A couple of combination passes are available which offer discounted admission to multiple attractions:
- Go San Diego Card. Covers admission and express entry to over 40 attractions, including Sea World San Diego, Legoland California, San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, USS Midway Museum, Birch Aquarium, and all Balboa Park museums.
- Southern California CityPass. Gives you one day each at SeaWorld San Diego, Legoland California, and a 3-day park hopper ticket for Disneyland, as well as one-day admission to either the San Diego Zoo or the San Diego Zoo Safari Park for an additional fee, if purchased online.
One of San Diego's main claims to fame is its array of renowned zoological attractions that are among the forefront in the wildlife conservation movement. Of them, the most respected is the San Diego Zoo, a massive zoo that encompasses over 100 acres of Balboa Park
and that is possibly the premier zoo in North America. One of the earliest adopters of naturalistic animal exhibits, this is also one of the most gorgeous zoos in the world. Animal shows run constantly, and there are creatures here that aren't visible in any other zoo on the planet. It's definitely worth a visit, but you need a full day to really do it justice.
The sister park to the San Diego Zoo and another stellar attraction in its own right, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park covers 1800 acres of the San Pasqual Valley, about 30 miles north of Downtown San Diego near Escondido. Here the wide open expanse of the desert valley has enabled the creation of stunningly huge exhibits that resemble African savanna, where herds of animals roam and drink from watering holes. Like the Zoo, the Safari Park is also well worth a trip, but also requires a full day to take it in.
Considerably smaller but also important in its own right is the Birch Aquarium
in La Jolla, the public face of the renowned Scripps Institute of Oceanography. The Birch holds fantastic exhibits which cover physical oceanography and plenty of beautiful aquarium fish, with highlights including a touchpool and a massive kelp tank that is a simulation of ocean life just off the San Diego coast. Less scientifically renowned but popular in its own right is Sea World
on Mission Bay
, the California branch of the marine theme park chain with its numerous animal shows and enclosures showcasing sharks, penguins, polar bears, dolphins, and killer whales among other marine animals. Also in the area and something of a hidden gem is the Living Coast Discovery Center
, a nature center in the marshes of San Diego Bay
in Chula Vista with a lot of interactive exhibits on the native wildlife.
Museums and historical attractions
In addition to the zoo, Balboa Park is home to an expansive campus of intriguing museums, flowering gardens and beautiful arboretums set amidst neo-classical Spanish architecture, making it a must-visit for any trip to San Diego. Among the highlight attractions are the San Diego Museum of Art
, merely the largest of several art museums within the park, the San Diego Museum of Man
with its exceptional anthropological exhibits, the San Diego Air and Space Museum
with its numerous historical aircraft and full-scale models, the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center
and the San Diego Natural History Museum
with their kid-friendly interactive exhibits, and the very fun San Diego Model Railroad Museum
Amidst Downtown San Diego's restaurants and nightlife is the historical district of Gaslamp Quarter
, home to plenty of Victorian-era buildings that have been re-adapted to other uses. Nearby along the Downtown waterfront are two museums devoted to the city's maritime heritage: the San Diego Maritime Museum
, with a collection of lovingly restored 19th century sailing ships, a steam ferryboat, and a former Soviet Union submarine, and the USS Midway Museum
, a former aircraft carrier of the US Navy that is now open for tours and home to a collection of former naval aircraft housed on the ship's expansive flight deck. Across the bay from Downtown is the independent community of Coronado
, home to a major naval facility and very charming streets, as well as the gorgeous Hotel del Coronado
, a high-class hotel constructed in the late 1800s and situated on one of San Diego's cleanest beaches.
is the city's main historical district, with preserved buildings and icons of the Spanish heritage of San Diego
and the Old West, from 19th-century cannons to the haunted Whaley House
. Shopping and restaurants dot the area and living history performances regularly take place. Up Mission Valley
from Old Town and another reminder of the city's Spanish heritage is the Mission San Diego de Alcala, the oldest of the California missions, founded in 1769 by Junipero Serra.
La Jolla Cove
The San Diego coastline is rife with scenic attractions. Among the most spectacular is the view from Cabrillo National Monument
at the tip of Point Loma
. Created to commemorate the first California landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo's expedition for Spain in 1542, the monument is situated atop a high vantage point at the mouth of the San Diego Bay
, where visitors can get a panoramic view of Downtown San Diego, the bay, the ocean, and the distant mountains, as well as tour a historic former lighthouse and the remnants of WWII-era coastal defense structures. To the north, near Ocean Beach
, is a stretch of scenic coastline known as Sunset Cliffs
, with some secluded beaches and tidepools beneath the steep ocean cliffs.
However, few places in Southern California can match La Jolla for coastal scenery. An upscale coastal community with dozens of coffee shops, restaurants, and high-end shopping outlets, La Jolla also holds many secluded coves, beaches and ocean cliffs to explore, including the popular Children's Cove that has become a breeding ground for harbor seals. Just to the north of La Jolla proper is the scenic Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
, situated atop a plateau with steep ocean cliffs overlooking the beautiful (and relatively secluded) Torrey Pines State Beach
; hiking trails lead you through the park to the beach below.
Further inland, away from the coast, the rugged, scrubby terrain of Northern San Diego offers some understated scenic attractions, including the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve
with its interesting rock formations and Mission Trails Regional Park
, a hidden jewel that contains San Diego's highest point and a small gorge popular with rock climbers.