Sharing a border with Mexico, San Diego is a vibrant city filled with culture from both sides of the border. A mix of cityscape, beaches, parkland and harbours, San Diego has something for everyone.
1. San Diego Zoo
Located in Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo houses over 12,000 animals of over 650 species.
The zoo is open all year, including holidays and offers several ticket options. The 1-Day pass includes entry to San Diego Zoo, a Guided Bus Tour, the Kangaroo Express Bus, Skyfari Aerial Tram, and scheduled shows. This ticket is $62 for ages twelve and over and $52 for children aged three to eleven.
The zoo also offers animal encounters, play areas, educational programmes, restaurants, cafes and gift shops—fun for all the family.
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance are a non-profit conservation organisation committed to animal care and conservation worldwide.
2. Balboa Park
This is more than just your average play park. Balboa Park boasts seventeen museums; a Japanese Friendship Garden, an outdoor Organ Pavilion—with performances every Sunday, Botanical Gardens, International Cottages, Spanish Art Village, San Diego Zoo, and so much more. The park is free to enter but some attractions may have an entry fee; for example, the Japanese Friendship Garden is $12 for general admission. Covering 1,200 acres you can be sure to get lost for an entire day of inexpensive fun.
3. Coronado Island
Attached by a thin strip of land, Coronado Island is accessible by bridge, land or boat and offers sandy coastlines away from the city. You can eat, shop and surf while looking over at San Diego’s stunning skyline. Coronado beach is consistently voted the best beach in the US and is home to the Hotel del Coronado—famous for being in Marilyn Munroe’s Some Like It Hot (1959). So, you can wander along the sand pretending you’re a Hollywood star.
4. La Jolla Shores
A twenty-minute drive north of downtown San Diego lies the neighbourhood of La Jolla. La Jolla offers beautiful beaches, caves and a boardwalk. The beach is the perfect location to surf, paddleboard, kayak, snorkel or scuba dive—ideal for if you want to immerse yourself in that typical Californian surfer lifestyle. You won’t want to miss the seals swimming around the shore either, but you will probably smell them before you see them!
5. USS Midway Museum
This historical naval aircraft is docked in downtown San Diego at Navy Pier. America’s longest-serving aircraft carrier of the Twentieth century is now open as an interactive museum. Visitors can explore the huge aircraft carrier, partake in flight simulators and self-guided audio tours. The museum is open from 10am to 5pm and admission is $26 for ages thirteen and over and $18 for children aged six to twelve.
1. Liberty Station
Transformed from a former naval training centre, Liberty Station is now filled with art galleries, museums, markets, restaurants, bars and shops. Local painters, jewellers, sculptors, and designers are set up in Liberty Station displaying their work. It is located just a short walk away from San Diego Bay. So, after a day of eating and perusing the local culture, you can admire the stunning views along the bay.
2. Mount Soledad
Located north of San Diego City, next to La Jolla, lies Mount Soledad. This is less of a hidden gem, as it looms over the city. However, the beauty it offers should be talked about more. The 251m hill offers panoramic views of San Diego below. Views even stretch further than the Mexican border. The perfect vista point!
3. La Jolla Rope Swing
Nestled into the trees of La Jolla Shores lies a small rope swing—quite literally hidden—that offers a great place for peace and quiet with an incredible view of the ocean below. There are maps of three hidden swings in La Jolla.
4. Ho Chi Minh Trail
This one is for the adventurers and hikers. This hiking trail is north of the city near Torrey Pines and consists of thin gaps between canyons for some freestyle rock climbing. The rocks are steep and slippery so bear that in mind in poor weather and for accessibility.
Travelling around San Diego
Travelling around San Diego is doable on public transport but the most convenient way to get around is by car. If you are planning a long trip or to travel further afield, renting a car is a good option.
Public transport is available via trains and trolleys. The trolley runs on four lines that cover the city and further afield. Some towns further north such as La Jolla can be more difficult to reach via public transport, so be prepared for a trolley change. Alternatively, Amtrak trains run regularly across the city, down to the Mexican border and up to Los Angeles so you can sit back and relax with great views of the Pacific Ocean.
Food & Drink
1. San Diego Old Town
For a generalised recommendation, you must visit San Diego’s Old Town. It marks the site of the first Spanish settlement and features acres of Mexican heritage. The streets are lined with colourful shops, restaurants and historical sites. This is a must-see place, particularly for some authentic Mexican food and margaritas.
The surfboard-lined burger shack faces the vibrant and hippy town of Ocean Beach, giving you the classic Californian setting for your meal. Hodad’s has marketed itself as being the World’s Best Burger, so it has to be on the must-try list!
3. California Burrito
The famous California burrito consists of a flour tortilla filled with carne asada, guacamole, pico de gallo, cheese and fries. It mirrors the culture of San Diego perfectly—a mix of Mexican and USA.
San Diego is a stunning city with cultural influence from across the border. If you want a city that offers a fast-paced city life mixed with the classic Californian beach life, this is the perfect place for you. It’s no surprise that San Diego is one of the top tourist destinations in the US.
Words by Megan O’Neill
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