San Diego Things To Do
General San Diego Visitor Guide
San Diego is the second largest city in California, with over 70 miles of coastline, and an average temperature of 72 degrees year round. No wonder why it is one of the most desirable places in the world to live. San Diego sits just north of the Mexican border, and spans over 4,200 square miles, with desert, mountains, vibrant downtowns and of course, beaches. The options for things to do is endless. Whether you feel like taking a hike, scuba diving a shipwreck, learning to surf, or spending the day at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego has something for everyone.
San Diego is made up of several neighborhoods. Downtown has a very urban vibe, with tons of great restaurants, bars, shops, and sites such as Old Town, the Embarcadero, Gaslamp District, Seaport Village, Petco Park (home of the Padres), Horton Plaza, and Balboa Park, the largest urban park in the US. Just across the bridge from San Diego is Coronado, where you will find wide white sandy beaches, and a quaint town seeming with history. East of San Diego you can explore the Vegas style casinos, Anza Borrego State Park (the largest state park in California), Palomar Mountain, and the charming town of Julian, known for their apple pies. To the north – inland and coastal, is known as North County San Diego. This is where beach towns dot the coast, each with a very laid back, surf vibe. In North County, you will find the Del Mar Racetrack, Birch Aquarium, Legoland, breathtaking golf courses, flower fields, world-famous surf spots and more!
San Diego Activities and Attractions
San Diego Zoo
: World famous 100-acre tropical garden that houses 4000 animals of 800 rare and exotic species. Popular zoo activities include a three-mile guided bus tour, sky tram, children’s petting zoo, and a baby animal nursery. One of the most popular exhibits is a family of Giant Pandas.
San Diego’s Zoo Safari Park
: 1,800-acre preserve where wild animals roam free over vast expanses as they would in their native habitats of Africa and Asia. Take the Journey into Africa tour, where you board a open-air tram and experience an eye-level encounter with animals such as rhinoceros, cape buffalo, Roosevelt’s gazelles, and African crowned cranes.
: Located in Mission Bay, this 189-acre park features six major shows, fascinating attractions and dozens of exhibits containing marine life from around the globe. Journey to Atlantis is the largest attraction in the park offering guests a six-minute journey that includes a 60-foot plunge and a heart-pounding negative G force drop set against a backdrop of the sunken city.
Balboa Park: What could be better than an entertaining park where your kids can experience art, culture, and learn something new along the way? The largest urban cultural park in the United States, Balboa Park is often referred to as the “Smithsonian of the West”. Its 1,200 lush acres are home to 85 cultural attractions, including 15 museums, eight gardens and the San Diego Zoo of course. Some of the activities include the San Diego Air & Space Museum, the Balboa Park Carousel, the Balboa Park Miniature Railroad, the San Diego Automotive Museum, Museum of Man, the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, the San Diego Museum of Art, and the San Diego Natural History Museum, among many others.
The Big Bay, San Diego’s Waterfront
: No stay in San Diego is complete without a trip to the waterfront. San Diego Bay is bustling with activity, as it serves as the home port for Navy ships, a large sport fishing fleet, thousands of pleasure craft, and an increasing number of cruise ships. Mission Bay, a 4,600-acre aquatic playground, is the largest facility of its kind in the world feature separate, designated areas for sailing, power boating, fishing, swimming, and water skiing. The USS Midway Museum is a retired aircraft carrier that now serves as a fascinating interactive floating museum. The Maritime Museum of San Diego consists of several historic sailing vessels docked on San Diego Bay including old tall ships, passenger ferries, and even a Russian submarine.
Old Town Trolley Tours
: Old Town Trolley tours will show you California’s second largest city, where blue skies, exciting attractions and 70 miles of beaches come together to create a vacationer’s paradise. Hop aboard one of the trolleys and you will experience “Transportainment”, a delightful combination of transportation and entertainment.
Knott’s Soak City
: San Diego County’s wildest water adventure park! Thirty-two water-logged acres packed with 22 of the most intense water rides imaginable – all themed to the surf woodies and long-boards of the 1950s San Diego’s coast! Only Open May through September.
: “The Happiest Place on Earth” is an enchanted kingdom of fantasy and imagination filled with classic family-friendly attractions and magical entertainment, dining and shopping. Also visit Disney California Adventure Park.
Scuba Dive, Ocean Enterprise: If you have ever wanted to learn to dive, now is the time! San Diego is a perfect place to learn and get certified. Or, if you are already certified, check out Ocean Enterprise for rentals, scuba trips, etc. Ocean Enterprise is Southern California’s largest full-service dive center, offering all levels of instruction for individuals and families, with a variety of classes every month. Tested and approved by a Beachfront Only Employee!
Gaslamp Quarter and East Village
: The Gaslamp is littered with sidewalk eateries, upscale restaurants to low key-cafes, jazz and dance clubs, boutiques, cigar shops, and galleries. East Village became a buzzing neighborhood with the completion of Petco Park. It boasts a very artsy feel, with great food, new boutique hotels popping up annually, art studios, and more.
La Jolla, Prospect St. and Girard Ave.
: La Jolla is one of San Diego’s most exclusive and desireable zip codes, offering an atmosphere reminiscent of a European resort village tempered with the casual attitude of Southern California. The formerly “old money” town has seen a fresh influx of young families. Snuggled into a cove that offers excellent offshore diving and gorgeous views, La Jolla village clings to a Mediterranean theme, where you can find hotels and eateries, boutiques and estate jewelers.
Old Town State Park
: Step into the Alta California of days past. The park recreates local life, circa 1821 to 1862. Five orginal adobes are part of the park grounds, which includes shops, restaurants and museums. Places to linger include San Diego House, the Mason Street School, and of course, the Bazaar Del Mundo. The Bazaar is a permanent fiesta, with fab shopping and ethnic food.
: Coronado is decidedly upscale – the streets are filled with historical homes and the downtown main drag is a pedestrian’s dream of chi-chi shops cozied up to gourmet eateries. On the Pacific side, the Hotel Del Coronado, opened in 1888 and recently refurbished, is the star. On the San Diego Bay side, visitors can shop and browse to their hearts’ content at the Ferry Landing Market Place, full of one-of-a-kind boutiques and restaurants. The Coronado Ferry runs between here and the mainland, adding more potential for fun transportation plans.
: A must-visit for tourists and a popular day-trip destination, Seaport Village offers 14-acres of waterfront shopping, dining, and entertainment. Located on the edge of San Diego Harbor with gorgeous views of the bay, the area has more than 75 shops and over a dozen themed eateries, all surrounded by lush landscaping and Cape Cod-inspired architecture. Cobblestone paths are perfect for carriage rides through the village, a romantic staple on warm summer nights.
: Horton Plaza is a funky and chic outdoor mall, covering over six city blocks and designed like a Dr. Seuss/Disney collaboration. Shopping options range from BCBG and Nordstrom to A&F. The adjacent cinema and Lyceum Theatre blow the doors wide open on entertainment options. This is one of the few places you can shop into night, dine and then catch a fine theatre production.
San Diego Theaters:
- La Jolla Playhouse – Tony Award-winning professional non-profit theatre. Current and Upcoming shows include “Ruined” and “Little Miss Sunshine”
- Old Globe Theater – Internationally-acclaimed, Tony Award-winning, the Old Globe is one of the most renowned regional theatres in the country, and has stood as San Diego’s flagship arts institute for over 70 years. Current and upcoming shows include “The Winter’s Tale” and “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas”.
- San Diego Civic Theatre and Balboa Theatre – Non-profit theatres providing world-class theatre-going experience in a vibrant downtown theatre district. Current and upcoming shows include “The Color Purple”, “The Nutcracker”, Holiday concerts, and comedy roadshows.
- National Comedy Theatre – San Diego’s Home for Improv Comedy. Shoes every Friday and Saturday at 7:30 and 9:45 PM
- Comedy Store La Jolla – Sister store to the famous Comedy Store on Sunset Strip, shows run nightly and feature nationally renowned comedians with individual talent show and best of shows.
Free Things to do in San Diego!
- Head to San Diego’s many beaches, all free to the public, to swim, body surf or hang-ten. Play in the sand, collect seashells or just bask in the sun.
- Visit La Jolla Cove and see the magnificent sunset on the ocean. La Jolla Cove is one of the most spectacular natural settings in the world. Great for a daytime or sunset picnic.
- Visit Seaport Village during the weekends for free entertainment and hours of leisurely strolling and window-shopping. Or just sit in the grass and gaze at passing yachts and ships on picturesque San Diego Bay.
- Stroll through the 16½-block historic Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego and view the renovated turn-of-the-century Victorian architecture, home to boutiques, art galleries, specialty shops and more.
- Fly a kite along the grassy field in the Tecolote Shores of Mission Bay Park, a 4,600-acre aquatic park. Here, away from trees and overhead wires, friends and family gather to launch colorful kites into the bay breezes.
- Enjoy free organ concerts at 2 p.m. on Sundays at the Spreckels Organ Pavillion in Balboa Park. The Organ Pavillion features one of world’s largest outdoor pipe organs, a San Diego landmark since 1914, where organists play traditional favorites, waltzes and show tunes on enormous 32-foot pipes.
- Visit Old Town and witness the living legacy of San Diego history. Guests are also invited to wander free through Old Town’s historic buildings, including the blacksmith shop, Seeley Stables, Stewart House, Estudillo House and the oldest schoolhouse in San Diego.
- Bike or jog along Mission Bay Park’s many trails. Joggers and walkers share more than 20 miles of scenic running paths that wind through sunlight and shade near the shoreline and feature workout courses at planned stations along the route.
- Stargaze outside the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park on the first Wednesday of every month. The San Diego Astronomy Association sets up huge telescopes to offer guests a great view of all the stars in the night sky.
- Take a scenic, one-hour drive to Mt. Laguna. Once there, hop out for an invigorating hike and enjoy the fresh mountain air whispering through the pines.
- Step back in time with a stop in Julian, a century-old gold mining town in the Cuyamaca Mountains. Pick up a free map at the Chamber of Commerce for a self-guided walking tour of the area’s historic sites and later enjoy a slice of homemade apple pie – a Julian specialty!
- Grab your picnic basket and head to Torrey Pines State Park where you can watch talented and daring hang-gliders do tricks in the strong winds that sweep along the coastline cliffs.
- Rollerblade, skateboard or bicycle along the Mission Beach Boardwalk, a scenic 3-mile boardwalk along picturesque Mission and Pacific Beaches.
- Visit Mission Trails Regional Park to explore the cultural, historical and recreational aspects of San Diego. Stop at the Visitor’s Center and learn about the wonders of nature and the people who once lived on the land. Or, roam through the park’s 40 miles of natural and developed hiking and biking trails.
- Go scuba diving or snorkeling off San Diego’s shores and see spectacular creatures of the sea. La Jolla Cove offers some of the clearest waters on the California coast, as well as miles of protected underwater preserves to explore.
- Go bird watching at the Torrey Pines State Reserve. Located high above Torrey Pines State Beach, the area is home of the rare and ancient Torrey Pine as well as a beautiful protected habitat for swifts, thrashers, woodpeckers and wrentits.
- Stroll through Balboa Park and marvel at its beautiful Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. While there, take advantage of the park’s variety of offerings, including 15 museums (select museums free on Tuesdays), free daily park tours, public organ concerts (Sundays), and spectacular gardens (seven are free daily).
- Visit other museums around town that offer similar free days. In its La Jolla facility, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego is free on the third Tuesday of each month; the downtown facility is free daily.
- Gather family, friends and firewood for a cozy beach bonfire at one of the beaches in San Diego County, including Moonlight Beach.
- Explore the tidepools in Point Loma at low tide and get up close and personal with flowery anemones, scampering shore crabs, elusive octopus, spongy deadman’s fingers and many other magnificent sea creatures.
- Drive to the top of Mt. Soledad in La Jolla for breathtaking, 360-degree views of San Diego, including the gently curving La Jolla coastline and Mission Bay. Spectacular views of San Diego’s East County communities also await guests at the top of Mt. Helix.
- Visit the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and experience the natural beauty of the desert. The 600,000-acre park is one of the largest state parks in the United States and each spring, following winter rains, explodes into a rainbow of colorful wildflower blossoms.
- Take a scenic walk along The Big Bay, San Diego’s “largest attraction.” With 27 miles of waterfront featuring bayside parks, marinas, hundreds of shops and restaurants, and miles of promenades and bikeways, the Big Bay appeals to all ages and interests.
(Taken from sandiego.org)
View all attraction tickets and discounts on the Official San Diego Visitor’s website