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San Diego Attractions

Guide to Visiting San Diego

Biking San Diego Harbor

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Fun Diego Family is a site about living in America’s Finest City.  There is a great deal about travel, cooking and other activities, but primarily the goal is a guide to visiting San Diego.  The focus is on great activities and attractions for both visitors and locals.  This article provides an overview of Fun Diego Family’s Guide to Visiting San Diego.

Overview

The city of San Diego is the 8th largest in the United States with a population of 1.4 million.  It used to be number 6 but in recent years has been passed by San Antonio, TX and Phoenix, AZ.  In terms of metro area, San Diego ranks number 17 with a population of about 3.3 million in San Diego County.

While San Diego sounds like a big city, it is actually a fairly open and isolated area.  To the west is the Pacific Ocean, the south is on the Mexican border, while the east is isolated mountains and desert.  It is only when you head north that you reach the mass of population that is the Orange County/Los Angeles metro area.

Many outsiders make the mistake of lumping San Diego with the rest of Southern California.  In reality, San Diego is far away from the crowded zoo of humanity that is Los Angeles. However, the good news is that many of the major attraction in Southern California are within a 2-hour or less drive.  The even better news is that the San Diego area has more great attractions and activities than almost any major U.S. city.

One of the first things you will hear about San Diego is the weather.  The climate along the coast of San Diego is described as Mediterranean.  Temperatures rarely drop below 50 degrees.  While there have been more hot days, temperatures above 90 degrees along the coast are rare.

As you go inland, the weather can change significantly.  The mountains get snowfall in winter.  After a big winter rain in the city, one can often see the snow-capped mountains on the horizon.  San Diego gets very little rain and can be subject to drought conditions.  Most of the rain occurs in winter months.

The deserts in east San Diego County can be home to some of the hottest temperatures in the U.S.  During summer, temperatures regularly get well into the 100s.  The desert area is part of the larger Colorado Desert, which itself is part of the Sonoran Desert.

 

The Colorado Desert is considered “Low Desert,” with elevations close to sea level.  The mountains above directly rise to more than 6,000 feet. The desert gets very little rain, but when rain does occur there can be flash flooding from the mountains.  The Salton Sea (in next door Imperial County) is actually well-below sea level.  It was created, in part, by an accidental human engineered runoff from the Colorado River.

When to Visit

San Diego is a true year-round destination.  Even in winter, you will see dedicated surfers in the ocean.  Almost all attractions are open year-round.

Of course, summer attracts more crowds.  The Pacific Ocean water tends to be fairly cold because the currents come down from Alaska.  The water is at its most pleasant for swimming from July through September.

Pacific Beach
A traditional summer beach scene can be found in Pacific Beach

However, for those not interested in ocean swimming, visiting outside of summer is generally more enjoyable.  The pleasant winter weather makes San Diego a great snowbird retreat.  In addition, there is often more sunshine from October through April.

Many visitors to San Diego are surprised to find that May and June are the cloudiest months.  The terms May Gray and June Gloom refer to the coastal cloud layer that can often block the sunshine at that time of year.

If you have children, you should note that the month of October kids go free at many San Diego attractions.  This includes the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and Legoland.

Major Attractions

San Diego is jam-packed with things to do.  For a visitor with a shortage of time, the hard part will be choosing the among a plethora of options.  Our goal at Fun Diego Family is to present a detailed view of major attractions so that visitors can make sure they have a good idea of what they can expect.

The big-ticket attractions include the San Diego Zoo, Legoland, Seaworld, and the San Diego Safari Park.  These places are major investments of both time and money.  At Fun Diego Family we prepare detailed, regularly updated guides to these attractions.  These guides are designed to provide a quick overview but also go into more detail for those that want to better plan their visit.

San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park
Animals are a big attraction at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park and SeaWorld

Outside the big attractions, there are many less expensive options that should be considered.  These include harbor cruises, whale watching, the museums of Balboa Park, Belmont Park, the Midway aircraft carrier and many more.  In Fun Diego Family’s Guide to Visiting San Diego we are constantly focusing on the smaller attractions.

Getting the best deal on top tourist attractions is a primary concern.  Most of our features will focus on how to get the best price on a given attraction.  For those looking to visit multiple attractions, we always suggest considering the Go San Diego card.

 

San Diego’s 10 Best Attractions

San Diego’s Top 10 Attractions

 

Go San Diego Card

Just about every major San Diego attraction participates in the Go San Diego Card program.  This card provides a major discount when you visit multiple attractions.  For visitor’s spending 3 or more days in San Diego, the all-inclusive Go San Diego Card should be considered.

However, even as residents of San Diego, we find ourselves using the Go San Diego card.  You can build your own pass and add two or more options for a 20% discount.  This not only saves money, but can allow one to avoid lines at the ticket stand.

For our overview of the Go San Diego card go here.

 

Low-Cost and Free Activities

One of the great advantages of visiting San Diego versus other major urban areas is the outdoors.  San Diego is all about enjoying the sun.  Tourists and locals alike have all kinds of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.  In many cases, these activities are low-cost or entirely free.

Fun Diego Family is constantly featuring hikes, bike rides and opportunities to enjoy the scenery and sunshine.  We have detailed guides that describe exactly what visitors can expect.  A major focus is on how accessible an attraction is and how appropriate it is for children of various ages.

Of course, with 70 miles of coastline, the beach is a major low-cost/free San Diego attraction.  However, there are many beaches to choose from.  Some beaches are rocky and better for scenery than swimming.  In our guide to San Diego, Fun Diego Family has mapped out all 70 miles of beaches and provided a complete guide to each one.

In almost all cases, our guides are based on a recent visit to the location.  For hikes and bike rides we take our GPS and carefully map out the route we take. 

San Diego’s Best Free Attractions

San Diego’s Top 10 Free Attractions

 

San Diego Beach Guide

Guide to San Diego Beaches

 

LINK 10 Best Hikes for San Diego Visitors

Restaurants

Of course, everyone has to eat and San Diego has many options.  Fun Diego Family has years of experience with San Diego restaurants.  Our goal is to present that experience from the perspective of a local.

There are plenty of guides to the trendy and high-end restaurants.  At Fun Diego Family our focus is more on the hidden gems that may not show up in the tourist’s guides.

Just a few years ago, San Diego was considered a culinary wasteland.  That is changing as celebrity chefs like Richard Blais have opened restaurants.  Nowadays, dining in San Diego can be expensive.  Unfortunately, many places in prime locations charge a premium for mediocre food with a great view.

There is already extensive coverage of places like Richard Blais’ Juniper and Ivy.  We do not pretend to be foodies and frankly could not afford to visit these places enough to truly review them to the extent we desire.

If you want the best information on top end San Diego restaurants, we recommend Eater San Diego.  This site provides a regularly updated list of the 38 essential San Diego restaurants.  They also have an ongoing list of the current “hottest” San Diego restaurants.

You will find that we cover some of the Eater San Diego restaurants.  However, we are looking to go beyond that list.  Fun Diego Family is focused on more of the family-friendly options.  We are also focused on crowd-pleasing food like pizza, hamburgers, sandwiches, cheesesteaks, and, of course, Mexican food.

Lefty’s Chicago Pizzeria Review
If you want to find the best Chicago-style pizza in San Diego Fun Diego Family has you covered

Unlike many reviewers, we are trying to only provide positive reviews.  We try and visit a place several times before making a judgment.  There are many touristy places that will not be featured on Fun Diego Family because we simply do not believe they provide good value for the money.

In the case of the top restaurants on Eater San Diego, many we have not yet visited.  Others we have visited but consider over-rated.  We do not cover the ones we feel are over-rated because in many cases we only have made one visit.  However, if you have a question about a specific restaurant please let us know.

LINK Best San Diego Restaurants

Hotels

As San Diego locals, one area we have limited first-hand experience is with San Diego hotels.  However, we are partnering with travel agents to present some of the best options.

One thing we do know is a great deal about location.  Our plan is to visit major hotels, take pictures of the grounds and describe our opinion of the general surroundings. 

Fun Diego Family is focusing on the best areas to stay in San Diego and the options in each of those areas.  Travelers, will, of course, want to do more detailed research for current prices and specific amenities.

For those looking for the best price, we have created a guide to getting a deal on Hotwire and Priceline.  This guide applies not just to San Diego, but traveling around the world.  Personally, I used these methods on a 4-day trip to Scandinavia where I found prices for a given hotel could vary by hundreds of dollars from night to night.

Travel Discounts: Finding Specific Hotels with Better Bidding on Hotwire and Priceline

 

Neighborhoods

San Diego is not only a great place to visit, but it is also a great place to live.  People from all over the country pick San Diego as a retirement location.  San Diego has long been a leading military town.  Many people come to San Diego as part of the military and choose to make the area a permanent home.

In recent years, San Diego has become a leader in technology.  With many high-end engineering and science jobs, top talent is moving to San Diego from all over the world.  This gives San Diego a vibrant international community.  There are all kinds of authentic ethnic places and grocery stores that feature products from specific parts of the world.

Fun Diego Family is focused on covering the communities of San Diego that are not necessarily tourist destinations, but places to live.  The city of San Diego alone has 124 distinct neighborhoods.  However, the city itself only accounts for about one-third of the population in San Diego County.

San Diego is only one of 18 formal cities in San Diego County (San Diego city is one of a total of 54 population centers in the county).  This includes 8 cities with a population close to 100,000 or more.  It is almost a 50-mile drive from the Mexican border and Chula Vista area, to Oceanside, the last city in northern San Diego.

In the Fun Diego Family overall guide to San Diego, our goal is to provide coverage of the many different areas of San Diego.  We will describe not only tourist opportunities but also a more detailed look into what it may be like to live in a specific neighborhood.

We have found that most of the tourist guide and websites in San Diego focus on only a handful of neighborhoods.  In many cases, the focus is on the trendiest neighborhoods to live.  However, these areas are generally out of the reach of most people looking to move to San Diego.

Unfortunately, being such a great place to live, means San Diego real estate is at a premium.  Finding an affordable neighborhood with the desired schools and amenities can be a challenge.  In our coverage of San Diego, Fun Diego Family is expanding to provide a true guide to what it is like to live in a specific San Diego neighborhood.

Conclusion

Our guide to San Diego is designed to be an ongoing, organic growing community.  We welcome input and contributions.  San Diego is a huge area and there are always new places to discover.

Fun Diego Family is constantly revisiting places and updating information.  Our guides are designed to be like the metaphor of peeling the layers of an onion to get to the core.  At a high-level, we provide high-end overviews, best of lists, suggested itineraries and guides. 

For those that want to dig deeper we try and give a complete overview of what to expect.  In most cases, this is represented by pictures we have taken on an actual visit.

We encourage you to sign-up for our mailing list, comment and give suggestions for places or topics you would like us to cover.

 

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