Best places to explore in San Diego

March 4, 2016 | Angie Lasagna

Photo of pushpin marking San Diego on a map.

San Diego has something for everyone, whether you’re looking for outdoor adventures that won’t break the bank or to treat yourself to a lavish staycation at one of San Diego’s several luxury hotels and spas. You can explore San Diego from trendy brunch spots like Breakfast Republic, to historical landmarks like the Cabrillo National Monument and even fun nightlife and fine dining in the Gaslamp Quarter.

San Diego County contains many distinct neighborhoods, each with their own unique personalities and attractions, from glamorous La Jolla to hip College Heights. With warm weather year round, there are many opportunities for you and your family to plan a staycation or a fun day on the town in “America’s Finest City.”

Here’s my list of must-see places and attractions in San Diego:


San Diego is home to more than 45 museums and cultural attractions. You can immerse yourself in sea life at the Living Coast Discovery Center, marvel at striking artistic expression at the Museum of Contemporary Art, explore San Diego’s history at the Whaley House Museum or show the little ones that education can be fun at The New Children’s Museum! The San Diego Museum Council’s website has a comprehensive list of museums throughout San Diego County.

Balboa Park

Balboa Park is the nation’s largest urban cultural park and it is enchanting for adults and kids alike. Performing arts venues and 15 major museums, including the San Diego Air & Space Museum, Reuben H. Fleet Science Center and San Diego History Center, adorn the park’s beautiful gardens. On “Residents Free Tuesday,” San Diegans can visit a rotating selection of museums with no admission charge. Make sure to check Balboa Parks’ website for dates and museums available.

San Diego Zoo

The world-famous San Diego Zoo celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2016. The 100-acre San Diego Zoo stands out from the typical city zoo, providing innovative and mesmerizing ways to visit the 3,500 rare and endangered animals inside. You can take to the skies by riding the Skyfari above the park. Or, get even closer to the animals with special interactive experiences. Our first exploration will be the Early Morning with Pandas Tour (I love pandas!). We’ll get to enter the panda exhibit before regular operating hours to wish the bears a good morning and join them for breakfast. If cats are more your thing, you can see keeper areas and learn how the zookeepers care for the large felines with the Crazy About Cats experience.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

The San Diego Zoo has a separate park: The San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The Safari Park is considered a wildlife sanctuary; it houses 3,000 animals while preserving 1,800 acres of native species’ habitats. Visit this majestic park that mimics an African safari and you will see lions and tigers (but no bears. Oh my, they’re all at the San Diego Zoo!). Explore the San Diego Zoo Safari Park by choosing from a variety of exciting safaris like Butterfly Jungle and Shiley's Cheetah Run—where you can watch cheetahs reach speeds approaching seventy miles an hour—up close and personal. You can even sign up for a Roar & Snore Safari sleepover adventure and stay in the park overnight!

Petco Park

Petco Park is home to Major League Baseball’s San Diego Padres. Take in a baseball game, crack open some peanuts and Cracker Jacks and you’ll have so much fun you’ll want to come back. You can take a guided Petco Park Tour to go behind the scenes and learn more about all of the action at the ballpark.


San Diego has some of the best beaches in the U.S. Whether you want to go out on the town or have an early morning swim, there are plenty of beachfront options on San Diego’s 70 miles of coastline. Take a stroll at La Jolla Cove to meet seals lying right on the shore and explore mysterious sea caves. Then, enjoy a nice dinner and window-shopping at La Jolla’s restaurants and high-end boutiques. If nightlife is your style, Mission Beach and downtown San Diego have a variety of colorful bars and entertainment options, that aren’t too far from the water either.


San Diego County has a lot of hiking trails perfect for day trips. It’s easy to find the perfect trail for yourself or your group with options near the beach in La Jolla all the way to Mount Woodson, which is home to the famous potato chip rock that offers a photo-op that makes it look like you are standing over the abyss, in Ramona. There are plenty of outdoor adventure sites that will satisfy beginners and experienced hikers alike. Visit San Diego Hikers to find great hiking trails and groups of hikers that you can enjoy the outdoors with.


You don’t have to leave San Diego to be transported to a world of bliss. If you are ready to be pampered, look no further than San Diego’s world-class resorts and spas.

Special attractions

From Comic Con to the San Diego County Fair in the summer, to local festivals and conferences throughout the year, San Diego always has something exciting going on.


San Diego County has a variety of hotels, so you can staycation in whichever way you please. There are luxurious hotel & spas in La Jolla, and the five-star Hotel del Coronado on Coronado Island offers seasonal experiences, such as Skating by the Sea, and year-round opportunities to explore the hotel’s history. You can also find hotels close to the San Diego Zoo or Balboa Park. If you are budget conscious, Mission Valley has a “hotel circle”with plenty of options close to dining and shopping, with easy access to all of San Diego’s attractions.

The good news is, no matter where you find yourself in San Diego, you’re always close to a Mission Federal Credit Union branch. With 30 branches from Oceanside to Santee to Imperial Beach and everywhere in between, we’re with you as you enjoy your adventurous or relaxing staycation. And don’t forget that members can access a wide network of 30,000 surcharge-free CO-OP ATMs all over San Diego.

Make the most of your San Diego staycation with a Mission Fed Credit Card. Both Mission Fed’s Classic Credit Card and Platinum Credit Card come with the benefit of Mission Rewards, so you can earn points on your purchases that you can redeem for cash back, airline tickets, hotel stays, local sports and theatre tickets and more.

Here’s to adventures throughout San Diego with Mission Fed! We are ready to assist you as you are out and about this year!


Balboa Park:

San Diego Zoo/Safari Park:

Aquatica San Diego:

References to any specific commercial products, processes, or services, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporation name in this article by Mission Federal Credit Union is for the information and convenience of its readers and does not constitute endorsement, control or warranty by Mission Federal Credit Union. This article contains links for websites that Mission Fed does not control. Mission Fed is not responsible and does not assume liability for the operations, content, links, privacy or security policies of third party websites.

Angie Lasagna

Angie Lasagna

Angie Lasagna is VP Community Relations and External Affairs at Mission Federal Credit Union. Not only does she have 25 years of experience in the areas of marketing, media, public relations, events design and corporate philanthropy, but she has also been recognized as a San Diego Metro Magazine 40 Under 40 winner, Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego Miracle Maker and top-funder for March of Dimes, City of Hope and Kids News Day.

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