12 Best Attractions in San Diego

Explore San Diego’s 12 best attractions including must-see attractions like the San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park plus the best beaches, top neighborhoods and more!
Todd Sarouhan
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Your Guide to San Diego’s Best Attractions

Entrance to the San Diego Zoo in Balboa ParkNational Salute to Bob Hope and the Military Statues at the Embarcadero in San Diego

San Diego, California is best known for its sunny skies and year-round great weather. Travelers are drawn to the area to explore it’s amazing beaches like La Jolla Cove, the Children’s Pool and Pacific Beach and its eclectic variety of neighborhoods like Balboa Park, the Gaslamp Quarter and Old Town.

From the Oceanside area in the north to Imperial Beach and the Mexico border in the south, there are popular San Diego attractions, events and activities to take part in that will excite everyone that comes to explore!

A few notable best attractions you will want to know about as you plan your trip to San Diego include Balboa Park, Mission Bay, the San Diego Zoo, and the La Jolla neighborhood.

Entrance of Birch Aquarium in La Jolla
Entrance of Birch Aquarium in La Jolla

San Diego is also home to plenty of family-friendly attractions such as SeaWorld San Diego, LEGOLAND California and the Birch Aquarium at Scripps. To see a list of our favorites check out our curated Best Kid Friendly Attractions in San Diego!

Many visitors like to explore the dozens of San Diego museums, hear live music or see a play at one of the popular theaters, visit a nightclub or bar or head to the beach for some family fun. Whether you're an outdoor enthusiast, a foodie or a little bit of everything, there's a San Diego attraction perfect for you and your family!

With so much to do and see, it can be difficult to narrow down an itinerary of ‘must-see’ San Diego attractions, beaches, museums and neighborhoods and a list of ‘must-do’ activities like surfing, hiking and snorkeling.

Let’s narrow in on the Best Attractions in San Diego and provide some travel tips so you can save big on admission and plan your trip right!

Join Todd as he learns about the unique and sometimes sordid history of San Diego on the Brothels, Bites and Booze Tour. This tour also includes a sampling of the Gaslamp Quarter's finest food and drinks.

Go on the Brothels, Bites & Booze Tour

12 Best Attractions in San Diego

The Koi Pond next to the Botanical Gardens in Balboa Park
The Koi Pond next to the Botanical Gardens in Balboa Park

1) Balboa Park

Neighborhood: Balboa Park
1549 El Prado San Diego, CA 92101

Head to Balboa Park to explore local San Diego museums, large open spaces, natural vegetation zones, green belts, theaters, walking paths and an amazing zoo! The park is an urban cultural park with over 1,200 acres, so there are plenty of things to do!

Book Tour
Tropical Rainforst Inside the San Diego Zoo
Tropical Rainforst Inside the San Diego Zoo

2) San Diego Zoo

San Diego Attractions: San Diego Zoo
2920 Zoo Dr. San Diego, CA 92101

The feature attraction in Balboa Park and one of the must-see attractions in all of San Diego is the world-famous San Diego Zoo! The zoo is a great way to experience San Diego with kids and an excellent way to spend an afternoon with family in the San Diego sunshine.

The San Diego Zoo is home to more than 3,500 animals with 650 species and subspecies throughout the zoo. In addition to housing a variety of animals, the San Diego Zoo has an abundance of things to do perfect for making family memories!

Save Big on Admission!

Save up to 55% off on gate admission prices when you purchase a Go San Diego pass in advance. The pass can be combined with other top area attractions like SeaWorld San Diego in Mission Park or one of the many museums in Balboa Park and throughout San Diego.

Purchase the Go San Diego pass via our website to save even more and stack the savings on top of the already highly reduced prices offered by Go San Diego!

Upgraded Your Experience

Visitors have the option to purchase upgraded experiences and private tours that will take their San Diego Zoo visit to another level. Options include: inside look tours, animals in action experiences, discovery cart tours, early morning cheetah experience and more.

Kids Programs

One of the most popular programs at the San Diego Zoo is the Kids Program. Children will be educated on animal species at the zoo and wildlife conservation. In addition, they can celebrate their birthday with an Aussie Outback Birthday Bash!

Attractions and More

The San Diego Zoo is an easy place to spend a few hours or an entire day due to its wide variety of attractions. Visitors can go on guided bus tours, botanical tours, attend shows, go to animal encounters, take a trip on the Skyfari Aerial Tram and so much more!

Buy Zoo Tickets
Sunset Over Mission Bay
Sunset Over Mission Bay

3) Mission Bay

Neighborhood: Mission Bay Park

Mission Bay is home to more than 4,600 acres of water and shoreline. Located just north of the San Diego International Airport and just south of the popular neighborhood of Pacific Beach, it is home to the Mission Bay Park which has an abundance of water sport activities and a water playground.

Have a picnic with your family at one of the many beautiful Mission Bay beaches, go paddle boarding or go for a refreshing swim. To say Mission Bay is a San Diego point of interest would be an understatement!

The Mission Bay Park has activities like water skiing, sailing, kite surfing and stand-up paddle boarding. There is something available for every age and experience level at the aquatic park.

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Beluga Whales Being Fed at SeaWorld San Diego
Beluga Whales Being Fed at SeaWorld San Diego

4) SeaWorld San Diego

San Diego Attractions: SeaWorld San Diego
500 SeaWorld Dr. San Diego, CA 92109

SeaWorld San Diego is conveniently located in Mission Bay Park. This San Diego point of interest is an animal theme park that has up-close animal encounters, outside aquariums, theme-park rides and plenty of activities for everyone!

Exciting Shows

There are family-friendly shows that can be experienced at SeaWorld. Dolphin Days, Sea Lions Live, Orca Encounter and Polynesian Fire Dancing are available to entertain you at SeaWorld.

Thrilling Rides

Add a little bit of thrill to your SeaWorld adventure by going on roller coasters, raft rides or gondola rides. There are rides for everyone ranging from thrill seekers to family-friendly mini coasters. Notable rides include the Tidal Twister, Electric Eel, Tentacle Twirl and the Manta.

Animals Encounters

Of course, what would a trip to SeaWorld be if there were no animals? Visitors can explore aquariums, feed the sea lions and gain knowledge on marine life.

Buy a SeaWorld Skip-the-Line Park Admission Ticket
The Kissing Statue next to the USS Midway in the Embarcadero in San Diego
The Kissing Statue next to the USS Midway in the Embarcadero in San Diego

5) Embarcadero

Neighborhood: Embarcadero San Diego

Another popular San Diego point of interest is the Embarcadero which houses the city's maritime history and is located just a short walk from Downtown San Diego. Visitors can experience historic ships, museums, harbor tours, restaurants and shops while exploring Embarcadero.

Museums the Explore the Sea

Embarcadero is home to the USS Midway Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and Maritime Museum of San Diego. Each museum boasts a variety of artifacts and explores history that guests will enjoy learning about.

Events by the San Diego Bay

The area is popular for events like the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival which is a three-day event held in November. Other events include the Day at the Docks Celebration, Big Bay Boom 4th of July Celebration, Festival of Sail and more!

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Seaport Village in Downtown San Diego
Seaport Village in Downtown San Diego

6) Seaport Village

Neighborhood: Embarcadero San Diego
849 W Harbor Dr., San Diego, CA 92101

Seaport Village can be found on San Diego Bay in the Embarcadero and boasts 14 acres of waterfront activities. Visitors will have access to approximately 54 shops, 13 casual dining restaurants and 4 fine dining restaurants. If you're searching for great San Diego shopping and amazing food then Seaport Village is the place to go!

In addition, there are many events that take place at Seaport Village year-round. Seasonal events include pictures with Santa and the Waterfront Music & Arts Festival.

From shopping to dining to amazing events, Seaport Village is one of San Diego’s must visit points of interest!

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La Jolla Caves with La Jolla Shores Beach in the Background
La Jolla Caves with La Jolla Shores Beach in the Background

7) La Jolla

Neighborhood: La Jolla

One of San Diego's most popular points of interest is La Jolla which is home to breathtaking beaches, outdoor activities, dining, shopping, tours and entertainment. For visitors looking for the ultimate experience, a visit to La Jolla should be part of your itinerary!

The La Jolla Beaches

La Jolla houses some of San Diego's most beautiful beaches. There is Wipeout Beach, La Jolla Shores, Torrey Pines State Beach, The Children’s Pool, and the La Jolla Tide Pools that is well known for some of the best tide pools in all of San Diego. Head to La Jolla to spend a day of fun in the sun with your family at the beach.

Featured Tours

If you're searching for a unique experience, La Jolla has a variety of tours available. Popular tours include snorkeling with leopard sharks, kayaking tours, walking tours and dolphin sightings.

Dining & Entertainment

Head to the La Jolla Playhouse or the Comedy Store for exciting entertainment from live shows. Following the show, hit up one of La Jolla's infamous restaurants or cafes for some of the best cuisine.

Learn to Surf
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park Sign
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park Sign

8) Old Town

Neighborhood: Old Town San Diego

Old Town San Diego, is a San Diego neighborhood that has something going on at all times! This area houses approximately 32 restaurants, 10 hotels, 100 boutique shops and 36 museums & historic sites.

Old Town Events

Old Town is known for always having a party or event waiting for you to explore. If you're searching for some nightlife perfect for groups or couples or a celebration to enjoy, Old Town has just that. One popular event is the Día de los Muertos celebration in Old Town which takes place on Nov 1st & 2nd and is a positive honoring of loved ones whom have passed.


This San Diego county point of interest has decadent cuisine ranging from European to Asian to Mexican to Italian. While there's plenty to choose from, Old Town is one of our favorite places to try authentic Mexican specialties!

Old Town History

For the history buffs, Old Town San Diego is filled with historic sites and museums that give a glimpse into San Diego's past.

The Alvarado House was built in 1824 and has since been reconstructed so guests can see what architecture looked like back then. There is also the Whaley House which has been named one of the Travel Channel's Most Haunted Houses in America and is one of our Most Haunted Places in San Diego!

Tours of Old Town San Diego

For visitors who are really wanting to get the best out of their experience, Old Town San Diego has guided tours that will show them around and allow for a complete experience.

The tours will fill you in on all of the "need to know" items and will also dive deeper into the area's history. In addition, visitors will get a bit of a spook by hearing stories about ghosts in the area.

Book the Hop-on Hop-off Narrated Tour of Old Town
The Boardwalk and Pier in Pacific Beach
The Boardwalk and Pier in Pacific Beach

9) Pacific Beach

Neighborhood: Pacific Beach

Pacific Beach is a great location to take part in many of the top outdoor activities San Diego has to offer such as sunbathing, swimming and surfing. For visitors searching to experience San Diego nightlife, this popular beach area needs to be added to the list of places to visit!

Learn to Surf in PB
Grabbing a Beer on the Brothels Bites and Booze Tour
Grabbing a Beer on the Brothels Bites and Booze Tour

10) The Gaslamp Quarter

San Diego Tours: 10 Best San Diego Food & Beer Tours

Step back in time with a visit to one of the most popular neighborhoods in all of San Diego! Explore the history of the Gaslamp Quarter with its Victorian-era architecture as well as its art and culture by day.

Stay for the nightlife after hours and catch some music over dinner and drinks. The area is perfect for a couples night out or even for those looking to enjoy a drink or two, without breaking the bank, but while still being able to enjoy a lively atmosphere.

One our favorite food walking tours is the Brothels Bites & Booze Tour where you learn about the checkered history of the Gaslamp Quarter while eating and drinking. It is worth checking out!

Book Brothels Bites & Booze Tour
Mayan Exhibit in the San Diego Museum of Us
Mayan Exhibit in the San Diego Museum of Us

11) Balboa Park Featured Museums

Neighborhood: Balboa Park

Balboa Park features more than a dozen museums, such as San Diego Natural History Museum – theNAT, the Fleet Science Center and San Diego History Center, many of which are part of the Go City San Diego pass! Save on admission prices when you purchase a Go City San Diego pass in advance and combine with other gear rentals and attractions to save even more!

Start with our featured selections below and go deeper into the best museums in Balboa Park for even more!

Japanese Friendship Garden

The Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park is 12 acres and offers educational programs, exhibits and festivals. This unique garden was created to express friendship between San Diego, California and Yokohama, Japan where the sister garden can be found.

Marston House

Marston House was created after George W. Marston, more commonly known as the "Father of Balboa Park." The Marston House dates back to 1905 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. This San Diego museum offers several walking tours and an abundance of San Diego history.

Comic-Con Museum

With a planned opening date in 2021, the Comic-Con Museum in Balboa Park will celebrate the ever-popular Comic-Con year-round. This museum will feature comics, exhibits, programs and events featured from popular comic books.

San Diego Art Institute

San Diego Art Institute can be found in Balboa Park and is the only contemporary cultural institution in the park. The museum features work by artists located in Southern California and Northern Baja.

The Veteran's Museum at Balboa Park

The Veteran's Museum at Balboa Park was created in memory of the men and women who served in the United States Armed Forces and Wartime Merchant Marine. There are permanent, rotating and visiting exhibits that explore San Diego military history and feature war-related memorabilia.

Learn More
Ocean Beach Restaurants with Beach in the Background
Ocean Beach Restaurants with Beach in the Background

12) Ocean Beach

Neighborhood: Ocean Beach

The Ocean Beach beaches, located just south of Mission Beach and Mission Bay Park and just west of the San Diego International Airport are a must visit location for those traveling with a pet.

Spend an afternoon with your dog at the Ocean Beach Dog Beach or walk the boardwalk and catch a wave at Ocean Beach Pier & City Beach. Both beaches come complete with lifeguards and are perfect for catching an amazing San Diego sunset!

Save BIG with Go City!
Orangutan at San Diego Zoo
The World Famous San Diego Zoo
Explore the top zoo in America! The San Diego Zoo is located in iconic Balboa Park, and features over 3,500 animal in their habitats. Bundle with other attractions in Balboa Park for top savings - like the Air and Space Museum!
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Local Tips
What attractions are included with a Go City San Diego pass?

Attractions that you can visit with a Go City San Diego pass include:

The San Diego Zoo, Birch Aquarium, SeaWorld, Safari Park, LEGOLAND, Harbor Cruise, USS Midway Museum, the NAT Museum, Whaley House, PETCO Park Tour, iFLY San Diego and many, many more!

Want to save more? Use our exclusive discount code GVSD5OFF to save an extra 5%!

Featured Hotel
Carte Hotel San Diego Downtown, Curio Collection by Hilton
Carte Hotel San Diego Downtown
4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars
The Carte Hotel San Diego Downtown, Curio Collection by Hilton has elevated the hotel stay, offering guests unparalleled luxury with a central SD location.
Prices Starting at $162
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Explore all that San Diego has to offer & save up to 55% on attractions
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Tours & Adventures
Hop On & Off Narrated Trolley Tour
Hop On & Off Narrated Trolley Tour
$42 per person
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USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum
USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum
Discounts Available
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