It’s true, San Diego may be best known for amazing beaches and year-round perfect weather (and for people of a certain age as the setting of Three’s Company) but this laid-back, cosmopolitan city is full of unusual, unexpected and unique experiences hidden in plain sight.

Watch Penguins Swim with Sharks at the San Diego Zoo

African penguin exhibit San Diego Zoo

Photo credit: Ken Bohn – San Diego Tourism Board

At the San Diego Zoo’s Conrad Prebys Africa Rocks exhibit, visitors can see penguins swimming and diving next to sharks. The Cape Fynbos habitat houses endangered African penguins who enjoy swimming alongside leopard sharks in an impressive 20,000-gallon seawater pool. The sharks are no threat to the penguins; in fact, they both enjoy eating fish, squid and crustaceans bringing new meaning to food fights!

Africa Rocks San Diego Zoo

The Africa Rocks exhibit spotlights the biodiversity found on the African continent in six habitats where leopards, lemurs, baboons, meerkats and crocodiles share the spotlight with the penguins and sharks.

Hunt Ghosts at the Whaley House Museum

Old Town Whaley House San Diego

Whaley House Musem – Photo credit: San Diego Tourism Authority

Constructed in 1857 by Thomas Whaley, the Whaley House Museum in Old Town San Diego has historic significance and a ghoulish story. In its storied past, it has served as the Whaley family home, a courthouse, San Diego’s first theatre and a schoolhouse, among other things. It’s sad history, however, includes the hanging of “Yankee Jim” on the property and the suicide of Violet Whaley inside the residence, giving the grounds a sense of mystery.  Considered the most haunted house in the United States, visitors have reported supernatural encounters like hearing footsteps, capturing unexpected images in photos, and seeing apparitions of former residents including Mr Whaley.

Build a Surfboard

Shaper Studio in North Park offers the opportunity to make and personalize a surfboard for a seriously gnarly and rad souvenir of your visit. Shaper Studio’s one-of-a-kind DIY surfboard workshops offer shaping and glassing lessons (private or group classes) for all ages and experience levels.

Take a Day Trip to Mexico

Tijuana Day Trip from San Diego
Ok so technically this isn’t something to do in San Diego but with the border so close, you can take a drive south of the border to Tijuana and experience two countries and cultures in one day. Located just 17 miles from downtown San Diego visit Tijuana for its varied food and cultural offerings. Or go a tad farther south to Puerto Nuevo, a lobster fishing town, and the seaside city of Ensenada, home of La Guerrerense’s world-famous seafood tostadas. Love wine? The rural Valle de Guadalupe, producer of 80 percent of Mexico’s wines is nearby and boasts an abundance of excellent restaurants.

Explore the Inside of an Avocado

The Cado Avocado Museum San Diego

Who doesn’t love avocados? Learn more than you ever wanted to know about the green-skinned fruit from June 16th and running through August 2018, when a large-scale, multi-sensory experience will allow visitors to journey from skin to seed. Sponsored by the Californian Avocado Commission,  The CADO provides immersive experiences presented in seven Instagrammable rooms, built from 16 shipping containers. The 6,7000-sq-ft interactive art installation can be found at Liberty Station, a historic area recently renovated into an art, dining and retail district.

Eat Tacos for a Good Cause

Tacos Libertad San Diego

Eat tacos? Say no more, the answer is yes! Tacos Libertad in the lively Hillcrest neighbourhood serves more than tacos; it also serves the San Diego community. When you grab a bite at Tacos Libertad, not only are you filling your belly but you are also contributing to a local charity. The taco shop is the city’s first and only not-for-profit taqueria, selecting a new local organization every month as its beneficiary.

Sip 21-cent Sangria at Cafe 21

Cafe 21 San Diego 21 cent Sangria

Photo credit: San Diego Tourism Board

Café 21 in downtown’s historic Gaslamp Quarter is known for its menu based on locally sourced, organic ingredients, live music on the weekends and Insta-worthy cocktails. Plus, on the 21st of every month, Café 21 offers 21-cent organic sangrias. During happy hour (between 4 pm – 6 pm), guests can select from a variety of six house-made sangrias from their sangria bar with flavours from white wine with peaches and persimmons to red wine with berries.

Cafe 21 San Diego

Photo credit: San Diego Tourism Board

There are also plenty of happy hour food specials on the menu as well. If you are planning a visit to San Diego over your birthday, sign up for their e-mail list and they will send you a voucher for a free entree on your birthday.

Search for Maverick

If you’re a fan of the movie Top Gun (and who isn’t?) you’ll get a kick out of walking in Maverick, Goose and Iceman’s footsteps at various locations where the movie was filmed in 1986. With a sequel brewing, interest in the movie is piquing again!

  • One of the most memorable scenes in “Top Gun” was filmed at Kansas City Barbeque in downtown. This unassuming, casual sports bar was where Maverick and Goose (Anthony Edwards) play “Great Balls of Fire” at the piano.
  • The New Point Loma Lighthouse can be seen from a lookout point near the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, located above at Cabrillo National Monument, or guests can take a road down to the tide pools at the base of the point for a closer view from the road. During Viper’s and Maverick’s walk in the garden, the audience gets to enjoy a glimpse of the coastal house and the beautiful Pacific Ocean.
  • The flight school and flight scenes in the movie were filmed at Naval Air Station Miramar, located approximately 10 miles northeast of downtown. While the real-life “TOPGUN” merged into the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center and is now located at NAS Fallon, Nevada, the former Naval Air Station Miramar is currently the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
  • Maverick and Goose embarrass Charlie with a tuneless rendition of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” in a crowded bar scene during the original film. The scene was shot not in a bar but the Mississippi Ballroom of the boutique Lafayette Hotel, Swim Club & Bungalows in University Heights.

For more information about things to see and do in San Diego, visit San Diego Tourism Authority.