San Diego, California is a popular tourist destination, which is no wonder since it boasts spectacular white sand beaches, seaside bluffs, scenic bays, rolling pine-covered hills, and perennial warm weather. Aside from the popular theme parks and attractions, this sunny Southern California city offers numerous low-key points of interest. Situated close to most San Diego vacation rentals are hidden coves, unusual museums, pristine parks, and festive markets. Take a look at the most noteworthy hidden gems in the city of San Diego.
1. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Located at the extreme northern end of the San Diego city limits, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve offers eight miles of picturesque hiking trails with scenic outlooks on bluffs overlooking the incomparably beautiful Pacific Ocean. The park is home to the lovely Torrey pine, one of the rarest trees in North America. Observe wildlife such as raccoons, rabbits, bobcats, foxes, and coyotes on land, and watch for migrating whales out at sea. A visitor center provides information about the various trails, exhibits on the plant and animal life in the park, guided nature walks, informational videos, and educational programs.
2. Sunny Jim Cave Store
The Sunny Jim Cave Store lies near vacation rentals in the neighborhood of La Jolla in northwestern San Diego. The shop sits at the beachfront and sells souvenirs, jewelry, paintings, and gear for water sports. Behind the shop is an entrance to a tunnel with 145 steep stairs leading downward to a platform within one of the La Jolla sea caves. Natural mineral colors create a mysterious ambiance as you descend into the depths. The cave received its name from L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz, who likened the cave mouth to the image of an early 20th-century British cereal mascot named Sunny Jim.
3. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is on a spectacular stretch of the Pacific Coast south of the neighborhood of Ocean Beach and directly west of downtown San Diego. The shore features amazing arches, caves, and bluffs with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and the Southern California coastline. Visitors often observe migrating gray whales offshore. As the park’s name implies, the area is ideal for viewing incomparably beautiful sunsets. A scenic walkway leads along the cliffs, and other trails take you down to the beach area.
4. San Diego Museum of Man
Amidst the more popular and ostentatious attractions such as the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Natural History Museum in vast Balboa Park is the oft-neglected magnificence of the San Diego Museum of Man. Devoted to anthropology, the ornate structure resembles a medieval cathedral or opulent mansion. Three floors of collections highlight the history and culture of the ancient Egyptians, Mayans, and Native Americans. The fascinating exhibits include a history of beer making with scheduled tasting events sponsored by local breweries, a family-friendly display of monster concepts from around the world, and an impressive array of Egyptian mummies and accompanying artifacts.
5. Coronado Beach
Although the western spread of Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, and Pacific Beach is better known and more crowded, lovely Coronado Beach is one of the finest strands of soft sand in the country. This one and a half mile stretch of pristine shoreline lies on the south side of beautiful Coronado Island across the harbor from downtown San Diego. It’s a perfect location for sunbathing, sand castle building, beachcombing, and water play. Part of its unique quiet atmosphere is due to the absence of a boardwalk or nearby commercial establishments, but you’re only a few minutes away from the eclectic shops and restaurants of attractive downtown Coronado.
6. Seaport Village
Seaport Village is a waterfront shopping area in the heart of downtown San Diego. The entire complex is a car-free zone with miles of walking paths among spacious plazas and attractive buildings. The village hosts over 50 eclectic shops and numerous restaurants, including some with magnificent views of the bay. To make your visit more pleasant, picnic tables and benches are scattered throughout the grounds. Frequent musical performances take place on an outdoor stage. For the kids, the village provides a classic carousel with hand-carved horses.
7. Point Loma
Point Loma is a peninsula that comprises the southwestern corner of San Diego. At the extreme tip is the Cabrillo National Monument, marking the spot where Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo first arrived on the U.S. west coast. The place provides a magnificent view of downtown San Diego across the bay to the east and of the vast Pacific Ocean to the west. Nearby is the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which no longer operates but accepts visitors as a museum. At the base of the bluffs, the easily accessible Point Loma Tide Pools offer a fascinating look at local marine ecosystems.
8. San Diego Model Railroad Museum
The amazing but often overlooked San Diego Model Railroad Museum at Balboa Park has the largest indoor collection of model railroad layouts in the world. San Diego railroad clubs create, construct, and maintain the vast exhibits. Some of the larger displays are permanent, while others rotate on a continual basis. A special interactive layout offers kids an opportunity to run some trains, and a reference library provides videos, blueprints, books, and magazines on model railroad construction.
9. Old Town San Diego State Historic Park
Old Town San Diego is a touristic gem that lies between the popular west coast beaches and busy Balboa Park northwest of downtown. Comprised of mainly adobe structures around a central plaza, the complex includes several museums housed in historic buildings, including the Wells Fargo History Museum, the San Diego Union Museum, the Black Hawk Smithy and Stable, and the First San Diego Courthouse. The park also hosts numerous shops, restaurants, and entertainment facilities.
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