San Diego Top Attractions

Visit Southern California Recommended

Things To Do In Southern California

San Diego California is the last stretch of the Southern California coastline before meeting the border of Mexico. San Diego has amazing beaches, great restaurants and breweries and some of the best landmarks and attractions in the region. Here is a quick list of some of the top San Diego destinations.

1. San Diego Zoo & Balboa Park

Balboa Park - Visit Southern California

Home to the renowned San Diego Zoo, this 1,200-acre park is the city's cultural hub. Located in the heart of downtown San Diego (about 2 miles north of the city center), Balboa Park is a great place for a stroll, a bike ride or a picnic. Wander around the park's many gardens (don't miss the beautiful Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden) while admiring the intricate Spanish-Renaissance architecture. Past visitors say this is a prime people-watching spot. But if you find yourself growing antsy, there are plenty of attractions located here (many of them free). Take in a show at the Old Globe Theatre or the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater or enjoy the arts at the Casa de Balboa — which houses three separate art museums — and the Spanish Village Art Center. If you've got the kids with you, take some time to check out the San Diego Air and Space Museum or the San Diego Model Railroad Museum (just two of the park's 17 total museums).

The park is open every day of the year. Admission to the general grounds is free, but several individual attractions charge fees.

Purchase Discount Tickets to the San Diego Zoo and other Balboa Park attractions

2. Gaslamp Quarter

Gaslamp Quarter - Visit Southern California

The Gaslamp Quarter's 16 blocks are peppered with Victorian-style buildings that now house a variety of shops, art galleries and trendy restaurants, not to mention some of the city's most popular nightlife venues. The best place to start your tour of the Gaslamp Quarter is the Horton Plaza outdoor shopping center. From there, you can explore the neighborhood's side streets or hop on an Old Town Trolley Tour. If you're not a night owl, the neighborhood's many patios and rooftop lounges are a great way to experience the Gaslamp Quarter's prime location.

Past visitors say this is the area to stay in if you're looking for a hip, busy scene. However, because it's so popular, travelers also warn that parking can be somewhat limited.

3. USS Midway Museum

USS Midway - Visit Southern California

If you're eager to learn about what life is like on a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, plan to visit the USS Midway Museum. Aboard the longest-serving American aircraft carrier of the 20th century, you'll have the opportunity to explore 60 different exhibits and 29 restored aircraft. During the self-guided audio tour, you'll see the crew's sleeping quarters, the engine room, the ship's jail and the primary flight control room, among other areas of the 4-acre flight deck. Travelers say the audio guides are informative, but they also recommend stopping to listen to the knowledgeable volunteer docents (many of them military veterans) stationed throughout the museum. Along with the exhibits, the museum also boasts two flight simulators. Though it's a unique experience, recent visitors say there's no need to fork over the extra coin for a simulator ride since there's already so much to see and do at the museum.

You'll find the USS Midway Museum located about half a mile south of the Maritime Museum on North Harbor Drive. The museum is open daily

4. San Diego Maritime Museum

San Diego Maritime Museum - Visit Southern California

The Maritime Museum offers a hands-on look at San Diego's days as a bustling seaport. You can tour all types of historic vessels, from sailing ships to submarines. Recent visitors said the boat tours gave them a new understanding of the workmanship and skill required of sailors. Past travelers also note that you should plan to wear pants and sturdy shoes to easily maneuver the narrow, low corridors inside the ships. Along with the boat tours, you can also explore several permanent and visiting exhibits that detail San Diego's maritime legacy using art and artifacts. Travelers say the exhibits are fascinating, even for youngsters.

If exploring boats doesn't satisfy your craving for a nautical experience, set sail on the Californian, a former patrol boat that now offers half-day cruises. While on an Adventure Sail, you'll have the opportunity to haul a line, man the helm and watch the crew rig and furl the sails of the tall ship.

5. SeaWorld San Diego

Though you can often spot plenty of wildlife in the San Diego Bay, none put on quite as good a show as the performers at SeaWorld. Here you'll spot a range of animals, including killer whales, turtles, California sea otters and even parrots. As for the rides, recent travelers said you can't miss the Manta roller coaster, but caution against the Journey to Atlantis ride if you don't want to get wet. For something a little more low-key, head to any one of the park's animal exhibits, like the shark underwater viewing tunnel or the penguin habitat, which features nearly 300 penguins.

You'll find SeaWorld San Diego about 7 miles northwest of the downtown area. SeaWorld is open year-round, but park hours fluctuate depending on the day and month

6. Mission Beach & Pacific Beach

Mission Beach Ca - Visit Southern California

Overlooking the Pacific Ocean from Mission Bay Park in northwestern San Diego, Mission Beach is one of the most popular shorelines in the city. While it's not as pristine as Coronado Beach, it's just as busy thanks to all the nearby attractions. This 2-mile stretch of sugary-white sand fits the SoCal stereotype to a T: throngs of surfers and bikini-clad sunbathers crowd the shores every summer, while the nearby boardwalk is usually packed with inline skaters and bicyclists. Also, be prepared to share the beach with some of the Pacific's sea-faring critters, including seals. In Belmont Park on the northern edge of the beach, the Giant Dipper rollercoaster is a big hit with kids and adults alike. When lunchtime rolls around, head to one of the many beachside eateries that flank the boardwalk.

One of the beaches in San Diego's Mission Bay & Beaches region, P.B. (as the locals call it) is a favorite spot for college students and young adults enjoying the party atmosphere, frequenting the area’s restaurants and bars—some just steps from the sand. P.B. comes alive at night, too, with the glow of bonfires and the electricity of the region’s many clubs.

7. Seaport Village

Seaport Village San Diego - Visit Southern California

San Diego's Seaport Village is a delightful place to stroll around and spend an afternoon. Located right on the waterfront this area of unique shops and restaurants is one of the city's must sees. Picnic tables, benches, and waterfront patios are sprinkled throughout the area and weekends can be very busy. Outdoor performers take to the stage regularly in the afternoons, some of which can be quite eclectic. The area is easily accessible on foot from many of the nearby attractions including the USS Midway. Since there is limited and expensive parking at Seaport Village, it may be best to park a little distance away and enjoy the stroll along the waterfront to the site.

8. Old Town State Historic Park

Old Town San Diego - Visit Southern California

The Old Town San Diego State Historic Park gives visitors a look at the town's Mexican and early American history, and offers opportunities for shopping and dining. It was probably founded in 1820 by demobilized Mexican soldiers who had done their military service at the Presidio or in the fort on Presidio Hill, both of which are located here. Many of the historic buildings, including numerous adobe houses, have been repaired. Also located here are interesting shops and restaurants with outdoor patios. The Old Town State Historic park is the most visited State Park in California. There is no admission fee.


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