Best Things To Do in San Diego
San Diego's coastal seat makes it an ideal destination for adventurers and sun seekers. Whether you're hiking along the sandstone cliffs of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, walking through the frothy surf of Coronado Beach or admiring the postcard-worthy scenery at La Jolla Cove, you'll find little reason to stray far from the city's natural wonders. Spend a day at Balboa Park – the city's definitive culturual hub – and soak up the stunning setting while exploring the many museums, theaters and gardens that call this 1,200-acre park home. Though it's tempting to spend your whole vacation exploring, don't forget to carve out some time for a San Diego history lesson: America's Finest City proudly shows off its military and maritime heritage with two well-regarded (and highly interactive) museums. And for a local's perspective, consider signing up for a guided tour. For a view of the city from the water, a boat tour is your best bet.
Updated August 22, 2019
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Home to the renowned San Diego Zoo. this 1,200-acre park is the city's cultural hub. Located in downtown San Diego (about 2 miles north of the city center), Balboa Park is a great place for a stroll, bike ride or picnic. Wander around the park's many gardens while admiring the intricate Spanish-Renaissance architecture that permeates the grounds (the best examples are the California Building and the House of Hospitality). The Botanical Building is a great starting point in Balboa Park. The building is one of the most photographed places in Balboa Park and is one of the largest lath structures in the world. But don't just look at it. The famous botanical building features more than 2,100 permanent plants, including striking collections of tropical plants and orchids. The park also features a cactus garden, rose garden, a Japanese-style garden as well as a palm tree canyon, among many others.
But if you find yourself growing antsy just walking around and smelling the roses, there are plenty of attractions located here (many of them free). Take in a show at the Tony Award-winning Old Globe Theatre, visit the Spreckels Organ Pavilion to see one of the world's largest outdoor pipe organs, or the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater if you got the kiddos in tow. Museums are just as aplenty, with enough to suit all types of interests. Art lovers will enjoy the San Diego Museum of Art, the Museum of Photographic Arts and Mingei International Museum while science enthusiasts will enjoy the Fleet Science Center and the Museum of Man. If you're traveling as a family, take some time to check out the San Diego Air and Space Museum or the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, the world's largest operating model railroad museum. There's also an automotive museum and the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum, dedicated entirely to San Diego's sports history.
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Mission Beach and Pacific Beach are one giant, connected shoreline in San Diego. While not as pristine as Coronado Beach, the area is just as popular thanks to all the nearby attractions and amenities. This miles-long stretch of sand fits the SoCal stereotype to a T: throngs of surfers and bikini-clad sunbathers crowd the shores every summer, while the nearby boardwalk is usually packed with inline skaters and bicyclists. The beach is a popular spot in San Diego for surfing as well, offering swells both high and low, perfect for beginners and seasoned surfers (there are numerous water sports equipment rental shops strewn around the neighborhood). Belmont Park, which acts as the border between the two beaches, is a beachfront amusement park featuring arcades and numerous rides, including the Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster – a more than 100-year-old National Historic Landmark. When lunchtime rolls around, head to one of the many beachside eateries that flank the boardwalk or Mission Boulevard (the area's main thoroughfare), or have a picnic at Bonita Cove, the bayfront park located across the street from Belmont Park.
The difference between the two is discernible. While they both share the same boardwalk, sand and ocean, Pacific Beach and Mission Beach share key differences. Mission Beach, which begins at Belmont Park going south, is the calmer of the two. The boardwalk has more homes than hotels and far fewer amenities than Pacific Beach, making it good for families or those seeking a more relaxed beach experience. Pacific Beach, which starts north of Belmont Park, is much more lively. Mission Boulevard, the main thoroughfare, is lined with restaurants, surf shops, retail stores, hotels and bars. The further you go up Mission Boulevard the further you go into the belly of the beast that is Pacific Beach. Next to the Gaslamp Quarter, Pacific Beach is the best place for nightlife in San Diego, known for getting particularly rowdy. Aside from Mission Boulevard, you can find a heavy concentration of bars and nightlife options on Garnet Avenue and Grand Avenue. If you don't want to experience this side of Pacific Beach, take a walk along Crystal Pier or stick to the beach north of this pier.
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Compared to Mission Beach, this popular shoreline boasts fewer sunbathers and calmer waves. Just across the bay from San Diego, Coronado Beach is popular with families and couples alike thanks to its miles-long shoreline (affording plenty of room for beachgoers), clean sands, peaceful atmosphere and idyllic location in the "Crown City" (in Spanish, "Coronado" means "crowned one"). While you won't have access to a bustling boardwalk (like that at Mission Beach), you will have plenty of picturesque scenery to admire (besides the surf): magnificent mansions sit behind the beach on Ocean Boulevard. And the historic Hotel del Coronado – a 130-year-old National Historic Landmark – is perched just beyond the sand. When you're not boogie boarding or building a sand castle, heed the advice of recent visitors and simply walk the 1.5-mile-long shoreline. Even if you're visiting San Diego during the city's winter season (December through February) when the water is a little too chilly for swimming, you should still plan to make a stop here for the scenery. And if you enjoy ice skating, the Hotel Del offers the unique opportunity to ice skate right along the beach.
Past travelers recommend venturing to the beach at sunset for the most incredible views. You'll find plenty of bathroom and shower facilities at the beach, plus sand volleyball courts and fire pits for evening s'mores. The beach is located nearly 2 miles south of the Coronado Ferry Landing. You can walk, drive or catch the 901 bus from Third Street to the beach. This bus also picks up from downtown San Diego on Front Street at the corner of West A Street. The shoreline is patrolled by lifeguards from 9 a.m. to dusk daily on the main stretch of the beach but seasonal lifeguards are staffed in farther sections of the beach during summer. There is a curfew observed from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily. Parking and entrance is free.
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The Gaslamp Quarter's 16 blocks are peppered with Victorian-style buildings that now house a variety of shops, art galleries, theatres and trendy restaurants, not to mention plenty of bars and clubs. The area stretches from L Street all the way up to Broadway, including Sixth, Fifth and Fourth avenues as well as out to First Avenue at G Street. The best place to start your tour of the Gaslamp Quarter is the Horton Plaza outdoor shopping center, situated at First and G Street. From there, you can explore the neighborhood's side streets that will eventually lead you to the main avenues. Or you can start at the Gaslamp Quarter Gate itself, located at L Street and Fifth Avenue. Fifth Avenue is considered downtown San Diego's main thoroughfare. You'll find the most action here, especially at night. With all of its amenities, it's important to know that the Gaslamp Quarter is San Diego's premier nightlife destination. If you're not a night owl, another way to experience the Gaslamp Quarter's lively atmosphere is to take advantage of the patio seating offered at some of the neighborhood's restaurants, or venture to one of the many rooftop bars (Andaz San Diego in particular has fire pits and beds and lounge chairs for patrons to relax on).
The Gaslamp Quarter also hosts many city events year-round. The annual Mardi Gras Parade sections off blocks of downtown, the Rock and Roll Marathon runs through here and San Diego's biggest event, Comic-Con, hosts numerous activities and events here as well.
- #5View all Photos#5 in San Diego15.9 miles to city centerBeaches, Hiking, Parks and GardensTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND15.9 miles to city centerBeaches, Hiking, Parks and GardensTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Want to see what San Diego looked like at its founding? It's at the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. This oceanfront reserve features 1,750 acres of unspoiled land, protecting the unique topography and various types of flora present from way back when, including the Torrey Pine, America's rarest pine tree. There are 3,000 Torrey Pines in the reserve alone and aside from San Diego, the only other place in the country the pines grows are on Santa Rosa Island off the coast of Santa Barbara. The reserve also houses one of Southern California's last salt marshes and waterfowl refuges. What does that mean for you? Plenty of hiking opportunities (8 miles to be exact). Trails offer a chance to get up close and personal with the attraction's famously beautiful sandstone ravines and badlands as well as breathtaking views of the coastline. And if you come during the spring, you'll see wildflowers on full display.
Popular trails include the brief Guy Fleming Trail (0.7 miles round trip), which features two ocean overlooks, and the longer Razor Point Trail (1.4 miles round trip), which tours more of the sandstone geological features of the reserve. There is also the beach trail that leads to Torrey Pines stunning stretch of shore. Of all San Diego's beaches, a long walk along Torrey Pines State Beach is a must simply for its views of the towering sandstone cliffs that border it. Keep in mind that along these bluffs there are no lifeguards on duty and the ocean can be rough, so swim at your own risk. Also the cliffs can be unstable, so set up close to the shore.
- #6View all Photos#6 in San Diego5.2 miles to city centerHistoric Homes/Mansions, Museums, Parks and Gardens, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND5.2 miles to city centerHistoric Homes/Mansions, Museums, Parks and Gardens, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Take a trip back in time at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, a mile-long stretch of restored shops and houses on the grounds of the first European settlement in California. Widely considered the "birthplace of California," Old Town San Diego shows visitors what it was like to live through different eras of California history, from the time of Spanish explorers to the California gold rush. Some important stops include the Whaley House, a former granary and courthouse which was originally built in 1857, and Casa de Estudillo, a house built in the 1820s which utilizes traditional furniture and decor to illustrate how people lived years ago. The Junípero Serra Museum, named for the Spanish monk who helped colonize San Diego and other areas of California, is also a must-see because its architecture and location have helped make it a famous San Diego landmark. It sits on a hill in Presidio Park near green spaces, picnic areas and memorials, and it provides great views of the city and the Pacific Ocean.
There are plenty of shops in the Old Town area, many of which sell handcrafted items from Mexico and other Latin American countries. The town's Mexican heritage is also preserved through the various restaurants that dish out authentic Mexican food and often hand out homemade tortillas for travelers to sample. Previous visitors enjoyed simply strolling through the streets, relaxing on the green spaces and listening to mariachi bands.
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This 100-acre establishment is one of the most famous zoos in the country. The San Diego Zoo is not only one of the largest zoos in the USA but also houses one of the largest collections of rare and endangered animals in the world (3,500 to be exact). Giant pandas, giraffes, elephants, polar bears, and koalas (the largest collection outside of Australia) are just a few of the many animals that call the San Diego Zoo home. The exhibits are linked by an expansive series of trails such as the Monkey Trail, Hippo Trail or Tiger Trail. On these designated pathways, you'll come face to face with numerous exciting creatures including hippos in the Lost Forest, arctic foxes in the Northern Frontier, rhinos in the Urban Jungle or gators in the Wegeforth Bowl. You'll need plenty of energy – and a map – to see everything the zoo has to offer. Should your feet grow weary while exploring, the zoo offers a 35-minute guided bus tour of the park. There's also the Skyfari aerial tram that transports visitors from one end of the park to the other, offering a birds-eye-view of the exhibits below in between. In addition to plenty of animals to see, the zoo also hosts animal shows and animal encounter programs daily as well as 4-D movie theaters with educational films about the wildlife.
If you want more of the zoo, head about 32 miles north to the Safari Park in Escondido. Here you can view some of Africa's most beloved animals – including lions, elephants and cheetahs – roaming free (well, relatively). There's also meerkats, zebras, gorillas and bald eagles, to name a few. True to its name, the park offers a variety of different safaris, including a zipline safari and a caravan safari.
- #8View all PhotosfreeSeaport Village#8 in San Diego3 miles to city centerCafes, Shopping, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND3 miles to city centerCafes, Shopping, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
If you want to spend the afternoon watching ships float in and out of the harbor while sipping coffee or shopping for souvenirs, Seaport Village is the place to visit. Located on the waterfront not far from the USS Midway Museum, the 14-acre village is home to more than 50 shops and 13 dining outlets. Travelers can enjoy browsing summer clothing at Seaport Island Fashion, artwork at Wyland Galleries and eco-friendly products at Cariloha Bamboo. Hot Licks, a hot sauce shop, is also a crowd favorite. With this much variety, you're sure to find something special to remember your San Diego trip. Even visitors who aren't particularly fond of shopping said they still enjoyed strolling through the sunny outdoor complex.
Once you've worked up an appetite, explore Seaport Village's diverse food scene. Slurp oysters at the Harbor House, sample authentic Mexican flavors at Margarita's Kitchen & Cantina or satisfy your sweet tooth at Frost Me Gourmet Cupcakes. If you're looking for panoramic sea views, be sure to grab a bite at San Diego Pier Café. And at the end of the day, Seaport Village is a great place to watch the sun set over the Pacific.
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The southernmost tip of Point Loma is where you'll find the Cabrillo National Monument. The statue depicts Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who, in 1542, was the first European explorer to navigate the Californian coast. Situated about 10 miles southwest of downtown San Diego, this monument is much more than just a memorializing effigy. The main reason people make the journey to the monument is its incredible views. From the Cabrillo Monument, you can enjoy sweeping views of the Pacific as well as the Point Loma naval base below (where Cabrillo initially docked his ships), downtown San Diego, Coronado, and on a clear day, the mountains of Tijuana, Mexico.
Once you've gotten your fill from the top, walk or drive down Cabrillo Road to experience the Point Loma Tide Pools (best experienced during the winter months), or take a scenic walk along the adjacent bluffs. There's also the 2.5-mile Bayside Trail that cascades down into the east side of the point and ends right above the bay waters. For those more interested in the historical aspect of the attraction, the NPS site features ranger-guided talks further explaining the story behind the Cabrillo Monument as well as the restored Old Point Loma Lighthouse, located a short walk south from the monument on Humphreys Road.
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San Diego is a big military town. You'll likely see bases scattered about while exploring the city, especially around parts of the San Diego Bay. The USS Midway is one of these affiliated sites that offers an insider's look into what is normally closed off to the public. The USS Midway is the longest-serving American aircraft carrier of the 20th century, having played host to 225,000 sailors over the course of its life. This historical relic offers patrons the opportunity to explore 60 different exhibits and 29 restored aircraft aboard, including some that have flown in World War II, Operation Desert Storm and the Korean War. During the self-guided audio tour, you'll see the crew's sleeping quarters, the engine room, the ship's jail and the primary flight control room, among other areas of the 4-acre flight deck. There are also flight simulators, fo'c'sle knot tying demonstrations and a cafe when you start to feel peckish on-site.
Travelers say the audio guides are informative, but they also recommend stopping to listen to the knowledgeable volunteer docents (many of them military veterans, some of which served on the ship) stationed throughout the museum. There is so much to see and learn, many visitors reported spending several hours here while some ended up staying the entire day. Even if you aren't necessarily a history buff, those with little interest in the attraction before visiting called it a must-see. Many were keen to note how much the USS Midway made them appreciate the military members past and present for their service. Because this is one of San Diego's most popular attractions, it's best to get here early to avoid ticket lines and crowds.
- #11View all PhotosfreeSunset Cliffs#11 in San Diego7.8 miles to city centerHiking, Recreation, Swimming/Pools, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND7.8 miles to city centerHiking, Recreation, Swimming/Pools, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Next to the Cabrillo Monument, travelers say this is the next best place for ocean views in Point Loma. Situated a little more than 9 miles due west of downtown San Diego, Sunset Cliffs stretches across 68 acres and runs 1.5 miles along Point Loma peninsula's western shoreline. The dramatic sandstone cliffs and untouched vegetation along with its stunning ocean vistas make for an unforgettable stroll both during the day and at night. The area is also home to a few secluded beaches as well, though getting to them can be tricky. There is a beach popular with locals at the beginning of Cordova Street off of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, but you have to traverse down the rocky bluffs to get there. For an easier descent, head to the end of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard at Ladera Street and take a walk down the available stairway. It won't lead you to the beach but it will get you just above the crashing waves. That area is pretty popular with surfers, so expect to see lots of locals catching waves. If you venture farther up into Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, you'll find plenty of walking trails right along the ocean and through the coastal scrub that dot the area.
As its name implies, sunset is a popular time to visit the park and recent visitors say arguably the best. If you want to avoid the crowds at dusk, try to plan a mid-week trip rather than a weekend visit. Travelers recommend bringing along a sweatshirt in case the ocean breeze gets a little too chilly. Past visitors also suggest using the restroom before stopping here as there are no facilities on-site. You can get to Sunset Cliffs via public transportation. If you're staying downtown, take the trolley to Old Town Transit Center then catch the 35 bus and it will take you to the beginning of the cliffs. Sunset Cliffs has no opening or closing hours, though it's best to go when there's light for maximum visibility. People have had accidents falling off of the cliffs, so be sure to observe the signs marking unstable cliffs.
- #12View all Photos#12 in San Diego12.9 miles to city centerBeaches, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND12.9 miles to city centerBeaches, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Animal lovers are sure to enjoy Children's Pool Beach in La Jolla. Because of the California coast's sometimes harsh waves, a seawall was built in the 1930s on a portion of the beach to make the waters calmer for children. However, builders didn't realize the calm waters would appeal to seals as well. In recent years, seals have started flocking to Children's Pool Beach to bask in the sun, play in the water and give birth to their pups. The wildlife phenomenon has turned the beach into a must-see tourist attraction.
Visitors can walk out onto the seawall to watch the seals from above, and many agreed Children's Pool Beach was one of the highlights of their San Diego trip. They suggest bringing binoculars to see the seals and jackets as it can get chilly on the seawall. They also warn the abundance of seals can sometimes result in a rather pungent scent, but seeing the animals in their natural habitat is worth it.
- #13View all Photos#13 in San Diego2.2 miles to city centerSportsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND2.2 miles to city centerSportsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Often considered one of the top baseball stadiums in the country, Petco Park is a must-visit for San Diego Padres fans or for anyone who wants to witness a baseball game and take in the striking San Diego skyline. The park, which was built in 2004, sits beside the city's historic Gaslamp Quarter and offers visitors views of San Diego's East Village. The stadium reflects its Southern California location through the light sandstone exterior and decorative palm trees and vegetation, as well as through its diverse dining options. Those who work up an appetite cheering on the team can snack on fish tacos, sashimi or kale quinoa salad in addition to typical ballpark bites like hot dogs and hamburgers. Visitors say the food selection is one of the highlights of the ballpark, and some locals admit to attending games simply for the tasty grub. San Diego's notoriously sunny and dry weather also makes Petco Park an ideal baseball stadium: The Padres rarely see home games rained out, so it's highly unlikely visitors will need worry about their plans getting canceled.
The stadium offers tours for anyone who wants to learn more about the ins and outs of the park. The daily tours highlight the press box, the dugout, the Padres Hall of Fame and more. Tours last about 80 minutes and tickets cost $20 for adults and $17 for seniors, members of the military and kids 12 and younger. Visitors can purchase tickets online or in-person at the Western Metal Supply Building Ticket Windows on Seventh Ave and K Street up to 30 minutes before the tour starts. The tour schedule differs, depending on game days, but any interested travelers can find the times on the ballpark's official website. On game days, visitors can pay $25 for a pregame tour. These tours cover most of the same sights as the daily tours but also let visitors witness the excitement and energy of game preparation.
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The Maritime Museum offers a hands-on look at San Diego's days as a bustling seaport. You can tour all types of historic vessels, from sailing ships to submarines, including the world's oldest active ship, the Star of India. Recent visitors said the boat tours gave them a new understanding of the workmanship and skill required of sailors. Past travelers also note that you should plan to wear pants and sturdy shoes to easily maneuver the narrow, low corridors inside the ships. Along with the boat tours, you can also explore several permanent and visiting exhibits that detail San Diego's maritime legacy using art and artifacts. Travelers say the exhibits are fascinating, even for youngsters.
If exploring boats doesn't satisfy your craving for a nautical experience, set sail on one of the museum's boats, including the Californian, the Official Tall Ship of the State of California. Prices and tour availability depend on the ship, so make sure to check the website for more information.
- #15View all Photos#15 in San Diego5.5 miles to city centerCafes, Shopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND5.5 miles to city centerCafes, Shopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
If you find yourself hungry and near the San Diego Bay, look no further than Liberty Public Market for a delicious solution. Housed in a former Navy training building within the Arts District of Liberty Station, the market features more than 30 independently run food stalls, each with its own unique flair. Visitors can stroll through the bustling market and sample food from all backgrounds. The Venissimo Cheese stand features artisanal cheeses in many forms: on sandwiches, on crackers, on charcuterie boards and more. Bao Bar offers Pan-Asian cuisine and creative steamed buns while Fishbone Kitchen serves raw oysters, ceviche and more. Some stalls have more specific products, such as Baker & Olive which sells premium olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or Howlistic, which offers natural dog and cat food. Beer, wine and cocktails are also available inside. Visitors say the Liberty Public Market is perfect for anyone traveling with a large group, as everyone is sure to find something they like.
There are also some stands that sell other goods. Southern California-based jewelry brand Kai & Skye brings artistic bohemian accessories to the market while Bella Vie Candles sells locally sourced candles with custom fragrances. For more shopping, guests can venture outside to the various other accessory stores around Liberty Station.
- #16View all Photos#16 in San Diego3.1 miles to city centerBeaches, Sightseeing, ToursTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND3.1 miles to city centerBeaches, Sightseeing, ToursTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
San Diego is known for its beaches and beach activities, and one of the best ways to experience the city is from the ocean. Along the city's Embarcadero, you'll find many cruise options, each offering a different experience. Finding the right experience and type of trip depends on your interests and time constraints. There are many one- to two-hour cruises available for people of all ages. Some are whale watching focused, as San Diego is one of the top places for whale watching in the country. Others, such as Flagship Cruises and Events' San Diego Harbor Tour, are sightseeing cruises which visitors enjoy thanks to the engaging tour guides who narrate as the boat passes notable San Diego landmarks. Families with young children may appreciate the city's SEAL tours which are narrated by guides on an amphibious vehicle; the tour consists of a 30-minute ride on land coupled with an hourlong ride on the water where riders often see seals and other wildlife. Older crowds may be more interested in fine dining cruises, which provide guests with meals or drinks as they float along the city's coast. Options include a luxury dinner cruise from Hornblower or the brunch cruise from Flagship Cruises and Events. Then, there are cruises for thrill-seekers: Complete with whipping winds and splashing water for a 30-minute ride, boat adventures like the high-speed Patriot Jet Boat ride are not for the faint-hearted.
Cruises depart from various ports within the harbor. Other attractions like Seaport Village, the USS Midway Museum and the Maritime Museum of San Diego are also nearby, so there are plenty of activities to keep you busy before or after your cruise.
- #17View all Photos#17 in San Diego14.1 miles to city centerRecreation, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND14.1 miles to city centerRecreation, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Travelers can catch Torrey Pines' unique coastal views from a new perspective at Torrey Pines Gliderport. The gliderport is one of the top spots in California for paragliding, hang gliding, remote control models and sailplanes. In operation for almost a century, this unique adventure hub allows visitors to witness the beautifully preserved California coastline from above. Each flight lasts 20 to 25 minutes and gives gliders the chance to witness the sandstone cliffs, golf courses and vibrant water from the sky before landing back where they started – 350 feet above Black's Beach. Anyone of any age can sign up for a tandem gliding ride, but minors must get formal approval from their parents or guardians.
Visitors say the rides are worth the price because it's a once in a lifetime experience for many; they rave about the guides who made them feel safe and also made the ride fun. Torrey Pines Gliderport also offers pilot training for more experienced gliders as well as clinics for pilots who want to refine their expertise.
- #18View all Photos#18 in San Diego7 miles to city centerAmusement Parks, Zoos and AquariumsTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND7 miles to city centerAmusement Parks, Zoos and AquariumsTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Though you may spot wildlife at any one of San Diego's beaches (especially Pacific and Mission Beach) none put on quite as good a show as the performers at SeaWorld. Here you'll get to see a range of animals, including dolphins, California sea lions, California otters and sea turtles, among others. As for the rides, travelers love the lightning fast Manta Ray rollercoaster, but caution against the Journey to Atlantis or Ship Wreck Rapids ride if you don't want to get wet. For something a little more low-key, head to any one of the park's animal exhibits, like the shark underwater viewing tunnel, the penguin habitat, which features nearly 300 penguins, or the vast Wild Arctic ride/exhibit, which features the chance to see beluga whales and polar bears. There's also the Sesame Street Bay of Play, which features various playgrounds wet and dry as well as arcade facilities and smaller mechanical rides for the really little ones.
Recent visitors had a blast at SeaWorld, especially those with kiddos in tow. Travelers say you can't miss a show, with many being fond of the dolphin show in particular. But make sure to get there early though, as lines can get long. Travelers also highly recommended wearing good walking shoes and bringing an extra jacket or change of clothes in case you get wet on the rides or at the shows (there's a splash zone for most). Travelers who didn't bring a change of clothes said they were miserable walking around the park wet and gawked at the high price of clothing available at the park.
- #19View all Photos#19 in San Diego8.5 miles to city centerAmusement Parks, BeachesTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND8.5 miles to city centerAmusement Parks, BeachesTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
A trip to San Diego is not complete without a visit to beachfront amusement park and boardwalk Belmont Park. The park, which has been in operation since 1925, offers something for everyone. Those looking for a thrill can ride the iconic Giant Dipper Roller Coaster and the spinning Beach Blaster while those who prefer something more calm can enjoy the carousel, go mini-golfing or the hit the arcade. Additional activities and attractions include rock climbing, bumper cars, zip lining and laser tag. Despite the park's busy location, previous visitors were pleased that the lines were usually short. However, they advise going in the morning or evening to minimize wait times regardless. Belmont Park also features a range of shops, from Sun Diego (which sells activewear plus surfing and skateboarding clothing) to a bike and beach equipment rental shop. Visitors also enjoy The Plunge at Fit, the park's indoor pool with beach views. It was originally built in 1925 but is now updated and housed inside a fitness center.
When travelers get hungry, Belmont Park serves snacks with a Southern California twist including hot dogs on sticks and grab-and-go tacos, perfect for anyone who wants a quick bite before returning to the rides. The park is also home to a handful of upscale restaurants, including seafood and sushi spot Cannonball, which offers one of the city's largest rooftops and overlooks Mission Beach.
- View all PhotosfreeLa Jolla Shores12.5 miles to city centerBeaches, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND12.5 miles to city centerBeaches, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Known for its gentle waves and active beachgoers, La Jolla Shores is an ideal place to relax for a few hours. Locals and tourists hit this beach to surf, see marine life and enjoy the clean ocean water and sand. Families flock to La Jolla Shores and appreciate the reliable lifeguard presence and ample public restrooms. Adjacent to the beach is the La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve, which houses two artificial reefs meant to attract marine life. Its perimeter is marked with buoys to enforce the strict no fishing rules. Along with fishing, collecting seashells is prohibited, as the area is part of the Marine Life Refuge used by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography for research. Away from the protected refuge, surfers and boogie boarders come to catch waves in designated zones. Additionally, kayak and snorkeling gear rentals are available and visitors can sign up for scuba diving classes ahead of time. La Jolla Kayak and San Diego Bike and Kayak Tours are two companies that offer rental equipment.
There are a handful of dining options where visitors can grab a quick bite or nice meal just a short walk from the shore. Travelers warn if you're bringing a cooler to watch out for hungry seagulls that will hover looking for food. For a prime vantage point, visitors suggest seeking out one of the rooftop decks at the local bars, where you can enjoy shoreline views and vibrant sunsets over cocktails.
- View all PhotosfreeLa Jolla Cove12.8 miles to city centerBeaches, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Swimming/Pools, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND12.8 miles to city centerBeaches, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Swimming/Pools, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
La Jolla Cove is the jewel of La Jolla. Located across the water from La Jolla Shores, La Jolla Cove may not be much in terms of a beach, but its striking beauty and snorkeling reputation more than make up for it among recent visitors. The site is an ecologically protected area that is home to vibrant wildlife both in and out of the water. In fact, it's not uncommon to spot sea lions hanging close to the cove's bluffs and tide pools. Oftentimes, they even come on the beach.
This is also an excellent spot for beginner snorkelers. Advanced snorkelers should take advantage of the sea caves located along the bluffs, but only with a guide. If you aren't an advanced snorkeler but still want to see the caves, you can take a kayak tour, or visit the Cave Store, which is home to a manmade tunnel that goes directly inside the Sunny Jim Cave. Travelers say even if you don't plan on swimming or snorkeling, you should still visit the attraction for its picture-perfect setting.
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