Even many of those that have lived in San Diego for years have not seen all of its wonderful sites. San Diego has a rich military history and is a border city. It has an amazing park and is abundant with museums. The following are just a few of the choice sites of San Diego not to be missed.
1. Maritime Museum of San Diego
Situated along the San Diego waterfront on Harbor Drive, beneath sleek downtown high-rise buildings is the Maritime Museum of San Diego. The history of San Diego is tied to the sea, and the collection of the Maritime Museum features vessels that illustrate seaport activities from the world over. The Maritime Museum appeals to visitors of every type.
Whether your interest is to learn more about maritime history or you just have a thing for really cool ships, you are certain to enjoy exploring the Maritime Museum of San Diego. What makes this museum particularly appealing and special is the fact that it has 5 different ships that you can go onto and explore. These ships range from an old-fashioned yacht, a 19th century exploration ship and submarines.
The Maritime Museum of San Diego does not even give off the typical museum-in-a-building feel, seeing as it is spread out along the San Diego harbor, inside various ships.
The museum is housed in one of the world’s finest collections of historic ships, with the majestic and iconic Star of India docked in downtown San Diego on the beautiful waterfront.
The Star of India is the oldest active sailing ship in the world. During her lengthy maritime career, this sturdy iron ship hauled freight to India from England, and also carried immigrants to New Zealand from England. It also packed salmon in the Bering Sea. The Star of India was fully restored in 1976 and is today maintained to illustrate her role as an immigrant ship.
During your tour of the Star of India, you will be shocked by the 20th century living quarters that the immigrants who were sailing to a new life from England to New Zealand had to contend with.
There are many ships to see at the museum, although some stand out in the minds of visitors as their favorites. Other ships you can admire at the Maritime Museum include The Berkeley, The Californian and the submarines.
The Berkeley is an 1898 Victorian-style steam ferryboat that carried passengers on the San Francisco Bay between 1898 and 1973. This elegant, 19th century landmark has the wooden benches in the restored main passenger decks illuminated through stained glass windows. The lower deck houses displays and a model ship-building workshop.
The opulent Medea steam yacht is just the ship to board and explore for those who may be curious as to how the wealthy sailed around during the early 1900s.
Visitors to the Maritime Museum can also squeeze and wriggle their way through submarines such as the Soviet-era B-39 and the American USS Dolphin. The B-39 is a diesel-electric submarine that was commissioned during the early 1970s by the Soviet Navy, and which served for over 20 years on active duty.
With this tour, you will quickly learn just how cramped life underwater can be, as you navigate the narrow hallways and climb through circular holes to get from one room to the next. You will also encounter a working periscope that is very neat to look through.
The Californian is the official tall ship of the State of California which was built in 1984. The ship is a replica of an 1847 vessel that brought law and order to the coast of California during the Gold Rush. The Pilot is a ship that was used to transfer harbor pilots to incoming ships. The boat had the longest career of any working boat in the Western hemisphere, which spanned the years 1914 to 1996.
The museum encourages hands on experiences. Visitors can go sailing, whale watching or simply cruise around the bay on many of the museum’s ships. The museum also houses a world renowned research library and a retail shop with many souvenirs for sale, as well as academic and historic books.
Some of the exhibits hosted at the museum include the Age of Steam, the Age of Sail, San Diego’s Navy, Harvesting the Ocean and Charting the Sea. There are also rotating and seasonal exhibits as well. During your tour, you will learn how the ships were used in the past for exploration and for battle.
The Maritime Museum of San Diego hosts a range of special events on a regular basis such as the Festival of Sail which is held every 3 years. During this event, a tall ship armada joins the historic vessels at the Maritime Museum, as the waterfront comes alive with mock cannon battle cruises, tall ship parades and plenty of dockside entertainment.
2. La Jolla
Situated a 20-minute drive north of downtown San Diego, “La Jolla” is Spanish for “the jewel”, a fitting name for an attractive town ringed with beautiful blue waters. La Jolla is one of the prettiest Oceanside towns in California, and home to several of the best beaches in the state.
When people say San Diego has great beaches, what they really mean is that La Jolla has great beaches. La Jolla Shores, La Jolla Cave and Windansea are not only the best in San Diego but perhaps even the best in the entire state.
In fact, La Jolla Shores may be the most beautiful in California with its wide, gently sloping beach and panoramic views. A sunset or morning walk here is enough to relax even the most stressed out. Your walk will be even better when the tide is going out, leaving a mirror-like water layer to coat the sand.
Take the steps that go down next to 1298 Prospect where you can enjoy a private walk with places to sit and enjoy the view. Follow the wooden fence behind the entrance to the cave, and then walk along the dirt path. You will find a few people here, but you will not be alone as a large colony of cormorants and seagulls inhabit the cliff face below.
If you are planning the perfect southern California vacation, look no further than La Jolla. This popular San Diego destination offers plenty of activities for visitors including cultural institutions, outdoor activities and more. There’s something for everyone who goes to explore this beach town.
La Jolla offers a broad spectrum of activities from casual fine dining, to museums, art galleries and one-of-a-kind boutiques, not to mention the slew of fun outdoor activities.
Go on a self-guided tour and visit the art galleries, the Sunny Jim sea cave, the La Jolla waterfront and the hidden mermaid statue. Take a stroll and do some window-shopping in boutiques that line Prospect Avenue and the side streets running into it. If you enjoy the theatre, the La Jolla Playhouse is worth a visit.
Popular with outdoor adventurers who go to kayak, dive or surf here, La Jolla also boasts well-groomed hiking trails that offer spectacular views. Go hiking through the trails of Torrey Pines. Bring a picnic lunch to Scripps Park which lies along the dramatic coastline. Here you can also enjoy concerts under the stars.
La Jolla is also a top foodie destination, with some of the best-rated restaurants in San Diego. The town is home to a number of top-notch restaurants, many of which serve excellent cuisines. Go here to enjoy fine dining opportunities with spectacular ocean views.
La Jolla also hosts a series of annual events you should know about. The La Jolla Festival of the Arts is one of California’s top rated art festivals, which is held in late June. Also attend the La Jolla Concerts by the Sea for free concerts which are held every Sunday from June through August.
That said the biggest draw for tourists and locals alike in La Jolla are its beaches. Go here to swim, snorkel, scuba dive and surf. Also explore the tide pools and coves along La Jolla Shores. All in all, La Jolla is simply a great place to just go and relax. With its dramatic coastline that boasts spectacular views, it’s no wonder that La Jolla is one of California’s most popular beach destinations.
Surrounded on 3 sides by the sea, and backed by Mount Soledad’s steep slopes, the coastal profile and quaint village lifestyle of La Jolla evokes a Mediterranean feel. With a unique microclimate coupled with unmatched natural beauty, the casual vibe and world-class attractions, La Jolla certainly lives up to its nickname as San Diego’s “jewel by the sea”.
3. Carlsbad Flower Fields
Each year, southern California ushers in the spring season with a very special attraction – the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch. One of southern California’s most unique attractions, and an annual rite of ushering in spring, the Flower Fields feature a dazzling rainbow of splendid Ranunculus flowers set on a hillside overlooking the striking coastline.
The Carlsbad Flower Fields are quite a sight for sore eyes if you’re driving north of San Diego, as you are dazzled by hillsides awash in brilliant colors. The Flower Fields are a throwback to a different era in the region of San Diego. The working flower farm comprises a 50-acre swath of blossoms, covered in yellow, purple, orange, green and red. The Flower Fields are located in Carlsbad, north of downtown San Diego.
While the fields may look like a botanical garden – they are not. This is the location of a grower of Giant Ranunculus bulbs. Because the flowers these bulbs produce are so beautiful, people go to admire them. This creates a temporary tourist attraction at every spring.
The Carlsbad Flower Fields main attraction is the pretty Giant Ranunculus flowers, with their vibrant colors and dense petals. The Ranunculus flowers come into full bloom in March and April, when they unveil their rose-like petals. The flowers splash the hillsides in a rainbow of colors. It is during these two and a half months of spring that the fields are open to the public.
In addition to the beautiful show of blossoms in the Fields, there is a Miniature Rose Garden, a maze of sweet pea and poinsettia greenhouse, as well as a display that features each of the 180-plus All-American Rose selection winners since 1940.
In addition to the vivid color bands, visitors can also enjoy rides on tractor driven wagons, or stroll through a massive greenhouse filled with the world famous Ecke poinsettias. You can also navigate the pathways of a sweet pea maze and enjoy the numerous varieties of themed gardens.
Take a leisurely stroll along the field pathways that offers you the opportunity of experiencing colorful bands of the Ranunculus flowers up close, as well as enjoy breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. A walk through the dirt fields on the hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the distance makes for a very pleasant experience. Be sure to bring your camera to take wonderful pictures of the colorful blooms.
Go here to take in the beauty of flowers. The Flower Fields make for a great spot to go for a day out, have a picnic and enjoy the beautiful weather of southern California. Picnic tables are available for the convenience of visitors. Throughout the season, the Flower Fields also host a series of Special Events which are designed to entertain visitors of every type.
The flowers are also available for sale as stems. Visitors can also purchase Flower Fields brand products at its store which is located on site.
4. Museum of Contemporary Art
Situated on Kettner Boulevard, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego provides access to the best of western art of our time within two great locations: at La Jolla and in Downtown San Diego.
The downtown site captures the vibrancy and energy of the city, with its site-specific installations, and soaring exhibition spaces that formerly housed the baggage building of the Santa Fe Depot.
The museum offers a unique variety of experiences for the San Diego community, by showcasing a collection that is internally recognized, in addition to hosting an ever-changing schedule of public programs and exhibitions.
One of the highlights of the museum is San Diego’s most creatively lit stairwell with installations. Visitors to the museum can also enjoy an evening of art, music and cocktails on Thursday nights.
The Museum’s location in La Jolla is in Prospect Street and one of the highlights to watch out for is the outdoor Sculpture Garden. Visitors can also browse the museum’s X-Store which features one-of-a-kind gifts including books, jewelry, home décor and more.
Whether you opt to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art’s location in Downtown San Diego or at La Jolla, you will find the same things: world-class art in rotating exhibitions and interesting public programs. You will also fine works from the permanent collection of the museum by promising and emerging talent, as well as major figures of the international contemporary art scene.
5. San Diego Air & Space Museum
Situated in Pan American Plaza, the San Diego Air & Space Museum is the setting in which science, space and the history of aviation unfold.
The museum is California’s official air and space museum which holds a collection of historic spacecraft and aircraft from all across the globe, including the actual Apollo 9 Command Module spacecraft; a flyable replica of Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis; and the world’s only real GPS satellite on display.
It is noteworthy that the Apollo 9 Command Module was actually flown in space, while thee replica of the Spirit of St. Louis was built by some of its original designers.
The San Diego Air & Space Museum features interactive exhibits such as MaxFlight simulators in addition to dynamic and hands-on temporary exhibitions. The museum also hosts Balboa Park’s first 3D/4D Theater and the Flight Path Grill of the Alaska Airlines.
The museum has also featured a special exhibit to commemorate the 70 anniversary of the ending of the Second World War. The exhibit showcases a rare collection of items from the war’s early days from both the Pacific and European theaters, through the conflict’s end to the rebuilding that ensued around the world following the end of the war.
The museum also boasts the second biggest aviation library and archive in the United States. Also worth a visit is the Pavilion of Flight, which is the venue for most of the San Diego Air & Space Museum’s events.
6. Heritage Park
A world away from the rustic atmosphere of Old Town San Diego, Heritage Park is a Victorian village situated on a hillside, just off Juan Street. The unique and scenic Heritage Park takes visitors back to an era of a primmer San Diego and is dedicated to preserving the Victorian architecture of the city.
Following the end of the Second World War, downtown San Diego experienced a series of expansions that threatened its historic structures with demolition if they remained on their original sites. However, public and private funds paid to acquire, relocate and restore the buildings at the location that is now Heritage Park.
The Heritage Park village comprises 7 structures of classic Victorian architecture restored to their original glory on a grassy green and peaceful setting. This picturesque slice of San Diego is well worth discovery if you are in the mood to take a quiet stroll back in time.
Two buildings worth seeing in particular at Heritage Park are the Sherman-Gilbert House and the McConaughy House.
The Sherman-Gilbert House was built in 1887 and was the setting of receptions for internationally famous entertainers by the Gilbert sisters who were patrons of art and music. Artur Rubinstein played piano here, while Anna Pavlova danced in the music room.
Similarly built in 1887, the McConaughy House features the Old Town Gift Emporium held every Thursday to Tuesday, which specializes in Victorian porcelain dolls.