7 Hidden Gems Worth the Search in San Diego
Any San Diego visitor who’s been to the city even once knows all of the hits. The San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, and La Jolla Cove likely all ring a bell. While hidden spots in San Diego may be a little harder to find, that’s part of the fun, and a great way to add a little intrigue to a San Diego itinerary.
Get even just a little off-the-beaten-path and you’ll be on the hunt for San Diego hidden spots that will likely be void of people, even during peak tourist months like the summertime. Here are seven unique things to do in San Diego on your next visit, or for the locals out there to check out if you haven’t already.
Black’s Beach is a place that many talk about, but not many venture out to. It’s popular with surfers for its impressive waves, but it’s also popular with a different set. Black’s Beach is San Diego’s only unsanctioned nude beach.
To get there, you have a few options, but they all involve some effort, a reason why this one isn’t a more popular spot to explore for visitors and locals. A common access point is from the parking area of the Torrey Pines Gliderport, a fun stop on its own if you’re looking to watch or observe one of San Diego’s favorite pastimes: hang gliding. The descent and the ascent are quite steep, and there have been injuries and accidents on the cliffs here.
At low tide, you can also access the beach along beach trails from both Torrey Pines State Beach and La Jolla Shores, but bring along water. Both trails are a 4-mile round trip trek along the sand. A final option is plugging in “Black’s Beach Trailhead” into your Google maps. That’ll take you to a steep descent down a paved road and a relatively easy walk along the beach.
If you take that last route, you’ll have easy access to another interesting feature in San Diego, the Mushroom Beach House. The landmark was once owned as a guesthouse by Sam Bell, the heir to General Mills. The main house was above it, at the top of a tram that you can still see remnants of if you visit.
Chicano Park is certainly beautiful. It’s decorated with colorful murals dedicated to the vibrant Mexican community in the San Diego neighborhood of Barrio Logan. If you look a little closer, though, you’ll see messages within the murals and calls to activism.
Chicano Park is a testament to the resilient people who have lived here since the 1960s. Back in the day, the neighborhood was actually beachfront, a place for kids and their families to play until the city built a freeway to cut through the area.
Promises of a park there were made as a way to make up for the freeway construction. A decade later, new plans emerged that had nothing to do with a park. The city wanted to build a patrol station, instead.
Barrio Logan had enough by this time, the people rallying to protest the move and stop construction of what they felt would be detrimental to the neighborhood. Chicano Park came to be as a result of that protest, with many of the original murals still intact today. New art has been added since to reflect the issues of the modern world, and the park remains a place to gather and walk through a piece of history.
La Jolla Secret Swings & Troll Bridges
La Jolla is full of whimsy, with hidden spots tucked away throughout that will take you far away from the crowded coves.
Start with the “troll” bridges, more visually appealing than you’d think with what they suggest you’ll find there. The stone bridges, one on Kearsarge Road and another on Puente Drive, have been around since at least the 1930s. They’re in the middle of some of the most exclusive communities near Mount Soledad, so take the drive slowly to take in those impressive homes.
A quick social media search will reveal the location of many of the secret swings in San Diego.
Unfortunately, or perhaps to make things more interesting, the swings get cut down from time to time. They always get moved to another spot, but it’s not always obvious where that new spot will be.
You’ll find most of the swings set up to show off La Jolla views. A longstanding swing has been at the top of a hill near the Birch Aquarium. While this is likely the most well-known “secret” swing in La Jolla, you’ll likely find no more than a few people at the top, taking their turn for a swing with a view.
Photo Credit: Agnes Groonwald
Queen Califia’s Magical Circle
Queen Califia’s Magical Circle just sounds like something that lives off-the-beaten-path. The sculpture garden in Escondido in Kit Carson Park, a popular green space for outdoor activities and picnics, isn’t just hard to get to. Its limited hours make it that much more mysterious.
Visit on Tuesdays or Thursdays from 9am-noon or on the second and fourth Saturday of the month from 9am-2pm. Once you’ve figured out the timing, you’ll be greeted by an open gate into a magical realm of colorful creatures from French sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle. To get there, you’ll need to pass through a mirrored maze, an added bit of fun in this adventure.
This is the only series of sculptures from the artist within the United States. In its center, you’ll find the namesake: Queen Califia, a fictional queen who once ruled over California.
There are nine large sculptures in the park. It’s worth having a seat on one of the benches in the large central space and choosing your favorite. Docents are usually there on open Saturdays to answer any questions you may have or to give you more historical background.
Photo Credit: Agnes Groonwald
The 7 Bridges Hike
The Spruce Street Suspension Bridge has become a popular stop on San Diego tours of the unique features hidden in the heart of the city. The bridge is known for its signature sway and is a popular stop for wedding photos.
It’s also a stop on an urban trail known as the 7 Bridges Hike, a 5.5-mile roundtrip trek over some of San Diego’s best bridges. Start in either direction, at the Park Boulevard Bridge in Balboa Park or the Georgia Street Bridge in Hillcrest.
You’ll pass over the city’s iconic Cabrillo Bridge along the way, the California Tower framing a picture-perfect San Diego image for you, and a few bridges you may not have paid much attention to before your hike. The First Avenue Bridge, for example, is the only steel arch bridge in San Diego. The wooden trestles of Quince Street Bridges are also under-appreciated. There’s history underneath your feet with this hike, a worthy addition to your list of San Diego hidden spots.
Photo Credit: OperaSmorg / Wikimedia Commons
Heritage County Park
You may not expect a Victorian village in Old Town, home to acres of historical buildings, restaurants, and craft shops dedicated to the city’s Mexican heritage. If you park on angled Juan Street, you’ll be near the eight acres of Heritage County Park, a park dedicated to the preservation of San Diego’s most ornate old Victorian homes.
The homes you’ll find here all come from elsewhere in the city. They were brought here in an effort to preserve the old homes.
Don’t miss the city’s first synagogue, The Temple Beth Israel, and the Italianate-style Bushyhead House. The Bushyhead House was built by Edward Wilkerson Bushyhead, a Cherokee man who was an early San Diego police chief, newspaper owner, and someone who marched in the Trail of Tears in the 1830s.
For a leisurely afternoon, a hidden gem inside this unique San Diego destination is the Coral Tree Tea House, tucked inside the McConaughy House. They hold traditional afternoon teas there, on top of some history as a haunted house.
Photo Credit: Agnes Groonwald
The Wizard of Oz Connection
Coronado is by no means one of San Diego’s hidden gems. It’s a must-do on most San Diego visits and a favorite for locals looking to take in some of the city’s best sights. If you look just underneath the surface, though, you’ll find some interesting history in Coronado as inspiration for a classic film, The Wizard of Oz.
You’ve likely already been to the Hotel del Coronado, but you may not have noticed the chandeliers in the Crown Room. They were designed by L. Frank Baum, the author of the original The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Baum spent quite a bit of time at the hotel, supposedly the inspiration for the Emerald City featured so prominently in his story.
Nearby, you can take a look at the home he rented out on Star Park Circle while writing several of the sequels. You’ll be able to tell you’re there by the decor outside, as the current owners are big fans of the series.
Visit the Coronado Public Library for not only its impressive collection of books, but the glass panels on display depicting key scenes from the film. Speaking of books, stop by the Coronado Museum of History and Art run by the Coronado Historical Association to see several first-edition copies of Baum’s works.
Photo Credit: David Mark on Pixabay
A San Diego itinerary isn’t complete without checking out the best San Diego hidden spots. Take some time to explore a bit away from the well-traveled places around the city to get to know San Diego on a deeper level, and have some fun doing it.
Written by Agnes Groonwald for Knockaround.