40 Things to See and Do in San Diego, CA (that the locals are keeping a secret!)

Photo by Brittany Lamp

Photo by Brittany Lamp

When visiting America's Finest City aka San Diego, California, you’re probably going to start with our world-renowned San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, amble around the museums in Balboa Park, run up for a day at Legoland, and take your family to SeaWorld (what Blackfish?).

Then, I’m sure you’ll want to take a stroll in La Jolla and breathe in the fresh stink of smelly seals (it’s an actual problem), take a surf or paddle board lesson in Pacific Beach and either fall in love with or curse the seven seas, go on a whale watching tour, or find yourself spending all your time working on your year-round tan in our endless summer. Finally, you will 100% Instagram at least one to-die-for sunset that nearly breaks your camera’s lens.

For the sports fans, you might squeeze in a Padre's game (and cross your fingers that they win), and afterwards head to East Village or Old Town to feast in our many renowned Mexican restaurants (FYI Mexico is literally right across the border). Or, if you are so inclined, you can get wild and go on a craft beer tour of our seemingly millions of local microbreweries (it’s kind of a thing here).

Now that you have crossed these basics off your list, here are some of the must-see spots around San Diego County that you won’t find on any ‘best of’ radars:


1.          Self-Realize at the Self Realization Fellowship Hermitage & Meditation Gardens (215 K St. Encinitas, CA 92024) – Find yourself in this magical temple and garden founded in 1920 by Paramahansa Yoganda, which is open to the public. You can walk or meditate in the gardens, attend a service at the Temple, go on a retreat, or visit the gift store.


2.          Swim with otters at Nurtured by Nature (Valley Center, CA) – Swim with Otters. Need I say more?

*This is by reservation only. Last year they had the 2018 calendar fill up in just 4 hours. So, Plan ahead! 


3.          Shop and Eat at Hillcrest Farmer’s Market (3960 Normal St, San Diego, CA 9210) – Shop and eat local at the largest farmer’s market in San Diego on a Sunday. Your taste buds will thank you.


4.          Complete the 5-Peak Challenge in Mission Trails (Mission Trails Regional Park Visitor Center, 1 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Diego, CA 92119) – Feel on top of the world, or at least on top of San Diego, by hiking the city’s tallest peaks, and be rewarded with a pin, and a $10 gift certificate to Adventure 16 when you show proof you conquered all five peaks at the beautiful Mission Trails Visitor Center.


5.          Take the Tower Tour in Balboa Park (1350 El Prado, California Tower, San Diego, CA 92101) – Built in 1914 as part of the California-Panama Exposition, this tower was closed for decades and just recently opened again to the public! This 40-minute tour is full of Balboa Park history and on a clear day, allows you to see a 360-degree view nearly 23 miles to the horizon. 


6.          Kayak the mystical caves of La Jolla (2199 Avenida De La Playa, La Jolla, CA 92037) – You’ve surfed, swam, shopped and smelled the smelly seals of La Jolla, now kayak its beautiful and underrated caves.


7.          Eat legitimate charcoal BBQ’d Korean in Kearny Mesa at Dae Jang Keum BBQ (7905 Engineer Rd, San Diego, CA 92111) – For those who’ve been to S. Korea, it doesn’t get more real than this. Charcoal barbecued yumminess.


8.          Drink a Horchata Latte at Por Vida (2146 Logan Ave, San Diego, CA 92113) – Horchata + coffee? Heaven is closer than we think, ladies and gents! Be sure to check out some of the cool shopping spots nearby too.


9.          Wine Taste in Temecula (Temecula, CA) - The Napa Valley of Southern California… Well, at least if you squint your eyes tightly enough. Temecula makes a great weekend getaway for all wine lovers.


10.       Get your Zen on at Deerpark Monastery (2499 Melru Lane, Escondido, CA 92026) – Established by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh to share the practice of mindful living. You can visit for a Day of Mindfulness (including a donation-based delicious vegan lunch) on a Sunday, or plan a longer stay. You will feel like you were transported to an overseas sanctuary.


11.       Hike Three Sisters Waterfall(Three Sisters Falls Trail, Descanso, CA 91916) – Who doesn’t love a treacherous waterfall hike, complete with ropes to traverse down the side of the mountain? Just don’t do this in the summer... seriously. It’s v hot.


12.       Complete San Diego’s Seven Bridge Walk (San Diego, CA) – A lovely way to get to know the mid-town area of San Diego. A lovely 5.5 mile loop that includes some of San Diego’s most historical bridges, including the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge.


13.       Visit the Cabrillo National Monument(1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr, San Diego, CA 92106) – Sitting pretty at the tip of the Point Loma Peninsula, you can visit this monument and historical park, which commemorates Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European to set foot on what would become the West Coast of the United States, in the 16th century. This park also features 19th century lighthouses, military history, gorgeous trails, tide pools and spectacular views of the coast. You can’t miss exploring it.


14.       Read or hangout at the Downtown San Diego’s Central Library (330 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101) – Debatably one of the prettiest modern libraries. This nearly 500,000 square foot library is complete with an outdoor courtyard and café. Warning, you may not want to leave.


15.       Get naked at Black’s Beach (2800 Torrey Pines Scenic Dr, San Diego, CA 92037-1004) – For the purists and nudists of San Diego. Clothing (and seeing glasses), optional.  


16.       Tacos Al Gordo (689 H St, Chula Vista, CA 91910) – When asked on where to go for the most legitimate tacos in San Diego, there is no question. Prepare to be a repeat offender!


17.       Sit pretty, poolside at Lafayette Hotel and Swim Club (2223 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92104) – Basically the Ace Hotel of San Diego. Built in 1946, this hotel is full of history, fun events, pool parties and delicious food. P.S. Top Gun was filmed here!


18.       Hike Slot Canyon in Anza Borrego State Park (Borrego Mountain Wash, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Springs, CA 92004) – Anza Borrego is full of great camping and hiking, however this particular hike is something special.


19.       Hike to the Goat Canyon Trestle Bridge (Carrizo Gorge Rd, Jacumba Hot Springs, CA 91934) – Hike to the world’s largest wooden trestle, through spooky tunnels and abandoned train cars, this is definitely one hike that shouldn’t be missed (except in the summer).


20.       Soak, but not poke at DeAnza Springs Resort (1951 Carrizo Gorge Rd, Jacumba Hot Springs, CA 91934) – An all-ages, clothing optional resort.  A perfect way to cool off after hiking to the Goat Canyon Trestle Bridge.


21.       Take a haunted tour of the Whaley House (2476 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110) – While in Old Town, be sure to book a tour of the infamous Whaley House, for your ghost story fix. You will soon realize that the only thing to fear are the tourist traps outside.


22.       Drink coffee and have a photoshoot inside Communal Coffee (2335 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92104) – Hands down the most instagrammable (I swear it’s a word) coffee shop, with delicious coffee and treats to boot!  If that’s not enough, it’s connected to an adorable flower shoptoo!


23.       Walk across the Harbor Drive Pedestrian Bridge in Downtown (2 E Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101) – If you are near the convention center, you will see and promptly need to walk across this beautiful bridge.  


24.       Visit the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala (10818 San Diego Mission Rd, San Diego, CA 92108) – This is the first of 21 Spanish missions built and established between 1769 and 1833 in California. These were led and founded by Catholic priests, with a mission to evangelize the Native Americans who lived on this land for thousands of years prior. The mission is still active, and open to the public. #BlesSD


25.       Eat the best California burrito at El Zarape (3038 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116) – San Diego is obv home to the best CA burritos. With two locations in San Diego, you can get double the dose of California burrito delicioso-ness at El Zarape.


26.       Starry Lane Bakery (3925 4th Avenue, San Diego, CA 92103) – A 100% Gluten-Free, vegan and allergen friendly bakery that is just AMAZING. Whether you have allergies or not, this place is worth the visit. I personally recommend the sandwich bread and oatmeal triple chocolate chunk cookies. 


27.       Cider Taste in Julian at Julian CiderWorks (17552 Harrison Park Rd, Julian, CA 92036) – Julian is San Diego’s mountainous getaway, with snow (I swear!) and where Julian Hard Cider got its start, before relocating to the Northwest. Taste Julian’s own apples in some interesting cider flavors at CiderWorks.


28.       Hang with wolves in Julian (570 K Q Ranch Rd, Julian, CA 92036) – The California wolf center is dedicated to the recovery of wolves in the wild-lands they once roamed. They offer both public and private tours. Something to truly howl about (ha?).


29.       Eat pie (even gluten free!) at Apple Alley Bakery in Julian (2122 Main St, Julian, CA 92036) – Hungry like a wolf?  This café is full of delicious options, including gluten-free sandwiches and Julian’s famous apples pies. Best part is that they are celiac friendly!


30.       Eat some legit Nepalese food at Taste of the Himalayas (3185 Midway Dr, San Diego, CA 92110) – The Himalayas have never tastes so good, and they have gluten free options!


31.       Do some good, and go on a Paddleboard Trash Cleanup (Encinitas, CA) – Learn how to paddleboard, and help clean up our beautiful waters. Both nature and your gluteus will thank you!


32.       Partake in Drag Queen Bingo at Lips Restaurant (3036 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92104) – Drag queens + food + bingo = Yaaassss queen!


33.       Drink some camel’s milk at Oasis Camel Dairy (26757 CA-78, Ramona, CA 92065) – Where hump day is everyday... Camel milk products, tours, workshops, and more! 


34.       Feel the yuppie at Trilogy Sanctuary in La Jolla (7650 Girard Ave #400, La Jolla, CA 92037) – Rooftop yoga with vegan and gluten-free eats? It doesn’t get much more San Diego than this.


35.       Take the ferry to Coronado (990 N Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101) – Take the non-conventional route to Coronado Island and soak in those bay views!


36.       Eat the best (Korean inspired) desert ever at Binghaus (4425 Convoy St. Ste 216 San Diego, CA 92111) – We are talking about watermelon stuffed with milk shaved snow, frosted flakes, condensed milk, red bean, mochi and vanilla soft serve…You’re already in line.


37.       Visit the art sculptures sprawled around Borrego Springs (1624 Borrego Springs Rd, Borrego Springs, CA 92004) – Amongst the spring wildflowers in Borrego Springs, you will find 130 metal sculptures, including a 350 foot-long serpent. Get those selfie-sticks ready!


38.       Bliss out with Bliss Paddleboard Yoga (4000 Fanuel St, San Diego, CA 92109) – Leave it to San Diego to take paddle boarding to an awesome new level. Namaste afloat ; )


39.       Hike Cedar Creek Falls in Ramona (15519 Thornbush Rd, Ramona, CA 92065) – Another great waterfall hike in San Diego. Best time to go? Spring! Roaring (relatively speaking) waterfall with lush surroundings. Don’t forget to buy a permit before you go.


40.       Torrey Pines Glideport (2800 Torrey Pines Scenic Dr, La Jolla, CA 92037) – Fly above San Diego. Note: they are not responsible for what you see down below at Black’s Beach.


Enjoy these amazing places, and don't forget to tag Buenqamino in your Instagram photos! 

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