1. Travel
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Things You Must Do When You Visit San Diego

By

If you're visiting San Diego for the first time, you'll realize there is so much to do. So, how do you decide what to do and where to go? Well, some things are more obvious than others, but there are some things that "you just gotta do" while in San Diego. Here are some things you must do when visiting San Diego.

You Must Hit The Beach

Father and adult son riding rollercoaster
Joe McBride/The Image Bank/Getty Images
No matter what time of year you visit, you gotta make your way to the beaches: it's what personifies the San Diego lifestyle. Watch the waves roll in from a bluff or on the sand. Soak in the beach life all along the coast, and watch the sunset. Best bet: Make your way to Mission Beach and the Belmont Park rollercoaster - if anything says SoCal, this is it.

You Must Try a Fish Taco

It's San Diego's unofficial delicacy: deep fried, battered fish wrapped in a corn tortilla with cabbage and sauce. If you've never had one, it sounds weird. If you try one, you'll crave one every time you visit San Diego. You just gotta do it! Best bet: Hit one of the many Rubio's restaurants, the originator of the San Diego fish taco.

You Must Go To Mexico

Yes, San Diego is a border city, and Tijuana is a metropolis in it's own right. Don't let the urban legends scare you - a visit to Tijuana and Baja Mexico is perfectly safe, fun, and eye-opening. Visit during the day, if you're a little wary - just use the same precautions you would traveling to any foreign country (and bring your passport). Pick up some kitschy souvenirs, or just go for a good meal. Best bet: Behave and respect that you're in a foreign country. They have their own laws.

You Must Ride the Trolley

We don't have the greatest public transit system, but the Trolley is the closest we come to a subway. With the just opened Green Line, the bright red cars can get you from downtown to East County down to the border and through Mission Valley. If our freeways seem intimidating (and they are), then the trolley can get you to a lot of places, especially within the urban core. Best bet: Buy an all day pass and just ride - you'll get a good idea of what San Diego is all about.

You Must See the Pandas

Sure, you can go to Sea World or Legoland, but where else are you going to see those lovable giant pandas then at the San Diego Zoo? The city's venerable tourist attraction is home to four giant pandas, including the baby panda Su Lin, which you just might have been watching on Panda Cam on the Zoo's website. Best bet: Visit the Zoo early in the morning, that's when you're most likely to see the pandas active and not sleeping.

You Must Visit Balboa Park

After you visit the pandas at the Zoo, head over to the city's jewel, Balboa Park. It's our public playground and cultural center, where you have lovely green space and an array of wonderful museums, as well as the famous Old Globe Theatre. Best bet: Visit the park on Tuesdays, when many museums have free admission. Dine at the Prado Restaurant for great food in a fantastic setting. Or just bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the scenery.

You Must Go to the Gaslamp

It's the city's center of nightlife, and the Gaslamp Quarter in downtown is where you'll want to be if you're looking for restaurants, dancing, or just people watching. Eating establishments to suit every taste, all within walking distance of one another. If you want to experience San Diego city life, then you gotta hit the Gaslamp. Best bet: Stroll along Fifth Avenue to take in the vibe of the Gaslamp. Then take in a meal at a sidwalk table and a show at the nearby House of Blues.

You Must Visit La Jolla

San Diego's bastion of old money, La Jolla, is the seaside enclave that everyone has heard about, and is deserving of its reputation. A beautiful village around a picturesque cove, La Jolla is where the beautiful people live and hang out. Restaurants and stylish boutiques make for an enjoyable day - and it'll make you want to live there, if you could only afford it. Best bet: Head down to the oceanfront cove, where on a sunny day, nothing can compare to nature's beauty than here.

You Must Take a Harbor Cruise

The only way for you to get an idea of how important the waterfront is to San Diego is to sail on San Diego Bay. The Harbor Cruise gives you the best vantage to do this, where you'll cruise by the huge Navy ships, sportfishing and pleasure craft, waterfront hotels, the downtown skyline, and under the sweeping San Diego Bay Bridge. Sure it's touristy, but you gotta do it. Best bet: Don't miss spotting the Star of India tall ship, and maybe an aircraft carrier docked on North Island.

You Must Visit Old Town

Historical San Diego isn't always evident, but a sure bet to take in the city's past is to visit Old Town State Historic Park. Sure, it can be overly touristy and contrived, but if you look hard enough, you can find snippets of our past. From a visitor's standpoint, though, Old Town is a fun way to spend the day. Best bet: There are many fine restaurants in Old Town, but you gotta go to the Old Town Mexican Cafe, the best Mexican food around.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.