An underwater park, a sea cave hidden in a small shop, a taco restaurant dedicated to Mexican wrestling, and a supposedly haunted museum are some of the coolest (and strangest) experiences one can have anywhere, let alone all in one city. Here are 11 ways to see something unique the next time you’re in San Diego.
The San Diego Model Railroad Museum is quite massive at 27,000 square feet (2,508 square meters), and it’s full of tiny rail cars and trolleys cruising through tiny cities. The San Diego Society of N Scale, for instance, shows off parts of San Diego and Carlsbad. Balboa Park is the inspiration behind the Centennial Railway Garden, and another exhibit mimics the Tehachapi Pass. The museum also contains a library boasting 10,000 pieces of media relating to trains and railroads.
What was once a granary became a home when Thomas Whaley designed and attached a two-story brick residence to the property in 1857. The site has been undergoing renovations via the Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) since the early 2000s, and it now operates as a “historical house museum” with appropriately costumed docents. Exhibits also include an old-timey general store, theater, and a courthouse. So why is it unusual? Rumors persist that one or more spirits haunt the Whaley House—the most benign of which seems to be Mr. and Mrs. Whaley themselves. Another supposed ghost is their daughter, Violet, who fatally shot herself in 1885 at only 22 years old. Violet had been conned by a man who married her only for her dowry and then vanished, leaving her humiliated and shunned by her peers. Others believe that Yankee Jim Robinson, an alleged boat thief who had been hanged on the property before the Whaley family arrived, haunts the home. If legend and lore appeal to you, you’ll want to sign up for one of the museum’s after-dark ghost-hunting tours.
Live out your Indiana Jones fantasies by taking a walk across the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, this wooden bridge was built in 1912 and stretches 375 feet (114 meters) across Kate Sessions Canyon. Edwin Capps designed the bridge, and it can support 2,186 people (at an average of 150 pounds per person). However, it can still be scary when it rocks back and forth.
Black’s Beach is one of the coast’s only nude beaches. It’s not technically legal, but nudists still flock to the area, typically gathering at the north end past the Glider Port Trail. Surfers dominate the other end of the beach, and visitors will find restrooms and showers at either end. It’s a bit of a hike to get there, but it’s worth it if sunbathing freely is important to you.
While everyone else hits up the newest bars in town, check out the oldest haunt instead. Tivoli Bar & Grill opened in 1885 and once housed a brothel upstairs. You can order a drink from the original bar, which was constructed in Boston and transported to San Diego via boat over the course of three to four months. The bar also still has the original cash register and safe.
Edna Harper decided to grow a topiary garden on her lawn several years ago. Today, numerous shapes rise out of a sloping hill, free for visitors to come and see. Since it is a private home, guests should be courteous and avoid being too exploratory, but fun photos are fine. It’s not the sort of place where you’d spend a lot of time, but it is a quirky labor of love that’s worth a quick stop.
Founded by brothers Jose Luis, Maurilio, and Diego Rojano-Garcia in 2008, Lucha Libre Gourmet Taco Shop celebrates Mexican wrestling while serving up Mexican cuisine. Get tacos, burritos, and quesadillas with house-made salsa while watching wrestling on TV. The best seat in the house is the Champion’s Booth, but you have to reserve it 24 hours in advance. Wear a Luchador mask for a discount on your check, but you might want to remove it before taking a big bite out of their bacon-wrapped “TJ dog.” There is a second location in North Park.
The San Diego Museum of Man is an anthropological museum located in Balboa Park. The building was constructed for the Panama-California Exhibition of 1915 to house the exhibit, “The Story of Man through the Ages.” Today, guests may browse fascinating exhibits on topics such as cannibals, folklore monsters, the history of beer, ancient civilizations, race, and humanity’s complicated relationship with animals. Guests may also tour the California Tower for a bird’s-eye view of the city.
This Old Town museum is probably one of the better ways to experience getting locked inside a jail cell, as they’ll let you out once you’ve finished your photo op. See old police vehicles and aircraft plus items made by inmates, and check out exhibits on the Heaven’s Gate cult, San Diego’s first sheriff, and the department’s K-9 units.
To get to Sunny Jim Cave, tourists must first visit The Cave Store. Here, various souvenirs and sundries are available for purchase, as one might expect from any seaside shop. What sets this store apart, however, is a man-made tunnel, dug back in 1902, that allows visitors to descend over 100 steps down into a sea cave known as Sunny Jim Cave. It received its name from Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum, who said the opening of the cave reminded him of a cartoon cereal mascot of the same name.
This 6,000-acre underwater preserve allows scuba divers and snorkelers to see a kelp forest, underwater canyons and lots of sea creatures who are attracted to the area’s man-made artificial reefs. Visitors have spotted sea lions, seals, Garibaldi fish, leopard sharks, and other marine life.