There’s nothing more fun than being a newcomer in Sandi. Wondering why? Because there are so many things to do in San Diego that your schedule will always be full – especially if you’ve never spent a longer period here. From museums to recreational activities, there is something for everyone’s taste here.
Once the process of moving to San Diego is over with, you’ll surely want to get to know your surroundings. Exploring the city like a tourist might seem to be an odd choice since you’re here to stay, but there’s nothing wrong with visiting all the places of interest first, especially if you’re a newcomer. Once you’re done with all the popular spots, you can move on to learning how to live like a local. To help you get started, we’ve put together a list of popular and not-so-popular things to do in Sandi.
Take a Walk Through Balboa Park
Balboa Park stretches on over 1,000 acres of land close to the downtown area. It contains vast open space areas where you can go for a walk, enjoy a picnic, or take in the view of colorful gardens, such as the cactus garden, the Alcatraz garden, the California native plant garden, and more.
Aside from open areas, however, there are also several institutions, including museums, theaters, a stadium, cultural centers, a carousel, and the famous zoo. It is important to note that this is one of the oldest outdoor public recreational areas in the country. Needless to say, some of the best neighborhoods in San Diego are located in close vicinity, so in case you’re still house-hunting, this would be a good place to look.
… Or Find a Park not Crowded with Tourists
The one thing that you might find off-putting about Balboa is the fact that it is constantly brimming with tourists. This might not bother you that much at first, but it will quickly become a drag. So here are some less popular, but just as beautiful alternatives:
- Sunset Cliffs. Facing the Pacific, Sunset Cliffs offers breathtaking views of the ocean. As the name suggests, this is a great spot to watch sunsets and be one with nature. Plus, you might catch a glimpse of the California gray whale.
- Mission Trails. Stretching on over 5,000 acres, Mission Trails has several recreational areas, sixty miles of hiking, biking, and walking trails, an area for rock climbing, a campground, and more.
- Presidio. This historic site is located in an area where the first European settlements in the West were established. It stretches on an area of around 40 acres.
Visit Old Town
Old Town is more than just an attraction for history buffs. Located in the heart of the city, some of its features date back to 1769. This was the first European settlement in the whole state of California. There are also several tours you can sign up for and learn more about the city and how it became what it is today. Several Old Town attractions are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The neighborhood hosts monthly events that celebrate the history and its people, such as Californio Day. Even more importantly, though, big annual events and festivals take place here as well. This includes Cinco de Mayo, Old Town Art Festival, Dia De Los Muertos, and more.
Try out a Flight Simulator at USS Midway Museum
The USS Midway Museum is more than just your regular gallery. It is an institution dedicated to the history of the Navy, so it comes as no surprise that it is, in fact, located on a ship. Aside from a considerable collection of aircraft carriers and other artifacts, the ship also hosts a number of educational programs for students and teachers, a flight simulator, guided tours, overnight adventures, holiday celebrations, and more. Volunteer historians gladly share stories with all visitors. Ticket prices go from $9 to $22, while kids under the age of 6 have free access.
A Whole Museum Day
Why stop at USS Midway? There are so many other museums you could visit around Sandi. Learn more about history, nature, culture, and arts in the following venues:
- Old Town Model Railroad Depot. This small gallery will take you back in time and teach you all about the history of trains. You can also celebrate a birthday here, or any other notable event.
- Spanish Village Art Center.Located within Balboa, the Art Center allows you to witness the creation of art by talented painters, sculptors, smiths, jewelry designers, digital artists, and more.
- Timken. Timken is an institution dedicated to arts, and it hosts regular exhibitions, borrowed exhibits, workshops, educational events, and guest lectures. Access is free for everyone.
Go for a Roller Coaster Ride in Mission Beach
Considered by many to be one of the best places to live in San Diego, Mission Beach is more than just a regular residential neighborhood. With almost two miles of boardwalk, it is the go-to place for everyone who wants to enjoy the warm Californian weather. It features numerous shops, bars, and restaurants, but one of its biggest selling points is the amusement park. This is where the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster is located, along with bumper car rides, rock climbing, mini-golf, and an arcade. Whether you enjoy jogging, cycling, surfing, scuba diving, or just sunbathing, you’ll surely find that Mission Beach offers exactly what you need.
Take Your Family to SeaWorld
If you’re moving with kids, you’ll probably be interested in finding out what attractions there can keep them occupied. Then SeaWorld is the way to go! For all thrill-seekers, there are some great rides here, including Electric Eel, Tidal Twister, Manta, Octarock, and more.
If you’d rather spend your visit calmly, then enjoy some of the many presentations and shows, such as Christmas specials, shows on ice, dolphin days, a sea lion show, and so on. SeaWorld is home to a number of different aquatic species, from dolphins to penguins, otters, and turtles. During your visit, you’ll get a chance to learn more about these animals, their habitats, and the challenges they face in nature.
Pay a Visit to San Diego Zoo and Meet More Than 650 Animal Species
Why limit yourself to aquatic animals, when you can pay a visit to the Zoo and meet more than 650 species. However, you’ll be able to do so much more here than just watching animals. The Zoo hosts a number of attractions, including botanical tours, a guided bus tour, an aerial tram ride, play areas for kids, along with a number of other shows, presentations, and educational programs. There are also numerous dining options here – they might not be the best restaurants in San Diego, but they will definitely feel like it after hours of walking around and watching animals.
Are You Into Old Lighthouses? Then Head to Cabrillo National Monument
Cabrillo National Monument is a 14-feet statue dedicated to Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. This Iberian explorer was the first European in history to set foot on the West Coast. The Monument, however, is not the only thing to see here. The park where it is located is also home to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. Although it is no longer in service, the lighthouse has been turned into an important landmark where you can learn a bit about the history of the Bay.
Aside from this, the flora and fauna of the area are quite diverse, and they both keep stubbornly defying pollution, toxic chemicals in the water, the overpopulation of some species, the introduction of non-native and exotic specimens, and so on.
Go Scuba Diving in La Jolla Cove
If you’re a fan of scuba diving, you will love La Jolla Cove. Protected as part of a marine reserve, it boasts a rich underwater life, which makes it one of the most popular spots for scuba divers and snorkelers. However, at certain times, the Cove can get dangerous due to waves, which is why it is not advised for people with subpar swimming and diving skills. The cove is home to a small gritty beach, where a number of water-related events take place throughout the year. However, if you’re planning a visit to La Jolla, keep in mind that surfboards, kayaks, boogie boards, inflatable mattresses, and other swimming devices are not allowed. The same goes for fishing.
Other Options for a Day at the Beach
La Jolla might be breathtaking, but truth be told, if you’re only looking for a spot to enjoy the sun and go swimming, it might not be the best option. There are numerous other beaches in the area where you can actually bring your inflatable mattress and, more importantly, where you don’t have to elbow your way through the crowd. Here are some of them:
- Tourmaline. Often described as a hidden gem, Tourmaline is the go-to place for everyone who likes surfing. It is surrounded by tall cliffs and divided into two areas – one for surfing, and one for swimming.
- Imperial Beach. Although this one is pretty popular with tourists, it is worth the visit, even if only for the fact that it hosts an annual Sand Castle Competition. Seriously, who would want to miss out on that?
Windansea. Another secluded spot for visitors who would like some privacy, Windansea is located in the La Jolla neighborhood. As a bonus, it is a great spot to watch whales during the migration season.
Shop ‘til You Drop in Seaport Village
Seaport Village offers an unparalleled shopping experience, with over 50 stores, more than ten dining options, and other entertainment. Aside from being a spacious downtown shopping mall, the Village hosts a list of events, such as concerts, workshops for children, shows, and so on. Some of the stores you can find here include The Bay Company, Captain’s Cove, Sports Headquarters, Sock Harbor, and more.
As far as eateries are concerned, you’ll be able to choose between delicious Ben & Jerry ice cream, gourmet pancakes at Frost Me, burgers at the Burger Company, candy at the Something Sweet Shop, and so much more.
The Best Things to Do in San Diego Once You Get to Know the City
Now that you’ve learned more about – and hopefully visited – some of Sandi’s biggest attractions, it is time to start living like a local. Begin looking for your favorite dining spots, get acquainted with your immediate surroundings, and make a list of all your favorite activities with kids. To help you do that, we’ve put together a few suggestions.
Where to Eat Like a Local
Forget all about popular and overpriced restaurants crowded with tourists. You should eat like a true local. We suggest starting with the following spots:
- The Crack Shack. This place is all about chicken and eggs. From breakfast sandwiches to delicious fried chicken and other so-called “clucks,” it is the go-to place for many locals.
- Campfire. The concept behind this place is the experience of sitting around a campfire with friends with a marshmallow on a stick on a warm summer evening. We assure you, their menu will definitely take you back to one of those nights.
- Fidel’s. Whenever you feel like eating delicious Mexican food, head to Fidel’s. Not only are their meals mouthwatering, but you can easily satisfy your hunger here with less than $15.
- The Marine Room. When you feel like taking your significant other on a romantic date, the Marine Room should be your first option. Good wine, fine dining, and a beautiful interior – what more could you ask for.
Things to Do in San Diego When You’re Short on Money
The cost of living in San Diego can definitely get high, so it is completely understandable that you’d like to sometimes do something for free. Luckily, Sandi abounds in free activities for everyone. Of course, we’ve already mentioned some of those – beaches and parks in this community are the go-to options when you want to save money. But what else is there?
Every Sunday afternoon, the Spreckels Organ Society organizes free concerts performed by organist Raul Prieto Ramirez. During the summer, these concerts also take place on Mondays and feature visiting musicians and silent movies. It is worth noting that the Spreckels Organ is the largest outdoor musical instrument on the planet. It has over 5,000 pipes!
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be an Olympic athlete? Well, now you can find out if you visit the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center. Don’t worry, you won’t have to go through an excruciating workout – but you are more than welcome to take a self-guided tour. You can also get a guide for the small price of $5 per person and up.
A visit to a mining town might not initially sound like a fun trip, but trust us, Julian is worth your time! Located only an hour away, it can be a great weekend activity for the whole family. The historic community offers various dining options, shopping locations, as well as accommodation, in case you decide to stay the night. However, even taking a stroll down its picturesque streets without spending the dime can be quite an experience.
We should also mention that a number of museums, science centers, and other institutions have free days, which is a great opportunity to see some of the most breathtaking works of art, learn about brilliant scientific inventions, or simply have fun with your family without breaking the bank.
Activities for Families with Kids
Once you’re done worrying about San Diego schools for your children, look into the things you can do with them to help them get to know their new hometown. Aside from the usual stuff – the Zoo and SeaWorld, Sandi offers plenty of other attractions for its youngest residents. But before we move on to our top picks, it’s worth mentioning that Kids Free San Diego is an October tradition that allows children free access to hundreds of facilities, free meals at countless restaurants, free stays at Hilton Garden Hotel and other accommodation facilities, and much more!
But before October comes, what can you do with your young ones? Start by checking out the following:
- Legoland California. Located in Carlsbad, Legoland California is the favorite destination of all young locals. Its main parts are the theme park, water park, and an aquarium, but the premises also include a hotel where you can stay if you’re aiming for a longer visit.
- Belmont Amusement Park. Belmont is located in Mission Beach and features a rollercoaster, an arcade, a number of rides, a zip line, ice cream shops, a laser tag course, and more. It is a great choice both for young children and teens.
- Seal Tours. Ever been on a bus-boat? Now’s your chance. Take your kids on a seal tour that lets you see the best of this community – both on land and sea. The tour takes 90 minutes and includes an audio guide.
- Speedboat Adventures. This might not be the best choice for toddlers, but your teenage kids will definitely love it. Even if you’ve never sat behind the wheel of a boat, you shouldn’t have any trouble driving these.
- Whale watching. For around nine months of the year, you can take your kids whale watching. Enjoy watching 20,000 gray whales as they migrate all the way from Alaska to Mexico, where they will give birth to their young. Between June and September, you might also get lucky and spot a blue whale.
Entertainment on a Rainy Day
On average, there are around 40 rainy days in Sandi, which isn’t much. You get to enjoy the clear sky almost all year round, but even when it gets cloudy, you don’t have to sit home and waste away the day. There are still activities you can enjoy even when the weather isn’t optimal:
- Indoor rock climbing. Vertical Hold is a gym with an indoor rock climbing facility. They also offer various programs, such as yoga classes, and they have a regular gym, in case climbing isn’t really your thing.
- Trolley tours. A rainy day doesn’t mean you can’t go sightseeing. The only difference is that, instead of walking, you’ll be taking a comfortable ride in a trolley around Old Town. There is also a night tour that allows you to enjoy the magnificent nightlights.
- Indoor skydiving. If you’re a thrill-seeker, you know just how boring a rainy day can get. Not if you visit iFly! What’s more, this activity is completely safe for kids as well, so you could turn it into a fun family activity.
- Whaley House. If you’re a fan of a different kind of thrill, you’ll probably enjoy a trip to the spooky Whaley House. It is popular among locals as the most haunted house in the state, and maybe even the country, and it is said to be the residence of the ghosts of the Whaley family.
- Ice skating. The rest of the world seems to see ice skating as a winter activity. Well not here. Here, you’ll get to do it whenever you want to. In fact, a visit to UTC Ice in the middle of August could be refreshing.
Volunteering in Sandi
Sometimes, we should look beyond what’s only fun and entertaining and think about how we should spend our free time more productively. If you’ve been thinking about finding a new hobby that will not only make you feel better but also help others, we have a few suggestions for you. Here are some of the places and organizations where you could volunteer and help make this community even better:
- Just in Time for Foster Youth. JIT works to help former foster kids grow up to be fully functioning adults. Statistics show that very few foster kids who age out of the system end up getting a college degree, and a very high percentage of them end up in prison at some point in their lives. JIT aims to change that. There are various ways in which you can help.
- Food Bank.The Jacobs & Cushman Food Bank provides meals to those who are less fortunate. This is the largest such organization in the area, and you can help in the warehouse, with food distribution, or during special events. Kids older than ten can also volunteer, so you could turn this into a valuable and wholesome lesson.
- Traveling Stories. Do you like to read? Some kids never get to experience the beautiful feeling of being lost in a novel, simply because they’ve never been taught how to read proficiently. Help change that by teaching them through the Traveling Stories program.
- Refugeenet. Every year, people from all over the world come to our country in an effort to escape war and other misfortunes. Once they get here, they are faced with the challenge of adapting to a completely new way of life. Help them do so by signing up to be a tutor for Refugeenet.
Where to Take Your Dog
If you’re moving with dogs, you will probably be interested in finding out what all you can do with your furry friend. Luckily, Sandi abounds not only in places that are pet-friendly, but also spots that are completely pet-oriented.
One such place is the Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar, famous for its great happy hour menu. They also have a patio where all the dogs can play and explore. In fact, even if you don’t have a pet, this restaurant is worth a visit.
Another spot you might be interested in is Coronado Dog Beach. This is a destination where you can take your pet at any time of the year and let them run freely off-leash. There are free dog litter bags at the entrance to Coronado Dog Beach. Keep in mind, however, that there are strict rules that are enforced at all times. For example, food and treats are not permitted, and neither is aggressive behavior, both by dogs and people.
Grape Street is another location you should visit with your canine friend. Located in a residential area and surrounded by nature, it is a true heaven on earth for animals. There are also water fountains where your puppy can get a break from Californian heat.
Has your pup ever been on a boat? Now’s their chance! Seafront Boat Rentals offers, among other things, pet-friendly tours where you and your dog can experience Sandi from a whole different perspective – from the Pacific Ocean.
If you like wines, we have some good news – you can take your dog on a wine tasting tour with you. In fact, there are two amazing pet-friendly wineries in Sandi – San Pasqual and Eagles Nest. Pay them a visit and enjoy some good wine with your pup by your side.
Where to Escape
Sometimes, we all feel the need to get away from the hustle and bustle, at least for a weekend. Luckily, there are some pretty neat weekend getaway options near your future home where you can travel to recharge your batteries and get back in touch with nature:
- Catalina Island. You can travel to Catalina by a catamaran from Dana Point for a weekend getaway on this picturesque island. Aside from your usual beachfront activities, such as snorkeling and scuba diving, you will get to enjoy other activities, such as the Jazz Festival taking place in October or amazing views and undisturbed nature.
- Idyllwild. Fresh mountain air can do wonders for your mental and physical health, even if just for the weekend. Idyllwild is located high up on the slopes of San Jacinto. It will take you roughly two hours to get there, but it will feel like you’re in a completely different country.
- Sequoia. Located around five hours from Sandi, Sequoia boasts giant redwood trees that are over three centuries old, as well as several campsites and lodges where you could stay.
- Joshua Tree. We’re willing to bet Joshua Tree is unlike anywhere you’ve been before. It offers its visitors the opportunity to camp in the middle of a desert, surrounded by scarce vegetation and breathtaking views. There are also hiking trails for everyone who enjoys outdoor activities.
Now that you know what all there is to do in San Diego, start thinking about finding reliable San Diego movers with exceptional moving services and begin the new chapter of your life. This community has so much to offer, we’re sure you won’t have a single boring moment once you’ve moved here. From museums to hiking trails, there is a little bit for everyone. Welcome to America’s Finest City!