5 Unique Places to Visit in San Diego

5 Unique Places to Visit in San Diego

Today San Diego has a busy downtown feel with the comfort and ease of walking that comes in a small town. Here are five popular places that attract visitors from around the world.

Travelers hostels, business hotels and beachside campgrounds are full of visitors exploring San Diego year round. The surf attracts surfing enthusiasts from all over. The bustling city is a breeding ground for booming businesses. People visiting the US come to San Diego to see the surf and explore the reputation it has as one of the most pretty of southern California cities. It's also close to the Mexican border. In less than an hour one can be at the border crossing into Mexico to Tijuana. The difference between California and Mexico is drastic. Tijuana is a bustling city with excellent food and great places to party all in the context of Mexican culture.

San Diego is a city influenced by Mexican culture and more. It is in the architecture and food. Mexican style buildings are in the parks and are an influence on a many buildings downtown. Taco Trucks line many streets and offer good food at great prices. Little Italy has excellent shopping and dining. Chinatown offers great souvenir shopping, many affordable shops and an array of Chinese dining.

The History of San Diego is another reason many visit. The Gaslamp District is one of the oldest areas of the city. In the late 19th century this area of town started to develop so the city installed gaslamps to light the streets of what was becoming a new and modern part of town. Today it has a busy downtown feel with the comfort and ease of walking that comes in a small town.

Here are five popular places in San Diego that attract visitors from around the world:

Balboa Park

An escape from the city within the city. Balboa park is a 1,200 acre green area north of the Gaslamp District. It is the largest park in San Diego and has trails for wandering along endlessly past 60 foot trees, over hills, down into valleys and across vistas that look out over the city below. It straddles the freeway and on either side lies several blocks of such greenery, hills, bushes and trails. It is easily accessible by bus or foot from downtown.

The park has more than 40 museums, gardens and theaters. Here are a few:

San Diego Air & Space Museum
San Diego Museum of Man
San Diego Model Railroad Museum
Mingei International Museum
San Diego Natural History Museum
Veterans Museum and Memorial Center
San Diego History Center
The Botanical Building
Main article: Balboa Park Gardens
Botanical Building
Japanese Friendship Garden
Desert Garden
Spreckels Organ Pavilion

Some of the most popular from this list are the organ pavilion and the San Diego Air and Space Museum. At the pavilion the city hosts organ concerts throughout the summer with the best performers from the United States and abroad. In front of the Air and Space Museum is the first air and water capable jets produced by the United States Navy. This Jet was tested in San Diego and made its first flight proving its land and water capabilities there. Its black figure now stands at an angle on stilts in before the museum.

After a day of strolling through the gaslamp district or relaxing on the beach, a great way to finish the day off is by taking some food and walking up to Balboa Park, crossing the bridge over the freeway, pass the San Diego Museum of Man with a Plateresque, Baroque, Churrigueresque, and Rococo hybrid facade and stop at the organ pavilion for a concert. Laying in the grass all afternoon is also one of the most popular activities in the park.

Humphrey's Concerts By the Bay

Here are summer concerts by the water. Ticketholders stand before the stage and those without a ticket float in the marina water on kayaks, rafts, boats and paddle boards and listen for free. The stage is located right next to the shore so those floating in the water can hear the music very well. Such patrons often pack food and drinks into their flotation device.

There are places to enter the water from all around the marina. There are boat launches and beaches to put in which ever device one chooses. Paddling across the marina to the concert venue is a great way to get a little bit of exercise and see the marina from a different perspective. Being on the water is quiet and peaceful. Within minutes paddlers will arrive to the other side where they can maneuver between boats and docks until they arrive at the shoreline next to the stage. Any night there is a concert there will most likely be other paddlers and boaters parked along the shore enjoying the music. A paddle back across the marina under the moonlight is another great way to enjoy the still night away from the city. It's only in a places like San Diego where life is so close to the seaside that visitors can enjoy a concert by the water while floating on a paddleboard, canoe or boat.

Ocean Beach

The beach town district of San Diego. Here people surf and eat tacos and party. Many people come here to surf. Right next to the pier is one of the most popular places to surf in San Diego. The water is a bit cold so most surfers wear a wetsuit. But not all. Right on the street that borders the beach are places that rent surfboards and offer surfing lessons.

A walk out on the pier is a great way to see the ocean, the beach and town from a different perspective. The Ocean Beach Pier Cafe is located on the pier. It sits out beyond the edge of the pier and offers guests great views over the water.

The district is full of shopping and dining. Many spend the day strolling the streets and architecture of Ocean Beach without stepping foot in the water. There are unique vintage, fashion, second hand, jewelry, souvenirs, surf shops and more. There are several supermarkets and small grocery stores scattered throughout the area. It has banks, a post office and almost everything one would need in a town.

It's a great place to spend a few nights during a stay in San Diego. Days can be spent at the beach or exploring the streets and at night the city comes alive. There are many bars scattered throughout the district all of a different atmosphere. Winstons has a weekly DJ playing their own electronic music with props and a light show. Most of the bars are casual. Many people come to Ocean Beach on a Friday night to walk the streets from bar to bar sampling the atmosphere at each place. The streets can be as loud as the bars. But there isn't any tolerance for open beverages on the streets. If the police catch someone with an open container they will give them a fine that can be as high as $100. However, the party exists on the streets of Ocean Beach almost as much as it does inside the bars.

The Gaslamp District

The heart of downtown. Small shops and bars line the streets. Like Ocean Beach, the streets of the Gaslamp District are busy all night. The district has typical American bars, dive bars, dance clubs, Irish bars, karaoke bars, breweries and more. Like Ocean Beach, it is a great place to bar hop. Coyote Ugly has traditional American drinks, a jukebox and at various times throughout the night girls dance on the bar for money. They are not nude. The Whiskey Girl plays classic American rap and rock all night and they have a large dance area. The atmosphere is very casual. Along the walls are a line of TVs that show the music videos to the songs playing. They wrap all around the bar just below the ceiling. It is a loud place with big windows all round the bar. It's located on the northwest corner of 5th Ave and G St. It's impossible to miss.

Shout is unlike any bar in the district. This bar has a stage with two grand pianos facing each other. Seating faces the stage. Each a player sits at each piano and plays songs requested by the audience. Requests are submitted by writing the name of the song on a slip of paper from a stack provided at each table and placing it on the piano. Slips with a tip beneath them will likely be played more quickly. Each piano serves one side of the room and creates a rivalry between the two sides. The pianists play personalized renditions of the songs and sometimes other members staff join in to play the drums and guitar to create a full band version. It can be very funny and loud. It's located on the east side of 4th Ave between Market and G St.

There is a rooftop bar with a swimming pool near the Exhibition Center. Each street has several options. The Ralphs is open 24 hours a day.


A seaside walk east of the Gaslamp District. The walkway along the marina runs from the airport area south past the Gaslamp District. Between are private boat docks, the USS Maritime Museum, the USS Midway Museum, a park, walking paths and more.

Near the airport is an area of the marina where privately owned boats are docked. Visitors walk this part of the marina to have a look at the array of boats. Further south are some ships that are exhibits of the USS Maritime Museum. Ships include sailboats, submarines, steam powered vessels and more that are replicas or originals and are important for a historic reason. "Pilot" is the oldest pilot boat still in service on the west coast.

South of the Maritime Museum is the USS Midway Museum. This is the longest serving Navy aircraft carrier of the 20th century. It is now retired. Some visitors spend 4 hours visiting the exhibitions onboard. This ship is a city at sea.

South of this is an area of restaurants, souvenir shops, street performers, green grass, pathways and places to sit and look out at the sea and Coronado island across the channel.

This and More

San Diego offers shopping, dining and activities that allow visitors to experience different cultures. The Mexican influence in San Diego is prominent. Other areas of the city offer Italian cuisine, Chinese cuisine, Brazilian cuisine, and traditional American bars. Downtown is the historic core of San Diego that can keep partiers entertained all night. Ocean beach has a beach to relax on by day and a nightlife that is as busy as the Gaslamp District. Walks along the marina will include strolls through green grass, past museums with historic ship exhibitions and an array of private boats. At night on the marina visitors can enjoy a free evening concert aboard a paddle board or raft. Every area of San Diego offers a different experience influenced by either American or a foreign culture.

Lead image: flickr photo by Oleg. https://flickr.com/photos/olegshpyrko/6247690411 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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