San Diego is the second-largest city in California and the eighth largest in the country. San Diego is enclosed by mountains, including one of California’s three mountain ranges that emerges from the uplift from the Pacific Plate.
When you combine all of this with over 70 miles of beaches perfectly situated along the Pacific Ocean, it’s no surprise that San Diego is a popular tourist spot for people who share common travel enthusiasm.
There’s always something going on in San Diego, from big cultural festivals to outdoor adventures. Grab a friend and find out what the city is all about! We’ve got tips for some of our favorite activities that will keep you busy for days.
We’ve spent years exploring this city and have compiled a list of the unique things to do in San Diego. Whether you’re a history buff or just searching for unique experiences, these activities are perfect. It’s time to get out there and explore this fascinating American city.
12 Unique Things to Do in San Diego
1. A Hike Mission Trails Regional Park
Mission Trails Regional Park is a whole preserve in San Diego that spans more than 7,000 acres. This park should be on every outdoor enthusiast’s list of things to do in San Diego.
Hiking in Mission Trails Regional Park is a must if you’re visiting this unique city. The park has a wide variety of habitats, from oak woodlands to rangeland to coastal marshland.
There are also these mile trails that you hike to make it halfway across the park and see a lot of beautiful views alongside historical sites along the way. You can also take on one of their guided hikes that will help take away some worry about navigation and help you find your way back after your trek!
2. Challenge the Mount Woodson Trail
The Mount Woodson Trail is a trail that starts at Lake Poway Staging area and traverses through miles and miles of lush greenery and spectacular views.
The trail, certified as a national recreation trail by the US Department of Interior, provides an opportunity to experience steep climbs with challenging descents.
This trail gets its name from Mount Woodson, which you’ll be able to see as you make your way along this scenic hike. You’ll also get great views of the expansive valley below, and this whole region will help make it feel like you’re part of something big.
However, we want to clarify that the Mount Woodson Trail isn’t for beginners. On the other hand, it may be just what you’re looking for if you’re an outdoor enthusiast who isn’t afraid of a bit of sweat and likes to get your heart pumping.
3. Climb the California Tower
The views from California Tower are breathtaking, with the mountains to the east and the ocean to the west. It’s one of those scenic trips that you have to see before you believe it.
The California Tower is an excellent place for people to take in some views and feel what life is like here in this region.
The tower stands nearly 200 feet high and provides an unforgettable view of the city and the ocean. This place makes it easy to forget about everything else and focus on these stunning views.
Do you enjoy historical monuments? Are you a fan of 360-degree aerial views? Then you won’t regret climbing the California Tower.
4. Witness the Natural Bridge Caverns
In the 1960s, four college students found a series of caves that were 180 feet below the surface of the Earth. Today, visitors may explore the caves with the assistance of a knowledgeable guide.
If you’re planning to visit the Natural Bridge Caverns, you’re lucky because they recently opened a cave primarily for nature photography.
The caverns comprise multiple chambers that are home to rare formations and sculptures. You’ll be able to see examples of different rock types, which is super cool because it’s fun discovering what this place is all about.
5. Kayak Around the 7 Caves of la Jolla
La Jolla Cove is home to six different large natural cave systems with many smaller ones inside them.
Each cave has its names: White Lady, Little Sister, Shopping Cart, Sea Surprise, Arch Cave, Sunny Jim’s Cave, Clams Cave. We’re not letting you know what’s the deep meaning behind their names; you have to go and learn about that when you’re there.
There’s no better way to see the 7 Caves of La Jolla than from the water. The tour will take you through caves nearly 80 feet tall and more than 150 feet long. You can also explore two smaller caves formed by wave action at the end of the cave, which is super cool. This cave complex is one of the most fun things to do in San Diego.
6. Boost Your Zen at the Japanese Tea Garden
This is an exquisitely landscaped park that serves as tranquillity in the heart of the metropolis. This park, located in a disused quarry, has a history of almost 90 years. However, it was just in 2008 when they opened the garden. Visiting this park is one of the unique things to do in San Diego.
Easily one of the top spring and summer activities in San Antonio, the flower-lined walkways, bamboo, and 600-foot waterfall cascading into the koi pond are all best enjoyed under the sun.
If there’s one word to represent this place, it’s B-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l.
7. Relax at the Rosarito Beach
Rosarito Beach is a long, narrow town located on the shores of the Pacific Ocean in Baja, California. The beaches are fine, white sand and have gentle surf.
Rosarito Beach is 45 minutes drive to the south. There is the issue of the border to consider, but this should not be a problem – in fact, if you take a shuttle from a hotel, the shuttle company will handle everything for you.
The drive there is picturesque, and the destination is blissful; spend the day soaking in this Mexican piece of sun, sea, and sand, then have Mexican food for lunch. No-brainer.
8. Take the Kids to the Children’s Pool
The Children’s Pool was initially designated as a swimming place for kids due to a sea wall erected to shelter the shore from oncoming waves.
Today, it is a publicly accessible beach area where everyone can swim, and it has also grown into a marine animal sanctuary. Also, you’d be amazed by the seals and sea lions that made residents there.
There are paths that allow you to see the seals that roam and hang out on the coastline, but getting closer is prohibited. However, just visiting the swimming place and watching the local fauna, are some of the top things to do in San Diego.
Feeling too hot? Take a plunge into the Children’s Pool. As the sun drops, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning place for photo ops of the sunset in the Pacific Ocean.
9. Eat Your Lunch at the River Walk
San Antonio River Walk is a cultural and historic district located along the banks of the San Antonio River, and it’s one of the unique things to do in San Antonio.
Here you can find many establishments and shops to visit. Situated along both sides of the river, attractive arches connect multi level buildings, ornamental bridges across the channel that look like they belong in Paris, and walkways shaded by trees.
The river itself divides into multiple channels, winding through downtown San Antonio and providing a scenic backdrop for visitors who stroll along its banks or enjoy sitting in one of the restaurants nearby while enjoying a nice lunch or dinner.
10. Visit the World-Class Art At The San Diego Museum of Art
The museum houses more than 35,000 works of art, including collections of Spanish baroque, 17th-century Dutch, and Flemish masters.
A walk around the museum’s many galleries provides an opportunity to view some of the world’s finest art. The museum also features incredible architecture that was inspired by palaces in Spain.
Thanks to the generous donations throughout the years, the Museum of Art has grown into a cultural centerpiece in San Diego. It is educational, vibrant, and definitely, a must-see for visitors.
11. Eat Your Way Around San Diego’s Little Italy
Eating is one of the unique things to do in San Diego. This city is home to many ethnic groups, and there’s one less thing you have to worry about in dining – you can just enjoy all the food.
Little Italy is a neighborhood in San Diego across from Balboa Park, an open square that features several built-in cafes and restaurants. This place is ideal for enjoying tasty Italian dishes and Italian coffee.
The food is great, and the atmosphere makes visiting Little Italy even more entertaining. Even if you’re not a fan of Italian food, the bustling atmosphere and the art displayed in the buildings make it a wonderful place to explore.
12. Check Out the Great San Diego Zoo
Located at the edge of Balboa Park, The Great San Diego Zoo is one of the top things to do in San Diego. Its mission is to preserve habitat on Earth for captive wildlife and their wild counterparts by providing quality care for more than 600 animals.
The zoo has existed in some fashion since 1899 and is one of America’s oldest zoos. It is one of the largest zoos in the States and features a variety of animal exhibits – including a petting zoo – a train, a carousel, and water rides. It also has been accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums since 1969.
In addition to its many exhibits, it also is perhaps best known for its Giant Panda Exhibit, which houses giant pandas from China. The zoo hosts several major events each year, including Boo at the Zoo and Zoofari. If you’re going to visit San Diego in fall or spring, you have to go there! Without question, one of the top spring and summer things to do in San Diego.
What I loved about this city, aside from the phenomenal weather, is that it has the perfect balance of being a place where you can be active, have fun with family and friends, and then relax. For me, it’s a perfect blend of everything I’m looking for in an American city.
Whether you go there for a relaxing, one-day getaway or a two-week family vacation, you’ll be able to come back feeling relaxed and ready to tackle your work or studies at school or other household chores.
And if you want to live the California Dream, San Diego is the place to do it! When it comes to things to do in San Diego, everything about the place fits the California mold perfectly. It’s a perfect place for sports lovers, beach enthusiasts, foodies, and people who want an alternative to traditional lifestyles.
Where are you heading next? These travel guides will surely be helpful on your next trip. Travel safely and have a wonderful time.
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Christian Petzold is a successful touristic entrepreneur, experiential traveller and round-the-world backpacker. He holds an academic degree in tourism management.
His touristic expertise has been covered in radio, newspaper and television.