San Diego, with its favorable coastal seat and year-round sunshine, definitely makes an ideal and exciting destination for sun-seekers and adventures. From scenic coastline spots and beautiful gardens to titillating cuisines, there are also plenty of amazingly cool things to do in San Diego. Billed as the birthplace of California, SD is home to some of America’s finest cultural offerings as well, with museums and galleries aplenty as well as districts drenched in history. Whether you’re traveling alone or with your family, you will find little to no reason to stray from the natural wonders and attractions in San Diego.
Not sure what to do in San Diego? Wondering where to go in San Diego? Don’t worry, as we’ve rounded up some of the top and most exciting things to do in San Diego.
1. Admire the stunning sunsets at Sunset Cliffs
They don’t label it as “Sunset Cliffs” for nothing. After all, it is one of the most awe-inspiring places in San Diego to catch a sunset, as you stare out at the ocean. If you visit it on the right day, you’ll have a chance to see dolphins or even whales that migrate up and down its coastline.
Surfing is utterly incredible in SD. With an impressive 70-mile coastline, SD is truly a surfer’s paradise. Even if you’re not a certified surfing buff, you should at least give it a shot during your San Diego vacation. And who knows? There might be a future surfing champion waiting to be unleashed inside you. For the surfing experience in SD, hit the beach towns of La Jolla, Pacific Beach, Mission Beach and Ocean Beach.
3. Try the city’s water sporting thrills
Yearning for a dose of water adventure? There’s more to the city’s fabulous coastline than huge swells and surf boards. Trust me, there are plenty of things to do in San Diego for those who are into water sports, including scuba diving, kayaking, sailing and jet-packing.
4. Spend the whole exploring Balboa Park
Balboa is like SD’s version of Central Park, with 1,200 acres of gardens, museums, performing art venues, fountains and hiking trails to explore. Spend the entire day in the park, and just lose track of time.
5. Visit the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier
On the surface, it doesn’t look catchy or a worthy place to stop by. No matter how big it is, the last thing tourists want to do is to visit an old ship. Surprisingly, though, a lot of recent visitors have ranked the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier as one of the best things to do in San Diego. What’s more, it appeals seem to span all genders and ages.
Once you’ve hopped aboard ship, you’ll get to explore a floating city that allows you to relive more than 40 years of history. Plus, the museum has self-guided audio tours to 29 restored aircrafts and more than 60 exhibits throughout the longest-serving Navy aircraft carrier in the 20th century.
6. Check out San Diego Zoo
You can’t leave San Diego without visiting its most precious wildlife sanctuary – the 100-acre San Diego. Not only is it one of the country’s largest and most famous zoos, but it also houses one of the world’s largest collections of endangered and rare animals (around 3,500). Here, you’ll come face to face with a ton of fascinating creatures, including koalas, polar bears, elephants, giraffes, giant pandas and a whole lot more.
To see everything that San Diego Zoo has to offer, you’ll need a dependable map and great deal of energy. If your feet grow weary exploring, there’s a bus that will give you a 35-minute guided tour of the park. Plus, there’s the Skyfari aerial tram that lets you travel from one end of the zoo to another, offering a bird’s eye perspective of the exhibits below. Aside from its extraordinary collections of animals, the zoo also hosts animal encounter programs and shows every day as well as educational 4-D film theaters with movies about the wildlife.
7. See the next big thing in the music industry
Are you a bona fide music fan who’s looking for cool things to do in San Diego? Guess what? For years, music lovers have flocked to SD to discover local talents and bands before the broke, like Blink 182, Iron Butterfly and Jason Mraz. Today, the diverse music scene of SD is alive and kicking at numerous notable venues, such as The Casbah, and the Belly Up Tavern.
8. Take a hike to Potato Chip Rock
The Potato Chip Rock is arguably the most hyped hiking trail in California. While the hike can be quite an uphill challenge, it nevertheless is a great workout with breathtaking panoramas of San Diego.
9. Wander around Gaslamp Quarter
Gaslamp Quarter, as San Diego’s historic heart, wonderfully blends Victorian charm with a flourishing shopping and 21st-century entertainment scene. Known in the 19th century as SD’s red light district, the whole area has been revitalized for the past 20 years, and is now home to over a hundred retail stores. For those who are not too fond of shopping, you may likewise hit its trendy restaurants, theatres, art galleries and eye-catching old buildings.
10. Soak up the views from the Cabrillo National Monument
Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo – a 16th century Spanish explorer – was the first ever European to set foot in San Diego. In 1542, Cabrillo stepped on the shore near this area in SD. We’re not sure if he climbed to the promontory’s top or not, but people nowadays who make it up here get to enjoy some of the city’s best views, looking towards downtown and across the Bay. Besides the enthralling views, there’s also a visitor center, a historic lighthouse and striking tide pools down below.
11. Experience Sea World
Traveling with kids? Then, don’t forget to include a visit to Sea World to your list of things to do in San Diego. As you visit Sea World, you’ll get to experience a ton of colorful shows as well as see marine animals up close. In some cases, you can even feed and touch them.
12. A spooky experience in Old Town
Located in SD’s Old Town, the Whaley House is one of California’s only two officially-designated haunted houses. Built on the town’s former gallows’ site in 1856, the house once served as a home to the extremely wealthy yet troubled Whaley Family. Rumor has it that many of the clan’s members never left the house.
13. Get a sneak peek into glorious seaport days of SD
The Maritime Museum offers an exciting, hands-on insight of SD’s days as a busy seaport. From submarines to sailing ships, you can tour all kinds of historic vessels in this museum, such as the Star of India – the oldest active ship in the world. Furthermore, a visit in this museum will give you a new and deeper understanding of the skill and workmanship required of every sailor. As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the best things to do in San Diego, for those who love the maritime life.
14. Explore Torrey Pines State Reserve
No list of the best things to do in San Diego is complete without the inclusion of Torrey Pines State Reserve. Deemed as one of the best places to visit in SD, this reserve is made up of a plateau with eye-catching cliffs overlooking Torrey Pines State Beach as well as a lagoon that plays a vital role to the migrating birds.
Of course, there are tons of different kinds of flora and wildlife within the area, including the rare Torrey pine, coastal chaparral, cacti, rabbits, coyotes, raccoon, skunks, foxes and bobcats. Not to mention, it has a small museum and around 8 miles of trails to offer to hikers.
15. Hit La Jolla Cove
One of the top must-try things to do in San Diego, for beach lovers and photography connoisseurs, is to swing by La Jolla Cove. Thanks to its extraordinary natural beauty, La Jolla Cove has been often labeled as one of Southern California’s most photographed beaches. More than just an Instagram-worthy spot, the beach is also the most desirable spot in San Diego for diving, snorkeling and kayaking. With its ecologically-protected and calm waters, the beach has become a safe haven for rays, yellowtail, garibaldi and even leopard sharks.
16. Take a culinary city tour
Are you a big-time foodie? Explore the city with your taste buds on a delectable culinary tour with a unique tour company like Bite San Diego. Discover the city’s rich and eclectic culinary scene by visiting a medley of markets, bars, cafes and restaurants, while learning about the history of SD’s love for food.
17. Unwind at Coronado Beach
On the lookout for free things to do in San Diego? Why not spend a few hours chilling like a villain at Coronado Beach. Compared to the other beaches in San Diego, this beloved shoreline has calmer waves and few sunbathers, making it in ideal escape for weary travelers. Popular with couples and families alike, this beach beckons travelers with its idyllic location, peaceful atmosphere, clean sands and miles-long shoreline.
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