San Diego Top Attractions
Old fashioned gas lamps lead the way to the hottest scene in town. Rocking nightspots and a dazzling scene of restaurants give life to San Diego’s original historic downtown. Alonzo Horton’s 1867 New Town seemed doomed to the wrecking ball in the 1970’s, but a civic revitalization program transformed the dilapidated area into a showcase destination. By 1980, the Gaslamp Quarter was decreed a National Historic District with its quaint Victorian, Italian and Renaissance structures. On 4th, 5th and 6th between Broadway and the train tracks, noteworthy historic buildings include the Lawyers Block Building (1889), Balboa Theater (1924), Ingle Building (1906), Golden West Hotel (1913), Lester Hotel (1906), Royal Pie Bakery (1884), Horton Grand Hotel (1886), Grand Pacific Hotel (1887), Pioneer Warehouse Lofts (1919), Chinese Laundry (1923), Lincoln Hotel (1913), William Heath Davis House (1850), I.O.O.F Building (1882)
With its nautical museums, vintage ships and superb views across the harbor busy with ferries, battleships like The Midway and sailboats, the Embarcadero links the city to its ocean heritage. The Embarcadero welcomes visitors with its art displays, walkways, harbor cruises and benches on which to sit and enjoy the uninterrupted harbor activity. The Midway, Seaport Village, The Headquarters, Embarcadero Marina Park and Santa Fe Depot are highlights of the area. San Diego Police Headquarters (1939), Pantoja Park (1850), US Custom and Courthouse (1913)
Balboa Park and San Diego Zoo
Comprised of 1,200 acres, this is one of the finest urban parks in the world. Its famous zoo, 10 museums and the Botanical Garden offer endless activities. For over 100 years, Balboa Park has awed San Diegans with its romantic hillside setting, lush landscaping and splendid architecture. The parks magnificent Spanish architecture is from the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition. Spanish Village (1935), Natural History Museum (1933 + 2000), Casa de Balboa (1915), Botanical Building and Lily Pond (1915), San Diego Museum of Art (1926), Museum of Man (1915), Cabrillo Bridge (1914), House of Hospitality (1915 + 1935)
This idyllic community is recognizable throughout the world by the Hotel del Coronado. More retired Navy officers live here than any other place in the US. Thriving resorts, restaurants, sidewalk cafes and unique shops are great to experience. And its all just a ferry ride from Downtown. Hotel del Coronado (1888), Wilde Flats (1919), Coronado Library (1909), Rew-Sharp House(1918), Richards House (1902), Stephens House 1898), Glorietta Bay Inn/Spreckles Residence (1908)
One of the most recent neighborhoods to undergo revitalization is also one of San Diego’s oldest. Genoese fishing families were the first Italians to settle along the waterfront in the 1860’s. Along with Portuguese immigrants, they founded San Diego’s prosperous tuna industry. While retaining Bohemian character, Italian restaurants, antique and design stores, breweries and hip cafes distinguish its streets. City Dye Works (1930, San Diego Globe Grain& Milling Co (1909), Our Lady of Rosary Church (1923), County Administration Center ( 1936)
Old Town Historic Park
The Native Americans had occupied the San Diego region for centuries before the area known as Old Town became its first European-style city, a Spanish-influenced collection of buildings around a plaza. Early buildings include both adobe structures and wood frame houses. Two great Mexican food landmarks serving fresh, hot street-side tortillas are situated next to each other in the heart of Old Town. Old Town Café and Coyote Café will not disappoint those wishing to experience an authentic Mexican meal experience. Sierra Museum (1929), Silvas-McCoy House (1869), Light-Freeman House (1830), Heritage Park Victorian Village (1880’s-1890’s)
Point Loma Lighthouse
Old Point Loma Light—the first lighthouse to be erected in Southern California and one of the first eight lighthouses on the Pacific Coast, as distinguished from the present Point Loma Light—was constructed in 1851 and presently being preserved as a memorial. Not used for lighthouse purposes since 1891, the old tower, was set aside by President Wilson in 1913 as a national monument and is now cared for by the U.S. Park Service. The old tower was abandoned because it was situated 462 feet above the sea. At this unusual height, the light was often obscured by high fogs. A romantic error attributes Old Point Loma Light to Spanish origin. When it was built some old Spanish tiles were used in its cellar floorings.
The original Point Loma Lighthouse is the centerpiece of the Cabrillo National Monument. The monument honors Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. He was the first European to discover the San Diego Bay and chart the coast of California.
On a clear day, it’s worth a trip to the monument just for the views of San Diego and the ocean. Besides visiting the lighthouses, you can also go for a hike. You can also get a better view of the new lighthouse on your way to explore the tidepools at the beach, which are best at low tide in the winter.
Mission San Diego de Alcala
Father Junipero Serra established this Mission in 1769. The first of 21, this mission aimed to Christianize the Native Americans and affirm Spain’s presence in California. This is a California State Park. Margaritas, tacos, beer and freshly made tortillas are in abundance here.
La Jolla is a hilly, seaside community within the city of San Diego that occupies 7 miles of curving coastline along the Pacific Ocean. The community is surrounded on three sides by ocean bluffs and beaches. La Jolla is the location of Torrey Pines Golf Course, site of the PGA Tour event formerly known as the Buick Invitational. Nearby is the Torrey Pines Gliderport. Sit here on the bluffs and enjoy hang gliders and paragliders as they jump from the cliffs to the beach areas below. Beaches and ocean access include Windansea Beach, La Jolla Shores, La Jolla Cove and Children’s Pool Beach which is a small sandy beach at the end of Jenner Street that earned its name after the construction of a concrete breakwater in 1931. The Children’s Pool has become the subject of a controversial debate related to a growing colony of harbor seals which have inhabited the beach since the mid-1990s.
La Jolla is home to many educational institutions including the University of California San Diego (UCSD), the Salk Institute (founded in 1960 by Jonas Salk, the developer of the polio vaccine -Salk Institute employs 850 researchers that focus on molecular biology, genetics, neuroscience and plant biology), and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (part of UCSD). Enjoy walking the UCSD campus via pathways as you view the Stuart Collection. For an enriching self-guided tour, download the iPhone app which features videos explaining each piece from conception to installation of the 18 art pieces.
Performing Arts Venues – Choose from the Old Globe Theater, Lyceum Theater, Old Town Theater, Copley Symphony Hall, Spreckels Theater, Civic Theater, Humphreys by the Bay, Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park and La Jolla Playhouse.
Children’s Attractions – San Diego Zoo, Sea World, Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, Children’s Discovery Center at the Museum of Man, Wild Animal Park in Escondido, Legoland in Carlsbad and Birch Aquarium at Scripps (UCSD)
Getting to San Diego:
Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliners arrive at the historic Santa Fe Depot. About 11 trains travel daily to and from Orange County and Los Angeles Train Stations.
Car – I-5 passes along coastal towns, heads into downtown San Diego and continues to the International Border.
Traveling around downtown – No Car, No Problem: San Diego’s Other Modes of Transit
FRED: “Free Ride Everywhere Downtown,” or “FRED,” operates daily under a partnership between the city of San Diego, Civic San Diego and the Downtown San Diego Partnership. Initial funding of $500,000 came from downtown parking meter revenue managed by Civic San Diego. It operates between 7:00 AM and 9:00 PM (midnight on weekends). This free open-air car that resembles an oversized golf cart will escort you around town – for free! Just download the FRED app, choose your pickup, and off you go! There’s even an on-board cam for capturing your ride and sharing on social media. #TheFreeRide
The San Diego Trolley The Trolley is a light rail system consisting of 55 stations over 53 miles. The three lines—Green, Orange, and Blue—connect downtown with areas to the east and south. It’s a terrific way to get to or from downtown, Old Town, Mission Valley, or the airport (with a short bus connection) to outlying communities of Chula Vista, El Cajon, National City, and Santee.
Scooters/Bikes: There are numerous scooter and bike companies that have rentals thoughout the city. Follow the instructions on the bike or scooter to rent them. California law requires bicycle riders under 18 to wear a helmet. San Diego and bicycle companies encourage all riders to wear a helmet at all times, but they don’t provide one.