San Diego is a great place to visit any time of the year. Its mild southern California climate ensures that, as do the many and varied activities designed to keep visitors from getting bored. This city by the bay offers something for everyone, from beach combers to shoppers and party animals. San Diego has it all!
Best Organized Tours
- Skip the Line: USS Midway Museum · 415 reviews
- San Diego Tour: Hop-on Hop-off Trolley · 255 reviews
- San Diego Zoo · 166 reviews
- San Diego City Tour · 166 reviews
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park, located near Escondido, is one of the top tourist attractions in San Diego. The 1,200-acre zoo has more than 300 species of animals, especially those that are endangered in the wild, concentrating on breeding them and then reintroducing them back into their wild native habitat. Visitors can take a tram tour of the zoo or see it from above via a hot-air tethered balloon. Other activities include watching a cheetah run at up to 70 mph, a petting zoo, walking among the lemurs and visiting an aviary. San Diego Zoo Safari Park is one activity that appeals to the young as well as the young at heart.
Though Native Americans lived in the area for thousands of years, the area known as Old Town wasn’t “discovered” until 1542 by a Spanish explorer. Old Town is considered the birthplace of California since it was the first permanent Spanish settlement in California, with Father Junipero Serra establishing his first mission here on Presidio Hill. Today, Old Town is a great place to see San Diego’s colonial roots. Casas, or houses, built in the 19th century, are now museums, shops or restaurants; adobe churches add to the color of Old Town.
Located at the tip of Point Loma, the Cabrillo National Monument honors Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the Spanish explorer who landed at San Diego Bay in 1542, thus becoming the first European to set foot on the West Coast of what is now the United States. The Cabrillo National Monument offers plenty of activities for visitors who enjoy the great outdoors. Activities range from watching for Pacific Gray whales that swim by during the winter months to hiking the two-mile Bayside Trail with its stunning views of the city and bay. Other trails lead to tidal pools and the restored Old Point Loma Lighthouse, one of the first lighthouses on the West Coast.
La Jolla Shores is one of the San Diego area’s best beaches. La Jolla is an upscale community sometimes referred to as the “jewel of San Diego,” but this gem really shines when it comes to its beaches. La Jolla Shores is a mile-long beach that is popular with locals and visitors alike for a variety of water activities: swimming, surfing, scuba diving and kayaking. But the fun doesn’t end when the sun goes down as beachgoers light fires to roast hot dogs and party awhile longer.
The Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego’s premier dining, nightlife and shopping center, dates back to 1850, when a San Francisco man, William H. Davis, built a home for his family on land he wanted to develop into a town. That venture failed, but his house survives. Seventeen years later, another San Franciscan was more successful at developing the waterfront, though in later years it became known as a Mecca for gamblers and prostitutes. Decades later, this Victorian district was cleaned up, both in appearance and reputation, and became known as the Gaslamp Quarter. Now home to more than 200 restaurants, plus boutiques and art galleries, it is on the National Historic Register.
Balboa Park isn’t just another park. It has plenty of green space, flora and fauna, naturally, but it also contain 15 museums, a carousel, miniature railroad, the renowned San Diego Zoo and the historic Old Globe Theatre, among other attractions. The list of museums include a couple of art museums while others are devoted to natural history, air and space, science and the famous Museum of Man. Numerous gardens are devoted to native plants, roses, cactus, a veterans memorial and a children’s garden. The nation’s largest urban garden also includes restaurants, and biking and hiking trails.
The USS Midway Museum, located on the Embarcadero’s Navy Pier, offers visitors a chance to explore, from stem to stern, one of the longest-serving aircraft carriers in the U.S. Navy. Nearly a quarter-million sailors served on the Midway from 1945 to 1992, when it was retired. It has been a San Diego tourist attraction since 2004, receiving more than one million visitors annually, making it one of the world’s most visited ship museums. Guided tours take visitors to the ship’s sleeping and officer quarters, engine room and galley. There’s even a flight simulator for more adventuresome guests.
Travelers who want to put themselves in a relaxing mood may want to head to Coronado Island, where a laid-back small-town atmosphere prevails. The quaint island community is connected to San Diego by the San Diego-Coronado Bridge. Whether strolling on the beach or riding a rental bike around the inland, visitors can partake of the charm of this community, home to the Coronado museum of History and Art, the shops and art galleries at Ferry Landing, and views of San Diego across the bay. A “must” stop is the Hotel del Coronado, which is said to be the inspiration for the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz.
With more than 130 million visitors since its opening in 1964, SeaWorld is the leading tourist attraction in San Diego and one of the most popular marine-life parks in the world. Through shows, displays and enclosures people can learn about the world’s oceans and the creatures that inhabit them such as dolphins, killer whales, walruses, penguins and Polar bears. Rides include a flume roller coaster, rafting through the Shipwreck Rapids and a simulated helicopter ride to experience the Wild Arctic. The main attraction however is the Shamu Show, which involves dancing fountains and talented performances by killer whales.
The San Diego Zoo is one of the most famous zoos in the world with over 4,000 animals of more than 800 species. The sunny maritime climate of southern California is well suited to many animals and almost all of the major exhibits of the San Diego Zoo are in the open-air. The San Diego Zoo is also extremely active in conservation and preservation efforts and many species are bred in captivity for release into their native habitats where appropriate.
Up Next: 6 Great Day Trips from San Diego