15 ‘Uniquely San Diego’ Spots You Have To Visit

No doubt, we’ve all visited the popular San Diego spots that top Instagram feeds and “Places To Visit” lists.

But it’s summer now, and we think the new season is an epic chance to dive a little deeper into our fine city. We’re talking about visiting salt mountains at sunset, ringing the bells on a musical bridge – and perhaps a spot or two you’ve heard of before, but haven’t gotten to yet (gentle reminder: it’s time!).

Here’s 15 of the best we could find to put on your San Diego summer bucket list.

1. The Secret Swings

The Secret Swings are hidden amongst the trees above Scripps Pier on the hillsides of La Jolla. By taking a small hike up from Expedition Way, you’ll be able to sit on a handmade seat (like a bench chair or tire swing) with a stellar ocean view.

Still curious on what makes these swings so cool? Check out #lajollasecretswings on Instagram.

2. The Spruce Street Suspension Bridge

In Banker’s Hill, you can conquer your fear of heights and give the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge a visit. Made in 1912, it rests above the treetops and moves from side to side as you walk along it.

And while we’re on the topic of bridges, you may also want to check out 25th Street Bridge — created by artist Roman de Salvo and home to a railing of chromatic bells (don’t forget to bring a pipe or stick to make the noises sound).

3. The SS Monte Carlo Shipwreck

Just below the water’s surface in Coronado, with a visibility that varies depending upon the year, lies the Shipwrecked SS Monte Carlo. This 300-foot ship was a gambling casino known as the “sin ship” and crashed on shore during a winter storm on January 1st, 1937.

4. The Meditation Gardens

The cliffside Meditation Gardens in Encinitas are free and open to the public. They rest on the grounds of the Self-Realization Fellowship Retreat and Hermitage – where you can explore the flowers, koi ponds and the Birds of Paradise all while finding your ultimate beach-side zen.

5. Sunny Jim Cave

Sunny Jim Cave is accessible via a hand-dug tunnel through a gift shop in La Jolla. It’s $5 for adults and $3 for children (with the added bonus of a plastic sea creature to take home). For a uniquely San Diego experience, you’ll venture down the narrow staircase of 145 steps until you reach a platform leading to an incredible ocean view — where snorkelers and kayakers drift by.

6. Harper’s Topiary Garden

In Mission Hills, behold the beautifully green art of Edna and Alex Harper’s hillside topiary garden. You’ll find exquisitely trimmed hedges in the shapes of perfectly groomed animals, like whales and elephants. They don’t call her “Edna Scissorhands” for nothing!

7. The Inn at Sunset Cliffs

Located in Point Loma / Ocean Beach, the Inn at Sunset Cliffs invites visitors to come swim in their outdoor heated pool for $10 a day. The bonus? The pool overlooks the expansive Pacific Ocean, and locals are encouraged to bring their beverages, barbecue and “come hang at San Diego’s best kept secret!”

8. Ho Chi Minh Trail

This secret surf trail for the adventure-seeker is home to slot canyons, sandstone edges and wooden planks. You can access the path by a walkway next to a home on La Jolla Farms Road, where you’ll see a sign for the trailhead between two green construction fences. Keep in mind, it can be steep and slippery — so avoid it after rainfall and please be careful on your quest to see those sweeping ocean views.

9. Stein Family Farm

The Stein Family Farm is a two-acre Living History Farm Museum with a Victorian farmhouse and a 100 plus year-old barn (in other words, maybe haunted). Enjoy what life was like back in the 1900s in National City by exploring the organic garden and playing with the farm animals (like Petunia the Pig).

10. Shelter Island Pier

On Shelter Island Pier, you’ll a find a bait and tackle shop and also, a tap house with burgers, beer, brews and sausages. Fathom Bistro Bait & Tackle is a wildly unexpected, pleasant surprise with insane food. They make all their sausages and kimchi, grind their own beef for the burgers, and have 15 taps of San Diego’s best beers and beers from around the world. So, after a day in the sand, sea and the sun, you know just where to go to unwind even further.

11. The Salt Mountains

In Chula Vista, you can find massive 40 foot mountains of salt along the shoreline. South Bay Salt Works salt factory is home to one of only two salt ponds in California and is San Diego’s second-oldest commercial business (behind the Union Tribune). They’ve been harvesting salt since the 1870s and are eligible to be placed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. (They’d pair well with a margarita mountain, too, we think.)

Photo credit: dbarck

12. Swami’s State Beach

In addition to being known for its surf break, Swami’s is also home to a substantial reef formation that can be seen during low and minus tides. The perfect place for tide pool exploring, you can admire oyster fossils, crabs, octopus, brittle stars, starfish, sea cucumbers and sea hares.

Photo credit: Cafe Libre

13. Coronado Sand Dunes

Located on the beach that stretches in front of the Hotel Del Coronado are the Coronado Sand Dunes. Locals see them as an obstacle course, but what many folks don’t know is that they spell out a secret message (one that’s not visible from eye level, but can be seen from aircrafts and Google Maps). Thanks to a creative maintenance man who was trying to get rid of sea weed after a storm back in the ’80s, these dunes are man-made and spell out the word: Coronado.

14. Broken Hill

Though San Diego is home to many epic sunset spots, Broken Hill at Torrey Pines State Reserve just may be one of the most breathtaking. Enjoy sandstone bluffs amongst the coastline and one of the Earth’s rarest species of trees that finds its safe haven here in San Diego.

15. The Past of Pioneer Park

Pioneer Park in Mission Hills was once home to a 19th century Catholic Burial ground known as the Calvary Cemetery. For those more faint-of-heart, simply take in the breeze amongst these beautiful trees. For those that don’t mind a healthy spook, remember that even though the gravestones were removed in the 1960s to build the park, there are still 4,000 bodies buried underground.

From sand dunes to tide pool explorations to Petunia the Pig, we hope this list has inspired you to get out there and explore those hidden spots that make San Diego fun and exciting and sometimes — spooky.

Have any favorite summer spots that didn’t make this list?

Fill us in, in the comments below!

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