San Diego, California refers to itself as ‘America’s Greatest City’ and with good reason. Lost in a state of perpetual summer, San Diego epitomizes the quintessential So Cal lifestyle. With world-class beaches, delicious international cuisine and chilled out people, it should be at the top of all travellers’ lists when venturing to the United States. Here are our top 10 things not to miss while in sunny San Diego.
- Chill at The Beach
San Diego County has some of the best beaches in the United States and the 1.4M inhabitants city has a beach for every type of traveller. Pacific Beach, known locally as ‘PB’, is known for its parties and young crowd. Cruise the boardwalk on bikes taking in the So Cal sun. Just across the channel is Ocean Beach (‘OB’), where chain businesses are banned and many new local breweries have risen. OB is the hippy centre of San Diego and home to Dog Beach, a great place to hang out with your pup. For an older demographic, Coronado Beach ranks as one of SD’s best. Coronado is a wealthy island connected to the city by the Coronado Bridge. The bridge is the best place to take a photo of the skyline and the clear blue San Diego Bay.
- Catch a Sunset
With all of San Diego’s beaches facing west and 266 days of sunshine per year, the sunset dazzles nightly. The best spot to watch the show is from Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. From OB, head south less than a mile as the cliffs rise higher and eventually reveal an incredible view of the ocean. On clear afternoons don’t forget to watch for the green flash! It appears just as the top of the sun as it crosses the horizon. Avert your eyes away while the sun is setting and look back at the perfect moment to view the spectacular phenomenon!
- Surf’s up!
San Diego is known worldwide as a surfer’s paradise. From beginner beaches like OB and PB to the occasional big barrels of Blacks Beach, there are waves for everyone in San Diego County. Rent a board (or buy your own) and cruise up the coast on Highway 101 for a classic SD experience.
- Tour Old Town State Historic Park
The original heart of San Diego, the Old Town, was founded in 1769 as the first settlement in California. Many of the buildings in the neighbourhood have been preserved in their original look and now host art galleries and Latin-inspired restaurants. Old Town is usually a great place to take the family, but on Cinco de Mayo it’s the party center of the city. Parking is always a challenge especially on the weekends, so take the San Diego Trolley to save yourself some headache.
- USS Midway Museum
Boasting the longest-serving aircraft carrier in US history, the USS Midway is an impressive display of military power. It was the only carrier in service for the duration of the Cold War and now attracts over 1 million tourists a year. It was also the original home of the Top Gun fighter school and the deck of the ship is littered with post-WWII aircrafts. Below deck you can tour through the sailors’ cramped sleeping quarters and the engine room as part of a self-guided tour narrated by former Midway sailors.
- Eat local
San Diego is famous for its daily farmers’ markets and local restaurants. Wake up early on Saturday and walk the city’s biggest market in Little Italy.
For a more unique vibe, check out the super popular Wednesday night market in Ocean Beach.
For cheap eats, hit up the local Mexican joints, the fast food of So Cal. Try Tacos El Gordo (3265 Palm Ave) for quick eats or Cantina Mayahuel (2934 Adams Ave) for dinner with cocktails.
If fine dining is your thing, make a reservation at the Wine Vault and Bistro (3731 India St) for their amazing coursed meals paired with wine. Vegetarian options can be found in the super trendy Kindred (1503 30th St) in South Park.
- Craft Beer is King
With more than 170 Breweries, San Diego is the king of craft beer in the United States. IPA and Pale Ale are the classic brews of the region, perfect for those hot beach days.
Many of the beers are distributed nationally and well known, but the smaller brewers push out just as high of quality. Check out the classics like Stone, Alesmith, and Green Flash, then move on to the local favourites like Societe, Pizza Port, and Modern Times. Watch out for the phony craft breweries actually owned by major corporations!
- San Diego Zoo and Wildlife Safari Park
The San Diego Zoo is one of the top zoos in the world. Located in the centre of the city, it’s easy to get to from every neighbourhood. If traditional zoos are not your thing then head north to the Wildlife Safari Park (15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd, Escondido) in Escondido. The Safari Park has an impressive amount of land for the animals to roam in natural biodiversity just like on an African savanna and focuses hard on conservation and education.
- Enjoy the Parks
Balboa Park in central San Diego is one of the largest urban parks in the United States and home to 17 museums and the San Diego Zoo. It’s a great place to enjoy some time with your family or hike down one of the park’s many trails.
For a park with a great view, Kate Sessions Park (5115 Soledad Rd) overlooks the city from the north. It’s a great spot to enjoy a picnic or to walk your dog.
- Embark on a day-trip to Tijuana, Mexico
Less than 30 minutes-drive from downtown San Diego is the border with Mexico. Tijuana has been experiencing a renaissance in the last few years. Many people are returning to the giant city to open new businesses as tourism has returned. For an easy experience, park at the last exit on the US side then walk across the border. From there take a cheap taxi or Uber to Avenida Revolución, the main drag of TJ. Stay out until after midnight to enjoy the nightlife then walk back across the border late, when the line is shortest. Tijuana is generally speaking safe but still has a seedy element. Just remember that you get what you look for, so don’t expect to find anything less!