America’s eighth largest city offers plenty to do, so it isn’t hard to see why it has become such a popular destination. San Diego has the culture, nightlife and vibe of a big city, along with proximity to hiking trails and open spaces. It’s also home to the most beautiful beaches and coastline in the Golden State. San Diego is known for its great climate, and for its casual and laid-back lifestyle, especially in the beach communities.
If you’re planning on visiting San Diego for the first time, here are some sights you should not miss.
The city’s equivalent to New York’s Central Park, Balboa Park is one of the largest city parks in the country, as well as one of the oldest, laid out in 1835. If strolling the several beautiful landscaped gardens isn’t enough, the 1,200-acre park is home to over a dozen world class museums, including the city’s museums of art and natural history. Balboa Park is also a great place to enjoy performances, concerts, and puppet shows, with over ten spaces dedicated to performance art—not to mention the largest outdoor pipe organ in the world. But the biggest attraction here is the zoo, which is one of the biggest in the world and is home to over 3,700 animals, all housed in inviting, spacious, and open air natural habitats.
Another undeniably touristy neighborhood, Old Town, is still charming and picturesque, and is the site of the first European settlement in California. At the heart of the area is Old Town State Historic park, with several original structures dating back to the 19th century. Volunteers wearing authentic 19th century costumes reenact life as it would have been 200 years ago, and there is no shortage of places to eat Mexican food, drink, and shop for souvenirs. Several small but fascinating museums can be found in the area, displaying costumes, stagecoaches, and everyday items from the 19th century.
Belmont Park, the historic funfair on the waterfront, has been attracting thrill seekers since it opened in 1925, and features several scary rides, plenty of fast food restaurants, and the largest indoor swimming pool in Southern California. The iconic Giant Dipper roller coaster has become a treasured city landmark, and the wooden coaster—one of only two surviving rides from the original park—is on the National Register of Historic Places. It may not be the fastest or most high-tech ride, but riders can still enjoy speeds up to 55 mph on the 2,600-foot-long track.
La Jolla Cove is a great place for diving, snorkeling, and kayaking, and is said to be the most photographed place in the city. It also includes a stretch of the coast known as Sea Lion Beach. There are several places where you are virtually guaranteed to see hundreds of these creatures swimming or lazing on the rocks.
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Video by Nino Gordeli. Text by Sarah Dandashy for PeterGreenberg.com. You can watch her other videos for travel tips & tricks at AskAConcierge.tv.