Sites and Landmarks in San Diego

The architectural magnificence on display at Balboa Park
The architectural magnificence on display at Balboa Park | © Leslie Cross / Unsplash
You can’t get bored in San Diego. Whether you’re a first-timer or a frequent visitor, there’s always something new around the corner, just waiting for you to discover. There are, however, a few key sites and landmarks that you really shouldn’t miss, so Culture Trip has asked local insiders which ones they considered ‘must-dos’ while you’re in town. You may struggle to do all of these in one trip, but don’t worry – once you’ve seen what San Diego has to offer, you’ll be back soon enough.

Balboa Park

Park
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San Diego’s cultural park is filled with a mind-blowing array of city attractions. You’ll have a choice of 17 city museums, including the Museum of Natural History, the San Diego Air & Space Museum and the San Diego Museum of Art. As well as the museums, there are also several theaters, natural vegetation zones, trails, gardens, restaurants and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. Balboa Park contains so many of the city’s attractions that it really wouldn’t be a trip to San Diego without visiting – buy an explorer pass if you want to visit multiple museums, or wander around the green spaces outside for free. Recommended by local insider Lauren Rogers

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Self-Realization Fellowship Temple Gardens

Architectural Landmark
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Founded in 1920, the Encinitas Temple is a branch of the Self-Realization Fellowship, a worldwide organization that teaches the scientific principles behind meditation and mindful living. The temple’s gardens are open to the public, providing a great place to walk and reflect with views over the Pacific Ocean and what locals now call ‘Swami’s Beach’. The gardens and koi ponds are meticulously maintained making for the perfect photo opportunities. Come for a relaxing Sunday, perhaps after grabbing some brunch at a spot nearby. Recommended by local insider Lauren Rogers

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Hotel del Coronado

Hotel, Luxury
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Hotel Del Coronado Coronado and downtown San Diego California
© Ron Niebrugge / Alamy Stock Photo

The luxurious, world-famous ‘Hotel Del’ (as locals call it) is a National Historical Landmark located on the picturesque Coronado Island, accessed from the mainland via bridge or ferry. Originally built in 1888, you might recognize it from the 1958 Marilyn Monroe film Some Like It Hot. Capture a bit of that 50s glamor for yourself with an overnight stay or champagne brunch. If you’re feeling a bit less flush just come for ice cream and a gander around the historic lobby. Recommended by local insider Lauren Rogers

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Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park

Park
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Golden-age Hollywood actor and keen conservationist Leo Carrillo’s former Carlsbad home has been transformed into a 27-acre (11-hectare) historical ranch featuring handcrafted buildings, exhibits, antique windmills and more – all telling the story of California’s past. You can make your own way round or take a free guided tour. Remember that if you want to see everything there’s a lot of ground to cover, so make sure to bring sensible shoes and bottled water if you’re visiting when it’s hot. Recommended by local insider Lauren Rogers
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Cabrillo National Monument

Memorial
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Cabrillo National Monument is at the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula in San Diego, California
© Rob Atherton / Alamy Stock Photo

The Cabrillo National Monument is located on the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula in San Diego, commemorating the Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo landing in San Diego Bay in 1542. This was the first European-led expedition to land anywhere on the west coast. On clear days, the surrounding park offers incredible views across San Diego’s harbor and skyline, Tijuana and even Mexico’s Coronado Islands. Each October, the monument hosts a historical festival with reenactments alongside Kumeyaay, Portuguese and Mexican singing, dancing and food stands. Recommended by local insider Hebah Bukhari

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USS Midway Museum

Museum
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USS Midway Museum at Tuna Harbor Park. San Diego, California, United States.
© joseph s giacalone / Alamy Stock Photo
Even with the breadth of museums on offer in San Diego, the USS Midway Museum should be on your must-do list, not least because it’s situated on the USA’s longest-serving 20th-century aircraft carrier. There is an extensive range of exhibits to explore, with a focus on military (and some local) history. Take yourself around, or opt for the audio tour narrated by former sailors stationed on the Midway. The collection of around 30 restored aircraft is a highlight, and there is a great range of activities for young ones too – kids will love hearing about life on the aircraft carrier from ex-servicemen, the flight simulators and the Battle of Midway Theater. Recommended by local insider Hebah Bukhari
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Liberty Station

Architectural Landmark
Map View

Built on a former naval training station, Liberty Station is a development that offers plenty in the way of shopping, dining and leisure activities. Play a round of golf on the historic Sail Ho Golf Course, whose origins date back to the 1920s, hire a bocce court at Stone Brewing or engage in some retail therapy while admiring the former buildings today’s attractions are housed in. While you’re here, it’s worth visiting the 52 Boats Memorial, which stands as tribute to the 52 US Navy submarines and 3,505 submariners lost during World War Two. Recommended by local insider Hebah Bukhari

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These recommendations were updated on July 13, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.