Cool Things To Do in San Diego – Ultimate Visitor’s Guide

San Diego may be known for its amazing beaches and great weather, but you will be surprised by all the fun things to do in this great city. While you might plan to come to town to relax and catch some sunshine, the city offers abundant activities to excite every type of traveler.

San Diego is a big city divided by unique neighborhoods and several city parks for visitors to enjoy. So whether you are visiting to explore museums, experience all the entertainment options, or spend time outdoors, you’ll enjoy all the great things to do in San Diego.

Barona Cultural Center and Museum

The Barona Cultural Center and Museum in San Diego County’s first museum on an Indian reservation is dedicated to interpreting the history of the Kumeyaay-Diegeuño culture.

Here you will find an all-ages educational journey where you can learn the area’s natural history.

This cultural center and museum are one of the best things to do for history lovers. At this museum, you’ll follow the history of ancient culture and traditions and contemporary and modern history.

While the Barona Cultural Center and Museum has a Research Library with research on all indigenous communities of the Americas, the museum also has objects dating as far back as 10,000 years.

This is a great destination to get in touch with the original communities of the San Diego area.

Embarcadero & The USS Midway Museum

A San Diego vacation is not complete without a visit to the USS Midway. The Embarcadero in San Diego is a waterfront area along San Diego Bay that hosts an abundance of maritime history, public art, and restaurants for guests to enjoy.

While exploring the place, you will see several U.S. Navy Ships, aquatic wildlife, and unique yachts. Along the boardwalk in Embarcadero, you will find the USS Midway Museum, San Diego’s most popular family attraction.

This must-see destination provides a unique opportunity to explore the longest-serving U.S. Navy aircraft carrier of the 20th century. This carrier was once home to 4,500 shipmates.

Here you’ll find many family-friendly activities with the ship most geared towards youth aged 7-12. This stop is the best thing to do for families.

Midway Museum admission tickets are $26 for adults, and kids 5 and under are free.

Fleet Science Center

The Fleet Science Center hosts more than 100 interactive exhibits that will pique your interest and teach you a new thing or two. If IMAX movies are your jam, you can watch a movie about the various wonders of the world.

The Fleet Science Center works with many local schools to host science workshops and student camps. In addition, adults can enjoy the Fleet Night of Science and community events like the “Two Scientists Walk Into a Bar” event.  

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Legends Gallery

This fine art gallery in San Diego County specializes in the art of Dr. Suess, Mackenzie Thorpe, Tom Everhart, and local artists.

This unique gallery is one of the few places where you can see a large number of Dr. Suess’ paintings in one place, as he used to live in La Jolla, CA.

So if you’re a Dr. Suess fan, this is one of the best things to do in San Diego.

Mormon Battalion Historic Site

The Mormon Battalion was a group of 500 Latter-day Saints who volunteered to join the U.S. Army in 1846 during the Mexican-American War.

The battalion provided financial support for their families and other Mormon pioneers. You can explore an interactive video of historical artifacts and demonstrations on gold panning and brickmaking at this Historic Site.

While the Mormon Battalion served in the U.S. Army, they had to march nearly 2,000 miles across the southwestern United States. While these soldiers never faced battle, twenty soldiers died during the march.

During their march, the soldiers improved trails, helped build Fort Moore and Sutter’s Mill, and helped many pioneers migrate West. In addition, many soldiers reunited with family members in the Salt Lake Valley, Iowa, and Nebraska after their time in the army. 

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) features some of the best art in Southern California in two locations, both San Diego and La Jolla. These fantastic locations showcase the Museum’s famous 4,700-piece contemporary art collection.

The vision of MCASD is that they seek to harness the potency of contemporary art to inspire expansive thinking in an inclusive world.

Some current collections on view include Niki de Saint Phalle in the 1960s, Carmen Argote: Filtration System for a Process-based Practice, and The Reason for the Neutron Bomb.

San Diego Art and Space Museum

San Diego Art and Space Museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian and is California’s Official Air and Space Museum.

This museum houses many excellent collections of historic aircraft and spacecraft worldwide, including a flight-worthy replica of Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, the Apollo 9 Command Module, and the only actual GPS satellite on display in the world.

In addition to these fantastic sites, you can view artifacts from the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Wally Schirra, and other aviation and space adventurers.

The museum also features MaxFlight simulators, a 3D/4D movie theater, and traveling exhibitions.

San Diego Botanic Garden

The San Diego Botanic Garden covers 37 acres in the middle of the city and was established in 1970. Within the beautiful garden, you’ll find four miles of trails that display more than 5000 plant species and varieties.

The park includes 300 plants, and this botanic Garden is the only garden maintaining a population in the area. At the park, you’ll find fifteen gardens representing different regions of the world and the largest public bamboo collection in North America.

Children will love it here as there are three children’s gardens, including the largest on the west coast.

San Diego Model Railroad Museum

The San Diego Model Railroad Museum is the world’s largest accredited model railroad museum covering 27,000 square feet.

At this one-of-a-kind museum, you’ll see five large-scale model layouts depicting railroads of the Southwest on O, HO, and N scales. The museum will also see a Toy Train Gallery with an interactive format for children and fun theater lighting. 

The primary mission of this museum is to research, collect, preserve and present the heritage of American railroading using educational programs. Stop by this museum to explore the many beautiful toy train displays and scale models of California railroads. 

San Diego Museum of Art

With a focus on Spanish Art, the San Diego Museum of Art provides visitors with a rich and diverse experience. This museum is located in the heart of Balboa Park.

It includes works from Spanish and Italian artists, South Asian paintings, 19th, and 20th-century American art, and more. The best part is the extensive year-round programming hosted by the museum for both children and adults.

Some programs include Culture and Cocktails, Art After Hours for Adults, Summer Camps, and Teen Summer Studios for youth. 

San Diego Natural History Museum

The San Diego Natural History Museum shares the natural history of Southern California. It covers everything from rattlesnakes to beetles to fossils and dinosaurs.

You can delve further into the historical archives and admire the art at the oldest biological research center in the region. Some permanent exhibits include Fossil Mysteries and Coast to Cactus in Southern California, which walk through the region’s 75 million-year history.

Other exhibitions include Living Lab, where you can look at animals like iguanas and rattlesnakes, or Unshelved: Cool Stuff from Storage.

Spanish Village Art Center

The Spanish Village Art Center in San Diego, California, is located in Balboa Park and features working studios for 200 local artists of any medium. The Spanish Village Art Center has been open to the public for over 80 years.

Famous artist Anni von Westrum Baldaugh once had a studio space here. Current tenants include the San Diego Mineral and Gem Society and the Southern California Association of Camera Clubs. All studios are open to the general public seven days a week to view the incredible artwork inside.

Bahia Belle

The Bahia Belle is an exciting turn-of-the-century Mississippi-style boat that offers a 45-minute sightseeing cruise of Mission Bay. While you’re cruising, make sure to explore this 74-foot 3-story boat with an observation deck.

The sightseeing cruise will take you around the 4,200-acre aquatic park. You can even book a special fireworks cruise around the 4th of July. Finally, if you’re looking for a boat party, sail the Belle after Dark cruise experience, one of the more unique things to do in San Diego.

Birch Aquarium

The Birch Aquarium is the Aquarium for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. It’s open to the public, and for a good reason; there’s so much to see here.

The Aquarium is home to more than 5,000 fish in 60+ aquarium habitats. Here you can explore interactive exhibits and sea creatures such as Loggerhead Sea Turtles, Leopard Sharks, a Giant Pacific Octopus, and Jellyfish.

There’s also a two-story Giant Kelp Forest and outdoor touch pools where you can get hands-on with young sharks. This Aquarium is trendy, so book your tickets a few days in advance.

Carlsbad Flower Fields

Who doesn’t love flowers? The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch is a breathtaking fifty-acre rainbow of ranunculus flowers set on a hillside overlooking the Carlsbad, California coastline.

While this space is frequently used for weddings, events, and corporate gatherings, visitors love to stop by and experience tractor-driven wagon rides.

Other activities include a 1500-square foot greenhouse with world-famous Ecke poinsettias, a sweet pea maze, Santa’s playground, an orchid greenhouse, and many themed gardens.

This is the perfect destination to spend the afternoon wandering around, practicing photography, or taking a wagon ride with the kids. In addition, there are picnic tables on-site for guests and free parking.

Cedros Avenue Design District

Cedros Avenue Design District is a popular San Diego neighborhood just steps away from Solana beach. It runs parallel to Highway 101 and is a great shopping district with more than 85 stores.

The design district is also the center for renowned interior design and architectural firms. While walking around the neighborhood, you’ll notice this area’s fantastic restaurant options and public art.

This is a one-of-a-kind neighborhood that every visitor to San Diego should see.

Compass Balloons

Compass Balloons is a top-rated tourist attraction in San Diego. With this hot air balloon company, you can take a tour and fly high above the coastline and wine valley to get the best view of San Diego you could ever imagine.

This company offers sunrise and sunset balloon options from both San Diego and Temecula to make it convenient no matter where you are staying in the area. This one-of-a-kind opportunity will provide memories for ages to come!

Downtown San Diego

Downtown San Diego is located only a few minutes from the airport and is the thriving center of the city. Downtown, you’ll find the Gaslamp Quarter.

In this historic area, modern architecture and Victorian Age buildings blend with eclectic galleries, chic boutiques, exciting nightclubs, rooftop bars, craft beer locations, and more.

There are so many activities downtown for the whole family, whether you’re visiting the New Children’s Museum or the San Diego Zoo.

There are also several other great neighborhoods to explore, like Little Italy, East Village, Barrio Logan, and Embarcadero, with a boardwalk hugging the San Diego Bay. Walking around Downtown San Diego is one of the best free things to do in the city.

Grand Tea Room

The Grand Tea Room is a one-of-a-kind full-service tea room in the historic Escondido area of San Diego. Here you’ll find that each table has its own beautiful china set, and you’ll be able to choose from thirty different loose-leaf teas during your tea time.

There are several tea menus to choose from, ranging from the Grand Tea, the Garden Tea, the Children’s Tea, and the Light Lunch Tea.

If you’re looking for a small snack, the Cream Tea is perfect for you. A La Carte options, such as petite desserts, fresh fruit bowls, fresh scones, tea sandwiches, and savory flavors of the day, are also available.

iFLY San Diego

iFly San Diego offers exciting Flight Experiences for tourists in San Diego. Anyone from ages three to 103 can skydive here.

iFLY created a wind tunnel using unique tunnel technology for body flight so anyone can skydive without taking an airplane. iFLY San Diego offers several different flight packages depending on how many flights you want to take.

Still, they all come with flight gear rental, pre-fight training, one-on-one flight instruction, and a personalized flight certificate. So don’t miss out on this unique chance to skydive using unique technology!

Liberty Public Market

The Liberty Public Market is a seven-day-a-week Public Market that features exciting eateries, bars, specialty food, and craft vendors. It first opened in 2016 and has continued to thrive as a central market in San Diego.

You can find everything here: prepared foods, cocktails, fish, pasta, arts and crafts, and education-driven events. Some restaurants include Landini’s Pizzeria, Weapon Ramen, Olala Crepe, and Rad Burger.

Liberty Public Market features much indoor and outdoor seating, so you can find the perfect place to enjoy your food. Also, leave some time to walk around the outdoor area, as the USS Brave is available for viewing.

Little Italy

If you’re looking for fantastic food and bars made famous by members of the Rat Pack, look no further than the Little Italy neighborhood in San Diego.

Once home to many families, it is now a busy tourist attraction with the opportunity to enjoy delicious imported food and visit the St. Patrick’s Cathedral. While wandering around the neighborhood, make sure to look for Mulberry Street, which is the neighborhood’s most well-known street.

Then, stop by the Italian American Museum to learn more about the Italian community. In addition, you can learn more about Italian Americans’ cultural history and experience in California.

Old Town San Diego

Old Town San Diego is one of the city’s most popular destinations and is known as the “Birthplace of California.” Created in 1769, Old Town San Diego is known as California’s first settlement with only a catholic mission and a fort.

The Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is at the center of the Old Town. While you wander through, you can experience life from the early Mexican-American historical period of 1821-1872 through history programs.

There are blacksmith and woodworker shops in addition to newspapers from the 19th century. As you wander through the rest of the neighborhood, keep your eyes open for many historical sites and fantastic restaurants, shops, and bars.

Cafe Coyote is well known and has been available for more than 30 years in the community.

Petco Park

If you’re a fan of the San Diego Padres, look no further than Petco Park. Spend the day watching baseball, eating hotdogs, and enjoying the seventh-inning stretch.

While most individuals buy a ticket to a baseball game and sit and watch the entire time, there is a lot to do at Petco Park for the whole family. While you’re there, the San Diego Padres Hall of Fame is a fun historical journey to take and is free to view with a seat ticket.

For adults, the Petco Park San Diego Beer Alley showcases 96 different local brews and could be a fun addition to your day at the park. In addition, don’t miss out on all the food options at the park!  

Presidio Park

The historic Presidio Park is where the first European settlements were founded in 1769. The park now stands on a hill overlooking Old Town San Diego.

It features more than 40 acres of green open space, picnic areas, and memorials with unbelievable city views. In addition, the famous Junipero Serra Museum is available in the park, which exhibits archeological finds and historical objects.

While many locals use this park as a place to relax and gather, it is also a site of significant importance and is a great thing to do while you’re in San Diego.

San Diego Zoo & Safari Park

The San Diego Zoo is home to over 12,000 animals and is located in Balboa Park. Most interestingly, in 2022, the San Diego Zoo welcomed the first aardvark birth in almost 40 years, which will join the 450 other species that live in habitats throughout the zoo.

Many experiences are available to visitors at the park, including Animals in Action. Guests can see exotic cats climb and jump around their habitats with a tour by wildlife behavior specialists.

Other experiences include Crazy About Cats, Discovery Cart Tour, Early Morning Cheetah Experience, Exclusive VIP Experience, and Inside Look Tours. The Safari Park is a sizeable free-range enclosure home to herds of rhinos, antelopes, giraffes, zebras, and buffalos, among other animals.

Guests can ride the Africa Tramp or opt to take a safari ride through the park for a more up-close experience. Different experiences include ziplining through the park and VIP trips.

SeaWorld San Diego

SeaWorld San Diego is an excellent destination for adults and children. Everyone will find something to do here between the exciting shows, up-close animal encounters, and thrill rides throughout the park.

For example, at Explorer’s Reef, you can have hands-on education and fun at four different touch pools with sharks, rays, and small fish. In addition, staff members can answer any questions you have. 

Other exciting activities include the Sea Lions Live show, roller coasters, Penguin Encounter, and Journey to Atlantis, a winding water ride. SeaWorld San Diego is a great summer outing for the whole family.

The Casbah

If you’re looking for a fun night out with live music, the Casbah is a prominent location in San Diego. Bands such as Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins played here in the past, with bands such as Alanis Morissette, The Breeders, Ben Harper, The Cult, and Blink-182 playing at the newer location.

Visitors can expect live music six to seven nights a week. You can purchase show tickets ahead of time, as tickets are often sold out for popular shows.

UTC Ice Sports Center

The UTC Ice Rink is located within the Westfield UTC Shopping Center. While most visitors will take advantage of free, open skating, this sports center offers skating classes and youth and adult hockey.

Public skating costs include skate rental, and all public skate hours include top music hits and disco lights.

So whether it is a hot summer day or you feel like skating one Tuesday afternoon, this is an excellent activity in San Diego.

Hotel del Coronado

A list of San Diego attractions is not complete with a visit to the Hotel del Coronado. The Del is an iconic beachfront property located in the city of Coronado, California.

The hotel has been a popular destination for celebrities, dignitaries, and vacationers since it opened its doors in 1888. Today, the Hotel del Coronado remains one of California’s most popular tourist destinations, welcoming visitors from all over the world.

The hotel is right on the beach and has an iconic red roof. The hotel is also supposedly haunted and has been featured on TV shows about ghosts. 

The beautiful beaches, luxurious accommodations, and impeccable service are just a few reasons why the Hotel del Coronado is truly a one-of-a-kind experience.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

The Safari Park is a wildlife preserve near San Diego, California, United States. The park is located about 35 miles from the San Diego Zoo. 

The Park is one of the largest tourist attractions in the area. In addition, the park houses many animals, including lions, cheetahs, camels, giraffes, and elephants. 

Visitors can take part in safari tours, which allow them to see the animals up close. The park also offers educational programs about animal conservation. The Safari Park is a popular destination for both children and adults.

San Diego County Fair

If you are in town during June, the San Diego County Fair is an annual event that attracts visitors worldwide. With its unique blend of attractions, food, and entertainment, the fair offers something for everyone.

From rides and games to live music and performances, the fair is a great place to spend a day or two. And of course, no visit to the fair would be complete without sampling some of the delicious food on offer.

There’s something for everyone at the San Diego County Fair. From classic fair favorites like cotton candy and corn dogs to more unusual options like deep-fried Twinkies.

If you’re looking for a fun-filled family outing, add the fair to your list of must-see attractions.

San Diego SEAL Tour

If you’re looking for a unique way to see the city of San Diego, consider taking a SEAL Tour.

These 90-minute tours take you through the beautiful streets of San Diego, providing an up-close look at some of the most famous landmarks.

Then head out to San Diego Harbor in the amphibious vehicle. Whether you are a local or a tourist, a SEAL Tour is a great way to experience all that San Diego has to offer.

Seaport Village

Seaport Village is a beautiful spot in San Diego to stroll, people watch, and window shop. With its beautiful walkways and nautical décor, the village has a timeless charm that is hard to resist.

Although it can be crowded on weekends, it is always worth braving the crowds to explore the shops and restaurants. From jewelry and clothes to ice cream and coffee, there is something for everyone at Seaport Village.

If you need a break from all the shopping, you can always enjoy a leisurely walk along the water or take in the stunning views of the San Diego skyline.

So whether you are looking for a place to find that perfect souvenir or simply want to spend a relaxing day by the water, Seaport Village is sure to please.

Big Bay Boom

On the Fourth of July, San Diego’s Big Bay Boom celebrates America’s independence with a spectacular fireworks display.

Launched from barges positioned around the Bay, the fireworks are synchronized to music, creating a truly unforgettable experience.

The Big Bay Boom has become one of San Diego’s most anticipated annual events, attracting thousands of spectators each year. So catch the BOOM if you can!

San Diego Whale Watching Cruise

Whale watching is one of the most popular tourist activities in San Diego, and it’s easy to see why. You can see a variety of whale species, including blue whales, humpback whales, and gray.

Whale-watching boats depart from several locations around the city so it’s easy to get up close and personal with these fantastic creatures.

Whether you’re a first-time whale watcher or an experienced naturalist, spending a few hours on a whale-watching tour is a memorable experience.

With so many different tour options available, there’s sure to be a whale-watching adventure that’s perfect for you. 

San Diego Comic-Con

San Diego Comic-Con is an annual San Diego, California, comic book convention. It is one of the premier comic book conventions in the world, with thousands of attendees.

Comic-Con was founded in 1970 by a group of fans who wanted to create a gathering place for people who loved comic books. Today, Comic-Con is much more than just a comic book convention. It celebrates all things pop culture.

Comic-Con is where fans can come together and celebrate their shared love of all things nerdy. And, of course, it’s also a great place to dress up as your favorite character and take some fantastic photos.

If you’re a diehard fan or just looking for a fun weekend activity, San Diego Comic-Con is definitely the place to be.

Balboa Park

Balboa Park is rich in culture in the heart of San Diego, and many must-visit places live in this giant green space. The park was founded 150 years ago when civic leaders decided to set aside the area overlooking downtown as a park.

In this unique space, there are seventeen museums, countless gardens, and the famous San Diego Zoo. The park totals 1,200 acres and stands as one of the most iconic urban parks in the United States.

If you’re staying downtown, you can reach Balboa Park is just a short walk to view its outstanding architecture and exhibit installations. 

Belmont Park

This historic amusement park is located on the oceanfront in San Diego in the Misson Bay area. This fantastic free thing to do has a bunch of different activities for everyone.

At Belmont Park, you can find everything from carnival rides to arcade games and activities like go-karting and mini-golf. Don’t miss out on the great food and beverages, either.

Aside from roller coasters, there are also activities like an escape room and mining for treasure at Junge Gems. So don’t miss out on this free beachfront opportunity while you’re in San Diego.

Cardiff State Beach

Cardiff State Beach is a favorite of locals for its sloping beachfront and warm waters, often called the “Riviera of the West.” Aside from spending the day lounging around in the sun, you can participate in many activities here, ranging from swimming, surfing, and beachcombing.

Dogs are welcome on the beach if they remain on a 6′ leash and stay under their owner’s control. Another benefit of this state beach is that beach wheelchairs are available for patron use on a first-come-first-serve basis. The beach is open from sunrise to sunset, so optimize your time while you’re there.

Children’s Pool Beach

The Children’s Pool Beach is in La Jolla and is a massive draw for tourists and locals. The main attraction for everyone is watching the La Jolla Seals hang out on the beach during pup season.

The best thing at Children’s Pool Beach is hanging out and watching the seals. Many visitors sit on the beaches or lean against the wall above the Children’s Pool, making sure to give the seals more than enough space.

Remember that the seawall is almost 100 years old and has an uneven path, so be careful when walking across it.

Coronado Island

Coronado Island is across the Bay from San Diego and is regularly voted the best beach in the United States by Dr. Beach. You’ll find gentle surf, gorgeous wide-sand beaches, a quaint main street, and fantastic hotels.

This island is the perfect location for any vacation but is ideal for a romantic getaway and family vacation. Some of the visitors’ favorite activities include relaxing on the beach, renting a bike, and riding on the boardwalk.

Other activities include exploring Orange Avenue, shops, art galleries, and restaurants, and activities such as sailing, stand-up paddling, surfing, and kayaking.

San Diego Harbor Cruise

What could be more fun than spending a sunny day cruising around San Diego Bay? Whether you’re looking for a romantic outing or a family-friendly activity, a harbor cruise is a perfect way to see the sights and soak up the incredible California weather. And there’s no better place to do it than in beautiful San Diego.

On a harbor cruise, you’ll see all the iconic landmarks that make San Diego unique. From the majestic USS Midway to the stunning Coronado Bridge, there’s plenty to see and photograph. You might even spot some wildlife.

A harbor cruise is a great way to relax and enjoy yourself while still getting a taste of all that San Diego has to offer. So if you’re a local looking for something new to do or a visitor wanting to see the best of the city, hop aboard a harbor cruise during your next San Diego vacation.

La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove is a beach in San Diego that is a favorite spot for locals and visitors worldwide. You can enjoy everything at this location, from breathtaking sunsets to beautiful sea lions.

The area surrounding La Jolla Cove has an abundance of seaside restaurants and activities for the little ones. In addition, the 6,000-acre La Jolla Underwater Park encompasses the beachfront and includes Ecological Research which provides abundant wildlife spotting opportunities.

Seals and other creatures call La Jolla Cove home.

La Jolla Beaches

We could write an entire article about all of the beaches in La Jolla. The town is known for its beautiful sea cliffs and ocean views, and heading to all the beaches is some of the top things to do in La Jolla in San Diego County.

La Jolla Shores Beach is a mile-long stretch in the northern end of the city and is one of the favorite beaches of locals and visitors and also one of the safest. Other favorites include South Casa Beach, frequented by wildlife, and Boomer Beach, popular with body surfers. 

Lake Hodges

Lake Hodges is a reservoir and a lake that is located about 31 miles north of Downtown San Diego. When the reservoir sits at its fullest, it has 1,234 areas and a maximum water depth of 115 feet with 27 miles of shoreline.

Visitors enjoy the recreation area, which features six barbecues and twelve picnic tables. Self-contained gas barbecues are also allowed in the park if you bring your own. In addition, this is an excellent lake for fishing, boating, swimming, and other family activities.

Mission Trails Regional Park

This exciting park is one of the largest urban parks in the country, with more than 8,000 acres and 65 miles of trails. There is much to do here besides the fantastic native flora and fauna viewing.

Cowels Mountain is in the middle of Mission Trails Regional Park and is the most popular hike in the city. Other popular areas include the East Fortuna Staging Area, Kumeyaay Lake, Old Mission Dam Historic Site, and Kwaay Paay Peak.

In addition, you’ll find the award-winning Visitor & Interpretive Center, which offers a wide range of free programming, tours, and educational presentations.

Mission Bay Park Kayaking

While there are many ways to explore Mission Bay, one of the best ways is to grab a kayak and paddle around Mission Bay Park. There are more than 27 miles of coastline around Mission Bay, and with so much space, you could explore all day.

In the Bay, you’ll find small islands scattered throughout the coast. Mission Bay Park is great for all ability levels, so make a day of it.

There are several kayak rentals near the beach, so pick one and hop in the water. 

Mount Woodson Trail

Mount Woodson Trail, also known as “Potato Chip Hike,” is the tallest peak in the area and has fantastic city views. It is a very popular hike for San Diego Locals.

It is a challenging 6.4-mile route with steep uphill parts that will be difficult for beginners. Many experienced hikers may find parts of this trail challenging. However, you’ll be excited to see the stunning views of Lake Poway, Palomar Mountain, and the surrounding scenery if you can reach the top.

The trail is well marked but can be narrow in parts, and there are no restrooms at the top. So make sure to come prepared and bring water.

Ocean Beach

This lively bohemian neighborhood attracts surfers and sunbathers at the beach of the same name. Ocean Beach is the main city beach in San Diego, with amazing views and fantastic waves for surfing.

Many folks love to go paddle boarding, play in the surf, or just chill on the beach.

In addition, there is a half-mile pier where you can fish without a fishing license. After spending all day on the beach, check out Newport Avenue and explore the restaurants, brewpubs, antique stores, beachwear, and surf boutiques.

Ocean Beach is very popular with locals and tourists, with several annual events welcoming thousands of visitors. 

Old Point Loma Lighthouse

The Old Point Loma Lighthouse first illuminated San Diego Bay in 1855 but was often obscured by fog and low clouds and was moved in 1891 to a new location closer to the water.

Today, the Old Point Loma Lighthouse stands in the exact location. It has been refurbished to its historic 1880s appearance with Park Ranger-led tours.

This unique tourist attraction is open 364 days a year. It offers a fantastic view of the Bay and educational opportunities for visitors at this fantastic location.

The lighthouse is another excellent thing to do in the San Diego area.

San Elijo Lagoon

As one of the most extensive remaining coastal wetlands in San Diego County, the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve is a must-visit on your trip to the city.

This 721-acre reserve provides habitats to migrating waterfowl, contributes to coastal fisheries, and protects the diversity of plant and animal species.

The wildlife viewing is fantastic here, and you can follow several trails to explore the area. While walking around, you can explore 300 species of plants, 23 species of fish, 26 species of mammals, 20 reptiles and amphibians, more than 80 invertebrates, and more than 300 bird species.

The San Elijo Lagoon is one of the cool things to do in San Diego for animal lovers.

Sesame Place

Sesame Place is a brand new theme park in San Diego and is perfect for families of all ages. This Sesame Street-themed park boasts 18 themed rides and water attractions sure to excite the entire family.

In addition, there is a family-friendly rollercoaster and a 500,000-gallon wave pool, the largest in Southern California. While wandering around the park, you’ll feel like you’re in Sesame Street as the park features a musical play area and a Sesame Street Neighborhood that even features the 123 Stoop.

In addition, the park features live character shows, parades, and photo opportunities that the kids will love.

Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave

Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave was initially dug by two laborers hired by German artist Gustav Schultz in 1902. It leads from the Cave Store, through the sandstone cliffs of La Jolla Cove, into Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave.

Once you find the Cave Store, you can take a self-guided 15-20 minute tour through a tunnel to reach the sea cave. Then, you’ll have to descend and climb the 144 stairs to enter and exit.

Rumor has it that during prohibition, this cave was used by bootleggers to smuggle alcohol through the tunnel. So this unique thing to do in San Diego provides a one-of-a-kind piece of history in the city.

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

You’ll find the 68-acre Sunset Cliffs Natural Park along the western edge of Point Loma. This beautiful park features natural cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean with stunning coastal views.

From the cliffs, you might be able to catch a glance of California gray whales that migrate annually from the Bering Sea to Baja, California, and back.

While the park boasts several stunning viewpoints, there are also several hikes to enjoy. So if you’re looking for a quieter, less-traveled space to enjoy the ocean, this is the perfect park to explore in San Diego.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Located in La Jolla, the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is known as a “wild stretch of land on the Southern California coast.”

This natural reserve is 2,000 acres of cliffs and rocks and offers eight trails that vary in scenery, length, and difficulty. Popular trails include Guy Fleming Trail and Beach Trail.

While exploring the area, expect to see animals such as bobcats, foxes, coyotes, and the rare Torrey pine. In addition, if you’re standing on the cliffs, you may be able to see several species of whales, including humpback and gray whales.

As this is one of the best outdoor things to do in San Diego, do not miss out on La Jolla Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.


There are so many cool and unique things to do in San Diego, the problem is finding time to fit it all in. Museums, outdoor activities, and other events make visiting San Diego a ton of fun. Whatever your style, there is something for you to do in San Diego.

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About the author
Steve Morrow
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.