San Diego is an often overlooked city when it comes to visiting California, but it has many of the same wonderful elements of a typical California visit without the crowds and traffic that travelers often associate with Los Angeles and San Francisco.
There’s easy access to incredible beaches and coastline, but there's a lot to do with the family in San Diego as well. You can explore the USS Midway at the Navy Pier, visit the Maritime Museum, or take a day trip to Coronado Island or the seaside community of La Jolla. And if you feel like taking a quick trip to Mexico, Tijuana is a short 30-minute drive down the I-5.
Then again, there's so much to do within San Diego's city limits that you might not be tempted to venture too far.
Perhaps the most famous tourist attraction in San Diego is the San Diego Zoo, which sees over 3 million visitors a year. The facility houses more than 3,000 animals from more than 600 species, though it might be most famous for its giant pandas.
But the San Diego Zoo is just one attraction in the sprawling Balboa Park area of San Diego. The Park, created by forward-thinking city leaders back in the 1800s, is the largest urban cultural park in the United States, and home to 15 museums, gardens and sports venues.
The San Diego Model Railroad Museum, for instance, is a fun excursion for the whole family. It’s the largest model train layout in the whole country, and it's located just a few minutes from the zoo. Nearby, the San Diego Museum of Man takes a look at the human species through the centuries.
If you'd rather visit a more traditional museum, the San Diego Museum of Art (SMDA) is the oldest museum in the city. It holds some of San Diego’s most valued treasures, including a good collection of Spanish artists like El Greco and Goya. The Timken Museum of Art also features work dozens of old masters, and contains the only Rembrandt in a San Diego museum.
For a look back at San Diego itself, the San Diego History Center is a great spot to get the lay of the land, and an overview of the city. “Travelers should make time to come to visit the San Diego History Center we tell the stories about San Diego’s vivid and unique past," says Matthew Schiff, the marketing director for the center. "Our vast collections support our exhibitions, which offer children to adults a fun, engaging and educational experience.
There's also a wealth of great hotels to stay at when visiting, including the Andaz San Diego in the Gaslamp district, aka, the district where everybody goes to party. The Victorian Gaslamp neighborhood is also a national historic district in the National Register of Historic Places, and has been revitalized after decades of urban decay. Many of the buildings even date back to the late 1800s.
“We are a kaleidoscope of local art & culture that best showcases many hidden gems San Diego has to offer," said Shane Nicolopoulos, the general manager of the Andaz, about the surrounding neighborhood and its culture.
Families shouldn't necessarily be put-off by the neighborhood's party-friendly atmosphere, either. Frequent traveler Nick Ewen, a contributor with The Points Guy, recently stayed in the Gaslamp with his 18-month-old, and said he "didn't experience any issues during my four-night stay." He also loved staying in a centrally-located hotel, which made exploring the city "a breeze."
"We were steps from terrific restaurants, close to the USS Midway and convention center, and just a short bus ride from the Zoo and airport."
Zach Honig, the editor-in-chief of The Points Guy team, also had good things to say about the nearby Grand Hyatt Manchester. "If you're looking for a reasonable rate at a top San Diego property with a fantastic location, it's hard to beat," he said. "Keep in mind that the hotel is gigantic, though, and it's a popular pick whenever convention attendees come to town."
Flights to and from San Diego are generally inexpensive too, as there's big competition between the major airlines for the city’s business. In general, flights round trip to San Diego can be had from most destinations for less than $400, so take advantage of the next deal you happen to see.
After all, it's only a matter of time before travelers stop overlooking San Diego.