When you plan a getaway at San Diego, California, you can look forward to lots of sun, surf, and fun. Be sure to check out the tidepools that are home to mini-ecosystems teeming with sea creatures such as starfish, anemones, and tiny crabs. Choose a San Diego vacation rental on the beach and fall asleep to the gentle ebb and flow of waves outside your window. Here are 10 of the most popular things to do in San Diego.
1. Torrey Pines State Preserve
Hike along the eight-mile trail in this preserve to experience over 1,750 acres of unblemished land blessed with spectacular views of the towering sandstone cliffs that border the beach. You can experience breathtaking views of the Pacific coastline, and if you come in the spring, waves of brightly colored wildflowers welcome you to their home. The preserve is home to nearly 3,000 pine trees and houses one of the last salt marshes and waterfowl reserves in Southern California.
2. Balboa Park
Located in the heart of San Diego, Balboa Park is a wonderful spot to picnic or just take a stroll. After lunch, check out the hundreds of permanent plants housed in the beautiful Botanical Building with its Spanish-Renaissance architecture. You can spend hours roaming the outdoor cactus, rose, and Japanese-style gardens, and the palm tree canyon is extraordinary. Don’t miss the San Diego Air and Space Museum or the Model Railroad Museum, especially if you are vacationing with kids. The Marie Hitchcock Puppet theater is another good bet for entertaining the tots.
3. San Diego Zoo and Safari Park
Located in Balboa Park, the famous San Diego Zoo houses 3,500 endangered species, one of the largest collections in the world. Expansive trails lead you along the exhibits where you come face-to-face with inhabitants such as arctic foxes, hippos, gators, and rhinos. That’s a lot of walking, so you can get a birds-eye-view of the zoo’s treasures on the Skyfari aerial tram. A short trip north to Escondido puts you in touch with lions, elephants, and cheetahs who roam relatively free at the safari park. Take a zipline or caravan safari to view, among others, gorillas, zebras, meerkats, and bald eagles.
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4. USS Midway Museum
There are a number of military bases scattered around San Diego, especially near the Bay. Take a tour of the USS Midway, the longest-serving American aircraft carrier of the 20th century. More than 225,000 sailors called this aircraft carrier their home-away-from-home during several wars including Operation Desert Storm. Walk the four-acre flight deck, practice some flying skills on the flight simulators, and watch an Old Salt tie some pretty nifty knots.
5. Cabrillo National Monument
Located at Point Loma about 20 miles southwest of San Diego, the statue at this monument depicts the first European explorer who navigated along the California coast in 1542. Sweeping views of the Pacific and the Point Loma naval base make this a memorable experience, and on a clear day you can spot the mountains of Tijuana, Mexico. A walk or drive down Cabrillo Road leads to the most fantastic tide pools, and you can follow the 2.5-mile Bayside Trail right to the edge of the bay. If you have time, take a ranger-guided walk to the restored Old Point Loma Lighthouse on Humphreys Road.
6. Gaslamp Quarter
The Victorian-style buildings in the 16 block that encompasses the Gaslamp Quarter are chock full of boutique shops, restaurants, art galleries, theaters, bars and clubs. Fifth Avenue is San Diego’s main thoroughfare, and it’s the premier destination if you’re looking for a nighttime diversion. But if you aren’t a night owl or want to spend a quiet evening shopping or people-watching with the kids, the Quarter is a great place to enjoy a great al fresco meal.
7. Sunset Cliffs
You can enjoy spectacular ocean views and witness breathtaking sunsets at the aptly named Sunset Cliffs. Enormous sandstone cliffs stretch over 68 acres that run 1.5-miles along the western shore of the Point Loma peninsula, reflect the sunlight in an amazing display. There are a couple of secluded beaches, but if you want to do some beachcombing or watch the local surfers do their thing, head to the end of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard at Ladera Street and follow the stairway to the crashing waves.
8. Maritime Museum of San Diego
Experience life as it was in a bustling seaport long-ago. This fascinating tour is a wonderful way to explore maritime history. The kids can enjoy a hands-on experience as you maneuver through long, narrow corridors where sailors worked, slept, and lived for long periods of time. Historic vessels include graceful sailing ships and sleek submarines like the Star of India, the world’s oldest active ship. Marvel at the workmanship and skill that was required of sailors in that time. Put aside some time to set sail on one of the Museum’s boats such as California’s official tall ship, the Californian.
9. SeaWorld San Diego
You can certainly glimpse the migrating whales and perky porpoises playing in the waters just off the coast, but there’s nothing quite as entertaining as a performance at SeaWorld. Not only can you enjoy the antics of dolphins, sea lions, otters, and sea turtles, you and the kids can travel at lightning speed in the Manta Ray rollercoaster. If you’re not afraid to get wet, dare the kids to ride the Ship Wreck Rapids with you or hurtle down the rock-lined waterway on the Journey to Atlantis. The park’s animal exhibits such as the shark underwater viewing tunnel are top-notch, and there’s plenty of playground activities at the Sesame Street Bay of Play.
10. Coronado Beach
If you want a quiet day at the beach away from crowds bustling along a boardwalk, head to Coronado Beach, a popular destination for families and couples. You can swim in calm waters, spread your picnic out on clean sand, and take an idyllic walk along the beach’s 1.5-mile shoreline. There’s plenty of picturesque scenery such as the magnificent mansions that line Ocean Boulevard that runs behind the beach and the historic 130-year-old Hotel del Coronado, a National Historic Landmark.
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