Any trip to San Diego is likely filled with visits to the beach, perhaps the World-Famous San Diego Zoo, maybe even Sea World, or the museums of Balboa Park. Once you’ve checked off the ‘must-do’ tourist items on any San Diego sightseeing list, how about some off-the-radar stops popular with locals to grab a little peace and quiet and re-center?
#1 Self Realization Temple and Gardens — Encinitas
Located 20 miles north of Downtown San Diego in the seaside surf town of Encinitas, the Self-Realization Temple’s golden and purple-lotus flower-adorned building is a landmark along Highway 101. The Encinitas location is part of the Self-Realization Fellowship, an international religious organization “founded in 1920 by Paramahansa Yogananda to disseminate the universal teachings of Kriya Yoga, a sacred spiritual science originating millenniums ago in India,” according to its website.
In addition to a regular schedule of classes and programs focused on meditation and yoga, along with multi-day retreats, the temple offers visitors access to the peaceful gardens and grounds surrounding the main building. The Meditation Gardens are filled with countless nooks and quiet areas for reflection, many with stunning ocean views.
A day of Sightseeing and then Happy Hour at Mr. A’s — Downtown/Midtown
What about a night on the town? Touring the historic Gaslamp quarter and then hitting a great restaurant sounds about right. It may not seem like a logical choice but this iconic San Diego restaurant located atop a high rise just on the fringe of Downtown San Diego just underwent a spectacular remodel and has one of the best views in the entire county. The rooftop bar offers a great weekday Happy Hour with numerous drink and food options and comfortable seating to watch the planes come in and out at nearby Lindbergh Field (San Diego International Airport). Come and perch above the bustle of downtown below and get lost in the rhythm of the planes.
#3 The Japanese Friendship Garden – Balboa Park
Thousands of visitors come every day to the dozens of amazing museums and park areas inside the city’s largest urban park. To step away from the crowds visit the well-manicured 12-acre Japanese Friendship Garden. The park was originally opened in 1991 representing the friendship between San Diego and its sister city of Yokohama.
Each month the garden offers educational programs and various exhibits, along with special events such as the annual Cherry Blossom Festival each spring. Visitors can walk amongst the traditional Japanese setting filled with koi ponds, water features, stone gardens and bonsai landscaping. The garden also features a traditional tea house with sun-drenched patio space to enjoy a light snack or meal and a variety of teas.
#4 Torrey Pines State Natural Preserve — La Jolla
OK, to be fair, this is not really that ‘hidden’ of a spot since it’s extremely popular with locals and visitors alike, especially on weekends. However, it remains a wonderful choice for a quick dose of nature and fresh air (along with an incredible ocean view) and a remarkably peaceful setting just a stone’s throw from Interstate 5.
These 1,500 acres of preserve are home to multiple walking trails of varying length and difficulty – Some lead down to the beach, some to various lookout points. The .7-mile Guy Fleming Trail, located halfway up the peak, provides numerous gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean with benches and spots to stop and rest. The land is home to the rare Torrey Pine tree, along with various chaparral and beachside ecosystems. Save the parking fee and park just before you get to the entrance on Highway 101 south of Carmel Valley Road, and walk a short distance to access the park.