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Spend the Day Exploring San Diego, California on the 59 Mile Drive

Updated: Aug 19, 2023

San Diego is the quintessential Southern California city. With it's laid back lifestyle, friendly people and beautiful coastline, it is a great place to soak up some California vibe. No better way to get a perspective on all San Diego has to offer, than the 59 Mile Drive. A 59 mile driving tour that shows you all San Diego has to offer. We recently made a trip to San Diego to visit our son who was attending a 6 week Navy class.

He had been stationed there twice before and we had made numerous trips to San Diego but had never done the 59 Mile Drive. This trek takes you through charming neighborhoods, past unique attractions and places where you can get sweeping, panoramic views of the city. Because of Covid-19 protocols, many attractions were closed and restaurants were offering take-out only, so we did not stop at many of the places you might want to explore in more depth. San Diego has so much natural beauty and outdoor spaces, we were able to enjoy those. We started and ended in La Jolla because we were staying there. We followed along with the directions and the blue and yellow seagull signs that mark the drive.

Pictured below are some of my San Diego Must Haves.

Click picture to go directly to the item.

We started by heading south on Mission Blvd, through the oceanside neighborhoods of Bird Rock, Pacific Beach and Mission Beach. The weather was cool and dreary so we did not stop. On a nicer day it would be fun to bike along Ocean Front Walk or try your hand at surfing. You can feel the SoCal beach vibe in these neighborhoods.

From Mission Bay, you travel west to Old Town State Historic Park. This lively area is full of bazaars, cantinas, shops and museums. It was originally the center of San Diego. It represents the merging of cultures in the mid and late 1800's. We have eaten a delicious meal at La Puerta. and shopped for treasures in many of the shops.

Further up the hill is the Serra Museum and Presidio Park. On this site in 1769, Franciscan Friar Father Junipero Serra founded a Mission and Presidio. The current structure is in the 1920's Spanish Revival style and is used as a museum of photographs and artifacts depicting San Diego's past. At the top of the hill you drive through the Hillcrest and Mission Hills neighborhoods, whose streets are lined with beautiful examples of Spanish Revival and Craftsmen architecture. These were San Diego's first suburbs.

The 59 Mile Drive continues as you pass the funky shops on Park Blvd and the trendy restaurants on Washington St. A turn onto Florida St. takes you into Balboa Park, one of the oldest Park's in the United States. Founded in 1835, this gem truly has something for everyone. From walking trails to museums, gardens to concert hall, this historic, urban, cultural park is one of a kind. Many of the buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. The park is home to the world renowned San Diego Zoo.

After winding through the green spaces of Balboa Park, the drive takes you through the modern high rise buildings of San Diego. You go past the bay front Convention Center, Embarcadero Marine Park and the historic Gaslamp Quarter. Gaslamp Quarter is best known for its nightlife, including theaters, restaurants, pubs and nightclubs.

Continuing along the bay, you will drive by the USS Midway and Seaport Village. The USS Midway is open for tours daily. Seaport Village has fun shopping and restaurants. It is also the departure for spot for Boat tours of the bay and ferries to Coronado Island. As you continue along the bay, you wander through Harbour Island, Spanish Landing and Shelter Island. There are lots of fun places to stop and get a bite of lunch.

Turning west on Rosecrans St., you head past the Rosecrans National Cemetery straight out to Point Loma and the Cabrillo National Monument. Erected in honor of the Portuguese’s explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the Captain of the first ship to sail into San Diego Bay. There is a $20.00 per vehicle entrance fee which gets you access to the monument, the Point Loma Lighthouse, the hiking trails and tidal pools.

This lighthouse was built in 1855 to become a coastal beacon and San Diego Bay harbor light. It was only operational for 36 years. It sits on a pice of land that is 400 feet above sea level. With the low clouds and fog, it was frequently not visible from sea. In 1891, the lighthouse was relocated to the the point and directly at sea level where the visibility was greatly improved.

The sweeping views of Coronado Island and San Diego are spectacular from Point Loma.

From Point Loma you head North along Sunset Cliffs to Ocean Beach, a funkier revision of Pacific Beach. Turn left on Newport Ave and you will end up at the Ocean Beach Pier. We stopped at Hodads for one of their acclaimed burgers and sat on the sea wall and ate them. Then we browsed in a couple of the surf shops, before continuing along the 59 Mile Drive.

Head north on Sunset Cliffs to West Mission Bay Blvd and the Mission Bay Aquatic Park. Stand up paddle boarding, boating, biking and swimming are enjoyed in this 4600 acre park with its 27 miles of inland beaches. Since the weather was grey, we did not stop cruising along Lament St. through the residential areas of Pacific Beach and La Jolla to Mt. Soledad and the Veterans Memorial Monument. Mt. Soledad gives you an amazing, 360 degree view of San Diego. Take time to read some of the memorials family members have written to their veterans, they are very touching.

Head up the La Jolla Parkway to Torrey Pines Blvd, to explore UCSD, the Scripps Aquarium, the Torrey Pines Golf Club and the Torrey Pines Natural Recreation Area. This is the northern most point of San Diego.

As you head south on Torrey Pines Blvd to La Jolla Shores Dr, keep an eye out for Hang Gliders. The Torrey Pines Glider Port is a jump off spot for hang gliders who want to enjoy this beautiful view. As you drive along the coast on La Jolla Shores Dr, look for surfers, kayakers and paddle boarders. This protected area is popular with those seeking waterborne fun.

Turn south on Torrey Pines Blvd and then right on Prospect St. to get to La Jolla Cove and the La Jolla Caves

As Prospect St. turns into Coast Blvd, you will find parking spaces to stop and explore La Jolla. The rocky coast is home to lots of seals and sea loins. They seem to enjoy performing for all the visitors. The quaint village of La Jolla has enough interesting shops and restaurants to keep you busy for a whole afternoon. I love windowing shopping along Girard Ave.

If you are interested in more things to do in San Diego, sign up for our bi-monthly newsletter. I will be publishing more Southern California articles in the coming weeks. Have you done the 59 Mile Drive? Please leave your ideas and suggestions in the comments below, so we can all learn from your experiences.

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