Best Sightseeing Tours in San Diego
San Diego may not be the most expansive of cities in the United States, but you may still find yourself struggling to take in everything without the aid of a seasoned tour guide. Likewise, with so many different essential attractions vying for your attention and hard-fought dollars, the entry fees can quickly start to pile up without advance planning. Thankfully, there are numerous options that will accommodate any taste, schedule and budget, both in terms of sightseeing tours and entry to attractions.
Buy A Go San Diego Card
The first thing that any visitor planning on setting foot in the city should look into purchasing is a Go San Diego Card. This pass will involve an initial outlay, but if you plan on visiting more than one tourist attraction you’ll find that it pays for itself almost immediately with the savings provided.
Available for one through seven days, a Go San Diego Card for a solitary day of sightseeing is priced at $89, steadily inclining to $279 for a seven-day pass (discounts are available for children and concessions).
Now, you may balk at the idea of such a substantial payout in the first instance, but the card then allows you FREE ACCESS to 40 different attractions – including the famous San Diego Zoo, Natural History Museum, Air and Space Museum, Legoland, Art Institute and all kinds of experiences such as whale watching, harbor cruises and ice skating, a tour of the celebrated PETCO Park (home of the San Diego Padres MLB team), as well as covering rentals of kayaks and paddleboards across the La Jolla coastline.
The cover charge of all of these activities could quickly add up (the zoo alone, for example, would cost an excess of $50 per person, and you can double that for the cost of hiring equipment by the coast).
Best of all, a three-day pass or longer will also offer free access to the city’s fabled SeaWorld attraction, daily speed boat rides, or two days of unlimited access to the Hop-On Hop-Off Trolley Pass Tour, which is a fantastic way of seeing the city; getting oriented with the city if you are visiting for the first time.
Don’t be alarmed by the concept of paying in advance for these attractions – any prolonged period of time in the city without purchasing the Go San Diego Card, especially if you are on a family holiday, is ultimately a false economy.
The card, or pass, is also valid for discounts in many wonderful restaurants, so bear that in mind when you need to stop for some sustenance (particularly when the kids get grumpy!)
If you’re looking for a rapid-fire guided exploration of the city in the safe hands of an expert, the 4-hour San Diego City Tour is worth investigating. At a cost of around $50, a coach will collect a number of people from a pre-agreed destination and meander through the streets of San Diego, accompanied by a tour guide.
There will be plenty of opportunities to take snapshots and the coach will take in such celebrated sites as the La Jolla coastline, Balboa Park and the Gaslamp Quarter, making it ideal for anybody keen to find their bearings in San Diego, but there will be very limited opportunities to stop off and explore.
Upgraded tickets are available for a higher fee, however, which provide the option to leave the coach in Seaport Village for a spell (great shops), and even take a stroll around the USS Medway, the substantial aircraft carrier that now doubles as a museum for history and engineering enthusiasts.
A trip to neighboring Tijuana and a bigger taste of Mexico can also be tacked onto some tours, which will also include a cruise around the San Diego Harbor and the opportunity to spend more time browsing on foot, for closer to $100.
Taking the bus..
For simple sightseeing around San Diego, however, it’s difficult to look past the aforementioned Hop-on Hop-off Trolley Tour. Encompassing ten stops throughout the city, including Balboa Park, Seaport Village, the Old Town State Park, Little Italy and the Gaslamp Quarter, these mini-trains depart every thirty minutes from each destination.
As the name suggests, you can hop on and off as you see fit, taking the time to explore each location at your leisure, and as tickets are sold as a day pass there is no need to worry about fumbling for change every time to re-board. Best of all, a fully qualified tour guide will also fill you in on your surroundings as you travel, meaning that you’ll know which parts of the city you’d like to return to at any given point.
An aerial view..
If you’d prefer to see the city by air, San Diego offers numerous airplane-based tours – many of which can be conducted in an open-cockpit biplane, ensuring that the day will double up as a sightseeing experience and a thrill seeking adventure.
If you’re looking for something more sedate, then investigate the costlier but considerably more relaxing hot air balloon tour, in which you can take in the sights of the cityscape whilst sipping on champagne over the course of around three hours, or even stretch to a private helicopter tour if your purse strings allow – at $500 a time, this is not for those looking to travel on a budget.
However, in addition to taking you all over the city and into nearby Temecula Valley Wine Country, this once-in-a-lifetime experience also includes a meal.
Cruise tours are also an option, especially if you’re keen to see as much as you can within a one-day period. The San Diego Shore Excursion is arguably the most popular option and will take you all along the city and La Jolla coastlines, offering ample opportunities to hop off and take photos.
Little Italy, Coronado and La Jolla also boast food-centric walking tours that will allow you the opportunity to nibble on a variety of taste sensations whilst also feasting your eyes on some of the most scenic segments of the city.
The old town
San Diego is a historical city, so if you’re looking to brush up on your cultural knowledge of this corner of Southern California then be sure to sign up for the Brothels, Bites and Booze tour. Costing $50 and taking you around the Gaslamp Quarter during the day or evening, which promise two very different experiences, an experienced guide will explain all about the city’s colorful past while focusing on the food and drinks available in this most exciting of suburbs.
If the seedier side of the Gaslamp Quarter appeals – after all, in the early 20th Century this was a notorious Red Light District – then you could also take a look at the 90-minute Back Alley Tour. Tequila, Tacos and Tombstones is a thematically similar stroll around the city’s famous Old Town, which is packed with tourist attractions and photo opportunities.
Lighten the load with Segway
Keeping your feet on the ground can be tiring, so you might wish to indulge in one of San Diego’s favourite pastimes – a Segway tour around the city. Varying in cost from $50-150, you can hire one of these two-wheeled vehicles and scoot your way around Balboa Park, the Gaslamp Quarter, the La Jolla Coast and various other locales under the tutelage of a local.
If you prefer to cycle, there are also an abundance of pedal-powered tours available and hire shops all over the city, especially in the coastal areas. If that sounds like thirsty work give some thought to the Scavengers Brewery Tour, which whisks travellers around the many microbreweries located in San Diego for $125 and allows them to sample the produce en route. You can even hire a speedboat to take yourself around the Pacific coast.
Go ‘down under’
Underwater tours are also popular, thanks to the raft of beaches located in San Diego. Whether you’re a veteran snorkeler or dedicated landlubber, you’ll be able to hire equipment and find a guide to ease you through the magical sub-land territories of the Pacific Ocean. Expect to pay around $80 for the experience, but you’ll get to experience all kinds of long-lost caves and caverns, or even investigate the fisherman’s life of lobster diving. For a more sedate experience that takes place on the water about keeps your hair dry, try a whale watching tour that runs all year around.
Take to the fast road
Extreme sports fans will also get a real kick out of San Diego’s many adventure tours, especially for visitors with deep pockets. If you have a spare $1,500 you can take the Supercar San Diego Tour, which involves scooting around the city in a Ferrari, Porsche or Jaguar, or ride around the coastline on a Harley Davidson.
All of these options should have convinced you that a San Diego Go Card is the way to go, as these cover charges can quickly add up – something you won’t need to worry about if you’d paid a significantly smaller sum in advance. You can also save further funds by indulging in a self-guided tour if you’d prefer, with various pre-loaded directions are available to attach to your car, cycle or smartphone – or drive a smart car by using the GoCar service, costing just $60 for a one-hour GPS-guided tour. There are other companies offering good deals, but San Diego Go Card is the most comprehensive.
However and with whomever you decide to explore the magnificent city of San Diego you are guaranteed to enjoy a wonderful experience, and just a small amount of pre-planning can make your visit even more memorable. Investigate any of these astonishing tours and find you are sure to find yourself educated as well as entertained.
All costs mentioned are as at May 2017. If you make friends with others at your resort or hotel in San Diego, think about joining up together to get even better concessions to attractions and tours. It’s well worth it to save a few more bucks, and in some cases, a whole lot more, as well as taking in all that San Diego has to offer.