Congratulations on living in San Diego -- plenty of people make that an item on their bucket list and never check it off. But why stop there? You want to make the most of your precious time here, and to do that, you need to do these 37 things before you die, or worse, move somewhere else.
France's Fête des Lumières Is a Light Festival Unlike Anything You've Ever Seen
They don’t call it Sunset Cliffs for nothing. This is one of the most breathtaking places in San Diego to watch a sunset while staring out at the ocean. On the right day you can see dolphins or catch the whales migrating up and down the coast.
Black’s Beach is pretty secluded, which is also why it’s well known as SD’s nude beach. There’s not really an “easy” way to get there, so you might as well make it an adventure and hike in. It’s a bit of a steep and challenging hike at some points, but the payoff is well worth it.
This is quite possibly the most-hyped hiking trail in this county. The hike is a bit of an uphill challenge, but it’s a great workout with views of SD down below as your reward at the end. If you’re going to do it, you should wait in line to have your picture taken posing on this infamous piece of rock, at least on your first visit, and then on every subsequent visit roll your eyes at the people in line like most locals do.
Well, yeah, you could just drive over the giant bridge to Coronado Island, but where is the fun in that when you could get there by boat? Catch the ferry Downtown and spend the day exploring Coronado.
7. Surf. Or at least try to.
The bazillion die-hard surfers in San Diego can’t be wrong; surfing is incredible. Even if you find out that you’re terrible (likely), you can’t live on the coast of California and not give it a try.
8. Go whale watching
San Diego is in a prime position to catch the annual migration of all kinds of whales just off the coast. There are tons of different tours you can hop on to get an up-close look, although if you’re lucky, you can catch a glimpse of them right from the shore.
9. Take a craft beer tour
So many breweries, so little time. At least this way you can hit a bunch at once while someone else does the driving.
From a distance they just look like a bunch of holes full of seawater, but when you get up close you’ll find all kinds of interesting things hiding in them. These mini-ecosystems are full of sea creatures like starfish, anemones, and tiny crabs.
The Midway is not just a really, really big boat -- it’s a piece of America’s military history sitting right out on the bay. There are more than 60 exhibits aboard and 29 restored aircraft that you can check out.
If you don’t mind the stench, it is quite a sight to see a beach full of seals napping and sunning themselves. At the very least, it’s amusing to watch the tourists posing with them for photos. Just don’t be stupid and try to touch them. The seals, not the tourists. Actually, don’t touch either.
Balboa is like the Central Park of SD with 1,200 acres of hiking trails, fountains, performing art venues, gardens, and museums to explore right in the middle of the city. Clear the day and just lose track of time.
Whether you’re oceanfront or on the bay, there are lots of fire pits up and down the coast where you can have the perfect summer night bonfire. Just be sure to get there early to stake out your spot; the fire pits are first-come, first-served.
Our zoo is one of the best not only in the country, but also in the world, housing more than 3,700 animals. It could take you a couple of days to see everything there is to see in its 99 acres of property, but if you want to cover as much ground as possible, you should hop on one of the tour buses.
Cheering on your favorite team is a great American pastime, and San Diego is lucky enough to be the home to the Padres, the Sockers (indoor soccer), and the Gulls (ice hockey). Thanks to our beautiful weather, you can check out some professional sports action just about any time of year here.
The iconic, 125-year-old hotel on Coronado Island is definitely a must-see. Even if you don’t stay the night here, you can dine at one of its restaurants, rent a cabanette on the beach, pamper yourself at the spa, or just take a tour of the historical property.
There have been more than two million of the Bali Hai’s famous Mai Tais sold over the last 60 years, which means there have been just about as many hangovers thanks to this potent cocktail. The drink even comes with a warning on the menu since the mix of dark rum, light rum, orange liqueur, orgeat syrup, and sweet & sour has absolutely no fruit juice added to dilute its powerful punch.
The Pacific Beach ice cream shop has been serving soft serve and chocolate shakes from this same location since 1949. On a hot summer day in PB, you’re likely to see a line down the block waiting to get a chili cheese dog or one of its giant whipped cream-covered sundaes.
Even if you’ve never visited Suzie’s Farm, if you’ve eaten in a restaurant in San Diego, then you have most definitely eaten its produce. Its Strawberry Jam event gives you the opportunity to not only visit the property, but to go out into the field and pick a basket of your own strawberries.
If you can be patient enough to wait in the line that is pretty much always out the door, then you will be rewarded with some of the best Mexican food to ever touch your lips.
22. Hit a rooftop pool party in the Gaslamp
During the summer months, there is no shortage of rooftop pool parties happening all over the Gaslamp. These Vegas-style shindigs feature celebrity DJs, killer views of the city, and plenty of booze served pool-side for the ultimate Sunday Funday.
It’s pretty much a PB right of passage to get a goblet full of the perfect vodka/Red Bull frozen combo that’ll keep you energetically making bad decisions all night long and hating life in the morning. Worth it.
Not everyone can get scuba certified, but if you want to check out the underwater world in La Jolla and swim with some curious sea lions, then grab a snorkel and take a lap around the cove. This is the perfect spot to do it since the area is protected from the ocean waves.
It’s no Pike’s Place, but San Diego does have its own open-air fish market on Fish Harbor Pier Downtown where you can choose from the freshest fish in town and buy them directly from the fishermen who caught them. It opens at 8am, but get there early to get in line.
The annual Pride celebration is one of the best parties in San Diego. For a couple of days in July, people get crazy in the streets of Hillcrest at this anything goes block party, but don’t party too hard because you definitely don’t want to miss the parade the next morning.
The Silver Fox is one of SD’s most notable dive bars. After a long night of partying, it is just the place to start nursing your hangover, considering it opens for business at 6am with an early morning happy hour until 10am.
Opening day at the Del Mar racetrack is a time-honored tradition in San Diego that can’t be missed. Get the biggest, craziest hat you can find, grab a mint julep or five and, oh yeah, there are horses there, too.
Introduce yourself to tequila’s sexier, smokier cousin at this rustic Normal Heights cantina, where over one hundred different mezcals, sotols, bacanoras, and racillas line the wall behind the bar. While mezcal margaritas are available (and delicious), aficionados prefer to sip it neat, and the friendly, knowledgeable bartenders will gladly guide you through your tasting experience. If mezcal isn’t your thing, there are also 250+ varieties of tequila, including the house brand, Don Lorenzo Reposado Reserva.
Grab a beer or glass of wine and browse the trendy eateries, bars, and specialty food & craft vendors at this bustling market, located in an updated Navy building in Liberty Station. A special liquor license allows shoppers to imbibe while perusing stalls featuring everything from empanadas and ice cream to lobster rolls and linguini. The huge, grassy, outdoor eating area features a vegetable and herb garden, as well as live music on Sundays.
No money for tickets? Sold out concert? Not a problem! You can still hear the show (and have a pretty decent view if it’s high tide) from the comfort of your kayak, paddleboard, or raft. There’s an easy launch point at the end of Bessemer St in Point Loma and a smooth half-mile, 15-minute paddle to Humphreys sheltered location in the northeast corner of La Playa Cove. The San Diego Kayaking Meetup hosts free paddling and concert outings all season, meanwhile, if you prefer to go with a group. Head out early for the best view, settle back with your favorite munchies and beverages, and enjoy a uniquely San Diegan concert experience.
If you've ever wondered what makes a Belgian ale taste so different from an American ale, take one of the free daily tours offered by White Labs in Mira Mesa. What began as a group of homebrewers searching for higher quality yeast has grown into a world-class international company that sells beer, wine, and distilling supplies, and holds classes ranging from how to pair beer with donuts to in-depth, hands-on lab courses for professionals. There's a 20-barrel brewhouse onsite, as well as a 32-tap Tasting Room, so after the tour you can experience firsthand how much yeast impacts the flavor profile of beer.
Billed as the largest display on the West Coast, the Big Bay Boom sees fireworks artists put on a pyrotechnics show from four barges strategically located around the North San Diego Bay, choreographed with music broadcast “live” on two local radio stations. Taking advantage of the natural amphitheater formed by the bay, there's plenty of free, prime viewing from Point Loma, Shelter Island, Harbor Island, Liberty Station, Little Italy, the North Embarcadero, Seaport Village, and the South Embarcadero to the Coronado Ferry Landing.
This aviation haven is located atop the scenic bluffs 350ft above Black’s Beach in La Jolla. Newbies can start off slowly on a tandem flight with an instructor, while more experienced fliers can take advantage of advanced paragliding and hang gliding instruction. If you’d prefer to keep your feet firmly planted on the earth, stop by the Cliffhanger Cafe for a bite to eat while you watch paragliders, hang gliders, and the occasional whale or pod of dolphins off the coast. From May till September, you can also enjoy live music by local bands on Saturday and Sunday.
Built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, Balboa Park's California Tower at the San Diego Museum of Man was closed to the public in 1935, but after extensive construction and safety renovations, it reopened for tours in January of 2015. Ascend 125 steps to see fantastic, 360-degree views up to 23 miles away to the horizon, including the mountains, Downtown, the San Diego Zoo, Mexico, the Pacific Ocean, San Diego Bay, the rest of Balboa Park, and a whole lot more. Pro tip: You'll want to make a reservation before dropping by.
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Mary Beth Abate is a regular Thrillist contributor.
As of January 1, 2018, weed is now legal for any and all kinds of users in the great state of California -- we even put together a statewide legal weed guide to celebrate it! With the end of prohibition comes a glut of new, fully licensed dispensaries that are able to sell product to both medical and recreational patients, and existing dispensaries have responded by upping their customer service regimens, adding bells and whistles, and decking out the decor. Unfortunately, with legalization also comes a few headaches, like longer lines, higher prices and, in some cases, reduced selection, meaning that some dispensaries have chosen to stay strictly medical. Regardless of designation, though, here are the best marijuana dispensaries in San Diego.
From Los Angeles to San Diego: Every Pit Stop You Need To Make Along The Way
With zero humidity and palm trees in the rearview mirror, cruising down the Pacific coast to San Diego from Los Angeles is summer. Of course, LA traffic can make it less cruiseworthy and more bumper-to-bumper. But with authentic taquerias, whale watching, and iconic surf breaks, there’s a quintessential SoCal pit stop just about every mile of the ride to distract you. Here’s seven summer getaways you can easily hit on the way to San Diego -- just don’t forget the sunscreen and a swimsuit.
Your Essential Checklist for a Real San Diego Fall
Fall has arrived in San Diego, which means the tourists are gone and it's time to celebrate the subtle change in weather by drinking spicy beer, gorging on discount restaurant meals, and (finally) wearing layers for a change. If you want to stay put and enjoy the beach life, we don't blame you, but fall is also the perfect time to get out of town and explore vineyards, pumpkin patches, and mountain meadows (on horseback, no less). Whatever your pleasure, you’ll want to bookmark this checklist and refer back to it whenever you need more autumnal inspiration.