13 Things to Do in San Diego, CA if You’re New to the City

Nestled along the stunning coastline of Southern California, San Diego is a vibrant city with an endless array of activities to enjoy. From the world-famous San Diego Zoo to the beautiful beaches and bustling Gaslamp Quarter, there’s never a dull moment in this sun-soaked city. 

Whether you’re considering a move to this coastal paradise or are already fortunate enough to rent an apartment or own a home in San Diego, this Redfin guide is for you. Here is Redfin’s list of the top 13 things to do in San Diego, for both newcomers and long-time locals alike.

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1. Visit Balboa Park

Balboa Park is a 1,200-acre urban cultural park in San Diego. It is home to 15 major museums, several performing arts venues, beautiful gardens, and the San Diego Zoo. Visitors can explore the park’s stunning architecture, lush landscapes, and diverse cultural institutions. San Diego local Craig Blaine of JCB Music recommends new residents check out Balboa Park. “It is a cultural oasis.” Whether you’re interested in art, history, science, or nature, Balboa Park has something for everyone.

“Balboa Park is a artistic haven in San Diego,” raves Dylan Mitchell, Marketing Director of the San Diego Air & Space Museum. “Its array of museums offer everything from aerospace wonders to fine arts. With its historic theaters hosting acclaimed performances and its renowned venues attracting top-tier talent, San Diego stands as a cultural powerhouse on the West Coast.”

2. Visit Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument is located at the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula and offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and San Diego Bay. “The Cabrillo National Monument offers a blend of natural beauty and cultural heritage, from its historic lighthouse providing panoramic views of the city and the Pacific Ocean,” says SD Downtown Transportation, a luxury car service in San Diego. “Whether you’re interested in history, photography, or simply enjoying stunning coastline views, this iconic spot offers something memorable for every visitor to San Diego.” The monument also commemorates the landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European to set foot on the West Coast of the United States.

3. Take a hot air balloon ride

For a unique and fun experience in San Diego, consider taking a hot air balloon ride over the beautiful Temecula Valley Wine Country. “Just a short drive from San Diego, this adventure offers breathtaking views of vineyards, mountains, and rolling hills from a bird’s-eye view. You can float peacefully in the sky as the sun rises or sets, making it a perfect romantic getaway or a memorable outing with friends and family,” says Aziz Nazarov from MagiCleanMaid, a local home and office cleaning service. “It’s an opportunity to see Southern California’s beauty in a whole new way and create lasting memories high above the gorgeous landscape.”

4. Explore the San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo is a world-renowned attraction and home to over 3,700 animals of more than 650 species and subspecies. It offers a rare opportunity to see a wide variety of wildlife in a beautiful and naturalistic setting. Visitors can take guided bus tours, watch animal shows, and even have up-close animal encounters. The zoo is committed to conservation and education, making it a must-visit for animal lovers of all ages.

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5. Relax at La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove is a picturesque beach and a popular spot for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving in the stunning La Jolla neighborhood. The crystal-clear waters and abundant marine life make it a favorite destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Visitors can also enjoy stunning views of the coastline, explore the nearby sea caves, or simply relax on the sandy shores.

6. Visit USS Midway Museum

The USS Midway Museum is a maritime museum located in downtown San Diego. It features the aircraft carrier USS Midway, which served in the United States Navy for 47 years. Visitors can explore the ship’s flight deck, hangar deck, and engine room, as well as a collection of 29 restored aircraft. The museum offers a unique opportunity to learn about the history of naval aviation and the experiences of the sailors who served aboard the USS Midway.

7. Enjoy the Gaslamp Quarter and other unique neighborhoods

The Gaslamp Quarter is a historic district in downtown San Diego known for its vibrant nightlife, shopping, and dining. Visitors can explore the area’s Victorian-era buildings, enjoy live music and entertainment, and sample a wide variety of cuisine. The Gaslamp Quarter neighborhood is also home to numerous art galleries, theaters, and cultural events, making it a lively destination.

Johan Engman, a San Diego local and owner of the Fig Tree Cafe, recommends taking tours and scavenger hunts as a way to get acquainted with San Diego’s many neighborhoods. “Not only will you know your way around the city, but you’ll also learn a number of fun facts that will make you appreciate the area even more.”

8. Take a Harbor Cruise

A harbor cruise is a great way to see San Diego from a different perspective. Visitors can take a narrated tour of the city’s waterfront, passing by landmarks such as the Maritime Museum, Seaport Village, and the Coronado Bridge. Some cruises even offer the chance to see marine wildlife such as sea lions and dolphins. Whether it’s a daytime sightseeing cruise or a romantic sunset cruise, exploring the harbor by boat is a memorable experience.

Emily Patterson from Flagship Cruises & Events highly recommends embarking on a harbor cruise. “Savor a fresh meal aboard a dinner or brunch cruise. Witness majestic whales on their annual migration aboard a seasonal whale watching excursion. Or skip the traffic and take the ferry from Downtown to enjoy a day in picturesque Coronado.”

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9. Explore Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

Old Town San Diego is considered the “birthplace” of California and is home to many historic buildings and museums. Visitors can explore the preserved adobe buildings, visit the Whaley House Museum, and experience the rich history and culture of early San Diego. The park also hosts various events and demonstrations, offering a glimpse into the past of this vibrant and diverse city.

10. Relax at Mission Beach

Mission Beach is a popular beach and boardwalk area known for its lively atmosphere and recreational activities. Visitors can enjoy swimming, sunbathing, and beach volleyball, as well as biking, rollerblading, and people-watching along the boardwalk. The area also offers a variety of shops, restaurants, and amusement park rides, making it a fun destination.

11. Catch a concert at the Rady Shell

Any music lovers in San Diego are gonna want to visit the Rady Shell. Located in Jacobs Park, the venue opened in 2021 and hosts all kinds of events and concerts. The Rady Shell features a covered stage and can seat up to 10,000 people.

“The centerpiece of the 3.7-acre public Jacobs Park developed and managed by the San Diego Symphony on the city’s scenic Embarcadero, The Rady Shell is the first permanent outdoor venue in the San Diego Symphony’s century-long history, designed to host more than 100 concerts and events year-round,” says the Symphony’s John Velasco. “Concerts on this year’s season will include performances with the San Diego Symphony and Music Director Rafael Payare, artists like John Legend and Jason Mraz, jazz virtuosos like San Diego’s own Gilbert Castellanos, and more.”

12. Visit the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography

The Birch Aquarium is a public exploration center for the world-renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography. It features more than 60 habitats of fish and invertebrates, as well as interactive exhibits and educational programs. Visitors can learn about marine life, ocean conservation, and ongoing research at Scripps, making it a fascinating and educational experience for visitors of all ages.

13. Check out some of San Diego’s breweries

According to Anna Brigham of Thorn St. Brewery, “San Diego is full of places to grab some food and drinks while hanging out with friends. Take a walking tour through historic North Park hitting up local craft breweries along the way.” Thorn Street Brewery was the first craft brewery in North Park. Today, there are more than ten breweries and tasting rooms within walking distance through this vibrant neighborhood. Since Thorn sits at the southern end of North Park it’s the perfect place to start your brewery crawl. From Thorn, you can wander up 30th Street, hitting up Modern Times, Black Plague, North Park Beer Co, Belching Beaver, Fall Brewing, and more.

Bivouac Ciderworks, a women-powered San Diego craft beverage company, is another popular spot to grab drinks in San Diego. According to CEO Lara Worm, the recently expanded space “brings Bivouac’s outdoor-adventure ethos to life, allowing for greater fermentation experimentation and significantly increased production – all to further stoke San Diego’s burgeoning cider culture.”

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