San Diego Places to Visit: An Essential Visitors Guide

A dreamy Southern California city packed to the brim with beaches, museums, and staggering wildlife, tourists from all over will soon discover there’s no limit to San Diego places to visit.

Follow along to discover the 16 best places to visit in San Diego.

Whether it’s your first time in San Diego or you’re a veteran of America’s Finest City. Never fear as your itinerary will be jam-packed full of must-see San Diego stops and the best San Diego activities.

Grab some SPF and relish the sunshine, surf, and sea cliffs at La Jolla Shores. Balance barking sea lions at SeaWorld with baseball games at PETCO Park. Or, whisk yourself away to the Serengeti when you partake in an open-air Safari.

Infuse your SoCal vacation with some prehistoric history and fossil fun at Balboa Park. Or discover the charm of downtown San Diego and the Gaslamp Quarter with a classic Trolley Tour.

Stop stressing over what to do in San Diego CA. As our expert San Diego guides are here to spill the tea on the top places to visit in San Diego CA.

Is San Diego a Good Place to Visit?

A 1,200-acre backyard stuffed full of lush gardens, trails, and palm trees plus an abundance of vitamin sea-infused fun. No matter if you are a certified foodie in search of tacos and tequila. Or would rather spend your days screaming on the Manta roller coaster, visiting San Diego, CA is always a great idea.

With so many things to see in San Diego and San Diego places to go, you’ll never have to wonder what to do San Diego, CA. Lucky locals and tourists alike are drawn to this coastal city thanks to near-perfect weather and plenty of first-rate sightseeing and attractions.

From windswept bay boat cruises to languid days spent exploring Seaport Village. San Diego’s offerings are equal parts entertaining and diverse.

aerial view of san diego skyline during daytimeBest Time to Visit San Diego?

Bikini or light sweater? Feeling stumped on when to visit San Diego and what to pack? While we think there’s never an inopportune time to visit America’s Finest City, the ideal time to visit San Diego will greatly depend on what top ‘must things to do in San Diego’ you wish to conquer.

If your vacation schedule is all about surfing, tide pools, and building sandcastles at the Hotel Coronado, you may want to opt for a summer escape. However, if your trip is focused on maritime museums and aquarium exploration, you should feel free to visit in late fall or winter. Historically, San Diego’s high season is in summer.

Related Post: When is the Best Time to Visit San Diego?

Travelers looking to capitalize on fewer crowds and lower prices should set their sights on staying during late fall and mid-spring. The shoulder season still offers pleasant weather with average temperatures of seventy degrees.

San Diego Hotels

Sleek and stylish or beachside boho? Whether you are seeking the best place to stay in San Diego for first time, or just want to switch up your usual Bayside lodgings, we offer San Diego Hotels and Resorts for every type of traveler.

Get a jump on things to see in San Diego downtown when you settle into accommodations in the Gaslamp Quarter featuring stunning rooftop views and plush beddings.

Sleep just moments away from LEGOLAND, Sesame Place, and SeaWorld. Or feel the ocean breeze and savor seasonal weekly s’more nights at the San Diego Mission Bay Resort.

Wherever you reserve, make your booking worry free knowing you are always guaranteed our lowest rates online.

Guest Room at the Town and Country San Diego - San Diego, California, USA
photo credit: Town and Country San Diego via Facebook

Best Places to Visit in San Diego CA*

Sick and tired of trying to compile the ultimate list of things to do and see in San Diego? Stop stressing, as we’ve consulted the experts to bring you the breakdown of every can’t miss San Diego place and sight.

Admire the sublime Spanish-style architecture of the California Tower in Balboa Park. Or recreate the movie magic from Some Like It Hot when you visit the iconic Hotel Coronado.

Balboa Park

Considered by many the beating heart of San Diego, Balboa Park is a shining beacon of green space, culture, history, and entertainment. While visitors flock to the world-famous zoo to catch glimpses of tigers and cuddly koalas. There is so much more to this public paradise than Skyfari Aerial Tram rides. Catch a stirring performance at the award-winning Old Globe Theater.

Related Post: The Ultimate Balboa Park Guide: Everything You Need to Know

Or lace up your sneakers for a trek around the Park Blvd Trails Gateway. Dive into the world of locomotive history when you pay a visit to the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. Or discover the ‘art of the people’ at the Mingei International Museum.

Whip out that camera to document the exquisite flora of Palm Canyon and be sure to snap a selfie at the picturesque wooden footbridge leading from the Alcazar Gardens parking lot to across the street from the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

External view of lily pond at Casa de Balboa in San Diego, California, USASan Diego Natural History Museum

Fossils, gems, and Foucault pendulums, oh my! Lifelong learners of all ages will find countless curiosities to uncover at the San Diego Natural History Museum. Located in Balboa Park, this edifice of education presents unique opportunities to learn about the natural history of Southern California, dinosaur timelines, and whale evolution.

Check out hands-on exhibits and see how real scientists preserve specimens. Or get an up-close look at rattlesnakes and flesh-eating beetles. Take in a screening at the Giant Screen Theater and explore the majesty of wetlands or witness the journey of the largest animal to ever walk the earth.

From prickly cactuses to giant Mastodons, visitors will embark on an odyssey that covers 75 million years of history.

SeaWorld San Diego

Equal parts animal and amusement park, thrill seekers and the animal obsessed will fall head over heels for the magnificent marine offerings of SeaWorld San Diego. Ratchet up the adrenaline when you steel your nerves for a ride on their newest roller coaster, Arctic Rescue. Or, hold tight for a 90-degree plunge on the Emperor.

Connect with one of the ocean’s most powerful predators with an Orca Encounter. Next, soak in the high-flying antics of Bottlenose dolphins and seals. Spot vibrant Macaws or head to Otter Outlook to get a gander at these curious critters who have been lovingly rehabilitated and hand-raised by the SeaWorld team.

Guests on the Manta Roller Coaster at SeaWorld in San Diego, California, USA

Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Journey 20,000 leagues under the sea and encounter an underwater world of wonder when you visit the groundbreaking facilities of the Birch Aquarium at Scripps. More than just an aquarium, Birch also serves as the public outreach center for Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

With an emphasis on sustainability, community, and play, Birch delivers oodles of hands-on learning opportunities, exhibits, and animals. Watch the adorable waddling walks of their Little Blue Penguins, or appreciate the mesmerizing patterns of the spotted Leopard Sharks.

Be sure to stop by the Preuss Tide Pool Plaza on a sunny day. To take in some sweeping ocean views and touch some of the spiky and soft tentacled tide pool residents.

La Jolla Shores

Picture-perfect palm trees plus large swaths of soft sandy beach make La Jolla Shores a go-to for visitors seeking some fun in the sun. Plan to spend a day or two surfing, boogie boarding, and swimming both at the Shores and Black’s Beach.

Related Post: Things to Do in La Jolla California – 9 Must-Try Activities

For prime sea lion spotting, make a beeline for the Children’s Pool and whip out your camera to document these sunning pinnipeds. Lastly, don’t forget to bring along some proper footwear to take part in a windswept walk against the staggering 300-foot sea cliffs of Torrey Pines State Beach.

Revel in even more Torrey Pines beauty when you join in on a docent-led hike or mindfulness walk at the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.

cliffs overlooking the beach at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve near San Diego, California, USAHotel del Coronado

Whether you are a fan of Marilyn Monroe or not, every San Diego visit deserves a stop at the iconic Hotel del Coronado. For two centuries, the Hotel has captured the imagination of everyone from author L. Frank Baum to President William Taft.

A prime example of elegant Victorian architecture, its idyllic seaside setting and storied history of visitors make it one of the best places to visit in San Diego. Stick your toes in the sand and then refresh with a cocktail on the Sun Deck.

San Diego Zoo

Ditch your beach plans for an afternoon excursion for apes, tigers, polar bears, and more when you wander around one of the top zoos in the country. Located in Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo has been entertaining and educating animal-obsessed visitors for over 100 years.

Sitting on acres of tropical gardens and winding paths, this 100-acre urban respite is home to more than 12,000 animals and 650 species. Guests can take in a wildlife-themed 4-D theater show or hop aboard the Balboa Park Miniature Train for a scenic half-mile loop through the park.

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Don’t forget to go Down Under to get some up-close looks at everyone’s favorite Aussie residents, including fluffy-eared koalas.

Koala and Joey sitting in tree together at San Diego Zoo in San Diego, California, USASan Diego Safari Park

Fantasizing about an African escapade? Enjoy the incomparable excitement of a real safari right in San Diego, when you spend a day at San Diego Safari Park. Journey to the savannah, the grasslands, and beyond, when you tackle over 1,000 acres of exotic species and wildlife.

Related Post: 6 San Diego Zoo Safari Park Tips That Will Make Your Visit Even Better

Choose from any number of safaris including expeditions by tram, caravan truck, electric cart, zip line, and even hot air balloon. Watch agile Sumatran Tigers play on the trail or spot massive rhinos quenching their thirst at a local watering hole.

Hold your breath as a herd of African elephants lumber by. Or extend your sights up, up, and up to catch the munching of long-necked giraffes. Round out your day of antelopes, eagles, and cheetahs with a cheeky ride on the Conservation Carousel.

USS Midway Museum

Prepare for take off! Pay your respects to San Diego’s longstanding history with the Navy when you take in over 60 exhibits and displays at the USS Midway Museum. Featuring the longest-serving U.S. Navy aircraft carrier of the 20th century.

This museum is home to over 30 restored aircraft and helicopters. Guests can hear the full story of the battle of Midway via immersive film. Or hit the Flight Deck’s bridge to see where the Captain would oversee the flight operations.

Peek at genuine WWII aircraft and see where the sailors would sleep. Or test out your own aviation prowess with a flight simulator ride.

Close up photo of a Navy airplane on the USS Midway with a blue and cloudy sky in the background in San Diego, California
photo credit: USS Midway Museum via Facebook

Petco Park

Peanuts, cracker jacks, and plenty of Padres! Sneak in some time appreciating America’s favorite pastime when you make a date with Petco Park. Located in downtown San Diego, this dazzling MLB ballpark offers daily and pregame tours.

Get a behind-the-scenes look at America’s #1 ballpark. When you peek at the Press Box and swing by the Padres Hall of Fame. Besides baseball, visitors can also check the Petco Park schedule for live concert events here.

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Maritime Museum of San Diego

Anchors away! Don that sailor cap, because it’s high time to get your sea legs. Intrepid maritime curious travelers must make a pit stop at one of San Diego’s premier museums. The Maritime Museum of San Diego boasts one of the world’s finest collections of historic ships.

This includes the world’s oldest active ship, the Star of India in addition to the 1898 steam ferry Berkeley. Furthermore, fans of the classic Russel Crowe movie Master and Commander will be stunned to spot an incredible replica of the H.M.S Surprise, the 18th-century Royal Navy frigate featured in the film.

an iron-hulled sailing ship Star of India in the harbor in San Diego, California, USAOld Town San Diego

Get your head out of your guidebook and uncover the real history and dazzling sights of Old Town San Diego with a fully narrated trolley tour. For over 20 years, Old Town Trolley Tours San Diego: Hop-On Hop-Off has exposed visitors to the infectious beauty and charm of America’s Finest City.

Hop aboard and enjoy 2 hours of sightseeing as you tour 11 destination stops. Take your time as you travel through Old Town, the historic Gaslamp Quarter, the Embarcadero, Little Italy, and more.

From the azure waters of the Bay to the verdant rolling landscape of Balboa Park. This tour will tackle every inch of California’s second-largest city.

See the San Diego Bay with Flagship

Beloved for her maritime splendor, it would be positively criminal to visit San Diego sans a Bay tour. Take your tourism to the sea and tick off even more ‘best places in San Diego to visit’ with a Flagship Cruise tour.

Discover even more of the city’s most lauded landmarks from Point Loma, Cabrillo National Monument, and the Coronado Bridge. In the mood to feast? Select one of their dinner or brunch cruises and accompany your tour with sumptuous seasonal plates of seafood, chicken, and fresh veggies.

Related Post: Hotels on Coronado Island: 3 Best Places to Stay on Your Vacation

Visitors lucky enough to be traveling to the Bay from Mid December through April can even catch the majestic migration of gray whales with a San Diego Whale Watching Cruise.

Flagship cruise on water with San Diego skyline in background during sunset at San Diego, California, USA
photo credit: Flagship Cruises & Events via Facebook

Seaport Village

Inhale that sweet scent of saltwater and slow down your pace when you swing by Seaport Village. This quaint enclave of seaside retail, dining, and entertainment is located just opposite Coronado.

Let the coastal breeze brush your skin as you capture jaw-dropping views of the Bay and the Coronado Bridge. Stock up on chic souvenirs and homemade fudge. Or grab an outdoor table and chow down on a hearty lunch of fish and chips, lobster rolls, and ceviche.

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

All hail Mother Nature! Conclude your time in California’s beachy metropolis with a mesmerizing display of color and Pacific Ocean views. As the name suggests, Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is the ideal spot in which to appreciate an incomparable SoCal sunset.

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This 68-acre resource-based park contains all manner of interesting topography. But nothing quite holds a candle to coming here for days end. In addition, visitors can also sometimes observe migrating Gray Whales from the bluffs or a fearless cliff diver.

Wide shot of where the ocean meets Sunset Cliffs Natural Park and part of the beach in San Diego, California, USA
photo credit: John Nicksic via Facebook

Fresh fish tacos, a laid-back seaside ambiance, and riveting coastal scenery – San Diego may very well be heaven on earth.

This sparkling jewel of California manages to effortlessly combine outdoor wonders with first-rate attractions, history, and sightseeing.

Families, couples, and kids alike will be transfixed by the sheer number of must-see places in San Diego.

Channel your inner mermaid or merman with a visit to the Birch Aquarium and their teeming Tide Pool Plaza. Or revel in California Dreaming with a leisurely bike ride down the Hotel del Coronado boardwalk.

See if you have what it takes to be the next Maverick with a turn on the USS Midway Museum’s flight simulator. Or glimpse the annual migration of the massive mottled Gray Whales from aboard your Flagship Cruise.

Ready to see this pristine paradise for yourself? Don’t wait to get started on the best places to go in San Diego today!

Tell us, Which Must-See in San Diego Place Will You Hit First?

Leave a comment below!

*Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of places to see in San Diego, places to visit San Diego, San Diego places to visit, and places in San Diego to visit, but rather a round-up of our most beloved San Diego locales.

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Written by Isis Maya Nissman

A New York native, Isis-Maya spent most of her professional life working in TV production until a vacation whisked her away to Central...

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