City Guide to San Diego, California

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San Diego often gets over-shadowed by California’s more popular cities. But don’t let that fool you—San Diego isn’t the second largest city in California for no reason. San Diego has something for you, whether you’re looking for family-friendly fun or crazy outdoorsy adventures.

1. Beaches, Beaches, Beaches

San Diego is renowned for its beautiful weather. The weather on the coast is 75 degrees year-round, the perfect temperature for frolicking on the beach. And San Diego has lots of beaches.

La Jolla Shores is perfect for the family as the beach with the gentlest tides. There are miles of soft white sand, so it’s the perfect place to spread out your towel while your kids wade in the shallow blue waters.

For those seeking a little more excitement, head down to Mission Beach to hang out with the surfers. Rent some equipment on the boardwalk and scuba dive to see several offshore wrecks. Or join the locals and skateboard down the boardwalk. Be sure to stop in some of the tiny boutiques and hole-in-the-wall restaurants lining the streets! There’s a Mexican place every block, and they’re all delicious.

San Diego Beaches

Photo credit: Justin Brown

2. For the Intrepid Explorer

The Southwest region of the U.S. has wild and beautiful scenery, and San Diego is no different. There are some spectacular national parks showcasing these gorgeous grounds. My personal favorite is Torrey Pines Natural Reserve, a day park right on the coast with beautiful hiking trails that lead right up to the beach. Right next door is the Torrey Pines Glider Port, so head over to try hang gliding on these scenic cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Get a taste of the seaside life by surfing, kayaking or boating. Moonlight kayaking on Mission Bay is peaceful and romantic. Learn to surf in Del Mar, which has some of the best waves in San Diego. And for the really adventurous, Blacks Beach has a nudist area if you want to let it all hang out.

Climbers should head to Mission Trails Regional Park, in the northeastern San Diego region. Cowles Mountain offers a variety of hiking, climbing and running paths while Mission Gorge is the most popular rock climbing spots in San Diego.

Torrey Pines

Photo credit: Jason Scragz

3. Living the City Life

Even though it has a beach town feel, San Diego is the second largest city in California, with a population of almost 1.3 million. So there’s stuff for the big city lovers too. The Gaslamp district, the oldest neighborhood in downtown San Diego, has stunning Victorian-era buildings housing luxurious boutiques and restaurants. For the shoppers, Horton’s Plaza is adjacent to Gaslamp and contains almost 200 shops and restaurants.

Hillcrest is the young, hip neighborhood. The theatre buffs should go to 6th @ Penn Theatre which stages unusual, and often controversial, plays. Hillcrest also has a weekly farmer’s market and boasts a great variety of locally-owned, independent stores for the hippie in you.

San Diego

Photo credit: Justin Brown

4. Museums, Gardens and Zoos, Oh My!

Balboa Park is the museum hub of the city. It’s actually an urban park, with plenty of open space, beautiful gardens and numerous cultural attractions, all within walking distance. Perfect for travelers!

While you’re there, check out the Mingei International Museum, which is dedicated to folk art. The large mosaic sculptures in the front make it instantly recognizable. Or go to the Botanical Garden, filled with tropical plants and even a lily pond.

Head up north to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park near Escondido. It’s much more fun than its sister park the San Diego Zoo because the enclosures are free-range. Instead of gazing at antelopes in tiny enclosures, watch them roam on plains alongside giraffes and gazelles.

Wildlife Park

Photo credit: Black.Dots.

5. A Bit of Culture

San Diego has a long and rich history. Spain and Mexico occupied southern California in the 1700s before the flood of Americans arrived in the 1800s. Soak up some history with San Diego’s historical sites. Hotel Coronado, built in 1888, is a famous hotel on the Coronado Peninsula. It has been a popular filming location (Some Like It Hot, anyone?) and is said to be haunted. Stay a night or two to look for some ghostly residents.

Or head down to the Mission San Diego de Alcala, the oldest of the California Missions. It was built by Spanish missionary Junipero Serra in 1769 and is still an active parish. Take a tour around the grounds and buildings to get a taste of San Diego’s Spanish and Mexican roots.

Hotel Coronado

Photo credit: Tony Hoffarth

With all these activities and beautiful weather year round, what are you waiting for? Pack your sneakers and bathing suit and come to San Diego! There’s something for everyone!

Annie Wang is an avid traveler who loves to explore all aspects of a country. She can be found blogging at NerdWallet Travel, which aims to help travelers with all aspects of traveling, from destination tips to baggage fees.

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