Taking San Diego's 59-mile scenic drive is a beautiful way to spend a day. Encompassing a good portion of the city's most outstanding attractions, it can be driven in about three hours - but only if you don't make many stops! For a more relaxed journey, do portions of the tour on different days. The scenic drive is marked by blue and yellow signs illustrated with a white seagull, which are posted every quarter mile along the route. Note: Some of the seagull signs may be missing or turned, so it's important to follow the directions as written.
For visitor information, maps, brochures and Visitor Guides, stop at the International Visitor Information Center, an official visitor center of the San Diego Tourism Authority. Located at 1140 North Harbor Drive (in front of the B Street Cruise Ship Terminal), the Visitor Center is open daily from 9:00 am - 4:00 pm October through May. From June to September, it's open daily 9:00 am - 5:00 pm. Phone: 619-236-1212.
Start your scenic drive at the foot of Broadway and go north on Harbor Drive. On your left is the Broadway Pier, where you can take a harbor excursion or a ferry across to Coronado. Next is the Cruise Ship Terminal, where cruise ships dock when calling on San Diego. Further along the Embarcadero, see one of the world's top collections of historic ships at the Maritime Museum of San Diego. Ships include the ferryboat Berkeley, built in 1898; the luxury yacht Medea, built in Scotland; and the Star of India, built in 1863, which has circled the globe 27 times.
From this point, drive north along the harbor on Harbor Drive. Drive toward the San Diego International Airport, also known as Lindbergh Field, (named after Charles Lindbergh, whose famous flight began in San Diego) until you see the exit sign "Harbor Island." Take the exit and drive along the island, which provides incredible views of San Diego Bay, Point Loma and Downtown.
Return to Harbor Drive, bear left, and continue driving west along Harbor Drive. Make a left turn on Scott Street. Most of San Diego's sport fishing fleet is docked in this area. Make another left on Shelter Island Drive, to visit Shelter Island, home to hotels, restaurants and marinas. On the tip of the island you will find the "Yokohama Friendship Bell" (Yokohama, Japan, is one of San Diego's sister cities).
From Shelter Island Drive make a left turn on Scott Street then a right turn at Talbot Street and head up the hill. Turn left onto Canon Street and make a left at Catalina Boulevard, where the road eventually turns into Cabrillo Memorial Drive. On both sides of the road, you will see the gravestones in Fort Rosecrans Cemetery, a military cemetery, as you head out to the tip of Point Loma.
Continue driving to the Cabrillo National Monument, named for Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. On September 28, 1542, he sailed into what is now known as San Diego Bay. The Old Point Loma Lighthouse began operating here in 1855; though it's no longer in use, it is open for viewing. (Another lighthouse was built at sea level in 1891 and is still in use today.) This area, the most southwestern point of the continental U.S., is an excellent spot to watch the gray whales migrate south to Mexico during the winter months. You can also visit the tide pools, join in a ranger walk, stop at the visitor center and enjoy the panoramic view of the harbor.
Return to Cabrillo Memorial Drive; the name changes to Catalina Boulevard. Continue driving along Catalina and turn left at Hill Street. Continue on and turn right at Cordova Street ST which becomes Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. As you continue along Sunset Cliffs, you will enter the beach community of Ocean Beach. You can make a short side trip to the Ocean Beach Municipal Fishing Pier by taking a left turn onto Newport Avenue. The pier is an excellent spot for fishing, bird watching and watching the surfers, while Newport Avenue is a popular destination for antique and consignment shopping in San Diego.
Return to and continue driving along Sunset Cliffs Boulevard for your visit to Mission Bay Aquatic Park, a 4600-acre aquatic playground with 27 miles of beaches. To reach the park area, follow Sunset Cliffs Boulevard to West Mission Bay Drive. Follow signs to West Mission Bay Drive; it turns into Ingraham Street. You'll see the exit for SeaWorld San Diego here. Continue driving North on Ingraham Street, across two bridges. At the second bridge, which crosses over Fisherman's Channel, turn right onto Crown Point Drive. From here you can see wind surfers and catamarans zipping across the water, or enjoy a walk on the pathway around the bay.
Follow Crown Point Drive and turn left at Lamont Street, driving through the residential areas of Crown Point and Pacific Beach. At the intersection of Beryle Street, the name will change to Soledad Road. Drive up the hill past Kate Sessions Park and turn left onto Soledad Mountain Road. Travel .8 mile and turn right onto La Jolla Scenic Drive. This is one of many exclusive residential areas of La Jolla. Look for the turnoff to Mount Soledad Park. From this lookout point, you can see San Diego County for miles in every direction.
As you leave the park turn right on Via Capri, drive down the hill, and turn left on Hidden Valley Road. This residential area of La Jolla offers spectacular ocean views. At La Jolla Parkway, go through the intersection and follow the signs to Torrey Pines Road. This will take you up a hill through a canyon. Turn left on North Torrey Pines Road; to the right is the UCSD Campus, known for its spectacular architecture, several Nobel Prize-winning faculty members, and contemporary art installations.
While you are in the UCSD area, you can take two short side trips from the marked route. To visit the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, turn left from North Torrey Pines Road onto Expedition Way and follow signs to the aquarium. When you leave the aquarium parking lot, turn left onto North Torrey Pines Road. Then continue north along North Torrey Pines Road to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, named after Dr. Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine. Just beyond the institute is the Torrey Pines Glider Port where you may see hang gliders soaring along the cliffs. Make a U-TURN and return south, down the hill, along La Jolla Shores Drive.
Continue in the same direction along La Jolla Shores Drive and turn right onto Torrey Pines Road. Turn right at Prospect Street, an upscale shopping street sometimes called the Rodeo Drive of San Diego. Turn right onto Coast Boulevard and drive down to the La Jolla Cove, a favorite spot for swimming, snorkeling and kayaking. Further south along the coast is the Children's Pool, a popular gathering place for harbor seals. From the Cove, you can walk up Cuvier Street to the elegant shopping and dining district around Prospect Street and Girard Avenue. Near the corner of Herschel & Prospect Streets is the La Jolla Visitor Center, which is open daily.
Continue your drive along Coast Boulevard. Turn right at Olivetas Street; the street name will change to Pearl Street. At the stop light, turn right onto La Jolla Boulevard. At the stop light, turn left onto Nautilus, drive up the hill and turn right onto La Jolla Scenic Drive. Turn left onto La Jolla Mesa Drive and drive down the hill. Beautiful homes line the road, and the view of Pacific Beach and the coastline is magnificent.
As you reach the bottom of the hill, the street name will change to Mission Boulevard. As you proceed, on your right is Pacific Beach, a popular place for sunbathing and surfing. If you wish to walk along the ocean front, use Ocean Front Walk (stop and make a right at Diamond Street). It's a great spot for people watching, skateboarding, biking and roller skating.
The next community is Mission Beach, which has the highest population density in San Diego. Continue driving along Mission Boulevard and just past the roller coaster, turn right at the light, and park your car in the lot. Ride the coaster, take a dip in the ocean, visit Belmont Park, or stop at one of the seaside restaurants or shops located along the boardwalk.
Exit the parking lot and drive east on West Mission Bay Drive. Follow the signs for Sports Arena Boulevard. Drive under the freeway overpass and turn left at the first stoplight to continue along Sports Arena Boulevard. On the left you'll see Kobey's Swap Meet (San Diego's largest open air market) is held in the parking lot Friday through Sunday, 7:00 am - 3:00 pm.
On Sports Arena Boulevard, drive straight through the intersection from the right-hand lane, bear left onto Rosecrans Street and go under the freeway overpass. At the stoplight the street name will change to Taylor Street. On your right is Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. The park represents San Diego's Hispanic heritage from 1821 to 1872, when the area was the center of San Diego. Free walking tours are offered daily at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm from the park headquarters. You can also visit charming Heritage Park Row, where a number of Victorian buildings scheduled for demolition were relocated.
Continue driving along Taylor Street. Turn right on Presidio Drive, drive up the hill and turn left on Presidio Drive. Visit the Serra Museum, which displays artifacts and photographs depicting the early days of San Diego.
After visiting the Serra Museum, continue up Presidio Drive and turn left at Arista Street. Turn right at Fort Stockton Drive. You are now driving through Mission Hills, one of San Diego's first suburbs, and a charming residential area. Turn right at Goldfinch Street. Continue one block and turn left onto Washington Street. You are now in Hillcrest, which attracts a large LGBT community, as well as many others drawn by the rich selection of clothing shops, trendy boutiques, art galleries and restaurants.
Turn right on First Avenue. Turn left onto Laurel Street, which becomes El Prado, and drive into Balboa Park, the largest urban park with cultural institutions in North America. It was named for the Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa, who discovered the Pacific Ocean in 1513. Many buildings in the park are Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, constructed for the Panama-California Exposition (1915-16), and used for the California-Pacific International Exposition in 1935. The park, which covers 1,400 acres, includes 15 museums, lush gardens and the The Old Globe Theatre.
The world famous San Diego Zoo occupies 100 acres of Balboa Park and houses 4,000 animals of 800 exotic species. The exhibits feature animals in their natural shared environments and the zoo is known for its conservation work, especially with giant pandas from China. (For information about visiting the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, read about suggested side trips at the end of these instructions.)
Balboa Park's museums are devoted to art, history, space, sports, physical and natural sciences; favorites include the San Diego Natural History Museum, the San Diego Museum of Man and the San Diego Air & Space Museum. To continue from El Pardo, turn right to Pan American East Road. The Spreckels Organ Pavilion, featuring the world's largest outdoor pipe organ, is on your left. Free concerts are performed here on Sunday afternoons. The cluster of small cottages on your right is known as the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages. Each Sunday afternoon at 2:00 pm between March and mid-November, one of the houses sponsors ethnic folk dances, music or entertainment.
To exit the park, turn left on Presidents Way. Turn right onto Park Boulevard. Turn right at B Street. You are now driving through San Diego's Financial District. Turn left on Fourth Avenue and right on Broadway. You are now traveling west towards the water and some excellent waterfront dining options.
Turn left on Pacific Highway. About one-half mile farther down, you will reach Seaport Village. Park in one of the lots and visit this charming shopping center located on the waterfront. A little further north, along Harbor Drive, between Seaport Village and the Visitor Center (where your tour began), is the USS Midway Museum. Berthed along the Navy Pier, the museum pays tribute to the over 200,000 service men and women who served aboard the now decommissioned USS Midway and is open daily.
When you leave Seaport Village, turn right onto Harbor Drive. You are now driving east. On your right is the San Diego Convention Center; across the street is the home of the San Diego Padres baseball team, PETCO Park, which opened in April 2004. Just beyond the convention center visit the Embarcadero Marina Park (turn right on 8th) for a great view of the Coronado Bridge.
Return to Harbor Drive, turn left on Harbor Drive, then turn right onto Fifth Avenue. As you drive along Fifth Avenue, you enter the historic heart of San Diego, the Gaslamp Quarter. During the California Gold Rush, this waterfront section was once known as the Stingaree District, home to saloons, gambling halls and opium dens. Today, this area is a vibrant entertainment district with over 100 restaurants, 35 nightclubs and 100 retail shops. Weekend guided walking tours of the area start at the Gaslamp Museum at the William Heath Davis House, which was built in 1859 in New England, shipped around Cape Horn and assembled here.
Continue driving on Fifth Avenue and turn left onto F Street. At the next intersection, you arrive at Horton Plaza, a unique shopping, dining and entertainment complex known for its contemporary architecture. Park in the adjacent garage. This marks the end of your scenic journey.
To reach the Mission San Diego de Alcala, drive eastbound on Interstate 8, exit Mission Gorge Road, and turn left onto Twain Street, which becomes San Diego Mission Road. The Mission is on the right. In 1774, the Mission, the first of 21 in California, was moved from its original location in Presidio Park to the valley, where water and grazing land were plentiful. Services are held at 7:00 am and 5:30 pm on weekdays, with several services on Sundays. The public is welcome daily from 9:00 am - 4:45 pm for docent-led tours.
From Interstate 5 drive across the San Diego-Coronado Bridge and turn left at the first traffic light, onto Orange Avenue. You'll drive through Coronado's downtown village before arriving at the Hotel del Coronado, which was completed in February 1888. The "Del" has housed several presidents and visiting dignitaries and been the backdrop for numerous movies. Visit the Coronado Museum of History & Art at 1100 Orange Avenue to see a collection of memorabilia, then enjoy a stroll along the beach.
Drive north on Interstate 15, exit Via Rancho Parkway, turn right and follow the signs to the Safari Park (formerly called Wild Animal Park). Set on 2,200 acres, the park has more than 3,000 animals roaming freely in an environment similar to their native African and Asian habits. You can tour the park by tram; hike the scenic Kilimanjaro Trail; and visit the exotic gardens and Nairobi Village.