18 Activities That Should Be On Your San Diego Bucket List

October 31, 2018

Experience these 18 activities and visit some of the best destinations San Diego has to offer.

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No matter if you’re a longtime resident or a visitor, there is always something to see and do in San Diego. Between the historic landmarks and endless outdoor adventures, deciding what to do next can be difficult. To eliminate the hassle of planning, take this San Diego bucket list with you on your next trip!

exterior view of park with palm trees and blue skies at Balboa Park in San Diego, California, USA

Everything at Balboa Park should be on your San Diego bucket list.

1. Explore All that Balboa Park Has to Offer

Featuring museums, performing arts venues, gardens, outdoor activities, and so much more, it’s impossible to encounter everything at Balboa Park in a single day. With attractions including the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Art Institute, you discover something new every time you visit.

Related Post: 16 Best San Diego Bachelor Party Ideas: How to Plan and Where to Go

2. Learn about the Animal Kingdom at the San Diego Zoo

While you’re at Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo Tickets are a must. This iconic zoo is home to all of your favorite wild animals, from gorillas to pandas and beyond. You can’t visit San Diego without a trip to the zoo, right?

3. Embark on a Wild Safari at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

While you can learn about your favorite animals at the zoo, a San Diego Zoo Safari Park Ticket takes it to the next level with engaging safaris and activities. Roam the park searching for your favorite animal or hop on an interactive safari and get up close with wild animals from cheetahs to meerkats. If a safari isn’t on your San Diego bucket list, you’re missing out!

4. View Sea Lions and Harbor Seals at La Jolla Cove

Speaking of favorite animals, sea lions are mine! If I were to write my own bucket list, visiting the sea lions and harbor seals at La Jolla Cove would be at the top.

La Jolla Cove boasts both California Sea Lions and Harbor Seals, so it’s best to know the difference between the two. The most prominent difference is how the animals get around. Seals move on their stomachs, while sea lions are more upright with prominent front flippers. If you still can’t tell the difference, look at their ears—sea lions have external ear flaps while seals do not!

While the sea lions and seals are used to humans, be safe and respectful by giving them their space. They are wild animals, after all.

5. Go on a Whale Watching Cruise

During the winter months, your San Diego bucket list should include a whale watching cruise. Due to the migratory patterns of the whales, your best bet is to reserve a whale watching cruise anywhere from mid-December to mid-March. Remember to bring a camera and a jacket to battle the wind!

Before you embark on your whale watching cruise, pick up a copy of Mark Carwardine's Guide to Whale Watching in North America to learn more about the activity and what to expect. Plus, you'll learn more about the history of whale watching which—fun fact—began in San Diego!

6. Discover Tide Pools Throughout San Diego

Kids and adults alike can appreciate the wonder of the ecosystems found within tiny tide pools. Throughout San Diego, there are several places to find tide pools, including:

  • Shell Beach, La Jolla
  • Cabrillo Tide Pools
  • False Point, La Jolla
  • Cardiff State Beach

While exploring San Diego’s mesmerizing tide pools, you’ll see everything from crabs to barnacles.

7. Hike Torrey Pines

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve offers trails for hikers of all experience levels. These trails boast scenic overlooks, fields of gorgeous wildflowers, and adventurous twists and turns. It is recommended that novice hikers start with the Guy Fleming Trail, which is a ⅔-mile loop featuring panoramic views, ferns, and more.
Remember to bring a pair of comfortable hiking boots. Even if your trail of choice isn't strenuous, you'll appreciate the ankle support sturdy hiking shoes provide.

coastline view of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve beach in San Diego, California, USA

8. Golf at Torrey Pines

Hiking isn’t the only activity you can do at Torrey Pines. Did you know it has an upscale golf course as well? In addition to pristine golfing conditions, the course also features views of the Pacific Ocean, a pro shop, and lessons.

9. Face Your Fear of Heights at Torrey Pines Gliderport

Clearly, Torrey Pines needs to be on everyone’s San Diego bucket list.

At the Torrey Pines Gliderport, you can face your fear of heights or channel your inner daredevil by paragliding or hang gliding! The attraction offers tandem flights for newcomers, meaning you’ll fly with a professional. Would you soar through the California sky at this bucket list worthy attraction in Torrey Pines? I would!

10. Tour the USS Midway

At the USS Midway Museum, guests enjoy the once in a lifetime opportunity of experiencing a day in the life of a crew member on board a massive naval aircraft carrier. The museum offers self-guided tours and live demonstrations from USS Midway veterans and docents.

You can read up on the aircraft carrier's history in "USS Midway: America's Shield." Pick up a copy to supplement what you learn aboard the vessel or read it beforehand and strike up a conversation with one of the docents on deck.

Image via Pacific Surfliner / Facebook

11. Take a Train Ride Along the Coast

Everyone knows the California coast is stunning. When you ride the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner train from San Diego to San Luis Obispo (or vice versa), you’ll have the opportunity to see miles upon miles of that beautiful coast. With stops including Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, a train ride along this route must be part of your vacation, if not your bucket list.

12. Hike Potato Chip Rock

If you’re an avid hiker or are looking for a bit of adventure, Potato Chip Rock should be on your list. The rock is located at Mount Woodson and the trail is an 8-mile loop. With the rock’s hilarious potato chip shape, it’s worth the hike up just to get a picture!

13. Visit the Cabrillo National Monument

As one of San Diego’s most notable landmarks, Cabrillo National Monument is a must-see destination for all. The monument was built in honor of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who was the first European to step foot on our west coast in 1542. Don’t forget your camera! Not only is the monument picture-worthy, but the ocean backdrop is also unbeatable.

14. See Old Point Loma Lighthouse

While visiting the Cabrillo National Monument, make your way over to the historic Old Point Loma Lighthouse. This quaint lighthouse stood watch for San Diego Bay, beginning in 1855. You can either tour the lighthouse on your own or participate in a ranger-led walk around the property.

15. Make Your Way to Old Town

As California’s first settlement, Old Town is full of history, authentic Mexican food, and interactive attractions. You can take a tour of a haunted building, visit the shops, and learn about San Diego’s heritage all in one visit. And that’s only the beginning of all this destination has to offer!

SeaWorld better be on your San Diego bucket list!

16. Make a Splash at SeaWorld San Diego

No San Diego bucket list is complete without including a trip to SeaWorld! While at the popular San Diego attraction, take the time to learn about SeaWorld’s dedication to conservation, rehabilitation, and marine life education. As you might have guessed, my first stop at SeaWorld is Sea Lion Point!

17. Become a Master Builder at LEGOLAND® California

Built for kids (and kids at heart), LEGOLAND® California Resort is the perfect addition to any bucket list. From the creative designs to the Master Builder workshops, you don’t want to miss out on a trip to LEGOLAND®. For those looking for a thrill, the theme park does feature exhilarating rides for those looking for a bit of an adrenaline rush!

18. Watch the Sunrise or Sunset from a San Diego Beach

It’s no secret that San Diego boasts multiple picture-perfect beaches. What makes these beaches even more delightful? Watching the sunrise or sunset from the comfort of the sand and the ambiance of the waves crashing along the shore. Claim your spot in the sand in the early morning or evening to watch the sky light up with shades of pink, orange, and even purple. Trust me, it’s a sight you’ll never forget.

Remember to pack a beach towel, sunscreen, and snacks for an epic sunrise or sunset experience.

What’s on Your San Diego Bucket List?

Did we miss any of your favorite bucket list worthy activities in San Diego? Let us know in the comments.

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