The second largest city in California features a year round mild climate, blue skies, and 70 miles of beaches, making it a popular vacation destination. While those who visit often flock to major attractions such as SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo, the city also hosts a variety of exciting activities that make for a pleasant experience. Here are 15 unique things to do in the downtown and surrounding areas.
1. Petco Park
Nothing screams local more than sharing the excitement of cheering on a home team. Home to the Major League Baseball franchise, San Diego Padres, Petco Park is a state of the art sports stadium, featuring an intimate setting and modern amenities for visitors to enjoy. Set in the East Village district of San Diego, the construction of the Petco Park stadium in April 2004 fuelled rapid redevelopment in the area. This site of many home runs and exciting wins for teams in the MLB is also used as a venue for other events like concerts, the annual Zombie Walk, and Comic Con.
- Address: 100 Park Blvd
- Price: Padres tickets starting at 10USD
- Ticket Purchase: http://www.vividseats.com/mlb-baseball/san-diego-padres-tickets.html
2. Rooftop Bar
Experience a rooftop bar in the heart of the city, and sip cocktails, wine, and enjoy bottle service while admiring San Diego’s glittering city lights. A local favourite is Altitude Sky Lounge, a swanky bar whose usual crowd are the white collar workers who stroll in after work, and the occasional tourist. Atop 22 stories of the hotel, San Diego Marriott, Altitude Sky Lounge offers spectacular panoramic views of the San Diego skyline. It also offers an uninterrupted bird’s eye view into Petco Park, making the bar extremely popular during baseball games as people try to catch a glimpse of the action. An exclusive Gaslamp Quarter experience, Altitude Sky Lounge is a highlight of the rooftop bar scene in San Diego.
- Address: 660 K Street
- Opening Hours: 5PM-130AM
- Website: http://www.sandiegogaslamphotel.com/nightlife/altitude
3. Hop on a Trolley
Experience the uniquely hilly topography of San Diego via trolley. The city’s Old Town Trolley Tours offers a hop on and hop off trolley tour, and serves as a great option to explore some of San Diego’s most popular spots. The two hour tour highlights 11 of San Diego’s best attractions, including Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo, Hotel del Coronado, Petco Park, Star of India, and Old Town San Diego. While cruising through the various distinct districts of San Diego, learn about the city as fun and interesting facts are shared on board. Hop on and off at favourite spots, and explore the ones that intrigue you.
- Address: 4010 Twiggs St
- Price: 35.10 USD/ adult when booked online, 17.10 USD/ child when booked online
- Website: http://www.trolleytours.com/san-diego/
4. Waterfront Park
The 12 acre Waterfront Park located in downtown San Diego was newly opened in 2014.The space was formerly parking lots, and now features an 830-foot-long fountain with 31 jets that project water 14 feet into the air, a playground with colourful swings and slides, and a large grassy area for picnicking. Waterfront Park is an ideal place for family outings, and in the summertime, serves as a prime location to observe fireworks.
- Address: 1600 Pacific Hwy
- Opening Hours: 1030AM-7PM
5. Giant Dipper at Belmont Park
The Giant Dipper at Belmont Park is regarded as one of California’s oldest, yet well preserved wooden roller coasters. Built in 1925 and designed by esteemed roller coaster designers, Frederick Church and Frank Prior, the Giant Dipper features a top speed of 55 MPH, and dips and turns capping out at a maximum of 70 feet. An amusement park staple, this roller coaster is loved by tourists and locals, and remains one of two seaside roller coasters in California, offering thrill seekers remarkable views of the Pacific Ocean.
- Address: 3146 Mission Blvd
- Price: 6USD/ ride
- Opening Hours: Monday-Friday 11AM-10PM, Sunday 11AM-9PM
- Website: http://www.belmontpark.com/
6. Dive-In Theatre
Drive- in theatre? No, dive- in theatre! The Pearl Hotel in the heart of the city offers free viewings of classic favourites, mega blockbusters, and foreign and independent films every Wednesday. Taking place at their outdoor poolside lounge right below the stars, patrons have the unique opportunity to enjoy films while soaking in their retro pool. While the screening is free for all hotel guests, walk-ins are welcome with the purchase of a drink!
- Address: 1410 Rosecrans Street
- Showtime: 8PM
- Website: http://www.thepearlsd.com/
7. California Burrito
The classic burrito is traditionally known as a selection of toppings from refried beans, rice, lettuce, guacamole, salsa, and a protein source wrapped in a flour tortilla. However, San Diegans adore, and are loyal to their take on the classic twist, the California Burrito. This heavenly combination of carne asada and French fries stuffed in a tortilla are highly recommended by locals. Though numerous joints serve the California burrito, the Mexican wrestling themed taqueria of Lucha Libre has been voted one of the best by many. Featured on the show, Man v. Food, their Surfin’ California burrito is strongly suggested.
- Address: 1810 W Washington St
- Opening Hours: Sunday-Thursday 8AM-11PM, Friday & Saturday 8AM-230AM
- Website: http://www.tacosmackdown.com/
8. The Shout! House
One piano bar. Two grand pianos. Every night of the week, two pianists who are also talented singers, duke it out on the piano by playing rock and roll music from the 1950s to the present. Song requests are taken by audience, and they play an integral role in running these high energy, interactive shows. Check out The Shout! House’s sister bar, Garage Kitchen and Bar, right next door for delicious pub grub.
- Address: 655 Fourth Avenue
- Duel Hours: Sunday-Thursday at 8PM, Friday & Saturday at 630PM
- Website: http://sd.theshouthouse.com/
9. Kayak with Leopard Sharks at La Jolla Cove
Though the thought of sharks may convey feelings of fear and anxiety, leopard sharks in reality are timid and docile. Their silvery gray bodies are distinctly marked with dark brown spots, resembling a leopard print. Between late June and early December each year, leopard sharks migrate to La Jolla and the northern bays from the coast of California. While they come close to shore, kayakers enjoy being out in the water with the leopard sharks, making for an unforgettable face to face encounter.
10. Ride a Surrey
Explore San Diego’s points of interest on a surrey. Similar to biking, a surrey is comprised of four wheels and two forward facing seats. This is an engaging option for a small group of friends or family wanting to discover the gems of the city in a unique way.
- Rent: Wheel of Fun Rentals
- Address: Various locations, including one in the Gaslamp Quarter at 333 W Harbor Drive
- Price: 35 USD/hour for a double surrey
- Opening hours: 9AM-sunset 7 days/ week
- Website: http://wheelfunrentals.com/Locations/San-Diego-3
11. Free Summer Movies Under the Stars
As a means to build a sense of community and offer residents of San Diego the opportunity to enjoy free outdoor activities, a host of sponsors have collaboratively created Summer Movies in the city’s park facilities. Generally beginning in May of each year and running through to September, a hand- picked selection of movies screen weekly at the parks throughout the city. This is a perfect excuse to spend a night under the stars with blankets and a picnic. Visit http://www.sandiego.org/events/film/summer-movies-in-the-park.aspx for updated parks and movies.
12. Spreckles Organ Pavilion
Situated in historic Balboa Park, the Spreckles Organ Pavilion features the world’s second largest outdoor pipe organ, donated by John D. and Adolph Spreckels in 1914. Since 1917, San Diego has had a civic organist sponsored by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, who performs free weekly Sunday concerts at 2pm. An ornate and embellished work of art, witnessing the Spreckles organ is a wonderful experience that is not to be missed.
- Address: 1549 El Prado
- Showtime: 2PM every Sunday
- Website: http://www.balboapark.org/
13. The Best Damn Beer Shop
Dubbed the “Craft Beer Capital of America,” San Diego undoubtedly boasts an established craft beer scene, and is proudly home to more than 100 breweries and brewpubs. Situated inside a no frills natural food market, The Best Damn Beer Shop carries 1000 varieties of beer, ranging from popular local selections to craft brews that are more difficult to locate. In addition to the wide array of beers, The Best Damn Beer Shop also offers brewing supplies. This is a must visit for any beer enthusiast.
- Address: 1036 Seventh Avenue
- Opening Hours: Monday-Friday 7AM-12AM, Saturday & Sunday 8AM-12AM
- Website: http://www.bestdamnbeershop.com/
14. Hiking at Torrey Pines Reserve
Though away from the heart of the city, a stay in San Diego would not be complete without experiencing some of splendid Mother Nature. A favourite local activity is hiking, and Torrey Pines Reserve offers acres of peaceful trails surrounded by the seaside for plenty of fresh, crisp air. The possibility of spotting dolphins or bobcats in their natural habitats while exploring the trails makes for an exciting reason to visit Torrey Pines Reserve. With the rapid worldwide increase in urban growth, Torrey Pines Reserve remains one of few places that offer a clean and beautiful environment to exercise in. These trails are highly recommended for any nature lover visiting San Diego.
- Address: 612600 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla
- Opening hours: 9AM-6PM 7 days/week
- Website: http://torreypine.org/
15. Sunset at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
Sunset Cliffs Natural Park features 68 acres of beautiful land situated along the Pacific Ocean. Its natural topography displays sea caves, arches, and dramatic coastal bluffs. Experience an unforgettable sunset against expansive ocean views at Luscomb Point or Ladera Street of Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. This park is easily accessible from downtown San Diego.
San Diego offers visitors a plethora of activities and experiences, and travelers of any kind are bound to find something they enjoy.
Have a good trip and travel!