Famous for its beautiful beaches and clear skies, San Diego California is indeed a place that one must visit at least once in his life. Last September 2016, I traveled to America for six weeks and stayed in San Diego for around two weeks. Within that time along with the help of friends and family who are locals in San Diego, I was able to visit so many beautiful places and encounter firsthand the laid-back California culture.
San Diego is a county in South-Western California composed of diverse races. Since it is located by the border between America and Mexico, almost half of the population is Hispanic or Latino. Also, I was overwhelmed with the amount of Filipino people and Filipino shops/restaurants in almost every area in San Diego. So for all Filipinos like me who are planning to travel to San Diego, you don’t have to worry about getting homesick or anything of that sort.
Now Let me present to you the top places I recommend you to visit in San Diego.
1. La Jolla Beach
I absolutely loooove this place, I must have visited three/four times. A 15-minute drive away from downtown San Diego, La Jolla is a hilly seaside community with 7 miles of coastline surrounded with upscale villages.
We had a hard time finding parking so I suggest you go early as parking slots fill out fast (especially the ones with a longer range time (2~4 hours). There are also a bunch of restaurants you can eat at in front of the beach where you’ll get to enjoy the view. We ate brunch at Brockton Villa Restaurant which was right at the street in front of the beach.
For animal lovers, you’ll definitely have fun getting up-close to the seals and sea lions that are just lazing around on the shorelines. I kid you not, once you go past the sea wall that prevent them from climbing up the land, you’ll see that the La Jolla seals and sea lions have invaded the area from rocks to the sands. They are almost always out except when it rains so you’ll definitely get to see them at least once before you leave San Diego.
WARNING: Make sure to not get too close to the sea lions and seals no matter how harmless you think they are because they will JUMP AT YOU, and yes, they do bite. So just enjoy gushing at them at a safe distance, let them enjoy their peace.
Go further straight and you’ll reach the rocks and the magnificent view of the beautiful blue/green waters.
2. Coronado Island
Right from crossing the Coronado Bridge alone, my expectations of Coronado Island were already skyrocket high and still, the beauty of the island itself has exceeded these expectations. It is the haven of all havens out there from the white sand, calm waters, to beautiful infrastructures such as Hotel del Coronado.
Hotel del Coronado or “The Lady Who Lives By The Sea” is astonishing to say the least. It is an iconic landmark built 125 years ago where prominent figures such as politicians, royalties, and presidents have stayed in. Visitors are free to enter the luxurious hotel and look at its grand interior. There are also shops inside the hotel with luxury brands such as Hermés, Prada, and the like.
3. Balboa Park
I mentioned earlier that the San Diego population is composed of diverse races and one would be able to see this in Balboa Park. The park remains a favorite hangout of locals especially families who are out for the weekend.
Balboa Park is composed of more than 17 museums, art venues, gardens, trails, and many other creative and recreational attractions. The Spanish-style architecture of the infrastructures are very beautiful and intrinsic. Here, visitors can enjoy a day of relaxation and entertainment with the various street performances of artists, mimers, and many more activities.
Right after getting dropped off, visitors will be able to spot the International Cottages, hosted by the House of Pacific Relations, made up of 34 cottages each hosted by a national group or country in the world.
The main attraction in San Diego Park is located right in the middle of it, the Botanical Building and Lily Pond. You could see ducks waddling around by the pond and at the end of it, lies an open building which is actually a small community garden where you can see various plants and flowers. This is said to be the most beautiful garden in the entire Balboa Park, plus, it has free admission!
4. Spanish Village Art Center
The Spanish Village Art Center is part of Balboa Park but I believed it deserved a section all for itself. As soon as you arrive, you’ll get to hear Spanish live music at the background coming from the shops/exhibits and street performers. It is a large outdoor art center with exhibits that offer various arts and crafts that you can check out and buy. You could also have a portrait of yourself drawn by artists outside.
5. USS Midway Museum
Get to experience the life onboard America’s longest-serving aircraft carrier and the largest ship in the world (until 1955). The vessel was named after the Battle of Midway and served for 47 years until its last journey on 1991 to the San Diego Harbour where it became the USS Midway Museum.
You could go on a self-guided audio tour or ask one of the crew members to tour you around. We were toured by a family friend who was a retired navy (who also scored us free admission to the museum so yay) and it took us almost the whole day to actually go around the entire ship. The tour was both entertaining and interesting; with so many levels and corners to explore — from hanger decks, sleeping quarters, engine room, flight control area, and even cells where soldiers used to be detained/jailed in while inside the ship. Check out the complete map of the Midway here.
You could also go at the top flight deck which exhibit various aircrafts that have served the US Navy, many of which you’re allowed to climb in so you could pretend to be a pilot and take lots of pictures.
I also had the chance to talk to a World War II veteran who was more or less 90 years old. He talked about his experience as a navy soldier during the Battle of Midway and how they were able to survive the war with the ship. He recounted the friends he lost during the war.
6. San Diego Bay
Located at the Western side of Downtown San Diego lies the San Diego Bay or the waterfront Embarcadero (“landing place”). It is the terminal for all the cruises and ships that enter into San Diego. It is also where the USS Midway vessel is at so if you arrived early at the museum (like how I did) and have extra time to spare, I suggest you to go around the bay and have a look at San Diego’s most significant feature, its terminal ports. Here, you’ll get to see a glimpse of the beautiful Coronado Bridge, along with unique restaurants and shops.
Also a must-see in San Diego which can be found in the bay is the National Salute to Bob Hope and the Military memorial park. The first thing you’ll get to see is this giant kissing statue of a sailor from the World War II and a nurse, titled as “Unconditional Surrender”. Tourists love to take photos of this as it imposes serenity and passion, add to it the USS Midway as its backdrop.
By the elevated plaza, there are also 15 life-sized bronze statues, each representing a member of the military in service. At the front is a statue of Bob Hope, making it seem like he is leading the entire pack. Surrounding it are more statues, figures, and placards giving tribute to the officers and men who fought for the country.
The universities in San Diego is easily part of the most beautiful schools I have ever been into. Along with the perfect seaside view, they are also so huge that one literally won’t be able to tour each school with just a single day. I went to the University of California San Diego (where I’m planning to for Masters in Business Analytics), University of San Diego, and San Diego State University.
So that has been my top 7 Must-Visit Places in San Diego CA, I hope this would help you plan your next trip to San Diego!
Up next, I’m planning to post a guide on the hippest places I’ve been to on my travel to Los Angeles CA.