21 Places to Soak Up the San Diego Sun

There are endless things to do in San Diego.  Here is a list of 21 great ways to spend time in the San Diego sunshine!

1. Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument and Statue celebrate the first European to set foot on the West Coast of the United State, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who arrived here in the mid 1500’s.  Explore the Visitor’s Center and learn about the history of the area, and then step outside for knockout views of San Diego Bay.

2.  Point Loma Lighthouse & Tide pools

A short walk from Cabrillo National Monument is the Old Point Loma Lighthouse.  Enter the lighthouse and learn its history.  Although you can’t go all the way to the top, you are able to climb the rounded staircase and look through a window to the top.

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As you leave the parking lot, turn left (west) to take the steep road down to reach the tide pools.  Parking can be tricky here, but the area is gorgeous.  It is best to check online beforehand so you can arrive around low tide.

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3. Seals at LaJolla Beach

Arrive early to find parking, and head to the “Children’s Pool” which is a  protected area where sea lions and seals often swim right up onto the beach.  Many people kayak, scuba dive, and snorkel in this beautiful area.  You can enter The Cave Store if you feel inclined to venture down a man made tunnel leading into a Sea Cave.  There are lots of opportunity to walk along the cliffs and enjoy the views and the wildlife.  (Whatever you do, remember that these animals are wild, so keep your distance.)

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4. Picnic at Mission Bay Park

Mission Bay is massive, and there are abundant opportunities to find a great spot for picnicking, kite flying, or paddle-boarding.  I personally like the large playground next to the Hilton in East Mission Bay, where the kids can play and we can relax with a picnic.

5. Hotel del Coronado and Coronado Beach

The famous Hotel del Coronado is one of San Diego’s must see places.  You can walk through the hotel and check out the shops.  There is a sand sculptor at the beach, and it’s always clean.  You can take the Coronado Bridge to get there, but I prefer to swoop down south and head there from the Silver Strand.  It’s a little out of the way, but there’s a lot less traffic to deal with once on Coronado.

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6. Seaport Village

Seaport Village is an outdoor shopping mall with restaurants and the perfect location on San Diego Bay.  It’s a nice place to spend some time, day or night.

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7. Port of San Diego

Just a short walk north from Seaport Village, past the harbor, you’ll find the WWII Kissing Statue, located alongside the U.S.S. Midway.  There you will also see the National Salute to Bob Hope and the Military.

8. U.S.S. Midway Museum

The USS Midway is one of the longest-serving aircraft carriers in the United States, essentially a city at sea.  Plan to arrive at the Museum early, and grab the audio tour included in your admission.  Then flip the agenda so that you start at the “end” of the tour and work backwards from the top level to avoid some of the crowds.  Allow 3 hours minimum here, but you could easily spend half a day or more.

9. Old Town San Diego

Take a walk through the streets of San Diego’s “birthplace,” and learn about the first permanent Spanish settlement in California.  Many buildings have been restored to look as they would have in the 1800’s.

10. Balboa Park

Balboa Park has something for everyone.  There is fabulous architecture, beautiful fountains and flowers, palm trees, walking trails, a playground, and more than 17 museums to choose from.  You can park your car in any of the lots, and the free shuttle will pick you up and drop you off throughout the Park.


11. San Diego Zoo

No visit to San Diego is complete without seeing the world famous San Diego Zoo, located in Balboa Park.  This Zoo is massive, but our admission included use of the shuttle buses, which cut down on some of our walking and gave us a nice overview of the Zoo.

12. San Diego Safari Park

I personally preferred the San Diego Safari Park to the Zoo.  We learned about kangaroos, got to see the Endangered California Condor (which we had learned all about at the Grand Canyon), watched a Cheetah race down a track, and rode on an African Safari Tram to watch how animals in the wild co-exist with one another.

13. San Diego Botanic Garden

San Diego Botanic Garden is a lovely garden with unique plants, flowers, and trees.  The Hamilton’s Children Garden boasts an ABC garden, giant Tree house, a Spell and Smell Garden, and many hands on activities for kids.

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14. Birch Aquarium

Birch Aquarium in La Jolla displays starfish, octopus, sharks, eels, and sea horses.  The Aquarium focuses on fish local to Southern California, and has a nice variety of interesting and colorful sea life.  There is even an outdoor tide pool area, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

15. Legoland

From gentle rides to roller coasters, intricate lego displays of entire cities, to a factory tour and robotics courses, there is no shortage of fun to be had at Legoland California.  There is a separate Water Park and Aquarium, so you could easily spend three days visiting these parks.  Click here to read about our experience at Legoland.

16.  Sea World

If you like to combine your visit of sea life with some fun rides, Sea World would be your place.  It’s located on Mission Bay, and is a great way to see the best displays of sea life in the region.

Watch our YouTube video about Sea World here.

17. Living Coast Discovery Center

For a smaller, more intimate look at sea life, try the Living Coast Discovery Center in nearby Chula Vista.  Built on a preserve, you can tour the small Aquarium with octopus, sea horses, sharks, sea turtles, as well as the pretty grounds with many types of birds.

18. Mission San Diego de Alcala

Mission San Diego de Alcala is California’s first mission.  You can take a self guided tour of the church and grounds for a small admission fee.

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19. Chula Vista Elite Athletic Training Center (Formerly Olympic Training Center)

Located in the beautiful hills of Chula Vista, the Athletic Training Center offers free self guided tours.  We witnessed an archery match and a field hockey game, and got to watch some kids try out the BMX track.


20. Torry Pines State National Reserve

If you are looking for a place to hike with spectacular ocean views, Torrey Pines is the place.  There are several hikes to choose from, and many are very kid friendly.

21. San Dieguito County Park

This large county park has several play areas, picnic grounds, and hiking paths.  Our kids especially enjoyed the swinging bridge and climbing ladders from level to level.

What are your favorite spots to visit in San Diego?