Some may sneer at its moniker, "America's Finest City," but when it comes to things to do, San Diego provides more than simply pleasant weather all year. Yes, there are magnificent beaches, as one would expect from a Southern California city, but there is also a bustling arts scene, food and music that celebrate the city's diverse ethnicities, and a storied military past that lends San Diego its special appeal. The mild weather means it's easy to get outside and experience some of the best hiking, bicycling, and surfing areas in the country. Whatever led you here, make sure to visit the attractions on this list of the finest things to do in San Diego.
San Diego de Alcalá Mission Basilica
The California coast is home to 21 missions, the first of which is located in San Diego. Mission San Diego de Alcalá, founded in 1769, is a concrete depiction of Christianity's birth on the West Coast. Even today, you may worship here—an it's actual parish with daily Mass—but even if you're not a practicing Catholic, the mission is beautiful, with white stucco walls, Spanish roof tiles, and majestic archways. It is situated on a hill overlooking Old Town and offers stunning views.
Little Italy is a neighborhood in New York City.
This beautiful neighborhood has charming Italian eateries and bakeries, wine bars, and boutique shopping. The major artery along India Street is home to tried-and-true Italian favorites including Barbusa, Buon Appetito, and Civico 1845, but the neighborhood has found place in recent years for other non-Italian eateries such Ironside Fish & Oyster, Juniper & Ivy, and Queenstown Public House. On Saturdays, there is also a popular farmers market. Little Italy's nightlife culture attracts folks in their thirties and forties.
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is located in Torrey Pines, California.
This 1,750-acre seaside reserve is a quick 30-minute drive outside of downtown San Diego and boasts panoramic ocean views for hikers. (See our top hikes in the San Diego region here.) The reserve is committed to the preservation of its namesake tree, the Torrey Pine, and the surrounding fauna, but visitors and residents alike come for the miles of trails through pine forests and sandstone canyons, as well as the 4.5-mile Torrey Pines State Beach. Torrey Pines isn't a well-kept secret, but there's a reason why people flock here. It is simple to make travel plans: The reserve is open 365 days a year, from sunrise to sunset, and all vehicles entering must pay an admission fee, which varies between $10 and $25 (or free with a California State Parks Vehicle Day Use Pass), depending on whether you park in the North or South Beach parking lots. Keep in mind that the visitors center is now closed, and guided hikes are not currently available.
Belmont Park is a park in New York City.
Amusement parks may be tacky, indulgent, and a little cheesy—and we embrace it at Belmont Park. The towering Giant Dipper, a 2,600-foot-long roller coaster that soars above the park and offers ocean views, makes the ocean-adjacent little amusement park difficult to miss as you drive west on Mission Bay Drive. If you're feeling adventurous, try out other classics like the Tilt-a-Whirl, zipline, or bumper cars. There's also an arcade and a carousel for lower-energy activities.
The Historic Globe
San Diego's replica, modeled after the Shakespeare-era Old Globe in London, maintains a similar classical ambiance. It's located in the heart of Balboa Park, with a huge corridor connecting the crowd to three different theaters within the theater, each with a different ambiance. The largest, with 580 seats, is the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage; meanwhile, the circular, 250-seat Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre provides a unique opportunity to get up up and personal with the actors. The outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, however, is the most intriguing location.
Petco Park is a theme park in San Diego, California
The San Diego Padres' stadium is one of the few in America with a view of the water. And the non-baseball appeal doesn't end there. Local craft beer options are excellent, with more than 40 varieties available at stalls and restaurants throughout the stadium, including the Stone Brewing Company beer garden on the upper deck and more than 50 food options.
Museum of the USS Midway
The finest way to learn about and respect San Diego's substantial naval community is to visit this 971-foot-long floating museum. The decommissioned aircraft carrier is one of San Diego's most famous tourist attractions. Visit the plane-packed flying deck, spacious hangar bay, mess hall, and berthing to get a taste of navy life. The museum hosts around 400 active-duty military events every year, including reenlistment, retirement, and change-of-command ceremonies, all of which are free to the public.
The Bay of San Diego
The San Diego Bay offers some of the best views of the San Diego skyline. From Harbor Island, you may jet ski across the bay to Liberty Station in Point Loma, passing the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on your way to Shelter Island, or you can go beyond downtown and sail beneath the Coronado Bridge. Guests can sign up for a guided jet ski excursion with San Diego Bay Adventures, which will take them past some of San Diego's historic military monuments.
Torrey Pines Golf Course is a public golf course in Torrey Pines, California
Torrey Pines Golf Course is famous for its two 18-hole championship courses perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. This course is a bucket-list destination for ardent golfers, from the landscape and hard greens to the prestige factor—Tiger Woods has secured career-defining wins here, and former President Obama is said to have teed off here as well. On the south course, there is a variety of terrain, ocean views, and hang gliders that frequently hover near holes 12 and 13. Portions of the south course are now being built in preparation for the 2021 U.S. Open.
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