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San Diego County, California can probably claim it has more tourist attractions than any other area in the country. As a result, many great attractions are often overlooked. The pictures above represent a sampling of attractions that deserve more attention. If you are looking for something new to see, select one of the picture tabs above or start exploring the attractions by the locations or themes listed in the sidebar to the right and find yourself a new adventure. Enjoy your travels!
You have probably heard about San Diego County’s great weather, 70-miles of beautiful beaches, the world-famous San Diego Zoo, and SeaWorld. That’s great for those who want a laid-back vacation to rest and rejuvenate while making time to visit a major attraction or two. But did you know San Diego is even a better destination for those who want an active vacation or a unique vacation to tell the friends back home?
Top 10 Reasons San Diego is more than just a Leisure Destination
#10. Pan for gold and then enjoy warm apple pie in the historic mountain town of Julian. Following the glitter of the gold rush years, Julian turned to growing apples, which won international recognition. Today, Julian is a favorite destination for visitors who want to fill up on comfort food after hiking in the local mountains, enjoy wine tasting at a local winery, and browse through shops reminiscent of the Old West. Learn about Attractions in Julian .
#9. View the sparkle of gems when you visit one of the richest sources of tourmaline ever found in the world. The tourmaline found in the Pala area is famous for its pink & green colors. One particular piece of stunning pink tourmaline is on display at the Smithsonian. Today, you too can find a special piece of tourmaline in an active mine, take a tour of a mine, or learn about the history of tourmaline at the Fallbrook Gem & Mineral Museum. Get more information about Gem & Mineral Attractions.
#8. Meet the patriots of past and present while learning about the biggest military town in the world. Most visitors will never notice the military’s presence in San Diego. However, if they know where to look, they will see where the movie Top Gun was filmed, up to three aircraft carriers, and the Boot Camp for all Marines living west of the Mississippi River. The area’s strong ties to the military go back to the dawn of aviation. Today, you can visit over a dozen museums to learn how San Diego became home to more active duty military members and veterans than any other place in the country, the history of military battles and their social impacts from the time of the Mexican-American War to the present, and the technology created in San Diego from rockets and unmanned drones to the wireless technology in your cell phone. Learn more about Military Attractions.
#7. Dare yourself to fly like a bird while exploring the history of aviation. The San Diego Airport, the first federally chartered airport in the nation, is also known as Lindbergh Field. Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis was designed and built in San Diego before it took off on its record breaking journey. (Charles Lindbergh also set a distance record for motorless flight when he glided off San Diego’s Mount Soledad.) San Diego is home to the first heavier-than-air manned flight in 1883 and is known as the birthplace of Naval Aviation. Today you can learn about the history of aviation at the San Diego Air & Space Museum and then dare yourself to paraglide off beach cliffs and fly sailplanes above the mountains and desert.
#6. Smell the Flowers and Listen to the Birds. From the National Wildlife Refuges along the Coast to the National Park Forest in the Mountains to the nation’s largest State Park Desert, San Diego County is home to more varieties of flowers and species of birds than any other region. San Diego is also the largest producer of floriculture in the nation. For example, fifty percent of all holiday poinsettias sold in the world get their start in San Diego. Dozens of attractions will get you closer to nature during your vacation in San Diego. Explore Flower Garden Attractions & Wildlife Attractions.
#5. Transport yourself back over 250 million years of history covering geography and paleontology to anthropology. For starters, seaside cliffs, canyons, hilltop mesas, mountains, and rugged desert make San Diego a visually appealing destination. The volcanic activity and resulting sediments in the area provide one of the richest deposits of fossils found in the world. This history is documented and displayed at numerous attractions including the San Diego Natural History Museum and the Elephant Odyssey Exhibit at the San Diego Zoo.
Next, we have the first settlers, the Indians, who trace their roots in the area back 8,000 years. They continue to have a strong presence in San Diego, which is home to the largest number of Indian casinos in California, enabling them to preserve and promote their culture in museums and through community events.
Fast forward to the past 200+ years and you will learn San Diego is the oldest city on the West Coast, was ruled by Spain (both the first and the largest of the Spanish Missions in California are in San Diego) and then Mexico before becoming a part of the United States. As European settlers headed west, San Diego played an important role in the Butterfield Stage Coach Trail and served as the western terminus of the Santa Fe Railroad. Today, you can visit Cabrillo National Monument where the first Europeans arrived in 1542, check out an original Butterfield Stage Coach station as well as the Wells Fargo Stage Coach Museum, and see historic trains and take rides at several train museums.
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#4. Imagine yourself as a Hollywood Star when you find your favorite Hollywood Spots and Props. San Diego lost the battle to be the movie producing capital of the world as the industry slowly moved from San Diego to Los Angeles in the early days of filmmaking. But, don’t be surprised if you come across film crews during your visit. San Diego is still a favorite destination for producers filming not only movies but also TV series and reality shows.
Relive movie history when you visit the archives at the Hotel del Coronado where Marilyn Monroe was filmed in ‘Some Like It Hot’, tour the boats used in Steven Spielberg’s Amistad and Russell Crowe’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World at the San Diego Maritime Museum, check-out the industrial equipment used in movies like Mulholland Falls, L.A. Confidential, and Wild Bill at the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum, and visit the sites of your favorite movies scenes from movies like Top Gun and Anchorman. During July and August, you get the added bonus of attending the Del Mar Horse Races, started by the late Hollywood Stars Bing Crosby, Jimmy Durante, and Pat O’Brien, which is still the place to see and be seen. Check out Attractions Seen in the Movies.
#3. Explore the Animals of the Sea. San Diego is the hub of oceanic research. Founded over 100 years ago, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography is the world’s preeminent center for ocean and earth research. (They are also the ones who developed the first wetsuit.) And, for nearly 50 years, the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute has been addressing the issues that arise between human activity and the natural world. Today, visitors can take a whale cruise to visit the largest whales in the sea, Kayak and Snorkel with Sharks (harmless ones), Dive into the La Jolla Underwater Ecological Reserve, or go Deep Sea Fishing. For those who like to stay on land, you can visit the Scripps Institute’s Birch Aquarium, LEGOLAND’s SEALIFE Aquarium, or SeaWorld’s aquariums and shows.
#2. Hike from the ocean, through the canyons, over the mountains, and into the desert. If it’s any indication that San Diego has plenty of hiking trails to satisfy hikers of all skill levels and all interests, the one hiking book that covers it all, Afoot & Afield San Diego County by Jerry Schad is 456 pages long. That will need to grow in the near future as more hiking trails get developed, including two projects that will allow hikers uninterrupted trail access taking them from the ocean to the desert as far as the Salton Sea. For now, you’ll have to settle for hiking into mud caves (for the daring) in the most scenic desert landscape in the world, through pine tree forests in the mountains affording panoramic views over the desert below, through canyons filled with wildlife, and along coastal cliffs with breathtaking ocean views. Did we mention you can also pitch a tent anywhere in the desert for a romantic evening of the best stargazing, spend a night at one of several camp sites in the mountains and listen to the winds navigate their way through the trees or camp out at one of several state parks on the beach and listen to the waves lull you to sleep? Pack your shoes for Hiking Attractions.
#1. Visit the 13th Best Park in the World (4th Best in the United States) according to the Project for Public Spaces. Balboa Park is home to the San Diego Zoo, 15 Museums, 7 Performing Arts Theatres, 4 Cultural Centers, the first nationally recognized Antique Carousel, a Miniature Railroad ride, and Countless Gardens. Among the attractions, you can watch movies played in the most advanced IMAX Globe Theater, take in a play at the Tony Award Winning Old Globe Theatre (founding home of 20+ productions that have gone on to international acclaim on Broadway), watch your kids smile as they visit the largest indoor model railroad museum in the world, and relive history in the largest multi-sport museum in the country. When you need to take a break from all of this activity, sit back and listen to a concert played on one of the largest outdoor pipe organs in the world. Read more about Balboa Park Attractions.
Plan your adventure of a lifetime in San Diego. Consider the following quote from the owner of TourGuideTim Reveals San Diego:
“The Navy Seals don’t just happen to train in San Diego by accident. They get their amphibious training off the beaches of Coronado, their Search, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape training in the Cleveland National Forest, and their mountain warfare training in our local mountains.”
San Diego is where the best come to play. Book your travel plans today!
Free San Diego Visitors Guide
Welcome to San Diego! From the ocean to the mountains and desert, San Diego offers visitors hundreds of attractions.
Whether you are looking to visit the well-known San Diego beaches, SeaWorld, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo or you want to go off the beaten path to kayak with sharks, paraglide off ocean cliffs, hike into desert caves, dig for gold, watch eagles soar over grasslands, or visit the mountain top observatory that took the clearest pictures ever of outer space, TourGuideTim Reveals San Diego has it covered.
Why is this the Best San Diego Visitors Guide?
- More details about more attractions than any other travel guide. (Lots of pictures!)
- Provides the quickest way to find San Diego attractions that match your interests.
- You can print out and carry the details for only the attractions that interest you.
- Translate the guide at the click of a button if English is not your native language.
- Easily enlarge the text if your eyes need a little help.
- Access the Mobile Edition of the web site on your cell phone while visiting San Diego.
If we don’t provide the information on a specialized topic, we point you to the best web sites that do. We are your central resource for your San Diego travel needs.
We even help you find visitor centers throughout San Diego and provide links to the official visitors guides for each area.
“An extraordinary resource for San Diego, California. Truly an all-encompassing site, The Best Places in San Diego is one of the best internet travel resources I have ever seen.”
– Dr. Jessie Voigts, Owner of the Wandering Educators travel web site.
“It is absolutely outstanding! I will recommend it to everyone I know who is traveling to San Diego. It has the best composite information about the city that I have ever seen.”
– Dr. Terry O’Hara, Executive Consultant in Rancho Santa Fe, CA
“I grew up in San Diego and have lived here on and off for 32 years. I didn’t know a thing or two ON EVERY PAGE! I’m going to use this web site to explore with my kids and maybe NEVER leave (even for vacation). Really nice job.”
- Greg Layson, Owner of Modish Maternity in La Jolla, CA
Why Do We Provide a Free San Diego Guide?
- We LOVE San Diego and we want you to LOVE it too!
- We are in the business of providing escorted tours in San Diego. By providing this Free San Diego Tourist Guide, we are able to reach those of you who desire a unique vacation experience. One that gives access to special events, local experts, and attractions only open to groups. Intrigued? Check out the San Diego Tours you can enjoy for the day or a whole week.
Start Finding Your Favorite San Diego Attractions
Get started using the most comprehensive guide available for San Diego. For each attraction you will learn what to expect, unique tidbits, and opportunities that are often missed. We also provide you with the attraction’s relative location to the San Diego Airport and Downtown, a link to Google Map directions, and information about transit options.
Select a travel theme or location in the right column of this page and find attractions that match your interests. If you can’t decide where to start, try San Diego’s Top Attractions.
Enjoy your travels!