Sightseeing & Attractions
Downtown San Diego
San Diego Zoo
Old Town State Historic Park
San Diego Bay
Wild Animal Park
Mingei International Museums
California Center for the Arts
Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) Command Museum
The ARCO U.S. Olympic Training Center
Nearby San Diego
Read our article: San Diego, California — Beaches
Downton San Diego
Downtown San Diego is a sophisticated urban center featuring a vibrant, eclectic mix of neighborhood, restaurants, businesses, cultural offering and family attractions that appeal to visitors and residents alike.
Continually evolving with new hotel developments, entertainment complexes, restaurants and residential high- rises, downtown is the pulse of the United States’ seventh largest city .
Within downtown’s borders lie seven distinct neighborhoods, each featuring their own unique character and popular attractions.
Little Italy offers family- owned Italian restaurants and European- Style hotels. Horten Plaza is home to a multi level shopping, dining and entertainment complex that houses the award- winning San Diego Repertory Theatre.
East Village is the future home of the San Diego Padres’ new Ballpark.
Set along picturesque San Diego Bay, the Embarcadero plays an important part in downtown San Diego’s make- up and charm.
The Embarcadero is home to the newly- expanded San Diego Convention Center luxury high-rise hotels; Seaport Village , a14 acre waterfront shopping, dining and entertainment complex; the San Diego Maritime Museum, and the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum, slated to open in 2002.
The San Diego- Coronado Ferry, excursion boats, popular bayside restaurants and the art deco Cruise Ship terminal are also located along the scenic natural harbor. If downtown is the historic Gaslamp Quarter is it’s heartbeat.
When the sun sets, the 16 ½- block Gaslamp Quarter attracts thousands of diners, shoppers, theatergoers and night-clubs patrons.
Along it’s main thoroughfares, Fourth and Fifth Avenues, grand Victorian-era buildings have become home to more than 70 of the city’s finest restaurants, many with year- round outdoor seating, diverse nightclubs, theaters, art galleries, boutiques and shops.
The historic heart of downtown San Diego is the 16 ½- block historic Gaslamp Quarter, an urban, Victorian- charm dining and entertainment district that captures the lively spirit of a bygone era.
Home of more than 70 restaurants, 40 retail shops and 20 nightclubs, guests can discover cuisine that reaches the far corners of the globe, entertainment that spans the decades, stores that provide intricacies not found anywhere else and much more.
Throughout the year, the Gaslamp Quarter becomes a giant outdoor block- party during several annual major events, including the Annual Mardi Gras Celebration and Parade, held on “ Fat Tuesday “ in February; Sham Rock, a St. Patrick’s day block party in March; the Easter Bonnet Parade in April; Annual Fiesta Cinco de Mayo in May; Taste of Gaslamp, downtown’s favorite eating extravaganza in June, and Street Scene, California’s largest, most diverse urban food and music festival, held each September.
In the heart of San Diego is beautiful Balbao Park, a horticultural paradise. Within its 1,200 lush acres are 85 cultural attractions, including 15 museums, art Galleries, the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, the Tony- award winning The Globe Theatres, Starlight Bowl, sports facilities, the World- Famous San Diego Zoo, the historic Spreckels Organ Pavilion and an abundance of lush gardens and trees.
Read more in our full article: Balboa Park, San Diego, California, USA
San Diego Zoo
San Diego Zoo is one of the most famous San Diego visitor attractions.
This 100-acre tropical garden zoo houses 4,000 animals of 800 species and is noted for its many rare and exotic species exhibited- like the giant pandas and their young cub currently on loan from China- as well as ist lush botanical collection.
In addition to spectacular bioclimatic exhibits like the Ituri Forest, Rain Forest Aviary, Polar Bear Plunge, Hippo Beach, Gorilla Tropics, Sun Bear Forest and Tiger River, the San Diego Zoo features other popular attractions, including a three-mile guided bus tour,a children’s petting zoo and baby animal nursery.
San Diego Zoo is part of Balboa Park.
Read more about San Diego Zoo in our article: Balboa Park, San Diego, California, USA
Old Town State Historic Park
Old Town State Historic Park is the most visited state park in California. The six- block area brings early San Diego history to life with many original 1800s buildings That represent a large portion of San Diego’s original settlement. You can get a feel for what life was like during these exciting times through interpretive displays, quaint shops and points of historical interest. Old Town is also popular for it’s fine Mexican restaurants.
In the heart of Old Town, Bazaar del Mundo features international boutiques, award- winning eateries and weekly entertainment in a festive outdoor marketplace. Lively mariachis and swirling dancers in colorful costumes give an authentic feel to the festive experience. Overlooking Old Town, Presidio Park features the Junipero Serra Museum, and nearby Heritage Park features beautifully- restored Victorians architecture.
The newest addition To San Diego’s Old Town State Historic Park, San Diego Sheriff’s Museum and Education Center is located 100 feet from where San Diego’s first cobblestone jail stood in 1850. The museum features California history, live police communications, real jail cell, courtroom, helicopter and much more.
When you’re in San Diego, you must drive over the dramatic 2.1- mile San Diego- Coronado Bridge or ferry over to the beautiful “island” of Coronado.
You’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the San Diego skyline and experience a quaint, picturesque community that has shunned the hustle and bustle of larger cities to preserve a quieter, gentler way of live.
In addition to being world-renowned for the historic Hotel del Coronado,Coronado offers shopping, fine dining and a multitude of other accommodation properties, including luxury resorts and family owned hotels and inns.
Orange Avenue, the village’s main thoroughfare, is lined with charming and historic buildings that house the award- winning Lamb’s Players Theatre, the Museum of History and Art in Corronado, restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and shops.
Nearby Naval Air Station North Island was established on Coronado in 1911. Still active with ships and aircraft arriving and provides a real- life glimpse into the daily operations and training of U.S. Navy Aviation.
If you want to find some Seals, and we mean the U.S. Navy kind. Check out Coronado’s beaches in the early morning hours when they can often be found training or jogging in formation.
Coronado is easily toured on foot, and bicycling is also recommended.
A walking tour on select day to some of Coronado’s historic sites and homes originates from the Glorietta Bay Inn, the iriginal mansion of sugar baron John D. Spreckels . Also, plan at least a few hours to browsw the shops at the Ferry Landing Marketplace along San Diego Bay.
Hotel Del Coronado The Hotel Del Coronado, or just ‘the Del’, is a deluxe hotel located on the beach on Coronado Island and is convenient to the entire San Diego area.
For over 100 years, the Hotel Del Coronado has been host to Presidents, world dignitaries, movie stars and even it’s own ghost.
It is considered one of North America’s most beautiful resorts. Sprawling along 26 acres of Pacific beachfront property in the seaside village of Coronado, the hotel is only 15 minutes from the San Diego International Airport and downtown San Diego.
Each elegant and stylish guest room exudes its own character and includes room designs which reflects the oceanfront setting, using tranquil water themed colors and fabrics.
The Victorian Building, a national historic landmark, delicately combines historic ambiance with contemporary amenities and appointments.
The hotel will make sure your room is stocked with all of life’s little luxuries.
The hotel staff is available to assist guests and ensure that your stay is as enjoyable as possible. The hotel is minutes to fine dining, shopping and entertainment.
The Big Bay San Diego
San Diego Bay-the Big Bay-is San Diego’s biggest attraction, hosting many big events all year round.
There’s something for everyone-families, couples and singles, history buffs and art aficionados, nature lovers and sports enthusiasts. With 27 miles of waterfront dotted with restaurants, shops, parks and attractions, San Diego Bay is an ever-changing destination filled with new things to discover.
The Big Bay has an educational appeal with its landmarks, interactive public art, harbor and airport tours and maritime attractions. Further enhancing the Bay are natural spaces including designated wetlands, wildlife reserves and river estuaries.
Environmental enthusiasts will be delighted with opportunities to view several types of rare and endangered species in the surrounding areas, including the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge.
Several locations around the Bay have been listed as ideal locations to spot some of the 215 species of California’s native birds including eight on the endangered list.
In addition to the natural wonders, there are several man-made structures enhancing the beauty of the region. San Diego is home to the world’s oldest seaworthy ship, the tallest waterfront hotel on the West Coast, the sweeping expanse of Coronado Bridge, more than 75 United States Naval vessels, All the many features and attractions of San Diego Bay–natural or man-made–contribute to some of the most beautiful scenery in Southern California.
The Big Bay comprises 22 square miles, 27 miles of waterfront and five cities-San Diego, Coronado, Chula Vista, National City and Imperial Beach.San Diego Bay has three islands: Coronado, Shelter and Harbor.
Fourteen hotels, with approximately 730 rooms offer visitors a wide choice of accommodations on the Big Bay for extended vacations, business stays or weekend getaways.
There are more than 125 cruise ship departures from the Big Bay each year. Passengers departing from San Diego Bay set sail for Mexico, Hawaii and even Tahiti. Each year there are 635 cargo ship visits to move goods and materials into and out of San Diego.
The National City Marine Terminal serves as a major distribution point for American Honda, Isuzu, Mitsubishi and Volkswagen. More than 75 ships and submarines are stationed at U.S. Navy installations at the Big Bay.
Unique shopping venues-Coronado Ferry Landing and Seaport Village-and other specialty shops are prominent throughout the area.
Maritime Museum of San Diego
The Maritime Museum of San Diego displays three historic ships:
The “Star of India” from 1863, which is the oldest seaworthy sailing ship in the world. Then the 88 m long ferry “Berkeley” from 1898 and “Medea”, a steam-powered ship from 1904. Some exhibitions are shown in the museum.
Cabrillo National Monument
Commemorating the arrival of Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo ( sailing for Spain) on the coast of California in 1542, Cabrillo National Monument and the Old Point Loma Lighthouse provide a spectacular panoramic view of San Diego’s harbor and coastline, as well an excellent vantage point for observing the California gray whale during migration season.
Cabrillo National Park also offers a large, rocky shoreline of tidepools, the windows to the magnificent Pacific Ocean.
Here, families can see flowery anemones, scampering shore crabs, elusive octopus, spongy deadman’s fingers and many other creatures of the sea. The best time to visit the tidepools is during winter and spring low tides.
Extending south into the Pacific Ocean and curving along San Diego Bay is Point Loma peninsula, the land first discovered by Potuguese explorer Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo while sailing for Spain in 1542. Atop Point Loma stand the Cabrillo National Monument and Old Point Loma Ligthouse, both offering impressive, panoramic views of San Diego Bay, Shelter Island, Harbor Island, Coronado, the Embarcadero and downtown San Diego.
The monument’s visitor center provides an excellent museum, bookstore and gift shop and a film recounting Cabrillo’s voyage.
The Old Point Loma Lighthouse was used to guide ships to San Diego Bay between 1855-1891. Today you can visit the lower rooms of the lighthouse that re-create a lighthouse keeper’s quarters.
From the top of Point Loma between December and March, you’ll be treated to a spectacular view of more than 15,000 California gray whales migrating south to warmer waters off Baja California. At the tip of the peninsula along the water’s edge are tide pools to discover and explore throughout the year.
Point Loma is home to many quaint and moderately priced hotel properties located within minutes to downtown San Diego, Sea World and Old Town State Historic Park. The area also offers popular restaurants and local shopping.
Web: Cabrillo National Monument and Point Loma: Cabrillo National Monument (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)
San Diego Wild Animal Park
Located 30 miles north of downtown, the San Diego Wild Animal Park is a 2,2000-acre preserve where wild animals roam free over vast expanses as they would in Their native habitats of Africa and Asia.
Visitors can best see the park’s 3,000 animals by taking he guide-narrated monorail tour after seeing the sights at Nairobi Village.
The 1.75- mile Kilimanjaro Hiking Trail takes visitors through a variety of lush Botanical gardens and past the homes of gorillas, elephants, cheetahs, lions and many other species.
At the park’s exhibits, Condor Ridge, guests can meander along mountain trails and view many of North America’s most critically- endangered species, including California condors, hick- billed parrots, black- footed ferrets, burrowing owls, Harris hawks and desert big- horn sheep.
In time for its 30th birthday, the San Diego Wild Animal Park opened a new, state- of- the- art habitat for Western lowland gorillas.
The enclosure provides guests a better glimpse into the family dynamics of an 11- member gorilla troop in a setting that Stimulates a serene African Savannah. More than 14,000 square- feet of space allow the gorillas plenty of room for climbing, exploring and engaging in playful activities.
SeaWorld San Diego
Located on Mission Bay, this 189- acre park features six major shows, fascinating attractions and dozens of exhibits containing marine life from around the globe, including the popular wild Arctic, Penguin Encounter, Shark Encounter and Manatee Rescue.
Sea World San Diego’s largest show, Pets Rule, treats guest to a zany, mischief-filled show where cats, dogs, birds and even a pet pig wreak havoc on bewildered humans.
There shelter-adopted pets run hurdles, leap into the air, weave through obstacles and pounce around the stage, while humans get a glimpse into the minds of their favorite furry friends by understanding a few simple rules.
Back for its second summer season, Sea World San Diego’s show Cirque de la Mer Treats guests to a fanciful vision of whimsical, half human/half sea creatures performing spectacular cirque- style acts on a beautiful water stage along Mission Bay.
This first- of- its- kind “ fantasea ” adventure includes athletics, acrobatics, music and special effects, with a grand finale of dazzling daytime fireworks.
In other areas of the park, Sea World San Diego visitors can pet dolphins, eat lunch with killer whales, touch and feed bat rays, pick up starfish for a closer inspection, view the largest waterfowl collection in the U.S., ride on Shipwreck Rapids, watch the surprise- filled Pirates 4-D or take a panorama of San Diego from Sea World’s Skytower or Mission Bay Skyride.
Mingei International Museums
Mingei is a special word increasingly used throughout the world for “arts of the people.” It was coined by the revered scholar, the late Dr. Soetsu Yanagi, through combining the Japanese words for all people (min) and art (gei).
His keen eye observed that many useful, pre-industrial articles made by unknown craftsmen were of a beauty seldom equaled by artists of modern societies.
From questioning why this might be, he gained insight as to the nature of beauty embodied in objects that are integrally related to life and born of a state of mind not attached to a conscious idea of beauty or ugliness.
Within these timeless arts of the people (Mingei), he recognized a quality of expression in which there was no fragmentation of body, mind and spirit. He realized that to balance the weight of increasing technology there is a growing urgency for man to continue to make and use objects that express his whole being.
To communicate this profound insight, Dr. Yanagi and the renowned potters, Shoji Hamada and Kanjiro Kawai, founded the Mingei Association of Japan and in Tokyo the first Folk Art Museum.
Not affiliated with but inspired by that organization – Mingei International in San Diego was incorporated in 1974 as a nonprofit, public foundation dedicated to furthering the understanding of art of all cultures of the world. This art shares a direct simplicity and reflects a joy in making, by hand, useful objects that are satisfying to the human spirit.
Mingei International built and established the Museum of World Folk Art in University Towne Centre, San Diego, California on May 5, 1978, In August 1996 it opened a new, architecturally designed, state-of-the-art museum in Balboa Park, San Diego.
Changing exhibitions focus on traditional and contemporary folk art, craft and design. Through the universal language of line, form and color, mingei speaks eloquently of the similarities and distinctions of individuals and cultures.
The San Diego Natural History Museum
presents “T. Rex on Trial,” where guests can use fossil evidence to conclude whether Tyrannosaurus rex was guilty of being a predator or an opportunistic scavenger,now through May 27.
Developed from one of the world’s leading collections of carnivorous dinosaur fossil, this exhibition encourages the scientist in every guest to explore dinosaur senses, hand and claw dexterity and adaptations for meat- eating and locomotion.
California Center for the Arts
The California Center for the Arts, Escondido is located on a 12-acre campus in the heart of downtown Escondido.
Designed by the late world-renowned architect Charles Moore, the Center includes a 1,538-seat concert hall and a 408-seat theater presenting theatre, Broadway musicals, dance, comedy, and concerts; a museum featuring painting, sculpture, photography, and installations highlighting the art of this century;
and a full-service conference center and banquet facility catering to civic groups, trade shows, private receptions, weddings, and corporate meetings.
The California Center for the Arts, Escondido stands as an unrivaled example of the synergy created by bringing music, dance, theater, the visual arts, arts education, and meeting services together in one dynamic, world-class facility.
Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) Command Museum
Located in Building 26 on the Marine Corps base just minutes from downtown, is dedicated to the preservation of the illustrious history and time-honored traditions of the United States Marine Corps.
The Command Museum also serves as a center for education and training for future Marines. Guests can witness the Training of recruits on the parade deck, feel the pride and emotion of a Friday morning graduation or stroll through the galleries of the Recruit Depot and highlights the units and individuals stationed there.
The past unfolds in scenes from the 20th century’s armed conflicts in World War I, World War II Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm. Other features of the museum include Marine uniforms, weapons and vehicles, medals and decorations, recruit training films, a research archive with more than 5,000 photos, personal papers and books and a main gallery that honors specific Marine divisions.
MCRD Museum Historical Society, Building 26, San Diego, CA 92140
The ARCO U.S. Olympic Training Center / Chula Vista Elite Athletic Training Center
The ARCO/U.S. Olympic Training Center is the first USOC training facility to be master-planned from the ground up and is dedicated to the development of America’s future Olympic athletes.
The year-round, warm weather facility in Chula Vista, California, supports nine Olympic venues: archery, rowing, canoe/kayak, soccer, softball, field hockey, tennis, track and field, and cycling. An estimated 4,000 athletes a year come to the 150-acre complex to receive the coaching, support and facilities necessary to be their best.
Little Italy’s throughout the United States have symbolized the tremendous contributions Italians have made to this country.
Unfortunately, many of these historically established business districts are disappearing before our eyes.
These Little Italy’s are either declining due to growth of other adjacent ethnic neighborhoods or are a shadow of their former glory due to the dispersion of Italian families from these districts.
Little Italy in San Diego is different. A stable ethnic business and residential community since the 1920’s, Little Italy today represents Downtown San Diego’s oldest continuous neighborhood business district.
At one time, more than 6,000 Italian families lived in Little Italy and toiled to build San Diego into the center of the world tuna industry.
With the decline of the tuna industry on the West Coast and the destruction of 35% of Little Italy due to the construction of Interstate 5, Little Italy suffered nearly thirty years of decline.
In the early 1990’s, established property owners and family run business owners decided to take their fate into their own hands.
The business district is rooted in the toil of immigrants and the perseverance and optimism of a new group of business owners. The strength of their faith and the waterfront is what has supported families in Little Italy for generations.
Cortez Hill is one of San Diego’s oldest residential neighborhoods, named after the classic El Cortez Hotel. The hill affords sensational view of Balbao Park, San Diego Bay and the bustling city scene below.
Cortez Hill Park / Tweet Street was created by reclaiming excess freeway right-of- way and an old portion of Balbao Park along Date Street.
The linear park features a lighted path, native trees and vegetation, a bird observation deck and ‘Tweet Street public art installation’, incorporating birdhouses and information on the flora and fauna of San Diego.
With the variety of new and diverse projects planned in the years ahead, downtown San Diego is evolving into exciting and eclectic urban playground for residents and visitors alike, offering world –class accommodations, fine dining, shopping opportunities, arts and culture and recreational activities.
Theatre, dance and musical performances, long based downtown, are now being joined by some of the city’s finest restaurants, sidewalk cafes, jazz bistros and open-air performances by nines, musicians and other entertainers.
While guests to San Diego have traditionally been attracted by its near perfect climate, wealth of outdoor activities and family of world class attraction, they now discover that downtown San Diego is an attractive and enjoyable destination in itself.
Map Cortez Hill
Scattered throughout the East Village, downtown San Diego’s largest neighborhood, are numerous artists’ lofts, studios, galleries and shops.
It is located east of the Gaslamp Quarter and southeast of the Core district and Cortez Hill in downtown San Diego. East Village encompasses 130 blocks between Seventh Avenue east to 18th Street.
The area is the home of the San Diego Padres’ Ballpark which opened in 2004, is a state-of-the-art ballpark with a capacity of 46,000 seats and is bounded by Seventh and Tenth Avenues, J Street and Park Boulevard.
Beginning in the East Village along 12th Avenue, the Link is a landscaped pedestrian promenade with new lighting, public art, tree plantings and two new ADA- Compliant San Diego Trolley stations.
Map East Village
San Diego Overview, Getting Around, Visitor Info
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