You’ve already gone to the Famous San Diego Zoo, Old Town and Pacific Beach, you’ve even hit the Gaslamp and Hillcrest a time or two, but now you’re ready to dive a bit deeper. From history outside of Balboa Park to urban walking paths and even social clubs, San Diego does live up to her infamous miss-translated name, the Whale’s Vagina.
This list has attractions that are slightly below the radar, which make them mostly tourist free. Several of the spots listed here are also FREE of charge or pretty damn cheap considering the experience. No Tijuana excursions necessary. Although having your picture taken on a zebra painted donkey is a classic tradition, it’s time to make some new ones.
These destinations are great spots for both locals and adventurous travelers alike. You’ll be trekking La Mesa’s hidden stairs, playing your own tune on an actual musical bridge, or participating in a backyard circus– instead of donning a blue trash bag, hoping to be splashed by Shamu. Not that there is anything wrong with that.
Her Sweet Spots:
Sway Across A Suspension Bridge
A titillating walk across the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge in Bankers Hill creates a perfectly good reason to kiss a passer by, or your travel companion. Designed by Edwin Capps in 1912, this 100 year old, 375 foot steel suspension bridge sways, just slightly, over Kate Sessions Canyon. FREE
If you’re really into Bridges, this area has three other walking bridges you might like, too. MORE
Climb Hidden Stairs
Now this may not sound like an adventure, but it is. The stairs are just the start of the unique charm of La Mesa. Built on a hill, this Mt. Nebo/Windsor Hills neighborhood staircase is one of San Diego’s Urban Walking trails. Follow the markers up 245 steps total that will bring you up in elevation 830 feet. La Mesa is accessible by the Red Line trolley and is also full of cool junk stores. FREE MORE
Cliff Dwell for the Day
With cliff-side views over the Pacific, the La Jolla Glider Port is a perfect jump off point for spectators and pilots alike. This is a local favorite of our friend Tina H. You can watch gliders in numbers, leap off the cliffs over the ocean. Then, if you’re inspired, you can join the ranks of Charles Lindbergh and several others who’ve glided from these very cliffs. Combine with a hike up Torrey Pines, a stroll on the Salk Institute campus and a sunset for maximum effect. FREE, unless you fly. MORE
Get High with the Sunrise
Drive up the winding hillside to Mt. Helix for a sunrise service of your own. Breathe in the cool air as the golden rays of the sun christen the city behind you. Climb the stairs on the amphitheater or just take photos from one on the most amazing viewpoints in San Diego. You can also find a similar vibe at Mt. Soledad but this spot is less traveled. FREE MORE
Watch the Sunset
If you’re into chasing the sun– and you should be while in San Diego, catch a coastal sunset as well. Two great places are Sunset Cliffs in Ocean Beach and Cabrillo National Monument in Pt. Loma. PARK ENTRY $5
Experience History & Art –Outside- of Balboa Park
Art is best when it’s not in a gallery, but that’s just my opinion. Some of San Diego’s historical, urban murals live outside of boundaries, under the Coronado Bridge. There are new additions being added, including a pictorial story of the “undocumented worker.” Head to Chicano Park, during the day and pay tribute to the cities Latin culture. FREE MORE
Make Music with a Bridge
You don’t need to know the tune of Crab Carillon because the bridge will play it for you. Bring your own metal device for striking the chimes and let the art of local artist Romen De Salvo do the rest. This bridge stretches over the King Freeway (I-94) and into Barrio Logan. You can exit 25thstreet and park on the south side. The pedestrian walk has a fence dividing you from the traffic; this fence holds the music. The instrument is tuned and ready for you to strike, bang, and clank away. FREE MORE
Appreciate Being Small
A bit of beach clean up turned art installation or is it a message to UFO’s? You decide as you traverse these man made dunes on the Silver Strand Beach in Coronado. Although you can’t read the word from the ground, you can meander over the dunes, figuring out if you’d like to catch a cat nap in the one of the three O’s. FREE MORE
Escape in a Backyard Circus
If you enjoy your entertainment with a little psychedelic infusion or just get off on a funky, improvisational cast of circus-inspired folks, then Technomania Circus will fill your bill. This venue is comfortably located in Barrio Logan, it’s close to downtown and just off the Blue Trolley line. BYOB and open your mind to whatever Dr. Techno has in store for your eyes, ears and who knows what else.
The most amazing part of this circus is it’s always evolving, the cast is ever changing and anything goes – even my homemade, trash, percussion playing. $15 MORE
Invigorate While You Intoxicate
If you’ve ever heard of HASHing, then you know that it’s a “Drinking Club with a Running Problem.” Don’t be intimidated by the club word, you can join any run while you’re in town. Just show up and well, have your drinking shoes on. Our friends Bill and Debbie shared this blurp with us: “San Diego is home to 13+ hashes (Hash House Harriers). One can hash everyday of the week sometimes twice in a day.”
Their website has a handy listing of runs for you to meet up with. Plus, the site has a flow chart to see what type of Hasher you are. $2-$7 MORE
Experience Epic Flora
A year around 72 degrees and it’s almost constant coastal glaze of heavy ocean mist has made San Diego’s, Northern city of Encinitas the Flowering Growing Capital of the World.
There are two great spots where you can chill out and relax in a new-age sorta trance while experiencing epic flora sensations. For a FREE but brief look, check out the tranquil cliff side gardens at The Self Realization Center off highway 101, in Encinitas near Swami’s.
Or, step it up a bit and spend the day wandering in a botanical paradise. Take it from my friend, Amber, an Encinitas native and gardenista; “The Quail botanical gardens, now called San Diego Botanical Gardens are great!” With thirty-seven acres of gardens, from desert environments to a tropical rainforest, you will experience why Juan Cabrillo called San Diego, “the new Spain.” $12 MORE
Sneak Away For A Drink
Take a short drive just Northeast of the city of San Diego and disguised in the middle of the suburbs you’ll find a fountain of hidden libations. As you enter it’s boundaries, the shops, cafes, and tasting bar will instantly intoxicate you with their rustic charm. Founded in 1889, The Rancho Bernardo Winery is San Diego’s oldest operating winery. Although the vineyards have been replaced with oodles of 2,000 sq ft homes, their grapes are still gathered locally around San Diego and other notable farms in California. Wine Tasting Flight: $10 for 5 selections MORE
PS-After all of this, I must say that Balboa Park remains one of our favorite San Diego places in San Diego. However, I didn’t choose to included it here because I’m positive you’ll find it on your own! Oh, and we were at Balboa Park one afternoon, sometime ago, and actually caught a glimpse of Will Farrel – likely on the set of Anchorman.