San Diego offers so much to visitors. Beaches, parks, historical architecture, a renovated Gaslamp district for nightlife, and outstanding restaurants for any kind of cuisine you fancy. Having lived in San Diego for most of my life, I have a few favorite must-sees. If you visit for only a short time, I recommend starting with this list. You’ll never run out of places to see and experience here — I still haven’t! — but these four are my top recommendations.
This is number 1 on my list. Coronado is an island reached by bridge or ferry and has a vibe all its own. The gem of Coronado is the fabled Hotel del Coronado, which has hosted visiting dignitaries through the decades. Presidents Taft, FDR, Ford, and Carter were here. Famous folk such as Charlie Chaplin and Charles Lindbergh are in the visitors list. Marilyn Monroe filmed “Some Like It Hot” here in 1958. Author L. Frank Baum lived at the hotel while he wrote some of the Wizard of Oz books. He commented in 1905 on the Hotel Del: “And every day her loveliness shines pure, without a flaw, new charms entrance our every glance, and fill our souls with awe!” I have never stayed here, but I’ve often strolled on the lawns and beach, and I’ve splurged now and then to dine here. The beach is the perfect place to view sunset on the Pacific.
Sand castle art always decorates the beach here.
Traveling with your pooch? The dog beach in Coronado is the best!
Coronado also has a fun ferry landing with restaurants and shops and a view of the downtown skyline. And if you love biking, Coronado is a great choice because there are no hills!
Favorite restaurant: Miguel’s Cocina, our go-to for celebrations, where you’ll find scrumptious Mexican food and pomegranate Margaritas, plus mud pie for birthday dinners.
The Cabrillo National Monument and Lighthouse
Up on top of a hill above San Diego Bay stands the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, opened in 1854. It’s “old” because it’s been replaced by a newer lighthouse that’s down on the shore. But its charm remains.
You can tour the lighthouse, which is restored to the way it was when the lightkeeper lived in it the 1800s. The winding stairway is fascinating.
The views from the lighthouse, both from the front and around from the backyard, are worth the trip alone.
Next door to the lighthouse is the Juan Cabrillo National Monument, celebrating the sailor who landed here in 1542. A film tells about Cabrillo, and a gift shop offers books and games and fun items for kids.
You can hike down to the bay on a dirt path. You can also see one of the older Fresnel lights used in the lighthouse and learn more about how the lights work, too. There’s even a World War II bunker built into the hill under the lighthouse. There’s so much to explore here!
Old Town San Diego
The history of San Diego is preserved in the delightful Old Town area of the city. You can travel back to the mid 1800s as you stroll the wide streets and wooden sidewalks. Buildings from this era are open to the public. San Diego’s proximity to Mexico is apparent in the architecture.
Places to explore include a stable, an old schoolhouse, an adobe “mansion,” and yards and gardens. You can take in a play in the theater in the evening.
Favorite restaurant: Casa Guadalajara with authentic Mexican food and a festive atmosphere, and you can watch the fresh tortillas being made right there.
If hiking is on your itinerary (I always love finding new scenic hikes!), then head to Torrey Pines. The hiking paths wind around the hills above the ocean among fragile sandstone cliffs. You’ll enjoy the sea air and the magnificent views.
This area is home to the rare Torrey Pine, a lovely and scraggly tree that prospers in the layers of sandstone.
You can park at the top of the hill and enter the crisscrossing trails. Or you can park down at the beach and walk up the hill, for more of a workout. The trails eventually lead down the cliffs to the beach.
Torrey Pines is another perfect place to view the sunset.
How about you? Have you been to San Diego? Do you have a favorite place?
I do like San Diego too!
San Diego is so versatile – that’s why I think it’s so popular (4th vacation city in the USA!). Beautiful Coronado, and the Fresnel lights are so interesting and antigue looking. My favorite part is Old Town is the coffee and tea store and the Mexican restaurants and the delightful garden store i the back of the restaurant. Many thanks for sharing your city, with All Seasons, Sharon!
The last time we visited San Diego several years ago (a quick weekend) we had breakfast in North Park. Loved the feel. I’ve always wanted to wander around Coronado and visit the Point Loma Lighthouse. Maybe next time we’ll get to stay longer and we can. Thanks for the tips, Sharon.
I’ve heard San Diego is so fun! Love the feel from the photos, one day I’ll have to get there!
It’s always a pleasure to read about your journeys.
Wonderful photos! I’ve been fortunate to visit San Diego, Old Town, and Coronado Island quite a few times over the years as my husband often had a business convention there. It is a beautiful city! I was also impressed with the sand castles and the lighthouse. We also enjoyed Balboa Park.
I always wanted to visit San Diego but in all my trips to Califlornia I never made it there. Sigh. Love all your beautiful photography Sharon.
Great looking building.
If I ever get back to San Diego I would love to visit all these wonderful sights! We were there about seven or eight years ago and I fell in love with the city. It’s one of the few cities on this earth that I can say that about, as generally I hate cities and love the smaller towns and countryside. My parents had lived here with me as a new baby all those years ago (Dad as a young sailor) and I had always wanted to see San Diego. I was thrilled to find it so awesome!
Very creative and dynamic photos ~ love the Coronado ~ ^_^
Happy Day to you,
A ShutterBug Explores,
aka (A Creative Harbor)
I visited San Diego back in 2010, at the time I was working as an au-pair in San Francisco and traveled south for a few days. San Diego surprised me, I didn’t know I’d like it so much! I fell in love with the city and my favorite place was Hotel del Coronado. Thanks so much for bringing back all these memories!
I traveled to San Diego for business many times, and yet had limited opportunity to explore the city and all its treasures. Thanks for giving us such a thorough tour! I especially liked the sand castle!
Beautiful photos! One of my best friends moved to San Diego last year and I have yet to visit her! She recently told me it’s the 8th largest city in the US – I had no idea! I’m from the Midwest so I grew up without much knowledge of California, but these photos are gorgeous and I really just need to book a ticket to visit her!! Thanks for sharing!
Ah now you’ve gone and made me homesick! Im close(r), but still too far away for a visit! So many memories from family photos in front of both Hotel Coronado and the lighthouse! #WanderfulWednesday
These are my favorite places in San Diego, too. 🙂 I love how you included Torrey Pines and the Cabrillo lighthouse, most people I know who visit San Diego miss those… now I miss San Diego and the coast… maybe we’ll do the drive sometime next month. Gorgeous photos, Sharon! #WanderfulWednesday
It didn’t take long for San Diego to become one of my favorite cities in the US. We planned to visit Torrey Pines when we were there but we ran out of time. But now we have an excuse to go back, though I don’t really need one. We’ll definitely be going back. #wanderfulwednesday
I have to see Torry Pines. The rock formations look amazing!
Lovely pictures, Sharon. 🙂
That sandcastle is in a league all of its own. Greatbphotos.
My niece moved to San Diego a few years ago but before then I had never been. I’ve visited a few times now and I agree with you – it’s one of my favorite places. I especially love Coronado – and can’t go to San Diego without visiting it. Beautiful photos!
This post couldn’t be timed better! As you know we are heading to SD in a couple of months, and who wouldn’t want to visit a place frequented by Charlie Chaplin, and where Marilyn Monroe’s feet tred? Pinned for future research #feetdotravel
We’re planning a US Road Trip at the moment so this couldn’t have come at a better time. Great to have some recommendations from a local 🙂 Thanks for sharing!
San Diego was one of my favourite cities to visit when I travelled to Southern California. I love Old Town and the architecture of the old buildings. I am a big fan of the Mexican restaurants in the area.
Wow! I haven’t been to San Diego yet, but it’s definitely on my bucket list while I’m here. And now I know that I need to get to Coronado as well because I want to see that hotel firsthand! #TheWeeklyPostcard
San Diego is still one of my favorite trips and we didn’t do any of the things mentioned above. I’m seriously thinking that I need to go back now.
We went to San Diego last year, and Cabrillo was a fantastic afternoon. Tons of history, loads to see and do. We would definitely love to explore more of the city next time. We only had a couple of days, so we had to save things like Coronado for later! Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard!
Wow, San Diego looks a lot nicer than I thought it to be! I thought it was going to bland… Now I wouldn’t mind visiting 🙂 #wanderfulwednesday
I’ve never been to San Diego but it sounds like a great place to explore and it definitely deserves a place on my bucket list, Sharon. Thanks for the suggestions!
Thats the problem when you live somewhere, you have no excuse to stay in the fabulous hotel.. Luckily for us our Disney Vacation Club gives us access to the Del Coronado and I love staying there. The last time was taking my daughter and her friend college visiting and my daughter filled the day with’ stuf’f when all I wanted fo do was loll around the hotel pool! However the hotel is so lovely I have never ventured into San Diego itself, fool that I am. Beautiful photographs and lovely post. Thank you for sharing on #theweeklypostcard.
San Diego has been on my American travel bucket list for a while – your pictures are gorgeous! Torrey Pines looks like such a scenic hike! Thanks for the Inspiration
Beautiful pictures, Sharon! I love San Diego and feel blessed to live only a couple of hours away from it. We go there quite often. #TheWeeklyPostcard
I love San Diego! You do such a great job describing some awesome places to visit. I especially love your photos! #feetdotravel #weekendwanderlust
Guides by locals are always the best! Couldn’t decide which of this sights would I prefer to visit, probably all, hah
I love the shot of the tile steps!
Wonderful photos Sharon and its nice to learn a little more about San Diego. I think I’d really like Torrey Pines in particular for a good hike by the ocean. I could see San Diego being a great stop when I finally visit the USA.
I visited San Diego on a road trip 5 years ago and enjoyed it very much. The beaches were very different from the East Coast. #theweeklypostcard
I will be in the area next month.
We are going to San Diego soon, so I’m excited about all the info in this post. We really want to spend a day at Coronado Beach!
Hi, Jenn! You will love San Diego! If you want to meet for coffee, let me know. It would be fun to meet “in real life”!!