San Diego boasts more biodiversity than any other county in the nation and a great place to experience that remarkable display is San Diego's parks and gardens. San Diego’s steep and varied topography combined with its proximity to the ocean create five different habitats within the county including tidal, marsh, desert, mountains and canyons. Each area offers visitors a chance to get outside and experience Southern California's plants and wild animals in their natural settings.
Recently rated in the top 10 parks in the United States in the Trip Advisor Travelers Choice Awards, Balboa Park features 16 unique gardens including the Japanese Friendship Garden, the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden featuring over 2,400 rose bushes, and the Botanical Building with adjacent Koi and Lily Pond featuring 2,100 plants including a fascinating collection of cycads, ferns, orchids and palms. Also located in Balboa Park is the San Diego Zoo, over 15 museums and theaters and the Pepper Grove Children’s Playground, named for the California Pepper Trees which provide shade to the expansive picnic area.
A don’t miss for plant lovers, the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas encompasses four miles of garden trails, including a wide collection of native and endangered plants, a whimsical children's garden, and the nation’s largest collection of bamboo species. The garden offers a full line up of events including workshops, plant sales and bird watching tours.
Located on the eastern edge of San Diego county, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in California extending over 900 square miles. The park features 12 wilderness areas and hundreds of miles of dirt roads, offering visitors an unparalleled opportunity to experience the wonders of the California desert. Wildlife in the park includes hundreds of species of birds, bighorn sheep, coyote, bobcat, kit fox and numerous reptiles and rodents. Each spring, the park explodes in color with an impressive display of desert wild flowers. The best way to plan a trip to the park is to start at the Park Visitor Center for maps and information.
Mission Trails Regional Park, located just east of the city, consists of 6,150 acres of open space. The highest point is 1,592-foot-high (485 m) Cowles Mountain, which is also the highest point in the city of San Diego. The park has over forty miles of hiking, mountain bike and equestrian trails, a rock climbing area, a campground adjacent to a small lake. There is also the modern 14,000-square-foot (1,300 m2) Mission Trails Regional Park Visitor and Interpretive Center. The most popular trail of the park is the Cowles Mountain trail, which takes hundreds of people per day to the summit for a 360-degree panorama of San Diego County.
One of the wildest stretches of land on the Southern California coast, the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Park is dedicated to preserving its namesake, the Torrey Pine tree and other indigenous wildlife in its native environment. A coastal wilderness of pine forests and sandstone canyons, the park offers hiking trails that wind their way along the cliffs, offering breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, and the seasonal sighting of migrating whales.
Just south of Torrey Pines in the Cabrillo National Monument Historic Park, commemorating the landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo at San Diego Bay in 1542, the first European explorer to set foot on the West Coast of the United States. Appart from the historic significance, the park offers amazing views of San Diego's harbor and skyline, as well as Coronado and Naval Air Station North Island. Just below the monument, the stretch of coast here offers some of the best tide pools for exploring on the West Coast.
If water sports are your passion then don't miss a visit to Mission Bay Aquatic Park, the largest aquatic park in the United States. Encompassing 4,600 acres, the park offers water activities for all ages including kayaking, paddle boarding, wave runners and sailing. The park also offers 27 miles of meandering shorelines with bike paths, play and picnic areas, fire pits and dozens of well-maintained restroom facilities. Mission Bay is also home to SeaWorld San Diego and sport fishing including six public launch ramps, two fuel docs and a number of sport fishing boats at Mission Bay Sport Fishing, Seaforth Landing, Dana Landing and Sportsman's Doc.
Browse the articles and listings below to uncover more about San Diego's natural landscapes.