Whether you have lived in San Diego all your life or are in town for just a short visit, there is a bucket list of more than 50 activities that every San Diegan or visitor might want to experience in one of the most beautiful cities in the United States. Needless to say, many of the activities are great ideas for family outings – and even dates.
The bucket list was published by San Diego Magazine in its January edition with the subtitle, “Been there, done that? No, you haven’t.”
While San Diego Magazine presents its list in no particular order, it has been alphabetized below so it makes it easier to follow along. Added links should also help to quickly find more information. All quotes, unless indicated otherwise, are taken from the magazine.
So here is the “been there, done that – no, you haven’t” list for San Diegans:
1. Bet on a horse at the races in Del Mar:
“It’s not really about Bing Crosby or the hat contest or getting loopy on the double Del Margarita. It’s about the thrill of cheering on your horse from last place to first. You don’t have to bet a lot—wagers start at $2.”
2. Bike the bay or Coronado’s Silver Strand on a Beach Cruiser:
You can bring your own bike or rent a bike on Coronado Island and enjoy the bike path along the bay to one side and the ocean on the other side all the way to Imperial Beach.
3. Brunch in the Crown Room at the Coronado Hotel:
The cost might be a bit high at $93 per person but it is a once-in-a lifetime experience that makes it worthwhile.
4. Catch a lobster:
“Why? Be-‘claws’ they’re delicious! California spiny lobster season runs from late September through mid-March. Be sure to get a fishing license and lobster report card beforehand, and know the legal limits (only a certain amount of hoop nets and lobsters are allowed per person; size is also regulated). The ‘bugs’ are nocturnal creatures, so go at night.”
5. Celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Old Town:
Besides margaritas, enjoy traditional dances and exhibits.
6. Climb the California Tower in Balboa Park:
“For the first time since 1935, Balboa Park’s California Tower at the San Diego Museum of Man is open for public tours!” states the Museum of Man website. Read their guidelines before going.
7. Compete in a triathlon:
“San Diego is the birthplace of the modern triathlon, after all. Other iconic races: La Jolla Rough Water Swim (100 years old), the Carlsbad 5000 (world’s fastest 5K), and the USA Half Marathon San Diego Invitational (the first ‘qualifiers only’ half marathon).”
8. Cruise the Cliffs at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park:
Visit the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean especially at sunset but be careful. Too many people have stepped too close to the unstable edge and have died.
9. Do the holidays nautical style:
Watch the festive boats in San Diego’s harbor during the holiday season in December. Great vantage points are the Coronado Ferry Landing and Shelter and Harbor islands.
10. Drink a Mai Tai at the Bali Hai:
“These infamous cocktails are served in one of San Diego’s most beautiful waterfront settings. But sip with caution. One and you’ll forget your troubles. Two and you’ll forget your name. Three and you’ll forget… your clothes.”
11. Drink a Whaler at La Valencia:
“The La Jolla hotel, known as the “Pink Lady” or “La V” to locals, serves a boozy milkshake called the Whaler at the hotel’s first-floor Café La Rue.”
12. Drive to Borrego Springs:
“Stay at La Casa del Zorro, the famed inn once owned by the Copley family and visited by U.S. presidents. The recently renovated property is still as charming as ever.”
13. Eat a fish taco at the original Rubio’s on Mission Bay Drive:
“Thanks to Ralph Rubio, who reportedly brought the dish up from San Felipe, we enjoy fish tacos aplenty today. Pay respect with a visit to his first restaurant, which opened in 1983.”
14. Eat Swedish meatballs at December Nights in Balboa Park:
“Despite the ever-increasing crowds, we still think the Swedish meatballs and glögg at the event formerly known as Christmas on the Prado are worth it.”
15. Enjoy a meal at Mister A’s:
“It’s a San Diego institution 50 years in the making. And oh, that view! Go for happy hour. The truffle fries are divine, the martinis are heavenly, and the view is the same (maybe even better) from the deck where HH is served. Next level: Get a reservation on Valentine’s Day.”
16. Explore the tide pools at low tide:
La Jolla and Point Loma are the best places to get a hands-on experience pf tide pool animals but don’t turn your back on the waves.
17. Feel a sense of history at the Hotel del Coronado:
In addition to having a Sunday brunch in the Crown Room, make sure you visit the small museum hidden among the shops, walk along the property like a billionaire, and find out about that ghost that is haunting the top tower guest room.
18. Go apple picking in Julian from September to mid-October:
Make sure to stop by at Dudley’s Famous Bakery in Santa Ysabel.
19. Go whale watching:
Year-round dolphins and gray whales during the winter months make this an exciting event. But don’t forget to take something if you get sea sick.
20. Gorge yourself at the Westgate Hotel’s Sunday brunch:
“This is no ordinary brunch. Held in the opulent Le Fontainebleau room—think crystal chandeliers and Versailles decor—this white-tablecloth affair includes unlimited Champagne, crêpes, pastries, fresh seafood, and more for $50.”
21. Grip it and rip it on a PGA golf course:
“The north and south courses at Torrey Pines Golf Course offer stunning ocean views and are home to the PGA Tour’s annual Farmers Insurance Open.”
22. Hike Potato Chip Rock:
“You’ve seen your friends brag about it on Facebook; now it’s time to claim the glory for yourself. Climb Poway’s steep Mount Woodson trail to the iconic ‘Potato Chip,’ a precariously thin slab jutting out over the canyon.”
23. Hike Torrey Pines:
“In case you haven’t heard: the rare Pinus torreyana is found in only two places in the world—in La Jolla and on Santa Rosa Island, off the Santa Barbara coast. But it’s the ocean views that never fail to wow locals and their out-of-town guests.”
24. Ice-skate on the beach at the Hotel del Coronado:
During the holiday season, the hotel does not only have a huge Christmas tree but also a skating rink right next to the sand, with views of the crashing waves. “Take that, East Coast!” write the San Diego Magazine reporters.
25. Kayak La Jolla Cove:
Bike and Kayak Tours and Everyday California offer tours through several caves in La Jolla. The water is crystal clear and you can see the teaming ocean life while getting exercise.
26. Make a splash at the Marine Room’s High Tide Breakfast:
“On select dates, the water explodes against the La Jolla restaurant’s windows.” Check out the dates and menu on The Marine Room website.
27. Play disc golf at Morley Field:
“If your swing and/or pocketbook aren’t up to par, try tossing a Frisbee into a metal net. Walking the course is great exercise, and at $3 or $4 a day, it’s much cheaper than real golf. This is one the whole family, including the pups, can enjoy.”
28. Play in or watch the Over-the-Line Tournament on Fiesta Island:
The 63rd annual tournament hosted by the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club takes place every summer and is free and open to the public. Since it is a rowdy San Diego tradition, visit Fiesta Island on other days. It is one of San Diego’s hidden treasures not only for people but also for dogs and horses.
29. Practice yoga on the beach:
“Swap a playlist of ocean sounds for the real thing. Get your downward dog on while soaking in ocean views along Coronado, Pacific Beach, and other coastal locales. Just remember to pack SPF and sunglasses. For locations, check scenicyoga.com.”
30. Rent a cabana on the beach:
Renting a cabana at the Hotel del Coronado will make you feel like millionaire.
31. Ride in a hot air balloon:
“2016 may see the end of San Diego ballooning as we know it. Because of land development and the outlawing of balloons in public parks, launch and landing sites are dwindling fast. Only a few companies, like Panorama Balloon Tours and Sky’s the Limit, are still in operation. Up, up, and away!”
32. Ride the Giant Dipper at Belmont Park:
“Mission Beach’s wooden roller coaster has been around for 91 years, but this to-do only takes a minute and 45 seconds to complete.”
33. Ride the Surfliner to Los Angeles:
“There’s something romantic about traveling on a rail so close to the beach. The Amtrak ride is $37 one way and far more scenic compared to other stretches such as NYC to Boston.”
34. Say a little prayer at the Mission:
The Mission Basilica de Alcalá is California’s first church and the oldest of the state’s 21 missions. Make sure you look up at the ceiling beams which were painted by the natives, visit the museum, and take a look at the excavation site which reveals new items every day.
35. See a pre-Broadway show at La Jolla Playhouse or The Old Globe:
“Newsflash: The theater scene in San Diego is top-notch. When you hear people whisper that a show is going to New York, buy a ticket and go see it. Shows that started here and went on to Broadway fame include Into the Woods, The Who’s Tommy, and Jersey Boys.”
36. See a show at the Belly Up or Casbah:
“Big and respected names perform at these intimate, storied venues. This month: Paula Cole and Ladysmith Black Mambazo!”
37. Sing along with Rick Lyon at the Imperial House:
“Rick who? If you don’t know, then you must venture to the Imperial House in Bankers Hill on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night. Bring your dancing shoes.”
38. Snap a photo by the Christmas tree:
“No one does holidays better than the Del, with its 100,000 twinkling lights. The tree in the lobby is always a stunner, with a special theme each year and a collectible ornament.”
39. Spy a giant panda at the zoo:
“Our giant pandas, on loan from China, are super cute and endangered. Go first thing in the morning, on a weekday—otherwise you’ll have to wait in a long line. Tip: In the early springtime, there are always lots of babies on display. Next level: Get a tax- deductible season pass.”
40. Stroll through the U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge and Dimensional Art Exposition:
Every Labor Day weekend, sand artists from around the world create sculptures out of 300 tons of sand on the B Street pier. Visit the organization’s website for more info.
41. Take a surfing lesson:
“Because the first thing anyone outside of California asks when you tell them where you’re from is ‘Do you surf?’ Next level: Teach your dog to surf.”
42. Take your kids to the MCAS Miramar Air Show:
“You’ve seen nothing until you’ve seen the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels fly in formation. And no, watching the F/A-18 Hornets while sitting in traffic on the 805 doesn’t count. September 23–25, 2016.”
43. Tour a craft brewery:
San Diego County has more than 100 breweries. The San Diego Brewers Guild has an interactive map of all the locations.
44. Visit the Torrey Pines Gliderport:
“Take in a view of the Pacific from a totally different vantage point as you paraglide above Black’s Beach. Feeling a little phobic? The view as a spectator can be just as breathtaking.”
45. Visit the USS Midway:
“The aircraft carrier served in the Cold War and is now a maritime museum. From the flight deck, visitors can see panoramic views of the bay, Coronado, Point Loma, and beyond. While you’re at it, head down the street to the Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship.”
46. Walk across the border:
“With Mexico just 16 miles from downtown, it’s a crime against culture not to venture to Baja for excellent food, shopping, and wine. Take the trolley to San Ysidro—or park in one of the hourly lots—and simply walk through the revolving doors. (Don’t forget your passport!) The line back into the U.S. can vary from easy to expletive-inducing, but there are churros in the queue!”
47. Walk across the Coronado Bridge:
“Pedestrians are only allowed on the bridge once a year, during the Navy’s annual Bay Bridge Run/Walk in May. All skill levels are welcome to participate in the four-mile trek, from time-chipped competitors to moms pushing strollers. No matter how fast you go, don’t forget to take in that amazing view. Next level: Bike the bridge, during the annual Bike the Bay in August.”
48. Walk to the end of the Ocean Beach Pier:
“It’s the longest concrete pier on the West Coast. Although it’s a little dirty and smells like fish, standing at the end feels like standing in the middle of the ocean.”
49. Watch a show under the stars:
Check out the free year-round concerts at “Humphreys Concerts by the Bay (stellar musical acts in an intimate setting), the Summer Pops (surprisingly extensive wine list, plus fireworks), Moonlight Amphitheatre (picnic beforehand and watch a musical in your sleeping bag), and the Old Globe’s annual Shakespeare Festival in Balboa Park (Wouldst thou have the attention span for this? Verily!). Next level: Hop in a dinghy or kayak and listen to a concert for free in the bay beside Humphreys. That’s how the locals do it!”
50. Watch the grunion run:
“Twice a month during spring and summer, silver grunion leave the water to spawn on the beach. It happens during a two-hour window late at night. At peak times, it looks like there are millions of fish shimmering on the sand.”
51. Witness a Red Tide:
“When algae blooms big-time, it creates a blue glow in the ocean waves on warm summer nights. Blow your mind with bioluminescence!”
San Diego Magazine has done an outstanding job with its bucket list containing the above items. The writers’ comments accompanying the list are not only insightful but also entertaining – certainly worth your time visiting the San Diego Magazine website.
Below are a few San Diego sights and things to do that are worth being added to the magazine’s bucket list:
1. Cabrillo National Monument – a must do for San Diegans and visitors:
You haven’t seen San Diego until you have been here. There is no better view of San Diego than from Cabrillo National Monument. From here you can see San Diego’s beautiful bay with the ships going in and out from the Pacific Ocean. On clear days you can see everything San Diego has to offer, including snow-covered mountains and Mexico. The drive to Cabrillo National Monument is a treat with a view to San Diego’s bay to the left and the Pacific Ocean to your right. Along the way is Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery with thousands of white grave stones overlooking the bay or the Pacific Ocean. Just before entering the gate to the national park, there is a road to the right that goes down to the ocean. Here you can see San Diego’s new lighthouses and some exciting the tide pools. There is absolutely no better place to capture San Diego’s beauty, history, and natural treasures.
2. Imperial Beach – the southernmost beach city in California and the West Coast of the United States
Imperial Beach is one of San Diego’s hidden treasures with a sandy uncrowded beach that stretches all the way from Mexico to Coronado. Walk with your dog, swim, surf, and see what life in southern California is really like.
3. Tijuana Estuary – walk to Mexico along the beach
The Tijuana Estuary stretches south of Imperial Beach to Mexico where the Ocean water flows into the Tijuana River. Walk south from Imperial Beach along the sandy beach until you see Mexico. While it would be too dangerous to cross the river and actually step foot onto Mexico, it is a treat to watch the ocean waves mix with the fresh water and to watch the hundreds of birds. Take binoculars along. Don’t forget to visit the Tijuana Estuary Visitors center: “The Reserve offers four miles of walking trails, taking visitors into prime bird watching areas and down to the river mouth where the Tijuana River meets the Pacific Ocean. Visitors may explore the park on their own or join one of the free guided nature and bird walks on weekends.”
4. Take a ferry across San Diego Bay – a must do
It is amazing how many San Diegans have never gone across the Coronado Ferry. It runs regularly across San Diego Bay, between the Broadway Pier and the Convention Center in downtown San Diego and the Coronado Ferry Landing. The 15-minute ride provides gorgeous views of the downtown skyline and the Coronado Bridge. You can also take a bike along and continue your journey on the other side. Kids love the excitement!
5. San Diego Trolley Tour – tourists know Sn Diego, but do you?
The San Diego Trolley Tour offers a hop on & off all day tour of San Diego & Coronado and covers 11 major sights including Old Town State Park, Cruise Ship Terminal/USS Midway, Seaport Village, Marriott Marina/Convention Center, Horton Plaza, Gaslamp Quarter, Hilton Bayfront, Coronado Ferry Landing, Coronado/Mc P’s Irish Pub and Grill, Balboa Park (El Prado)/San Diego Zoo, and Little Italy. The open-air tour in a trolley car is a treat with conductors that narrate the San Diego tour with a fascinating and fun mix of trivia and humorous stories. Even as a native San Diegan, you’ll learn things you’ve never known before. See the map of all the hop-on & off places. Get a discount if you buy your ticket online.
6. The largest sand dunes in California – have you been there?
Why go to Africa if you have some of the most amazing sand dunes right here in California? The Imperial Sand Dunes, also known as the Algodones Dunes, are the largest sand dunes in California. With heights of over 300 feet from the desert floor the dunes are an impressive site. According to Google maps, the drive is about 2 hours and 25 minutes if you go via Interstate 8. It is a 3-hour drive if you go through Julian on 78 all the way to the sand dunes, but the experience is amazing driving from San Diego’s mountains down into Anza Borrego Desert. Leave early in the morning and spend a day experiencing Africa.
If you are a San Diegan and would like to add a “must do” to the above list, please send an email to Exploration@cox.net. Your idea can be added to the San Diego guide for San Diegans.