an L.A. public hospital that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for public service. Before The Times, Gauthier worked at the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Escondido Times-Advocate and the Bernardo News in San Diego County, his hometown.

More From the Los Angeles Times

FILE - Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, Friday, April 14, 2023. A top assassin for the Sinaloa drug cartel who was arrested by Mexican authorities last fall has been extradited to the U.S. to face drug, gun and witness retaliation charges, the Justice Department said Saturday, May 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Top assassin for Sinaloa drug cartel extradited to U.S. to face charges, Justice Department says

May 25, 2024

Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., left, and Sen. Laphonza Butler, D-Calif., speak during a mark up business meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

California Sen. Alex Padilla convinces colleagues to vote against bipartisan border bill

May 24, 2024

Bright yellow blooms carpet the ground, a sharp contrast to the imposing steel bollards of the border wall topped with rolls of razor wire as members of the California's Baja Rare conservation project lead a botanical expedition with botanists and citizen scientists to document native plants along the U.S.- Mexico border on Friday, April 19, 2024, in the Ejido Jacume in the Tecate Municipality of Baja Calif., Mexico. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Botanists scour the U.S.-Mexico border to document forgotten ecosystem split by border wall

May 23, 2024

THOUSAND OAKS, CA - APRIL 15: Kim Ballon a Ventura County In Home Support Services (IHSS) care provider attends to Marjorie Williams, 84, at her Thousand Oaks home as California does little to track safety of health care workers during the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic. Ballon is worried about a lack of protective gear though she regularly cares for elderly clients, helping them bathe and multiple tasks. (keep as a silhouette) Thousand Oaks on Wednesday, April 15, 2020 in Thousand Oaks, CA. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

California could boot thousands of immigrants from program that aids elderly and disabled


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  2. 8 Most Beautiful Places in San Diego to See While High

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  3. Top 10 Things To Do In San Diego When You Visit Tripstodiscover

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  4. The Best Things to See and Do in San Diego, California

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  5. Balboa Park, The Largest National Cultural Park in San Diego

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  6. Things You Must Do When Visiting San Diego

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  1. 32 Fun Things to Do in San Diego

    The best things to do in San Diego, California, include exploring Balboa Park, eating authentic Mexican food in Old Town, and relaxing on the shores of La Jolla.

  2. 18 Best Things to Do in San Diego

    Our top recommendations for the best things to do in San Diego, California, with pictures and travel tips. A list of places to visit and explore, sights to see, events to attend, fun activities ...

  3. Things to Do in San Diego, CA

    1. USS Midway Museum. 25,692. Speciality Museums. Admission tickets from $32. Located in downtown San Diego, the USS Midway (Museum) was America's longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century. Today, the interactive museum is an unforgettable adventure for the entire…. See ways to experience (63) 2023.

  4. 18 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in San Diego

    Among the highlights of the park are the botanical gardens and lily pond, the Museum of Man, the Museum of Natural History, the San Diego Museum of Art, and the famous San Diego Zoo. Even if you never go into a building, the park is simply a beautiful place to visit. Address: 1549 El Prado, San Diego, California.

  5. THE 15 BEST Things to Do in San Diego

    6. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Although this park is located within San Diego's city limits, it remains one of the wildest landscapes along the Southern California coast, with miles of unspoiled beaches, chaparral, elegant Torrey Pine trees and a lagoon vital to many species of migrating birds. 7.

  6. THE 30 BEST Places to Visit in San Diego (UPDATED 2024)

    6. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Although this park is located within San Diego's city limits, it remains one of the wildest landscapes along the Southern California coast, with miles of unspoiled beaches, chaparral, elegant Torrey Pine trees and a lagoon vital to many species of migrating birds. 7.

  7. Explore Things to Do in San Diego

    Explore the infinite options for activities in San Diego. The hardest part of planning your trip is figuring out what to do, what to see and where to go. ... Here's a list of the can't-miss things to see, do and sample when you visit Petco Park. Discover ... Suite 1500, San Diego, CA 92101 TEL. 619.232.3101. The San Diego Tourism Authority ...

  8. The 10 Best Things to Do in San Diego

    6. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Although this park is located within San Diego's city limits, it remains one of the wildest landscapes along the Southern California coast, with miles of unspoiled beaches, chaparral, elegant Torrey Pine trees and a lagoon vital to many species of migrating birds. 7.

  9. THE 10 BEST Things to Do in San Diego (2024)

    6. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Although this park is located within San Diego's city limits, it remains one of the wildest landscapes along the Southern California coast, with miles of unspoiled beaches, chaparral, elegant Torrey Pine trees and a lagoon vital to many species of migrating birds. 7.

  10. Best things to do in San Diego

    Key attractions include San Diego History Center with exhibitions on the city; San Diego Air and Space Museum, which is a shrine to all things aviation; the interactive anthropological San Diego Museum of Us ; San Diego Natural History Museum, packed with 7.5 million specimens; San Diego Museum of Art and the zoo.

  11. Discover San Diego Attractions

    Attractions. 11. Belmont Park. The best of San Diego in one beachfront block. Belmont Park. 3190 Mission Boulevard. San Diego, CA 92109. (858) 228-9283. Neighborhood: Mission Bay and Beaches.

  12. Top 10 Things to Do in San Diego

    California's third-largest city, San Diego is brimming with art, culture, culinary prowess, entertainment, and natural beauty. But it also boasts one thing that has long drawn visitors: It has perhaps the best weather in the United States‚ with typically more than 260 sunny days a year.

  13. THE 15 BEST Things to Do in San Diego

    Worth the walk. Review of: Seaport Village. Written May 12, 2024. This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews. Things to Do in San Diego, California: See Tripadvisor's 858,198 traveler reviews and photos of San Diego tourist attractions.

  14. 18 Best Things to Do in San Diego for a Great Time

    7. Petco Park. Home to the San Diego Padres MLB team, Petco Park baseball stadium is located smack-dab in the middle of downtown San Diego, and it's a great family-friendly destination to watch ...

  15. 15 of San Diego's Must-See Attractions

    The San Diego must-see list is nearly as long as the gorgeous coastline gracing this Southern California destination. From Carlsbad to Coronado, this sunny gem quite literally has it all—pristine sandy waterfronts and epic waves, ample natural beauty, world-class museums, and theme parks galore.

  16. 57 Best & Fun Things To Do In San Diego (California)

    The 10 Barrel Brewing Company is one of the best spots to grab a beer in San Diego. In a city with hundreds of bars and brewpubs, it stands out from the crowd for both style and substance. Address: 1501 E St, San Diego, CA 92101, United States. 8.

  17. 25 Top Tourist Attractions in San Diego (+Map)

    A lovely place to visit and live, sun-kissed San Diego is often called 'America's Finest City' and it is easy to see why. Besides boasting a huge stretch of scenic coastline, the city is blessed with natural beauty, a mild southern California climate, and is famed for its laidback vibe and surfer culture.

  18. 77 Best & Fun Things to do in San Diego, California [2024]

    The huge, 100-acre San Diego Zoo has a reputation for being the best in America and ranks among the top zoos in the world. The worldwide renown of San Diego's zoo makes it one of the top things to do in San Diego, California. There's plenty to see at the San Diego Zoo, with over 650 species and more than 3,700 different animals.

  19. 21 BEST Places to Visit in San Diego (2024)

    Old Town. Old Town is an area of San Diego that marks the birthplace of the state of California. It is the site of the first Spanish settlement in the early-1800s and today still retains much of its historic charms and architecture. Visit the Junipero Serra Museum to see exhibits and displays on the life in Old Town.

  20. THE 10 BEST Things to Do in San Diego

    Cabrillo National Monument. 4,893. Historic Sites. Stately monument honoring Cabrillo, discoverer of San Diego Bay, is located in Point Loma that overlooks the city and the Bay. See full details. See ways to experience (21) 2023. 8. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.

  21. 50 Best Things to Do in San Diego (California)

    10. Old Town San Diego State Historical Park. Source: meunierd / shutterstock. Old Town San Diego State Historical Park. A time warp back to the mid-19th century, the State Historical Park in the Old Town is scattered with restored historic buildings, including five original adobes, as well as detailed replicas.

  22. 25 Fun & Free Things to Do in San Diego

    Visit Old Town and witness the living legacy of San Diego history. Guests are invited to wander free through Old Town's historic buildings, including the blacksmith shop, Seeley Stables, Stewart House, Estudillo House and the oldest schoolhouse in San Diego. Be sure to visit the recently opened Iipay ~ Tipay Kumeyaay Mut Niihepok (Land of the ...

  23. The 30 things everyone should do at least once in San Diego ...

    Stacker compiled a list of the highest rated things to do in San Diego on Tripadvisor. Tripadvisor rankings factor in the average rating and number of reviews. - Rating: 5.0 / 5 (25,371) - Type of ...

  24. The Best Beaches in San Diego

    Our top recommendations for the best beaches in San Diego, with pictures and travel tips. Find fun things to do, best places to visit, unusual things to do, and more for couples, adults, and kids.

  25. From Sea Caves to Sunsets: La Jolla's Top Experiences

    San Diego is a vibrant city famous for its beautiful beaches, lively culture, and sunny weather. ... Brunch & Dinner Cruises By Category Seafood Fine Dining Places To Stay Hotels Resorts Motels Vacation Rentals Hostels Plan Your Visit San Diego Deals About San Diego Weather Transportation Airports Bike Rentals San Diego Car Rentals Charter ...

  26. 13 Things To Do in San Diego This Weekend: May 23-26

    Festivals & Art Exhibits in San Diego This Weekend Colors of Home Exhibit at Gallery 21 Through June 3. While venturing Balboa Park's many cultural offerings, locals and visitors can check out a ...

  27. Things to do this weekend in San Diego on Memorial Day Weekend

    Saturday, May 25. Santee Street Fair and Craft Beer Festival 10 a.m. in Santee A one-day block party over Memorial Day weekend with live entertainment, art displays, a kids zone and more.

  28. Things to do in San Diego this weekend: Memorial Day events near me

    The New York Yankees are heading to San Diego for a series against the San Diego Padres over Memorial Day weekend. Friday, May 24, 2024 - 6:40 p.m. vs. New York Yankees

  29. Mission Bay July 3 Fireworks

    The Port of San Diego Big Bay Boom July 4th Fireworks Show is back, promising another spectacular display over San Diego Bay. Fireworks will be discharged simultaneously from barges placed strategically around the Bay off Shelter Island, Harbor Island, Embarcadero North, Marina District and Coronado Ferry Landing.

  30. This stretch of California is the new hotspot of illegal immigration

    For much of the 1980s and '90s, San Diego was ground zero for immigration polemics. "They keep coming," intoned an inflammatory 1994 campaign ad for Republican Gov. Pete Wilson that included ...