18 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in San Diego
San Diego is the state’s oldest city, located in southern California near the Mexican border. It boasts enthralling natural beauty and a pleasant Mediterranean climate with abundance of sunshine, making it ideal for outdoor activities. There are so many Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in San Diego.
Balboa Park’s museums, gardens, and Spanish Colonial-style buildings are among the city’s most popular tourist attractions, as are the world-famous San Diego Zoo and the Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum.
Stroll through the streets of Old Town San Diego State Historic Park or the Gaslamp Quarter for a taste of history and shopping.
San Diego beaches are among of the best in Southern California for year-round sun and sea breezes, with more than 68 miles of shoreline in and around the city for sunbathing, swimming, and surfing.
With this list of the top tourist attractions in San Diego, you can discover the greatest places to visit and activities to do in this lovely SoCal city.
1. Balboa Park
Balboa Park is a tourist’s life long dream. This 1,400-acre property includes historical structures, museums, gardens, and natural space. The park was built for the Panama California Exhibition in 1915-1916, and most of the buildings from that event still stand. The prevalent architectural style is Spanish, with low-rise structures that mix nicely with the natural environment.
The botanical gardens and lily pond, the San Diego Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Man, and the famed San Diego Zoo are all attractions of the park. Even if you never enter a structure, the park is a lovely location to visit.
Address: 1549 El Prado, San Diego, California
Official site: http://www.balboapark.org/
2. San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo, a popular tourist attraction in Balboa Park, is one of the largest and most well-known zoos in the United States. One of the best things to do in San Diego with kids is to visit this family-friendly attraction. Plan to spend at least a full day here to get the most out of your vacation.
Exotic species such as gorillas, grizzly bears, koalas, leopards, bonobos, polar bears, rhinos, & sloths may be found here. The zoo tries to recreate each animal’s original environment, such as rocks for Amur leopards as well as a frigid lake for polar bears.
The Safari Park is part of the San Diego Zoo. All of the animals in this region are free to wander within large-enclosure natural habitats. Giraffes, for example, graze on the plains, cheetahs rush through the forest, and elephants meander through a protected valley. The Safari Park is a fantastic alternative for families with children because it offers guided tours in an open-air vehicle or cart (no walking necessary). (Some trips demand a minimum age of three years or older.) Bring binoculars! Insider Tip:
The Safari Park’s meticulously created habitats contribute to the zoo’s objective of educating visitors about environmental protection. The San Diego Zoo Animal Alliance funds conservation programs all around the globe that aim to restore wildlife populations in their natural habitats.
The zoo, which is spread out over a beautifully planted canyon, also has an astonishing botanical collection – more than 700,000 species from all over the world decorate the grounds.
If walking around the park hurts your feet, you can always hop on the Kangaroo Bus or glide above the displays in the Skyfari Aerial Tram. Purchase a Skip-the-Line San Diego Zoo ticket, which covers entrance as well as unlimited bus and tram trips. You’ll also escape any lengthy waits at the door.
The San Diego Zoo is located about 40 minutes north of downtown San Diego.
Address: 2920 Zoo Drive, Balboa Park, San Diego, California
Official site: http://www.sandiegozoo.org/
3. Gaslamp Quarter
The Gaslamp Quarter National Historic District, located near Petco Park and the Convention Center, is the center of the city’s nightlife. It’s a terrific spot to go after dark if you’re searching for things to do in downtown San Diego.
Restored late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Victorian structures feature lively entertainment venues, chic stores, art galleries, and restaurants serving every cuisine imaginable, from Persian food to pizza. This is an excellent venue for live jazz, comedy, or theatrical acts.
The neighborhood stretches for around 16 blocks, from Broadway to San Diego Bay, and is reasonably accessible, but bike taxis are available if your feet need a vacation.
The Gaslamp Quarter is also a terrific spot to stay because of its great position in the heart of the city. High-end hotels range from boutique establishments like the Pendry San Diego to big-brand resorts like the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, which is just a short walk from everything.
Official site: http://gaslamp.org/
4. Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum
Walking down the Embarcadero in San Diego, you might be shocked to see one of the largest ships in the US military. The decommissioned USS Midway is berthed permanently at Navy Pier.
More than 60 displays and over 30 restored aircraft are among the attractions of a visit to the USS Midway Museum. More than 225,000 military men served on the ship, so you can learn about its history by taking a self-guided audio tour. You may also use the flying simulator on board for an extra charge.
Consider getting a Skip the Line: USS Midway Museum Admission Ticket to save time on your hectic touring itinerary. This allows you to avoid the crowds at the entry, giving you more time to explore other top San Diego attractions.
Address: 910 North Harbor Drive, San Diego, California
Official site: http://www.midway.org/
5. Seaport Village
San Diego’s Seaport Village is a great area to spend a day strolling around. This section of distinctive shops and eateries is one of the city’s must-sees and is located directly on the waterfront.
Picnic tables, benches, and beachfront patios may be found throughout the neighborhood, and weekends can be quite crowded. In the afternoons, eclectic performers come to the outdoor stage on a regular basis. The hand-carved wooden horses on the vintage carousel are popular with children.
Many of the neighboring sights, including the USS Midway, are easily accessible on foot. Because parking at Seaport Village is limited and expensive, it may be advisable to park a bit farther away and enjoy the walk down the waterfront to the venue.
Address: West Harbor Drive and Pacific Highway, San Diego, California
Official site: http://www.seaportvillage.com/
6. San Diego Beaches
San Diego is ideal for a beach trip due to its year-round weather and miles of stunning surf-washed shoreline. Whatever you enjoy doing, San Diego’s top beaches provide conditions for any form of activity.
Head to Mission Beach for some sun and people-watching, with its bustling beachside boardwalk & seaview cafés. Ocean Beach exudes hippie elegance, and dog owners may let their canines run free at the aptly called Dog Beach. Surfing is also popular on these well-known beaches.
If surfing is your primary priority, Del Mar is one of the best places to go. Pacific Beach, Trestles, Swami’s, and Black’s Beach are all prominent surf places, while beginners can travel to Oceanside or La Jolla shores.
Do you want to take the kids to the beach for a day of sun, sand, & sea? Del Mar, Silver Strand, Coronado Beach, & La Jolla Shores are the greatest family-friendly beaches in San Diego. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, with stunning hiking routes and rising sea cliffs, is ideal for anyone seeking a wild and rough stretch of coastline.
Do you want to know what is the greatest time to visit San Diego for a beach vacation? It is determined on your selected activity. Winter storms produce large seas to surfers. If you’re a swimmer, summer is the greatest season to go swimming, but you can go to the coast any time of year to soak up some sun or stroll down the beach.
7. Old Town State Historic Park
At the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, you may go back in time and experience some of San Diego’s rich culture. From 1821 to 1872, when this city expanded from a tiny Mexican village, the park recreates the feel of the Mexican & early American periods.
Visit a functioning blacksmith shop, peruse the art studios, listen to live Mariachi music, & dine on a sunny terrace at one of the evocative restaurants. Many of the ancient buildings have been renovated, including five original adobe structures, and modern buildings have been erected in the same historical architectural style.
The Old Town State Historic Park is one of California’s most popular state parks. There is no entry charge, and many of the attractions are available for free. You may also sign up for free walking tours, which are conducted twice a day (at 11am and at 2pm).
Address: 4002 Wallace Street, San Diego, California
Official site: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=663
8. Point Loma and Cabrillo National Monument
Point Loma is one of the top spots to visit in San Diego because of its breathtaking views of the city and the Pacific Ocean. You may begin taking in the scenery on the picturesque drive up to Point Loma. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Mexico, and you may even see dolphins or whales.
In 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo made his first landing on the west coast of the United States. At the Cabrillo National Monument, you may learn about the history of his extraordinary “Voyage of Discovery” through a variety of monuments and exhibits. A massive monument of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo overlooks the region he explored.
The Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which was completed in 1858, is also located on Point Loma. The rebuilt lighthouse building is open to visitors.
Hiking the picturesque trails is another favorite activity in this area. Take the one-mile Bayside Trail to the tidal pools if you have children.
Official site: http://www.nps.gov/cabr/index.htm
9. Mission Beach
Mission Beach’s oceanfront area embodies San Diego’s sunny Southern California lifestyle. The stunning blonde-sand beach is the main attraction here.
Swimming, sunbathing, surfing, & beach volleyball are popular activities, and a three-mile picturesque boardwalk runs along the shore. On a beautiful day, you’ll find folks rollerblading, skating, walking, cycling, or dining at one of the numerous coastal cafés or eateries.
Belmont Park, an East Coast-style coastal amusement park replete with a classic roller coaster, fine restaurants, fairground cafes, and street acts, is a feature of Mission Beach. It’s a popular family destination in San Diego.
10. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
The awe-inspiring sight of a Southern California sunset will appeal to romantics. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, which runs for 68 acres along coastal cliffs over the Pacific Ocean, is one of the greatest spots to visit. The site offers an unrivaled vantage point for viewing ocean views as the sun turns the horizon from blue to gorgeous rosy-toned colours.
During the gray whale migration season, the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park provides an opportunity to see these majestic creatures as they make their way to Baja California in Mexico.
11. San Diego Harbor Cruises
San Diego is located on the sea, and boat trips are a terrific way to explore the sites while enjoying the sunlight and fresh air. A San Diego harbor boat also provides a new viewpoint on this gorgeous seaside city. You may learn a little history, view the city skyline, and potentially sight some seals and sea lions sunbathing along the rocky beach on this one- or two-hour guided tour.
The tours include a trip beneath the Coronado Bridge, and you may either indoors or on deck. Snacks and beverages can also be purchased.
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12. Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala
Basilica of the Mission The first mission in California was San Diego de Alcala. Junipero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan Father from Majorca, created the mission stations in 1769, with the first being erected in San Diego. However, a few years after its establishment, it was relocated six miles inland due to disagreements between Spanish forces and Indians.
The Fathers took safety with the soldiers when the Indians set fire to the new mission in 1775, and it wasn’t until 1777 that they established a new mission station with the cooperation of the Indians.
The mission is now a National Historic Landmark and an excellent spot to learn about San Diego’s early history. Highlights include a visit to the historic church with a bell tower, which was designated a basilica in the 1970s, a stroll through the tranquil grounds, and a look through the intriguing displays at the Padre Jayme Museum.
You may take a self-guided tour or pre-book a guided tour on the website.
Address: 10818 San Diego Mission Road, San Diego, California
Official site: https://www.missionsandiego.org/
13. San Diego Museum of Art
Art aficionados seeking a cultural fix can visit the San Diego Museum of Art at Balboa Park. Its characteristic exterior is a replica of the 17th-century Salamanca University in the plateresque style, with finely carved terra-cotta work. The entryway is adorned with busts of Spanish painters, and their artworks are among the numerous varied displays on show.
The museum’s collection includes works from all across the world, including some dating back 7,000 years. Highlights includes work by Spanish and Italian ancient masters, as well as South Asian paintings and American art from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Address: 1450 El Prado, San Diego, California
Official site: http://www.sdmart.org/
14. Whale Watching Cruises in San Diego
San Diego is a great area to see migratory whales in Southern California. At various periods of the year, blue whales, gray whales, humpbacks, & minke whales can be seen, as well as seals, dolphins, and possibly orcas.
Whale viewing excursions are among the best things to do in San Diego from December to April, when the gray whale migration begins. Blue whales often migrate throughout the summer months of June to September.
A San Diego whale watching cruise is the finest opportunity to get up up and personal with these gentle giants. This 4.5-hour voyage is on a replica of the classic sailing schooner that won the America’s Cup in 1851. You’ll not only have an exciting sailing experience, but you’ll also learn about the many types of marine life and US Navy locations you’ll pass by. The excursion includes drinks, nibbles, and a whale sighting guarantee.
15. San Diego Air & Space Museum
This museum in Balboa Park is a must-see for everyone interested in aviation and space exploration history. The museum teaches the public about aviation and space-age technologies through exhibits that assist visitors grasp the timeline and rate of evolution.
The museum’s exhibition of flying history begins with a model of the first hot air balloon, launched in 1783 by the Montgolfier brothers, and a replica of the Wright brothers‘ gliders. Exhibits of rare historical aircraft dating back to World War I follow the program. There are also mint-condition World War II military planes on display, such as the Navy F6F Hellcat as well as the A-4 Skyhawk Jet.
The San Diego Air and Space Museum pays tribute to San Diego’s historic aviation past with a diverse collection of aircraft, spacecraft, & flight simulators, as well as images and video archives.
Visitors may purchase flight-themed goods such as books, puzzles, T-shirts, telescopes, model airplanes, plus astronaut-signed plaques in the museum’s gift shop. Mini spacesuits are even available at the gift store for your young wannabe astronaut.
Address: 2001 Pan American Plaza, San Diego, California
Official site: https://sandiegoairandspace.org
16. Outdoor Activities
San Diego is a popular location for outdoor enthusiasts due to its year-round mild weather and sunshine. Locals live an active lifestyle in all seasons, but tourists may also enjoy the numerous activities to do in San Diego throughout their stay.
Outdoor activities range from riding along coastal pathways and sailing in the water to hiking in Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Water sports as well as other activities will appeal to a wide spectrum of outdoor lovers.
17. The New Children’s Museum
The New Children’s Museum offers a world of imagination and exploration. This unique museum entertains children with engaging play spaces and interactive displays that promote imagination and critical thinking.
The art displays for this one-of-a-kind museum were created by contemporary artists. Each exhibition takes up the full room. Children like both gazing at the paintings and playing in the rooms. There are also art studios and workshops where visitors may create their own works of art, such as clay things and paintings. Parents are welcome to join their children in the art projects.
The museum displays are made more enticing by the multi-level contemporary architecture. The 50,000-square-foot museum was built using environmentally friendly building methods.
The store of the New Children’s Museum sells art materials, games, puzzles, educational toys, children’s literature, and eccentric clothing.
The Bean Sprouts cafe, which is as entertaining as the museum’s displays, serves healthful, organic seasonal snacks and meals meant to wow children. Breakfast and lunch are served in the café, which also has an unique children’s menu and allergy-friendly selections. The café’s “Imaginibbles” offer amusing, innovative presentations, such as the “Grilledzilla” grilled cheese sandwich and also the “Crocamole” avocado hummus, which resembles a crocodile’s face.
Official site: https://thinkplaycreate.org
18. San Diego SeaWorld
A visit to SeaWorld, one of the best things to do in San Diego with kids, is guaranteed to be a memorable experience for the children in your family. The friendly dolphins & frolicking otters please little children, while shark demonstrations & killer whale presentations awe older children.
SeaWorld San Diego is a combination of an aquarium and an entertainment park. There are sea animal exhibitions and exhilarating roller coaster rides, as well as gentler rides for children. SeaWorld, located on 100 acres of Mission Bay Park grounds, provides children with the opportunity to learn about sea animals like as walruses, sea lions, sea turtles, penguins, & flamingos.
SeaWorld provides close-up interactions with dolphins in addition to sea animal performances and displays (by reservation).
Sesame Place, a new SeaWorld attraction, is geared for children who enjoy the Sesame Street television show. Sesame Street-themed attractions, a wave pool, character presentations, and a musical play area are all part of Sesame Place.
Parents will enjoy SeaWorld’s amenities, which include eateries such as Big Bird’s Bistro (suited for children aged two and up) and The Waterfront restaurant, which overlooks Mission Bay. Visitors may also buy T-shirts, hoodies, marine animal plush toys, as well as other mementos at SeaWorld’s gift stores and boutiques.
Address: 500 SeaWorld Drive, San Diego, California
Official site: https://seaworld.com/san-diego/
Where to Stay for Sightseeing in San Diego
The main tourist attractions of San Diego are spread out over a vast region. Staying downtown, on the other hand, provides easy access to several of the city’s main attractions, including the Gaslamp Quarter, Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo, the waterfront, Horton Plaza shopping, Little Italy, and Petco Park, where the Padres play. The tranquil shores of Coronado, a popular weekend getaway, are roughly a 10-minute drive from downtown. Here are several highly rated San Diego hotels in prime locations.
- Luxury-seeking guests in San Diego don’t have to give up sea views for a central location. The Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego overlooks San Diego Bay and is close to Seaport Village, the Gaslamp Quarter, and the USS Midway Museum.
- The US Grant Hotel is steeped in historic splendor in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter, while the Omni San Diego Hotel is joined to Petco Park through a pedestrian skywalk. Both are close to popular attractions including Balboa Park and The little Italy.
- The stylish Hotel Indigo San Diego – Gaslamp Quarter is a pet-friendly facility with an eco-friendly roof garden in the Gaslamp Quarter, with views of Petco Park.
- The Courtyard by Marriott San Diego Downtown, located in the Gaslamp Quarter, is housed in an evocative 1920s bank structure. There is a restaurant, a fitness center, and a concierge at this three-star hotel.
- The Bristol Hotel San Diego is a beautiful boutique hotel nearby that is within walking distance of all the downtown activities, as well as the USS Midway Museum and Horton Plaza.
- Budget-conscious travelers looking for a central location might select the Comfort Inn Gaslamp Convention Center, located in the center of its namesake area, and the Days Inn by Wyndham San Diego, located five minutes by car from Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo.
- Another inexpensive, good-value choice is the Old Town Inn, which is a 10-minute walk from Old Town and has convenient trolley access to Balboa Park, the Gaslamp Quarter, and the port.