Things to Do in San Diego - page 2
A San Diego family favorite since 1925, Belmont Park features boardwalk-style rides, amusements, and a restaurant—all right on the beachfront. Get your adrenaline pumping on the vintage Giant Dipper roller coaster and zipline ride, or enjoy fun for all ages with mini golf, midway games, and beach rentals.
The well-known San Diego Convention Center is a staple structure in the city. The impressively equipped location hosts many of San Diego’s famous events and happenings — most notably, the entertainment bonanza that is Comic-Con International. Enjoy the sunny, bayside views and free WiFi while attending one of the events held here before taking a quick walk to the numerous restaurants and shops nearby in the historic Gaslamp Quarter. Check out what’s going on at the convention center during your next visit for some entertainment.
A coastal community that lies on a narrow peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and Mission Bay, Mission Beach offers a variety of outdoor activities from sunbathing and surfing to bicycling, kayaking, skateboarding, beach volleyball, and basketball.
San Diego’s largest artist community, the Spanish Village Art Center, is located inside bustling Balboa Park. Originally built in 1935 for an exposition to depict a real Spanish village, travelers can’t resist the center’s charm. Meander across the eclectic, multi-colored tiles of the village courtyard and watch the artists at work. Art collectors will love browsing pieces created by more than 200 different craftspeople. In addition to studio viewing, visitors can chat with the artists, sign up for art classes or attend special events like live art demonstrations.
El Campo Santo Cemetery in San Diego’s Old Town was used during the mid- to late-1800s. As San Diego grew, the old cemetery was reduced in size and many of the graves were paved over to build a streetcar line and roads. Since then, tales of car trouble, ghostly apparitions, and shadowy figures have been reported.
In a city known for its beaches, Mount Soledad stands out as the mountain worth visiting. The highest coastal point in sunny San Diego overlooks the palm tree–lined Pacific Beach and the bluffs of Torrey Pines. The mountain is home to the the Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial, which honors living and deceased veterans from the Revolutionary War to the present day. On a clear day, 360-degree views of the La Jolla shores, the bridge to Coronado Island, Mission Bay, and even the mountains of Mexico can be seen.
The need for speed is real at San Diego’s Speed Circuit Family Fun Center, which has go-kart racing, laser tag, and a games arena. The three areas are especially popular with groups and often hosts team building events, private parties, and celebrations. Racers receive helmets and head socks and then take to the tracks, which were designed by professional racers.
The 1/4 mile raceway has ideal conditions for reaching speeds of up to 40 miles per hour, and includes two straightways and four tight turns. The asphalt track allows for wheels to optimally grasp the ground so that sliding and brake use is at a minimum. Barriers and borders ensure the safety of all drivers.
Lap times are recorded electronically in each car, so racers have the chance to compare speeds in personalized reports after each race. The speed circuit is considered to be one of the finest indoor go-kart raceways in the country.
It’s been said that hands-on, experiential learning enhances education, and if that’s the case, then the Fleet Science Center is helping to educate every person who walks in the building’s door. Especially enjoyable for families with children, this interactive science center has permanent exhibits on everything from energy to California’s water to the journey of cells in our body. Work with your hands at the “Tinkering Studio” inspired by famous inventors, or watch one of the live experiments conducted by the center’s staff. Learn about genetics and DNA and what’s inside of an atom, or channel your inner architect with the collection of 15,000 building blocks. The biggest treat, however, is the enormous IMAX domed theater with movies on everything from Humpback whales to the most mysterious corners of our Universe. This is the only domed IMAX theater in Southern California, and the movies displayed provide visitors of all ages with an enthralling visual feast.
The San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA) is at the center of Balboa Park. Inside the ornamented building, you’ll find an extensive art collection that spans more than 7,000 years, from great works by European masters, such as El Greco and Francisco Goya, to an array of South Asian paintings, sculpture, and American and Latin American art.
Discover the past, present, and future of the automobile at the San Diego Automotive Museum, and see a collection of Harley Davidson motorcycles and the famous 1947 Louie Mattar Cadillac that drove 6,300 miles (10,139 kilometers) without stopping. Learn about the history of the automobile and view a collection of classic cars.
More Things to Do in San Diego
There was once a time when traveling by train was the image of American romance— galloping across the open plains on the back of a steaming steel horse. With the advent of planes and automobiles, however, the era of train travel in the United States has long since passed its twilight. Unless, of course, you’re at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum (SDMRM), where the power of locomotives is as clear as the trains are timeless. Here at this 27,000 square foot enclosure inside of Balboa Park, railroad clubs have created artistic scale models of classic American trains. Follow a train as it plies the rails of the historic Tehachapi Pass, and look at models for the Pacific Desert Line—a track that was planned from San Diego to the east but never came to fruition. The meticulous craftsmanship that’s gone into the models is nothing short of astounding, and in addition to the models and trains themselves, visitors can learn about the legendary history of traveling the U.S. by train.
In the 18th century, when Spanish settlers arrived here on San Diego’s shores, a band of Kumeyaay Native Americans already inhabited the coast. Though little remains of their settlements today, one of the best places to learn about the Kumeyaay is here at the San Diego Museum of Man (SDMM). Here in San Diego’s only museum devoted entirely to anthropology, artifacts from many of the of the world’s ancient cultures are intriguingly displayed inside. Look at mummies that have been removed from their tombs in the sandy deserts of Egypt, or artwork and pottery from Mayan tribes from modern day Guatemala. Learn about the brutal history of torture and tools of the morbid trade, or peruse a collection of thousands of skulls that date to the origins of man. Some exhibits—like the history of beer—are only on temporary display, whereas collections on the Maya, Egyptians, and Kumeyaay are permanent exhibitions. When finished reading about Mayan monuments and hieroglyphic writing, climb seven stories up a hidden stairwell to the top of the California Tower. Re-opened to the public in 2015 for the first time in 80 years, the tower offers panoramic views of downtown San Diego.
In the middle of San Diego’s most beautiful park lies what may be its most beautiful patch of land — a three-acre world renowned rose garden with over 180 varieties of the flower. Gardeners introduce new varieties each year, with 2,400 roses in bloom for most of the year.
The rose garden is a lovely place to take a stroll, and is meant to be enjoyed at a relaxed pace. Paths wind throughout the various plants, with a variety of colors and sizes of roses is remarkable to see. Fountains, gazebos, tiles, and columns act as backdrops for the colorful flowers.
The number of roses also creates a wonderfully scented experience. Maintained by volunteers, it has a community feel while still being one of the most elegant places in San Diego. The garden has won multiple awards for excellence, including being named an Outstanding Rose Garden in the USA.
San Diego County is home to more than 90 museums, but the New Children’s Museum (NCM) downtown is a top choice among many families. Every visit brings the opportunity for kids to create something different. With three floors of hands-on activities, craft projects, and play areas, art is constantly being created. Kids are encouraged to roll of their sleeves and create a masterpiece.
In addition to performances and seasonal events, NCM runs a number of regular continuing programs including Toddler Time on the second Friday of the month and Finger Painting Friday on the fourth Friday of the month. NCM is across the street from Children’s Park, offering easy access to a nice spot for kids to run around and let off some steam.
Two locations make it even easier to fit a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art into your San Diego itinerary. The museum's collection includes more than 4,000 works of art created since 1950.
The La Jolla location is perched on nearly three acres of oceanfront property and includes the scenic and colorful Edwards Sculpture Garden. More than a dozen sculptures and installations are on display throughout the museum grounds. The Sculpture Garden is a nice option for families and artists. Pencil sketching is permitted.
The downtown location is more historic, set in the former Santa Fe Depot baggage building.
Public tours are offered (free with admission) at both locations. Downtown tours begin at 2pm on Saturdays. La Jolla tours are held on Sundays at 2pm. Tours are also held at 5:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month at both locations. No reservations are necessary.
As a major port and hub of the U.S. Navy, it’s no surprise that one of the city’s most important commercial districts is a former naval base. Once a military barracks and training center, Liberty Station is a cultural hub with a celebrated food market. The many food stalls, small shops, and even art galleries bring together some of the best of each in San Diego and represent the city’s diverse influences. The Liberty Public Market is a food hall comprised of artisan food, beer, wine, cocktails, and the city’s top local flavors.
Spread out over 28 acres, the Liberty Station architecture showcases San Diego’s historically Spanish roots. Many of the historic buildings have been tastefully converted into modern businesses and venues, many stretching along its main promenade. It’s also a major arts district, home to museums, dance companies, music halls, and a popular monthly art walk. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Liberty Station is an important piece of both the past and present in San Diego.
From the original Native American settlers who called this desert home, to the Spanish explorers who constructed missions through the San Diego region, this city has one of California’s lengthiest and richest histories. Here in the San Diego History Center, the series of events that created the city are on intricately detailed display—where over 2.5 million historical photographs help weave the city’s tale. On a visit to the famous Balboa Park museum, examine postcards of how San Diego looked while it was still in its original infancy, and learn the lengthy military history of the nearby bases and ships. Explore a collection of pottery and textiles from early San Diego residents, as well as an extensive collection of fine art relating to San Diego. This is one of America’s only museums that tells the history of a town, and after an hour spent reading the city’s history and walking the photo lined halls, visitors will have an entire new perspective on this sunny town by the coast.
There are two things on display at San Diego’s Museum of Photographic Arts: A collection of over 7,000 images from 850 artists, and the actual art of photography itself in all of its many forms. The pieces inside this small museum run the gamut of photography’s history, from early daguerreotypes dating back as far as the 1840s, to images of Russia in the mid-20th century and award-winning photojournalism. There’s a modern movie studio inside of the museum that highlights the evolution of film, and displays on photography’s technological advancements show how far the art form has come. More than just the photos themselves, however, it’s the different story that each photo tells that makes this a memorable stop. Considering that many of the photos on display are historical and social documentaries, the museum offers a lens into photographer’s roles in capturing societal change. Avid photographers who visit the museum are encouraged to submit their own work, and allow their images to craft the future of modern photography.
Inside the boundaries of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge is the Living Coast Discovery Center, a small nonprofit zoo and aquarium.
The Living Coast Discovery Center was first opened in 1987 under a different name, and since 2010 has been a working nonprofit. It's on San Diego Bay in Chula Vista, about 10 miles southeast of San Diego, surrounded by marshland.
Exhibits at the aquarium include sea life, shore birds, and native plants. There are turtles, sharks, rays, owls, egrets, herons, and several kinds of raptors. There are scheduled live demonstrations of feedings each day.
Somewhat of a park inside of a park, the Japanese Friendship Garden is a sanctuary of calm inside busy Balboa Park. Symbolic of the friendship between San Diego and the Japanese city of Yokohama, this 20-acre garden has over 200 cherry trees that dot the manicured landscape. In keeping with the tradition of Japanese gardens, the landscape here is methodically arranged so the stones, water, trees, and plants have a natural and calming energy. It’s a place for serene, inward reflection, and also a place where visitors can experience traditional Japanese culture. Stop for a drink at the tea museum and gaze out over the ponds, or wander through gardens that are meticulously planted in traditional Japanese herbs. On weekends, there can be classes in everything from Japanese language to the art of fine calligraphy, as well as a festival for the cherry blossom bloom that takes place every March.
The idea of visiting a museum never sounded so good. If you love music you’ll love the Museum of Making Music. The museum looks and listens to the history of American music and instruments from the 1890s through current day. Along with listening to samples of tunes created over time, visitors have the opportunity to see more than 500 vintage instruments. In addition, there are a number of hands-on try-me instruments throughout the museum to channel your inner musician. The site also hosts a number of concerts and live performances.
The melodious sounds from Spreckels Organ Pavilion float across San Diego’s Balboa Park, treating passersby to a free symphony. One of the world’s largest outdoor pipe organs, the instrument is set in an ornate structure and was gifted to the city in 1914 by the Spreckels family, who ran the Spreckels Sugar Company.
Heritage County Park provides a view into San Diego’s colorful past. Almost eight acres in size, the park contains several restored Victorian homes and San Diego’s first synagogue, Temple Beth Israel.
It all began after World War II when San Diego’s downtown started to boom. Expansion threatened the buildings with demolition, so private and public funds were used to relocate and restore them.
Some of the structures, like the Temple Beth Israel, are open to the public. The first service was held at Temple Beth Israel on Sept. 25, 1889, today it is open daily from 9am to 5pm, unless a private event is scheduled.
Built in 1896, the Senlis Cottage is also open daily from 9am to 5pm.The McConaughy House was built in 1887 and is now home to the Old Town Gift Emporium, a store that specializes in Victorian porcelain dolls. It is open Thursday through Tuesday, from 10am to 5pm.
Built in 1935 and modeled after Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, the Old Globe Theatre is one of San Diego’s top performing arts venues. It has produced more than 20 productions that have gone to Broadway and off-Broadway, and earned multiple Tony Awards. Enjoy classic and contemporary works, plus the annual Shakespeare Festival.
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