Things To Do

San Diego, California, USA

USS Midway Museum

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. 

San Diego, California, USA

Cabrillo National Monument

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. 

San Diego, California, USA

Seaport Village

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.

San Diego, California, USA

San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

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.

San Diego, California, USA

Old Town San Diego

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. For a little help navigating the area, sign up for one of the best San Diego tours.

San Diego, California, USA

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

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.   

San Diego, California, USA

Gaslamp Quarter

The Gaslamp Quarter's 16 blocks are peppered with Victorian-style buildings that now house a variety of shops, art galleries, theaters 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). For help navigating the neighborhood, sign up for one of the best San Diego tours.

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.

San Diego, California, USA

Coronado Beach

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. A few of the best San Diego tours also make stop here. 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.

San Diego, California, USA

Mission Beach and Pacific Beach

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. 

San Diego, California, USA

Balboa Park

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 & 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.