We searched high and low, through hashtags and posts, to uncover San Diego’s hidden gems. Whether you’re on the hunt for the perfect sunset view, the underground food scene, or pristine nature, you won’t want to miss these 12 places when exploring San Diego.
1. Secret swings perched on beachside cliffs.
The “secret swings” are just that: a secret. Hidden in the trees on a La Jolla hillside above Scripps Pier near UC San Diego are a few sets of swings. They’re just a short hike up from Expedition Way — it’s worth it for the ocean views.
There have been all sorts of handmade seats, from a swinging bench chair to a tire swing. The location and swings are ever-changing, so be sure to check #secretswings (on Instagram) before you go for the latest spots; the mystery is all part of the fun.
2. Selfies worth the hike.
You might not expect waterfalls here, but San Diego actually has a number of them if you know where to look. The lush green canyon of Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve (about 20 miles north of downtown) is worth the hike, especially with this winter’s rainfall.
This flat, easy-to-moderately-difficult 7-mile trail follows a creek through a forest of giant California live oaks and sycamore trees. Keep an eye out for aquatic birds, mule deer and bobcats on the trek. Just follow the trail markers to the waterfall, which also marks the turnaround point.
In San Diego, there’s a variety of hikes for every level,such as Mount Soledad, Lake Poway and the notorious Potato Chip Rock on Mount Woodson. We just couldn’t resist another photo.
3. Beaches like nowhere else.
Surfers say Black’s Beach has some of the best waves in San Diego, while hang gliders say it also has some of the best views. This remote beach isn’t easy to get to (which is probably why it’s also known for nudists who tend to hang out on the north end), but it’s worth it once you get there.
There are four access routes to Black’s Beach: the most popular are Torrey Pines Glider Port Trail (with free parking) and Torrey Pines State Park. Just follow the designated trail from the top of the mesa to the beach below.
4. This sculpture garden could rival Barcelona’s Park Güell.
Shimmering red, green and gold mosaics catch the eye in a seemingly magical oasis tucked away in Escondido’s Kit Carson Park. It’s Queen Califia’s Magical Circle, the work of Niki de Saint Phalle. A larger-than-life Queen Califia and her colorful eagle greet visitors as they meander through the mosaic garden, comprising nine large sculptures enclosed within a maze-like “snake wall.”
The garden is open daily with free entrance on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. and the second Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
5. One of California’s only visible shipwrecks.
The SS Monte Carlo shipwreck lies just below the water’s surface, only visible at low tide. Back in 1937, this 300-foot casino ship ran ashore on Coronado — before then it was frequented by Hollywood stars including Clark Gable and Mae West.
Just follow Orange Ave past Hotel del Coronado to Coronado Shores Beach. At low tide, you’ll be able to see the shipwreck on the south end of the beach; it comes right up on the shore.
Coronado is an easy drive across the bridge from downtown or a 15-minute ferry ride (pedestrians only) from Broadway Pier and the Convention Center.
6. Builders are hard at work, using real LEGO® blocks.
The Model Shop has more than three million LEGO® bricks and is the workshop for LEGOLAND® California Resort‘s 27,000-plus LEGO® models. But did you know about the tunnel that goes behind-the-scenes? It’s right behind the merchandise. If you’re lucky, you’ll see them building with LEGOs® or developing new displays using computer modeling software.
And of course, there are Imagination Zones throughout LEGOLAND® California Resort where kids can build their own LEGO® models.
7. An unsuspecting suspension bridge.
In the quiet residential neighborhood of Banker’s Hill sits the pedestrian Spruce Street Suspension Bridge. Its original purpose back in 1912 was to connect the neighborhood, which sits on opposite sides of Kate Sessions Canyon. But now the suspension bridge is a fun stroll for those looking for a little thrill — it sways from side to side as it’s suspended across the canyon by cables.
The bridge is easy to get to from neighboring downtown, Balboa Park and Hillcrest. Just drive west down Spruce Street from First Avenue until you reach the bridge; you can’t miss it.
8. Underground food scene.
Steaming dumplings, handmade noodles, spicy kimchi and fresh sushi can all be found on Convoy Street, nicknamed Asian Restaurant Row. This melting pot of Asian cultures is home to the city’s most authentic Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean and Chinese foods.
You can find Korean BBQ, shabu shabu houses, fragrant tea rooms and French-Asian bakeries all in one place about 10 miles from downtown.
9. Maybe the most SoCal farmers market out there.
The Little Italy Mercato Farmers Market is so San Diego. With more than 200 vendors covering five blocks, you’ll find California produce (think citrus and avocados), fresh seafood (even just-caught sea urchin) and local artisans such as Mush oatmeal and Modern Times Beer. There is even a microgreens tent, where they cut the greens right off the living plant.
It’s held every Saturday from 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. on W. Cedar Street right in downtown.
10. Historic naval buildings house a food hall, arts district and more.
Away from the hustle-and-bustle of downtown, in seaside Point Loma, is Liberty Station‘s 361-acre waterfront urban village. This historic Naval Training Center is a destination unto itself, with a nine-hole golf course, an arts district, a luxury cinema, Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens and the Liberty Public Market (a food hall with 30 artisans). Go for the happy hour from 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. Monday-Friday and live music on Sundays.
There’s always something going on at Liberty Station,from Friday Night Liberty, a monthly showcase of local artist galleries and cultural performances, to the bi-annual Liberty Station Block Party, a community celebration with a walkabout-style evening of complimentary tastings, activities and entertainment.
11. Sunsets + beer = a perfect evening.
A tiny shack on Shelter Island Pier — Fathom Bistro, Bait, and Tackle — features craft beer, house made sausages and unbeatable views of downtown San Diego and ocean sunsets. The kegs are stored in the water to keep them cold: You can’t get more uniquely San Diego than that.
12. One-of-a-kind pier sunsets happen twice a year.
Magic happens twice a year at Scripps Pier when the sunset perfectly aligns with the pier posts. The exact dates differ by year, but it typically falls between May and August.
The pier is part of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, a department of UC San Diego. While it’s normally closed to the public (as it’s used for research) there are two ways to tour it. Volunteer guides host free 50-minute historical daily tours through the campus and pier, you just need to sign up online by noon the day prior. And two days per month from July-October, the Birch Aquarium hosts a full moon walk at dusk. You can sign up for $30 through the aquarium.