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