California is often reduced to the film and music hub of Hollywood. However, just a two-hour scenic drive south will lead to the city referred to as ‘America’s Finest City’: San Diego, the alluring coastal city known for its beautiful beaches and famous zoo. Although there are numerous places to visit in this sunny paradise, we have compiled a list of 12 recommendations.
1. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Ocean, nature and views – Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve has it all. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a sanctuary for flora and fauna that spans 7,082 square kilometers on Southern California’s oceanfront. The reserve is named after the Torrey Pine, the rarest tree in North America. Open year-round from sunrise to sunset, this protected natural area contains trails of different distances for hikers of different levels. Among the eight trails, the Guy Fleming Trail, Razor Point Trail and Beach Trail have gained popularity over the years. People with different interests will have an unforgettable adventure, for this reserve is not limited to hikers but also attracts birdwatchers, nature explorers and photographers – one reserve with many opportunities.
Discover more under: torreypine.org
2. Del Mar Beach
Del Mar Beach lies a short drive north from Torrey Pines Natural Reserve. This wide sandy shoreline with captivating coastal cliffs is a popular spot for sunbathers and surfers. Not only do visitors enjoy a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean but also a breathtaking sunset, as the sun touches the sea, and the sky fills with hues of orange and pink. Besides the beach, Del Mar also offers other attractions, such as the Del Mar Village, the Del Mar Racetrack and the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
3. La Jolla Shores
La Jolla Shores is a beautiful beach located further south from Del Mar Beach. The beach spans 1.6 km, entailing the Scripps Institution for Oceanography as well as the picturesque Scripps pier. The beach offers an adventure for everyone, as it is a prime destination for family picnics, photographers, swimmers, surfers, boogie borders, paddlers, snorkelers, scuba divers and kayakers. Furthermore, visitors are just a short walk away from different dining options, boutiques and souvenir stores. As in the case of Del Mar Beach, it is an excellent spot to watch the beautiful sunset while enjoying the tasty toasted marshmallows at a beach bonfire.
4. La Jolla Cove
South of La Jolla Shores lies La Jolla Cove, a family-friendly town that is only 20 minutes away from downtown San Diego. La Jolla Cova is included in the marine reserve that protects the surrounding fauna and flora, such as the hundreds of sea lions that can be seen swimming in the water or resting on rocks. For this reason, surfing and boogie boarding are prohibited. Nevertheless, visitors can enjoy the activities of swimming, sunbathing, snorkeling and scuba diving. In addition to the ocean, La Jolla Cove offers a variety of attractions, including boutiques, stores, restaurants, cafés, art galleries, museums and a nearby park.
5. Mount Soledad National Veterans Memorial
Mount Soledad, also referred to as Soledad Mountain, has been a prominent landmark in San Diego since 1954. While it used to be a gathering point for Native Americans, it developed into a military base during World War II. The peak of the mountain is marked by a prominent cross that is encircled by an array of granite plaques with the names and photographs of veterans, paying tribute to their service during both World Wars and the War on Terror. This historic and patriotic landmark with an elevation of 251 meters offers visitors a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean, the La Jolla Community and downtown San Diego. On a clear day, one can also catch a glimpse of the border with Mexico. Easily accessible by car or foot, Mount Soledad is a great place for sightseeing, picnicking, jogging or hiking.
Discover more under: soledadmemorial.org
6. Potato Chip Rock
The hike to the Potato Chip leads to a picturesque rock that resembles a chip that is on the verge of breaking. Located in the town of Poway, there are two trails that lead through rugged terrain to the Potato Chip Rock on the Mt. Woodson summit, which stands at approximately 850 meters high. While the shorter trail only takes two hours and offers panoramic views at the top of the summit, the longer four-hour trails offer views of Lake Poway as well as the coast along the path. Upon reaching the Potato Chip Rock, visitors may have to wait in line, as this unique natural formation has gained popularity among locals and tourists. The opportunity to capture a photo of this unique landmark makes this a hike to remember.
7. Seaport Village
Seaport Village is a historical spot in downtown San Diego located on the site of the original San Diego Harbor. It is easily accessible by car, public transportation and foot. Away from the hustle and bustle of the downtown streets, visitors can experience a sense of serenity as they enjoy a leisurely stroll on the waterfront boardwalk and take in the stunning views of the bay and the marina. This family-friendly destination offers a wide range of attractions, including shops, boutiques, galleries, restaurants as well as the historic 1895 hand-carved carousel. Besides the numerous events, such as live concert, markets and festivals that take place year-round, Seaport Village also offers outdoor activities, such as fishing charters, boat tours and bike rentals. Therefore, an adventure awaits visitors of every age.
Discover more under: seaportvillage.com
8. USS Midway Museum
San Diego is known as a military town and is therefore also referred to as a Navy town. The city’s association with the Navy carries on today with the USS Midway Museum located in downtown San Diego for everyone to visit. The USS Midway served the United States Navy from 1945 to 1992, making it America’s longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century. It played a crucial role in the Cold War. After more than 200,000 soldiers served over a course of 47 years, the USS Midway eventually became open to the public as a museum in 2004, becoming a popular tourist attraction in San Diego. Visitors can learn about the history of the ship, experience flight simulation, climb into the cockpits and explore different areas of the ship. Besides exploring the various helicopters, fighter jets and other military planes, the museum offers striking views of the San Diego skyline and harbor.
Discover more under: midway.org
9. Gaslamp Quarter
Named after the gas lamps that were installed in the 19th century, the Gaslamp Quarter, originally known as New Town, lies in the heart of downtown San Diego. It is a historic district that features well-preserved Victorian-era buildings and is home to numerous restaurants, shops, entertainment venues and nightclubs, making it a vibrant and popular destination for locals and tourists alike.
Discover more under: gaslamp.org
10. Balboa Park
Balboa Park is a 4.86 square kilometer cultural park located in downtown San Diego. Established in 1868, it is one of the oldest public parks in the United States and is known for its stunning Spanish Colonial Revival-style buildings. The most iconic landmark in the park is the California Tower, offering panoramic views of the city. Besides the beautiful architecture and the stunning views, the park comprises diverse museums covering topics such as art, aerospace, natural history and science. Visitors can also enjoy 19 distinct gardens, musical theaters, a sports complex, the renowned San Diego Zoo, restaurants, gift shops and recreational facilities. The various activities and attractions in this park make it a popular destination among locals and tourists.
Discover more under: balboapark.org
11. Cabrillo National Monument
The name of Cabrillo National Monument derives from the Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who was the first European to step foot on the West Coast of the United States and to discover San Diego in 1542. His monument stands on the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula in San Diego. Besides taking in the stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, San Diego Bay, downtown San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico, this area offers various attractions, such as the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which was built in 1855, and the tidepools. Cabrillo National Monument fuses rich history and beautiful views, making it a perfect spot to explore when visiting the coastal city of San Diego.
Coronado is an island located across the San Diego Bay from downtown San Diego and accessible via the famous Coronado Bridge and the scenic Coronado ferry. The island is known for many reasons. It has spacious and stunning beaches, including the renown Coronado Beach, which has an extensive military history, hosting the Naval Air Station North Island and being the birthplace of naval aviation, and the iconic Hotel del Coronado, which was built in 1888 and accommodated celebrities, presidents and royals. Furthermore, on a day trip to Coronado, visitors can take pleasure in the restaurants, boutique shops and art galleries in the charming downtown area known as the “Village”. The many attractions, relaxed atmosphere and stunning views make this a must-visit destination in San Diego.
Discover more under: sandiego.org