Our Favorite Secret San Diego Spots
“America’s Finest City” gets a generous amount of praise for its incredible attractions, as well it should. Must-visit places like the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, the Gaslamp Quarter and SeaWorld draw millions of visitors every year. And while you should absolutely check those out places during your visit, San Diego also has its fair share of hidden gems that locals treasure, but that don’t always show up on “best of” lists. Looking to hit some undercover amazing places just off the beaten path? Here are a few of the best secret San Diego spots.
San Diego’s “Hidden Swings” are the stuff of legend around here. Picture this: you stumble across a solo swing with panoramic views of the Pacific. Nobody’s really sure who put them up. Sometimes they disappear for a while, only to reappear later — either in the same place or somewhere else entirely. It’s a mystery! One thing’s for sure: The search for these carefree delights is often an enjoyable scavenger hunt. And once you find one, you’re in for a renewed sense of childlike wonder.
Speakeasies — a.k.a. hidden bars — began out of necessity during America’s prohibition era. But since there’s something that just feels a little taboo about them, their popularity has persisted to the present day. The entrances to these hush-hush spots are often less than obvious (such as obscured doors behind bookcases, or false lobbies leading to expansive interiors), and many even require passwords for entry. Want in? Take a look at “The Coolest Speakeasy Bars in San Diego” from our colleagues at sister property The Dana on Mission Bay for an insiders’ peek at some of San Diego’s must-visit speakeasies.
Spruce Street Suspension Bridge (1.9 miles away)
This secret span is an adventure and a destination in one. Tucked away in the Banker’s Hill neighborhood, this pedestrian-only, incredibly Instagrammable footpath spans nearly 400 feet across Sessions Canyon and sits 70 feet above it. The bridge was built in 1912 in order to connect a newly built trolley stop to a residential area. It has remained in place as a favorite spot for locals to take a gently swaying stroll above the area’s treetops.
W Spruce St, San Diego, CA 92103
Harper’s Topiary Garden (2.3 miles away)
San Diego residents Alex and Edna Harper have spent years creating something truly special at their home in Mission Hills. Topiary is the practice of shaping shrubbery into whimsical shapes, and the Harpers have turned their front garden into one of the country’s finest exhibits of this botanical art. Their display includes countless bushes trimmed into the form of animals, geometric shapes, human figures, and more.
3549 Union St, San Diego, CA 92103
The “Sin Ship” Wreckage (9.6 miles away)
(Photo: A. Astacio)
Tucked away in nearby Coronado lies one of the only shipwrecks in the country that’s observable without scuba gear: the SS Monte Carlo. In the 1930s, the Monte Carlo was an infamous gambling and party vessel that operated offshore during the prohibition years, but was destroyed by a storm just off the coast of Coronado. For years it was buried, before El Niño storms uncovered it. Today it remains moored where it was destroyed, and is easily explorable without special equipment during low tide. .
North Pacific Ocean, Coronado, CA 92118
Sunny Jim Cave (10.7 miles)
Nestled beneath the cliffs of La Jolla Cove is a cave unlike any other you’ll ever explore. Originally hand-dug beneath the home of miner Gustav Schultz in 1902, the cave was first plumbed for minerals before being turned into a bootleggers’ smuggling passage during the Prohibition. Today, the cavern sits beneath The Cave Store, a popular La Jolla gift and souvenir shop. The store offers self-guided cave tours by reservation, so call ahead!
1325 Coast Blvd. La Jolla, CA 92037
Swami’s Beach (23.3 miles away)
Swami’s Beach in Encinitas is one of the more secluded beaches in the area. It’s home to postcard-perfect tide pools, as well as a wide variety of marine life (such as starfish, sea hares, crabs, octopus, and more). A prominent reef formation becomes visible during low tide, and the sunsets here are some of the most spectacular in all of California. This tucked-away treasure is worth seeking out.
1298 S Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas, CA 92024
Queen Califa’s Magical Circle (24.5 miles away)
Nestled in Nearby Escondido, this magical spot has been delighting kids of all ages for more than 20 years. Featuring colorful, larger-than-life artworks from noted French artist Niki de Saint-Phalle, this enchanting enclave proved to be her last major work — and her only American sculpture garden. Each piece was inspired by her late-career move to the area and reflects local legends, stories, and folklore. Don’t forget your camera!
3333 Bear Valley Pkwy, Escondido, CA 92025
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