If California is on top of your vacation list this season then you cannot afford to miss San Diego.
Why? Well … what comes to your mind when you think of San Diego? Beaches? Sun-bathing? Surfing? Mexican Food? Amusement Parks? San Diego has all of these and much more to offer.
For beach lovers San Diego has more than 70 miles of coastline with beaches to cater to everyone’s taste. Animal lovers would be amazed to see the variety of wildlife on display in the world famous San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park. Kids would have the time of their lives at SeaWorld and Legoland. With the Mexican border so nearby there are no prizes for guessing which US city has the best Mexican food.
With year-round sunshine, warm beaches and a perfectly laid-back atmosphere, it’s no wonder that San Diego is one of the most visited cities in the US, and has rightly earned the title “America’s Finest City”.
But hang-on … you haven’t read the best part yet.
You don’t have to spend a penny to enjoy the most beautiful sites in San Diego!
That’s right. It’s amazing how you can enjoy all the beautiful scenery of San Diego without spending a penny.
We are now going to tell you about the Top 10 Things you can do and see for FREE in San Diego.
We will start our journey from the southernmost sites and work our way up to the north. Here’s a map of our sojourn to help you. So let’s get started.
1. Silver Strand State Beach
Silver Strand State Beach is on Coronado Island which is connected to the city of San Diego via a narrow strip of land. The drive to the beach is gorgeous with tall palm trees on both sides, the Pacific Ocean greeting you on one side and the San Diego Bay on the other!
We recommend driving down the Interstate 5 and then taking the CA-75 N. On the way to the beach you will encounter the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge which is a habitat for endangered birds such as the Bell’s vireo and the California gnatcatcher. You may stop by here to click some pictures of the San Diego downtown in the distance.
Silver Strand Beach itself is quite well maintained and generally not crowded which could be due to it being a bit isolated. However if you like camping then you are in luck because there is a campground adjacent to the beach.
2. Coronado Beach / Hotel Del Coronado
The well maintained soft white sand makes this beach a popular choice for families, visitors and beach weddings. So expect it to be busy and lively, especially on weekends.
What makes this beach really unique is that it is also the setting for the century-old iconic Hotel Del Coronado. This hotel has been graced by celebrities from all around the world and has always been a hit with Hollywood. From November through January you can ice-skate at the hotel while enjoying gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean.
3. Coronado Ferry Landing
Sometimes you forget how beautiful San Diego is and this is just the thing to help you remember how awesome this city is.
That’s how one of the reviews on Yelp describes this place.
Coronado Ferry Landing is a waterfront with shops, restaurants, art galleries and spectacular views of the San Diego Bay and downtown San Diego. It’s a great place for a leisurely walk with your loved one while enjoying the calm waters of the bay and taking in the splendid scenery all around you, especially after dusk.
4. San Diego – Coronado Bridge
This beautiful bridge connects two beautiful cities!
The drive from Coronado to San Diego on the bridge offers views of San Diego which are breathtaking during the day and magical at night. Drive slow and make sure to keep your cameras handy!
5. The Kissing Statue / USS Midway
San Diego is not just a pretty city, it also boasts of hosting the US Naval and Air Force bases.
You must have heard of the world famous “Kissing Statue” which is a recreation of the V-J Day in Times Square photograph. Well, it is found right here in downtown San Diego. This larger-than-life statue commemorates a sailor kissing a nurse during World War II.
And while you are admiring the beauty of this statue you would be amazed to see a real warship right in front of your eyes. That’s right. This is the USS Midway, the same ship that was used in World War II. The sheer size of this ship is awe-inspiring. The ship has now been converted to a museum.
6. Seaport Village
Imagine a cute little village by the sea where everyday is like a fair and where you can find people indulging in various simple pleasures of life – flying a kite, watching a magic trick or happily strolling on the boardwalk.
Seaport Village is an idyllic place loved by all! Here you have a variety of eating options – from fast food to desserts, and cuisines from all over the world – Greek, Italian, Mexican and much more. And you cannot leave without buying a souvenir from one of the many cool shops.
7. Historic Gaslamp Quarter
Gaslamp Quarter is a 16 block neighborhood in downtown San Diego with historic Victorian-style buildings, trendy shops and tons of upscale restaurants and bars.
The best time to visit is after dusk when the namesake “gas lamps” are turned on and the area transforms into a vibrant melting pot of people. Connoisseurs of fine food and drink can indulge in a culinary fest and people who love nightlife can have the time of their lives. The night of Halloween is an especially good time to visit the place as it hosts the “Zombie Crawl” – be very afraid of the sea of monsters, ghouls and vampires!
8. Balboa Park
Filled with cultural treasures, architectural grandeur, lush landscapes, stunning gardens and award-winning performing arts, it takes more than one day to see and enjoy it all.
How aptly www.sandiego.org describes this wonderful place!
Balboa Park is a cultural, architectural and botanical oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of the city. It has one of the finest displays of Spanish architecture in the US along with museums on subjects ranging from aviation and automobiles to natural history and art. The well manicured Japanese Friendship Garden is a sight to behold while the Botanical Garden along with the famous Lily Pond are a botanist’s delight. No description of Balboa Park would be complete without the mention of one of the most advanced zoos in the world – the famous San Diego Zoo which lies within Balboa Park.
Truly, any visit to San Diego is incomplete without a visit to Balboa Park.
9. Old Town State Historic Park
Visiting Old Town is like savoring a slice of history – this is the birthplace of California!
Museums and shops here have maintained their rustic, old-worldly charm and hearken back to the days when this place was a part of Mexico. Indeed, old-style Mexico is still alive here with numerous “native” shops selling charming and unusual stuff, “authentic” eating joints each of which can rightly claim the tag of “Best Mexican Restaurant” and “antique” architecture that transports you to another time and place. Old Town is a great place to visit especially for history buffs and fans of Mexican cuisine as this is the place where the history of California comes alive.
10. Point Loma / Cabrillo National Monument
Tranquil, spectacular, unfathomable! It’s easy to run out of adjectives when describing Point Loma. Point Loma offers breathtaking views of the serene Pacific Ocean on one side and the bustling cities of San Diego and Coronado on the other.
Point Loma also contains the Cabrillo National Monument which commemorates the first European landing on what is now California. There is the Old Point Loma Lighthouse nearby which is one of the highest points in San Diego. Every direction you turn to is more picturesque than the other and on clear days (of which San Diego has plenty), you can see Mexico in the distance with some of the highest peaks in the region.
There are two hidden jewels at Cabrillo which very few people are aware of – first is the Point Loma Tide Pools, and second is the secret Cabrillo Sea Cave. In order to reach the tide pools you can drive down from Cabrillo to the rocky shores where during low tide you can encounter a host of marine life – starfish, octopus and if you are lucky (or unlucky) sea snakes!
Reaching the secret Cabrillo Sea Cave involves some luck and adventure as the access point to the cave is accessible only during low tide and you need to hike down a bit. But once you are there it is one of the most beautiful caves you’ll ever see!