Top Travel Tips in Two Minutes Video:
San Diego is a mountain-ringed metropolis with a pleasing personality that offers something for almost everyone, including year-round great weather and 70 miles of beaches.
Despite its being a cosmopolitan and diverse city of over 4,200 square miles, it is still very much a Navy Town, with one-third of the Pacific Fleet based there.
You can also feel its palpable Mexican influence (not surprising since it borders on Mexico). And although it’s very urban and urbane, the dessert and mountains are close by and you can find solitude—even wilderness—within its borders in close proximity to nightlife, great jazz and vibrant food.
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San Diego Background
For background and a flavor of the city, read San Diego Legends: The Events, People, and Places That Made History, by Jack Scheffler Innis (2004) for stories of the characters that define San Diego.
Under the Perfect Sun: The San Diego Tourists Never See, by Mike Davis, Kelly Mayhew, and Jim Miller (2003) takes a critical look at the city’s history, military economy, right-leaning politics and the local pecking order. Thank you for using our referral (“affiliate”) links to support our journalism.
To explore online, consider visiting these useful websites:
For shorter visits:
- Balboa Park (Get a One Day Explorer Pass, good for five museums); Picked as #4 in a ranking of 55 Stunning Botanical Gardens to See Before You Die
- Gaslamp Quarter (16 square blocks of Victorian buildings and modern skyscrapers with restaurants, pubs, nightclubs, entertainment, culture and shopping – including tony Horton Plaza)
- Old Town, the original Spanish settlement in California; shops, restaurants and entertainment
- Take a harbor tour to see the skyline from a different view and to observe San Diego as a Navy town
- Hop-on, hop-off bus (Old Town Trolley Tours)
For longer visits:
- Rent a car or hire a driver and visit Cabrillo National Monument (daytime only) and/or, in the other direction, journey along the Pacific to Oceanside in North County. Temecula wine country is an hour away.
- Go on an all-afternoon wine-tasting tour by train
- Visit the San Diego Zoo
- Ride the San Diego Trolley to San Ysidro, at the Mexican border. Walk to Tijuana for the adventuresome traveler, but bring your passport and be careful!
- Visit Mission Bay, Sea World and La Jolla on the coast.
San Diego International Airport (SAN) is close to downtown and is an easy bus or cab ride to most attractions.
Cruise ships also dock in San Diego.
Interstate 5 and 15 provide connections from the north, and I-8 goes east.
Once you’re there, though, forget the car. San Diego has a superb public transportation system with frequent Coaster commuter train service, the Trolley light rail and buses everywhere. Senior fares are only $1.20 a ride.
Amtrak provides frequent trains from San Luis Obispo and points south. For a full list of rail discounts, including how kids can ride 50% off, check out our United States by Rail page below.
Mobility Level: Recommended for those who can walk short distances, climb stairs and have the ability to enter and exit buses, trains, cabs, etc. Read more accessibility information.
Senior Travel Considerations: None. San Diego is an ideal destination for over-50 travelers.
When To Go: With its perennially-mild climate, San Diego is comfortable year-round. To avoid crowds and get the best chance at lodging discounts, late spring and September are best.
Where To Stay: Hotel Circle has all the national brands. Other nice places to stay are near Gaslight District, downtown and Mission Bay. For classic luxury, try Hotel del Coronado.
Special Travel Interests: U.S. Pacific Fleet, photography at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and many other locations including nearby Baja, California, Mexico.
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What did you do on your visit to San Diego? Share your favorite tips in the comments section below!
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