San Diego is considered by Americans to be the U.S. city with the most preferred climate, with no extremes of cold or hot and minimal annual rainfall. This Californian tourist hub is also loved for its beaches. Over 70 miles of beautiful coastline with surf and sand to enjoy nearly every day of the year make it a powerful drawcard for locals and visitors alike. Not all things to do in San Diego revolve around the beaches, as you’ll soon read, but when downtime is the order of the day, there’s nothing like pulling up a spot on the beach and doing nothing at all!
As for those celebrated San Diego tourist attractions, well put your walking shoes on and prepare to be educated, amused, enthralled and captivated.
Talk with the Animals at San Diego Zoo
Named the 2015 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice award for zoos and aquariums around the globe, San Diego Zoo has also won numerous awards for conservation in its almost 100-year history. It was originally established by the Zoological Society of San Diego when a number of exotic animals were abandoned following the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. Today, it is one of the world’s most visited zoos, with 3.2 million people filing through its gates annually.
Animal lovers adore San Diego Zoo for its extensive conservation and preservation efforts as it breeds many species in captivity for the express purpose of ultimately releasing them into their native habitats. It is also where the world’s only albino koala has ever been born in a zoological facility (September 1, 1997) and boasts the largest koala population outside of Australia.
Tourists particularly enjoy the opportunity to see giant pandas, lions, elephants, king cobras, gorillas, penguins and anacondas all in the one place. Go along and see for yourself the Monkey Trails and Forest Tales, Polar Bear Plunge, Panda Trek, Elephant Odyssey, Tiger River, Sun Bear Forest and loads of other exciting animal exhibits. The zoo continually offers ever-changing attractions to keep visitors returning time and again.
Step back in time at Old Town San Diego Historic Park
Known as the birthplace of California, where the first Europeans settled, Old Town San Diego offers 17 historic points of interest including museums, galleries and even a haunted building. This San Diego attraction shows visitors what life looked like around the 1820s to 1870s with charming old buildings such as the city’s first public school house, a reconstructed mid-19th century courthouse, a blacksmith’s stable and workshop, a mid-19th century tobacconist, newspaper office and print shop and much more. Living history demonstrations are held throughout the day and park employees are dressed in period costume to enhance the authenticity.
The San Diego Trolley and Coaster passenger train drop passengers off right inside Old Town San Diego which makes it even more enjoyable to visit. Or, you could stay in one of the eight hotels located within easy walking distance. Every Saturday, artisans and craftspeople are onsite to create one-of-a-kind items such as hand-blown glassware, Mexican ponchos, hand-painted glass and handmade chocolates for sale.
Shop for jewellery, artwork, clothing and homewares of all different kinds. Stop in to the Old Town Theatre for a live performance or sit down at any of the wonderful restaurants and eateries for a quick bite or a full meal. Some of California’s most authentic Mexican food is served here as well as other cuisines including Italian and Japanese.
Be thoroughly impressed by military might at the Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum
If you’re a military buff, then one of your favourite things to do in San Diego will have to be visiting the Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum. The decommissioned USS Midway is an impressive site, permanently berthed at Navy Pier. Billed as an ‘adventure for the entire family’, the museum – aboard the ship – houses an extensive collection of aircraft. The ship itself was America’s longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century, serving from 1945 to 1992 and was the only carrier to serve for the entire duration of the Cold War, and beyond. Around 200,000 sailors served aboard the USS Midway which was also famous for successfully completing numerous humanitarian missions and a number of naval aviation breakthroughs.
Visitors can take self-guided audio tours through sleeping quarters, the bridge, brig (prison), post office, the engine room, officers’ quarters, pilots’ ready rooms, flight control and more. Climb aboard actual aircraft and cockpits and even operate the flight simulator.
To reach this popular San Diego tourist attraction, public transportation from downtown San Diego will bring you to within a short walking distance of the USS Midway.
Get around on Wheels or Heels in the Gaslamp Quarter
The Gaslamp Quarter is a 16-and-a-half block historic neighbourhood in downtown San Diego. It’s known for its bustling nightlife and the home of the city’s Mardi Gras and other significant events on the busy social calendar. Developed from 1867, the Gaslamp Quarter Historic District comprises 94 historic buildings from the Victorian era, which remain in use today.
You can actually take a Segway tour through this precinct, led by knowledgeable tour guides who will show you the central business district, Seaport Village, Petco Park (home of the San Diego Padres) and all the myriad sights and sounds throughout. Take in the historic architecture, do a little people spotting and wave to the locals going about their business.
There are tons of things to do in the Gaslamp Quarter. Devour a burger at the Hard Rock Café, party at Bang Bang where you can boogie under the West Coast’s largest disco ball or drop by the edgy Side Bar nightclub where bottle service and VIP treatment are yours for a price.
San Diego Crime
San Diego has so much to offer as a tourist attraction and this makes it a popular destination, however the city itself has a crime rate that makes it less desirable to visit. The Safewise website doesn’t even feature San Diego in its top 50 safest cities in California, which is based on data from the FBI Crime Report! With that in mind, you must ensure you have adequate travel insurance* or you could find yourself on the very unfortunate end of a bad holiday.