San Diego is a large and vibrant city located on the coast of California. The city is known for its beautiful weather, extensive beaches, and diverse attractions. San Diego is home to a variety of tourist attractions, including museums, zoos, and theme parks. Whether you’re interested in history, art, or just want to have some fun, there’s something for you. In this post, I’ll share 14 of The Best Tourist Attractions in San Diego that are sure to make your visit memorable.
Things to Do in San Diego California
1. Balboa Park
Balboa Park is San Diego’s cultural heart and the city’s most popular tourist attraction. This 1,200-acre urban cultural park is the largest in the United States and is home to some of the city’s most popular attractions. Within its boundaries, you’ll find gardens, museums, theaters, and the San Diego Zoo.
One of my favorite things to do at Balboa Park is to wander through the gardens. The Botanical Building is a must-see, with its impressive collection of rare plants and trees. The Japanese Friendship Garden is another favorite, with its koi ponds, teahouses, and bamboo forests.
If you’re into art, you’ll find plenty to explore in Balboa Park. The San Diego Museum of Art is one of the largest art museums in the country and is home to a renowned collection of European and American art. The Museum of Photographic Arts is also located in the park, as well as a theater museum and a science museum.
The San Diego Zoo is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, and for a good reason. It’s home to more than 3,500 animals, including giant pandas, koalas, and elephants. There’s also a children’s zoo, a petting zoo, and a rainforest aviary.
If you’re looking for a day of family fun, Balboa Park is the place to go. There’s something for everyone, from gardens and museums to theaters and zoos. And best of all, it’s all free to explore.
2. Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum
If you’re looking for interesting and informative things to do in San Diego, be sure to add the Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum to your list. This floating museum is a must-see for anyone interested in history, aviation, or naval warfare.
The Midway was commissioned in 1945 and served in the Pacific Theater of World War II. After the war, it was used as a training ship and later became the primary recovery vessel for Project Mercury; the first U.S. manned space mission.
The Midway was decommissioned in 1992 and opened as a museum in San Diego in 2004. Today, it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in San Diego, drawing more than a million visitors each year.
The museum is housed inside the aircraft carrier, and there are also exhibits on the hangar deck and in the adjacent building. You can walk through the ship’s crew quarters, engine room, and bridge. There are also dozens of aircraft on display, from fighters to helicopters to bombers.
Overall, the Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum is a fascinating look at military history and aviation. It’s definitely one of the top San Diego attractions not to miss.
3. San Diego Beaches
San Diego’s beaches are some of the most beautiful in the world, and it’s no surprise that they’re one of the city’s top tourist attractions. With 70 miles of coastline, there’s a beach for everyone.
Mission Beach is the most popular beach in San Diego, and it’s home to a lively boardwalk with shops, restaurants, and arcades. The beach itself is wide and sandy, and it’s perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and surfing. Coronado Beach is another popular spot known for its picturesque views of the San Diego skyline. The beach is also great for swimming, sunbathing, and surfing.
For a more secluded experience, try La Jolla Shores Beach. This beach is located in a residential area, and it’s perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking. If you’re looking for a beach with a little bit of everything, try Pacific Beach. This beach is great for swimming, sunbathing, surfing, and bodyboarding.
Other top beaches in San Diego include Ocean, Black’s, Swami’s, and Trestles beach. No matter what you’re looking for, you’ll find it at one of San Diego’s many beaches. So pack your sunscreen and your swimsuit and head to one of these beautiful beaches today.
4. Point Loma and Cabrillo National Monument
One of the top tourist attractions in San Diego is Point Loma. Nestled on a peninsula that juts into the Pacific Ocean, Point Loma offers commanding views of the city and the coastline. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Mexico. Locals and visitors come to Point Loma for its many outdoor activities, including fishing, boating, kayaking, and windsurfing. The area is also a nature lover’s paradise, with pristine coastal landscapes and plenty of wildlife.
One of the highlights of Point Loma is the Cabrillo National Monument, which commemorates the landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542. He is the first European explorer to set foot in California. The monument is also home to a variety of exhibits on the history and culture of the area, as well as beautiful panoramic views of downtown San Diego, the San Diego Bay, and the Pacific Ocean.
Another popular attraction on Point Loma is the lighthouse. The Point Loma Lighthouse was first lit in 1855 and is the oldest lighthouse in San Diego. Visitors can climb the winding staircase to the top for stunning views of the coastline.
If you’re looking for a place to enjoy a picnic lunch or just take in the natural beauty of San Diego, Point Loma is a great choice. And with its easy access to downtown San Diego and the Mexican border, it’s a perfect spot to spend a day or two exploring everything the area has to offer.
5. Seaport Village
In the heart of downtown San Diego, you’ll find Seaport Village. This is a fun and lively waterfront district packed with restaurants, shopping, and attractions. This 14-acre complex is a favorite spot for locals and visitors alike, and it’s one of my top recommendations for things to do in San Diego.
There’s always something going on at Seaport Village, from outdoor concerts and movie screenings to holiday festivities and special events. And the best part is that you can enjoy it all while taking in the picturesque view of San Diego Bay.
Some of my favorite attractions at Seaport Village include the USS Midway Museum, the world’s largest naval ship museum; the San Diego Spirit Cruises, which offer harbor and bay cruises; and the Aquarium at Seaport Village, home to more than 5,000 marine animals.
With so much to see and do, Seaport Village is a great place to spend an afternoon or evening. And be sure to check the schedule before you visit, so you can catch one of the many fun events happening there.
6. Coronado Island
A visit to San Diego is not complete without a stop on picturesque Coronado Island. This eye-catching locale is connected to the mainland by a long bridge and is known for its luxurious resorts, stunning beaches, and impressive military history.
You can explore the island on foot or by bike, and I highly recommend a ride along the waterfront. Be sure to check out the iconic Hotel del Coronado, which has been welcoming guests since 1888. This luxury hotel has been a favorite of presidents, celebrities, and other dignitaries for generations.
The hotel is just one of the many attractions on Coronado Island. Other popular spots include the Coronado Ferry Landing, with its many restaurants and shops, and Coronado Beach. This wide, sandy beach is perfect for a day of sunbathing, swimming, and sandcastles. If you’re looking for a little more activity, head to the Coronado Municipal Golf Course or the Tennis Courts. And for a little history, be sure to visit the Coronado Museum of History and Art.
So whether you’re looking for a luxurious stay at a world-famous hotel, a day of sun and sand, or some good old-fashioned family fun, Coronado Island has something for everyone.
7. Gaslamp Quarter
Another one of the most popular tourist attractions in San Diego is the Gaslamp Quarter. This 16-block district is one of the most popular areas in the city, known for its Victorian architecture, lively nightlife, and an array of restaurants. It’s also home to boutiques, art galleries, and theaters.
The Gaslamp Quarter is a great place to people watch and soak up the lively San Diego atmosphere. You’ll find everything from trendy wine bars to Irish pubs to dance clubs. And if you need a break from all the excitement, there are several parks located in the district.
One of my favorite things in the Gaslamp Quarter was wandering around and exploring the different shops. You can find everything from high-end fashion boutiques to quirky souvenir stores, and there’s something for everyone. My favorite places to eat in the Gaslamp Quarter are the sushi restaurants, and I always enjoy browsing the menus.
If you’re looking for a place to stay in the Gaslamp Quarter, I recommend the Kimpton Hotel Palomar San Diego. It’s centrally located, has a great rooftop pool and bar, and offers harbor views. Overall, the Gaslamp Quarter is a great place to start if you’re looking for something to do in San Diego outside of the beaches. This lively district is full of energy and personality, and you’re sure to have a good time.
8. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
If you’re looking for an awe-inspiring place to take in the San Diego coastline, look no further than Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. This 68-acre park features dramatic cliffs that drop straight into the Pacific Ocean, making it a favorite spot for photographers and sightseers.
The best time to visit is at sunset when the cliffs take on a beautiful orange hue. In addition to the dramatic landscape, this park is also home to a variety of plant and animal life, including seagulls, dolphins, and seals. There’s no shortage of things to do at this San Diego attraction. You can explore the trails, take in the views from the cliffs, or go for a swim in the ocean.
If you’re looking for a picturesque place to take in the San Diego coastline, Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is hard to beat. This park features dramatic cliffs that drop straight into the Pacific Ocean, making it a favorite spot for photographers and sightseers.
Overall, the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is one of the must-see attractions in San Diego for anyone visiting this city. It’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon enjoying nature and marveling at the beauty of the California coastline.
9. San Diego Whale Watching Cruises
Next up on my list of top tourist attractions in San Diego list are the whale watching cruises. San Diego is one of the best places in the world to go whale watching, as its coastline provides a perfect viewing opportunity for gray whales, Blue whales, and humpback whales at different times of the year.
From December through April, you have a good chance of spotting gray whales as they make their annual migration from Mexico to Alaska. In the summer, blue whales (the largest animals on earth) can be seen. And in the fall, humpback whales put on a show as they migrate south.
If whale watching is something you’re interested in, there are a number of whales watching cruise companies that offer tours from San Diego. Some of the most popular ones are Hornblower Cruises, San Diego Whale Watch, and Flagship Cruises. There are many options, and the right cruise for you depends on your budget, your interests, and your level of whale knowledge.
Many whale watching cruises offer narration and viewing opportunities from inside the boat as well as from outside on the deck. And if you’re lucky, you might even get to see a breaching or spouting whale up close. In general, if you’re looking for a unique wildlife experience, be sure to add whale watching to your list of things to do in San Diego.
10. Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala
Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala is the first of 21 California missions and the original site of San Diego. The Spanish Franciscan friars who founded it in 1769 named it for their patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi, and the Mission is still an active Catholic parish.
The current Mission Basilica building is a replica of the original, which was destroyed by fire in 1775. The present structure was rebuilt in 1777 and is the oldest church in San Diego. It’s a beautiful example of Spanish colonial architecture, with a red tile roof and white stucco walls.
Today, Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala is a popular tourist attraction and a National Historic Landmark. Visitors can tour the Mission, see exhibits about its history, and stroll around the peaceful gardens.
I really enjoyed my visit to Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala. It’s a beautiful example of Spanish colonial architecture and a fascinating piece of San Diego’s history. So if you’re interested in history, architecture, or religion, a visit to this Mission is a must-do.
11. SeaWorld San Diego
No list of top tourist attractions in San Diego would be complete without SeaWorld San Diego. This world-famous theme park is home to Shamu, the world’s most famous killer whale. But there are also dolphins, beluga whales, sea lions, and more. You can watch the animals perform in shows, learn about them at exhibits, and even get up close and pet some of them at the petting pools.
SeaWorld San Diego also has a water park with slides, a lazy river, and more. There are also plenty of rides for thrill-seekers, including roller coasters and a flume ride. And if you need a break from the action, you can enjoy a meal at one of the park’s restaurants.
SeaWorld San Diego is open every day of the year, so you can visit any time you’re in town. If you’re looking for a fun-filled day out with the family, SeaWorld is a must-see.
12. San Diego Harbor Cruises
If beaches aren’t your thing, you can still enjoy the water views of San Diego with a harbor cruise. These cruises take you around the harbor and offer great views of the cityscape, the USS Midway Museum, and Point Loma. You can also enjoy a narrated tour of the harbor while listening to music and enjoying cocktails or snacks from the onboard bar.
There are several different cruise options to choose from, including dinner cruises, whale-watching cruises, and fireworks cruises. You can find a cruise to fit any budget and interest, and most cruises depart from the San Diego Embarcadero.
So if you’re looking for a unique way to experience San Diego, a harbor cruise is definitely the way to go. You’ll see a different side of the city and get some great photo ops, all while enjoying a relaxing ride on the water
13. Maritime Museum of San Diego
Located along the waterfront, the Maritime Museum of San Diego is a major attraction for tourists and locals alike. The museum offers a fascinating look into the city’s seafaring past, with a wide array of exhibits from historic ships to model submarines.
However, the main highlight of a visit to the Maritime Museum of San Diego is undoubtedly the Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship. This iconic vessel has been plying the oceans for more than 150 years and today offers visitors a unique opportunity to step back in time and experience life aboard a 19th-century sailing ship.
Other highlights of a visit to this museum include the B-39 Soviet Submarine, which was used in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the HMS Surprise, a replica of the 18th-century British warship that was featured in the film Master and Commander.
As you can see, there is plenty to see and do at this museum. This makes it one of the top tourist attractions in San Diego if you’re interested in learning more about maritime history or simply want to spend a few hours exploring some fascinating ships.
14. Old Town State Historic Park
A visit to San Diego is not complete without a trip to Old Town State Historic Park. This living history museum has been on my list for a while, and I finally had the chance to visit it. I was not disappointed!
Old Town tells San Diego’s story from its early days as a Mexican pueblo to its growth into a major city. The park is filled with historic buildings, including the original San Diego Mission and the first courthouse in California. You can also watch blacksmiths and weavers at work and taste some of the authentic Mexican food.
One of my favorite things about Old Town is the costumed interpreters who bring the past to life. I had a chance to chat with a few of them, and they were very knowledgeable about San Diego’s history. So whether you’re a history buff or just looking for a fun day out, Old Town State Historic Park is a must-see tourist attraction in San Diego.
San Diego is a beautiful coastal city with many things to do. Whether you’re looking for a day of family fun or a more adventurous experience, there’s something for everyone. Be sure to check out some of the city’s top attractions, and don’t forget to enjoy the beaches.