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11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in San Diego

San Diego is the oldest town in California, founded in 1769. It has an enchanting natural beauty and a climate with plenty of sunshine. Of particular note are Balboa Park, home to the San Diego zoo and numerous museums, and more than 68 miles of beaches in and around the city.

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1 Balboa Park

Balboa ParkBalboa Park View slideshow

Balboa Park is over a 1400 acre site with historical buildings, numerous museums, gardens, and green space. The park was created for the Panama California Exhibition of 1915-1916 with most of the buildings in the park remaining from that event. The predominant architecture is Spanish-Mexican style, low level buildings that blend in with the natural surroundings. Among the highlights of the park are the Botanical Gardens and lily pond, the Museum of Man, the Museum of Natural History, the San Diego Museum of Art, and the famous San Diego Zoo. Even if you never go into a building the park is simply a beautiful place.

Address: 1549 El Prado

2 SeaWorld

SeaWorld San Diego is one of the city's main attractions, particularly for families. It is located along the waterfront in Mission Bay. For many American's SeaWorld has been a long time family tradition, having been around since the 1960s. Among the highlights are the myriad of shows featuring killer whales, sea lions, dolphins, and other sea life. There are all kinds of rides from roller coasters plowing into water, to more sedate carnival type rides for tots. SeaWorld is an aquarium that allows for close up looks at sharks and other sea creatures that can be seen through an acrylic tunnel, along with touch tanks, and close encounters with dolphins and inhabitants of tidal pools.

Address: 500 SeaWorld Drive, San Diego, CA 92109-7993, United States

3 San Diego Zoo

San Diego ZooSan Diego Zoo View slideshow

Located in Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo is one of the largest and most famous zoos in the United States. The zoo has all kinds of exotic animals, including pandas which have been successfully bred here. It is spread out along a canyon, with many hills that can sometimes be challenging for visitors wandering through the site. The park prides itself on the Animal enclosures which are designed to recreate natural settings.

Address: 2920 Zoo Drive, Balboa Park

4 Gaslamp Quarter

Gaslamp QuarterGaslamp Quarter View slideshow

In downtown San Diego is the Gaslamp Quarter National Historic District, an area of restored late 19th and early 20th Century Victorian buildings. Today the Gaslamp Quarter is a trendy area with shops, restaurants, and galleries, attracting locals and tourists. The area covers less than 20 blocks and runs approximately from Broadway to San Diego Bay. There are also a large number of upper end hotels that are popular with both tourists and business travelers due to its great location in the city. This area underwent restorations in the 1970s which eventually led to it being listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Official site:

5 Seaport Village

Seaport VillageSeaport Village View slideshow

San Diego's Seaport Village is a delightful place to stroll around and spend an afternoon. Located right on the waterfront this area of unique shops and restaurants is one of the city's must sees. Picnic tables, benches, and waterfront patios are sprinkled throughout the area and weekends can be very busy. Outdoor performers take to the stage regularly in the afternoons, some of which can be quite eclectic. The area is easily accessible on foot from many of the nearby attractions including the USS Midway. Since there is limited and expensive parking at Seaport Village, it may be best to park a little distance away and enjoy the stroll along the waterfront to the site.

Address: West Harbor Drive and Pacific Highway

6 Old Town State Historic Park

Old Town State Historic ParkOld Town State Historic Park View slideshow

The Old Town San Diego State Historic Park gives visitors a look at the town's Mexican and early American history, and offers opportunities for shopping and dining. It was probably founded in 1820 by demobilized Mexican soldiers who had done their military service at the Presidio or in the fort on Presidio Hill, both of which are located here. Many of the historic buildings, including numerous adobe houses, have been repaired. Also located here are interesting shops and restaurants with outdoor patios. The Old Town State Historic park is the most visited State Park in California. There is no admission fee.

Address: 4002 Wallace Street

7 Point Loma and Cabrillo National Monument

Point Loma and Cabrillo National MonumentPoint Loma and Cabrillo National Monument View slideshow

Point Loma provides an incredible view out over San Diego and the Pacific Ocean. This is the place where Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo first landed on the west coast of the United States in 1542. The history of his incredible "Voyage of Discovery" is told through a variety of displays and exhibits at the Cabrillo National Monument. A large statue dedicated to Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo gazes out over the land he discovered. Also located on Point Loma is the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, built in 1858. Visitors can tour the refurbished lighthouse building. Access to Point Loma is along a very scenic roadway.

8 San Diego Museum of Art

San Diego Museum of ArtSan Diego Museum of Art View slideshow

The San Diego Museum of Art is a copy of the 17th century University of Salamanca, in the so-called Platero style, with finely-chiseled terracotta and silversmith work. Busts of Spanish painters adorn the fašade, and their works hang in the museum's collection. The museum's collection covers a broad spectrum of works from around the world and pieces that date back to 7000 years ago. Spanish old master paintings, along with Asian Art, European Art and Art from the Americas are highlighted.

Official site:
Address: 1450 El Prado

9 Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum

Midway Aircraft Carrier MuseumMidway Aircraft Carrier Museum View slideshow

Walking along the San Diego waterfront trail, visitors may be surprised when they come across one of the US military's largest ships. The decommissioned USS Midway is permanently berthed at Navy Pier. The highlights of a visit to the USS Midway Museum include over 60 exhibits and 25 restored aircraft. Over 225,000 military service personnel served on the ship and today visitors can take a self-guided audio tour to learn all about its history. For an additional fee visitors can try a flight simulator on board.

Official site:
Address: 910 North Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101, United States

10 Horton Plaza

Horton PlazaHorton Plaza

Horton Plaza lies in downtown San Diego between Broadway and G Street, and 1st and 4th Avenue. From an architectural point of view it is one of California's most interesting shopping centers. The bright colors and avant-garde architecture, together with the open-air displays, make it most attractive. The center contains all kinds of shops, including major department stores, numerous restaurants, and movie theaters.

Address: 324 Horton Plaza, San Diego, CA 92101-5481, United States

11 Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala

Mission Basilica San Diego de AlcalaMission Basilica San Diego de Alcala View slideshow

This was California's first mission. In 1769 the Spanish Franciscan Father from Majorca, Junipero Serra, founded the mission stations, the first of which was built in San Diego. A few years after it was founded, however, it was moved 6 miles inland, because disputes had arisen between the Spanish troops and the Indians. In 1775 the Indians set fire to the new mission; the Fathers sought refuge with the army and it was 1777 before they built a new mission station with the help of the Indians. However, it quickly became dilapidated following secularization. Today visitors can see the old church with a bell-tower, declared a basilica in the 1970s, a beautiful garden, and a small museum. It is a National Historic Landmark.

Address: 10818 San Diego Mission Road, San Diego, CA 92108-2429, United States

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