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The Top 10 Things to Do and See in Downtown San Diego
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The Top 10 Things to Do and See in Downtown San Diego

Picture of Jed Johnson
Updated: 9 February 2017
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 is a list of top ten attractions in or near Downtown San Diego.
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Balboa Park

No visit to San Diego is complete without stepping just outside of Downtown into this urban oasis. Hosting 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, this 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 completely free to the public.

Balboa Park, 1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA, USA, +1 619 239-0512

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The Spanish Village

The Spanish Village had its origins as an artist colony for the California Pacific International Exposition during the 1930s. It is now occupied by more than 200 artists who practice every sort of art from enamel painting to photography to gourd artistry. 37 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 everywhere.

The Spanish Village, 1770 Village Pl San Diego, CA, USA, + 1 619 233-9050

Seaport Village

A prominent shopping area located on the Pacific Ocean, Seaport Village has 14 acres of fine dining, unique stores, and live musical waterfront entertainment. One of the centerpieces of the Village is an antique hand-painted carousel from 1895. The long waterfront boardwalk offers refreshing sea breezes unparalleled sunset views. Stop by the California Candle Gallery, where elaborate candles are created with any image to create a new artistic medium, to experience of one the most unique stores in Southern California.

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Japanese Friendship Garden

A collaborative effort between San Diego and its sister city, Yokohama, 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. Today, a relaxing modern tea pavilion with outdoor seating overlooking the garden is a wonderful place to begin or end your walk around the Friendship Garden.

Japanese Friendship Garden, 2215 Pan American Rd E San Diego, CA, USA, + 1619 232-2721

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Little Italy

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 Italian restaurants, art galleries, a weekly farmer’s ‘mercato’. It is also the site of ArtWalk, the largest art festival on the West Coast, a Venetian mask festival the Saturday before Mardi Gras, and the largest Italian festival outside on New York City in October.

Little Italy, San Diego, CA, USA

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USS Midway Museum

This aircraft carrier, the largest ship in world when it was christened in 1945, has found permanent harbor in San Diego and is one of the most visited attractions in the city. Featuring aircraft and self-guided tours through living quarters, ready rooms, flight control towers and the brig, the USS Midway has been featured on American Idol and an episode of The Bachelor, cementing its place as a Southern California staple. The USS Midway is the best way to explore San Diego’s status as one of the U.S.’s foremost naval and military bases in history and today.

USS Midway Museum, 910 N Harbor Dr San Diego, CA, USA, +1 619 544-9600

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San Diego Downtown Museum of Contemporary Art

Created in 1941, the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art’s Downtown location is one of the foremost contemporary art museums on the West Coast. The museum primarily features minimalist and Pop Art, especially from Mexican and Californian artists. Large exhibition spaces allow for large temporary installations and over 4,600 pieces in its permanent collection. Don’t miss the Anya Gallaccio exhibit: running until November 2015, it uses 3D printers to create primal art.

San Diego Downtown Museum of Contemporary Art, 1100 Kettner Blvd San Diego, CA, USA, +1 858 454-3541

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Gaslamp Quarter

This elegant 16 block Victorian neighborhood is a San Diego hub for fine dining, cosmopolitan art galleries, and rooftop bars and nightlife. 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.

Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego, CA,USA

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Museum of Man

Located in one of the most stunning buildings in Balboa Park, this anthropological museum hosts diverse exhibits from ancient Egyptian mummies to artifacts from the original peoples of San Diego, the Kumeyaay American Indians. More recently, the museum includes exhibits on human ecology and evolution and contains many remains of early humanoids. The California Tower, one of the tallest points in Balboa Park and part of the museum, has a must-see view of the city from the top.

Museum of Man, 1350 El Prado San Diego, CA, USA, +1 619 239-2001

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San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo is not only one of the best in the country, but in the entire world. With a Safari Park, an arboretum, an aviary, and habitats to match the thousands of different animal species here, the zoo is 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.

San Diego Zoo, 2920 Zoo Dr San Diego, CA, USA, +1 619 231-1515