From amusement parks to works of art, there's plenty to see and do in San Diego.
Looking to ride a roller coaster by the sea? Interested in meeting a dolphin face-to-face? Want to step aboard a historic aircraft? When it comes to attractions, San Diego’s natural, coastal landscapes pair perfectly with historic sites that offer fun and adventure for visitors of all ages and stages.
Visit SeaWorld San Diego for the chance to dive head-first into sea life, with opportunities to interact with tons of marine animals. Interaction programs allow animal lovers and future marine biologists to experience and learn about dolphins, orcas, sea turtles, sea lions, penguins and more up close. For the classic amusement park experience, there are roller coasters for thrill-seekers and a number of rides that can be enjoyed by explorers of all ages.
San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Not one, but two opportunities to interact with wild animals from around the globe await you in San Diego! The San Diego Zoo, located in the heart of Balboa Park, is home to more than 4,000 animals representing more than 800 animal species. Tigers, orangutans, koalas, giraffes and more can be found at this world-class zoo. For a Serengeti-like experience right here in California's Beach City, head north to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park to see animals roam around natural habitats in a vast reserve.
Centrally located near the airport, downtown, Little Italy and Petco Park, Balboa Park is the largest urban park in the country. Known to locals as the jewel in the center of the city, it contains 17 cultural institutions and museums, including the World Famous San Diego Zoo, as well as dozens of gardens, picnic areas, open spaces and trails. Instagram moments are abundant among the Spanish Colonial Revival arches and manicured gardens. Foodies will appreciate the craft beer café Panama 66 tucked into the San Diego Museum of Art’s sculpture garden, as well as The Prado, a refined restaurant for the pre-theater set. The Old Globe theater nestled within the park offers a summer Shakespeare series, family-friendly holiday shows and plenty of original work. The Visitor Center, located just off the central Plaza de Panama, is the place to plan your visit to the park and access the variety of day passes, maps and schedules available for the various performances and institutions.
Just steps off the Mission Beach boardwalk, the waterfront Belmont Park is full of fun, minus the sand. Between the sprawling aquatic complex with plenty of “free swim” hours and the modern arcade with a key-code payment system, the indoor attractions offer a respite from the summer sun. Outside, traditional carnival rides and games, snack shacks and ice cream treats are ready to help visitors beat the heat. History buffs and adventure seekers alike will appreciate a ride on the Giant Dipper, one of the West Coast’s oldest wooden roller coasters still in operation. It’s San Diego’s version of Coney Island. Games and rides can be purchased individually or with all-inclusive day passes.
On the site of San Diego’s first settlement in 1769 sits Old Town State Historic Park. It is part living history (think blacksmithing and woodworking demonstrations reflective of the early 1800s) and part shopping and dining. Several Mexican restaurants line the plaza in between souvenir shops and historic structures, one of which is said to be haunted. There is a playhouse and a historic hotel as well as the hub for the city’s popular hop-on, hop-off trolley service, the Old Town Trolley Tour.
Cabrillo National Monument
Perched high on the cliffs at the tip of Point Loma is the site commemorating explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo’s landing in 1542, the first European to reach the American West Coast. The Cabrillo National Monument site is also home to the city’s first lighthouse, opened in 1855, which is now a museum open for touring. Nearby are Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, acres of natural tide pools, hiking trails and plenty of lookout spots for spotting whales, birds, and ships big and small as they round the point and enter San Diego Bay. Views from the monument span 360 degrees to show the Sunset Cliffs and Pacific Ocean to the west, Mexico and the Coronado Islands to the south, and back around to San Diego Bay and the Coronado peninsula.
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Looking for San Diego’s best sunset? You’ve found it. Different from a state park, in California a reserve is protected specifically because it contains precious plants or animals in need of preservation. The Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve contains 1,500 acres of unspoiled coastline, bluffs, lagoon and beach along the northern stretch of San Diego’s coast. The Nature Center is a good place to get acquainted with the miles of popular hiking trails, which lead to striking views of the Pacific Ocean. The beach below, popular for swimming and surfing, is also part of the reserve. Farther south, The Lodge at Torrey Pines and the famous Torrey Pines Golf Course are each managed separately, as is the glider port where, on breezy days, visitors can leap from one of the famous cliffs and paraglide or hang glide out over the ocean. Because of the reserve’s status, no beverages other than water are permitted on the hiking trails and dogs are strictly off limits. There is a fee for parking.
Looking for more fun things to do? From where to shop, eat and play to what's happening around town, the Visitor Planning Guide is your roadmap to San Diego fun.
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