Skip the Tourist Traps, Consider These 10 San Diego Attractions

San Diego is certainly a popular place to visit when in Southern California. That often means that when visitors come to town, locals end up taking them to the same old places. While there’s nothing wrong with Old Town, the Gaslamp District, Hotel Del Coronado, and the San Diego Zoo, there is so much more to see around the region. 

Maybe next time you’re in town or your family comes to visit, take a walk off the beaten path and discover some new attractions. It’s a chance to see the San Diego that so many locals appreciate.

Courtesy of San Diego Parks

Heritage County Park

Adjacent to Old Town and free to the public, Heritage Park features the city’s first synagogue, Temple Beth Israel. There’s also a serene hiking trail that ends at the top of a hill with views of the green park below. You can also explore several restored Victorian homes, including the Senlis Cottage, which you can walk through. Just watch where you’re walking because it’s also a popular wedding photo site. You don’t want to accidentally end up in someone’s special moment.

Mormon Battalion Historic Site 

Another free stop on the “hidden tour” of San Diego, the Mormon Battalion Historic Site offers an interactive experience along with documentary-style footage, showing a group of Latter-day Saints march their way from Iowa to San Diego after joining the U.S. Army. The tour concludes with a complimentary antiquated visitor’s photo and a chance to pan for gold (you almost certainly won’t find any, but it’s the experience that counts).

La Jolla Cove

If you’re fascinated by marine life, La Jolla Cove is the spot for you. Surrounded by the La Jolla cliffs and protected as part of the San Diego La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve, it’s full of marine animals, making it an ideal spot for scuba divers, snorkelers, and swimmers to spend the day. If you’re not a strong swimmer, consider sticking to the beaches as the swells here can get big. You can still keep an eye out for the hundreds of sea lions that call La Jolla Cove home.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve 

Designated a national landmark in 1977, this wild stretch of land on the Southern California coast in La Jolla is comprised of 2,000 acres of lagoon, cliffs, and trails. Fifteen hundred acres of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve were kept in tact as San Diego developed, including miles of unspoiled beaches and the maritime chaparral. Because it's a reserve and not a park, the dog will have to stay home for this trip.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

Located in Balboa Park by Cortez Hill, the San Diego Air & Space Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, has interactive exhibits and a 3D/4D movie theater. It’s also the home of the actual Apollo 9 Command Module spacecraft as well as a working replica of Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis in addition to artifacts from Amelia Earhart, the Wright Brothers, Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin. Their exhibit, “American Women of Flight” honors the contributions of women to the world of aviation.

Birch Aquarium at Scripps  

The Birch Aquarium offers up over 60 habitats, more than 5,000 fish, and a museum that showcases the latest in scientific research from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Get there in the spring and step inside the Infinity Cube, which helps visitors better understand the role of bioluminescence. The aquarium’s hilltop site also provides a view of not only the Scripps campus but the Pacific Ocean beyond it.

Courtesy of NatesKatesTV / YouTube

San Diego Model Railroad Museum

People come to Balboa Park for all sorts of reasons, but they might skip over one of the most interesting spots located within. Located in the lower level of the Casa de Balboa building, this 28,000 square-foot indoor operating model railroad museum is the world’s largest. It contains four models and enormous scale layouts as well as its own library. Check out the Centennial Railway Garden exhibit, which was built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Balboa Park in 2015.

Spend the Day in Hillcrest

Traditionally the LGBTQ epicenter of San Diego, Hillcrest is also home to scores of restaurants serving up food from around the globe. There are also plenty of second-hand clothing shops and home decor stores worth perusing. If you happen to be there on Sunday, make time for the Hillcrest Farmers Market for some great food, beautiful flowers, and fresh produce.

Courtesy of TripAdvisor

Sunset Cliffs National Park 

Bordering the western edge of Point Loma and stretching along the Pacific Ocean, Sunset Cliffs National Park has 50 acres of hillside, which links to the Point Loma Ecological Reserve. There’s also 18 acres of flat, walkable land just to the west of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. On a lucky day, you just may see whales migrating or dolphins heading down the coast. 

Black’s Beach

Black’s Beach offers two experiences. It takes an adventurous and sometimes-challenging hike to get to this two-mile long secluded beach. Once there, you get to marvel at the ocean from atop 300-foot cliffs. Make room for the hang gliders and paragliders using it as a starting point. Though quiet, it still has permanent and patrolled lifeguard stations. Also, don’t let the name confuse you, as this beach is considered part of Torrey Pines State Beach.

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