Is San Diego worth visiting? In my opinion yes, it’s a great city to visit. First of all, the city is located in the sunshine state of California and benefits from an appealing all-year round climate. The city has a relaxed and friendly vibe to it and offers something for everyone whether you are into outdoor activities, cultural experiences or having fun. There are many interesting places to visit in this city and there are also some hidden gems worth exploring.
Where is San Diego USA ?
San Diego is a bustling city of over 1 million people tucked into the southwestern corner of the USA in California. And when I say southwest, I mean it.
San Diego is situated right on the Pacific Ocean coast and about a twenty-minute drive from Mexico. San Diego is literally the most southwestern city in the USA. Located approximately 120 miles (190 km) south of Los Angeles and next to the Mexican border, San Diego is also well-positioned if you want to carry on your trip to Mexico.
📍 Map Here
What to See in San Diego USA?
San Diego has a lot to see from parks, beautiful landscapes, museums and activities for children. Here are some of the top things to do the next time you visit San Diego.
To make sure you don’t miss out on an excursion or an activity, we recommend that you pre- book. Below is our selection of the best activities in San Diego:
- Sights & Sips 2-hour Sunset Cruise on San Diego Bay
- The USS Midway Museum: Skip-the-Line Ticket
- San Diego Dinner Dance Cruise
- 90-Minute San Diego SEAL Tour
- More Activities here
1. The San Diego Zoo
Probably one of the most well-known tourist destinations in the American southwest, the San Diego Zoo is home to about 3,700 animals belonging to 660 species and subspecies. The San Diego Zoo has award-winning enclosures and breeding programs and has helped to save the California Condor, a critically endangered bird native to California whose numbers are now slowly rising.
Up until recently, the zoo also had a very successful panda breeding program that helped to get pandas off the endangered animal list (they are still considered vulnerable though). When I visited, I was lucky enough to see the pandas close up but, even though they have now returned to China, there are still so many other animals to see! Watching the newly born giraffe with her parents was another amazing and memorable sight.
The zoo puts on some great displays that showcase some of the amazing things that animals can do which are great fun and educational for children. Added to that, the landscaping of the zoo is beautiful and is full of attractive flora and fauna. If you don’t mind crowds this can be a great way to spend a day.
2. La Jolla Cove
If you are looking for something a little more affordable, the beach might be the way to go. The Jolla Cove is part of a 6000-acre ecological reserve meaning the water and environment are still in a very natural state. This makes for one of the most breathtaking places to go for a swim or snorkeling, or just catch some rays.
One of the downsides though is that it is a popular place, so some of the beaches can be crowded at times. In addition, it is not just popular with humans. Depending on the beach and the time of day, you might also see seals and sea lions. Make sure you give the wildlife their space though, they are still wild!
3. Petco Park
If you are a sports fan then you will know that San Diego is the home of the Padres. Although it has been a while since they have been to the World Series, they are still a fairly good team, and it’s fun to watch a live game.
Built in 2004, Petco Park is one of the more modern parks and is widely regarded as one of the best stadiums in major league baseball. Petco Park also has a wide variety of food to try out during the game. They sell everything from sashimi to pizza to good ‘ole American hot dogs, so no matter your taste in food, anyone can have a good time at the stadium.
4. San Diego Museum of Art, Balboa Park
If zoos and baseball are too loud for you, a relaxing afternoon in the art museum might be a better idea. One of the great things about the San Diego Museum of Art is that the entrance itself is a work of art. The door has a traditional Spanish renaissance facade around it inspired by the Cathedral of Valladolid. Once you get inside, there is a huge collection of art ranging from renaissance to abstract..
Whilst you are at the museum, check out the rest of the 1,200 acre Balboa Park which includes beautiful gardens and trails, performing arts venues and other cultural institutions and monuments like the California Tower. I walked around the gardens, visited various monuments and went shopping for artisan gifts in the Spanish Village Art Centre by day and saw a play at The Old Globe theatre by night.
You can easily spend a couple of days enjoying what Balboa Park has to offer and it’s a popular spot for locals to relax and visit at the weekend. If you are in the mood for something more relaxing and less sandy, this is a great option.
One of the things that San Diego is known for is the seals and sea lions that call San Diego home. The best way to see these seals and sea lions is by taking an ocean kayaking tour. For this one, you are going to need a little bit of upper body strength, but if you can handle a little bit of a work-out, these tours can be amazing.
When I went on a kayaking tour, I got to see plenty of seals, sea lions, and other wildlife. There was one sea lion that was less afraid of humans just sitting on a rock right next to us as we passed. Not every tour group is lucky enough for a sea lion to come that close, but when it does happen it is astounding! Whether you are doing a tour of the coast or of sea caves, you are bound to see some amazing wildlife.
6. Mission San Diego de Alcala
One thing that many people don’t know about California is that some of the earliest buildings were built by Spanish priests. In an attempt to claim dominion and spread Catholicism to the new world, King Carlos III ordered the area to be colonized. In 1769, the first mission was built.
There is a total of 21 missions throughout the state with mission San Diego da Alcala being the oldest. The mission is still an active parish church to this day and holds Mass daily. If you want to go and learn about the historical and cultural significance of the mission, tours are held daily Monday through Friday.
7. Sea World San Diego
Besides the zoo, Sea World is probably the biggest tourist attraction in San Diego. Sea World has a wide variety of sea animals that perform in multiple daily shows. Sea World also has some interactive exhibits. I enjoyed petting the manta rays and feeding the sea lions. There is even one sea lion that likes to show off by throwing his fish up in the air and catching it.
Between the exhibits and the shows, there is plenty to do and learn at Sea World. In addition, Sea World San Diego also has several high-speed rides to keep the big kids and small kids happy!
If you want to experience the sea for yourself, maybe spending the day surfing would be a better idea. There are many different companies that offer board rentals and even basic lessons. Like snowboarding and other sports that require excellent balance, you can expect to fall down a few times, but once you get the hang of it, it can be one of the most amazing experiences.
If you are lucky, you might be able to see some wildlife first hand. I have seen dolphins in the distance and went right over a sand shark once. I have even had a sea lion pop his head up right next to me. If you are lucky, you might be able to get some incredible wildlife experiences while surfing.
9. Sunset Cliffs
One of the best things about being on the west coast is watching a sunset over the ocean. As the name of this park suggests, Sunset Cliffs is one of the best places to see that amazing California sunset. The west side of this park is all ocean cliffs which provides a great place to view the daily natural spectacle.
At the base of the cliff is a beach great for swimming or sunbathing. There are plenty of viewing spots to catch the sunset. One of the more scenic areas, Luscomb’s point, is an especially popular venue for weddings.
If you here at the right time of year, you might even get to see the California grey whale making its annual migration.
10. Old Point Loma Lighthouse
This lighthouse is one of the oldest monuments in San Diego, The lighthouse has not been in use for over 100 years, but is open to the public as a museum.
Like many lighthouses from the 1800s, this lighthouse was not just a lighthouse, but also the home to the keepers and their families. Over the years, there were 10 different keepers for this lighthouse. The museum shows how people lived in these lighthouses and what the day-to-day life was like for the keepers.
You may also be interested in:
11. Whale Watching
From December to April, California gray whales can be seen off the coast of San Diego. Every year they come from Alaska to Baja California to give birth in warmer climates that are better for calves. During this time, they are very easy to catch sight of. In fact, they are so abundant that some whale watching cruises will give you another trip for free if you don’t see any whales.
Either way, there are always plenty of seals and sea lions to see. Most of the tour boats have indoor and outdoor seating, so you don’t need to worry about what the weather will be like. You can focus on watching the whales.
12. San Diego Ghost Tours
If you are interested in the more spooky side of the city, then a ghost tour might be for you. San Diego is said to be one of the most haunted cities on the west coast. On these tours, they take you around the city to various locations that are haunted and share ghost stories.
Even if you aren’t interested in ghosts, these tours can be a good way to learn about the history of the city. The tours have more than just ghost stories, they also include a lot of genuine history about the city and the buildings that are supposedly haunted.
13. Mission Beach
Mission Beach is one of the most popular beaches in the city. Whether it is just hanging out on the beach or catching some waves, Mission Beach has plenty to do. Due to the fact that Mission Beach has manned lifeguard towers, it is a very common beach for families, especially if they have younger kids. So if you are looking for a quieter beach, this might not be the one.
Along the boardwalk, there are plenty of popular restaurants and bars, so it won’t be hard to find somewhere to eat come lunchtime. This beach totally fits the classic southern California stereotype and so is a must for anyone visiting San Diego. This is also where you can find the beach front amusement park, Belmont Park.
14. Coronado Beach & Hotel del Coronado
If you are looking for a less crowded, calmer beach then Coronado might be the beach for you. It is a much calmer beach, both in the waves and in the people. There tend to be fewer people at this beach and, due to where the beach is in the bay, the waves are very small. This means that it might not be the best beach for surfing or other sports that require waves, but it is a great place for a quiet afternoon of sunbathing.
One of the unique things about this beach is that there is mica in the sand which makes it glitter gold. Many visitors say that is beach is also one of the best ones to watch the sunset. And as someone who has seen the sunset from Coronado beach, I would have to agree.
Just up from the sand is the Hotel del Coronado. It is also referred to as The Del or Hotel Del. When the hotel first opened in 1888, it was the biggest hotel in the world. It stays famous to this day because it has hosted many big names.
Presidents, celebrities and even royalty have all stayed in this luxurious hotel. This hotel has become even more famous through its many appearances in books and movies. It can be a bit pricey, so you may decide not to stay here, but it is at least worth checking out the luxurious and glamorous interior.
15. USS Midway Museum
This museum is one of those rare opportunities where the public gets to see things that are normally off-limits. People get the chance to see the ‘behind the scenes’ of an aircraft carrier. The USS Midway was the longest active aircraft carrier serving almost 50 years.
Over its years of service, about 225,000 sailors were stationed on this ship. Some of those people now volunteer as guides in the museum so much of the information provided is first-hand knowledge. Between that and the self-guided audio tour, there is an abundance of information available.
This has become one of San Diego’s top attractions, so getting there early is recommended to avoid long lines. The museum is definitely worth visiting. Book here to avoid disappointment.
16. San Diego Harbor Dinner Cruise
If you are looking for a romantic evening in San Diego, this might be the tour for you. The dinner cruise takes about 3 hours and lets you enjoy fine dining whilst soaking up the beauty of the San Diego harbor.
For information about the best dinner cruise in San Diego, click here.
The food is of a good quality and there is live entertainment, so it can be a pretty expensive night, but the wonderful atmosphere and the great food make it worth it. There is nothing quite like a nice meal while watching the harbor views go by.
17. Belmont Park
Belmont Park is one of the most iconic amusement parks in the United States. It was originally built in 1925 not just to provide entertainment, but the builder wanted to attract people to Mission Beach to buy land. It is still attracting people to this day, though today the people are more interested in a day of fun, and are not there to buy land.
The biggest attraction nowadays is the wooden roller coaster, The Giant Dipper. The Giant Dipper was there on day one and is still standing and running, making it one of the oldest coasters in the US. Although the park has changed hands quite a lot over the years, it is currently doing very well and remains a major attraction.
18. Deep Sea Fishing
You can’t have a seaside city without having fishers, and San Diego is a great place for deep-sea fishing. There are plenty of different companies that go out for tours and fishing so booking a fishing day shouldn’t be too hard. They even provide the gear, so you don’t need to worry about buying your own pole and bait. They also have temporary fishing licenses, so you don’t have to worry about that side of things either.
As they say, there are plenty of fish in the sea, so it’s not too hard to catch one. Once you do, you can even get it filleted and take it home for dinner. If you don’t want to eat it, you can always just release it back into the wild. Some of the fish out there can get up to 40 lbs so be prepared just in case a big fish grabs your line!
19. Torry Pines Natural State Park
Torry Pines is a great place to see some amazing things. The Torry Pine, the tree the park is named after, is a tree that only grows in two places, Torry Pines Park, and an island off shore from Santa Barbara.
Not only are there rare trees, but there is also a large salt marsh area within the park. This salt marsh is home to many different kinds of waterfowl. If you are lucky, you might get to see the fastest animal in the world, the Peregrine Falcon, which can dive at over 200 mph.
There are plenty of hiking trails in Torry Pines Natural State Park too. Some of the trails can be somewhat difficult, so make sure to bring snacks and water.
20. Seal Rock
A nice little area, that is somewhat hidden away, is Seal Rock. As you can imagine, this rock got its name from the large number of seals frequently seen in the area. There is a small beach off to the side of Seal Rock that is protected by a jetty. This area was originally intended as a play area for small children, that is why that section of the beach is known as the children’s pool, but the seals really took a liking to it, and now it is more common to see the beach covered in seals.
Seal Rock is a rocky cliff right next to this section of the beach that provides a great view of the seals. Though you can see seals almost anywhere, this area consistently has seals and has a good viewing point.
21. Old Town San Diego
To get a feel of San Diego’s original inhabitants, head to the Old Town. This is the oldest settled area in San Diego as the Kumeyaay people who lived here date back 9,000 years. Within the Old Town San Diego are many historic buildings, museums, hotels, authentic Mexican restaurants and artisan shops. There is also traditional entertainment which adds to the atmosphere of this place.
Is San Diego Worth Visiting ?
As you can tell, there are many fun and interesting things to do in San Diego. From amusement parks to beaches to ghost tours, there truly is something for everyone in San Diego. So, when you decide to visit, check out these great attractions.