We all need to get off the beaten path sometimes.
San Diego is known for beautiful beaches and great museums, but this city of almost 1.5 million people in Southern California has a lot going on beneath the surface as well. We collected the 13 best secret things to do so you can get a truly and uniquely San Diego experience while you’re here.
No matter how long you plan to stay in the city, these 13 secret things to do in San Diego are a great addition to any traveler’s itinerary!
Most people don’t know that many pools in San Diego are accessible with a day pass. If you don’t have the funds to stay at a fancy hotel you can still enjoy their swim up bars, lazy rivers, and oceanfront properties for a fee. Passes generally run between $15 and $40 each and you can start planning with this list of ten pools that allow guests and non-guests alike to use their facilities.
‘Top Gun’ Film Locations
Much of this famous 80’s movie was filmed in San Diego and you can still visit some of the sites today. Spend a few hours snapping photos outside Charlie’s House or grabbing a bite to eat Kansas City Barbeque, where Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards rocked out on the piano. If you’re a die-hard fan, challenge yourself to track down all eight locations around the city.
Border Field State Park
This is certainly one of the most unique secret things to do in San Diego. Border Field State Park is 15 miles south of San Diego and, as the name suggests, sits right on the border with Tijuana, Mexico.
The park is known for salt marshes and sand dunes, but the massive walls and ever-watching cameras are interesting as well. On Saturdays and Sundays from 10 am to 2 pm you can also stop by the Border Monument at Friendship Circle. Here, families and friends in the US and Mexico can visit with each other across the border.
Salvation Mountain bills itself as a “folk art masterpiece” and simply aims to spread a message of love. This man-made mountain is a 28-year-old work-in-progress by Leonard Knight, who builds it with paint, junk, clay, and anything else he can find. It’s located about 2.5 hours away from San Diego and open from dawn ‘til dusk every day of the year.
On your day trip to the Salvation Mountain, don’t forget to make a stop at the nearby International Banana Museum where you’ll find “the world’s largest collection devoted to any one fruit” and “over 20,000 banana related items to marvel at.”
Torrey Pines Gliderport
You’ve probably thought about hiking at Torrey Pines but did you know you can go paragliding and hang gliding here as well? At Torrey Pines Gliderport you can take tandem paragliding flights (starting at $175 per person), attend flight school and clinics to get a pilot’s license, or just enjoy the view from their cliffside cafe while your more adventurous friends take to the skies.
The Stein Family Farm is a little piece of the country right inside the San Diego city limits. The property has a Victorian house, a 100-year-old barn, live animals, gardens, and an orchard to explore. When it comes to planning a family-friendly outing in San Diego, the Stein Family Farm is a great place to start.
La Jolla Swing
There are plenty of secret things to do in San Diego, but this may be the most picturesque. The La Jolla swing sits high on the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean and is just begging for the perfect Instagram picture. Enjoy the sun, the swing, and even a short hike with this guide on how to reach the secret destination.
Taylor Guitars Factory Tour
Taylor Guitars is “the leading global builder of premium acoustic guitars” and the factory is located in El Cajon, about 15 miles from downtown San Diego.
They offer free guided tours Monday through Friday at 1 pm. On this tour visitors can see the step-by-step process of building a guitar and learn some behind-the-scenes details of the instrument. The factory also has a store on site so you can pick up some souvenirs (or your very own Taylor Guitar) when you leave.
Queen Califia’s Magical Circle
This sculpture park in Escondido was created by French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle. It brings to life the artist’s own interpretation of California culture and history and has “nine large-scale sculptures, a circular “snake wall” and maze entryway, sculpturally integrated bench seating, and native shrubs and trees.” The park is free but has limited hours, so make sure to check the website before you go.
Eagle Mining Co.
A small part of the California Gold Rush still exists today at this secret location near San Diego. Travel 60 miles outside of the city to Eagle Mining Co. and you’ll also travel back in time. The mine was used in the 1870s but wasn’t restored and opened again until 1967. Now, you can experience this little slice of history with a one-hour tour, gold panning, and more.
San Diego Model Railroad Museum
The San Diego Model Railroad Museum is one of many in the city’s famous Balboa Park. Model train displays move through the museum with plenty of tiny details that you can spend all day discovering. Admission is $11.50 for adults and $6 for students and children, but free for San Diego residents on the first Tuesday of every month.
Still looking for more secret things to do in San Diego? There are multiple hot springs located around the city like the Agua Caliente Springs, the Jacumba Hot Springs, and the Vallecitos Springs.
At the Agua Caliente location visitors can soak in three naturally-fed pools, camp, and hike in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Even better? Entrance to the pools is only $3.
San Diego California Temple
The San Diego California Temple was built by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1993. The 72,000 square foot temple is almost entirely white and stands in stark contrast with the sprawling greenery that surrounds it. Non-Mormons are not allowed inside the temple itself, but you are still welcome to walk around the grounds and admire the architecture from outside.
Get Off the Beaten Path With These 13 Secret Things to do in San Diego
This varied list of secret things to do in San Diego has something for every age, interest, and budget.
Whether you want to paraglide off the side of a cliff, explore a guitar factory, soak in hot springs, or anything in between, this city has no shortage of unique and interesting places to enjoy!
Plan your San Diego itinerary and see all the top spots with GoCars GPS-guided tours, where you can experience all the main tourist attractions on a scooter or in a go-kart at your own pace. Then, it’s time to get off the beaten path and uncover even more of the city with these 13 secret things to do in San Diego!