You’ll find much more than beaches and sunshine in San Diego, California. Aside from having what some consider to be the best climate in the United States, Downtown San Diego is a vibrant cultural hub where historic Spanish-influenced architecture stands next to gleaming modern high-rises. Here are the best attractions in or near Downtown San Diego.
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No visit to San Diego is complete without a trip to this urban oasis. Home to many of the city’s main attractions, Balboa Park combines museum complex with themed gardens to create an enchanting Southern California landscape. Just a short walk or trolley ride from Downtown, the park has hosted many international exhibitions and is one of the largest urban green spaces in the entire country. Many of the park’s attractions, such as the Desert Cactus Garden and the Zoro Garden, are free to the public.
Spanish Village Art Center
The Spanish Village had its origins as an artists’ colony for the California Pacific International Exposition during the 1930s. It is now occupied by more than 200 artists, who practice everything from enamel painting to photography. Thirty-seven working artist studios and galleries are free and accessible to the public every day of the week and many art classes are offered as well. Located in the middle of Balboa Park, the Spanish Village is an authentic and unique destination for art lovers.
A prominent shopping area located on the Pacific Ocean, Seaport Village has 14 acres (five hectares) of fine dining, unique stores and live musical waterfront entertainment. Its centerpieces include an antique hand-painted carousel from 1895 and a long waterfront boardwalk offering unparalleled sunset views.
Japanese Friendship Garden
A collaborative effort between San Diego and its sister city, Yokohama in Japan, this serene garden has been open for 100 years and was originally the site of an authentic Japanese teahouse. Cherry blossoms, koi ponds and bonsai trees line the winding paths of this unique part of Balboa Park. Once you’ve explored the garden to its fullest, take a seat on the modern tea pavilion and soak up that California sun.
This vibrant and unique neighborhood is one of a kind in California. Originally San Diego’s Italian neighborhood and a worldwide center of the tuna fishing industry, Little Italy retains its Italian heritage with a variety of restaurants, art galleries and a weekly farmer’s mercato. It is also the site of ArtWalk, the largest art festival on the West Coast.
USS Midway Museum
This aircraft carrier, the largest ship in the world when it was christened in 1945, is permanently harbored in San Diego and is one of the most popular attractions in the city. It really is the perfect day out, with visitors free to explore the ship’s living quarters, ready rooms, flight control towers, brig and many aircraft. Enjoy!
This elegant 16-block Victorian neighborhood is a San Diego hub for fine dining, cosmopolitan art galleries and rooftop bars. It is also the site of Copley Symphony Hall, home of the San Diego Symphony and Lyceum, which shows off-Broadway musicals and plays. Additionally, the San Diego Film Festival takes place here every fall. Make sure to stop by the Altitude Sky Lounge to sip cocktails 20 stories above the ground and enjoy the view that comes with it.
San Diego Museum of Man
Located in one of the most stunning buildings in Balboa Park, this anthropological museum hosts exhibits ranging from Ancient Egyptian mummies to artefacts from the original peoples of San Diego, the Kumeyaay American Indians. The museum is also home to the California Tower, a 200ft (61m) structure that makes for a great vantage point.
San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo is not only one of the best zoos in the country, but in the entire world. With a safari park, an arboretum, an aviary and habitats for its thousands of animal species, the zoo sprawls across the entire north end of Balboa Park with easy access to and from Downtown. The zoo is one of the only places in the world to see giant pandas in captivity and has the largest population of koalas outside of Australia.
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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.