San Diego, located in Southern California near the Mexican border, is the state’s oldest city. It has enthralling natural beauty and a mild Mediterranean climate with plenty of sunshine, making it ideal for outdoor activities.
Balboa Park’s museums, gardens, and Spanish Colonial-style architecture are among the city’s most popular tourist attractions, as are the world-famous San Diego Zoo and the Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum.
Stroll through the streets of Old Town San Diego State Historic Park or the Gaslamp Quarter for a taste of history and shopping. If you want to soak up some of San Diego’s famous year-round sunshine, the city’s beaches are some of the best in Southern California, with more than 68 miles of coastline for sunning, swimming, and surfing.
With our list of top attractions and things to do in San Diego, you can plan your sightseeing in this beautiful SoCal city.
Tourists will find Balboa Park to be a one-stop wonderland. This 1,400-acre site includes historical structures, museums, gardens, and green space. The park was built for the Panama California Exhibition of 1915-1916, and most of the buildings from that event still stand. The predominant architectural style is Spanish, with low-rise buildings that blend in with the natural surroundings.
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 are all highlights of the park. Even if you never enter a building, the park is a lovely place to visit.
Address: 1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA
The San Diego Zoo, a popular tourist attraction in Balboa Park, is one of the largest and most well-known zoos in the United States. One of the best things to do in San Diego with kids is to visit this family-friendly attraction. Plan to spend at least a full day here to get the most out of your visit.
There are many exotic animals to see here, but perhaps the most famous are the giant pandas, which have been successfully bred here. Gorillas, grizzly bears, koalas, leopards, bonobos, polar bears, rhinos, and sloths are among the other popular animals, and all of the animal enclosures are designed to replicate natural settings for each species.
Do you want to spend more time with your favourite animals? Sign up for behind-the-scenes and close-up animal encounters to enhance your experience.
The zoo, which is spread out along a beautifully landscaped canyon, also has an impressive botanical collection, with over 700,000 plants from all over the world on display.
The zoo, conservation organisations, and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, which is about a 40-minute drive north of downtown San Diego, are all run by the non-profit San Diego Zoo Global.
The safari park, as the name suggests, provides a more African-style wildlife-watching experience, with free-roaming animals on large acreage. If you have older children who don’t mind walking longer distances, this is a good option. Bring binoculars! Insider Tip:
2920 Zoo Drive, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA 92101
The Gaslamp Quarter National Historic District, located near Petco Park and the Convention Center, is the centre of the city’s nightlife. It’s a great place to go after dark if you’re looking for things to do in downtown San Diego.
Restored late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Victorian structures now house buzzing entertainment venues, trendy shops, art galleries, and restaurants serving every cuisine imaginable, from Persian food to pizza. This is an excellent venue for live jazz, comedy, or theatre performances.
The district stretches for about 16 blocks, from Broadway to San Diego Bay, and is easily walkable, but bike taxis are available if your feet need a break.
Walking along the Embarcadero in San Diego, you might be surprised to see one of the largest ships in the US military. The decommissioned USS Midway is berthed permanently at Navy Pier.
More than 60 exhibits and 25 restored aircraft are among the highlights of a visit to the USS Midway Museum. More than 225,000 military personnel served on the ship, and you can learn about its history by taking a self-guided audio tour. You can also use the flight simulator on board for an additional fee.
San Diego, California 910 North Harbor Drive
San Diego’s Seaport Village is a delightful place to spend an afternoon strolling around. This area of unique shops and restaurants is one of the city’s must-sees and is located right on the waterfront.
Picnic tables, benches, and waterfront patios can be found throughout the area, and weekends can be extremely crowded. In the afternoons, eclectic performers take to the outdoor stage on a regular basis. The hand-carved wooden horses on the historic carousel are a favourite among children.
Many of the nearby attractions, including the USS Midway, are easily accessible on foot. Because parking at Seaport Village is limited and expensive, it may be best to park a little further away and enjoy the walk along the waterfront to the site.
San Diego, California, West Harbor Drive and Pacific Highway
San Diego is ideal for a beach vacation due to its year-round sunshine and miles of beautiful surf-washed coastline. Whatever you enjoy doing, San Diego’s best beaches provide conditions for every type of activity.
Mission Beach, with its buzzing beachfront boardwalk and seaview cafés, is ideal for people-watching and soaking up the rays. Ocean Beach exudes hippy chic, and dog owners can let their pooches run free at the aptly named Dog Beach. Surfing is also popular on these well-known beaches.
If surfing is your top priority, Del Mar is one of the best places to go. Pacific Beach, Trestles, Swami’s, and Black’s Beach are also popular surf spots, and beginner surfers should head to Oceanside or La Jolla Shores.
Do you want to take the kids to the beach for a day of sun, sand, and sea? Del Mar, Silver Strand, Coronado Beach, and La Jolla Shores are the best family-friendly beaches in San Diego. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, with scenic hiking trails and soaring sea cliffs, is ideal for those looking for a wild and rugged stretch of coastline.
Do you want to know when is the best time to visit San Diego for a beach vacation? It all depends on what you want to do. Winter storms bring big swells to surfers. If you’re a swimmer, summer is the best time to go, but if you’re going to the coast to soak up some sun or stroll along the beach, you can do so any time of year.
At the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, you can step back in time and experience some of San Diego’s rich culture. From 1821 to 1872, when this settlement grew from a small Mexican pueblo, the park recreates the feel of the Mexican and early American periods.
Visit a working blacksmith shop, browse the art studios, listen to live Mariachi music, and dine on a sunny patio at one of the atmospheric restaurants. Many of the historic structures, including five original adobe structures, have been repaired, and others in the same historical architectural style have been added.
The Old Town State Historic Park is one of California’s most popular state parks. There is no admission charge, and many of the attractions are free of charge. You can also sign up for free walking tours, which are available twice a day.
San Diego, California 4002 Wallace Street
Point Loma is one of the best places to visit in San Diego because of its breathtaking views of the city and the Pacific Ocean. You can begin taking in the scenery on the scenic road up to Point Loma. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Mexico, and you may even see dolphins or whales.
In 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo made his first landing on the west coast of the United States. At the Cabrillo National Monument, you can learn about the history of his incredible “Voyage of Discovery” through a variety of displays and exhibits. A large statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo stands guard over the land he discovered.
The Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which was built in 1858, is also located on Point Loma. The refurbished lighthouse building can be toured by visitors.
Hiking the scenic trails is another popular activity in this area. Take the one-mile Bayside Trail to the tide pools if you have children with you.
Mission Beach, San Diego’s seaside neighbourhood, exemplifies the sunny Southern California lifestyle. The stunning blonde-sand beach is the main attraction here.
Swimming, sunbathing, surfing, and beach volleyball are popular activities, and a three-mile scenic boardwalk runs along the shore. On a sunny day, you’ll see locals rollerblading, skateboarding, strolling, cycling, or dining at one of the many beachside cafés or restaurants.
Belmont Park, an East Coast-style seaside amusement park complete with a historic roller coaster, excellent restaurants, fairground eateries, and street performances, is a highlight of Mission Beach. It’s a popular family attraction in San Diego.
The awe-inspiring experience of a Southern California sunset will appeal to romantics. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, which stretches for 68 acres along coastal bluffs above the Pacific Ocean, is one of the best places to visit. The location offers an unrivalled vantage point for viewing ocean panoramas as the sun transforms the horizon from blue to glorious rosy-toned hues.
During the grey whale migration season, the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park provides an opportunity to see these graceful creatures as they make their way to Baja California in Mexico.
The tours include a cruise under the Coronado Bridge, and you can sit indoors or on deck. Snacks and beverages can also be purchased.
Basilica of the Mission The first mission in California was San Diego de Alcala. Junipero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan Father from Majorca, founded the mission stations in 1769, with the first being built in San Diego. However, a few years after its establishment, it was relocated six miles inland due to disagreements between Spanish troops and Indians.
The Fathers sought refuge with the army after the Indians set fire to the new mission in 1775, and it wasn’t until 1777 that they built a new mission station with the help of the Indians.
The mission is now a National Historic Landmark and an excellent place to learn about San Diego’s early history.
Highlights include a visit to the old church with a bell tower, which was designated a basilica in the 1970s, a stroll through the peaceful gardens, and a look through the fascinating exhibits in the small museum. You can take a self-guided tour or pre-book a guided tour on the website.
10818 San Diego Mission Road, San Diego, CA 92101
The San Diego Museum of Art is a must-see for art lovers looking for a cultural fix. Its distinctive facade is a replica of the 17th-century Salamanca University in the plateresque style, with finely chiselled terra-cotta work. The entrance is adorned with busts of Spanish painters, and their artworks are among the many eclectic exhibits on display.
The museum’s collection includes works from all over the world, including some dating back 7,000 years. Highlights include works by Spanish and Italian old masters, as well as South Asian paintings and American art from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Address: 1450 El Prado, San Diego, CA
San Diego is a great place to see migrating whales in Southern California. At various times of the year, blue whales, grey whales, humpbacks, and minke whales can be seen, as well as seals, dolphins, and even orcas.
Whale watching trips are one of the most popular things to do in San Diego from December to April, when the grey whale migration begins. Blue whales migrate during the summer months, from mid-June to September.