20 San Diego Landmarks

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Known for its beaches, laid-back atmosphere and typical Californian coastal lifestyle, San Diego is one of the loveliest cities in the state. More down-to-earth than Los Angeles and less competitive than San Francisco, San Diego is a wonderful city to visit and explore if you’re looking to enjoy a little bit of everything that the golden state is known.

Whether it’s bar-hopping in the Gaslight Quarter’s unique bars, lounging on Mission Beach’s golden sand or visiting the world-famous San Diego Zoo, here are the top San Diego landmarks to tick off your list in the city that lives up to its nickname of ‘America’s Finest City’.

San Diego Landmarks

Natural Landmarks In San Diego

1- San Diego Harbour

maps of san diego landmarks San Diego skyline
The San Diego skyline.

The San Diego Harbour glitters spectacularly against the backdrop of the city’s skyline.

Perfect for strolling along its waterfront or for venturing out on a boat for a sunset cruise, San Diego’s most prominent landmark is well worth your time during a visit to America’s finest city.

Incredible views and vistas abound in and around the harbour, including the curving Coronado Bridge, which stretches across San Diego Bay, and the assortment of marine animals often spotted in the bay’s waters.

Enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and mingle with the locals out and about the next time you’re in San Diego.

San Diego Harbour is at N Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101.

2- Sunset Cliffs

Landmarks of San Diego Sunset Cliffs
Sunset Cliffs is one of the stunning natural landmarks in San Diego to tick off your to-see list.

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park stretches for over 68 acres (27.5 ha) along the Pacific Ocean’s coastline north of Point Loma.

With its incredible, unobstructed sunsets, the park comes to life during the evenings when hundreds gather to watch the sunset.

Apart from its dramatic cliffs and caves, Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is also a haven for spotting grey whales migrating past the park on their way to the warmer waters of Baja, Mexico.

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is at Ladera St, San Diego, CA 92107.

3- Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

san diego natural landmarks Cliffs off Torrey Pines state park
Cliffs and bay at Torrey Pines State Park.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is one of California’s 16 parks with reserve status and a top contender for the best park in the region.

Thanks to its reserve status, Torrey Pines is as natural as it was before San Diego grew into a vibrant city.

You’ll find hiking trails and pristine beaches in this wild and untamed, 1,500-acre (607 ha) park.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is most known for the Pinus torreyana, a rare pine tree that only grows in two places in the USA. The other place is on Santa Rosa Island, off the Santa Barbara coast.

This park has around 3,000 Torrey Pines.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is at 12600 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, CA 92037.

4- Mount Soledad

In San Diego’s La Jolla area, the 800-foot (244 m) tall Mount Soledad has a commanding view of the city and the Pacific Ocean.

The National Veterans Memorial sits atop Mount Soledad.

It commemorates the soldiers and victims of conflicts stretching from the Revolutionary War to as recent as the war on terrorism in the 21st century.

It’s a lovely place to have a picnic or to go on a hike with sprawling vistas of the entire San Diego region.

Mount Soledad is a great place to visit if you’re into the great outdoors or to pay your respect to the lives lost fighting for the freedom and liberty enjoyed by Americans today.

Mount Soledad is at 6905 La Jolla Scenic Drive S, La Jolla, CA 92037.

5- Pacific Beach

san diego landmarks Pacific Beach
Pacific Beach in Mission Bay is one of the landmark beaches in San Diego.

Of all the city’s beach areas, Mission Beach, a seaside suburb of San Diego, exemplifies the sunny Southern California lifestyle.

Its stunning golden-sand beaches make Mission Beach stand out and it’s the main reason people flock here on hot summer days.

Swimming, sunbathing, surfing and volleyball are just some of the many popular activities available here year-round, thanks to San Diego’s warm, sunny climate.

There’s a three-mile (4.8 km) long boardwalk hugging the shoreline that’s perfect for joggers, skaters and rollerblade riders.

Mission Beach is at 1710 W Mission Bay Dr, San Diego, CA 92109.

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6- La Jolla Cove

san diego landmarks pictures La Jolla Cove Aerial view
La Jolla Cove is a small picturesque cove and a stunning natural landmark in San Diego.

La Jolla Cove is a beautiful San Diego landmark flanked by impressive sea cliffs, making it one of the loveliest places along the Californian coastline.

The much-photographed cove is part of a marine life reserve and provides a variety of activities for people of all ages, such as kayaking, snorkelling and swimming.

North of La Jolla Cove, there are sea caves where sea lions and seals lounge on cliffs and rocks, enjoying the sun.

It’s an area with many cafes and restaurants overlooking the ocean, where you can enjoy fantastic seaside scenery.

La Jolla Cove is about a 20-minute drive northwest of downtown San Diego at 1100 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, CA 92037.

Historic Landmarks In San Diego

7- Balboa Park

iconic san diego landmarks Balboa Park
Balboa Park is a famous landmark in San Diego with a treasure trove of landmarks within it.

Balboa Park is an impressive recreational and cultural precinct and a National Historic Landmark in San Diego.

Not only is this massive park home to the world-famous San Diego Zoo, but you’ll also find many of the city’s most historically significant museums, shops and theatres.

There are meticulously maintained gardens and lovely green spaces to relax in.

Key attractions include the Japanese Friendship Garden and a swag of world-class museums, including the San Diego Air & Space Museum, San Diego Natural History Museum and the San Diego History Center.

With over 1,400 acres (567 ha) to explore, Balboa Park covers a larger area than New York’s Central Park.

Balboa Park is at 1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101.

8- Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

landmarks in san diego Dentist shop in Old Town San Diego
The old building housing the dentist and doctor in the old town is one of the many historical landmarks in San Diego.

Often referred to as the birthplace of California, the state established the Old Town San Diego in 1968 to preserve the area’s history.

The neighbourhood’s historic shops, restaurants and heritage architecture create a frontier atmosphere.

This living history museum preserves historic buildings dating from the 19th century.

It showcases San Diego’s history and culture during the transition from Mexican to American rule.

A stroll through the neighbourhood reveals heritage architecture, museums and historic sites, and shops selling traditional Mexican crafts, spices, and textiles.

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is at 4002 Wallace St, San Diego, CA 92110.

9- Gaslamp Quarter

san diego city landmarks sign at the entrance to the Gaslamp Quarter at night
The sign at the entrance to the Gaslamp Quarter is a San Diego landmark that marks the entrance to this charming area.

A beautiful historic quarter with National Register of Historic Places status, Gaslamp Quarter is an entertainment district in San Diego with museums, restaurants, bars, hotels, galleries and shops housed in brightly coloured historic buildings.

The Gaslamp Quarter Archway Sign is a landmark in San Diego that weighs six tons and cost $150,000.

There are around 100 historical Victorian-era buildings within 16 blocks, giving the area character and charm.

Gaslamp Quarter is at Broadway to Harbor Drive, 4th Ave to 6th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101.

10- Hotel Del Coronado

famous landmarks in san diego Hotel Del Coronado
The architecturally stunning Hotel Del Coronado is a famous historic landmark in San Diego.

One of San Diego’s most famous landmarks is the Hotel Del Coronado, on Coronado Island.

It has a spectacular seaside setting that has attracted a star-studded guest list since it opened in 1888, from US Presidents to royalty and Hollywood A-listers.

In 1920, the hotel was the venue for a banquet in honour of England’s Prince of Wales and ‘Some Like It Hot’ starring Marilyn Monroe was filmed here.

As a regular backdrop in many TV shows and movies, such as Baywatch, Hotel Del Coronado is a recognisable icon with its distinct red roof and ornate Victorian architecture.

Hotel Del Coronado is at 1500 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA 92118.

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11- Cabrillo National Monument

san diego historical landmarks Cabrillo monument with San Diego in the background
The Cabrillo monument in San Diego on Point Loma.

Commemorating the arrival of Spanish explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, the first European to discover the area now known today as San Diego in 1542, the Cabrillo National Monument stands tall on Point Loma.

Visitors to the monument can view Cabrillo’s statue, learn more about his voyage and be mesmerised by the stunning views of the city skyline and the Pacific Ocean from high above.

It’s steeped in historical significance and an important historical place in the state.

Cabrillo National Monument is at 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr, San Diego, CA 92106.

12- USS Midway Museum

list of san diego historic landmarks USS Midway Museum
The historic aircraft carrier, USS Midway Museum is a landmark in San Diego that’s moored in Broadway Pier.

Venture toward San Diego’s Seaport Village to explore the USS Midway, one of the US Military’s largest and most prominent aircraft carriers.

The USS Midway’s days as an aircraft carrier ended in 1992 and it has been converted into an impressive museum telling the tale of the vessel’s history and the battles it fought in.

The museum is an excellent destination for war historians and a fun attraction for kids as you can walk through and explore the massive carrier.

USS Midway Museum is at 910 N Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101.

13- San Diego Museum of Art

san diego landmarks and monuments San Diego Museum of Art
The facade of the San Diego Museum of Fine Art, in Balboa Park, has ornaments sculpted of painters and coats of arms.

Yet another of Balboa Park’s many iconic landmarks, the San Diego Museum of Art is home to the region’s most significant and oldest art collection.

Built to resemble a 17th-century Salamanca University, the museum has impressive works by various renowned Spanish and Italian artists. And a permanent South Asian and American art collection dating back to the 1800s.

Besides its rich, culturally diverse exhibitions and displays, look out for special exhibitions of art from all over the world.

San Diego Museum of Art is at 1450 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92102.

14- Belmont Park

famous landmarks in san diego california Belmont Park carousel
Belmont Park is a historic oceanfront amusement park and a landmark in San Diego that has entertained families for years.

Belmont Park has been a San Diego attraction for locals since it first opened in 1925.

Backed by lovely views of the Pacific Ocean, this classic amusement park with its wooden rollercoasters, carnival rides and typical amusement park eateries promises a day of good old-fashioned fun.

The Park’s striking rollercoaster is visible from afar. The iconic Giant Dipper is a National Historic Landmark and has spectacular views from high above before plunging riders down to the ground.

Belmont Park is at 3146 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109.

15- Unconditional Surrender Statue

san diego famous landmarks Kissing sailor statue
The Kissing Sailor statue or Unconditional Surrender is a famous San Diego landmark that is a recreation of the famous embrace between a sailor and a nurse celebrating the end of the second world war.

The Unconditional Surrender Statue is a famous San Diego landmark created from a photograph taken in New York’s Times Square on 14 August 1945 after World War II ended.

The image of a couple kissing during the post-war celebrations was fashioned into a large statue in 2007 by artist J. Seward Johnson.

Forming part of the USS Midway Museum, you can visit the museum and the statue.

Unconditional Surrender Statue is at 55 Tuna Ln, San Diego, CA 92101.

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16- Mission San Luis Rey

historical landmarks in san diego Mission San Luis Rey
Mission San Luis Rey is a San Diego monument that is well-preserved.

In 1798, Mission San Luis Rey was founded as a home for Franciscan Friars.

The National Historic Landmark is the largest of the Californian Missions and one of the Seven Wonders of San Diego County North, a collection of religious and historic structures throughout San Diego.

It has 32 Roman arches, hand-carved wooden doors, murals and the original baptismal font made by Native Americans.

Explore the Mission’s cemetery and museum or volunteer for various community projects.

Mission San Luis Rey is at 4050 Mission Ave, Oceanside, CA 92057.

17- San Diego Air & Space Museum

The San Diego Air & Space Museum is another of San Diego’s landmarks in Balboa Park.

It houses an impressive collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft, from a model of the hot air balloon flown by the Montgolfier brothers in 1783, which was the first manned vehicle to break the bonds of gravity to classic military aircraft of World War II to the International Air & Space Hall of Fame.

San Diego Air & Space Museum is at 2001 Pan American Plaza, San Diego, CA 92101.

18- Old Point Loma Lighthouse

landmarks in san diego california old lighthouse on Point Loma with a bright blue sky framing the shot
The old lighthouse on Point Loma is another historical landmark in the San Diego area.

The Old Point Loma Lighthouse dates back to 1855 and was once a beacon for ships at the entrance of San Diego Bay.

These days, it’s a museum that offers a peek into the area’s past.

The lighthouse is an excellent lookout point near the historically significant Cabrillo National Monument.

Apart from seeing dolphins and whales in the ocean, you can spot sights as far away as Mexico on clear days.

Point Loma Lighthouse is at 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr, San Diego, CA 92106.

Other Famous Landmarks In San Diego

19- SeaWorld San Diego

famous san diego landmarks Seaworld aerial
An aerial view of SeaWorld marine life theme park in San Diego Bay, which is a famous San Diego landmark known around the world.

Even though SeaWorld marine parks are not uncommon worldwide, SeaWorld San Diego stands out as one of the most well-known.

It opened in 1964 and is one of the city’s most-visited attractions, with over 130 million visitors passing through its gates since it first opened.

SeaWorld has exhibitions, displays and enclosures where you can learn about the different oceans and their habitats, as well as the varied marine life that live in them.

It has dolphins, orcas, walruses, penguins and polar bears, including riding on all sorts of rollercoasters and rides aimed at entertaining the whole family.

SeaWorld San Diego is at 500 Sea World Dr, San Diego, CA 92109.

20- San Diego Zoo

One of the many attractions within Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo is a crown jewel landmark on its own, drawing millions of visitors each year.

The 99-acre (40 ha) zoo dates back to 1916 and has been a haven for exotic and endangered species, educating visitors about them and aiding conservation efforts worldwide.

With more than 4,000 animals of some 800-plus unique species and over 700,000 plants located within the zoo, there’s more than enough to excite and entertain guests of all ages.

The zoo’s vast collection of wildlife includes exotic animals from all over the world, from Australian koalas to Antarctic polar bears, China’s pandas to Sumatran tigers.

The zoo has been operating since 1923 and is a world leader in creating natural habitats to exhibit animals without cages.

San Diego Zoo is at 2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101. 

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Christina Pfeiffer is a writer, photographer and video blogger based in Queensland, Australia. She has lived in three continents and her career as a travel journalist has taken her to all seven continents. Since 2003, she has contributed travel stories and photographs to mainstream media in Australia and around the world such as the Sydney Morning Herald, CNN Traveller, The Australian and the South China Morning Post. She has won many travel writing awards and is a full member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers.