San Diego City Guide
Sometimes called “America’s Finest City,” San Diego has great weather year round, 70 miles of beaches and many family friendly attractions, including the world famous San Diego Zoo. You’ll enjoy globally-inflected California cuisine and local wines as you explore all that the city has to offer. Take a hike, visit a museum or just relax by the beach – you really can’t go wrong in this SoCal paradise.
5 Things You Must Do in San Diego
Stroll the Embarcadero
Perhaps the perfect place to start your visit to San Diego, the Downtown waterfront area is a symbol of San Diego’s maritime history and packed with sights to see and explore. You will encounter the USS Midway Museum, housed on the longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century, and the Maritime Museum of San Diego, which restores and operates historic vessels. You can visit the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, which also has a campus in La Jolla, to see a wide variety of art created since 1950, including site specific installations. Seaport Village is a great place to shop and eat, or ride the carousel which features hand carved horses from 1895. Other things to enjoy at the Embarcadero, which is now the fastest growing cruise port on the west coast, include multiple public parks, art installations, sightseeing boat tours and, of course, the beautiful bay views.
Go Back in Time
Head to Old Town San Diego State Historic Park to see the birthplace of California and get a glimpse into what colonial life was like. Old Town is also known for its restaurants (don’t miss the authentic Mexican cuisine), shopping and museums. The Junípero Serra Museum is an iconic regional landmark situated on the site of the first permanent European settlement in what is now California. Also in Old Town is The Whaley House, a great example of mid-nineteenth century Greek Revival architecture, site of San Diego’s first commercial theater and one of the most haunted houses in all of America. Equally spooky is the Davis-Horton House in the Gaslamp District, another historic part of town that is considered the center of San Diego’s nightlife scene and home to numerous great restaurants and cultural institutions. For less of a scare, check out The Warner-Carillo Ranch House, California’s first regular overland stage connection with St. Louis, or the San Diego Archaeology Center, where you’ll learn the story of how people lived in the area over the last 10,000 years. End your historic wanderings at Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave. The only entrance to a sea cave from land is through a door in the back of a surf shop that leads to a century old bootlegger’s tunnel. Instead of being lowered into the cave by a rope, as they did when it first opened to the public, you’ll have to descend (and climb) 144 stairs to reach the colorful sea cave and hidden ocean view.
Spend the Day at Balboa Park
With its 1,200 acres, 17 museums and plentiful gardens, you could easily spend more than one day at Balboa Park. The cultural center of San Diego, Balboa was the second dedicated urban park in the country after Central Park in New York City. It was named after Spanish Explorer Vasco Núnñez de Balboa during the 1915 California-Panama Exposition. Now, the historic landmark buildings and neighborhood are home to the world renowned San Diego Zoo and so much more. The California Building from the exposition has a recognizable tower that guides visitors to the Museum of Us, a cultural anthropology site with interactive exhibits. Other educational museums in the area include the San Diego Air & Space Museum, the Fleet Science Center and the San Diego Natural History Museum. Art museums are also well represented in Balboa Park, and you can choose between the San Diego Art Institute, the Museum of Photographic Arts, the Timken Museum of Art and the San Diego Museum of Art. When you need a break, relax in one of the numerous gardens in the park like Japanese Friendship Garden, Veterans Memorial Garden, the sustainable and edible EthnoBotany Children’s Peace Garden, popular wedding spot Marston House Garden or the must-see Botanical Building and Lily Pond.
Don’t Just See Museums, Experience Them
Of course there are fabulous art museums with thought provoking pieces in the area like the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and the Oceanside Museum of Art, but there are also immersive exhibitions and experiences to explore. Journey through the past, from meteorites to dynastic Chinese artifacts and more modern additions from the last two centuries at the Heritage of the Americas Museum. Educate and inspire at Women’s Museum of California, with exhibits about feminism and history-making women. Give the kids a little love at the San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum, where play is serious learning. Take a load off and ride one of the historic trains at the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association, then prepare to catch some waves at the California Surf Museum. Lastly, get totally immersed in sound at the Museum of Making Music and the Taylor Guitar Visitor Center and Factory Tours.
Go to the Beach
You can’t be so close to the coast and not enjoy all of the water sports and picturesque beaches the San Diego area has to offer. It’s hard to narrow down the long list of beaches you can visit, but these are some of our favorites. Coronado Beach, near the storied Hotel del Coronado, has everything you could want in a beach experience and literally sparkles from the mica in the sand, making it one of America’s finest beaches year after year. Imperial Beach, just five miles from the Mexican border and the most southwestern city in the US, and is home to the Tijuana Estuary Visitor Center, a great place to see migrating birds. The La Jolla coastline has sea cliffs, secluded coves, open beaches and wonderful reefs and tide pools. Solana Beach has secluded beaches you can access by descending the staircases that line the coastal cliffs and is a great place to stroll and admire the caves carved by the tides. If you’re looking for the best waves or a nude beach, hike to Black’s Beach beneath the Torrey Pines bluffs.
5 Things You Might Not Have Considered in San Diego
Catch a Show
The weather is so nice in San Diego that you might never want to go inside. Luckily, Cinema Under the Stars brings the movies outside. Catch current films and beloved classics while sitting in zero gravity lounge chairs. For those few less than perfect days, the venue has a weatherproof retractable dome and infrared heating. San Diego is also home to the Tony-award winning La Jolla Playhouse, where many Broadway shows got their start.
Eat the World in One Room
There are great restaurants all over San Diego, but you can usually only get one style of cuisine in each location. Enter Liberty Public Market, San Diego’s first seven-day a week public market house in historic Liberty Station. Enjoy craft beer and coffee along with eats inspired by the cuisine of Maine, Hawaii, Texas, Korea, Peru and more. The whole Little Italy neighborhood is a hot spot for fabulous food, especially on Kettner Boulevard, but if you’re looking to please disparate eaters in one room head to the Little Italy Food Hall, where there’s a full bar and dishes from Italy and beyond. Whatever you do, don’t skip the gelato!
Stop and Smell the Flowers
The Flower Fields of Carlsbad bloom with fifty acres of brightly colored Giant Tecolote Ranunculus for six to eight weeks each spring. The area also has pick your own blueberries, an antique tractor wagon tour, an orchid greenhouse and a sweet pea maze. If you visit during a different season, you can still see beautiful flora and fauna at the San Diego Botanic Garden, which is home to the nation’s largest bamboo collection, among its other unique gardens. If you’re looking for a bit more of an adventure, take a hike at Anza-Borrega Desert State Park, the largest state park in California, or Mission Trails Regional Park, the largest urban open space park west of the Mississippi and just 12 miles from downtown San Diego.
Pretend You’re a Peak Athlete
If you visit during baseball season, you’ll definitely want to catch a Padre’s game at Petco Park. Out of season, you can still go on a tour of the stadium to get a taste of the magic. Not a baseball fan? Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center is where US Olympians and Paralympians train for track & field, rugby, archery, cycling’s BMX and more. Take a guided tour and pick up some apparel at the gift shop on the way out. No one will know you were just visiting.
Go Beyond the Zoo
You can’t visit San Diego and not go to the zoo. It’s San Diego’s thing. But if you want to see even more exotic animals and try your hand at feeding them, head to Lions, Tigers & Bears, a big cat and exotic animal rescue sanctuary. The no kill, no breed refuge cares for over 65 abused or abandoned animals. Take a guided tour or spend the day with one of the keepers to meet the protected inhabitants up close.