Top-21 Things to do in San Diego, California [video included]
There are so many things to do in San Diego, California it can be a challenge not to get FOMA (fear of missing out) when visiting this world-class city. San Diego is often affectionately referred to as “SD.” The city is made up of a series of coastal communities that beckons Snow Birds (people escaping the cold) and Zonies (people escaping the heat) throughout the year. From young and old, there is a plethora of outstanding activities to partake in throughout San Diego Country.
I have an affinity for San Diego as I’ve lived there a couple of times and have visited often. San Diego’s most popular attractions are Sea World and its famous zoo, but everyone knows that, so I am going to share my top-21 favorite things to do in San Diego beyond those two staple attractions.
Here are the Top Things to do in San Diego
Biking on the beach or boardwalk throughout San Diego is a great way to explore the coastal areas of the city. Bikes and scooters are available for rent at many locations. My two favorite places are the downtown area (Seaport Village, Waterfront, Gaslamp and Harbor Island) and Coronado Island, which is a great place to ride on the beach.
For those braver souls, hang gliding in Torry Pines is a must! Perched atop a high cliff above Black’s Beach a tandem hang gliding flight at the Gliderport is a phenomenal experience. Torrey Pines Gliderport is known as the birthplace of hang gliding and Tandem flights are conducted almost daily during the Spring and Summer months.
There are so many places to take in the wildlife in San Diego. At La Jolla Cove you will likely find seals basking on the beach, as well as seagulls and pelicans. If you get out in a boat or take a cruise, you will likely see whales, dolphins, sea otters and more.
OLD TOWN SAN DIEGO
Old Town is located in the heart of San Diego with several nearby hotels to choose from and is convenient to everything in San Diego. Old Town also boasts some great restaurants with a variety of shops nestled within a Spanish setting. Old Town is a place to experience California’s first settlement, the birthplace of the State.
Stroll along the boardwalk for beautiful views of San Diego Bay. Enjoy the diverse mix of street entertainers and discover great local restaurants, enchanting boutiques and the legendary carousel. After that, head to the grassy knolls near the water and perch under a shade tree to read a book or have a picnic and watch the yachts make their way into the Marriott Marina.
Marinas, museums, water features, cruise ships, public art, parks and so much more line the Downtown Waterfront area. Many of San Diego’s primary attractions are in this area, including the famous “Kissing Statue.”
CLIMB MT. HELIX
The peak of Mt. Helix provides a 360 degree view of San Diego. You’ll know you arrived when you see the giant white cross. There is a small parking lot near the top where you can get out and explore some of the trails as well as the large amphitheater where season events are held.
Not long ago Liberty Station was a large naval base, today is is a place to live, work and play. There are a slew of restaurants and bars with a massive park and access to an inlet where you can kayak or paddle board (rentals available). Heading south by water takes you under bridge that leads into San Diego Harbor. If you’re in the area and are hungry, be sure to check out Point Loma Seafoods for the freshest seafood in town.
Belmont Park is a historic amusement park located on the coast in Mission Bay Beach. The park opened on July 4, 1925 and is one of the last remaining seaside amusement parks. In addition to the historic wooden roller coaster, visitors have a slew of carnival-like attractions to entertain themselves.
CABRILLO NATIONAL MONUMENT
Enjoy breathtaking views of San Diego Harbor and Coronado Island. The century-old lighthouse, Point Loma history, National Cemetery and tide pools are just a few of the activities that will keep you busy for hours.
POINT LOMA NATIONAL CEMETERY
This area not only provides one of the best views in San Diego, it’s a peaceful place to pay respect to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. To the west is an unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean, to the east you can see San Diego Harbor and Coronado Island.
If you love water sports, San Diego has them all, from surfing, paddle boarding, water skiing, sailing, kayaking and more. If you don’t have your own equipment, there are plenty of places to rent what you need. Oh, and one of the most fun water sport activities is driving your own speed boat on a tour of the harbor. If interested, check out Speedboat Adventures.
San Diego is known for its epic sunsets, so much so, there is even a place dedicated to watching the bright ball of fire fall below the water horizon line. Sunset Cliffs is an expensive area, allowing viewers to find a place to snuggle up and
Located in downtown San Diego, the Gaslamp is an entertainment mecca, with many restaurants, night clubs, bars, coffee houses and more spread out over several blocks. Nearby is the convention center and the baseball ball park.
Balboa Park is a massive urban park with more than 1,000 acres. There are 15 museums, various gardens, arts and international culture associations, as well as the San Diego Zoo. More than 14 million people a year visit the park, so be prepared for crowds during the peak summer months. There is a brilliant displays of seasonal flowers, shady groves of trees and meandering paths through rolling lawns. Balboa is a place that offers something for everyone, from historical, horticultural, educational and recreational activities.
The Maritime Museum has a worldwide reputation for its restorations. The museum has one of the world’s finest collections of historic ships, including the world’s oldest active ship, the Star of India. The exhibits and public tours are available daily.
If you’re into golf, there is nothing more exciting than playing a few holes along the coast. The Torrey Pines Golf Course is the nation’s foremost municipal golf course situated atop towering cliffs above the Pacific Ocean. It’s also home to the Farmers Open which takes place in late January each year.
San Diego has some fantastic Mexican food! While in San Diego, don’t miss the world famous fish tacos.
If you’re in San Diego with a car, you have to do a drive down PCH, the famed coastal route. From downtown San Diego up to Del Mar and beyond are some incredible stretches of road with dramatic views.
If you’re into sailing, there are many places where you can charter a sail boat. If you don’t know how to sail, check out one of the many tour boat cruises available.
SAN DIEGO BEACHES
Last but not least, beyond Sea World and the Zoo, the most popular thing to do in SD is visit the beach. My favorite beaches are Coronado, La Jolla, Del Mar and Oceanside, but there many more to pick from. If you’re younger, Mission and Pacific Beaches in the southern part of the county are where you want to go. Unfortunately, those ares are tough to find parking, which is one of the reason my favorite picks.
COOL COASTAL HOTELS
If you have any questions about visiting San Diego, California, please leave a comment below, happy to help. If you’re looking for a great road trip from SD, here is one to Temecula.