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20 Must-See Places to Visit in San Diego

San Diego, set along the beautiful California coastline, is a city brimming with attractions and activities for everyone. This destination is perfect for making lasting memories, whether you're on a family trip or exploring solo. Its appeal lies in its variety, offering something special for every visitor.

The city's beaches are a major draw, inviting you to enjoy the sun, sand, and surf. They're ideal for both the thrill of surfing and the relaxation of a beach day. Beyond the beach, San Diego is home to the famous San Diego Zoo and a range of museums, blending fun with educational experiences for all ages. Food lovers will find plenty to enjoy in San Diego's growing restaurant scene, which offers a wide range of dining options. For those seeking entertainment, the city doesn't disappoint, with its amusement parks and numerous other attractions providing endless fun.

San Diego is more than just a place to visit; it's a destination where every activity and sight has its own unique charm. From the excitement of the waves to the tranquility of a coastal walk, from the discovery in museums to the pleasure of a great meal, San Diego offers a rich and varied experience. Join us as we explore the top 20 must-see places in this vibrant city, each one a key part of what makes San Diego so special.


01 Enjoy the Embarcadero

The eastern shores of San Diego Bay have some spectacular views, many of which are viewable from the Embarcadero. Located at the edge of downtown along the bustling San Diego Harbor, this waterfront neighborhood has access to shopping, dining, and entertainment. Walk aboard historic ships at the San Diego Maritime Museum, enjoy public art and pier fishing at the marina parks, then spend time window shopping at Seaport Village. If you need some cardio after indulging in fresh fish tacos, try renting a bike or strolling along the waterfront promenade.

02 Try surfing in the Pacific

Surfing isn't just for the professionals in San Diego, though you'll find plenty of them hitting the waves along the coastline. Beginners can paddle out from La Jolla Shores or try their hand at bodyboarding at Marine Street Beach. Experienced surfers should try Windansea in the wintertime, while Black's Beach is famous for its year-round swells.

03 Explore the world-famous San Diego Zoo

Perhaps one of the most well-known attractions in the area, the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park spans over 100 acres and houses over 3,500 rare and endangered animals from all over the world. The Zoo offers guided bus tours of the entire park lasting 35 minutes. There is also a Skyfari aerial tram offering another perspective while being transported to the other side of the large park. There are multiple educational shows and even a 4-D movie theater for wildlife films. This is a great adventure that will provide lasting memories.

04 Stroll through Balboa Park

Balboa Park sprawls over 1200 acres and is home to the San Diego Zoo, which takes up approximately 100 acres. The detailed Spanish Renaissance buildings are scattered throughout the park, including the Botanical Building. The park has rose gardens, cactus gardens, Japanese gardens, and a palm tree canyon. Simply strolling or biking around the park is an adventure in itself.

05 Feel like a local at Coronado Beach

Hotel Del Coronado Aerial And Navy Housing On Silverstrand, San Diego, California Manuela Durson / EyeEm/ Getty Images

Coronado Beach is a tranquil location for sunbathing and swimming. The calm waters of the area make it ideal for a family picnic. A view of the 130-year-old National Historic Landmark, the Hotel del Coronado on the edge of the water makes it even more enjoyable. This is a picturesque stop on any trip to San Diego.


06 Groove in La Jolla

La Jolla is a picturesque seaside community with a little bit of something for everyone. Shops, art galleries, and various eateries keep you busy all day, with enough time to take in a breathtaking sunset from the coastal bluffs. If you're in the mood for adventure, paddle alongside the migration path of grey whales, or tour the Seven Caves on a kayak. Tire the kids out on a trek down 145 steps to Jim's Cave at The Cave Store, then to the Children's Pool to watch the seals sunbathe.

07 Go back in time at Gaslamp Quarter

507373439 Metaphortography / Getty Images

Walking among the lights and excitement in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego will provide you with a real feel for the nightlife. This 16-block Victorian-style area is home to shops, theaters, art galleries, and dining opportunities. It is the place for outdoor events and music many nights of the week. This is an easy stop for dinner or simply a stroll.


08 Say, "ahoy!" at the Maritime Museum of San Diego

No trip to San Diego would be complete without a visit to the Maritime Museum of San Diego. There are tours available for many kinds of sailing ships and submarines. The ships alternate based on the time of the year. The museum offers standing exhibits and artifacts as well making it an educational experience as well as entertaining.

09 Take in a show at SeaWorld San Diego

There are few travelers in the United States that have not heard of SeaWorld San Diego. This wildlife attraction sits on the San Diego beach and is an amusement park and educational adventure all in one. Visitors can enjoy interactions with many sea creatures. Their underwater tunnel is an experience in marine life, and the penguin exhibit has over 300 penguins to visit. Those that really want an adventure can try one of the many rides available.

10 Get historical and visit the Cabrillo National Monument

120032406 Tashka / Getty Images

The Cabrillo National Monument sits at the very edge of Point Loma, just outside of San Diego. The statue is a depiction of Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo, an explorer that was the first from Europe to visit California in 1542. The view from this site is epic and an incredible way to see the shoreline.


11 Learn about naval warfare at the USS Midway Museum

San Diego has many military bases throughout the city. The USS Midway is an aircraft carrier with the distinction of carrying over 225,000 sailors over the course of its activity. There are over 60 exhibits as well as 29 restored aircraft. Some of the aircraft on exhibit include those from World War II, the Korean War, and even Operation Desert Storm.

12 Snap some pics at Sunset Cliffs

Close to the Cabrillo Monument lies one of the best places to get a fantastic photo of the ocean. The Sunset Cliffs run a 68-acre distance along the shoreline, producing stunning sun-kissed rocks that glow ranges of orange and red in the evening. Utilizing the provided stairway, site-seers can enjoy a stroll enjoying the view with crashing waves and distant ships. This spot is a beautiful place to end a day before heading out for the evening.

13 Hike Torrey Pines State Reserve

Perhaps one of the best ways to get a good look at San Diego's shoreline is by visiting Torrey Pines State Reserves 1,750 acres. This land is untouched and protected, lined with dramatic cliffs and pine trees, including the Torrey Pine, the rarest in the United States. The awe-inspiring views make hiking the 8 miles of trails an experience like no other.

14 Enjoy a slice of Little Italy

San Diego's oldest continuous business district is also a vibrant, walkable neighborhood with a community-oriented vibe. Little Italy welcomes visitors to stop and enjoy the local flavors and scenery. Enjoy a snack relaxing at a patio cafe, or have a few drinks at a friendly pub. If you're in town on Saturday or Wednesday, look for some fresh, local fare at the Farmer's Market. You'll find an unforgettable experience for any budget.

15 Walk through Mission San Diego de Alcala

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala, constructed in 1769, was the first of the great Californian missions. Though its original structure burned down in a fire, the meticulously restored building remains an integral part of California's history. Marvel at the 15th-century artwork and various artifacts to get a better idea of how Franciscan friars lived, then enjoy the sunshine while touring the meditation garden.

16 Visit the Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Get up close and personal with marine life at the Birch Aquarium, where you'll discover over 5,000 underwater species featured in 60+ unique habitats. Explore incredible ocean displays that combine cutting-edge research with striking visuals, or enjoy a tactile experience through interactive, hands-on exhibits. Whether you're interested in aquatic life in the Arctic, the tropics, or around the world, educational offerings explain these astounding discoveries in-depth. Mingle with sharks in the two-story, 70,000-gallon Giant Kelp Forest, explore the seafloor using augmented reality, or wind your way through the iconic Hall of Fishes — wherever you wander, adventure awaits.

17 Explore Old Town San Diego

As San Diego's cultural center, Old Town is your go-to destination for shopping, dining, and entertainment. History lovers will be in awe of the 35+ museums and sites which explain the city's history from its indigenous origins through modern times. Over 30 mouth-watering restaurants serve a wide range of cuisine, so you'll find everything from local Mexican-inspired flavors to fresh seafood, Chinese and Italian classics. Explore eclectic shops with one-of-a-kind items, grab rooftop margaritas, or catch a live show. The city springs to vibrant life during Cinco de Mayo and Día de Muertos, but Old Town stays busy every day of the year.

18 Check out the San Diego Museum of Art

Art lovers unite. Featuring over 20,000 objects dating from 3,000 B.C.E. to the present day, the San Diego Museum of Art offers something for everyone. You'll spot masterpieces from the art world's top names, including a striking collection of Spanish old master paintings. Browse ancient Buddhist sculptures, explore the movement of German Expressionism, or view work from renowned artists such as Dalí, Matisse, Monet, and O'Keefe. From paintings to sculptures, drawings, prints, and photography from around the globe, the museum's expansive collection is always growing. Hungry? Stop by Panama 66 for weekend brunch or live music over exhibition-themed cocktails.

19 Take a sunset cruise

Sit back, relax, and soak in scenic views of Mission Bay with a boat cruise at sunset. Whether you're craving a romantic experience or a laid-back adventure, cruise options are available for every interest. Share a toast with signature cocktails, watch musical entertainment, or just rejuvenate and enjoy the ride. Whale watching and dolphin spotting are par for the course, so you'll catch wildlife along the way too. A full bar is on board serving your favorite beer, wine, and adult beverages, and many cruises feature multi-course dinners if you're feeling hungry.

20 Catch a San Diego Padres game at Petco Park

If you're a baseball fan (heck, even if you're not,) don't miss out on the opportunity to catch the Padres play at the famous Petco Park. Featuring some of the sport's best sight lines, the stadium provides a spectacular view regardless of where you're sitting. Dozens of food and beverage options tantalize your tastebuds, and the park routinely hosts themed game days, giveaways, and events for all ages.


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