Our local experts surveyed guests, canvassed review sites, and researched hundreds of different San Diego tours to select our annual best of the best list.
Best Night Tour – San Diego City Lights Night Tour
Some cities are just transcendent when the sun recedes into the horizon and San Diego is one of those cities. Depart from scenic Seaport Village on your twilight trolley tour with a chilled out soundtrack and full narration en route to the historic Gaslamp Quarter. Later, cruise through downtown to the U.S. Grant, a luxury hotel built by the son of the 18th President of the United States. Just across the way, you’ll find Horton Plaza Park and the Greek-inspired Broadway Fountain, a 106-year-old illuminated fountain that is one of the first of its kind in the world. Gaze at one of the country’s most dazzling and elegant public spaces at Balboa Park.
This national historic landmark is a marvel of horticulture, innovation, and architecture. We’ll pass by the lush botanical wonderland that surrounds more than 17 unique museums and the San Diego Zoo. You’ll have plenty of choice photo opportunities during your night tour, especially during the cross over the Coronado Bridge and the stop at Coronado’s Ferry Landing where the city’s skyline radiates before you.
Best Sightseeing Tour – Old Town Trolley Tours
Our top-ranked, TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence winning, hop on/ hop off San Diego/ Coronado tours deliver the very best sightseeing experience in the city. Awash in colorful Spanish Colonial architecture and home to some of the most magnificent beaches in Southern California, San Diego has earned its nickname as ‘America’s Finest City’ and Old Town Trolley Tours has been ‘wowing’ visitors with her beauty for 30 years. Visit stunning Balboa Park, a sprawling collection of Spanish Colonial Revival and Moorish architecture that encompasses 17 museums as the gateway to the world-famous San Diego Zoo.
Explore the city’s naval roots with a stop at the world’s oldest active ship, The Star of India, and you can also check out the impressive USS Midway, a decommissioned aircraft carrier that currently serves as one of the most visited maritime/military museums in the country. Drive over the bridge to Coronado. This small island town, nestled between the San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean, is known for its fascinating beginnings, its idyllic setting and of course, its beautiful beach resorts. Millions of visitors have traveled here to enjoy the waterfront, dine at the fabulous restaurants, shop at the upscale boutiques, and view the many historic buildings including the world-famous Hotel del Coronado.
The attractive hop-on hop-off option on these tours allows you to disembark and re-board at any time during their hours of operation so you can enjoy the city at your own pace.
Best Haunted Tour – Ghosts & Gravestones
Aboard the Ghosts & Gravestones nighttime tour, your costumed Ghost hosts will transport you to some of the city’s most haunted sights! You’ll travel through Old Town with your ghoulish guides as ‘America’s Finest City’ becomes its most haunted. Enter the infamous Whaley House, said to be the most haunted house in America and the site of a most heinous public execution. You’ll walk through the historic burial grounds of Pioneer Park and El Campo Santo Cemetery. Visitors to these sites have reported strange paranormal activity as well as disembodied apparitions hovering amongst the tombstones. For amateur ghost hunters, paranormal aficionados and people that just like to push the envelope a little for some extra thrills, a ride on this San Diego ghost tour is simply to die for.
Best Museum Tour – USS Midway
Once a full-fledged U.S. Navy aircraft carrier until its decommissioning after the First Gulf War, The USS Midway has since been enjoying its new role as a museum. The Midway provides an exciting opportunity for visitors to explore life aboard an aircraft carrier. You can tour this legendary vessel from her boilers to her bridge. A general admission ticket provides access to a self-guided audio tour that includes 60 separate exhibits located throughout the ship and more than 29 restored aircraft.
You will view several decks as you learn about life aboard an aircraft carrier and why these vessels are called floating cities. The tour includes the berthing areas for officers and sailors, the galley where over 13,000 meals were served each day, the sick bay and pilot ready rooms as well as the hangar bay and flight deck. You will learn how the crew produced water, powered the carrier and maintained the aircraft. Climb the ladders to the bridge and look down on the more than 1,000-foot-long flight deck. Visit primary flight control, the location where the air boss oversaw flight operations, and view the Fresnel lens, the part of the landing system that enabled pilots to “call the ball.” You can experience life as an aviator in the high-tech simulators and view music videos and short films.
Best Water Tour – San Diego SEAL Tour
Your San Diego sea & land adventure tour begins when you depart from one of two departure points – Seaport Village or the Embarcadero. This distinctive and unsinkable Hydra-Terra vehicle meets U.S. Coast Guard safety standards and, because it rides so high on an open-air chassis, offers up some of the best views of San Diego.
The seasoned group of SEAL captains knows the city inside and out and they’ll have you feeling like a local in no time. Once you approach the San Diego Bay, the moment has arrived for splashdown! And just like that, you are floating in calm, coastal waters enjoying an unobstructed 360-degree view of this Southern California jewel! You’ll pass by the Naval Base at Point Loma where some of the biggest and most modern military vessels are anchored and you’ll even get a chance to pay a visit to some of the harbor’s oldest residents like sea lions and dolphins!
Best Specialty Tour – Brothels, Bites & Booze
It’s hard to imagine America’s Finest City being overrun with gambling houses, brothels, and gunslingers, but that’s how this city got its start in the late 1880s. Luckily, things have changed for the better and this tour will bridge San Diego’s past with the present through its food and social scene. Your guide will take you through the streets of the Gaslamp Quarter and reveal San Diego as it once was. Learn how the city has managed to transform from an area that once claimed over 120 brothels into a vibrant nightlife hotspot as well as a major culinary destination. Finish your evening with a sweet treat and a tale of one of the area’s most infamous brothels.
Best For Kids – The San Diego Zoo
Located in Balboa Park, the 100-acre San Diego Zoo is home to over 4,000 rare and endangered animals from more than 800 different species. Simulating indigenous habitats down to the last detail, these innovative animal exhibits provide visitors with the opportunity to view these exotic creatures up close. You will also learn how conservation efforts are protecting the planet’s wildlife and their natural environments.
Walkways and bridges provide convenient access to the Africa Rocks, Asia Passage, Northern Frontier, Outback and other exhibits. Animals on display include gorillas, elephants, big cats and the largest collection of koala bears outside of Australia as well as numerous smaller animals, birds, and reptiles. The habitats depict a wide range of ecosystems from around the world, including the savannas, deserts, tropical rainforests, and ice-covered tundra. Included in the price of admission, the Children’s Zoo features 30 special exhibits and activities designed especially for younger visitors. Children will love getting to know more than 40 specially trained gentle animal ambassadors. Come and see why this zoo has a reputation as being among the best in the world!
Best Theme Park – LEGOLAND
Legos have delighted and stoked the imaginations of generations of children and have earned their spot as one of America’s most recognizable toys. These plastic, multi-colored building blocks certainly have come a long way, enjoying a popular resurgence among today’s kids and their kid-at-heart parents. Imagine a world made entirely of Legos and you’ll get just a hint of what Legoland is all about. This fascinating place for both kids and adults is composed of worlds within worlds including Star Wars, pirates, knights, dune raiders, firefighters and adventurers of all stripes. Marvel at just how far a European kid’s toy from 1949 has grown into something so quintessentially American!