San Diego’s 27 Best Sights – Description and Photos

The 25 best sights in San Diego

San Diego is a modern American city located in California on the Pacific Ocean. It attracts tourists with beaches, museums, and parks.

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What to do in San Diego

Today San Diego is a big industrial center with a big tourist industry. People come here to see the marina, the waterfront, and to admire modern architecture and museums.

San Diego is a city of colorful festivals:

  • In mid-September, visitors are invited to the Beer Festival. The program includes beer tasting, mass festivities, a fair, concerts by local musicians, and fireworks.
  • In summer the international festival of comics starts. For four days, comics, manga, collectible toys and card games are on display in the streets, parks and squares. Visitors discuss webcomics, new TV series and movies, meet actors and buy souvenirs.
  • For Thanksgiving, San Diego hosts a jazz festival. The main venues play quality music performed by well-known and emerging musicians. You’ll hear ragtime, rockabilly, Dixieland, traditional jazz, and a real extravaganza of swing dancing.

The Pacific coast attracts fans of resort recreation. The beaches within the city are equipped with sun beds, changing rooms, and showers. On the shore are installed attractions, volleyball courts, swimming pools for kids.

Bathing season begins in May and lasts until mid-August. The rest of the time, the water is cold and suitable only for extreme athletes.

For families with children, San Diego offers many activities: walks in the parks, rides, interesting excursions. A storm of emotions will cause a zoo and an oceanarium. Young travelers will meet animals from different countries, watch performances with the participation of orcas and dolphins.

Points of Interest

Downtown San Diego

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Downtown San Diego has neighborhoods and streets that are home to major financial and cultural institutions. Posh mansions, skyscrapers, and hotels make a lasting impression on tourists. The shopping malls with fashion stores, cinemas, and exhibitions are enormously popular. In the business quarter there is a symphony and opera house, a conference hall, town hall, post office and courthouse.

Old Town

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The city’s oldest neighborhood, which originated at the founding of San Diego, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. An important landmark is the state park, built up with houses dating from 1820 to 1870. An old Catholic school, stables, the first newspaper office, a pipe and cigar store, and a blacksmith store have been preserved here.

The local park regularly hosts tours and exhibits dedicated to famous San Diego personalities. Old Town has many Mexican restaurants, antique stores, and hotels designed for people of all incomes.

Waterfront

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On the shore of the bay stretches a promenade with a pier along which cruise ferries and ferries are moored. Walking here, you can see the statue of “Sailor and Sailor Girl,” the monument to Vice Admiral Clifton Spragg, and the sculpture “Bob Hope Speaks to Veterans.

The waterfront is a favorite place for tourists and citizens. By the water are equipped with small cafes, souvenir stalls, there are benches. On the pier is the Maritime Museum, a collection of sailing ships, submarines and ships.

Gaslight Quarter

kvartal gasovih fonarei

A century ago, the Gaslamp Quarter was a brothel and brothel district. Today it’s the entertainment and nightlife center of San Diego, famous for its clubs, discos, and bars. Historic streets are paved with stone slabs. Nineteenth-century houses and elaborate gas lanterns line the roads. There are restaurants, art galleries, and contemporary art exhibits in the beautiful mansions.

El Prado

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El Prado Street, which crosses the center of the city, was formed at the beginning of the last century. There are buildings styled after the Spanish-colonial period, exhibitions and souvenir shops. In close proximity are the Cabrillo Bridge, the Alcázar Garden, the organ pavilion, and art and natural history museums. A stroll through El Prado allows you to experience San Diego’s historical past and is a must-see tour program for tourists.

Architectural landmarks

Casa de Estudillo

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The house, built by Spanish settlers in 1827, is a California National Historic Landmark. A magnificent example of Spanish architecture, it has a facade once topped by a dome and two wings. The rooms are arranged in sequence and connected by an outer corridor.

The Spanish estate gained popularity at the end of the last century after the publication of the novel “Ramona,” describing life in California and a similar homestead. Today, Casa de Estudillo houses a museum illustrating the life of Spanish planters.

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Johnson House.

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There is a small wooden house in Old Town, delivered to San Diego by ship in 1870. It belonged to the owner of the Colorado Steamboat Company, Captain George Alonzo Johnson. When the businessman went bankrupt and lost his ranch, his family moved into this house and lived here for a long time. These days, the building has been renovated and is on the city’s books. Inside, the century-old interior has been preserved and a gift store is open.

Hotel Cosmopolitan

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This large two-story Spanish Colonial-style structure was erected within the boundaries of the Old Town in 1829. For several years it housed a thriving hotel that rented rooms to travelers, but after the advent of the railroad there were few customers – the enterprise fell into disrepair.

The mansion changed hands several times. In 2010, the owner converted it into a new hotel and Mexican restaurant. The Cosmopolitan Hotel is furnished in the Spanish style. The friendly ghost of the Lady in Red is said to live here.

Cabrillo Bridge

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The arched bridge between the residential area of the city and Balboa Park was erected in 1914. It was inaugurated by Franklin D. Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy. It was he who made the first automobile crossing from one side to the other.

The structure of iron, concrete and wood is 140 meters long and 37 meters high and is designed for pedestrians and motor vehicles. From the Cabrillo Bridge you can see a gorgeous panorama of the green hills and main streets of San Diego.

San Diego-Coronado Bridge

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The five-lane bridge linking San Diego to Coronado Island was opened to traffic in 1969. The iron and concrete structure features graceful curves and spans 3.4 km in length. In 1970, the structure won a state award as the longest span bridge in America.

The supporting columns are painted in the Mexican style by local artists. In the evenings, the bridge is illuminated. Electricity generated by wind turbines is used for the LED lighting.

Temples

St. Nicholas Orthodox Church

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Founded in the first half of the last century by the Russian community, the church is the center of Orthodoxy in San Diego. The small, single-domed church is clad in decorative tiles. A massive wooden cross stands above the main entrance. The interior rooms are filled with light coming in through the large arched windows. Numerous icons hang on the walls.

San Diego Temple

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In 1993, the church of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints appeared in the city. The stately white Gothic-style building has two tall towers. Each is adorned with four small spires. At the top of the eastern tower is a statue of the Angel of Moroni, symbol of the movement of the Holy Last Days. The western and eastern facades are decorated with openwork stained glass windows. At dusk, the church is illuminated and looks extraordinarily beautiful.

Mission of San Diego de Alcalá

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The mission basilica in honor of the Catholic Saint Diego was founded by a Spanish monk and navigator in 1769. It was intended to convert pagans to the Christian faith and was the first on the coast. During the many wars the building was destroyed. Reconstruction began at the beginning of the last century.

The mission now serves as the parish Catholic church of the city. Its facade is adorned with five large bells, which ring powerfully during religious services and celebrations.

Museums

Aircraft Carrier Midway

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The longest U.S. aircraft carrier of the last century, the Midway, is moored at the waterfront pier. It is now a museum ship housing a collection of military aircraft. On the tour, tourists tour the engine room, cabins, galley, and pilot training rooms. Those wishing to do so go aboard the aircraft and use the flight simulator. All visitors are given an audio guide with stories told by Midway sailors.

Museum of Man

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The San Diego Museum of Anthropology has a fascinating collection that sheds light on the pre-Columbian era of Western America. The exhibits tell the story of Native American culture.

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Tourists are shown gold crockery of the King of the Incas, clay pots, weapons, and national clothing. Children-oriented exhibits show folk art, the beliefs of ancient people and their attitudes toward animals. An Egyptian exhibit with mummies, death masks, jewelry and ancient Egyptian costumes is displayed in a separate hall.

Natural History Museum

Musei estestvennoi istorii

The oldest museum in Southern California was founded by the San Diego Natural History Society in 1874. It preserves collections of minerals, gemstones, stuffed birds, mammals, and skeletons of prehistoric animals. In the botany department there is a large herbarium, in the entomological exhibition there are rare insects, including spiders. In addition to permanent exhibitions, the museum holds temporary exhibitions that tell the story of U.S. nature and the preservation of fauna and flora.

Museum of Contemporary Art

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The San Diego Museum of Art is dedicated to contemporary works of art. It contains thousands of objects created after the end of World War II. Popularly viewed are an exhibition of paintings by American artist Ellsworth Kelly, a collection of sculptures by Donald Judd, and installations by Robert Irwin. A separate exhibit is devoted to the work of California artists Ron Davis and Craig Kaufman.

Maritime Museum

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The Waterfront Maritime Museum is one of the most famous in San Diego. It displays a collection of historic U.S. naval vessels. Its gem is considered the Star of India. The 1863 sailing ship still runs regularly and is in excellent condition. The steam yacht Medea, the cutter Pilot, a replica of the San Salvador Galleon, the Soviet submarine Foxtrot, and the ferry Berkeley are moored next to it.

Natural attractions and activities

Coronado Island.

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San Diego Bay has Coronado Island, centered on the town of the same name. It is a popular California resort, attracting tourists with wide beaches, five-star hotels, restaurants, sports clubs, parks and gardens. Famous politicians, aristocrats, and artists love to rest on the island. Especially for them there was built the prestigious Hotel Del Coronado.

Balboa Park

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The park within the city occupies an area of 490 hectares and includes orchards, greenhouses, flower beds, ponds. There are museums, theaters, playgrounds, sports complexes, cafes and stores in the green area. Balboa Park is the main attraction of the city and region, designed for families. Modern attractions, a miniature railroad, a puppet theater, a botanical garden and a zoo await tourists.

Zoo

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Balboa Park is home to California’s largest zoo. Its staff is actively engaged in research and preservation of rare and endangered animals. The animals are kept in conditions, as close as possible to their natural habitat. The zoo animals include orangutans, African penguins, smoky leopards, crested porcupines, polar bears, and rhinoceros birds.

A guided tour bus travels through the zoo. And for a bird’s-eye view of the area, you can use the gondola cable car.

Belmont Park.

belmount park

There’s an oceanfront amusement park opened in 1925 by sugar magnate John D. Spreckels. It features dizzying rides, playgrounds and bars. The cult attraction is considered a roller coaster “Giant Bear” with a length of 250 meters and a height of 23 meters. In addition, guests can go down from a three-story suspension tower, take a ride on the Freedom Carousel, enter the rope park and the Gem Jungle.

Safari Park

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There is a 730-hectare safari park on the outskirts of San Diego. It is home to animals from Africa, Asia, America and Europe. Many of them are endangered. Buffalo, rhinoceros, giraffe, antelope and zebra graze on the pastures. Behind the glass wall there are tigers and lions.

In the “African jungle” is a nursery of monkeys and a special zone with climate control for tropical birds and insects. The safari park also breeds California condors. It is also home to the state’s largest veterinary hospital.

Oceanarium

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Half a century ago, the San Diego Bay Marine Mammal Park, which includes aquariums, water rides, an interactive playground, and an animal theater, began operating in San Diego Bay.

Visitors can see octopuses, leopard sharks, cuttlefish, moray eels, and giant sea turtles, as well as go on a roller coaster ride and try a helicopter flight simulator across the Arctic. The park is home to seals, killer whales, dolphins and sea lions. Every day they show interesting performances.

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San Onofre

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San Onofre Beach near San Diego was founded by Ronald Reagan in 1971. It’s one of the busiest beaches in California, stretching along the coast for 5.6 kilometers. There are sun loungers, sun awnings, volleyball courts, and pools for children.

Nearby is a surfing and sport fishing camp. Antiquities lovers combine a beach vacation with a visit to the village of the Achachemen Indian tribe, which is a sacred site for Native Americans.

Sunny San Diego is the best city on the California coast

The program for the western leg of the Grand Tour of the United States, “America. Ocean to Ocean” was a day trip from Los Angeles to San Diego. As usual, we saw a lot only from the bus window. There are fairly detailed descriptions of San Diego and its main attractions, I’ll just show you what you can see in this city in one day.

The distance from Los Angeles to San Diego is about two hundred kilometers. We drive, watching all sorts of vehicles overtaking us.

Sunny San Diego - Best City on the California Coast

The first stop is in the town of Garden Grove, about fifty kilometers from Los Angeles. I recommend it for sure as it is the most interesting church I have ever seen. This is Crystal Cathedral, until 2011 a Protestant church. In 2011, the building was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese. I read that after renovation, it will be the Cathedral of the Holy Cross of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, starting in 2017. More review separately, since the story here is about San Diego.

And there are so many interesting things outside the window! Here’s an erotic-looking structure – a nuclear power plant, and here’s a white marble San Diego California Temple – the main temple of the Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

I am not interested in matters of faith, in the U.S. it is useless to deal with it at all. In Page, I saw more than a dozen different churches standing in rows. I am interested in such unusual buildings in terms of architecture, after all, I am a builder by profession.

Sunny San Diego - Best City on the California Coast

We drove into San Diego through the La Joya area. Here is the campus of the University of California, San Diego, one of ten campuses of the University of California. We drove through its enormous grounds, the campus covers 490 hectares. It’s a whole city!

Founded in 1960, the university consists of six colleges and offers 125 bachelor’s degrees and 52 master’s degrees.

Sunny San Diego - Best City on the California Coast

The most interesting building in the complex is the Geisel University Library, built in 2008. It is named for the American children’s author Theodore Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, “for his generous contributions to the library and his desire to improve public literacy.” The building is considered one of the most beautiful libraries in the world.

We stopped by La Joya, a northwest San Diego neighborhood. It has no formal administrative status, but nevertheless its residents often refer to it as a city.

It is a resort on the Pacific Ocean. It is said that La Jolla has gathered all the wonderful things from the California coast: breathtaking landscapes (beautiful sandy beaches and peculiar rocks), luxurious hotels, fine restaurants, the best coffee in town, and… amazing sunsets. Unfortunately, we were only able to see for ourselves in a few positions: the scenery is really good!

Judging by the artist’s paintings, there are sunsets too!

Also in La Jolla, right in the San Diego city limits, is a rookery of seals. In 1931, a children’s beach was opened in La Joya on the money of philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps. They built breakwaters and equipped fences into the sea. The beach was given to the city on the condition that it would be in public use.

In the 1990s this part of the beach was taken over by seals. In 1997, the authorities said that the beach is not safe for swimming because of the high content of bacteria that enter the water with excrement. But despite this, people continue to use the beach. The struggle around the beach has been going on for several years.

Sunny San Diego - Best City on the California Coast

And there are animals like this running along the beach.

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La Jolla resembles a cozy European town, it is one of the richest, most beautiful and famous neighborhoods in San Diego. It is, indeed, the jewel of the Pacific Coast! (La Jolla means “the pearl” in Spanish).

Sunny San Diego - Best City on the California Coast

San Diego is a city in the very southwest of the United States, just 24 kilometers north of the Mexican border, which can be reached in 20 minutes by city streetcar. The modern history of San Diego dates back to September 28, 1542, when the first European, the Spanish conquistador and navigator Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, landed on the bay that was later named San Diego.

Sunny San Diego - Best City on the California Coast

San Diego’s earliest days are reminded by Old Town, an old town nestled at the base of Presidio Hill. Originally a Spanish fort and trading post. These days it’s a little piece of Spanish, Indian and Mexican culture.

Sunny San Diego - Best City on the California Coast

There are museums that tell about the city’s past. You cannot help but be transported back in time to two hundred years ago: the first church, the first cemetery, the first brick house, and even a Haunted House for thrill-seekers!

Sunny San Diego - Best City on the California Coast

The Old Town is home to the best Mexican restaurants, and it is said that only here you can taste the real “Margarita”.

Sunny San Diego - Best City on the California Coast

Here you can listen to Mexican music and see dancing. The old town is a great place for walks and family vacations. The sounds, smells, and atmosphere of this cozy town are very special!

Sunny San Diego - Best City on the California Coast

San Diego is the second most populous city in the state of California after Los Angeles. It’s one of the ten largest cities in the United States, ranking 8th on that list. Unfortunately, we almost didn’t see Downtown, just drove along the edge of the waterfront. Too bad, there are a lot of interesting things to see here. For example the Museum of Contemporary Art, the New Children’s Museum, the historic Gaslamp Quarter, and so much more!

Sunny San Diego - Best City on the California Coast

And now about what we saw. On the waterfront stands the historic San Diego City Hall, built in 1938. The Administration occupied it until 1964.

Opposite it is the San Diego Maritime Museum. established in 1948. It has one of the largest collections of historic maritime vessels in the United States. Ships from different eras are on display here – from sailing ships to the Soviet diesel submarine B-39, it’s not clear how they ended up here. Unfortunately, we only saw it all from the bus window.

The collection includes the Berkeley ferry, built in 1898. It sailed in the San Francisco Bay: passengers were accommodated at the top, and vehicles, including streetcar cars, for which rails were specially made, were driven down. In a single voyage, the Berkeley carried more than 600 people. The ferry is now home to exhibitions devoted to the U.S. Navy and San Diego’s maritime history. To the right of the ferry stands the submarine Dolphin, the only diesel research submarine used in the United States (not combat).

The famous English barque Star of India, launched in 1863, is still in serviceable condition. “The Star of India plowed the waters of the Indian Ocean; was scuffed by ice in the Bering Sea while attempting the Northern Sea Route in 1919; made regular voyages between Great Britain and New Zealand, and sailed 15 times around Cape Horn. It is the longest regular route in the history of navigation. The ship has made more than 30 long voyages – a year or more at a time.

Each of the ships is a separate museum – you can walk around and see the conditions in which the sailors were.

To the right of the museum is a pier of cruise ships, which perform local cruises and are also rented for various parties, celebrations and other entertainment.

Sunny San Diego - Best City on the California Coast

And to the left is the pier for more substantial cruise ships. There were almost twins standing there that day.

Sunny San Diego - Best City on the California Coast

We were dropped off at the Aircraft Carrier Museum Midway. It is the only remaining American aircraft carrier of the World War II era. After that it was heavily involved in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm. There is a naval aviation museum on its deck. I’ll tell you right off the bat, I didn’t go there. There wasn’t much time, and the entertainment was more “for the boys”.

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And I went to see San Diego’s most popular tourist sculpture. “Unconditional Surrender” is a creation of the famous American artist and sculptor Seward Johnson, made of aluminum and Styrofoam. It was installed temporarily in 2007, but I understand it is still standing. It is based on Alfred Eisenstadt’s famous photograph taken in Times Square, New York, on the day of the Japanese surrender (August 14, 1945). For many Americans, this photo has become a symbol of the end of World War II.

There are many different monuments and memorials dedicated to sailors in the Harbor Park area. For example, the “Homecoming” sculpture by American sculptor Stanley Bliefeld. It is his “Lone Sailor” that stands in many cities in the United States. There is also a monument to the fallen sailors of the U.S. Navy and others related to military themes.

Sunny San Diego - Best City on the California Coast

On shore is a sculpture dedicated to American comedian Bob Hope, a favorite of the military. During his career, he often performed for U.S. troops in areas of military conflict (Korea, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia), for which he received the title of Honorary Veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Sunny San Diego - Best City on the California Coast

We went to the nearby Seaport Village complex for lunch.

Sunny San Diego - Best City on the California Coast

The waterfront recreates the harbor as it was over a century ago. Seaport Village consists of buildings of many different architectural styles, from Victorian to traditional Mexican. It is a pedestrian zone, with winding paths between the buildings, a working fountain, and lots of flowers. Everything is tourist-oriented, especially since there is a cruise ship pier nearby. There are more than seven dozen different stores, galleries and restaurants for every pocket. It is a nice place. It’s nice to walk or just sit and gawk at the crowd.

Sunny San Diego - Best City on the California Coast

The number of dogs of all kinds was surprising.

Sunny San Diego - Best City on the California Coast

Balboa Park, the main attraction of San Diego and the pride of its residents, we can say we did not see. The citizens call the park the “green heart” of San Diego. We drove along El Prado, a wide avenue that runs through the center of the park. Most of the park’s attractions are located in this alley, and there are quite a few of San Diego’s major museums: the Museum of the People, the Museum of Art, the Museum of Photographic Art, the Model Railroad Museum, the Natural History Museum, and many others.

Each building on this avenue is also a work of art, most in the style of Spanish colonial architecture. There are many small gardens as part of the park. Looking at the glimpses of beauty outside the window, one had only to get frustrated. Balboa Park alone is worth the trip to San Diego for.

Sunny San Diego - Best City on the California Coast

I really liked the architecture of San Diego’s residential buildings, the city looked very clean, comfortable and green.

Sunny San Diego - Best City on the California Coast

The last item on our program was Coronado. Let’s not speculate now about whether it’s an island or a peninsula, but I’ve already found out that it’s both right. Most importantly, Coronado is a wealthy resort town located in San Diego County, five kilometers from downtown San Diego. It is a true resort paradise in a metropolis of millions. It is home to San Diego’s city beaches, the best hotels, and the best restaurants.

San Diego and Coronado are connected by the Coronado bridge , construction of which began in 1967 and the traffic was opened in 1969. The total length of the bridge is 3,407 meters and its height is 61 meters, allowing large liners and warships to enter the harbor. The peculiarity of the bridge is that almost in the middle the bridge turns 90 degrees.

So only from such a bridge you can take this picture.

From the bridge we looked at the panorama of San Diego.

The main attraction in Coronado is, of course, the Hotel Del Coronado, which was built in 1888. It is one of the largest wooden hotels in America and is listed as a U.S. National Monument.

Most people know this hotel because it was where the famous comedy “All the Girls Are in Jazz” was filmed and the sight of the hotel full of millionaires periodically flashes on the screen.

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