San Diego is an exceptional vacation destination. From the food to the beaches and everything in between, there’s something here to please every traveler.
However, if you’ve already seen the famous sites like the USS Midway Museum, La Jolla Cove, and the San Diego Zoo, we have just the list for you. These 11 unconventional places to visit in San Diego are even broken down into easy itineraries to make planning your offbeat trip a breeze.
Are you ready to see a whole new side of the city? Check out these 10 unconventional places to visit in San Diego!
Unconventional San Diego Day Trip #1
This day trip combines two of the most unconventional places to visit in San Diego.
First, jump in your car and drive to the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala in the quiet suburb of Grantville. This small church also has a small claim to fame: it’s the first mission in California.
The Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala was founded in 1769, so in 2019 the church will be celebrating a jubilee year – their 250th birthday! Visit Monday through Friday to take a tour and spend some time in the gift shop and outdoor grounds as well. Just remember that it’s still an active church, so be respectful of the services and parish members when you go.
After your stop at the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala, drive 80 miles east to to see the Ricardo Breceda Sculptures in the tiny town of Borrego Springs. Along Borrego Springs Road in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, 130 hulking statues depict animals that may have lived there millions of years ago, like dinosaurs, a saber-toothed tiger, giant tortoises, and even a 350-foot serpent.
The sculptures were commissioned by Dennis Avery in 2008 and are free to visit. Afterward, spend your afternoon exploring more of California’s largest state park before returning to San Diego.
Unconventional San Diego Day Trip #2
Our second day trip itinerary includes two more of the most unconventional places to visit in San Diego. First and foremost, you can’t leave the city without seeing the infamous turd statue.
Yes, you read that right.
The sculpture is officially named the Okeanos but is better known as the “Scripps Turd Statue” because, unfortunately, that’s exactly what it looks like. It was commissioned from artist William Tucker in 1987 and was supposed to be an ocean wave. The public perceived it much differently, but you can still visit it for free at the Scripps Research Institute in Northern San Diego.
After snapping a few funny pictures with the Okeanos sculpture, continue north to the town of Del Mar, located only seven miles away.
In Del Mar, there are plenty of attractions to fill your day like festivals, beaches, spas, shopping, and golfing. However, the most famous attraction in this town is horse racing. The racing season at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club runs from July through September, with another short Fall Meet in November. Get tickets for as little as $6 per person and enjoy a day at the races with food, betting, and plenty of excitement.
Unconventional Itinerary For Downtown San Diego
Next up on our list of unconventional places to visit in San Diego are some spots that are easy to see right in the city center.
Start your day at Balboa Park. It might be one of the most popular tourist attractions in San Diego, but it still holds some secrets. Our favorite is the Zoro Garden.
This 6-acre garden with stone walkways has quite an interesting history. It was originally built in 1915 and was named after the Persian mystic Zoroaster. In true San Diego fashion, it became a nudist colony and even featured nude performances before it was transformed into the butterfly garden it is today.
The sunken area is full of colorful flowers and butterflies and is a great place to find some peace and serenity in the middle of a bustling city. It’s open daily, but visit on a Tuesday to take advantage of free entrance for residents to many of the park’s 16 other museums as well.
Admire the creatures in the Zoro Garden and then get ready to eat some at the Hillcrest Farmers Market. No, you won’t be trying butterflies – instead, there are sea urchins on the menu. Zagat names the sea urchin from Poppa’s Fresh Fish Company as one of their 12 Best Bites at Hillcrest Farmers Market and even famous foodie Anthony Bourdain recommends trying this seafood delicacy in the city. Just make sure to save some room to try the coconut pancakes, BBQ parfaits, and other offbeat eats on sale before you go.
More Unconventional Places to Eat and Drink in San Diego
Don’t worry, we are too. After a long day of sightseeing in San Diego, there are plenty of unconventional places to visit in the city for an interesting meal.
Consider stopping for dinner at the Lucha Libre Taco Shop for a truly colorful and unique experience (and delicious food as well).
If you go to the location in North Park, simply walk down the street afterward for dessert at Hammond’s Gourmet Ice Cream. This shop offers something special: ice cream flights. Get the mini cones and try multiple small scoops in one seating… with 300 flavors on the menu, though, you may be here for a while.
Finally, finish your night with some drinks. The Noble Experiment is a true speakeasy for those in the know. Secret doors behind a stack of kegs open into a dimly lit bar where bartenders handcraft cocktails to suit every taste. Although the speakeasy does take walk-ins, it’s a good idea to secure a reservation online before you go.
If the Noble Experiment is fully booked, head to Fathom Bistro, Bait, and Tackle instead. This unassuming bait and tackle shop is also a restaurant serving craft beer and casual food right on the water.
Fit Everything Into Your Trip With GoCar Tours
San Diego is a world-class vacation destination, and GoCar tours are the best way to see it all.
Our San Diego tours are GPS based, so your car automatically tells you about each site as you pass by. Book a tour with a guide or see the city at your own pace with half-day and full-day rentals.
With our efficient tours taking you everywhere you need to go in one day, you’ll have more time to get off the beaten path and add these truly unconventional places to your San Diego itinerary. Book your tour today!