Recommended Books About San Diego

(You will find a list of San Diego Movies farther down the page.)

Find your way around San Diego – Some hotels provide nice paper maps of the immediate vicinity. Others are not so helpful. For those that want to rely on a good, pocket-size map that covers the full area but doesn’t rip or get mangled, buy a Streetwise San Diego Laminated Map. There is a regional map of the San Diego area as well as detailed maps for the Downtown, Old Town, and La Jolla attractions.

A good map and this online travel guide provided by TourGuideTim (easily printable and cell-phone accessible) should be all you need. But, if you still prefer the comfort of carrying around a traditional travel guide, here are the most popular San Diego travel guides at Amazon: DK/Eyewitness, Frommer’s, Fodor’s, Lonely Planet, and Zagat.


Taking Pictures in San Diego – If you want advice on how to take pictures in San Diego or just want a book full of excellent pictures taken throughout San Diego County, you should get Andrew Hudson’s book PhotoSecrets San Diego. Hudson goes into detail on when, where, and how to take the best pictures of San Diego attractions. He will even tell you exactly where to stand and the time of day to capture the perfect image.

It is hard to fully capture the beauty of San Diego in photos. However, Hudson is one who has done it. Buying his book is better than buying a few postcards hoping they will give your friends back home an idea of what you got to experience in San Diego. The book includes a few hundred photographs taken throughout San Diego County.

Find Hiking Trails in San Diego – If it’s any indication 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 in San Diego County by Jerry Schad is 456 pages long.

This comprehensive guide to hiking in San Diego provides maps, trail distances, hiking times, level of difficulty, and advice on when to go and where to look. His hiking trails will take you into mud caves 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. It includes information on whether you need a 4WD Vehicle and when to watch out for dangers. Start your adventure today.

Go for a Weekend Drive in San Diego – Jack Brandais has been exploring the coastal communities and backroads of San Diego, while test driving cars, for the local newspaper since 2000. He has inspired a number of my trips to the back country where he helps point out the lesser known attractions of San Diego.

Among my favorites is the drive along little used SR-94, which takes you through mountain passes offering panoramic views before dropping into tiny communities, where you can meet friendly people at the general store.

Weekend Driver San Diego is a compilation of those articles and more.


Go for a Exhilarating Bike Ride in San Diego – Jerry Schad, who writes the hiking book noted above, is also the co-author of Cycling San Diego. Offering 69 rides of varying degrees, including multi-day trips, the book covers the coast, mountains, and desert in the same style as the hiking book but also offers elevation maps for many of the rides.

Some of the world’s top riders, including Lance Armstrong, train in the local mountains. The book includes a few rides with elevation gains of 4,400 feet and more. There is also good advice on what times of day to avoid certain rides when the traffic is heavy. (One word of caution to drivers: Cyclists are allowed to use the shoulder of the interstate highways in some parts of San Diego!)

More species of birds have been identified in San Diego than anywhere else. The easy to carry Birds of San Diego includes 125 species whereas, San Diego County Bird Atlas, written by the curator at the Natural History Museum, provides full details on all species. Former professor Phil Pryde, who led me on an Audubon tour where we identified 127 birds in 12 hours has written a comprehensive Natural History book – San Diego-An Introduction to the Region.

Identifying Flowering Trees and Palm Trees in San Diego is a favorite past time of locals. San Diego’s Mediterranean Climate allows the most beautiful trees from around the world to be imported to our coastal landscape where they flourish for our enjoyment.

Have you seen the red flowering trees with no leaves? How about the trees with pink flowers that look like cotton balls? Or, the twisted trunks of trees with white flowers at La Jolla Cove?

You can find the names, descriptions, and interesting peculiarities of these trees and so much more in Ornamental Tees of San Diego, written by Steve Bingham, the founder of the San Diego Horticultural Society. His descriptions along with the photos taken by Don Walker will motivate you to spend more time at our beautiful parks and enjoy the variety of trees in San Diego.

How did San Diego get so lucky by having a vast ocean, coastal canyons, mountains, and beautiful desert landscape all in one metropolitan area? The Rise and Fall of San Diego, written by former geology professor and frequent TV commentator on earthquakes and tsunamis, Patrick Abbott, tells you how it all happened.

Living in an area with such interesting topography, it is hard not to be intrigued by unusual rock formations, seaside cliffs, 50 million year-old fossils, and desert mud caves. Do you ever wonder how both whale bones and mammoth bones were recently found in downtown San Diego? Have you seen seashells in the desert? What about old volcanoes in the area? Once you read this book, you’ll be inclined to take classes and go on geologic field trips as you become fascinated with our local geologic history.

Have you Searched for Gems in our Local Mines? – I have visited the gem mines and am thoroughly impressed by the variety of gem stones that can be found. It’s no wonder than museum curators from around the world come to San Diego to find gems for their collections.

Pink tourmaline is the easiest to identify because it is the gem that made San Diego famous. However, it helps to become familiar with the other type of gems you will likely find when visiting the attractions. Guide to Gems (Firefly Pocket series) has a nice map of North America showing where you can find different types of gems, including those found in San Diego, on page 216.


Explore the History of California’s Largest State Park – Anza-Borrego Desert Those who have traveled to many deserts describe the Anza-Borrego as one of the most scenic deserts in the world. Today’s desert used to be a huge body of water teaming with sealife. That body of water transitioned to becoming a home for sabre-tooth tigers, camels, zebras, cheetahs, and bears before it became today’s desert. Today’s desert is one of the most impressive archeological sites known to man and is described in the book Fossil Treasures. Here is a quote from the book: “Communities, ecology, and evolution are all topics that tie the prehistoric world firmly to our own. And, in the badlands…this story is told probably better than any place on Earth.” – Mark A. Norell, Chairman and Curator, Division of Paleontology, American Museum of Natural History

Find the Hidden Architecture of San Diego – Architect and Author Dick Sutro describes San Diego by saying, “…architects have quietly designed some of the most interesting buildings anywhere, often overlooked by the national media.”

Why would interesting architecture find its way to San Diego? Celebrated New York architect Bertram Goodhue described Southern California as a combination of, “The Riviera, the bays of Naples and Salerno, some of the Greek Islands, certain mountain valleys in India … the bluest of seas … the richest of sub-tropical foliage…”. San Diego provides inspiration.

It also provides a rare opportunity to see a wide range of architectural styles all within a few city blocks in the Gaslamp Quarter, Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute, Irving Gill’s Marston House, Bertram Goodhue’s California Tower, and much more.

Get to know the Famous People of San Diego San Diego has been home to people like Raquel Welch, Dennis Hopper, Annette Bening, Ted Williams, Bill Walton, Jenny Craig, Tony Robbins and many more. Some have biographies that highlight their time in San Diego.

Gregory Peck established the original La Jolla Playhouse where he and other Hollywood stars spent their summers entertaining the people of San Diego. Theodore Geisel left the rat race in New York and Hollywood to settle in the hillside of La Jolla to write his Dr. Seuss children’s books.

Get to Know the History of San Diego through Pictures Images of America is a relatively new series of books that uses pictures extensively to help describe the history of communities across the country.

They are generally prepared by local historians. For example, Carol Olten, who is the historian for the La Jolla Historical Society and has provided me a lot of insight for my La Jolla Tours, prepared a book on La Jolla. Several other San Diego communities are now represented in the series, including the Gaslamp Quarter.

Look into the Universe from San Diego. San Diego’s mountains offer one of the best places in the world to look into the night sky year-round. It is home to one of the most powerful telescopes in the world at Palomar Observatory, which recently (2007) took the clearest pictures ever of outer space.

When this telescope was built in the 1930s, it captured the nation’s attention when the mirror was transported from Corning, NY to California. It is considered one of science’s greatest lasting accomplishments. The story of the telescope was written in the book The Perfect Machine: Building the Palomar Telescope, which became the basis for a 2008 PBS Documentary called The Journey to Palomar-America’s First Journey into Space..

Movies Related to San Diego

This is a partial list of the more notable movies with San Diego ties.

Top Gun



Bruce Almighty

Almost Famous

Antwone Fisher

Some Like It Hot

Citizen Kane

Hunt for Red October

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Richard Gere and Anne Bancroft in Mr. Jones (1993) - San Diego portrayed as a place of renewal for the manic Gere

Sands of Iwo Jima

Sidney Portier and River Phoenix in Soviet Spy Thriller Little Nikita (1988)

Bring It On (Also known as Cheers and Girls United in foreign markets)

Veronica Mars TV Series

Gomer Pyle, USMC - TV Series

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