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Glistening waves, warm sunshine and a mild climate year-round — San Diego’s laid-back atmosphere, white sandy beaches and ever-evolving food scene make it a popular destination on California’s coast. More than just a beach town, San Diego also boasts a rich naval history.

If you want to get out and enjoy the water like the locals, we can arrange a beginner’s surfing class with an expert who will help you learn the basics and try to catch a wave at La Jolla Shores Beach. For those looking to spend time on the water but not necessarily in it, consider a whale-watching tour aboard a replica of the schooner America, the first winner of the America’s Cup sailing race.

Located just minutes from the Mexican border, San Diego can also offer authentic Mexican food, adobe houses, a vibrant market and boutique shops in Mexican-influenced Old Town San Diego.

What I love about San Diego is the variety on offer: the vibrant bars and restaurants of the historic Gaslamp Quarter, the manicured gardens and museums at Balboa Park and the exceptional sand beaches. Under year-round sunshine, San Diego is a classic SoCal destination.

USA specialist Alex

Things to see and do in San Diego

Maritime Museum

USS Midway The Maritime Museum of San Diego, located on the bay, is known for its restoration of historic ships — from steam-powered ships and sailboats to submarines. Here you’ll find the Star of India, the world’s oldest active ship, which was built in 1863.

The museum also has a collection of replica ships. Its newest addition is a recreation of the San Salvador, the galleon ship manned by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo — the ship headed the Spanish expedition that landed in San Diego in 1592.

For those hoping to catch a glimpse of a Hollywood star, the museum is also home to the HMS Surprise, a replica Royal Navy frigate. HMS Surprise made an appearance in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, as well as starred in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

The museum also offers a handful of day sails.

USS Midway

You can learn more about the long and storied naval history of San Diego with a tour of the aircraft carrier Midway, as well as the extensive collection of aircraft on board. The Midway was the United States’ longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century, active from 1945-1992.

Get a feel for what it might have been like to live aboard a naval ship with a tour through sleeping quarters, the engine room, the galley and more. See the sick bay where crew members went for everything from routine dental check-ups to surgery, and check out the flight deck where you can touch the fighters, bombers and helicopters on board.

Ocean activities

Whale watchingWe suggest setting aside time to take advantage of San Diego’s most prominent natural feature —the Pacific Ocean. Board a replica of schooner America for a whale-watching cruise. Your knowledgeable guide will point out any marine life you might see, which could include grey whales and dolphins. You’ll also learn about the US Navy sites you pass as you head out of the bay.

For those looking to get in the water, we recommend a beginner’s surfing lesson at the La Jolla Shores Beach. The amber sand gradually slopes into the ocean, creating gentle crests that are well suited for beginners. Your instructor will teach you techniques on land before heading into the water to try catching a few waves. Keep an eye out for the dolphins and sea lions that live along the coast — they occasionally like to swim up to investigate.

Home run

There are few things more quintessentially American than catching a baseball game. You can grab a hotdog and take in America’s pastime at Petco Park, joining up to 50,000 other fans at a San Diego Padres game.

In the middle of the seventh inning, stand up, stretch your legs and join in singing a rendition of Take Me Out to the Ball Game with your fellow baseball fans. Petco Park is located right downtown, and the concession stands serve everything from nachos and fries to craft beers and locally sourced produce.

Trolley tour

The Old Town Trolley Tour provides a convenient and informative way to see everything in the city. The hop-on hop-off trolley is led by knowledgeable conductors who illuminate points of interest with local history and amusing anecdotes.

You’ll be treated to expansive views of the Big Bay and city skyline from the top of the Coronado Bridge. You’ll travel through the storied Gaslamp Quarter, the Embarcadero and Little Italy. You’ll visit the island of Coronado, home to one of California’s most beautiful beaches. Along the way, the trolley will also make a stop at Balboa Park — home to more than 12 museums, free gardens and the Old Globe theatre.

Beaches

Sunset on La Jolla BeachFor those who like the beach, there are fewer places better for soaking up the warm sun next to the rhythmic sounds of the crashing waves. Whether you’re looking for the classic seaside experience with perfect golden sand beaches, swaying palm trees and a bright sunset reflecting on the water, or bustling boardwalks filled with surfers, we can recommend a beach for you.

Coronado Beach is the textbook California beach, and is the closest to downtown San Diego. Pacific Beach and Mission Beach are livelier options, more popular with a younger crowd. These feature busy boardwalks, and Mission Beach is home to an amusement park.

Affluent La Jolla features secluded beaches, rocky reefs, high sea cliffs and hidden coves. You’re also likely to catch sea lions basking in the sun at La Jolla Cove. Torrey Pines City Beach is a good place for long walks along the bluffs, featuring 91-metre (300-foot) cliffs and panoramic ocean views.

Best time to visit:

You can visit Southern California year-round and enjoy its warm, sunny summers and cooler winters. Along the coast, the temperature rarely dips below 20 C (68 F), and even the hottest summer days are cooled by ocean breezes.

January through March are the rainiest and coolest months, while June through August are the warmest and driest. However, schools are out of session during this time, so attractions will be busier. The spring and autumn months see lovely weather and fewer visitors.

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Audley Travel specialist Monty

Start planning your tailor-made trip to San Diego by calling one of our California specialists on 01993 838 861

Suggested San Diego itinerary

This sample itinerary will give you an idea of what is possible when you travel in San Diego, and showcases routes we know work particularly well. Treat this as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.

Accommodation choices for San Diego

We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit San Diego. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.

Ideas for experiencing San Diego

Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting San Diego, and which use the best local guides.

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