There’s plenty of reasons people travel or move to San Diego. The town’s laidback attitude serves as the foundation for a land of sea and sun. With a booming culinary scene, gorgeous beaches, nearly perfect weather, an amazing craft beer scene, and nature and hiking at your fingertips, there’s no shortage of possibilities in San Diego.
And let’s not forget about all the famous San Diego staples, like the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, Balboa Park, the Gaslamp Quarter, and much more. However, there’s much more to San Diego than meets the eye. Whether you’re considering relocating, or simply visiting for the weekend, it’s important to check out the lesser well-known sites, too. Here are some of the most unique experiences you can find in San Diego:
Image source: San Diegan
The San Diego Railroad Museum
The San Diego Railroad Museum is a unique and massive miniature display of how an extensive railroad system looks and operates. At 28,000 square feet, it is currently the largest operating model railroad museum in the world.
This display represents the California railroad system, and the museum’s mission is to preserve both the history of model railroading (which has been popular in San Diego for many decades), as well as educate the public of different aspects of the railroading system. It features detailed recreations of some of the state’s most beautiful train routes, like the Pacific Desert Lines and Cabrillo Southwester.
If you want to take your kids for a visit, there’s much more than the base base museum for them to enjoy. They can also play in the Toy Train Gallery, which has an interactive layout with state-of-the-art theatre lighting.
Image source: San Diego Magazine
Spruce Street Suspension Bridge
The Spruce Street Suspension Bridge isn’t well-traversed by tourists and visitors. This pedestrian-only suspension bridge is 375 feet long, with beautiful vista views of the Sessions Canyon. This massive bridge is supported by cables that are cemented into concrete slabs 70 feet below.
Like all suspension bridges, it isn’t rigidly rooted, which means it can sway in harsh winds. But for many, this is all a part of the experience. Because it’s secluded in the Bankers Hill neighborhood, many locals come here for a leisurely stroll or date picnic. Originally built in 1912, it’s still proven a sweet spot to enjoy, and holds true to its Indiana Jones-aesthetic.
Image source: Red Tricycle
San Diego Museum of Man
Located in Balboa Park, the San Diego Museum of Man is a museum of anthropology that’s been around for over 100 years. The central exhibit is called “The Story of Man through the Ages”, but there are several other things to learn here, from the history of beer to the subject of cannibalism to the origins of folklore monsters. You’ll also find one of the most important collections of ancient Egyptian artifacts, which includes figurines, burial masks, and painted coffins—including a Ptolemaic child’s coffin (from around 300 BC), of which only six in the world have been discovered.
Here, you’ll also find the historic Lemon Grove Mummy. A fun fact about this mummy: two local teenage Californian boys went to Mexico in search of a mummy in 1966, and found two centuries-old mummies after a month of looking. They smuggled the mummies back over the Mexican border, and hid them in a friend’s garage. A full 14 years later, the garage was being renovated when the mummies were discovered and police were called in. Because of their juvenile status, and the amount of time that had passed, the boys didn’t face any criminal charges, but the mummies were given a special place at the San Diego Museum of Man.
Image source: California Through My Lens
Harper’s Topiary Garden
Harper’s Topiary Garden is a beautiful, natural work of art created by Edna Harper, who purchased her Mission Hills home and didn’t feel satisfied with the cookie-cutter shrubs that dotted her front lawn. Instead of getting rid of them, she decided to create a topiary for passerby to enjoy.
For many years, Edna shaped her foliage into different creations inspired by her travels around the world. Within the suburban garden, visitors will find a buddha, a pyramid, a herd of elephants, and even a dinosaur. Edna is consistently reshaping her bushes to fit her newest whimsical dreams.
For those interested in making a nice stroll of it, the Topiary is just a 45 minute walked from the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge. You’re welcome to take pictures, explore the garden (you aren’t permitted to touch the hedges, however) and admire the creations, but keep in mind it’s a private residence, and Edna still resides there.
Image source: San Diego Fly Rides
San Diego-La Jolla Underground Waterpark
Believe it or not, there’s a 6,000-acre underwater marine park right in San Diego’s backyard. This vibrant submerged park features four different habitats: kelp bed, sandy flat, rocky reef, and submarine canyon. The diverse marine life here thrives with rich food resources, making it easy for visitors to spot all types of sea life, from leopard sharks to Orange garibaldi to seals and sea lions.
Bordering the park is 75-million year old sandstone, comprising seven different sea caves (including Sunny Jim’s Cave, however, only Clam’s Cave is visible above the surface of the water). To explore the underwater park, turn to local operates that lead guided snorkeling and scuba diving excursions.
Image source: Travel Pockers
Sunny Jim Cave (Store)
As previously mentioned, the Sunny Jim Cave is located at the San Diego-La Jolla Underground Waterpark. And what makes this place so unique is that the Sunny Jim Cave Store has the only sea cave entrance that’s accessible by land. The store connects its retail location to the sea cave via a narrow tunnel across 145 steps. Thanks the saltwater affect and natural minerals, the cave walls are very colorful and make a perfect home for seabirds.
Although it might look like a natural tunnel, in 1902, German mining engineer and painter Gustauf Schultz hired two laborers to begin digging the tunnel, which has since become a Historical Landmark in California. In the early days, visitors had to descend the cave by rope instead of stairs. In the early 1900s, there also used to be a restaurant and cafe here until it burned in 1915. Today, the Cave Store features a variety of trinkets for purchase, such as handcrafted jewelry, vintage clothing, and local plein art.
Image source: The Headquarters at Seaport District
Cinema Under the Stars
Outdoor cinemas haven’t completely gone extinct, and Cinema Under the Stars in San Diego is alive and thriving. This outdoor movie theatre is in Mission Hills under a retractable dome with infrared heating, making it easy to see movies during any weather and providing the comfort of an outdoor theatre without compromising the nostalgic, fun feel of an outdoor theatre.
Movies are projected onto a 20-foot screen complete with a surround system and HD projection. There are plenty of seats to choose from: zero gravity recliners, ottomans with tables, and loveseat cabanas. Popcorn and candy are available at concessions stands. The theatre tends to play timeless classic and old favorites, and you can reserve your seat and check the movie lineup on their website.