California Cities

If I Had Only One Day in California, I Would Spend it in San Diego

Weather, history, architecture, tide pools, marine life, and more – all the best about San Diego

During our exploratory trip to California, San Diego was the only major place we liked awfully a lot from day one, despite the gloomy weather in mid-January.

The first thing we were impressed with was… greenery. San Diego isn’t lush and tropical but it looked much more “alive” than other places, especially in Southern California.

Distinctive laid-back attitude, an abundance of wildlife within city boundaries, white sand beaches, and the possibility to visit Mexico within a day made San Diego the top in our personal list of favorite places in California.

Table of Content

La Jolla Tide Pools

The very first sight that impressed us in San Diego were La Jolla tide pools. (back then we didn’t even know the name for it 😀 ). We have never seen anything like that before:

“Sea Craters”: Tide Pools of La Jolla. photo credit: Reddit

Tide pools are pockets of water, exposed during low tide. In San Diego, they are beautifully shaped, smooth, and look like a piece of art. And full of life too! Sea stars, crabs, sea cucumbers, anemones, occasional octopuses and many more…


The San Diego landscape is far from boring. It has vast and varied terrain, distinct from the surrounding areas from the first sight: rolling hills, valleys, deep canyons, plateaus, and cliffs.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a lovely place to enjoy the local landscape:

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, San Diego
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, San Diego. photo credit: Nauticashades

Looking for the Best Weather?

Head for San Diego! There are few places in the world with a perfect (mild) climate and one of them is San Diego. Warm, dry summers and mild, wet winters with average temperatures of 57°F (14 C) in winter and 72° F (22 C) during summer. Pleasant weather runs basically year-round, with an average of 260 sunny days per year.

Early January in San Diego (not typical but very possible):

La Jolla, San Diego
La Jolla beach, San Diego

The Birthplace of California

It’s all started with Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who landed in what is today known as San Diego Bay at the end of September 1542. He led an expedition up the Pacific Coast in search of new trade opportunities on behalf of Spain and considered the “First European in California”.

Point Loma, or how the first Europeans saw the US West Coast roughly 500 years ago (sans the ships and buildings):

Point Loma, San Diego Bay

I’m not a history buff but was hooked up by the Old Town in San Diego. Presidio and Mission San Diego de Alcala (founded in 1769) was the first European settlement on the West Coast of the modern-day US:

Mission San Diego De AlcalĂĄ
Mission San Diego De AlcalĂĄ. photo credit: Bernard Gagnon

Old Town San Diego Historical Site is called the “Birthplace of California”. It is an open-air museum about local life in the early years where you can easily spend an entire day (and night):

Great Architecture

We heard a lot about the weather and wildlife of San Diego but were quite surprised by its beautiful and diverse architecture. Dozen of styles, from first settlers “Mission style” to exquisite Victorian, Spanish Colonial, Postmodern, Modern, etc.

Below on the picture are just a few examples: the University of San Diego campus with The Immaculata, Catholic parish church in the center.

The Immaculata. photo credit: University of San Diego

From the left: Balboa Park (Spanish Colonial style), San Diego Central Library (Modernism), Hotel Del Coronado (late Victorian style):

Geisel Library (named in honor of Dr. Seuss (on the left)), University of California San Diego:

photo credit: Pamela Ocampo

Home of Dr. Seuss

Beloved children’s writer and illustrator, Dr. Seusse, moved to La Jolla with his wife Audrey in 1948 and called it home until he passed away in 1991. They bought an observation tower (on the picture below), built a house around it and used the tower as Theodor Giesel office.

In the book “Lorax”, Dr. Seusse expressed his worries about environmental issues and changing landscapes, including La Jolla and the surrounding areas. Decades ago San Diego used to be covered in acres of citrus groves. Today, most of them are gone, being replaced by housing/commercial developments.

Famous among La Jolla locals Monterey Cypress tree (below on the left; fell in summer 2019) was known as an inspiration for the “Truffula trees”:

Mexico Anyone?

San Diego is directly adjacent to the Mexican border. San Diego–Tijuana conurbation has a population of over 4,922,723 people and is the busiest land-border crossing in the world: over fifty million people each year.

In the picture below: the fence separates Tijuana, Mexico (on the right), from the United States in San Diego (on the left).

Fence separates Tijuana, Mexico, right, from the United States in San Diego
San Diego, USA (left) and Tijuana, Mexico (right). photo credit: Wikipedia

For a quick taste of Mexico, go to Tijuana, the city increasingly known for its festivals, food, and beverage scenes. There is also something much more tempting than tacos and margarita: low-cost dentistry. Tijuana is bustling with dental clinics. Nearly a million Americans visit Mexico every year for medical tourism.

Other popular places, slightly further from San Diego: Rosarito Beach, Ensenada, and the “Lobster Village” of Baja California, Puerto Nuevo:

Puerto Nuevo lobster dinner
Puerto Nuevo lobster dinner. photo credit: pinterest

Wildlife: Hundreds of Sea Mammals within Arm’s Reach

Watching wildlife is amazingly accessible in San Diego: hundreds of harbor seals and sea lions so close that you could easily reach them (though, you should not do that!).

On the picture below: Children’s Pool Beach with seals and their pups resting on the sand.

Children’s Pool Beach. photo by Matt Howard

The Children’s Pool Beach in La Jolla, San Diego is a small sandy beach, protected by seawall from the rough waves. This secluded area is great for small children to play but usually closed from December 15 till May 15 due to the seal pupping season. We loved this place a lot. Look close at the pictures below: seals are easily blending with the landscape.

Harbor seals at La Jolla Children’s Pool
Harbor seals at La Jolla Children’s Pool
The water was crystal clear and …cold

All the way from Children’s Pool to La Jolla Cove (roughly 0.6 miles), we could enjoy the wild animals. You can count on finding them in La Jolla year-round.

Sea lion posing in front of the camera

Thanks for reading, folks!

Read next:

The second part about San Diego: what we didn’t like in San Diego; San Diego caves and underwater park; what is so special about Coronado island; local apartments

Death Valley National Park: Giant Sand Dunes sledding; Star Wars Canyon, Salt Flat, etc. 2-day adventure

Washington 13 natural wonders: volcanoes, caves, waterfalls, National Parks.

Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Bryce, and Zion National Parks: 6 days road trip during winter; why we loved it so much.

By Mrs. Grazy Goat

I am Ira, the author behind Grazy Goat. My husband and I run this blog and share our experiences about thrilling places and cultures. Our son Artem recently joined us and helps with editing.

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