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Best things to do in San Diego

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Where in the world: USA  /  California  /  San Diego
Tourists flock to the coastal city to make the most of its sunny beaches, but things to do in San Diego include many more versatile activities. Gaslamp Quarter, the city's historic center, offers entertainment for visitors of all ages with its sidewalk cafes, restaurants, and shops housed in Victorian-era buildings. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy landscaped gardens and recreational spaces of Balboa Park, home to the world-famous San Diego Zoo. To add a bit of history to your vacation while still staying outside, visit the open-air Maritime Museum of San Diego and see one of the largest collections of historical sea vessels in the US.

San Diego is best known for its Specialty Museums, Zoos, and Beaches.

Top 15 things to do in San Diego

1. San Diego Zoo

Providing a home for 3,700 of some of the world's rarest animals, San Diego Zoo features pandas, gorillas, antelopes, orangutans, koalas, and much more. Noted for pioneering the concept of cage-free exhibits that recreate natural animal habitats, this zoo covers an area of almost 40 hectares (100 acres). Take guided tours on a bus, or hop on an overhead gondola to see the diverse habitats from the air. See different animals often found side by side in the wild, along with native plant life from places such as African rainforests and Arctic taigas. To view the collection of rare plants, visit the arboretum. Begin your visit at the visitor center, where you can pick up a free map.
Suggested duration: 6 hours
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2. USS Midway Museum

An active naval aircraft carrier for nearly 50 years, USS Midway Museum now displays 29 restored planes and 60 interactive exhibits. You can see what the brig, engine room, pilots' ready rooms, and the crew's sleeping quarters looked like when the country's longest-serving carrier was on active duty. Explore the upper deck's bridge and the war room, or descend to the flight deck to discover the history behind some of the country's renowned military aircraft. Try out the flight simulators, or take a narrated audio tour. Be prepared to climb a lot of stairs.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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3. Disneyland Park, Anaheim

The "happiest place on earth," Disneyland Park consists of eight themed "lands" and a number of backstage areas. As you explore the 34 hectares (85 acres), you'll encounter roller coasters and boat rides, indoor and outdoor games, live shows, award-winning eateries, and a range of eclectic shops. If you'd rather not walk everywhere, stop at all eight lands via the narrow-gauge railroad that circumnavigates the park. As you travel through the magical worlds dreamed up by Disney, look for hidden representations of Mickey Mouse inserted subtly into the attractions' design and environmental decor. Conceived and built under the direct supervision of Walt Disney, this amusement park boasts the largest cumulative attendance of any theme park in the world--having welcomed more than 650 million visitors since it opened in 1955. It also gave rise to its relative, Disney World, in Florida.
Suggested duration: 8 hours
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4. Balboa Park

An urban park, Balboa Park is home to 490 hectares (1,200 acres) of landscaped gardens, the world-famous San Diego Zoo, recreational spaces, art studios, museums, and theaters. Stroll through the Desert Garden or Japanese Friendship Garden to admire the park's diverse plant and animal life, or tour the San Diego Museum of Art or the Natural History Museum. Take advantage of the park's free tram service to get around.
Suggested duration: 4h 30 min
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5. SeaWorld San Diego

Spreading over 77 hectares (190 acres), SeaWorld San Diego features 26 animal habitats and dozens of shows and interactive exhibits depicting sea life in its many forms. Make a splash on the water roller coaster Journey to Atlantis, with its 18 m (60 ft) drop, or venture through the underwater tunnels for an up-close look at the giant sea turtles and great white sharks. Swim with the dolphins or dine alongside Shamu the orca.
Suggested duration: 8 hours
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6. La Jolla Cove, La Jolla

Famous for its tide pools and sea lions, La Jolla Cove features a tiny beach surrounded by sandstone cliffs. Part of a protected reserve known for its rich marine life, this stretch of coastline counts among one of the most photographed sites in San Diego. You can swim, snorkel, or scuba dive here, taking advantage of the calm waters that provide an ecologically safe home for orange Garibaldi fish and several species of marine invertebrates. In order to protect all animals inside this area, lifeguards strictly enforce the rules forbidding surfboards, kayaks, boogie boards, and inflatable mattresses within the cove.
Suggested duration: 4 hours
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7. Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument commemorates the landing of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo’s expedition to San Diego Bay in 1524. It was the first time that a European expedition set foot on what became the west coast of the United States. You can learn about the age of exploration and Cabrillo at the park’s visitor center. From here, it is a short walk to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, restored to its 1880's appearance and now operating as a museum. The park also encompasses several former military installations, which you can see while exploring the area. Take time to appreciate the monument’s superb views of the harbor, city skyline, and Pacific Ocean. If it is a clear day, you might even see the Coronado Islands.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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8. Disney California Adventure Park, Anaheim

Spend a day of thrill-seeking adventure at Disney California Adventure Park. Located adjacent to Disneyland Resort, the theme park offers over 29 hectares (72 acres) of attractions and entertainment dedicated to the history and culture of California. Fly high above the California orange groves and Napa Valley in the simulated Soarin’ Over California ride, or tear down the rushing rapids of the Grizzly River Run. To wind down, grab an ice cream and stroll down the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, or take a relaxing ride on the Ferris wheel, enjoying views of the entire park. Discount tickets are available online if purchasing more than a one-day pass.
Suggested duration: 8 hours
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9. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

The 809 hectares (2,000 acres) of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve make up one of the wildest stretches of land on the southern Californian coast. The state park offers eight different trails so you can choose the length, difficulty, and scenery that suit you best. For the most diverse scenery, take the Guy Fleming trail, the easiest of the eight. Animal lovers can look for bobcats, foxes, rabbits, and even whales off the coast in some seasons. To enjoy a picnic, you need to head to the beach below via the beach trail because the park forbids food and drink other than water. Bring plenty of water with you; you cannot buy any here.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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10. Maritime Museum of San Diego

See and visit historical sailing ships, steamboats and submarines at Maritime Museum of San Diego, and even sail on some of them. Established in 1948, this open-air museum hosts one of the largest collections of historical sea vessels in the United States. Take a self-guided tour through the ships and mind your head--it can be quite cramped inside. See the oldest ship in the world still able to sail--the 1863 Star of India, which used to sail the seas for up to a year at a time--and a 1,814 metric ton (2,000 ton) diesel-electric Soviet submarine, among others. Visit the archives and exhibits to learn more about that mystical connection that people and sea have always shared.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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11. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

Aptly named, Sunset Cliffs Natural Park features 2.4 km (1.5 mi) of sandstone cliffs in hues that mirror a golden sunset along the Pacific Ocean. For some of the best sights, take the coastal trail along the boulevard to reach rocky hills, sandy arches, and coves. At the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Ladera Street, you can take the stairs down to the beach during low tide. The 28 hectares (68 acres) park connects with Point Loma Reserve, a protected coastal habitat.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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12. LEGOLAND California, Carlsbad

Build your own Lego experience at LEGOLAND California, a theme park opened in 1999. Modeled on the original Lego-based park in Denmark, this venue was the first of its kind outside of Europe. Divided into several themed sections created entirely out of the Lego brand's popular building blocks, the park offers about 60 rides and attractions, designed primarily with children under 12 in mind. Young visitors can spend hours immersed in the Lego fantasy world of the play areas and wave pools, or take roller coaster and boat rides through models of medieval castles and islands populated by giant dinosaur toys. Older visitors can explore over a dozen restaurants, with menus covering everything from light snacks to gourmet meals for the health-conscious.
Suggested duration: 6 hours
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13. Mission Beach Park

Settle into a fun, carnival-like atmosphere at Mission Beach Park, where you can swim, lounge on the sand all day, or wander the area. You'll find plenty of food stands, bars, and street performers, and some fine-dining restaurants as well. You can surf, play sports, join beach boot camps, and even ride a rollercoaster or artificial waves. The mood is calmer at the opposite end of the beach, which features fishing spots and underwater shipwrecks you can explore. Parking spots are hard to find; buses and bikes are better options.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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14. Lions, Tigers & Bears, Alpine

Lions, Tigers & Bears is a federally and state licensed non-profit 501(c)(3) rescue facility dedicated to providing a safe haven for unwanted and abused exotic animals. We are one of only twelve big Cat Sanctuaries in the US.

Our goal is to provide a safe haven and to educate the public about the growing population of abandoned and unwanted exotic animals in our nation. Sadly, in many areas of the United States, there are countless big cats and wild exotics in private captivity. The number of animals bred and born in captivity is currently greater than that in the wild. Many of these animals are born into a life of abuse, ill-health, crowded conditions and ultimately an early and painful death.

The exotic animal trade is a 17 billion dollar a year industry, second only to drugs and weapons. Many private owners purchase these exotics without enough information about the amount of care they require and then struggle to find an organization to off-load them. Zoos will rarely take these animals and sanctuaries count on the support of donors to help them pick up where humanity has left off.

Founder, Bobbi Brink, notes the conditions that many of the animals live in: "...in miserable holding cells with no sunlight or windows, living in cages so small they barely have room to stand up or turn around. Many live in basements, never seeing sunlight or smelling fresh air. I have seen 10 or more cats crowded together in a small enclosure, where they restlessly pace in filth, and fight each other for scraps of food. Some starve to death. A full grown exotic cat costs about $15.00 a day to feed ($450.00 a month-just for food!)"

Thank you for your interest in the plight of these forgotten beings. They, and we, count on your support to continue to provide for the beings in our care and to help us open our hearts and gates to the ones that are still out there waiting for our help.

Copyright © 2017 Lions, Tigers & Bears a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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15. Black's Beach

Black's Beach is a secluded section of beach beneath the bluffs of Torrey Pines on the Pacific Ocean in La Jolla, San Diego, California, United States. It is officially part of Torrey Pines State Beach. The northern portion of Black's Beach is owned and managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, while the southern portion of the beach, officially known as Torrey Pines City Beach, is jointly owned by the city of San Diego and the state park, but is managed by the city of San Diego. This distinction is important as Black's Beach is most known as a nude beach, a practice that is now prohibited in the southern portion managed by the city of San Diego.
Black's Beach was named for the Black family who had a horse ranch overlooking the beach. They sold the land, and then it was subdivided into La Jolla Farms lots. The Farms' residents retained the Black family's private road to the beach. Many mansions can be seen in the southern portion of the beach, including the Salk Mansion. There is a funicular that goes all the way down from a mansion on the cliff to the beach into a structure known by locals as the mushroom house.

A submarine canyon funnels swells into Black's Beach, making it appealing to surfers but dangerous for inexperienced swimmers.

Usually, lifeguards are at the beach until 6:00 p.m., year round.

Due to budget cuts, lifeguard patrols were limited but have increased because of funding by UC San Diego. Stingrays can be found along the coastline when the water gets above 50 degrees.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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