As a San Diego native, I’ve experienced the ins and outs of California’s southern most cities. From the world famous attractions like the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld to the less recognized, little hidden places that I will never forget. As an outdoor enthusiast, a hidden beach with a good surf break has always been more appealing than a busy tourist attraction, and with the diverse topography of San Diego County, there is always something new to feed my inner adventurist.
Many travelers don’t realize that San Diego is much more than big white sand beaches and the Gaslamp Quarter. While visitors are playing volleyball and joining the masses on popular Mission Beach or hitting the bars of downtown, locals like me are enjoying the serenity and diversity of our treasured hidden gems like the mountains of San Diego’s East County or meditation grounds in Encinitas. What makes these locations “hidden gems” in San Diego? It’s all about secluded locations, a unique atmosphere and secret beauty. Here is a breakdown of my favorite hidden gems of San Diego and what makes them stand out among the rest:
- Lake Cuyamaca: Just 40 minutes northeast of downtown San Diego is the quaint mountain town of Cuyamaca. Surrounded by pine trees and an abundance of natural beauty, a day trip to this area makes you feel like you’ve entered another place and time with a slower pace and mountain setting. Life is a little simpler in this sleepy town and its biggest attraction is the sparkling Lake Cuyamaca. Motorboats, rowboats, pontoons and peddle boats are available for a day floating on the water amongst the pine trees. For a true mountain getaway in San Diego County, there is no better place than Lake Cuyamaca where you can enjoy fishing, hiking and camping in the wide open spaces of East County San Diego.
- Black’s Beach and the Torrey Pines Gliderport: San Diego is known for amazing beaches, but none are as memorable as Black’s Beach in La Jolla. What really makes Black’s Beach memorable? As you’re enjoying a casual stroll on the sand, don’t be shocked if a completely nude beachgoer passes you by! That’s right, Black’s is the only nude beach in San Diego County, and will definitely keep you on your toes with exposed sunbathers as well as a fast and intimidating surf break. Protected by sky high cliffs and a long hike to the beach, Black’s is well hidden and secluded making it a great retreat from the crowds. During low-tide this San Diego beach has an expansive spread of tidepools, perfect for catching a glimpse of local creatures like anemones, starfish, crabs and sea cucumbers. For a truly unique San Diego experience, park on the top of the cliffs and spend a few hours at the Torrey Pines Gliderport and watch paragliders and hang gliders take off over the ocean. There is also a school so you can get in the air and experience soaring over the Pacific before heading down for a day at Black’s Beach below.
- Cabrillo National Monument: The name of this hidden gem in San Diego doesn’t do it justice. The monument of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European to explore the west coast, is stunning set atop the Point Loma Peninsula looking over the Pacific Ocean, but there is much more to this National Monument. The true hidden gem of the Cabrillo National Monument is what lies beneath. At low-tide, there is an expansive tidepool area filled with shallow pools, beautiful reefs and little tidepool creatures. Surrounded by the ocean on three sides, the Cabrillo National Monument and its huge tidepool ecosystem is a hidden gem in San Diego not to be missed. While visiting the tidepools, don’t miss the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, first lit on November 15, 1855. The location 422 feet above sea level on Point Loma seemed ideal for a lighthouse until dense fog reduced visibility and the lighthouse was moved to the bottom of the hill, closer to the water. The Old Point Loma Lighthouse has been restored to its 1880s appearance for an old world experience unlike any other in San Diego.
- Self Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens: The most restful and relaxing place in San Diego county is the Self Realization Fellowship (SRF) Meditation Gardens. SRF and the meditation gardens were created in 1936 and were the home of Paramahansa Yogananda, the founder of the non-profit spiritual organization. He wrote much of his autobiography on these peaceful grounds. The silent gardens are located in the quaint coastal community of Encinitas and are free and open to the public Tuesday – Sunday. The beautiful tropical gardens feature a stunning waterfall, Koi ponds and incredible ocean views. Located above the famous surf spot, Swamis, a walk through the gardens is a great way to relax and watch as surfers ride the waves of this popular reef break.
Although San Diego is known as America’s Finest City, there is much more to it than the actual city. It is home to amazing views, a beautiful pine tree covered mountain region, delicate tidepool ecosystems and hidden places to relax and meditate. Visitors love big local attractions and seeing the sights in San Diego, but to really fall in love with this area, you have to dig a little deeper and get to know the hidden gems that make San Diego unlike anywhere else.
This article was written by Carli Leavitt, the editor of SanDiego.com. Carli is a San Diego native with a wealth of knowledge about local attractions, hotels, beaches and nightlife venues in southern California.