San Diego Local Life

The Best San Diego Neighborhoods for Nature Lovers

People flock to San Diego for its natural beauty and year-round enjoyable weather. Whether it’s simply spending time relaxing in the sun, taking advantage of the legendary surf, or the pride of reaching the peak of a local mountain, San Diego offers many incredible outdoor experiences despite its place among the country’s most impressive metropolitan sprawls.

We’ve compiled a list of the best neighborhoods for anyone who wants to spend some quality time with Mother Nature.

Little Italy

Balboa Park Little Italy
Balboa Park, San Diego / Photo by Daniel David Graciano /

Since Little Italy lays adjacent to the greater downtown area, it may seem like an unlikely choice for someone looking to escape the sights, sounds, and smells of the city for a more peaceful environment, but this neighborhood actually offers a wide variety of outdoor spaces.

Beyond access to the ocean and several parks, Little Italy offers residents trolley access, boutique shopping, art galleries, craft breweries, easy access to some of the city’s freeways and some of the best fresh handmade pasta in the entire city.

Spots to check out:
  • Waterfront Park: This recently installed park connects Little Italy to the harbor by means of a long thin park with tons of grass, a massive playground, and fountains you can cool off in during the hot summer months.
  • Balboa Park: You can’t talk about going outside in San Diego without at least mentioning what has been crowned as San Diego’s most beloved greenspace complete with hiking trails, a cactus garden, and acres of grass for summer night picnics.
  • Amici Bocce Ball Court: Located at the corner of Union and State Street, Amici Park is home to the neighborhood bocce ball court as well as a dog park and a small amphitheater where locals frequently gather.
  • Little Italy Farmers Market: Every Saturday nature comes to Little Italy from all over the county where San Diego’s best open-air market is held on a weekly basis.

Pacific Beach

Pacific Beach Boardwalk
Pacific Beach, San Diego / Photo by bonandbon /

While Pacific Beach (“PB” to locals) is famous for its loud and neon-bright nightlife that draws college kids from the area's three large universities, this coastal community is so much more than that. By day it's home to empanada shops, boutique clothing stores, more than its fair share of taco joints, and miles of glorious Pacific Ocean shoreline. 

Spots to check out:
  • Mission Bay Park: This massive park is over 4000 acres, equally divided between the land and the sea. On the shore, you’ll find beaches, picnic spots, basketball courts, and miles of biking trails. The water provides some of the best paddle boarding and windsurfing spots in San Diego.
  • Mission Bay Pacific Beach Boardwalk: The paved 3-mile boardwalk connects PB to its southern neighbor, Mission Beach. It provides an easy way to walk or bike for anyone wanting to enjoy the beach without getting sandy.
  • Pacific Beach: Not only does Pacific Beach have some of the city’s best surfing spots, but the boardwalk is peppered with coffee shops and lunch counters for a quick refuel after a long day on the water.

La Jolla

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve / Photo by Sandra Foyt /

Blame it on the gorgeous ocean views from the cliffs that tower over the Pacific, or the enchanting atmosphere as you stroll along the village streets lined with specialty shops, bakeries, and luxurious seafood restaurants. Whatever the reason, La Jolla has long been considered one of San Diego’s most desirable neighborhoods.

La Jolla is also one of the city’s most popular destinations for any outdoor experience that has anything to do with the ocean, especially kayaking. Spots to check out:

  • Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve: This California State Park is a popular hiking and swimming spot known for its preserved beauty. It’s not uncommon to see dolphins enjoying this particular section of the surf just as much as local swimmers and surfers.
  • Black’s Beach: This secluded and hard-to-reach beach sits below La Jolla’s hand glider port. Since you have to hike down and back out, it is often considerably less crowded than other local beaches, which has made it popular with both surfers and nudists. If that doesn’t bother you, you’re likely to catch some of the city’s least crowded waves.
  • The Tide Pools at Dike Rock: Visible only at low tide and located just north of the Scripps Pier, the tide pools are a close up look at a tiny percentage of the wildlife living off La Jolla shores.

San Carlos

Mission Trails Regional Park
Mission Trails Regional Park / Photo by Jim Shelton /

San Carlos sits in the foothills where San Diego melts into East County at the base of the Cowles and Fortuna Mountains. This quiet, somewhat lesser-known community is made up almost entirely of single-family homes and condominiums, along with schools and other suburban amenities.

Beyond housing, the second-most ubiquitous aspect of this neighborhood is outdoor spaces that pull enthusiasts from all over San Diego County and beyond. 

Spots to check out:
  • Mission Trails Regional Park: Mission trails is where hikers come to conquer the mountain and get a 360-degree view of San Diego County from the top of Cowles Mountain.
  • Lake Murray: While it might pale to its larger, taller neighbor, Lake Murray has little league fields, a 6.5-mile out-and-back hike around three-quarters of the reservoir, and a well-shaded playground.
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