The Best Kept Secrets In San Diego, California

The Best Kept Secrets In San Diego, California
Known for its beautiful beaches, parks, museums, and world famous San Diego Zoo, it’s no wonder that San Diego is one of the most popular vacation spots for tourists from all around the world. This gorgeous California coastal area, however, has much more to offer than the typical tourist attractions. Get away from the crowds and check out some of San Diego’s best kept secrets.
© Joe Wolf/Flickr 

Harper’s Topiary Garden

More than 20 years ago, Mission Hills resident Edna Harper decided to start her own topiary garden when the cape honeysuckle from a neighbor’s yard traveled over into her own yard. She was contemplating what to do with it and started to imagine turning the leafy green vines into animals, inspired by her trips through Western Europe, Asia, South America, Mexico, and Egypt. Today, there are more than 50 creatures that have been shaped by delicately weaving or cutting the branches. They aren’t hollow, and they don’t have any internal supports like other topiaries have. The constantly expanding list of creatures includes elephants, a dinosaur, a Buddha, a surfer, a seal, an armadillo, and a serpent. Harper welcomes visitors from everywhere, as long as they respect that this is a residential neighborhood and don’t touch, sit on, or walk through the garden.

Harper’s Topiary Garden, 3549 Union St, San Diego, CA, USA

© Joe Wolf/Flickr 

25th Street Musical Bridge

When city officials grew concerned about neighborhood kids who had to walk to school on this dangerous section of sidewalk each morning, they decided to install a railing on that portion of sidewalk, but they also wanted to incorporate something artistic. Thus, the Roman de Salvo designed musical bridge on the west side of the 25th Street overpass above the 94 freeway was born. SDSU music instructor Joseph Waters composed a musical palindromic piece specifically for the bridge, known as the Crab Carillon, that can be played on the tubular bells fixed along the railings if you hit them with a metal rod as you walk along the bridge. There are even palindromes within the palindrome as well, so the bridge offers many great opportunities to find a variety of musical gems in this public art. You’ll definitely want to bring your own stick though, because simply hitting the bells with your hand won’t work.

25th Street Musical Bridge, 700 25th St, San Diego, CA, USA

© Mr. C K Dexter Haven/Flickr 

Ilan-Lael Hubbell Structures

Consisting of eight structures designed and built by James Hubbell, Ilan-Lael, or ‘the place,’ covers 40 acres near Santa Ysabel and also serves as the home of the Hubbell family, as well as the Hubbell art studio. Hubbell wanted to create a home that appeared to grow out of the landscape and blend naturally with the gifts of nature, influenced by granite boulders and soft oak shaded hills with russet etchings of manzanita. He built around existing trees and rocks, hand dug the footings, and kept the surrounding wildflowers and brush. The very first building was built in 1958 with stone from the land, adobe bricks, and cedar from a sawmill in Julian, and now serves as James’s Studio. Over the years, Hubbell added a living, dining, and kitchen area, a master bedroom, big studio, boys’ house for his sons, small studio, and a chapel. Group tours are available during the spring and fall by appointment only, and once each year, they open the home to the general public.

Ilan-Lael, 930 Orchard Lane, Santa Ysabel, CA, USA, +1 760 765 3427

© Jean-Noël Vignaroli/Flickr 

Heritage County Park Victorian Village

Adjacent to Old Town San Diego, just beyond the main tourist hub of San Diego Avenue, Heritage County Park Victorian Village is dedicated to the preservation of San Diego’s Victorian architecture, featuring several restored Victorian homes as well as San Diego’s first synagogue. After World War II, expansion downtown threatened these structures with demolition on their original sites, so public and private funds were used to pay for the acquisition, relocation, and restoration of the buildings. The seven classic Victorian structures restored to their original glory in a grassy, peaceful setting, which surprisingly don’t often attract many people unless there is a wedding taking place. Two of the buildings are Heritage Park Inn bed and breakfasts, another has a Victorian porcelain doll shop, and yet another holds a museum, but all have their own unique histories.

Heritage County Park, 2454 Heritage Park Row, San Diego, CA, USA, +1 858 565 3600

© Jennifer Peyton/Flickr 

Spruce Street Suspension Bridge

Engineered by former San Diego mayor Edwin Capps and built in 1912, the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge was designed to provide pedestrian passage across a deep canyon isolating developing neighborhoods from newly built trolley lines. Today, local kids call it the ‘wiggly bridge,’ and it crosses 70 feet above Kate Sessions Canyon, named for the famous horticulturist responsible for many plantings throughout the city. Stretching 375 feet and supported by steel suspension cables anchored to massive concrete piers hidden beneath the soil at both ends, the lightness of the bridge allows it to sway in response to wind and walkers. Many may find its height and swaying to be scary, but most will find that the experience is worth it. The downtown skyline can even be seen from the center of the bridge.