With nearly perfect temperatures and 270 days of sunshine throughout the year, San Diego is the perfect place to be outdoors. Visitors can spend endless hours enjoying abundant recreation, open-air dining, neighborhood shopping and unique events around the county. They can also enjoy fun-filled days at San Diego's outdoor attractions, museums, gardens, murals and more.
Below is a list of San Diego's popular outdoor attractions that are sure to delight visitors of all ages and interests throughout the year.
The world-famous San Diego Zoo is a 100-acre tropical garden that houses 4,000 animals from 800 rare and exotic species. One of the zoo’s newest attractions, Africa Rocks, introduces guests to rare African plant and animal species through a West African forest, Ethiopian highlands, Madagascar habitat and more. Other spectacular bioclimatic exhibits like the Australian Outback, Elephant Odyssey, Monkey Trails and Ituri Forest house endangered species in enclosures that mimic their natural habitats.
Located 30 miles northeast of downtown, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is an 1,800-acre preserve where wild animals roam free over vast expanses as they would in their native habitats of Africa and Asia. One of its newest attractions, Walkabout Australia takes guests to a land teeming with kangaroos, grasslands where wombats frolic, and forests filled with kookaburras and cassowaries. For thrill seekers, Flightline Safari is a zip-line adventure that flies guests more than 400 feet across the park at speeds up to 60 mph.
Located on Mission Bay, SeaWorld San Diego is a 189-acre park featuring entertaining shows, fascinating attractions and numerous exhibits containing marine life from around the globe. Visitors can enjoy SeaWorld’s outdoor animal attractions featuring dolphins, bat rays, Magellanic penguins, reef sharks, flamingos, sea otters and much more. They can also sit back and catch some sun during the park's world-famous Dolphin, Sea Lion and Orca Encounter live educational presentations.
Set along the downtown waterfront, the USS Midway Museum pays tribute to the 200,000 sailors who served their country aboard the ship and highlights San Diego’s rich military history. Part of the Navy fleet for 47 years, the "floating city” was active during the Vietnam and Persian Gulf Wars as well as other conflicts and crises around the world. On the flight deck, visitors can check out the fighters, bombers, and helicopters that took naval aviation into the jet age. They can also learn first-hand what it takes to take off and land on the world’s most compact airport.
Located next to the Midway is the Unconditional Surrender/Embracing Peace statue which is popular with photographers and Instagrammers. The statue is a heroically scaled version of the famous World War II photograph of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square at the end of World War II. Also nearby is the striking, nine-foot black granite obelisk of the Aircraft Carrier Memorial which commemorates the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers and all who served on them.
Just a short walk from the Midway, the Maritime Museum consists of several historic sailing vessels including the Star of India, built in 1863 and the world’s oldest merchant sailing vessel still in operation today. Another popular ship is the San Salvador. This living-history exhibit offers a historically accurate reconstruction of the ship that first sailed into San Diego harbor in 1542 under the helm of Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo sailing under the Spanish flag.
San Diego is home to one of the world's most beautiful natural harbors, San Diego Bay. Bustling with activity day and night, it serves as the homeport for U.S. Navy ships, a large sportfishing fleet and pleasure craft galore. One of the best ways to see San Diego is from the waters of the Bay aboard a harbor tour, dinner cruise or exhilarating sailing adventure. Passengers are amazed by the unique views of active Navy ships, water wildlife, downtown’s dynamic skyline, and the magnificent San Diego-Coronado Bridge.
San Diego's whale watching season traditionally occurs from December through April when California gray whales journey from the chilly Alaskan seas to the warm water lagoons of Baja California, Mexico. In the spring, summer and autumn months, whale watching excursions also tout the opportunity to see blue whales – the largest animals on earth, which have been frequently spotted off the coast in recent years – along with humpback, fin and minke whales as well as year-round sightings of bottlenose, Pacific white-sided and common dolphins. Whale watching cruises and kayak adventures depart daily from San Diego Bay, Mission Bay and local beaches.
The birthplace of California is located on the tip of Point Loma and commemorates Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo's 1542 discovery of San Diego and his exploration of the California coast. Also located at Cabrillo National Monument is the historic Point Loma Lighthouse, which stood watch over the entrance to San Diego Bay during the late 1800s. Part of the U.S. National Park Service, the monument also provides spectacular panoramic views of downtown, Coronado, San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean. On a clear day, visitors can also see neighboring Mexico.
The colorful Spanish Village Art Center in Balboa Park is a collection of three dozen artist studios with many creative displays dotting its cobblestoned courtyard on bright sunny days. Art lovers can enjoy watercolor paintings, glass sculptures and pottery and meet many of the local artists who work inside the studios. The village is located right next to the San Diego Zoo and just a short walk away from Balboa Park’s beautiful gardens and iconic Lily Pond.
The Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park represents the friendship between San Diego and its sister city Yokohama, Japan. The garden is considered in Japanese culture to be a living work of art and is designed to present an atmosphere of elegant simplicity and beauty. The Japanese Friendship Garden includes a bonsai exhibit, a moon-viewing deck, gorgeous black pine trees, azaleas and ornamental plants like camellias, magnolia, wisteria and cherry blossom trees. It is also home to the largest and oldest bronze Kannon statue in the United States.
The San Diego Botanic Garden is a beautiful urban retreat nestled on 37 acres in Encinitas. Visitors can enjoy nearly 5,000 plant species from around the world including flowering trees, majestic palms and the nation’s largest bamboo collection. The garden’s diverse topography provides a wide variety of microclimates and experiences, from strolling through a tropical rainforest to hiking in the high desert. There are 29 uniquely themed gardens including the acclaimed Hamilton Children’s Garden, the largest interactive children's garden in the West.
Perched high on a bluff above the Pacific Ocean in La Jolla, Birch Aquarium at Scripps is one of the nation’s top aquariums. It is also the public outreach center for the renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Visitors can enjoy cool breezes and panoramic ocean views while learning about life on the ocean's edge. At the outdoor living tide pool, children of all ages can get up close and personal with anemones, sea cucumbers, urchins and sea stars. They can also get a chance to touch warmer water species like cleaner shrimp, hermit crabs and even young epaulette sharks at the Tropical Touch Experience.
The Stuart Collection on the campus of the University of California, San Diego in La Jolla is a unique collection of 20 site-specific works by leading contemporary artists of our time. The collection is different from a traditional sculpture garden by integrating some of the works with university buildings and architecture. The popular Fallen Star by Do Ho Suh is a small blue cottage that sits crookedly atop the corner of a 7-story building, as if it dropped from the sky. The Stuart Collection is free and open year-round. You can explore the outdoor collection with a self-guided walking tour.
Located on the edge of downtown, Barrio Logan’s art scene is one of San Diego’s most intriguing with eye-catching Mexican street art. In the early 1970s, Barrio Logan’s Latino community established Chicano Park beneath the San Diego-Coronado Bridge overpass, as part of a community empowerment effort. The park is home to the largest concentration of Chicano murals in the world with more than 80 murals painted on the bridge's pillars. Chicano Park was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2017.
More than a dozen artists have transformed the village of La Jolla into an outdoor contemporary art gallery. The Murals of Jolla feature massive painted and photographic works by local artists and international contemporary art stars. A favorite is Raymond Chandler at the Whaling Bar by Raul Guerrero. The mural transports you back in time to the glamorous 1960s and pays homage to Raymond Chandler's novel Playback and La Jolla's iconic La Valencia Hotel. You can tour the Murals of La Jolla with a self-guided map.
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