Have you been to San Diego? Do you love it? San Diego is where my dadâ€™s sister and her family live, so it was always our special vacation. My dadâ€™s sister has a personality more sunny than the warm weather of San Diego â€“ she is a total optimist. Maybe it is all the incredible things to do in her beautiful city!
I am planning to visit them in a couple weeks, so I am preparing a list of all the things I want to do, and remembering things I loved that weâ€™ve done before. Iâ€™m sharing that list with you in case you also want to plan a visit to the sunshine state.
12 Cool (Mostly Free) Things To Do in San Diego
- 1 Reasons why you should visit San Diego:
- 2 12 Cool Things To Do in San Diego
- 3 More to explore
Reasons why you should visit San Diego:
- Itâ€™s nearly always sunny, with comfortable temperatures year-round
- There are opportunities for the ocean and beaches, desert, and mountains â€“ the best of all worlds
- The locals are warm and friendly â€“ need I say more?!
12 Cool Things To Do in San Diego
1. Balboa Park
Youâ€™re going to see a lot of hiking on this list, and the first stop is Balboa Park, San Diegoâ€™s Central Park. Balboa Park also boasts the famous San Diego Zoo (weâ€™ll get to that in a minute), museums and a concert hall. There is so much to do there, but I recommend starting with a walk through the park and then some time sitting and people watching. A picnic is a fun option as well!
2. La Jolla Shores
There are so many beaches to choose from, but you might as well start at La Jolla shores. Blackâ€™s Beach is famously clothing optional, making for a great option to get sun, well, everywhere. It also has picturesque views from the cliff top that make it worth visiting. Windansea beach is also located in La Jolla, and is a favorite amongst the locals.
3. Old Town San Diego
To experience the cultural and historic center of San Diego, itâ€™s worth visiting Old Town San Diego. Youâ€™ll see the Spanish and Mexican influence, along with the joy of living of San Diego! Good areas to checkout are Little Italy, the Gaslight District, and the area around the harbor. You can see my recap of the best things to do in downtown San Diego here.
4. Torrey Pines State Park and Beach
This is a two-for-one destination. Torrey Pines State Reserve is located high above Torrey Pines Beach, and offers many miles of hiking trails with spectacular views of the Pacific, as well as a natural history and wildlife educational center.
From the clifftops of Torrey Pines you can often see pods of whales and dolphins, which is a special highlight. You can also sit and enjoy the California desert scrub while watching the boats, kayakers, and surfers.
Because Torrey Pines is near a large military base this is also a fun destination to watch different types of planes, helicopters and combination plane/helicopters!
When you are ready to get into the ocean, head to Torrey Pines Beach for a swim or to watch the hang gliders that prefer this beach. As Torrey Pines Beach is somewhat rocky, you can lie on the warm rocks after swimming in the cold ocean, or set up a picnic after your hike.
5. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is located northeast of San Diego, and can be reached by car in just under 2 hours. Be warned the roads are sometimes especially winding and difficult for those prone to car sickness (ugh!). But it is worth the drive!
The 600,000-acre park is one of the largest state parks in the USA. Whenever it rains the wildflowers bloom, making the desert alive with vibrant color and life. I have many fond memories hiking in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park as a child with my family.
There are hikes of all distances, and for all skill levels, including one nice hike – of about 3 hours roundtrip – that ends at a waterfall before you turn back. The visitors’ center has extensive information and presentations about the California desert and the state park.
If you can, plan to spend 1-2 nights here in order to take in all the activities the park has to offer. There are affordable cabins for rent nearby, which are especially fun for a group!
San Diegoâ€™s Embarcadero is a wonderful stop to enjoy the local culture, entertainment, and shopping. You can easily spend an afternoon or evening wandering around eating, drinking and exploring. In addition to shopping and dining, there is the maritime museum, the USS Midway museum, and the waterfront park to explore.
7. San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo is one of the best in the country. You have the option to drive through large open game areas, and well as see animals up close in captivity. You can get group and family passes, or get in for free with someone who has an annual pass. This is one of the not completely free destinations on the list, but definitely an affordable and fun way to spend the day.
The huge tiger area, the elephant area, and the safari ride are all highlights. This is always on the agenda when we visit San Diego.
8. Mission Trails Regional Park
Mission Trails Regional Park is great not only for hikers, but also for bikers. There are over 40 miles of trail to explore. The visitorâ€™s center includes educational information about the history and culture of the area.
9. Coronado Beach
Coronado Beach is fun for biking and rollerblading along the boardwalk. It is also a large, wide beach good for sand castles, body boarding, surfing, and flying kites. My aunt and uncle actually met on Coronado beach while he was out flying a kite and she was walking the beach!
10. Scenic Highway
The 59-mile scenic highways winds along the Pacific coast. Take part or all of it and enjoy the spectacular views. Bring a picnic lunch and stop for a hike and a swim on the way!
11. Pacific Beach
I know there are already several beaches on this list, but I couldnâ€™t leave Pacific Beach off the list. There is a classic pier at Pacific Beach, that is great not only for family photos, but also for seeing dolphins and whales off in the distance.
12. Sea World
While not free, Sea World is the obvious San Diego classic for good reason â€“ it is fun for children and adults alike. You can score very inexpensive tickets on groupon, or through seasonal sales.
There are giant chess sets, splash pads, and educational tours to learn about the marine life. Iâ€™ve heard some controversy about how they treat their animals, so when you are there make your voice heard and encourage them to adopt more sustainable and humane practices!
More to explore
San Diego has all the best of California, without the huge crowds. You can get to most of the classic Southern California destinations within a couple hours’ drive, but you could easily spend a week or more exploring all that San Diego has to offer.
This list started with 10 activities, but I kept remembering more I couldnâ€™t resist. I hope you will take this list with you in planning your trip to San Diego. Please send me an email and Iâ€™m happy to help you plan your trip!
Here are more posts to explore on San Diego:
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