San Diego is the ninth most-visited tourist destination in the U.S., according to WorldAtlas.com. With nearly perfect weather year-round, 70 miles of spectacular California coastline, and world-class attractions, who wouldn’t want to spend time in this urban waterfront paradise? While hitting the beach, numerous museums and the Gaslamp Quarter should be on your itinerary, here are some of our favorite hidden gems you won’t want to miss on your next trip to America’s Finest City.
ENJOY THE SECRET SWINGS
In what may be one of the region’s best-kept secrets, the secret swings provide fabulous views of the Pacific Ocean and La Jolla. The handcrafted painted swings hang from a tree just off a small trail near the back of the Birch Aquarium parking lot, so if you’re visiting the aquarium, be sure to take the quick detour. Be aware, though: sometimes the swings are missing due to occasional vandalism.
TEMPT YOUR SWEET TOOTH
If you’re looking for the perfect place to enjoy a decadent dessert, look no further than Extraordinary Desserts. With locations in Bankers Hill and Little Italy, this bakery/restaurant greets guests with an elegant and vibrant visual menu of desserts that changes daily, with options ranging from gourmet cakes (such as blood orange ricotta or black velvet) to large cookies and pastries. While the desserts are creative and innovative, the plated presentations filled with fresh flowers, fruit, sauces, and shavings are what make a visit to Extraordinary Desserts especially memorable.
FIND YOUR BEACHSIDE ZEN
Discover an escape for peaceful self-reflection at the Meditation Gardens in Encinitas, just over 25 miles north of San Diego. The internationally renowned cliffside gardens on the grounds of the Self-Realization Fellowship Encinitas Temple are free to the public. You’ll find colorful flowers, including the brilliant Bird of Paradise, as well as koi ponds, meditation nooks, and sweeping ocean views.
Visit the only sea cave in California that’s accessible by land. Thanks to a two-year effort by two laborers who dug out a tunnel more than a hundred years ago, the Sunny Jim Sea Cave provides access to one of the most Instagrammable views on the West Coast. The admission of $5 for adults and $3 for kids is worth the stunning view that often includes snorkelers and kayakers drifting by in the ocean waters.
KAYAK IN A SEA CAVE
Experience Southern California’s near-perfect climate while exploring the Pacific coastline by kayak. Departing from San Diego’s La Jolla neighborhood, opt for one of the many guided tours that will allow you to observe dozens of marine animals, including sea lions, leopard sharks, pelicans, and more, while visiting five different marine environments. The other main attractions on this tour are the deep-water canyons and caves, each with unique flora and fauna. First-time kayakers will find a professionally guided tour on sit-on-top kayaks less challenging, especially since no previous kayaking experience is required. Experienced kayakers can rent kayaks from local outfitters and chart their own course.
CROSS A CANYON ON A HISTORIC BRIDGE
Two bridges, each more than 100 years old, are tucked away in the Bankers Hill neighborhood of San Diego. The Spruce Street Bridge, built in 1912 and connecting Front Street and Brant Street over Kate Sessions Canyon, has a slight sway as you walk the span above the treetops. Nearby, the 236-foot-long Quince Street Bridge connects Quince Street and Third Avenue, providing delightful views of Maple Canyon. As a part of your exploration, take the trails through the canyons below the bridges to see beautiful flowering plants in the spring and thick greenery not normally expected in such an urban environment. The trails aren’t overly strenuous.