Top 10 Things to do in San Diego to Feel Like a Local

When visiting San Diego, there are some attractions and things to do that are obvious, such as sunbathing on the beach, going to SeaWorld, shopping in downtown San Diego, and eating Mexican food. There are some other things you must not miss doing in San Diego in order to experience San Diego the way the locals prefer to spend their favorite sunny SoCal days.

Sail Through the Harbor

Rent your own private sailboat – with a guide if you don’t know how to sail – and float through the glistening water. The San Diego harbor is gorgeous with views of the San Diego skyline and the Coronado Bridge. There are various islands and bays to pull into as well for some beach time.

Go to the La Jolla Cove

With lush green grass, sparkling blue and teal waters, and a rugged and rocky shoreline, the La Jolla Cove captures the tumultuousness and beauty of the sea. Visit when the tide is out and search for octopus and crab trapped in the rocks and tide pools. If larger sea creatures excite you, walk to the southern end of the cove to see the seals playing in the surf. The wide green grass in front of the cove is also great for a picnic lunch or dinner.

Get Breakfast in One of the Beach Communities

Even if your hotel offers free breakfast every morning, you have to eat the cost at least one of those mornings and head out to get breakfast in one of San Diego’s beach communities: Pacific Beach (PB), Ocean Beach (OB), or Mission Beach. Breakfast is an institution in San Diego – in fact, you’re more likely to wait for a table at breakfast time during the weekend than you will for dinner. The beach towns of San Diego offer some of the best breakfast food in bright, airy settings, often with outdoor patios to enjoy San Diego’s usual order of sunny weather.

Eat at the Marine Room When the Tide Comes in

When a local needs to celebrate a special occasion – birthday, anniversary, promotion, proposals – they often head to the Marine Room. But here’s the important part. You must go when the tide rolls up, before the sunset. Depending on the time of year, you can’t always coincide those two, but do your best, because when the tide rolls in, it crashes against the windows of the Marine Room and you can see that better in daylight. You’ll feel like you’re eating under the sea. Plus, the gourmet food is California-fusion cuisine at its finest.

Go to the San Diego Zoo

This may not seem like a local to-do, but you’d be surprised how many San Diego residents have yearly passes to the San Diego Zoo and go on a regular basis to walk the grounds for exercise or to entertain their kids for the day. The grounds of the San Diego Zoo are impeccably groomed and each animal enclosure is created to be as close to the animal’s natural habitat as possible.

Grab a Beer on an Outdoor Patio in PB

It’s known for being a huge party town, and PB’s bars don’t disappoint. Visit them in the day for a pint on a patio when the sun is shining down and before the attire switches from board shorts and tank tops to mini-skirts and tube tops. There’s not much better than a beer in one of the bars along PB’s famous Garnet Street on a warm, sunny day in San Diego.

Go Surfing

If surfing seems too daunting, try boogie boarding. Either way, rent a wetsuit (the water’s cold unless it’s July or August) and ride the waves. The San Diego coast is a great place to catch some surf under the sun; the waves break not too far from shore and there’s a section of waves ideal for everyone, whether you’re a beginner or advanced surfer or boogie boarder.

Hike Torrey Pines

Just north of La Jolla lies the sleepy and ritzy beach town of Del Mar. Part of Del Mar is a protected park area called Torrey Pines. For a small fee, you can park your car at the top of Torrey Pines and explore its hiking trails, which boast panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. You’ll have a hard time believing you’re near a major city.

Take the Coaster from San Diego to Oceanside

The Coaster is a train the goes north and south along the coast between San Diego and Oceanside, California. Stop in each town to explore – or to grab a drink. From San Diego, you’ll get to stop in Old Town – a great place to grab an authentic Mexican lunch. Skip the Sorrento Valley stop as there’s not much there, and head up to the North County beach towns. You’ll stop in upscale yet laid back Solana Beach, quirky Encinitas, and quaint Carlsbad. (Get off at the Carlsbad Village stop, not the Carlsbad Poinsettia stop.) In Oceanside, take a walk along the pretty pier before making your way back down to San Diego on the coaster.

Walk through Balboa Park

Balboa Park is ideally laid out for a pleasant walk or run through trees and gardens. Check out the Japanese Friendship Garden and if you’re in the learning mood, visit the San Diego Natural History Museum and the San Diego Air and Space Museum.


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Gina Tarnacki is a freelance writer, online marketing professional and avid traveler. When she's not busy finding a creative way to squeeze in a few more vacation days so she and her husband can explore the world together, she writes about balancing travel with a career and relationship at One Day in a City.


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