San Diego is one of the most popular family vacation destinations in the United States, let alone California! And it’s no wonder; there are plenty of things to do in San Diego so just be sure to plan enough time during your visit to see and do as many as you possibly can!
10 Things to do in San Diego
1. Belmont Park
A few minutes by foot, Belmont Park is San Diego’s iconic beachfront amusement park on Mission Beach. It’s the quintessential Southern California beach boardwalk experience. Kids will love the rides including the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, a wooden roller coaster built in 1925, which is a National Historic Landmark. Walk along the boardwalk, bring a picnic or just find a spot on the beach and people-watch!
2. San Diego Botanic Garden
For nature lovers, the San Diego Botanic Garden in nearby Encinitas is a stunning sanctuary. There are 37 acres of garden trails, restful vistas, ponds and waterfalls, flowering trees, majestic palms and the nation’s largest bamboo collection. Thanks to San Diego’s mild climate, plants from all over the world thrive here. The garden’s diverse topography provides a variety of microclimates including a tropical rainforest. The Hamilton Children’s Garden is especially wonderful for children, with a giant treehouse and creative spaces to explore.
3. Balboa Park – San Diego Zoo
Balboa Park is a vast urban cultural park with open space areas, natural vegetation zones, green belts, gardens, and walking paths. It also contains museums, several theaters, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. San Diego Zoo has thousands of animals, dozens of elaborate and extensive exhibit areas, gardens, and animal-themed events. Set aside a morning or afternoon if not a full day to enjoy the exhibit.
The Children’s Zoo is more popular for kids as it has a petting zoo, animal feedings, naked mole-rats, spider monkeys, and other exciting animals. When you get tired of walking, hop on the double-decker guided tour buses which are free with the day pass. Another fun way to explore the zoo is via the Skyfari Arial Tram, which takes you from one end of the zoo clear out to the other, offering excellent views of the zoo.
Cabrillo National Monument
For a little history lesson, take the kids to Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma, which commemorates Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s discovery of San Diego in 1542. Cabrillo was the first European to set foot on the U.S. West Coast. You’ll love the picturesque views of the harbour and downtown skyline. Explore the Old Point Loma Lighthouse and tidepools in one of the best protected intertidal ecosystems in Southern California.
San Diego Speed Boat Adventure
Forget the tour bus – take a tour boat! For the adventurous family, and to see the bay by boat, you must go on a San Diego Speed Boat Adventure. Take the wheel and be the captain of your very own speed boat as a tour guide introduces you to the sights and beauty of San Diego Bay. Be prepared though, it will be a bumpy ride as you go full throttle following the other speed boats. The guide will give an entertaining tour narration through two-way communication systems mounted in each boat.
Birch Aquarium at Scripps
The Birch Aquarium at Scripps in La Jolla features more than 60 tanks of colorful marine life, including coral reefs, colourful fish, sharks, jellyfish and octopus. An interactive museum showcases research discoveries on climate, earth and ocean science. There’s also a tide pool area where kids can touch tide-pool animals.
La Jolla Cove and Shores
While you’re in San Diego, you must check out La Jolla Cove and its shores. You could spend an afternoon exploring the 6,000 acres of ocean floor and tidelands, the cove and surrounding beaches teem with marine life, including sea lions, bright orange Garibaldi fish (California’s state fish), pelicans and more. The cove is also famous for its seven sea caves. I found a coffee shop right along the coast and enjoyed an afternoon cup of java overlooking the cove – perfection!
8. Hotel del Coronado
The famous Hotel del Coronado is a grand beachfront resort with a spa, a fitness center, outdoor pools and multiple dining options. In 1958, Hotel del Coronado made Hollywood history when it became the setting for director Billy Wilder’s classic comedy, Some Like It Hot, starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon. You don’t have to be a guest to walk the hotel’s grounds, and take photos of this iconic resort.
9. The Gaslamp Quarter
The Gaslamp Quarter is a historical neighborhood full of entertainment and night life venues. It hosts many festivals and events including Mardi Gras in the Gaslamp, Street Scene Music Festival, Taste of Gaslamp and ShamROCK, a St. Patrick’s Day event. Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres is located one block away in downtown San Diego’s East Village.
10. The USS Midway Museum
For museum lovers, the USS Midway Museum is a must-see. It consists of the aircraft carrier the USS Midway, the longest-serving American aircraft carrier of the 20th century, having played host to 225,000 sailors over the course of its life.