I absolutely adore San Diego, California. I’ve been enough times to have developed a definite list of favorite things I find myself wanting to repeat every time my partner and I go back. My 12 favorite spots around San Diego California have been in my mind for some time and I’m sharing them with you in hopes they inspire you to see more and do more in this fantastic coastal city and its surrounding towns.
I was, at first, grumpy to visit is an all-time favorite for me now. We arrived to one of the less-than-beautiful parking lots in the area and I thought, “Why is my boyfriend taking me here?” only to leave feeling like we didn’t get to spend enough time there. There’s SO much to do here from a sculpture park, to riding around in electric wicker carts, to a rose garden and cactus garden, to great places to have lunch and afternoon snacks I barely know where to start. I loved it SO much I created a dedicated post on How to Enjoy an Afternoon at The Prado in Balboa Park.
San Diego Zoo
This is, perhaps, one of the more touristy suggestions I have. However, I have to say it’s the best zoo I’ve ever been to. Say what you will about zoos and holding animals captive – and I probably agree with you and have mixed feelings on them as well. However, I’m happy to say they teach you about conservation they’re doing with the animals as well when you’re there, which made me happy to learn about. If we want to save some species we need the means to research them in order to protect them. This zoo truly is gorgeous, has a lot of animals you may never get to see otherwise (like giraffes!) and is large enough to spend an entire day there. And you’ll get a workout too if you walk everywhere!
The Gas Lamp district of San Diego is a lot of fun. It’s near the convention center so if you’re there for a conference, note it’s an area worth staying in and, at the very least, exploring. There’s a ton of restaurants and cute shops along the stretch of 9-10 blocks that comprise this area. (Try the Hard Rock Hotel there for accommodations and a great place to grab food and drinks.)
La Jolla Cove
I can’t resist this area. It’s close to downtown San Diego and really a classic spot for several reasons: 1) the beach views, 2) the sea lions, 3) posh shopping and restaurants. Years and years ago my sister and I kayaked in La Jolla, with La Jolla Kayak, and it was surely memorable. Putting on a wetsuit to paddle out in the Pacific Ocean to see sea lions so incredibly close was unforgettable.
I usually devour my meal before there’s time to break out a camera but I managed to find a photo from a trip once-upon-a-time! In-N-Out is a fast food “restaurant” only in existence on the west coast (including Las Vegas), which is why any trip to California deserves a stop a one of their locations – if not multiple visits! (And this is advice from a woman who rarely eats meat anymore.) I like to order my cheeseburger “animal style, protein style,” which is code for adding their special sauce (which is like Russian dressing) and swapping out the bun in favor of a low-calorie lettuce wrap. (I admit, the photo below was taken before I discovered the “protein style” option.) They usually have both indoor and outdoor seating and a drive-through. If you haven’t had time to go to one once you’re on your way back to the airport, fear not! There’s one near the airport too.
Technically this is called the “Birch Aquarium at Scripps” better known as, simply, Scripps Aquarium. It’s an ESPECIALLY wonderful place to visit if you are in need of something to do on a rainy or windy day, or close(ish) to the airport. It’s small but mighty and worth the cover charge and time you’ll spend navigating its exhibits. Did you know California Kelp forests grow as much as three-feet per DAY?
Not-to-Miss: the Leafy Seadragon exhibit.
The craft beer movement in San Diego is strong. And all around they have some of the best beer I’ve ever tasted along with rad breweries to go with. One of my favorites is the Modern Times tasting room in Point Loma. Another is Green Flash Brewing Co.
Better Buzz Coffee
I am ADDICTED to the Avocado Toast at Better Buzz. This local coffee shop and eatery has my
heart stomach. I’m not going to accuse them of putting addictive drugs on their little slices of heaven but there’s something in them that keep me coming back every visit!
Self-Realization Meditation Gardens
I don’t meditate so don’t let the name fool you (but if you do it’s a great place to get your meditation on, indeed). The views here are stunning, the cost of entry is free (simply check opening hours before you go) and the gardens are beautifully done. It’s peaceful and worth a visit if you’re in the Encinitas area. (Better Buzz has an Encinitas location so you just may be!)
Solana Beach Cedros Avenue
The design district of this accessible town is located on Cedros Avenue. There’s plenty of street parking here and places to stop if you’re in the mood to shop, whether for olive oil or clothing, and also enjoy a beer, like at Culture Brewing Co. One of my favorite hidden gems of this street was the mural behind one of the buildings we spotted from Highway 101. The city’s also accessible by train.
I absolutely love the beach at Carlsbad. Look how stunning it is! It’s easy to find street parking in the area and we even found a little dive-eatery by the sea to grab beers and people watch, overlooking the ocean, called Harbor Fish Cafe. (It’s the only restaurant of its kind in the area with such proximity to the water, so it’s not hard to find. Look for “Offshore Surf Shop” signs – they’re connected.) For great happy hour deals and even more night life, events and restaurant options check out Carlsbad Village.
Del Mar is a charming town north of La Jolla and south of Solana Beach. We enjoyed having dinner at Del Mar Plaza, perfectly timed so we’d finish in time to walk over to nearby Seagrove and Powerhouse Parks. We were able to catch sunset while we cozied up on a park bench and people watched. If you’re lucky you to be there on the right nights there’s live music at some spots in Del Mar Plaza too.
I’ve made it even easier for you to locate all of the above with links below!
- Balboa Park
- San Diego Zoo
- Gaslamp Quarter
- La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Kayak
- Birch Aquarium at Scripps
- Modern Times Tasting Room and Green Flash Brewing Co
- Better Buzz Coffee
- Self-Realization Meditation Gardens
- Cedros Avenue
- Carlsbad Village
- Del Mar Plaza
If you’re feeling adventurous and have your passport in hand, I recommend traveling to Baja California, to Tijuana and Rosarito Beach, for two days. Also if it’s your first time in San Diego check out my First-Timer’s Guide to San Diego on the Department of Wandering, including a valuable free downloadable map I’ve created for readers!
Have you been to San Diego?