Top 10 Favorite Cities Visited – #5 San Diego, United States of America

Top 10 Favorite Cities Visited

With 33 countries under my belt, I’ve experienced some of the most amazing cities that the world has to offer. From great beaches, climate, friendly people, personal interests, world-famous attractions, architecture, history, and culture, there are many different factors that make a city great, let alone top ten!

#5 San Diego, United States of America – Over 70 miles of sandy fun!

San Diego’s sheer diversity makes it a perfect vacation for any age. Balboa Park offers a collection of the world’s finest in one place; and no matter how young or old you are, the San Diego Zoo, the Safari Park, and Sea World are magical experiences. If it’s adventure you’re after, Skydive San Diego is sure to please. Other family-oriented destinations aim their focus almost entirely on the children, whereas San Diego’s attractions have double appeal.  Simply put, San Diego has attractions that offer the most to both child and adult. My childhood dreams became a reality while visiting San Diego.

Originally named City Park, Balboa Park is a San Diego treasure, and the nation’s largest urban cultural park. In Balboa Park, we found a 1,200 acre park with an outdoor concert area, fountain, the San Diego Zoo, tennis courts, an arboretum, koi and goldfish ponds, several museums including the Museum of Man, dog parks, events and festivals, and more.

Balboa Park is the crown jewel of San Diego. This enormous greenbelt, in the middle of the city, is the community’s gathering place. We, unknowingly, arrived at Balboa Park on December Nights, the nation’s premier holiday festival. Participating Balboa Park museums opened their doors free of charge and more than 300,000 visitors experienced the joy of San Diego’s largest free community festival. During our journey through the park, we experienced a first-class play at the renowned Old Globe Theatre, observed the works of master artists at the San Diego Museum of Art and the Museum of Photographic Arts, saluted local sports heroes at the Hall of Champions, gained some knowledge at the Museum of Natural History, and took in the beautifully landscaped open space. It was a truly multicultural experience, where we enjoyed food, music, and entertainment from around the world. With the hot temperatures of southern California, the only thing missing from Balboa Park is a place to cool off, but its prime location in the heart of the city allows for easy beach and water access.

Just look at the world around you
Right here on the ocean floor
Such wonderful things surround you
What more is you lookin’ for?
With unparalleled up-close sea-life encounters, a variety of shows, and thrilling rides SeaWorld, San Diego brought me back to childhood and showed me what I was lookin’ for. By petting and feeding the dolphins, swimming with the beluga whales, and celebrating life underneath the sea through splashy spectaculars featuring killer whales, pilot whales, and dolphins, we dove into the exhilarating life under the sea.

Our early morning dolphin encounter set the stage for a magical day at SeaWorld. We were brought poolside to curious and playful bottlenose dolphins to enjoy an up-close-and-personal experience. It is only during designated times throughout the day that this dolphin encounter is actually possible so I was grateful for reading the Insider Tips beforehand. For only $6, our trainer-guided encounter allowed us to touch and feed dolphins for almost five minutes. We instantly became part of the SeaWorld environment.

Beluga whales are the gentle giants of the sea and I had the opportunity of a lifetime to interact with these beautiful creatures during the Beluga Interaction ProgramThese attentive animals played and interacted with their surroundings and us, seeming almost more timid than I felt. It was a little unnerving standing next to such large mammals, but they were so docile and playful, I quickly learned to relax and enjoy the unique experience. They were like little children. They loved to play, they loved attention, and they loved to be pet and rubbed. They spun in place, floated on their backs, gave kisses on the cheek, waved, and made a variety of noises, depending on the hand signal. With only eight slots per beluga session, it was an intimate experience that I will not soon forget. Few places in the world offer such an up-close, unique interaction with these animals.

The Shamu show, One Ocean was a big splash! The energy and spirit of the ocean was enveloped in a multi-sensory celebration of the sea. Majestic killer whales joined us on a journey into a world that drenched our senses, and our clothes, in the rhythm of the ocean. Watching their playful nature and graceful movements reminded me of an ice skater. At any moment, a twirl, leap, spin, or jump could happen with complete control and fluidity. Their elegance was truly unfathomable considering their massive size, yet anything was possible. My limited adult imagination diminished with each splash of water. I became a child who believed in the breathtaking grace of flying whales.

SeaWorld is one of the most popular marine-life parks in the world and it is only minutes from the most famous zoo in the world.

Famous as the only zoo on the west coast to have Chinese Pandas, San Diego Zoo is the premier zoo in the US. This lushly landscaped facility is what all zoos in the world measure up to. We wore our most comfortable shoes as we prepared ourselves for the several miles of walking while visiting the zoo. Some of my favorite exhibits were: Elephant Odyssey, Panda Canyon, and Africa Rocks, but with more than 4,000 creatures residing at this celebrated zoo, the choices were endless. Many rare species reside at the zoo, other than the pandas, including Buerger’s tree kangaroos of New Guinea, long-billed kiwis from New Zealand, wild Przewalski’s horses from Mongolia, lowland gorillas from Africa, and giant tortoises from the Galapagos. The zoo is also an accredited botanical garden, lavished with more than 1 million plants on its 1,900 acres. From cuddly critters to creepy crawlies, this world-famous zoo had it all.

The San Diego Wild Animal Park is not a zoo full of caged animals. They allow animals to run freely on simulated habitats that mimic the animal’s natural settings. Here, we saw some of Africa’s most beloved animals including lions, elephants, and cheetahs roaming free – well relatively. The African Tram Safari allowed us to relax on a guided tour of the African plains while connecting with the wildlife on a closer level.

Africa has a dizzying mix of habitats, animals, and cultures, and the Africa Tram Safari tour gave us a glimpse of this amazing diversity. Our guide filled us in on the animals at the park and pointed out particular individuals and interesting behaviors. All of my favorites were there including herds of curious giraffes, massive rhinos, graceful gazelles, and impressively horned antelope.

With giraffe feeding opportunities, cheetahs running at top speed, trams, petting zoos, and brand-new baby wildlife viewings, the San Diego Wild Animal Park was a wide-eyed animal adventure.

Freefalling for approximately 1 minute, gave me another taste of adventure that I never thought existed and I got it at Skydive San Diego. My instructor deployed the parachute at about 5,000 feet, and I enjoyed a 6 minute parachute flight over Southern California’s stunning scenery. Landing softly in our grassy drop zone, I remembered why skydiving had hooked me in the first place.

The feeling of the free fall before the parachute is opened is something beyond comparability. While looking out the window during the plane ride, it became blatantly obvious that I was about to partake in something completely unnatural.

“I’m okay. Yes, everything is going to be fine,” were my initial thoughts but as the ground became smaller and the buildings became specs, my thoughts turned to “What if I’m gonna die? This is stupid. What the hell was I thinking?”

My stomach was rolling like I was on a fighter jet and my thoughts must have been written in my face. My instructor initiated the usual chit-chat but it all sounded like a Peanuts character talking to me; I nodded my head in understanding but I heard nothing.

Finally, we were at 13,000 feet and I left my body. Like a robot, I had no control. I did what my instructor and the photographer told me to do without thinking.

“Walk to the door. Get on your knees. Lean your head back. Smile.”

Before I processed what was actually happening, I was out of the plane and in the air. I was too busy smiling and breathing and keeping my eyes wide open to really realize I was falling, but I was. I was falling at 120 mph and it was like a dream. But not like the scary dreams where you’re falling and you think you’re going to crash. It was more like a peaceful falling and with my instructor strapped to my back; I felt a false sense of safety. I saw water and mountains for miles and I was laughing internally. The out-of-body experience while free-falling seemed to last a lifetime. It was beautiful. I was beautiful. I could conquer the world.

The 6 minute journey back to the ground was surreal and I breathed a breath that was fresh and new. I was hooked. As we soared to the ground with a large red and white wing above our heads, I took in the stunning scenery that is southern California. A joy that I didn’t know existed took place as we turned and glided through the sky with the parachute open. Free falling was only part of the journey.

There are so many unbelievable opportunities in San Diego that I could go on for hours. Limiting myself to just a few adventures seemed impossible. I’ve left out things like the downtown baseball field, the Gaslamp District, Coronado, Legoland, La Jolla, and dinner cruises because San Diego is like a whole country in itself. Finding a place in my top ten cities was easy because it could easily fit into the top ten favorite countries category.


Top 10 Favorite Cities Visited – #6 Dublin, Ireland

Top 10 Favorite Cities Visited – #7 Santorini, Greece

Top 10 Favorite Cities Visited – #8 Las Vegas, United States of America

Top 10 Favorite Cities Visited – #9 Paris, France

Top 10 Favorite Cities Visited – #10 London – United Kingdom

130 thoughts on “Top 10 Favorite Cities Visited – #5 San Diego, United States of America

  1. You have such a fun blog, Lesley! I want to thank you for being such an avid follower of my blog as well. If only I had the following you have! How do you get 11,000+ followers, anyway? All your pictures and posts are so warming and enjoyable; you look like you thoroughly enjoy your life! I’m glad for that…

    If you haven’t checked out my website yet, please do!

    Thanks again for all your support!


  2. Lesley, I am in such awe, with a life-long fear of heights, I loved how “peacefully” you describe the fall and what your were feeling. The photo’s of the jump are breathtaking. Keep posting your adventures, I will live vicariously through your photo’s!


  3. I plan to travel as much as I can around US this year and reading your blog has added San Diego to my list 🙂 I love the details you have provided in your piece as they are very helpful for someone like me who is a first time visitor. Thanks.


    • All of the pictures on my blog have been taken by myself or my husband with the exception of the skydiving photos that were taken by a certified instructor.

      Southern California is a beautiful place. After traveling to 33 countries, my husband and I chose it as our home.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment; it’s appreciated.

      Stay in touch,



  4. Gushing….this is my home town!!! Seeing all the photos makes me home sick. Especially love visiting the zoo and balboa park….ahhh the childhood memories. I hope to back soon and visit. Love all the photos 🙂


      • San Diego is one of my favorite places to stay & play… I love margaritas in Old Town, walking on the boardwalk in Mission Beach, and going to Padre games! We found a bar near the ballpark where they have a Canadian menu (perfect for me). Love your writing style!


  5. Great post and awesome photos! I visited San Diego several years ago and went to the Zoo as well, and was totally amazed at how wonderful it is, and how well they seem to take care of the animals. It really makes a difference to give them as much space to move around as much as possible, instead of being in cages or habitat settings that are too small.


  6. Oh, you have got so many photos for this places. I want the see these places. Hope you enjoyed so much. I liked that gorilla so much. 🙂


  7. I’ve always heard San Diego was an envious place to visit and live… now I see why. Not managed to cross that one off my ‘bucket list’ yet… will bump it up a line or two now, though.

    Cheers for sharing, as always!

    Ant :c)


  8. I am finding this top 10 really interesting and fun. I lived in London, Paris and San Diego (amongst others and saw all the rest you mentioned so far) and I am curious to see which city gets top spot. London is still at the top of the list in my heart and San Diego (although very pretty and fun to visit) at the very bottom!


    • It’s funny what people remember about certain places that they’ve visited and the vast differences among favorites. I think when others read about my number two spot, they may be scratching their heads, but it holds a great significance to me.

      It’s all personal preference I guess.



  9. lots of nice stuff…more nice stuff…SKY DIVING!!!! This could easily make it to number one on my bucket list, followed by bungee jumping 😀 (yeah you can say I love adrenaline rushes)


  10. Besides Orlando I love San Diego! My in laws live there so luckly for us we have a free place to sleep and eat. I can’t wait till my little boy is older so we can take him. We are going to see the in laws in September when I run the Disney Land Half Marathon. I want to take him to the San Diego Zoo and maybe Sea World…but we’ll see it might be too much for him since he’ll be 10 months old at that time. But I know we’ll go to the Zoo for sure and Disney since the price of my half marathon also gets us into the park and the baby will be free.

    Did you get to go to the Red Lamp District? You should have taken a bay cruise! It is really nice and the food is pretty good!


  11. I haven’t been around the world (yet), but San Diego is in my top 5 favs in North America! Jumping out of an aeroplane is on my bucket list too . . . Great shots!


  12. Awesome post! My cousin plays for the Chargers, so my brother has taken a few trips down there to catch the games. He never stops raving about the city, so I hope to visit there when the new NFL season starts! Great photos!


  13. Well, for a moment there I felt the free-fall myself. And it only made me realise how unbelievably courageous you must be. Having the chance to see earth from a distance and yet be a part of it, is spectacular. I couldn’t follow you there my dear, but I’d happily swim along with the dolphins and the whales (which is still quite fascinating). Stay courageous!


  14. I’m a new follower and I was excited to see your top 10 favorite cities soon after I started following. I’m always looking for my next destination. I was really excited when I saw my own city is #5!! I love hearing visitors gush over San Diego because it makes me appreciate living here that much more. This is a great post and you may have convinced me to try out sky diving!


  15. I remember my trip to San Diego when I was nearly five years old. Twenty six years later, I’m anxiously awaiting to hear whether I will be back in San Diego performing. When on the road, a hotel room feels like a dungeon and I now have something to preface and use as my own tour guide. Thank you for this post!


  16. Great post! San Diego is one of my favorite cities too! There is so much to do there, and I absolutely love the zoo. I haven’t tried skydiving yet, but might give it a go next time I’m in the city.


  17. You are just amazing. What an extraordinary experience! 🙂
    I wonder if you have a plan to go to Asia especially Indonesia, my own country. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your nice and adventurous story. It’s so inspiring! 🙂


  18. Lesley, I loved San Diego. I went to grad school there. The palm tree lined roads. Sigh. The brunches at The Del. the tidal pools at Ocan Beach. The view from Point Loma. Double sigh. Wish I still lived there. 🙂


  19. I’m so shocked to see San Diego above Santorini!! 🙂 I actually just recently lived in San Diego for 4 1/2 years and it’s a very nice city. We lived in Little Italy and East Village, right outside of the stadium. That is probably one of the nicest things about living there, going to the stadium on the off-season (and games are fun, too!) It actually becomes a dog park, and has a playground for kids! Balboa is amazing, too. So much to do. And you can’t beat the weather, especially now that I’m back on the East coast!


  20. hey Lesley, thank you for visiting my blog.
    After I read this article, how I envy you, you’ve been everywhere in the world!!
    San Diego seems a great place to visit and I would like to try the skydive… someday.^^


  21. I love San Diego – the zoo and the gas lamp district was one of favorites. Old own is awesome to visit. Looks like you had a great time!


  22. Great post Leslie. It’s always nice to see my hometown – San Diego. Always enjoy visiting there and miss it much now that I am living in China near Hong Kong. Thanks for sharing your photos of all the great places to visit in SD, all of which I have seen. Did you have fun skydiving? 😉


  23. Great post about a great city! I really love San Diego. You captured how wonderful it is and how many amazing things there are to do there…and you hardly mentioned the handful of beautiful beaches and year-round 75 and sunny weather!


  24. Lesley,
    Thank you for “Liking” my blog! (I feel like Sally Fields when I say that) I’m so curious how you found it? I’m new to this world….

    Congratulations on the pregnancy – we took our 8 month old twins to Italy for a wedding and here’s the most important thing I discovered: 16th Century homes do not have screens. If you don’t want to wake up with your children covered in bugs, check your accommodations first!

    Nancy B. The Unnatural Cook


  25. Lesley!

    I have been in San Diego and I can only agree with your description. Sea World and Balboa Park were my favorite! Maybe when I go back I could convince my husband to go sky diving!
    Thanks for this post! Love reading your blog! You are definitely an inspiring woman!


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