San Diego gets, on average, more than 3,000 hours of sunshine per year, which puts in stark perspective the choices an outdoor adventurer makes with each excursion into the outdoors. Only seven major U.S. cities get more sun than San Diego—including, oddly, Oklahoma City—but with the beach so close and the city’s laid back atmosphere, San Diego has to be one of the best places to get outside. We get it, you want to spent each and every hour out of those 3,000 on the trail or in the surf, and we’ll do our level-best to get you out there. From a mountain, here’s a little molehill of San Diego adventures to wet your beak.
- La Jolla Cove: The cove that is better known for its sea lion population, and the unusually vocal conservationists who post up nearby, also offers the opportunity to walk the length of the bluffs along the coast, the Coast Walk Trail. Views abound, as does the wildlife. Don’t sleep on the kayaking, scuba diving, and snorkeling via the La Jolla Shores.
- Coronado Beach: Maybe the only beach with its own Sand Castle Man, Bill Pavlacka, who has built sand castles on the beach every week for years. Free parking!
- San Clemente City Beach: On a shoreline with several must-visit beaches, San Clemente City Beach sticks out as a destination for those who enjoy the creature comforts of an oceanside town and the iconic San Clemente Pier. Stay for sunsets.
- Trestles Beach: Just south of San Clemente City Beach, Trestles offers a world-class break for surfers and is a legendary spot for surfing in North America.
- Swami’s Beach: Another of Southern California’s surfing hotspots, Swami’s Beach offers fantastic winter swells (and can be commensurately crowded).
- Thousand Steps Beach: Tucked below housing and seaside bluffs, Thousand Steps Beach is a little hideaway in Laguna with sea caves to explore.
- Cedar Creek Falls + Devil’s Punchbowl: In a semi-arid climate like Southern California, waterfalls can be tough to come by, and Cedar Creek Falls plunges a staggering 80 feet. The falls are seasonal and require a permit for access.
- Three Sisters Waterfall: Another of San Diego’s rare waterfalls, Three Sisters offers backcountry camping in addition to swimming holes along the trail.
- Ho Chi Minh Trail: A short but adventurous half-mile hike through sandstone canyons to a secluded beach. Be prepared for (short) roped descents and tight quarters, but the views are worth it.
- Iron Mountain: One of San Diego’s most popular day hikes with easy access from the city and 360-degree views. Boulderers: There be granite here.
- Potato Chip Rock: The hike to this popular San Diego photo opportunity is a rite of passage, and Potato Chip Rock is also beautiful on its own. The views will make up for a long wait for photos.
Parks and Preserves
- Presidio Park: Considered “the beginning of California,” the mission that became a military outpost and then a museum is an excellent overview of Southern California history. The grounds are beautiful as well and make a great setting for a packed lunch and quiet strolls.
- San Elijo Lagoon: The novelty of a lagoon in Southern California might be surprising now, but lagoons were commonplace along the coastal watersheds prior to development. Trails for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders are available and showcase the lagoon’s wildlife.
- Dana Point Headlands Conservation Area: If you want to see California coastal chaparral as it would have appeared when colonists first came here, go to Dana Point.
- Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve: Created to preserve the endangered Torrey pine and other wildlife of the park, its 8 miles of trails are great for running and offer unique geological formations that are also visible from Torrey Pines State Beach. It’s also one of the best places in San Diego to whale watch.
- Hotel del Coronado: Hardly an outdoor excursion, Hotel del Coronado is still a San Diego fixture in its own right. Go for the architecture and the fine dining by the sea.
- Cabrillo National Monument: This historic monument is the best place in the San Diego area to see the city. Unless you’re interested in the first European exporter to land on the West Coast in 1542, Point Loma Lighthouse, or tide pools, come at sunset.
- Niguel Botanical Preserve: Showcasing the beautiful, drought-resistant flora of Southern California. This stop makes for a great day with the kids.