Offbeat & Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Diego
San Diego is more than just about the beaches, surf culture and delicious Mexican cuisine. If you want some off the beaten path ideas for how to spend your time in San Diego, then you’ll love this list of under-the-radar San Diego activities, plus some iconic things to do that often get overlooked as a reason to spend some time in America’s Finest City!
This article will give you lots of ideas for how to spend a day in San Diego, whether you’re a San Diego local or visiting San Diego on vacation for the second or third (or tenth!) time.
Hike Potato Chip Rock
You might not find ocean views, but this is arguably the most brag-worthy hike in San Diego, particularly if you like to Instagram your adventures. Why? Because at the top of this strenuous and steep 7.5-mile round-trip hike along the Mt. Woodson Trail in Poway is a unique rock formation that juts out into the sky like a…you guessed it…potato chip. It makes for some awesome photo ops. Drag yourself out of bed early to get up there before the long line forms.
See San Diego’s Entire Coastline at Once
If you want some scenic ocean views, drive (or hike if you’re so inclined) to the top of Double Peak Road in San Marcos, a North County San Diego city located just east of Oceanside. At the top you’ll find a lookout point that is one of the highest elevations in San Diego and looks over all of San Diego County. You can see the ocean stretching to the north and south — even all the way to Catalina Island and Mexico on a clear day. You’ll also be able to vividly see the skyline of downtown San Diego if it’s not foggy, with the sparkling ocean glistening in the background.
Kayaking in La Jolla
Did you know there are caves you can explore in San Diego? The rocky cliff of the part of La Jolla’s coast between La Jolla Shores Beach and La Jolla Cove is home to a series of hidden tunnels and caves. Sign up for a kayak tour that outfits you with a single or tandem kayak, lifejacket, and helmet and takes you through this unique part of San Diego’s landscape.
Brewery Walking Tour
Hiring a limo or driver to take you on a brewery tour around San Diego seems like something you need to wait for a special occasion to do. Don’t put off experiencing some of the epic breweries in San Diego on a day tour – just make it a walking tour instead. Oceanside, the northern most city in San Diego County, has a number of breweries located along its downtown area, which you can walk between and do tastings. You can print off walking tour itineraries on Oceanside’s tourism website here.
Explore a Coastal City
San Diego County is home to a ton of cool coastal towns each with its own vibe. Head to Carlsbad for some shopping at the Outlet Mall and the unique boutiques in Carlsbad Village. Encinitas is the place for surfing culture and laidback – yet hip – bars. Del Mar has a ritzy vibe with gorgeous beach views and plenty of shops and eateries to browse; it’s also a fun place to be during the horse racing season. In Solana Beach you’ll find an artistic, surfer vibe with lots of boutiques, homeware shops, and art galleries.
Make Breakfast a Priority
San Diegans love their breakfast and brunches. Which means lots of delicious breakfast places. Spend this year checking out a new breakfast place every month.
Not sure where to start? Pacific Beach (PB) is known for its breakfast places and has a variety of ones to try. For an awesome eggs Benedict and ocean views head to World Famous. Kono’s Café also has ocean views on its back patio and a hard to beat price for the food. Isabel’s Cantina has an airy, trendy setting with inventive twists on traditional breakfast menu items. Crushed is a newer hot spot brunch place in town with tasty breakfast food and cool mimosa flights.
Learn to Surf
Can you surf yet? No? If you think it’s a hopeless cause for you, consider taking lessons (as opposed to just borrowing your friend’s surfboard). Time your lessons for summer when you can learn the art of surfing in warm water. Taking lessons with a professional means you’ll be learning in an ideal spot for beginners and hear what aspects you need to work on to get up on that surfboard and ride a wave to shore.
Fresh Lobster Straight From the Pacific
San Diego isn’t usually the first place people think of for fresh lobster, but spiny lobsters are caught off the shores of southern California, and you can get your own to cook at home and eat every morning during lobster season (which runs from October to March) from Point Loma Seafoods. Or try your hand at lobster diving and catch them yourself.
Dinner at One of San Diego’s Iconic Restaurants
San Diego’s hot restaurants list is a subjective one, but some classic no-fail dinner experiences are George’s at the Cove, Marine Room and Bertrand at Mister A’s. New restaurants that project a hip vibe are Ironside and Juniper & Ivy in Little Italy (the Little Italy neighborhood in general is the “it” place to head to experience San Diego’s dining scene), while those looking for a laidback vibe with incredible comfort food cuisine can find it at Urban Solace in North Park or Mamma Mia’s in PB.
Explore Point Loma’s Tide Pools
Point Loma is a great place for dining and shopping (mostly thanks to Liberty Station), and it’s more known for that than its beaches, but don’t discount this San Diego neighborhood’s shoreline. Point Loma’s tip is home to the Cabrillo National Monument and it’s also made up of rocks and crevices that are incredible to explore when the tide is out as you may find crabs, fish, octopus, starfish, and other sea creatures hanging out in the tide pools until the tide comes back in.
Also making these tide pools a cool place to hang out is their close proximity to the Cabrillo National Monument, a top attraction to see in San Diego.
Magical December Nights
It may seem daunting because of the crowds, but if you haven’t experienced December Nights in Balboa Park yet, next December should be the year you do so. December Nights runs the first weekend of December every year and features holiday treats and drinks, cultural holiday performances from around the world, and even free admission to many of the museums located in Balboa Park.
Find Out What the Big Deal is About Comic-Con
Make this the year you go to Comic-Con. If you have even the slightest interest in comic book characters, science fiction or fantasy, you will love this annual conference held in downtown San Diego.
Each year highlights some of the biggest movies and books of the moment that have to do with comic characters or other beloved characters in the sci-fi and fantasy space. From Game of Thrones to Star Wars to Superman, you’ll be able to learn more about these worlds plus watch panels with some of your favorite actors or attend trade shows featuring innovative products and services.
Plus, it’s just pure fun to walk around and see all the attendees who dress up in costume (and you may want to dress up in costume, too). Tickets go fast so follow the instructions on Comic-Con’s website to increase your chances of getting one.
Visit all the Museums in Balboa Park
Yes, this is a big undertaking, but with so many world-class museums located in San Diego’s beautiful Balboa Park, it’s high time you experience them if you haven’t yet. If you’ve lived in San Diego for awhile, you’ve probably already visited at least one or two so this shouldn’t be too big of an undertaking – think of it as one or two museums a month for the year. Check each museum’s website for discount availabilities or days and weekends when admittance is even free.
Rediscover the Magic of the San Diego Zoo
When was the last time you went to the San Diego Zoo? If the answer is several years or longer (or never), get yourself there this year to see all the new exhibits. The San Diego Zoo celebrated 100 years in 2016 and continues to evolve with baby animals being born each year, new exhibits, and exciting behind-the-scenes tours you can do.