The 5 Most Beautiful Parks in San Diego

Enjoy San Diego's year-round wonderful weather at any of these parks.

By Darcie Czajkowski, ContributorDec. 26, 2016
By Darcie Czajkowski, ContributorDec. 26, 2016, at 9:00 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

The 5 Most Beautiful Parks in San Diego

Skyscrapers of San Diego skyline with reflections and cloudscape.

Don't miss these parks during your next trip.(Getty Images)

San Diego's warm climate allows visitors to explore all that nature has to offer year-round. Whether you want to take a leisurely stroll in an urban park or embark on a rigorous hike to a coastal vista, this city has something for everyone to enjoy. So grab your sunglasses and get your camera ready: Here are the five beautiful outdoor spaces locals say you have to visit the next time you're in San Diego.

Balboa Park

Balboa Park in San Diego.(Courtesy of Richard Benton)

If you only have time to visit one park, experts agree that Balboa Park is a must-see. Many visitors know the park as the home of several museums and the San Diego Zoo, but it also has 65 miles of trails that cut through canyons or wind past cultural venues. The various routes and trails are marked, so visitors know the distance and degree of difficulty. Edna Gutierrez, public relations manager at the San Diego Tourism Authority, recommends taking one of the free guided hiking tours. "They're great for families," she says.

Robert Marks, head concierge at the Omni San Diego Hotel, says the large, grassy lawns are great for tossing around a ball or having a picnic. There are also five playgrounds, each geared toward a different age group.

Andrew Tellez, head concierge at The Westin San Diego, suggests seeking out a vantage point for glimpses of the downtown skyline. "It's so beautiful there," he says.

The Balboa Park grounds are open 24 hours a day, and the visitors center is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Experts agree that Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, named for the rare tree that grows there, provides one of the most beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean and coastal San Diego. Brett Hamblen, head concierge at the Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa, says this park is "probably the prettiest place in Southern California."

Cathy Gomez, head concierge at the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, says, "Torrey Pines State Park showcases the only Torrey pines on the West Coast with picturesque views of the Pacific."

Justin Robbins, head concierge at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar, says that exploring the rugged bluffs of the park is a "great approachable hike for all levels."

The park, located in Del Mar, offers free guided walks on weekends and holidays. The park is open year-round from 7:15 a.m. until sunset (the park posts the exact closing time at the South Beach parking entrance). Visitors pay an on-site parking fee of between $10 and $20, depending on the day and time of year.

Mission Trails Regional Park

Mission Trails Regional Park.(Courtesy of Mission Trails Regional Park)

One of the largest urban parks in the United States, Mission Trails Regional Park spans 7,220 acres and offers a variety of hiking trails. One of the most recommended trails is Cowles Mountain. As the highest point in the city of San Diego, the summit is nearly 1,600 feet above sea level and offers views of downtown, Coronado, the coastline and even the hills of Mexico. The moderate-intensity trail is about 3 miles round-trip, and dogs on leashes are welcome.

Mission Trails Regional Park has an almost 15,000 square-foot visitors center, where hikers can get a map of the trails, learn about the animals in the area, purchase supplies and even buy a souvenir. Hikers should head out early in the morning to avoid the crowds and, in the summer, the heat. A lower-intensity option is the walking path around beautiful Lake Murray, where visitors can fish and rent boats.

Kate Sessions Park

Mark Peak, chief concierge at The US Grant, calls Kate Sessions Park in La Jolla a "hidden gem" that's great for families. The community park has plenty of room for children to run free, fly kites or toss a ball or Frisbee, as well as for couples to enjoy a picnic and the spectacular views of Mission Bay, the city and the ocean. From there, you can even see and hear the SeaWorld fireworks.

Picnic tables and barbecues are available, and leashed dogs are welcome. Alcoholic beverages are permitted between noon and 8 p.m.

Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument.(Courtesy of Cabrillo National Monument)

Marking the spot where 16th century explorer Juan Cabrillo discovered San Diego, Cabrillo National Monument offers "spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean as well as the islands of Mexico in the distance," Peak says. It is also the perfect place to spot migrating gray whales in the winter months. Children in particular enjoy seeing the marine life in the tide pools at the monument.

Visitors to the Point Loma monument can also walk along the 2-mile trail to see stunning views of the San Diego Bay and Harbor, or they can visit the 161-year-old lighthouse, one of the first built on the West Coast. History buffs should also stop by the military history exhibit that explains the role Point Loma played in World Wars I and II.

The park is open year-round from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Certain attractions close earlier, so check the website. The entrance fee is $10 per car, $7 per motorcycle or $5 per person if entry is on foot or by bicycle.

To experience more of what San Diego has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.

Darcie Czajkowski, Contributor

Darcie Czajkowski writes about travel for U.S. News. She is an avid traveler, who has visited ...  Read more


The 7 Best San Francisco Bus Tours

Visit the top attractions in this hilly city without breaking a sweat.

Lyn MettlerMay 22, 2019

The 15 Best Washington, D.C., Tours

The nation's capital has more to offer than free museums and tons of history.

Kim Foley MacKinnonMay 22, 2019

10 Amazing Montana Vacations

Breathtaking landscapes and year-round outdoor adventures will inspire you to visit Big Sky Country.

May 20, 2019

The 13 Best Savannah Tours

Experience real southern hospitality when visiting Savannah with these top tours.

John RodwanMay 16, 2019

The 15 Best Boston Tours

Get to know one of America's most historic cities with these tours.

Kim Foley MacKinnonMay 14, 2019

The 18 Best New Orleans Tours

With so much to see and do in New Orleans, these tours will help you maximize your time in the Big Easy.

Claire LawtonMay 10, 2019

The 7 Best Chicago Boat Tours

These low-key tours offer unique views of a city famed for its skyline.

Holly JohnsonMay 9, 2019

30 Cheap Weekend Getaways in the USA

From beach destinations to amusement parks, these vacations are perfect for an affordable and quick trip.

May 9, 2019

The 15 Best Chicago Tours

Foodies, boat enthusiasts and historians alike will appreciate any one of these tours of the Windy City.

John RodwanMay 8, 2019

16 Incredible Midwest Vacations

See which outstanding escapes showcase some of Middle America's top destinations.

April 29, 2019