san diego california ocean

Explore San Diego: Must See Sights

San Diego, California is a beautiful area of the country to visit with plenty of activities to keep everyone in the family entertained.

San Diego is often touted as a great family destination, which it certainly is, but is also fun for singles and couples too.

Here are some of the attractions to be found in this southern California city.

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Things to do in San Diego

  1. See Cabrillo National Monument
  2. Point Loma Lighthouse
  3. Tidepools
  4. Maritime Museum
  5. San Diego Zoo
  6. Balboa Park
  7. Sea World
  8. Old Town & Heritage Park
  9. Gaslamp Quarter
  10. Seaport Village
  11. Little Italy
  12. Sunset Cliffs at Ocean Beach
  13. Coronado Hotel
  14. San Diego Wildlife Park

Must See Sights in San Diego: Cabrillo National Monument

If you are looking for a very scenic area don’t miss Cabrillo National Monument and Point Loma lighthouse. Watch the sunset at the tide pools. Juan Rodr√≠guez Cabrillo,was a Portuguese explorer, who departed from Mexico to explore the west coast of what is present day California.

Cabrillo National Monument
Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo was the first European explorer to navigate the coast. On September 28, 1542, he landed and named the area “San Miguel”. We call this area the San Diego Bay. At the tip of  the Point Loma Peninsula, a national monument in his likeness was constructed.

There is also a museum and visitor center to explore the history of this area. This area is a great spot to take photos of San Diego, learn some of its history and take in the beauty of southern California. The most southwesterly spot in the contiguous United States is the Cabrillo National Monument.

GoCity San Diego

Point Loma Lighthouse

The views on a clear day are incredible from this vantage point. Point Loma separates San Diego Bay from the Pacific Ocean.

point loma lighthouse

The iconic San Diego Point Loma lighthouse was completed in 1854. The lighthouse was in operation from 1855 through 1891. You can tour both the lighthouse and the assistant lighthouse keepers quarters. The lighthouse has several rooms to view. You can take a tour  and imagine what it was like to live as a lighthouse keeper.

There are several wide walking paths. You can see all the way to Mexico on a clear day, so the views are spectacular from above. The Point Loma lighthouse is within walking distance to the Cabrillo National Monument and a short drive to the Tidepools.


If visiting Cabrillo National Monument, don’t forget to stop and visit the Tidepool area as well. On the western side of Point Loma lies a small rocky intertidal zone.

During periods of low tide, pools form along this shore and you can see various creatures including anemones. We have never seen anything I guess because we don’t come at the right times.  There are plenty of walking paths along the rocky ocean cliffs here and the sunsets are incredible.

Maritime Museum

A visit to the Maritime Museum in San Diego was one of the best ideas we had last time we visited. This place is amazing. We booked a Bay cruise on the Pilot and then visited eight historic ships. There is also an exhibit/ museum to learn more about the ships that you can explore.

The cruise is just under an hour and has beautiful views of San Diego and various sailing vessels.

Is it always sunny in southern California? No, it is not. One of our tour guides told us California sells more jackets to tourists than any other item. It can be cloudy and windy even in the summer here especially on a morning cruise.

The day we visited the Maritime Museum it was pretty windy and even in the summer it would have be nice to have a jacket along.

maritime museum

The kids absolutely loved exploring the submarine. You will have to be okay with tight spaces because the tour of the submarine is a little claustrophobic.

Balboa Park

The largest park in California, Balboa Park, is home to the San Diego Zoo, dozens of museums and several gardens.  If you have never been here than it is worth a visit. You could spend your entire San Diego, California  vacation at Balboa Park and not see everything there is to see.

Sea World

Visiting off season you may find the rides closed at Sea World, but the lines for the shows are much shorter and you don’t have to fight your way through the crowds. If you want to see all the attractions go during peak time.

If you want to see the animals and shows it is more enjoyable, in my opinion,  off season. While Sea World is famous for the killer whales, they are also home to Beluga Whales, dolphins, penguins, polar bears, flamingos, puffins, seals, sharks and the Clydesdale horses. 

Sunset Cliffs at Ocean Beach

Watch the sun set at Sunset Cliffs. This is one of my favorite spots in San Diego. The views are amazing.

Sunset Cliffs San Diego

Coronado Hotel

See the famous Coronado Hotel and/or hang out at the Coronado beach.

coronado hotel

Seaport Village

A fun place to stroll along the bay, Seaport Village is beautiful during the day as well as at night. It is adjacent to Embarcadero Park North and a easy walking distance from many of the downtown hotels.

Cobblestone pathways lead you around the village of shops, restaurants and San Diego bay. For the kids there is a 1895 Antique carousel within the village and horse drawn carriage rides.

seaport village

Old Town and Heritage Park

If you’re looking to learn more about San Diego’s historic past stop by Old Town and Heritage Park. They are within walking distance of each other.

Gaslamp Quarter

If you are visiting alone or as a couple the Gaslamp Quarter is a fun place to hang out, especially at night when it is all lit up.

gaslamp quarter san diego

 Little Italy

Home to my favorite Italian restaurant outside of Italy is found in San Diego, Buon Appetito.  I love their lasagna because it has meat and vegetables in it like my mother use to make. 

Little Italy is also a great spot to take a wine tour. You can book one through a tour company or take your own tour. A nice spot we found was the M. Wine House, a wine bar in a historic house.

San Diego Wildlife Park

The Wild Animal Park is not located in San Diego, but rather about 30 miles north of the San Diego Zoo in San Pasquel Valley. A picturesque area.

We left early to visit the zoo and arrived a few minutes after the park opened and headed straight for the Journey into Africa Tour, which is located clear on the other end of the park. We were glad we went first, since the later it was in the day the more people there were on the tour and as a bonus the animals are lot more active in the morning.

san diego wildlife park

This tour takes you by giraffes, cheetahs, gazelle, the rare white rhinos (there are only 6 in the world, this park has two of them), ostrich, antelope, etc. The tour is about 30 min long and is a cool ride to take in the park.

Our next stop were the lions, which were one of the most fascinating to watch as the two cubs were wrestling while mom and dad looked on. The lion’s area is huge compared to regular zoo enclosures. Most of the enclosures are quite large, which means lots and lots of walking for us humans.

The Wild Animal Park could easily take many days to explore all of the exhibits in depth, but if you don’t mind a lot of walking you cover a lot of ground in a day. The tiger was a disappointment-he is a far walk from other animals and was no where to be found. The gorillas were eating when we arrived, cheetahs were basking in the morning sun, and the meerkats were people watching.

Our favorites at the park was the African tour, the lions, and the hidden jungle where you could see many tropical birds close-up and the Lorikeet Landing exhibit. The Lorikeets are not shy and will land on your arm, or shoulder or in my case your head. We had a lot of fun interacting with the Lorikeets.