Welcome to San Diego, California: a beachside idyll with near-perfect weather all year long. It’s renowned for its surfing and sand but, beyond that, there’s also plenty to do when it comes to art, culture, food and architecture. You can explore a sea cave, indulge in a tiki drink, travel back to the 1800s and eat at one of the city’s longest-running authentic Mexican restaurants – all in the space of a day. Here are the must-see attractions in San Diego (and that doesn’t even include the more unusual attractions).
Did you know you can now travel with Culture Trip? Book now and join one of our premium small-group tours to discover the world like never before.
A sunken butterfly garden, the San Diego Zoo, museums, gardens, the California Tower – this 1,200-acre (486ha) park contains a slew of attractions. It was built in 1868 and hosted the Panama-California Exposition, which celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal, in 1915. Key museums include the San Diego Air & Space Museum, the Museum of Us (formerly the San Diego Museum of Man), the San Diego Museum of Art, the San Diego Natural History Museum, the Timken Art Museum and the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. There are also more than a dozen different gardens to wander, as well as a carousel and multiple theaters.
Containing 3,600 animals from more than 300 species, this 1,800-acre (728ha) wildlife sanctuary and botanical garden has plenty to keep you busy. Every day are guided tours and talks from the zoo keepers. There are also plenty of opportunities to get up close with some of the park’s friendlier inhabitants, like petting goats. Too many animals to keep up with? Enjoy a change of scenery with a short hot air balloon ride over the park.
For the best ocean views in town, visit Sunset Cliffs Natural Park: a 68-acre park where people do indeed come to take in the colorful sunsets. The promise of a gorgeous Pacific panorama has made the area incredibly popular with hikers, surfers and birdwatchers.
Become a Culture Tripper!
Sign up to our newsletter to save up to 40% on our unique trips.
This unique geological formation looks like a sliver – hence the Potato Chip name – but is sturdy enough to support the weight of a person or two. The rock is the reward for a challenging hike up Mount Woodson and is a great spot for some Instagram-worthy snaps. If you’re tempted to make the climb, bring lots of water and start early: temperatures can get very high in the area.
Should you secure a ticket to this annual festival of all things geek, you’ll get to check out countless panels, screenings and parties. It’s the biggest convention in San Diego, maxing out the convention center each year with up to 130,000 attendees, many of them in elaborate costume. According to the Guinness Books of World Records, it’s the biggest comic/pop culture festival in the world as well.
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is home to the Torrey Pine, a particularly rare species of pine tree, as well as other native wildlife. The area is popular with hikers thanks to its trails of various difficulty levels, and offers incredible views of the coast. Guided tours are available on the weekends and during some holidays.
Every year, San Diego hosts a Tiki Oasis convention, where some 3,500 people converge to celebrate Polynesian culture. In addition, you can enjoy cocktails anytime at popular venues such as The Grass Skirt, a tiki speakeasy (try saying that three times drunk). Also try Bali Hai Restaurant, which has been slinging stiff mai tais since 1954.
This family-owned Mexican restaurant has been in operation since 1933. The menu is simple, affordable and cash-only, but promises genuine delicacies from south of the border, including rolled tacos, tamales and chorizo & eggs. They serve breakfast and lunch only, and tourists are advised there will likely be a line to get a seat at one of the checkered-cloth tables.
Cat cafes have been popular in countries such as Japan, Taiwan and South Korea for a while now. However, Southern California didn’t get its first until 2015. At the Cat Cafe, you can have coffee, tea, lunch and desserts in the company of furry friends – and there are as many as a dozen at a time, all adoptable. Book your hour-long slot in advance; entry is $14 for adults and children aged six or older.
At 8 acres (3ha), Heritage Park is smaller than some of San Diego’s vast wilderness reserves. But, this green grassland features six Victorian homes, all of which have been restored and moved here especially for public viewing. The park also contains San Diego’s first synagogue, Temple Beth Israel.
This maritime museum is centered around the USS Midway, an aircraft carrier that was in use from 1945 to ‘92. It opened in 2004, and allows visitors to take an audio tour of the ship. Inside, you’ll find the engine room, machine shops, the sick bay and even the jail. Other exhibits include films, flight simulators and around 30 restored aircraft. Activities and events pack the calendar year-round, including fireworks, film screenings, lectures and concerts from military bands.
Sstep into the bustle and landscapes of 1800s California. There are several historic buildings to be found, including five adobes, a hotel dating back to 1870, and a reconstructed courthouse and stable. Educational events are frequent occurrences, from theatrical performances to blacksmith demonstrations to tours.
The San Diego Padres play at Petco Park, which you can find downtown. Thanks to the year-round sun, a ball game is usually a good excuse to sit outside at any point in the season. If baseball isn’t your thing, though, the stadium also hosts a variety of other sports and concerts. In the past it’s hosted packed-out gigs from the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Taylor Swift.
There are seven sea caves in the beachside city of La Jolla, each of which is ripe for exploring. One, affectionately dubbed Sunny Jim, can be entered via a tunnel in the back of the La Jolla Cave Store. The rest can only be accessed by water. Luckily, you can book kayak tours to get to them; they not only let you see these magnificent caves, but get some exercise while you do.
When founded in 1941, the San Diego Art Institute was called the San Diego Business Men’s Art Club, only permitting male members. By the 1950s, women were allowed in and the name had been changed. The cultural institution now showcases experimental art from a diverse array of artists from the Southern California/Baja Norte region. Admission is free.
A sculpture garden in Kit Carson’s Park, Escondido, Queen Califia’s Magical Circle is filled with large, colorful pieces by French artist Niki de Saint Phalle. That includes several totems as well as a maze adorned with a snake. The spot is named after a mythical queen who ruled over the Island of California in Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo’s The Adventures of Esplandián (1510).
Yes, you can drink beer in every American city. However, San Diego County is home to a staggering 125 craft breweries. Heavy hitters include Stone Brewing Co., Modern Times, Pizza Port, Bellast Point Brewing Company, AleSmith Brewing, Green Flash and Karl Strauss. From sours to stouts, there’s something for every beer aficionado. You can even book a city beer tour via companies like San Diego Brew Tours or Scavengers. If you really want to try as many beers as possible, plan a visit that aligns with San Diego Beer Week, during which many themed events will be happening all over the city.
If you’re a flower lover, you can make a day trip out of visiting two magnificent gardens: the Carlsbad Flower Fields and the Keys Creek Lavender Farm, both in Valley Center. The fields are open to the public in May and June, and ticketed tours are available. You can also book a room at the farm’s cottage, or attend a chef-driven dinner on the property.
This 27-acre (11ha) ranch was built by actor and conservationist Lee Carrillo (The Cisco Kid) in the 1830s, but it’s now a Historic National Landmark that’s been operating since 2003. Find peacocks, windmills, nature and historic adobe structures via a guided or solo walking tour. A video on the history of the ranch plays in the old barn. Be sure to wear athletic clothing and bring along some water.
The San Diego Botanic Garden is a sprawling and serene 37-acre (15ha) oasis. There you’ll see plants from Australia, Africa, Central America, the Canary Islands and a tropical rainforest, as well as native California. There’s a garden of olive trees, a bamboo grove, a bird and butterfly garden, and a herb garden too. Once there, you’re free to wander the grounds at your own pace.
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips,Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.