Mouthful of San Diego

San Diego, a city in Southern California, is home to some of the most breathtaking beaches and delicious seafood. The most southern city in California, its culture is in-between the busy Los Angeles and the laid-back Orange County. It is a perfect vacation destination to feel the ocean breeze and the lively nightlife.

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In every major city, there is a list of the best tourist attractions. San Diego is no different. Here, I will highlight the top tourist attractions that are found on almost every website and tell you if it is worth visiting.

San Diego Zoo

The best thing to do with the family in San Diego is to visit the San Diego Zoo. In fact, San Diego Zoo is one of the facilities that is AZA Accredited on taking care of animals, fewer than 10% of the nation’s zoos and aquariums meet this standard. This zoo is one of the best and largest zoos in the world with a huge variety of animals and insects you can view and interact with. There is just so much to see and do that you will need the entire day to look at everything!

In the past, you could view the cute pandas as they munch on their bamboo. Now, they have platypuses! The zoo is either a temporary or a permanent home to many diverse animals. Whichever your favorite animal might be, the chances of you seeing them there is pretty high. 

Feeding the giraffes at San Diego Zoo

You can purchase cookies to feed the giraffes, go on a guided tour, watch the otters swim, or pet the sheep in the petting zoo. The possibilities are endless at San Diego Zoo!

Is it worth a visit? Yes.

Admission fee: Yes, purchase tickets online or at the gate.

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Balboa Park

The San Diego Zoo is located in Balboa Park. Balboa is a big, free community park that is home to several theaters, museums, and gardens. Every winter, you can watch the performance of the popular story of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss at The Old Globe Theater.

The San Diego Museum of Art, Natural History Museum, Air & Space Museum, Museum of Man, Timken Museum (free!) and Automotive Museum, just to name a few, are all found at Balboa Park. Within each Museum, they periodically have new exhibits such as the Cannibals and Post Secret Exhibit at the Museum of Man. For nature’s beauty, you can choose between the free Botanical Building, Desert Garden, and 1935 Cactus Garden or pay for admission to the Japanese Friendship Garden. 

Balboa Park is also a place where people can congregate in the open space and explore the halls and culture within the perimeter of Balboa Park. Take a stroll to the Spanish Village or see the House of Pacific Relations, UN Association, and International Cottages. Not to mention, there are recreational facilities such as an Archery Range and a public Municipal Gym, as well.

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The park has many attractions with an assortment of cafes to eat and drink, gift shops, and centers to showcase performing arts. You can easily spend an entire day here.

Is it worth a visit? Yes.

Admission fee: No, but you must pay for individual entrances to several museums, gardens, and performances.
*Bonus: For local residents, certain museums are free every Tuesday!

SeaWorld
Photo courtesy of Julian Ames

SeaWorld

SeaWorld has been one of the most controversial theme parks to open, but if you set that aside and take it for face value, SeaWorld is a neat place to witness sea life that you would normally never witness outside of SeaWorld.

SeaWorld
Photo courtesy of Julian Ames

At SeaWorld, you get exposure to observe penguins, beluga whales, walruses, sharks, and my all-time favorite, otters! Take a glimpse at your favorite animals close up through the aquariums and exhibits. You can meet and interact with the sea life at Explorer’s Reef, ride the several thrill rides such as Journey to Atlantis, or watch the animal performances.

There is a lot for you to discover as you start your voyage to explore marine life.

Is it worth a visit? Yes, if you love aquatic creatures.

 Admission fee: Yes, purchase tickets online or at the gate.
*Bonus: If you plan to hit both San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld, there is a package deal for the admission tickets!

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Japanese Friendship Bell

On Shelter Island, there is a bell that the Japanese gifted San Diego for a sign of their friendship for opening the port to them.

Is it worth a visit? If you’re in the area, but not worth going out of your way.

On Shelter Island, there is a bell that the citizens of Yokohama, Japan gifted San Diego as a  token of their friendship and relationship between the two sister cities. Take a moment to reflect and observe the bell, feel a sense of peace and calmness. It is a perfect place to set this symbol, as it is away from the hustle and bustle of other busy tourist attractions.

While you are there, cruise along the shore and take a deep breath to inhale all of the clean, crisp air.

Is it worth a visit? If you’re in the area, but not worth going out of your way.

Admission: Free

Gaslamp District

Gaslamp District

If you want to truly experience the nightlife in San Diego, visit the Gaslamp District! There are restaurants, clubs, speakeasy’s, and bars for you to choose from for your perfect outing. Regardless of the occasion, you will find an excellent spot to celebrate anniversaries, girls’/guys’ night out, birthdays, bachelorette/bachelor parties, and other festivities.

Whether you want a tame night to enjoy drinks and dinner, or a wild black-out drunk outing, Gaslamp District has got you covered. 

Is it worth a visit? Yes, if you like food or drinking.

Admission: Mostly free, some places require a cover charge.

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Old Town

A historic tourist attraction that is reminiscent of the early frontier era, similar to cliche ghost towns like Calico. Unlike ghost towns, there is a lot of foot traffic from tourists that often times it becomes crowded. 

Old Town mainly consists of shops and restaurants of the Mexican heritage and culture. Its alleys of outdoor shopping and markets are filled with vibrant colors and live entertainment. You can find pottery, trinkets, clothing, food items, decorative pieces, and many more souvenirs here. There is no shortage of historical buildings and festivities to remind you of the past that took place here. The main square of Old Town typically shuts down relatively early, when the sun sets. 

If you plan on having after-hours fun with a spiritual experience, you stay at one of the old hotels in Old Town, such as The Cosmopolitan (no, it’s not similar to the one in Las Vegas). There are the haunted Whaley House and a ghost adventure tour that takes place here to recount and seek out ghouls and hauntings at graveyards and other known areas with sightings and activities. 

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After your ghostly experience, you can rejoice with another type of spirit. There are several bars and restaurants, such as Oculto 477 and Cafe Coyote, that serve delicious, massive margarita and fresh handmade tacos.

Is it worth a visit? Maybe. It’s a bit of a tourist trap but you could find great places to eat and see. 

Admission: Free

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