San Diego, “America's Finest City,” is undoubtedly known to tourists and travelers alike for its beaches, attractions, year-round mild weather, and great food. Beyond those famous tourist attractions, how would a local describe where to go and what to see in this eighth-largest city in the U.S.? I offer “my San Diego,” diving into the sights and sounds of where I would–and have–taken visitors to my hometown over 20 years. Here's my list of the best places in San Diego.
Take in the beauty, history, and culture of Balboa Park. As the largest urban cultural park in the United States, it's also the crown jewel of our city and should be on any visitor's list. It also features 13 museums from art, natural history, and model railroads. Visit on a weekday for lesser crowds; if museums aren't your thing, never fear.
There are several gardens, including my personal favorite–the Cactus Garden and the Spanish Art Village, where you can find handmade artisan gifts with their creators typically present. There are also some great hiking trails. You can easily spend more than one day here and do it like a local. Most institutions are closed on Mondays, and you'll find the most locals on Tuesdays when the museums have rotating free admission.
The World Famous San Diego Zoo, located in the park, is undoubtedly a leading tourist attraction. Still, it and the Safari Park are definitely worth it, and many locals also utilize their memberships.
Catch a ballgame at Petco Park or take a tour. Admittedly, my bias will come into play here as I have been an employee here for five years, and it's one of my favorite places in town. Locals and tourists alike agree that the atmosphere for baseball is top-notch, and the park is consistently ranked as one of the best in the U.S.
If your visit falls during an off week or month for the team, you can always opt for a tour by a friendly guide and visit the official team store onsite.
Cabrillo National Monument
Visit Cabrillo National Monument at low tide. Located at the tip of Point Loma, it's San Diego's very own national monument. In addition to the lighthouse and amazing views, there's a great easy hiking trail, and if you hit it at low tide, explore those tidepools where you can see all types of tiny sea creatures. It's well worth the $10 entrance fee.
Hiking the Trails Less Traveled
Hike trails that locals around town frequent. While I don't have much experience with some of the northern communities in San Diego, several locals mention venturing to Solana Beach and hiking Annie's Trail to see the old “mushroom caves.”
This could be followed by a visit to the nearby Cedros Design District, full of great art galleries, boutiques, and eateries. You can also find locals enjoying the vast trail system in the eastern area of Mission Trails Regional Park as an alternative to the more touristy hikes.
Enjoy Mexican Food- Tacos!
Eat real native Mexican food in a Hispanic neighborhood, or participate in a taco tour. This is one of the best San Diego experience you can have and something I do with everyone who visits me.
There is nothing like eating tacos or Mexican food in San Diego. One of my favorite hoods for this is Barrio Logan, just south of downtown. Even a trip to the local Mexican market is like nothing you've experienced.
Take a trip to Liberty Station. I think this is one of the most underrated places to go in San Diego, but definitely one of the coolest. Located just north of the airport (a great place to hang before or after a flight), it's a former Naval base turned arts, shopping, and eating mecca. You can stroll along the water with its abundance of green grass and playgrounds for pets and kids. You can also launch a kayak or stand-up paddleboard from here.
Even better-it also has an abundance of free parking! Catch a flick in a state-of-the-art movie theater called The Lot–complete with in-seat service. Or you can sit and watch airplanes overhead at America's Busiest One Runway airport. Be sure to observe the Point Loma Pause- that moment, you cease conversation while a plane roars overhead.
Take a day trip outside of town. The great thing about San Diego is there can be a day trip in any direction, each of which provides its own unique experience. To the east, you can check out the mountain town of Julian or watch the night sky in the Dark Sky desert community of Borrego Springs.
To the south, venture to Mexico to explore Tijuana or Rosarito Beach. Lines to return to the U.S. side of the border can be long so make sure to factor that in to your planning. To the north, inland features the Temecula Valley wine country, or the Coastal communities of San Clemente, Dana Point, and other points of Orange County.
Harbors and Boating
Take advantage of the fact that San Diego has so many waterways which can be explored. While that might seem like it would be jammed with tourists, there are ways you can experience it as we locals do. Rent a kayak or other water vessel in a lesser popular spot in Harbor Island or the aforementioned Liberty Station.
For exercise lovers, walk along the Harbor that connects from Point Loma down to the South Embarcadero. This four mile path is great for running, biking, or walking a leisurely pace. You can also walk around loops on Harbor Island or Shelter Island and admire the boats out on the water. As the weather cooperates year-round, San Diegans are always in and on the water.
Hit the Beach Like a Local
Head to the beach and the waves like a local. I think most locals would say at certain times of the year, we all avoid most beaches because of the influx of tourists and traffic trying to get there. Luckily we can enjoy the beach year-round, and if asked, my favorite is Ocean Beach.
It's definitely not for everyone- it's got more of a grunge vibe, but it's also got great restaurants, a dog beach, and sunsets at the aptly named Sunset Cliffs. There are also pockets of local beaches like Moonlight Beach in Encinitas in North County, and further south, Imperial Beach is another local favorite.
Craft Brew Scene
Enjoy craft brews almost anyplace around town. I am not a beer person myself; this is another area where I have to rely on others for their knowledge. At last count, San Diego features over 220 craft breweries (and counting), and enjoying them is something shared by locals and tourists alike. There are enough in most areas of town that can be enjoyed. This includes North Park, the Miramar area, and the beach communities. I took my inspiration from this article.
The great thing about San Diego is it's a year-round destination for many due to the mostly mild weather. While the busiest peak time is between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and known for being a Spring Break destination, I'd offer that you can visit us at off-season times and find fewer lines, traffic, and a city ready to explore.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.