San Diego is famous for beautiful beaches, a bustling craft brewery scene and countless outdoor attractions. One of the nicest things about visiting San Diego is that it is very easy to see and do a great many things in a short period of time. It is also easy to spend weeks in San Diego and still not experience everything the city has to offer. Here is a suggested list of the top 10 things not to miss in San Diego:
1. See the seals and sea lions lounging at La Jolla Cove
In Spanish, La Jolla means "the jewel," and it's location on the San Diego cliffs overlooking the ocean certainly makes it the town jewel. When you visit, pack a picnic or just head there for a stroll after dinner to enjoy a beautiful California sunset. If you don’t mind the stench, it is quite a sight to see a beach full of seals napping and sunning themselves. At the very least, it’s amusing to watch the tourists posing with them for photos. Just don’t be stupid and try to touch them. The seals, not the tourists. Actually, don’t touch either.
2. Spend the day at Balboa Park
Balboa is like the Central Park of SD with 1,200 acres of hiking trails, fountains, performing art venues, gardens, and museums to explore right in the middle of the city. It has more than 25 museums and attractions, from the astronomical to the zoological. In Balboa Park, you can take a walk, ride a bike, see a Tony Award-winning play, ride a carousel or go to the San Diego Zoo. With 8 gardens and 15 museums to choose from, you could be busy here for days.
3. Visit Coronado island
Drive over the giant bridge to Coronado Island and spend the day exploring Coronado. Don't miss the Hotel De Coronado. The iconic, 125-year-old hotel on Coronado Island is definitely a must-see. Even if you don’t stay the night here, you can dine at one of its restaurants, rent a cabanette on the beach, pamper yourself at the spa, or just take a tour of the historical property.
4. Visit San Diego Zoo
San Diego zoo is one of the best not only in the country, but also in the world, housing more than 3,700 animals. It could take you a couple of days to see everything there is to see in its 99 acres of property, but if you want to cover as much ground as possible, you should hop on one of the tour buses.
5. Visit the San Diego Zoo Safari park
Safari Park offers a different kind of animal experience. Its name is the clue and it indeed offers a more safari-like experience. Lots of large animals live in the same big, open areas here - predators kept away from prey, but otherwise much as they would in their natural habitat.
6. Visit USS Midway Museum
Visit the twentieth century’s longest-serving aircraft carrier (in operation for over 50 years!) and explore its many depths. From crew quarters to the flight control deck and beyond, there are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore aboard this 74,000-ton ship.
7. Snorkel in La Jolla Cove
Not everyone can get scuba certified, but if you want to check out the underwater world in La Jolla and swim with some curious sea lions, then grab a snorkel and take a lap around the cove. This is the perfect spot to do it since the area is protected from the ocean waves.
8. Take a Harbor Cruise
As a coastal city, water plays a prominent role in San Diego. Downtown faces it. Point Loma and Coronado surround the large, calm bay. With it's oceanfront location, there's a lot to see along its shores and much of it is best explored by boat. Everyone loves the views from the San Diego harbor cruise, but you'll also get a peek at the Pacific Fleet - and a harbor cruise is the best way to get a feel for just how tall the Coronado Bridge really is.
9. Visit the Birch Aquarium
Birch Aquarium is north of San Diego in La Jolla. It's not as big as some of the other aquariums in California or as flashy as the big sea-themed park down the road, but instead just right, filled with interesting exhibits and home to leafy sea dragons like the one above, and with creatures so improbable they look more like something from a children's book than from the ocean.
10. Go to Sea World
Sea World San Diego is the California outpost of the ocean-themed chain of parks. Shows are central to the Sea World Experience and there are many of them, but you'll also have opportunities to see marine creatures close up and in a few cases, you can touch and feed them. In recent years, Sea World has added a few rides and a water play area for kids. It takes a half day or longer to see everything and in summer, a good strategy is to arrive in early afternoon, staying until the fireworks display.