A city with many faces, San Diego boasts sprawling green spaces, fine sand beaches tickled with turquoise Pacific waters and a rich history hidden within the skyline. Known as the Birthplace of California and America’s Finest City (among a plethora of other names), San Diego’s history as we know it begins in the Native American period. Over the years, the city was shaped by Spanish and Mexican influences before growing into the modern cityscape we know it as today.
With enough tourist hotspots and hidden gems to fill many a travel blog, San Diego has become a firm favorite among visitors from all over the world — and for good reason. While San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park have their own charm, there’s more to this city than meets the eye. For those who want to scratch below the surface and learn more about all the things to do in San Diego, you’ll need a San Diego visitor’s guide that covers all the places that are off the beaten path but equally as magical, a local’s guide to San Diego.
Best Local Spots in San Diego
Few places in a local’s guide to San Diego remind people of its temperate climate as much as the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge. Framed by swaying trees, this pedestrian-only footpath takes visitors across the Sessions Canyon for a slice of oasis calm in the treetops. Find it in Bankers Hill and cross the 400-foot bridge slowly to take in the surrounding fauna. Out of all local things to do in San Diego, this is one of the most unique and will also afford sparse crowds and excellent views no matter when you go. Built in 1912, you’ll be taking in a key part of the city’s history each time you visit. It’s sure to bring you calm with each step.
You’ll never run out of things to do in San Diego for locals, and Harper’s Topiary Garden is proof. A sight you may not expect to see in any travel blog, San Diego has been harboring this best-kept secret for years. Created by Edna and Alex Harper, this beautiful garden is shaped using the art of topiary — crafting otherwise plain shrubs into magical creatures. Find everything from animals, strange human figures and geometric shapes among their creations, which hold the Harpers’ own personal stamp. If you like the unusual, this is one of the top local things to do in San Diego.
San Diego is a city filled with historical sites and museums, but some of the lesser-known spots will reserve the top spot in any local’s guide to San Diego. This includes the “Sin Ship” wreckage in Coronado, which is one of the only shipwrecks in the whole of the United States you can see without having to pull on some scuba gear. Otherwise known as the SS Monte Carlo, this ship is so named due to its reputation. A gambling and party ship that floated offshore during the Prohibition era, it was destroyed in a storm in the 1930s, only to be discovered by El Niño storms many years later. Holding a story many are left thinking about long after seeing it, the wreckage remains one of San Diego’s most beautiful and haunting sights — one of the things to do in San Diego for locals that won’t ever drop off the list.
Some things to do in San Diego for locals will tickle visitors in a way they might not expect, such as the Coronado Sand Dunes. To any unsuspecting eye, these fine white sand dunes provide a gateway to Pacific Ocean views — enough to feature them in any tropical travel blog. San Diego throws a surprise in, though. These man-made dunes may appear hidden from some vantage points but from an aerial view spell out “CORONADO BEACH.” Proving that San Diego has heart and humor in spades, this spot is enough to make any visitor smile. Even if you’re just there to enjoy the sand and sunshine, hop off the trolley here to never be disappointed.
Places Foodies Can Visit in San Diego
There’s no shortage of local things to do in San Diego, especially where foodies are concerned. In every local’s guide to San Diego, you’ll see Miss B’s Coconut Club top the list for its warmth and charm — beginning with the cozy interior and eclectic crockery. Nestled into a nook on locals’ favorite, Mission Beach, end a day of exploring and embrace the tiki drinks in all shapes and sizes. Served in mugs that have been collected by Miss B’s Coconut Club over the years, both food and drink have a Caribbean and Cuban twist that has visitors and locals alike falling in love with its tropical feel.
Further up the San Diego coast lies a place called El Pueblo, which is known by locals to serve some of the best food in San Diego County. One of the things to do in San Diego for locals, which lies a little farther off the beaten track, visitors have all but confirmed that the trip is worth it. Perhaps surprisingly, you’ll find El Pueblo at a gas station in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, where an array of Mexican-inspired food greets you. Whether you go day or night, midday or midnight, this 24-hour food spot always has guests covered with their fan-favorite carne asada tacos. Proof that not all the best food spots end up on a travel blog, San Diego surprises and delights once again.
Unusual Places to Stay in San Diego
There’s nothing better than a little luxury on a trip to San Diego, which is where Andaz San Diego comes in. Sleek, modern and unique, this hotel is known for its soft, plush carpets, mirrored floors and rooftop bar — plus an always exclusive repertoire of guests. Somewhere that truly comes alive at night and on the weekends, there’s a reason it’s in every local’s guide to San Diego. Ideal for couples looking to step up their trip and take in the San Diego skyline with a drink in hand.
Even those who’ve lived in the city for years will say that, of all local things to do in San Diego, making the most of its beach setting is one of them. Minimalist and modern, TOWER23 keeps its luxe interiors stylish but simple so guests can take in the beauty of the scenery around them. A hotspot for beach activity lovers and aspiring whale watchers, views from TOWER23 are unobstructed thanks to the all-glass exterior. It’s a great base to use for all the things to do in San Diego for locals when you’re here. For moments when you want to relax in luxury, however, you can view the stretching Pacific from a balcony or patio — or even from the comfort of your own whirlpool tub.
Spotted exclusively across Instagram and many a travel blog, San Diego holds a true charmer up its sleeve with Moxy. Nestled in the trendy San Diego Gaslamp District, this boutique hotel keeps guests in the heart of the action. With something to suit all interests, it doubles as one of the local things to do in San Diego that everyone can get on board with. From its 24-hour bar to cozy corners and a lobby that welcomes those from all walks of life, you might find yourself spending more time in here than out.
Hard Rock Hotel has been a well-loved institution in San Diego since the first hotel opened, which is why you’ll always find it tucked away on a local’s guide to San Diego. Rock and roll-themed and ever-stylish, it’s home to the city-favorite club, 207, Maryjane’s Diner, Nobu and rooftop bar, Float. Easy to locate in the Gaslamp Quarter, you’re never far from the action of the city. Local things to do in San Diego can be found right outside the lobby doors, and foodies can delight in the array of options on offer within the hotel.
As somewhere with near-tropical weather, beautiful beaches and the San Diego Zoo, San Diego has plenty to see, which makes it more than worth visiting. Aside from the warm seas, whale watching opportunities and plethora of historical museums to visit, there’s another side to San Diego some visitors may never get to see — the side only locals experience. There is never a shortage of things to do in San Diego for locals and visitors alike, and a local’s guide to San Diego can prove to be extremely useful when visitors are hoping to glimpse below the surface of the city. If you stumble across locals’ tips and many an online travel blog, San Diego opens a world of new sights visitors take more than one visit to explore.
Food enthusiasts will say exploring the culinary scene is a must, especially as one of the local things to do in San Diego. Tasting each part of the eclectic and unique food offerings here is easy with Downtown San Diego, Seaport Village and the Gaslamp Quarter. In all these bustling hotspots, you’ll find the Caribbean, Mexican and Californian-inspired food San Diego is famous for. Mostly, visitors love trying homemade Baja fish tacos — a combination of Mexican influences and San Diego’s fresh seafood. You may also wish to try a wood-fired, California-style pizza or sip on some of the local Southern California wine.
As somewhere known for its temperate climate, San Diego is famed as somewhere people can visit all year, though June, July and August are the most popular months to visit. Around this time, more outdoor activities and things to do in San Diego for locals will crop up to help families fill their time, and although it can become humid and hot in summer, San Diego’s location as a marine climate on the Pacific coast means you’re never far from the refreshing sea air. If you’re hoping to save some money but also catch fewer crowds, visit in the shoulder months of April, May, September or October. This way, you’ll be able to enjoy the sunshine and warmer weather but keep your trip feeling relaxed — even in the heart of the city.