San Diego is an exciting and vibrant place that is full of beautiful nature, incredible culture, exciting nightlife, and more. It is the perfect place for any vacation or getaway, and is especially exciting when you choose to dig deep and find the hidden gems in San Diego.
And this city is full of amazing hidden gems! These include awesome little eateries, quirky museums, and gorgeous beaches and parks that very few people know to check out.
That said, more and more people are discovering that San Diego is more than just the handful of attractions that made the city famous. The result? A recent surge in the number of people who choose to RV in San Diego in order to stay longer, find the secret nooks and crannies, and really get to know this incredible SoCal city.
Want to hop on the bandwagon? We can’t say we blame you. Here’s everything you need to know to plan your perfect RVing in San Diego getaway.
RVing in San Diego
As we mentioned above, people are discovering that RVing is the perfect way to see San Diego. This is because RVing gives you the freedom to camp absolutely anywhere, affording you the opportunity to check out lesser-known areas. It is also much more affordable than hotel stays, meaning you can stay longer in the city and live a bit more like a local, giving you the chance to really connect with the city.
Of course, if you’re going RVing in San Diego, you will need an RV to bring along. If you have an RV of your own, that’s great—you should bring that. However, those who don’t already own RVs should look into booking a rental RV. This will allow them the freedom and flexibility of RVing without the hassle of owning a trailer or motorhome.
Not sure where to park an RV in San Diego? Below are some of our favorite RV parks in the city.
Escondido RV Resort
Escondido RV Resort is located very near all of the fun San Diego has to offer. It offers full-hookup sites, well-manicured grounds, a pool, a playground, and easy access to a city park.
San Diego Metro KOA
We always love KOA campgrounds, especially when traveling with kids or dogs. The San Diego Metro KOA is no exception. This park features full-hookup sites, a playground, a dog park, a pool, a jumping pillow, and more.
Campland on the Bay
Lastly, we must mention Campland on the Bay. Set right on Mission Bay, this is the place to go for a beach getaway. Here you’ll find waterfront camping, onsite games, dining, water sports, and more—all just minutes from the magic of San Diego.
Okay, we all know that the beach is a must-do when in SoCal. Unfortunately, the beaches in and around San Diego tend to be very crowded. This can be fun sometimes, but when you just want a quiet and relaxing beach day, it can be frustrating.
The good news? There are secret beaches that are hidden gems in San Diego. These beaches are rarely crowded and they offer all the same beauty you’d find at any of the other, more popular beaches.
While not exactly a sandy beach where you can play, Sunset Cliffs is an absolutely gorgeous place to enjoy the ocean. As the name suggests, this place is home to a number of dramatic cliffs that provide the perfect place to perch and watch the sunset over the water.
Whale sightings are common in this area, and sea caves, sea arches, tide pools, and other interesting features make this a wonderful place to explore and photograph.
If surfing is more your style, consider heading to Windansea Beach. This beach features more beautiful scenery, as well as amazing surf breaks caused by underwater reefs. It’s a great place to bring your surfboard or boogie board, but many people choose to simply stroll the beach, take photos, and take in the views rather than actually getting into the water.
If you’re going to visit a less populated beach, you have to go in knowing that certain amenities probably won’t be available. Carry your own snacks, water, beach chairs, umbrella, and towels, and be ready to rinse off with bottled water at the end of the day if showers are unavailable.
Like many cities, San Diego is home to a number of distinct neighborhoods, each one with its own unique personality that is worth exploring for yourself. In fact, checking out these kinds of neighborhoods is one of the best ways to get to know a place!
These are the San Diego neighborhoods we recommend adventuring through.
Beer lovers will appreciate the North Park neighborhood, which claims to be the “best beer neighborhood in the nation.” Why? Because the epicenter of this neighborhood is packed with such establishments as Mike Hess Brewing, North Park Brewing, and Thorn St. Beer. You can also find craft cocktails at places like Seven Grand and 619 Spirits.
In addition to plenty of wonderful beverages, you’ll also find lots of awesome local eateries and small shops in North Park. Live theater and music performances also happen on a regular basis here.
Head a bit south and you’ll find yourself in the aptly named South Park neighborhood. This area puts a stronger emphasis on food, with incredible restaurants that offer seasonal organic vegetables, sustainable meat products, and creative menu items.
Some of our favorite South Park restaurants include Station Tavern, where you can dine in an old trolley station, as well as Buona Forchetta, where you can grab authentic Neapolitan pizza. We also appreciate the local coffee companies, such as Dark Horse Coffee Roasters, who serve up some sinfully delicious coffee.
Local art and boutique shops also play a big role in the personality of South Park, meaning finding galleries to browse and places to purchase local goods are both a cinch.
Both North Park and South Park have an arts scene that is worth checking out. That said, Barrio Logan identifies as San Diego’s “hidden hub for art,” and this is quite apparent as soon as you arrive.
This art-centric neighborhood features colorful murals around every corner in Chicano Park, and the park plays host to cultural events throughout the year. Old warehouse spaces have been taken over by local artists and feature art exhibitions and music performances, and the culinary arts are present in the form of Mexican food and excellent coffee.
Not sure where to grab food and drinks? We recommend Las Cuatro Milpas for authentic Mexican food, and Ryan Bros Coffee for a pick-me-up.
We will never tire of exploring unusual, eclectic, and niche museums, and San Diego is the ideal place to do just that. There are a number of funny little museums to choose from and each one has an interesting story to share.
Here are some of our favorite museums that we believe are hidden gems in San Diego.
Museum of Us
Formerly known as Museum of Man, Balboa Park’s Museum of Us is a thought-provoking spot. The museum features exhibits that put the human experience under a microscope and encourage visitors to challenge their own opinions and perspectives.
Current exhibits include PostSecret (an exploration of secrets), Living with Animals (offering thoughts on our relationship with animals), and BEERology (follows the evolution of beer and human stories connected to the drink).
This is the place to go to learn about the way humans think and to see the world from another individual’s point of view.
The Whaley House
Built in the 1850s by Thomas Whaley, the Whaley House is a wonderful place to learn about the history of Old Town San Diego or have a paranormal experience.
The house was the finest in the area for many years and served as the gathering place for the entire San Diego community from 1857 until the early 20th century. It went from being a home to a commercial theater, to a county courthouse, and then to a bilingual general store. These days, it is considered by many to be America’s most haunted house.
Whether you’re a history buff or someone seeking a thrill, this museum should be on your to-do list.
Miniature Engineering Craftsmanship Museum
Are you a fan of miniatures? If so, the Miniature Engineering Craftsmanship Museum is the place for you. This unique museum features an enormous number of functioning miniature machines.
Here, you’ll find teeny-tiny engines that actually run, miniature cars with working engines and transmissions, incredibly detailed itsy-bitsy ships, and flying model airplanes, among other amazing miniatures.
Wandering the collection is awe-inspiring, and those who appreciate attention to detail are sure to be especially amazed.
No visit to San Diego is complete without some outdoor adventures. Obviously, you’ll want to visit the beach locations mentioned above, but we also recommend checking out the natural areas below. Both are hidden gems in San Diego and are well worth your time.
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Located on the coast, the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is one of the wildest stretches of land on the California coast, making it an ideal place for hiking, wildlife watching, and escaping from the city.
The dramatic cliffs are covered in desert brush and cacti, and overlooking the bright blue waters of the ocean makes for a beautiful setting that you won’t soon forget.
For hiking, we recommend Razor Point Trail. Just two-thirds of a mile long, this trail is relatively easy and provides excellent views of the sandstone gorge. From this trail you can also access the Yucca Point Overlook, a trail that is well worth hiking in the spring when you can see the yucca plants flowering.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
The perfect example of the California desert, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a gorgeous place to get outside and do some exploring. Walk through a slot canyon, marvel at the park’s badlands, or relax in an oasis. Keep an eye out for animals such as horned lizards, jackrabbits, bighorn sheep, and when dust rolls around, coyotes.
No matter where you go hiking in the San Diego area, remember to pack plenty of water and dress in lightweight clothing, as the weather can get extremely hot. A wide brimmed hat can help offer some protection from the sun, and sunscreen is a must.
The history of San Diego is rich and incredibly interesting. For this reason, we highly recommend finding at least a couple of hidden gem historic sites to add to your trip itinerary. Not only will this allow you to learn something new, it’ll also help you connect to the place.
Old Point Loma Lighthouse
The Old Point Loma Lighthouse is one historical site that is well worth visiting. Located in Cabrillo National Monument, this lighthouse was first lit in 1855. Unfortunately, the location of the lighthouse meant the light was often obscured by heavy fog. Therefore, a new lighthouse replaced this one just 36 years later in 1891.
Today, the lighthouse has been restored to its 1880s appearance and acts as an educational site, hosting ranger-led talks.
An absolutely gorgeous historic home with a very interesting past, Villa Montezuma is a wonderful place to visit if you have any interest in history at all.
The house was originally built for world-famous Jesse Shepard as a “Palace of the Arts” in 1887, and has since been passed from one owner to the next. However, one thing has stayed the same: This gorgeous home began as, and always will be, a work of art in and of itself. It features stunning stained glass windows as well as some incredible architecture.
Today, guests can tour the home and learn all about its design as well as the history behind it.
One thing you should do every time you visit a new place? Try the local cuisine, of course! We’ve mentioned a few of our favorite local eateries, but we’ve saved a couple of our top picks (and honestly, some of the best hidden gems in
San Diego) specifically for this section of our article.
Tacos El Gordo
Mexican food is without a doubt the stand-out food in San Diego. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we chose Tacos El Gordo to be at the top of this list.
This unassuming taco shop features authentic Tijuana-style tacos that are sure to blow your mind. Our favorite? The adobada tacos, which have won awards and in our opinion are a must-try food while in the area.
Oscar’s Mexican Seafood
Some people don’t realize it, but Mexican food and seafood actually go hand-in-hand, and when they’re combined, they create magic. Head to Oscar’s Mexican Seafood to see what we’re talking about. This place serves up fish tacos that are to die for, and their spicy shrimp Torta de Oscar is one for the books. You can even get an awesome fish breakfast burrito if you’re craving a filling morning meal!
We mentioned the awesome bar-hopping scene in North Park earlier. However, this is far from the only place to find amazing nightlife in San Diego. In fact, we’d never be able to list all of the awesome places to get out after dark in the city. Instead, we’ll list our two favorite hidden gems in San Diego.
The Grass Skirt
A speakeasy tiki bar in Pacific Beach in San Diego, The Grass Skirt is a laid-back local hang out that is sure to make you feel welcome right away. Here you’ll find a variety of Polynesian-inspired small plates and drinks, occasional hula performances, and a funky vibe that is perfect for those looking to have a good time.
A more stylish nightlife spot, Polite Provisions reminds one of an apothecary, making it an interesting place to grab a drink or two. The fact that the bar is set in a large, open atrium means you’ll never feel too cramped during your visit, and the retro feel of the space is definitely cool. We also appreciate the large wine collection, beer collection, and unique signature cocktails served here.
Exploring Beyond San Diego
Hoping to take some day trips to areas outside of San Diego as well? You’re in luck because there are tons of great options. From wine country to a foreign country, you’re sure to find an awesome day trip destination during your time in San Diego.
Located just an hour east of San Diego, Julian is the perfect place to escape into the mountains. You can see where gold was first discovered in California, wander the lovely historic buildings downtown, or try the town’s famous apple pie at spots like Apple Alley Bakery.
The vibe here is very laid back and charming, and you’re likely to feel as though you’ve stepped back in time, so come prepared to relax.
Temecula Wine Country
Wine enthusiasts don’t need to wander far to find themselves surrounded by vineyards and wineries. Temecula Wine Country features nearly 50 wineries set on about 33,000 acres of beautiful rural land. One can choose to book a wine tour (we recommend the hot air balloon adventure) or they can choose, book, and visit wineries all on their own.
Finally, there is the option of taking your adventures to another country entirely. San Diego is set right by the US/Mexico border, making it the perfect homebase for a quick jaunt down to Tijuana. Many people visit Tijuana for the day, using their time there to try authentic Mexican food, see the beautiful cathedral, explore museums, and even get dental and medical work done.
Remember that you will need a passport in order to cross the border, and Mexican insurance is required if you plan to drive in Mexico. If you will be staying in Mexico for more than 7 days, you will also need to acquire and fill out an FMM form.
As you can see, San Diego is absolutely full of amazing hidden gems that the average tourist would never even know to look for. While we don’t recommend skipping must-see attractions such as the San Diego Zoo and the sea lions at La Jolla Cove, we 100% recommend adding some of these gems to your itinerary and then setting out to find some gems on your own.
As mentioned above, staying in an RV can help with this by giving you flexibility and creating a less expensive lodging situation that may let you stay in the city longer. Why not give it a try and see how you like off-the-beaten-path exploring? We’re betting you’ll love it, and because there are so many hidden gems in San Diego, it is the perfect place to get started!