Where to soak up the sun and culture today in San Diego? You’ve come to the right place. From iconic and scenic must-visit places to activities that are just so SoCal it hurts — here’s what you should do while visiting San Diego.
Featured Photo: Courtesy of Unsplash
Set at the edge of downtown, this 1,200-acre green oasis is a perfect blend of culture and nature with its 17 museums, Old Globe Theatre, blooming gardens, picnic spots and 65-miles of hiking trails. You’ll find Miro and Rodin in the sculpture court, stunning Spanish Colonial architecture, 2100 rare and exotic plants in the Botanical Building, a photo-worthy lily pond, artist studios in cobblestoned Spanish Village, free concerts at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, cherry blossoms at the Japanese Friendship Garden and more. balboapark.org
San Diego’s oldest enclave and the first European settlement in California may feel a tad touristy but you can explore Old Town’s historic adobes, a famed haunted house, Kumeyaay culture, Mexican cantinas, and an old-fashioned mercantile shop. Then head to the Tahona Bar for a mole flight and mezcal tasting. oldtownsandiego.org
The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch
From March to May, a rainbow of ranunculus flowers color a 50-acre hillside overlooking the Carlsbad coastline. Owned by the Ecke Family, whose legacy includes introducing the Poinsettia plant as the symbol of the holidays in the 1960s, The Flower Fields showcase nature’s artistry and invite guests to wander through the vibrant fields on foot or on tractor ride. At this photogenic wonderland you can also explore the Butterfly Garden, orchid greenhouse and sunflower patch, or pick blueberries in the sunshine. There’s even a massive American flag made from the red, white and blue ranunculus flowers. theflowerfields.com
USS Midway + Maritime Museum
On the USS Midway, a floating aircraft carrier museum, tour the engine room, galley and brig, or climb into the cockpit of one of the 29 restored aircrafts awaiting on the landing deck. More historic ships can be found at the nearby Maritime Museum, home to a Soviet submarine, steam ferry from 1898 and the Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship. midway.org; sdmaritime.org
Torrey Pines State Reserve
Here you’ll find coastal hiking at its finest as the 1,750-acre coastal reserve has a network of trails that wander through the striated sandstone canyons overlooking the sea. The landscape is punctuated by the rare and endangered Torrey Pine, only be found in the park and on Santa Rosa Island off Ventura. Various scenic vantage points offer prime views of frolicking dolphins or spouting migrating whales. torreypines.org
Part of the Barrio Logan Cultural District, these colorful murals at the base of the Coronado bridge pay homage to the city’s Mexican-American history, heritage and activism. In 2017, the park became a National Historic Landmark. chicanoparksandiego.com
Del Mar Thoroughbred Club
San Diego’s love affair with thoroughbred racing dates back to 1937 when crooner Bing Crosby and his Hollywood pals opened the Del Mar Race Track — “where the turf meets the surf.” Summer season runs from mid-July through early September and Opening Day is a spectacle to behold as race fans don their finest hats and threads, and sip champagne while placing bets on their favorite horse or jockey. Free concerts and food festivals also highlight the season. A second Bing Crosby Season runs in November. dmtc.com
Foodies fans should pilgrimage to this iconic Japanese-owned farm in San Dieguito Valley that played an integral part in the farm-to-table movement. Chef Alice Waters first publicized the quality of its produce and soon other chef legends like Wolfgang Puck became devotees of their fine fruits and vegetables. Their produce pantry is famous for sweet corn, strawberries, and exotic melons to name a few delights from the bounty. chinofamilyfarm.com
More Things to Do
A surfer’s mecca with every kind of imaginable break, San Diego has 50+ spots to paddle out, from epic Black’s Beach and Windansea in La Jolla, to Swami’s, Cardiff Reef and the Oceanside Pier where the U.S. Olympic Team trains. Newcomers should sign up for a lesson in the gentle waves of La Jolla shores with Surf Diva, an all-female surf school. surfdiva.com
No other city has more amusement and animal parks than San Diego. Commune with the koalas, pandas, penguins and panthers at the world famous San Diego Zoo, enjoy an African Savannah adventure without the jet lag at the Safari Park, swim with dolphins and ride the heart-thumping rollercoasters at SeaWorld, or explore the waterpark, aquarium, miniature exhibits and 60 rides at LEGOLAND. New to the scene is Sesame Place San Diego with a massive wave pool, interactive musical water play and Sesame Street-themed rides.
On the Water
Gray whales migrating to and from the breeding lagoons of Baja pass San Diego each winter from December to March, while 100-foot blue whales often feed off the coast in summer. Dolphin pods frolic year round. For intimate groups and close encounters, hop on Xplore Offshore, a Navy Seal-certified rigid inflatable fast boat, while larger groups can enjoy The Adventuress, a 60’ luxury catamaran. Sailing fans should climb aboard Yacht America, the 139-foot schooner, while families should buckle up for a wild ride on the Patriot Jet Boat, as this turbo-charged boat does 360-degree spins while cruising the harbor.
Built in 1935 and modeled after Shakespeare’s Old Globe in London, this renowned theater has launched Broadway-bound and Tony Award-winning productions over the years. Each summer the Old Globe celebrates The Bard with performances of his work, and families loves the annual How the Grinch Stole Christmas during the holidays. The La Jolla Playhouse, set on the UC San Diego campus, has great Hollywood history as it was founded by Gregory Peck and Mel Ferrer. Today, it’s known for its Broadway productions and progressive performances like their Without Walls interactive, site-inspired theater.