Ah, San Diego, the undisputed home of surf, sun and superb fish tacos. One of the most popular places for visitors to California, our guide to some of the city’s more hidden spots and locals’ favorite hangouts will make sure you discover the real San Diego.
1. The La Jolla Secret Swings
Many visitors come to La Jolla to see the wild seals and sea lions that lay in the sun at the town’s famous cove, but some of the best views can be enjoyed from above the town instead. Follow a hiking trail up to the hills behind the Birch Aquarium and head off the path to find a set of wooden painted swings hanging from an old tree, boasting an amazing panorama over the La Jolla district and the glistening blue ocean. There is another set of swings on the hillside above Scripps Pier.
2. Communal Coffee
The coffee chain has been designed with community in mind; both by creating an open space for people to connect, and by collaborating with local artisans and businesses. The coffee includes roasts from San Francisco and is served in mugs created by pottery-makers in San Diego, accompanied by locally-made fresh bread and pastries. Communal Coffee is now open in two locations, one in South Park and one in North Park. Pull up a chair, sit down and enjoy your truly Californian cup ‘o Joe.
3. Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve
Mission Trails Regional Park is a popular spot for hikers, but to enjoy some slightly lesser-known trails, set off for Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve. This beautiful seven-mile park is open year-round and is home to both a wide variety of bird and plant species and Native American history which dates back around 7,000 years.
4. Meditation Gardens
Not far from the San Diego Botanical Gardens, the beautifully-designed Self-Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens are a low-key spot if you’re seeking solitude or want to find your zen. Here a calming environment of koi ponds and lush plants overlooks the rolling Pacific. Sit down on one of the many benches or settle into one of the meditation nooks and go “ohhmmmmm”.
5. Sunny Jim Cave Store
The beachfront Sunny Jim Cave Store in La Jolla looks like just another coastal shop, but this particular place is a little bit special. Once you’ve perused the shelves and shopped for souvenirs, head out through the back door of the shop and follow the 145 hand-carved steps that lead directly down to the sea. Here you’ll find one of California’s best-hidden sea caves!
6. Prohibition Lounge Bar
This (quite literally) hidden bar celebrates the exclusivity of drinking in the 1920s; tucked away from prying eyes, it is a classic prohibition-style speakeasy. If you’ve ever wanted to escape modern times and experience the ‘20s, you can channel your inner Gatsby and dress up with the bar’s smart, themed dress code on Friday and Saturday nights. Find it on 5th Avenue behind a door marker ‘LAW OFFICE, Eddie O’Hare Esq’.
7. The Whaley House Museum
In San Diego’s Old Town district, the Whaley House is a former courthouse and now both a museum and one of the most haunted historic buildings in California. During the day, museum staff are on hand to spin tales about the people who have died and been hung here, who continue to haunt the house. If that’s not enough for you, the museum is also sometimes open at night, daring visitors to spend a few hours in the creaking hallways in search of their own paranormal experience.
8. The Dive-In Theatre
Every Wednesday the Pearl Hotel hosts a free cinema screening evening. Classic films from the hotel’s archives are projected at the poolside lounge and open-air theater, overlooking the oyster shell-shaped pool, and the restaurant and bar are open. Previous flicks have included TopGun and Anchorman.
9. Miss B’s Coconut Club
After a day in the water or catching some rays on the golden sands of Mission Beach, stray from the tourist crowds and follow the locals to Miss B’s Coconut Club. Tiki bars are popular in San Diego but the range of fresh local dishes here, including crab sliders and crispy calamari, combined with the bespoke and classic cocktails served in an array of interesting mugs that the club has collected over the years, make this the place to top off your evening.
10. The Shipwreck of the S.S. Monte Carlo
N 1937, the impressive S.S. Monte Carlo, a leisure ship for gamblers and revelers to spend their time (and money!) was anchored in international waters before it came loose in a storm and ran aground at Coronado Beach. There’s rumored to be silver coins still stashed away somewhere on board, but visits need careful planning. The wreckage isn’t always accessible or visible, but can be seen underwater at low tide and is sometimes exposed after a big storm shifts some of the sand it sits in.