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Top 20 Things To Do In San Diego

San Diego cityscape at Gaslamp Quarter
© Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

San Diego is a sunny metropolis on the California Pacific coast. According to local residents, it can be considered the best city in the United States, and perhaps on the entire planet. There are incredible old museums, theaters, and significant historic quarters. For example, the local zoo occupies a leading position in the world. In turn, Balboa Park amazes with its size and the number of incredible attractions. In other words, it is a great city that will be equally interesting for both children and adults. It is deservedly compared with Los Angeles and San Francisco, although San Diego even surpasses them in some aspects. So what are the best things to do in magnificent San Diego?

Balboa Park

It is the largest urban park in the United States (485 hectares), which can be explored in several days. At the same time, it is not just a green area with shady avenues, but a giant complex with recreation areas, gardens, museums, theaters, restaurants, and sports grounds. The central artery of the Balboa is El Prado Boulevard with a spacious promenade, colonial buildings, a pond, and a beautiful fountain. The city zoo is also located here. Moreover, Balboa boasts the largest outdoor organ located in a concert venue. The most impressive buildings in the park are Casa de Balboa and Casa del Prado.
Park and square in San Diego
Balboa Park © Sean Pavone / alpindustria.nsk.ru

San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo is the most visited zoo in the United States and one of the most popular attractions in the world. This attraction belongs to the list of the most significant places to visit in San Diego. The characters of the widely-known cartoon called "Madagascar" aimed to get here. All animals of this zoo live in conditions close to natural. There are zones with reptiles and amphibians; the "Lost Forest" with tropical plants; a poultry house; an area with monkeys; tiger and hippopotamus trails. Additionally, it is here that you can find the "African savannah," where elephants, giraffes, and predators perfectly coexist. The zoo also has a northern zone where polar animals live. By the way, do not be surprised when you meet pandas and koalas on the territory of this zoo. In 4D cinemas, you can watch movies about the local species of animals and take part in children's entertainment programs.

Panda eating bamboo
Panda © Wang Sing / Shutterstock

Old Town

It was here that the first settlement was founded by the European colonialists. As a result, this settlement has turned into modern San Diego. Nowadays, this area includes two parks, such as Historic Park and Presidio Park. Mexican, Spanish, and Native American traditions are carefully preserved in the Old Town, as you can find a stylized market, courthouse, a former barn, restaurants, and a theater there. Numerous tourists tend to come here in order to visit the house museums, where the Spaniards lived a couple of hundred years ago. Simultaneously, there are many rumors around the Whaley House. According to legends, it is the place where ghosts live — a red-haired girl who was the daughter of the first owners and a man who was killed on the stairs in the house. There is an observation deck near The Junípero Serra Museum, which offers excellent views of the city and the Pacific Ocean.

Entrance to Old Town San Diego State Historic Park
Historical Park Old Town © Ken Wolter / Shutterstock

USS Midway Museum

Midway is the most venerable aircraft carrier of the 20th century and one of the main San Diego attractions. It took nearly 17 months to build this aircraft carrier, which had served 47 years. Since 2004, the museum has become unique. There are about 60 exhibits dedicated to the history of the aircraft carrier (including samples of military aircraft). This museum can help you to increase the level of awareness regarding how the sailors lived, where they slept, rested, and how they were treated. All visitors can watch a 15-minute video about the history of the ship, experience emotions of the pilot in a flight simulator, learn the intricacies of taking off and landing, as well as take part in a night adventure.
Unconditional Surrender sculpture at sea port
USS Midway Museum © f11photo / Shutterstock

Whale Watching

Between December and April, whales migrate to warm waters off the coast of San Diego in order to breed. During this period, special tours are arranged to observe them. In fact, the voyage can last up to four hours until people can finally see the giants in the water. Marine biologists usually act as guides. The chances of seeing a whale are pretty high. However, if it is not possible to do this on the first tour, then all participants are given a free ticket for the second tour. Besides, you also have the opportunity to see sea lions and seals while sailing.

Humpback whale jumping out of the water
Humpback whale © Nico Faramaz / Shutterstock

Little Italy

"Little Italy" is located in the center of San Diego. Originally, it was an area of ​​Italian fishermen who caught and preserved tuna. However, all canneries were closed in the 1980s. Nowadays, there are numerous shops, galleries, pizzerias, restaurants, wine cellars, cafes with cozy courtyards, breweries, and a large market. In the heart of Little Italy, tourists can find a small Amici Park, which is tremendously popular due to its unusual sculptures. They are constructed in the form of tables, covered with a traditional red and white checkered tablecloth. On the tables, there are bronze dishes and plates with the recipes. For example, it is here that you can learn how to cook fish tacos, stuffed artichokes, marinara sauce, and stewed beans.
Little Italy in downtown San Diego
Little Italy in San Diego © David Madison / Photographer's Choice RF

SeaWorld San Diego

SeaWorld San Diego is a park with exciting rides and unusual inhabitants. There is the highest (150 m) and the fastest (96 km/h) roller coaster on the West Coast — Emperor. Moreover, the park has a dozen attractions for children and adults, as well as a cable car. Shipwreck Rapids is usually perceived as one of the most interesting entertainment options, as it is widely known as descent along a stormy river. The SeaWorld area is home to penguins, turtles, sharks, otters, sea lions, killer whales, walruses, beluga whales, and many other fish species.

SeaWorld San Diego Killer Whale
Killer Whale in SeaWorld Park © Tinseltown / Shutterstock

Mexican Cuisine

Thanks to a shared history, San Diego, like the rest of California, is very popular due to Mexican cuisine. For instance, Puesto is one of the best tex-mex places to visit in San Diego. Here you can taste about 10 types of tacos (with fish, vegetables, poultry, meat, and seafood), 5 varieties of burritos, and a variety of bowls, snacks, ceviche, enchiladas, and desserts. You can accompany your meal with tequila or a margarita cocktail.
Mexican food in San Diego
Puesto Restaurant © eatpuesto.com


It is a magnificent seaside area where cruise ships dock. For instance, it is here that the aircraft carrier Midway is located. Also, this place serves the functions of a starting point for all whale watching tours. The area offers opportunities to go shopping, taste the best seafood, and enjoy the active life of San Diego's North Bay.
Boats at night, seen from Embarcadero Marina Park North
Embarcadero district © ESB Professional / Shutterstock

San Diego Museum Of Art

This museum is located in the wonderful Balboa Park. Its facade is similar to the University of Salamanca in Spain. In addition to archaeological and historical exhibits, there are artworks by legendary masters, such as Goya, Bosch, Velasquez, Renoir, El Greco, Matisse, Rubens, Van Dyck, Klimt, and other artists. Its halls constantly host cocktail parties, movie screenings, and events for children.
Plaza de Panama Fountain in Balboa Park
Art Museum © FrimuFilms / Shutterstock

Coronado Beach

Once you cross an unusual semicircular bridge, you can get to one of the best beaches in the United States called Coronado. It is located in the town of the same name in San Diego County. There are picnic areas, beach volleyball courts, as well as diving and surfing areas. The main symbol of the coast is the Victorian-style Hotel Del Coronado, which was opened in 1888. By the way, this hotel was visited by George Bush Sr., Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Muhammad Ali, Thomas Edison, Marilyn Monroe, Oprah Winfrey, and other celebrities.

Wooden boardwalk Coronado Ferry Landing
Coronado Island coastal beach in San Diego Bay © Benny Marty / Shutterstock

Belmont Park

Belmont was opened in 1925 by sugar magnate John D. Spreckels. There are 12 rides, eateries, an 18-hole mini-golf course, and numerous fun options for the whole family. The main object of "Belmont" is a wooden roller coaster. At the same time, you can end your visit to the park with a huge portion of ice cream at the Sweet Shoppe cafe.

Belmont Park roller coaster
Roller coaster in Pacific Beach © Manuela Durson / Shutterstock

San Diego Air & Space Museum

This museum is another stunning San Diego attraction that is located in Balboa Park. It was opened to the public in 1963 in a symbolic place, where the city's international airport welcomes many tourists. Here you can increase the level of awareness of the city's contribution to the development of world aviation. Its permanent exhibitions are dedicated to World War I, the "Golden Age of Aviation", the World War II, as well as jet and space vehicles. In the rotunda of Theodore Gildred, you can see the Apollo 9 command module and miniature aircraft demonstrated in the museum.
Aircraft exhibits
San Diego Aerospace Museum © sandiegoairandspace.org

Gaslamp Quarter

Gaslamp Quarter is a neighborhood in the historic center of San Diego, which contains 94 historic buildings. More than 100 restaurants, craft breweries, concept cocktail bars, and rooftop lounges can be found here. During the holidays, noisy festivities take place in the Gaslamp Quarter. The main symbol of the quarter is the old arch with the inscription “Historic Heart of San Diego”.
The historic district is the center of the city's nightlife
Gaslamp Quarter © Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

San Diego Comic-Con International

It is the world's largest festival dedicated to comics, movies, TV series, and games. It has been held annually since 1970 — usually at the end of July. For four days, the Comic-Con serves the functions of the central point for various conferences, seminars, presentations of new projects, meetings with famous actors, authors, and directors, etc. This event is especially popular among cosplay lovers, whose costumes are often indistinguishable from the original.

World's largest comic and film festival
San Diego Comic-Con International © nbcsandiego.com

Natural History Museum

You can find this museum in the majority of the lists that provide information about the places to visit in San Diego. It is also located in Balboa Park, and there is a beautiful fountain near its main entrance. The Natural History Museum was founded in 1874 as the Natural Science Society of San Diego. It is the oldest scientific institution in Southern California. Here you can explore the diverse fossils, fauna, and underwater worlds of the region. The museum constantly conducts educational programs for children of different ages.

Carcharodontosaurus skull in a dinosaur’s exhibition
Dinosaur’s exhibition at the Natural History Museum © Conchi Martinez / Shutterstock

San Diego Museum of Man

Like the rest of the city's major museums, this one is also located in Balboa Park. It was opened for the Panama-California Exhibition, which in turn was dedicated to the completion of the Panama Canal. The Museum of Man is part of the California Quadrangle, consisting of 4 structures. The California building with its incredible tower was described in Orson Welles's classic Citizen Kane. Many permanent and temporary exhibitions are held here (there are about 150 thousand exhibits in the museum). One of the highlights of the exposition is the children's Egyptian sarcophagus of the Ptolemaic dynasty. Besides, the museum hosts an interesting exhibition dedicated to the history of brewing — from the technologies of the ancient Egyptians and Sumerians to modern trends.

Museum of Man in Balboa Park
San Diego Museum of Man © Cassiohabib / Shutterstock

Petco Park

As the stadium that was opened in 2004, Petco Park is a home of the San Diego Padres baseball team. Its rostrum offers an excellent view of the city and the bay. The territory of this stadium has a children's area and the Hall of Fame of the great baseball players. In addition, sports fans will definitely not be hungry at Petco Park. Here they can eat fish tacos, pizzas, barbecues, oysters, and traditional American hot dogs.
Landscape with panoramic view of Petco Park and the downtown area
Petco Park © Eleni Mavrandoni / Shutterstock

La Jolla Cove

This place is often described as an ocean jewel in northwest San Diego. Nowadays, the bay, which used to serve functions of a children's pool, is home to seals and sea lions with their offspring. La Jolla is tremendously popular due to its long beaches with clean sand. Here you can enjoy kayaking, snorkeling, surfing, and other activities. On the coast, there is also a park with a spacious lawn, restrooms, showers, walkways, picnic tables, and gazebos.

Tourists watching the beautifal sunset at La Jolla
Sunset at La Jolla © Boycez / Shutterstock

The Old Globe

Opened in 1936, the atmospheric theater in Balboa Park is widely known as a replica of the London Globe Theater, where William Shakespeare staged his works. The Old Globe has staged original productions that won 13 awards and nearly 60 Tony Award nominations. This establishment is one of the leading theaters not only in California but also in the United States. If you make the decision to come here, you will have the opportunity to enjoy Shakespeare's classic plays, legendary musicals, and performances based on original and adapted scripts.