10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in San Diego



Situated in Southern California, near the Mexico border, San Diego is California’s oldest city. It boasts enchanting natural beauty and a mild Mediterranean climate with plenty of sunshine, making it perfect for outdoor adventures.

Popular Tourist Attractions

Some of the city’s most popular tourist attractions include the museums, gardens, and Spanish colonial-style architecture found in Balboa Park; the world-famous San Diego Zoo; and the Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum.

Historical Sites and Shopping

For some history and shopping, you can walk along the streets of Old Town San Diego State Historic Park or explore the Gaslamp Quarter.

Beaches and Outdoor Activities

If you enjoy year-round sunshine and ocean breezes, San Diego’s beaches are among the best in Southern California. The city has over 68 miles of coastline, ideal for sunbathing, swimming, and surfing.

Check out our list of top tourist attractions in San Diego to discover the best places to visit and things to do in this beautiful SoCal city.


On This Page:

  1. Seaport Village
  2. Mission Beach
  3. San Diego Whale Watching Cruises
  4. Balboa Park
  5. Gaslamp Quarter
  6. Old Town State Historic Park
  7. San Diego Museum of Art
  8. Point Loma and Cabrillo National Monument
  9. San Diego Air & Space Museum
  10. San Diego Zoo


1.Seaport Village

Seaport Village | Joss Woodhead | unsplash.com/


San Diego Support Village is a very enjoyable place where you can roam around leisurely and spend an ideal afternoon. Situated alongside the sea beach, this area’s unique shops and restaurants are a must-visit in the city.

Picnic tables, benches, and pavilions by the water’s edge are controversially spread throughout the area and can get very busy by the end of the week. Various actors unwind in the tumult of daily afternoons. Children are delighted to ride the old carousel, which features hand-carved wooden horses.

The area is so vast and devoid of formal occupations aside from attractions nearby, such as the USS Midway. Limited and premium-priced parking is available at the Support Village, so parking nearby and walking to the site might be preferable. Enjoy strolling along the waterfront.


2.Mission Beach

 Mission Beach | Sean Mullowney | unsplash.com


Mission Beach epitomizes the welcoming Southern California lifestyle associated with San Diego’s coastal areas. The main attraction here is the beautiful golden beach.

Surfing, sunset strolls, surfing, and beach volleyball are popular activities, and a three-mile boardwalk runs alongside the beachfront, perfect for leisurely walks. On a beautiful day here, you’ll see people rollerblading, skateboarding, strolling, and cycling, or enjoying food at one of the many beach cafes or restaurants.

A notable part of Mission Beach is Belmont Park, an old-fashioned amusement park with a complete East Coast-style seaside park alongside the northern jetty. It’s a favorite attraction for San Diego kids.


3. San Diego Whale Watching Cruises

San Diego Whale Watching Cruises | Todd Cravens | unsplash.com


San Diego in Southern California is a prime location for whale migration spotting. Blue whales, gray whales, humpbacks, and even killer whales glide through the waters here.

During the migration season of gray whales, from December to April, San Diego invites some of the best excursions for spotting blue whales. Blue whales typically migrate during the summer months, from June to September.

One notable highlight of gray whale migration is the former whaling station, now the hub for San Diego whale watching excursions. This 4.5-hour journey is operated on a historic vessel that won the America’s Cup in 1851. An onboard naturalist provides insights into various marine life species, such as the iconic sandy beach. Snacks, beverages, and a guarantee of whale sightings are included in all packages.


4.Balboa Park

Balboa Park | Leslie Cross | unsplash.com

Balboa Park is a one-stop wonderland for tourists. This 1,400-acre site features historic buildings, numerous museums, gardens, and lush green spaces. The park was created for the 1915-1916 Panama California Exposition, and many of its buildings from that event still stand today. Primarily Spanish-style permanent structures blend harmoniously with the natural surroundings.

Notable highlights of the park include the Botanical Garden and Lily Pond, the Museum of Man, the Natural History Museum, the San Diego Museum of Art, and the renowned San Diego Zoo. If you prefer not to enter any buildings, the park itself is a beautiful place to just wander around and enjoy the scenery.


5.Gaslamp Quarter

Gaslamp Quarter | Todd Cravens | unsplash.com


Adjacent to Petco Park and the Convention Center, the Gaslamp Quarter is the hub of the city’s nightlife—a remarkable place to find any activity if you’re exploring downtown San Diego, especially after dark.

Restored late 19th-century and early 20th-century Victorian buildings house bustling entertainment venues, trendy shops, art galleries, and a variety of restaurants serving everything from Persian cuisine to pizza. It’s a vibrant area where you can catch live jazz, comedy, or theater performances.

Stretching roughly 16 blocks from Broadway to the San Diego waterfront, this district is easily walkable, but if your feet need a break, you can hop on an iDrive taxi.

For a prime location in the heart of the city, the Gaslamp Quarter is a must-visit. High-end boutique properties like the Pendry San Diego mingle with major brand properties like the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, all within a stone’s throw of the action.


6.Old Town State Historic Park

Old Town State Historic Park | Sanath Kumar | unsplash.com


At Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, you can travel back in time and enjoy the rich culture of San Diego’s early days. This park recreates the feel of the Mexican and early American periods from 1821 to 1872, when the settlement grew from a small Mexican pueblo.

Visit a working blacksmith’s studio, shop at authentic Mexican craft stores, browse art studios, enjoy live mariachi music, and dine on a sunny veranda at a charming restaurant. Many historic buildings, including five original adobe structures, have been restored, and new buildings have been added in the same historic architectural style.

Old Town State Historic Park is one of California’s most visited state parks. There is no admission fee, and many attractions are free. You can also sign up for free walking tours offered twice daily (at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.).


7. San Diego Museum of Art

San Diego Museum of Art | James Lee | unsplash.com


Art enthusiasts seeking a dose of culture should head to the Balboa Park to visit the Museum of Art in San Diego. Its unique facade mimics the 17th-century University of Salamanca in the Plateresque style, intricately carved terra-cotta work. Along the entrance path, sculptures by Spanish artists stand, showcasing their diverse works among many other exhibits.

The museum’s collection spans the globe, including several pieces dating back 7,000 years. Notable works include those by Spanish and Italian old masters, South Asian art, and American art, encompassing 19th and 20th-century paintings and sculptures.


8. Point Loma and Cabrillo National Monument

Point Loma and Cabrillo National Monument | Kevin Dunlap  unsplash.com


Point Loma stands as one of the best places to visit in this beautiful city, offering extraordinary views of both San Diego and the Pacific Ocean. To reach Point Loma, you can start by taking a scenic drive. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Mexico, and you might even be lucky enough to spot whales or dolphins.

This is where, in 1542, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo first set foot in what is now the western coast of the United States. You can learn about his incredible “Voyage of Discovery” through various exhibits and displays at the Cabrillo National Monument. A large statue commemorating Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo overlooks the land he discovered.

Another historic site atop Point Loma is the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, built in 1858. Visitors can tour the restored lighthouse building.

Hiking along scenic trails is another popular activity. If you have children with you, take the one-mile Bayside Trail to reach tide pools.


9.San Diego Air & Space Museum

San Diego Air & Space Museum |Photo by ThisisEngineering on Unsplash


For those interested in aviation and space travel history, the Balboa Park’s museum is a must-visit. This museum educates the public about the achievements of the aviation and space age, with exhibits designed to help visitors understand the dynamics and advancements of flight and space exploration.

The museum begins its preparation in the history of flight with models of the first hot air balloon, pioneered by the Montgolfier brothers in 1783, and the Wright brothers’ glider. It progresses to include rare displays of historic aircraft, which made their mark during the time of the First World War. Mint-condition military aircraft featured in the exhibition include the Navy F6F Hellcat and the A-4 Skyhawk jet.

The San Diego Air & Space Museum celebrates the rich history of aviation through an extensive collection, from airplanes and spacecraft to flight simulators and a vast archive of photos and films.

Visitors praise the museum’s diverse array of historic aviation exhibits. They can explore everything from flight-themed gifts in the museum’s gift shop, such as books, puzzles, T-shirts, telescopes, model airplanes, to non-flight related souvenirs. The gift shop even sells mini spacesuits for your aspiring young astronauts.


 10.San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo | Photo by Jessica Weiller on Unsplash


One of the top tourist attractions in Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo, is America’s largest and most renowned zoo. A visit to this attraction with the family ranks among the top activities for children in San Diego. To make the most of your visit, plan for at least a full day to see everything this zoo has to offer.

Here, you can see a variety of fascinating animals including gorillas, grizzly bears, koalas, tigers, bonobos, polar bears, pandas, and sloths. The zoo strives to create a natural habitat for each animal, such as providing rocks and a cool pool for the snow leopards and a cold enclosure for the polar bears.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park truly offers a unique and immersive experience for visitors, especially families with children. The opportunity to see animals roaming freely in naturalistic habitats adds an extra dimension to the visit, making it both entertaining and educational. Plus, the guided tours provide a convenient way to explore the park without worrying about tired little legs.

It’s fantastic to hear that the park is committed to conservation efforts, as it underscores the importance of protecting wildlife and their habitats. By supporting such initiatives, visitors contribute to these crucial conservation projects around the world.

And the botanical collection sounds stunning! With such a vast array of plants from different parts of the world, it adds another layer of beauty to the park and offers visitors a chance to appreciate the diversity of plant life.

The option to upgrade experiences with behind-the-scenes and close-up animal encounters is sure to be a highlight for many visitors. It’s a fantastic way to get even closer to the animals and learn more about their behaviors and conservation needs.

For those who may need a break from walking, the Kangaroo Bus and Skyfari Aerial Tram offer convenient ways to get around the park while still enjoying the sights. And the Skip-the-Line ticket sounds like a great value, providing access to all the attractions without the hassle of waiting in long lines.

Overall, it sounds like the San Diego Zoo Safari Park has something for everyone, whether you’re a nature enthusiast, conservation advocate, or just looking for a fun day out with the family.