What to see in San Diego: parks and places of interest not to be missed!

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Martí Micolau
@martímicolau
SOURCES CONSULTED:

wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

You are wondering what to see in San Diego? The city can really offer many attractions to choose from: theme parks suitable for adults and children, beautiful beaches, characteristic neighborhoods. Also taking into account our tips on when to go to San Diego, here are some tips on how to find your way around the many places of interest in this charming California city.

Index

  • First of all: 5 parks not to be missed ...
    • Balboa Park
    • SeaWorld
    • The San Diego Zoo
    • San Diego Zoo Safari Park
    • Legoland
  • The neighborhoods of San Diego
  • The beaches of San Diego
  • What to see along the San Diego coast
    • Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
    • La Jolla
    • Sunset Cliffs
    • Cabrillo national monument
  • Tips for staying overnight

First of all: 5 parks not to be missed ...



Let's start with the parks, one of the main attractions of the city.

Balboa Park

Address: 1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101

Il Balboa Park it is the jewel of San Diego. This huge green lung in the heart of the city is the community's hangout and a must-see for anyone in San Diego for a couple of days. Here you can admire the works of the great masters of the Museum of Art and the Museum of Photographic Arts, meet sports stars, visit the Natural History Museum, or simply enjoy the beautiful outdoor landscape.

  • Read our in-depth article on Balboa Park

Organized tour

At the link below you will find a tour with local guide to Balboa Park.


Guided walking tour in Balboa Park


SeaWorld

Address: 500 Sea World Dr, San Diego, CA 92109

Considered to be the best water park in all of California, the Sea World of San Diego bring the life of the oceans before your eyes. You can interact with many aquatic animals and have fun with the acrobatics of killer whales, dolphins, sharks and penguins. But not only! SeaWorld is an amusement park in all respects: there is no shortage of attractions "where you get wet" and those "dry", for a day full of energy a stone's throw from the ocean.

  • Read our in-depth article on SeaWorld

tickets

Also for SeaWorld there are various types of tickets with or without transport or entry to other parks: find all the info at the button below.

SeaWorld San Diego tickets

The San Diego Zoo

Address: 2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101

In choosing what to see in San Diego the Zoo is absolutely a must-see; it is the largest in the world with its over 40 hectares of luxuriant plants and zoological gardens characterized by different climatic zones and habitats that allow animals to roam in environments similar to their own and natural ones. The San Diego Zoo is located within Balboa Park and is one of the best things to do in San Diego for the whole family. Don't underestimate it: the zoo is large in size and it will take you at least half a day to see it all!


  • Read our guide on how to visit the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

tickets

Il admission ticket to the San Diego Zoo it is available in various types: cumulative, single, including transfer and special offers.


Tickets to the San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Address: 15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd, Escondido, CA 92027

This gigantic 730-hectare park, also known as Wild Animal Park, is located approximately 40 minutes north of San Diego. It is a wildlife reserve where many exotic wild animals live. A glimpse of Africa and Asia in which to experience the emotion of a face to face with cheetahs, giraffes, lions and okapi. The activities to get in touch with animals they are really numerous. A few examples? Field of lions, Heart of Africa, Belvedere of the Elephants, Savanna Cool Zone and many others. At the link below you will find the description of the activities in detail.

  • Read our guide on how to visit the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

tickets

As we always say, it is advisable to buy online to avoid queues at the ticket office and grab a better price. Below you will find all the options available for admission to the park

Tickets for the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Legoland

Address: 1 Legoland Dr, Carlsbad, CA 92008

The newest addition to San Diego's amusement parks is Legoland, based in Carlsbad, in the north of the city. Built on the hugely popular interactive toy that all children in the world know, Legoland offers tons of rides and entertainment for the youngest, especially toddlers and pre-teens. But even adults will not be bored admiring the fascinating and impressive reproductions of famous cities made with Lego.


  • Read our guide on how to visit Legoland

tickets

At the link below you will find the LEGOLAND® California 1-Day Ticket, which includes the skip-the-line e-ticket.


Tickets for Legoland

Final tip to save money If you plan to pop into Legoland, Sea World, the San Diego Zoo or, why not ?, other California parks including the beautiful Universal Studios of Los Angeles, it is advisable to evaluate the purchase of the Go California Explorer Pass.

The neighborhoods of San Diego

The city boasts some quaint neighborhoods that you cannot fail to explore during your visit. Here are the 2 main ones:

  • Gaslamp Quarter: charming historic district (it was the original center of San Diego) characterized by the typical gas lamps (this is where the area gets its name from) and a series of late nineteenth-century buildings (for example the Louis Bank of Commerce) that they give the district an unmistakable character. As you stroll through the streets of the Gaslamp District you will pass cafes, art galleries, boutiques and antique shops.
  • Old Town: Nowhere like Presidio Hill in Old Town State Historic Park does one come across San Diego's historic Hispanic roots. As we told you in our article on the Spanish missions in California, it was here that in 1769 the Spaniards built the first of the El Camino Real missions; also it is here that now you can see some historic houses. The advice is not to miss the well preserved House of Estudillo, where you can also see the blacksmith's shop, the stables, a school and a printing house.
  • Marina / Pier: San Diego is a seaside city and its coastal neighborhood is obviously one of the most interesting. Its most photographed point is undoubtedly there Unconditional Surrender Statue: the gigantic statue that immortalizes the famous kiss between the sailor and the Red Cross nurse. The USS Midway aircraft carrier museum, the fresh fish market and the Seaport Village shopping area are some of the other must-see points of interest in this area.
  • Little Italy: as in other American cities, the Italian neighborhood has a characteristic that distinguishes it from the surrounding areas: the restaurants. India street and its streets are a concentration of places dedicated to the food of the beautiful country and is the reason why the locals flock to this district. For us Italians it may not be the most attractive neighborhood, but it is worth a visit if you are in the city.

If you want some advice on how to optimize travel in the city, you can take a look at our article dedicated to how to get around San Diego.

Tips to Fill Your Belly If you're in San Diego but don't know which restaurant to choose, check out our article on where to eat in San Diego. Happy reading e enjoy your meal!

The beaches of San Diego

The long stretches of sand of San Diego are in their own right considered to be the best beaches in California. You can find them galore in the areas of Coronado, La Jolla, the Mission Bay region, the North County coast, South Bay and the Point Loma Peninsula. However, it is unlikely that you will find time to explore all of these areas during your visit; if time is short, converge directly on 2 beaches that will surely not disappoint you:

  • La jolla cove: small inlet with crystalline waters protected as a nature reserve; is part of one of the most elegant areas of San Diego, La Jolla (the jewel), an area full of boutiques, restaurants and places to stroll and shop.
  • Coronado Beach: beautiful beach of 1,5 km characterized by an almost subtropical vegetation, a temperate climate and the famous hotel del Coronado, which contributes to giving the area a peculiar aspect.

For a more complete overview you can read our guide to San Diego beaches.

What to see along the San Diego coast

The San Diego County coast isn't just about beaches. This jagged stretch of coast of the Pacific Ocean is in fact full of cliffs, viewpoints and a few other little surprises that await visitors. If you are heading from San Diego to Los Angeles or vice versa, but even if starting from the city center you want to spend a day on the beach without looking for the beach life, you will have several options to choose from to stop.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

At the northern end of the county you will find the Torrey Pines state reserve: 6 sq km of natural park that owes its name to the rare subspecies of pine that grows almost exclusively here. Closed between the ocean on one side and a lagoon on the other, the park extends over ahigh cliff overhanging and is full of trails that allow you to make pleasant trekking in the pine forests and bushes that cover the sandy dunes.

To visit the reserve it is necessary respect specific rules, being a protected area. Pets are not allowed, drones cannot be used and it is it is mandatory to stay on the trails so as not to damage the vegetation. To save wild animals, it is forbidden to bring food inside the area, so much so that there are no rubbish bins. The only exception is the beach area, where not only is it possible to eat and fish, but there are also special areas for barbeque.

The lagoon area it is especially interesting for birdwatchers, being a favorite destination for migratory birds. Inside the park it is possible to find animals such as bobcats, foxes, rabbits, raccoons, coyotes. But the real reason why the park is worth visiting is the view from the numerous observation points that scatter the paths. During the migratory season, from these cliffs is possible to see the big gray whales. Equipped with sneakers, you can walk along the network of trails running through the park and also descend below the cliff, reaching the beach. The most popular spot is the flat rock: a flat rock adjacent to the beach, on which it is easy to climb in times of low tide.

This and other information can be found at the visitor center, which also houses a small museum on local nature. The reserve is open all year from 7.15am to sunset (which can vary between 17 and 20 depending on the time of year), while the visitor center is open from 9 to 18 in summer and from 9 to 16 in winter. On weekends and holidays, in addition to summer Fridays, there are two free tours per day departing from the visitor center at 10 and 14. To access the park by car, there are two possibilities:

  • South beach parking. In high season (from Spring Break to the end of September) it costs $ 15 from Monday to Thursday and $ 20-25 from Friday to Sunday. In the low season it costs $ 12 from Monday to Thursday and $ 15 from Friday to Sunday.
  • North beach parking. In high season (from Spring Break to the end of September) it costs $ 10 from Monday to Thursday and $ 15 from Friday to Sunday. In the low season it costs $ 10.

If you don't have the time or desire to walk, but only plan a quick stop, my advice is not to enter the state park, opting instead for a solution that avoids paying for parking. At the southern end of the reserve is the Torrey Pines Gliderport. The departure and landing base for hang gliders and paragliders overlooks a high sheer cliff and is an excellent point from which to admire the underlying Black’s Beach. In addition to a large free parking area, you will find an observation platform from which, if you are lucky, you will take memorable photos with the colorful sails of paragliders flying over the coast.

La Jolla

We have cited La Jolla as one of the best places to go a day at the beach, but that's not the only reason to travel to the North San Diego seaside village. The small town is one of the best in the county for entertaining stroll through the small shops of the internal streets and along the seafront.

But the real wealth of La Jolla lies precisely in the waters it overlooks. On the rocks not far from the shore they rest daily in the sun seals and sea lions. The smell is not the best, but seeing these animals up close is certainly more impressive when they are in their natural environment than, for example, at the nearby Sea World theme park. Along the cliffs they roar seagulls and pelicans, while under the surface of the water divers find their paradise in what is defined as a real underwater natural park.

If the whole promenade offers a beautiful view of the natural pools created by the sea in the rocks, don't miss it LaJolla Cave - not to be confused with La jolla cove, which is the beach - a natural cave overlooking the sea. It takes just a few steps along the Coast Walk Trail to see the cave from above.

Sunset Cliffs

Going down the coast you reach the lagoon area of ​​Mission Beach, famous for hosting Sea World. After passing it, you begin to skirt the long peninsula that separates downtown San Diego from the ocean. After the wide but nondescript Ocean Beach, you will come across one of the best places to watch the sunset in San Diego.

The name Sunset Cliffs given to these cliffs is not accidental. The position and setting given by the yellow rocks, which take on different shades of orange with the sunset light reflected from the sea, make it one of the most romantic places in the area. If the timetables allow it, I can only advise you to go here at sunset. If you are lucky, you will find the only stone bench that overlooks the sea free, but sitting on the cliff is also not bad.

Cabrillo national monument

At the tip of the peninsula you can reach the only National Monument in San Diego County: the Cabrillo National Monument. But what is it, or rather who is Cabrillo? Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo was a character as unknown and mysterious as the waters he crossed: it is not even clear whether he was Spanish or Portuguese (he is also known as João Rodrigues Cabrilho). The only certainty is that he was the first European to set foot on what is now the Pacific coast of the United States. Fifty years after Columbus' landing in America, Cabrillo set sail from the city of Navidad - in present-day Mexico - sailing north in search of the mythical connection between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans which was then believed to exist somewhere north of the continent. . On September 28, 1542, Cabrillo's army entered a bay that the conqueror described as "An excellent closed port": today San Diego stands on that bay.

The white statue of Cabrillo stands out against the backdrop of the ocean just a few steps from the visitor center. In addition to the monument, however, this seemingly small park has something else to offer at any time of the year. In the warm season, walk the paths that lead to the old one Point Loma lighthouse, also passing by the small hut that hosts a small exhibition on military artillery, right up to the cliff, where the natural pools in the rock host a rich marine way. Autumn and winter, on the other hand, are the suitable seasons to see migrations. Numerous stops here in the autumn months migratory birds, which rest on the cliffs of the peninsula before leaving for their destinations. In winter, the big ones migrate gray whales: from here it is not uncommon to spot them snorting from the surface of the water passing in front of you.

Entrance to the park is possible every day from 9 to 17. But be careful: it is located within the military area of ​​Point Loma and the indicated access times are mandatory. Under no circumstances is it allowed to enter at night. The ticket is $ 20 per vehicle - or $ 15 for motorcycles, $ 10 for cyclists or pedestrians - but it is included in the American National Parks Card circuit.

Tips for staying overnight

To choose the area or neighborhood where to stay overnight, I refer you to our tips on where to sleep in San Diego and, if you land in the city, I remind you of the advice we always give in these cases: booking the combined flight + hotel package often allows savings. considerable compared to buying air and hotel separately. Check the prices on this page.

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