4 Can't Miss San Diego Sites for Newbies

Where to take first-time visitors in San Diego for the first time

Seals and scenery at La Jolla Cove, a must-see site for first time visitors to San Diego.
Gina Tarnacki

Tell me if this sounds familiar: you have a family member or friend who is coming to San Diego for the first time. You ask them, “what do you want to do while you’re in San Diego?” The answer? “You’re the one who lives there. Let’s do whatever you think will be fun.” This leaves you scratching your head because there are so many great things to do in San Diego. How do you choose? Here is a list of places to take guests traveling to San Diego for the first time to make it easy for you next time you have a newbie in town.

This list combines touristy items and local favorites.

La Jolla Cove

I’ve had many visitors come stay with me during the decade I've lived in San Diego. Nearly all of them fall in love with the La Jolla Cove if I take them there. After witnessing this love-fest for the umpteenth time, I just now automatically include a jaunt to La Jolla Cove on the schedule if it’s someone’s first time in San Diego. (And for return visitors, I often get a request asking if we can go to the La Jolla Cove again.) The La Jolla Cove gives visitors a taste of wildlife, the ocean and the beauty of  San Diego’s coastal neighborhoods all in one.

Plus, the downtown area of La Jolla is lovely to walk through and grab a drink or do some shopping. The only time I wouldn't recommend taking someone to the La Jolla Cove is if the person is short on time and really wants to do a hike or experience more of San Diego’s rustic side – in that case, take them to the nearby Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve.

Mission Beach

With the fun atmosphere of Belmont Park and the miles of sandy beaches and active boardwalk, guests love visiting Mission Beach. It makes them feel like they’re in a beach scene from Baywatch and that they’re totally soaking up the San Diego beach culture. Because, let’s face it, they are. It doesn’t get much more social beach timey than Mission Beach (except maybe Pacific Beach, but think carefully of your guests interests and personality before you introduce them to that craziness).

San Diego Zoo

The innovative and beautiful layout of the San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park can’t be missed. Spend the morning seeing the animals before they take their afternoon naps and then spend your afternoon with your guest being active as you walk around leafy Balboa Park. Want to be a really awesome host? Invest in an annual zoo membership. For not much more than the price of a one-time admittance, you’ll get entrance to the zoo for the whole year plus a couple of 50% off guest passes. Maybe hint they can buy you a beer at a local brewery later to thank you for the savings, leading us to…

San Diego Craft Brewery

If you have guests in town who like beer – or even if they don’t like beer, but they drink alcohol (now is your chance to convert them into beer lovers) – take them to a local San Diego craft brewery. San Diego’s beer scene is hot and you’ll be doing them a disservice by not introducing them to the hoppy crispness of Stone's Arrogant Bastard or the peppery kick of Stumblefoot's Otay Chipotle Stout. 

Where is your favorite place to take guests visiting from out of town?