5 MUST SEE, DO
» Belmont Park
The compact amusement park’s 1925 Giant Dipper rollercoaster marks the unofficial entrance to the boardwalk along the perpetually packed sands of Mission and Pacific beaches. The park’s wave machines give newbies a chance to ride relatively tame waves before braving the open ocean.
» La Jolla
This upscale Mediterranean-style community lives up to its name (“The Jewel” in Spanish), with a postcard-ready setting, white sands, turquoise waters, sea caves (including Sunny Jim Cave, California’s only known land-access sea cave) and an Underwater Park teeming with pinnipeds, rays, scuttling lobsters and countless fish. It’s not just another pretty face, though; it hosts the Tony Award-winning La Jolla Playhouse, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Murals of La Jolla and the Birch Aquarium—while also offering the “Rodeo Drive of San Diego,” named for Prospect Street’s stellar shops, galleries and restaurants.
» San Diego Zoo
Known for its naturalistic habitats, endangered animal species and adorable giant pandas, the zoo requires a minimum of a full day. Allow time for the fabulous shops.
» Balboa Park
The country’s largest urban cultural park is a rambling landscape of museums, theaters, artists’ studios and gardens. The tiled California Tower, with its unobstructed 360-degree view of the park and city, has become a treasured landmark, reopened after an 80-year closure for the park’s centennial in 2015
» Cabrillo National Monument
High above the tip of Point Loma, this sprawling park commemorates Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo and San Diego’s early history. It’s most popular for the panoramas of the boat-filled bay and sea, the mountains to the east and the hills of Tijuana to the south. It’s a great place to look for whales spouting offshore in winter.