With its year-round warm weather, beautiful beaches and vibrant culture, it’s no wonder that San Diego is one of the top tourist destinations in Southern California. This charming city sits on the Pacific Coast, right on the border with Mexico and cultivates a dynamic blend of Californian and Mexican culture. This beautiful combination finds expression in everything from its beautiful architecture to its rich culinary scene. Here are some of the best things to see and do in San Diego.
San Diego hosts great attractions for visitors of all ages, from the San Diego Zoo, among the largest (and most celebrated) zoos in the country, to surfer-friendly Ocean Beach. Balboa Park is a good place to start. Boasting stunning Spanish-styled buildings constructed in the early 1900s, this park will keep you busy with lush gardens, 10 performance spaces and 17 museums. The 1,200-acre expanse also features the Japanese Friendship Garden and the award-winning Old Globe theater.
Found within the park are the Museum of Man, one of the finest anthropology museums in the nation, and the huge San Diego Art Institute, which features a variety of shows by local artists (and a fantastic gift shop). The San Diego Air & Space Muesum is also situated in the park and has all sorts of old aircraft on display, not to mention a flight simulator!
Fun on Water
With miles of coastline and great waves, San Diego is a paradise for water lovers. Popular spots include Mission Bay Aquatic Center, where you can rent a boat for a day of adventure on Mission Bay, or head to the ocean for surfing, swimming or even scuba diving. If you’re interested in marine life, note that around 20,000 migratory gray whales pass through this stretch of the Pacific from December to May, with plenty of whale-watching cruises to boot. For freshwater fishing, head to San Diego’s East County. Popular spots in this area include Lake Murray, where you can catch trout, catfish, bass and bluegill, and canoes and motorboats are available for rent. If you’re into fly-fishing, Lake Cuyamaca stocks trout throughout the year.
Hiking the Southland
There are all sorts of outdoor activities on offer in San Diego, from beaches to state parks. Hikers may enjoy ambling through Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, which dishes out beautiful views out over the ocean. Visit in the springtime and you may be blessed with a bloom of brilliantly hued wildflowers in nearby Anza-Borrego Desert State Park east of town. Mission Trails Regional Park, which surrounds Lake Murray, is also worth a visit for those who want to get some serious hiking in; this gargantuan expanse offers nearly 65 miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking along with designated equestrian areas for those with horses in tow.
San Diego is a friendly city with a diverse population ranging from college students (there are several colleges here) to retirees and snowbirds who appreciate the sunny climate. The city offers an eclectic mix of laid-back surf culture, Latin influences (after all, it’s right across the border from Tijuana), arts, culture and urban cityscapes.
Getting Around Town
Although the city has a population of over 1.42 million people, it feels smaller than it is, with lots of little communities clustered together and decent public transportation and walkability, particularly by Southern California standards. Sports are also a big deal here, and the city loves its Major League Baseball team, the Padres, who play at Petco Park overlooking the San Diego Bay.
Letting the Good Times Roll
San Diego keeps the party going throughout the year. Sporting events include the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl, a major college football event, as well as the PGA Tour Farmers Insurance Open staged at the beautiful Torrey Pines Golf Course.
San Diego Super Heroes
Comic-Con International brings out the costumed superheroes in droves every July, while Taco Fest is a great place to sample beloved local Tex-Mex fare. Foodies also won’t want to miss the San Diego Restaurant Week, held twice a year, which showcases the cuisines of hundreds of area restaurants.
Creative San Diego
For those interested in art, the month of February is San Diego Museum Month in which visitors can get half-price admission to some 40-plus area museums. And if you come for the 4th of July, make sure to check out Big Bay Boom, billed as the largest fireworks display on the West Coast.
Old Town Delights
San Diego was colonized in the 16th century by the Spanish, and the Iberian influences can be seen to this day, particularly in the charming Old Town neighborhood. Here, you’ll find beautifully preserved mission-style buildings, cute shops and great restaurants, plus a weekend market, Old Town Harney Street Market, that’s great for picking up local handicrafts. If you want a deeper understanding of local history, don’t miss the chance to visit the Junípero Serra Museum, which showcases the collections of the San Diego History Center.
For More Information
San Diego Tourism Authority