Outdoor enthusiasts, die-hard golfers and culture buffs alike are sure to embrace the many activities and attractions San Diego has to offer. The expansive Balboa Park, for instance, is home the world famous San Diego Zoo, over a dozen museums and numerous unique galleries and gardens. Stunning hikes and breathtaking whale watching excursions are also easy to reach from wherever you stay in the San Diego area, as are the many beaches that dot the coastline.
While the city itself offers many things to see and do, there are several nearby seaside communities to explore – either for the day, or as a winter destination. Check out pretty La Jolla, glamorous Encinitas, or mellow Solana beach. You can even cross to Tijuana for the day for fun Mexican shopping and dining experiences.
With the laid back charm of a beach town, the amenities of a big city and some of the best hiking, surfing and golf courses in the world, San Diego truly has something for everyone.
San Diego’s consistently comfortable sunny days and cool nights make the area an enticing spot for snowbirds to spend the winter months. It’s rarely too hot and almost never too cold, so it’s easy to get outdoors no matter when you’re visiting.
The San Diego area averages approximately 10 inches of rainfall per year and generally sees 266 days of sunshine. Throughout the region, winter temperatures (January to April) rest at approximately 18-20 degrees Celsius, dipping to 10-13 degrees at night. The marine layer tends to roll in May and June (if you’re staying that long) but it usually burns off mid-morning. Usually.
The San Diego area is home to a stunning strip of coastline, the Peninsular Mountain Ranges and inland desert landscape. Given the wide range in setting and terrain, there is lots to do for the outdoor enthusiast – from golfing to hiking, cycling and surfing. And while there is only one major league sports franchise in town, L.A. is only two hours away – so sports fans can easily get their fix, whatever their game is.
Given near-perfect weather twelve months out of twelve, snowbirds can golf year round in the San Diego area. The region is home to spectacular coastal views, stunning desert settings and some of the most famous courses in the world.
Torrey Pines is perhaps the most renowned public golf facility going, offering two famous courses – North and South – perched on glorious cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The courses are owned by the City of San Diego and operated by the San Diego Park & Recreation Department – so you have to go through the city to book a round. Find out more about booking tee times at Torrey Pines.
Coronado Golf Course is another picturesque municipal course that’s a favourite among residents and visitors alike. On the water and close to downtown, it’s just over the Coronado Bridge and offers pretty views of the city and the harbour.
The Maderas Golf Club in Poway, meanwhile, is the top rated golf course in San Diego county. A public course with a private course feel, this stunning canyon course is set among the desert hills not far from downtown.
Take a look at this complete listing of courses in and around San Diego.
The geography surrounding San Diego lends itself to hikes of all kinds – from trips along rocky coastline, walks through picturesque canyon trails and gruelling mountain climbs.
The Torrey Pines State Natural Preserve is one of the most popular hiking day trips (so if it’s seclusion you’re after it won’t quite fit the bill). But it’s just 30 minutes from downtown, open 365 days a year, and offers a variety of trails catering to all tastes and ability levels. Whether you’re looking for sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean or a trek through pine forests, you’ll find it all here.
Nearby in Poway, the Iron Mountain Trail is manageable for most hiking levels, making it very popular on weekends. While it begins flat, it gradually climbs, but rewards hikers with panoramic vistas at the top.
Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is a stunning hike, enchanting hikers with majestic cliffs, tide pools, and a steady waft of ocean air. Consider heading for the cliffs in the evening when bottlenose dolphins can be spotted, and goofy seals are frequently seen splashing along the rocks.
For those seeking a challenge, Mount Woodson (best known as “Potato Chip Rock”) leads to one of the highest peaks in the county where views of Lake Poway and Palomar Mountain wait for you at the top. Cowles Mountain, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve are also all worth exploring if you’re looking for more spectacular options in and around the city.
There is no shortage of fantastic beaches in San Diego, with more than 70 miles of stunning coastline ready and waiting for those looking for sun, sand and surf.
One of the prettiest spots is La Jolla Cove, which is nestled between sandstone cliffs. Here, snorkelers and scuba divers can explore waters teeming with marine life, and sunbathers can take in the gorgeous blue-green bay.
Carlsbad State Beach can’t be beat for catching sunsets over the Pacific, and Del Mar City Beach is considered one of San Diego’s best for swimming, parks and surfing.
During the winter and spring, the spectacular grey whale migration takes place. Each year, thousands of grey whales travel along the California coastline, heading 6,000 miles to the warm waters of Mexico to breed and give birth to their calves. After spending about a month in Baja, they turn around and travel back up the coast to reach their feeding grounds in the Bering Strait of Alaska. With 70 miles of coastline directly in the migration path, San Diego is the ideal spot to catch their journey – either by boat or from shore.
In the summer and fall, the gigantic Blue Whale can be spotted along the coast. The largest mammal in the world with an average length of over 80 feet (and roughly the width of a basketball court), this magnificent creature weighs in at over 300,000 pounds. Since they tend to be found further out to sea than their grey whale cousins, it’s a good idea to venture on a boat trip to catch a glimpse of these incredible creatures.
There are several reputable companies offering whale watching boat tours year-round. Newport Landing, for instance, provides year-round whale watching cruises multiple times a day, leaving from Newport Beach just north of San Diego.
Hornblower Cruises operates whale watching cruises from their yacht, with live narration by on-board naturalists from the San Diego Natural History Museum; and Davey’s Locker operates several whale watching cruises, as well as popular fishing excursions throughout the year.
If you’d rather stick to shore, a couple of great spots to view the grey whale migration include the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the Cabrillo National Monument and Torrey Pines State Reserve where the hiking trails offer clear views of the Pacific.
Sports and Leisure
The San Diego Padres is the only major league franchise in town, and kicks off the ball season at the end of March/ early April at the spectacular Petco Park, which boasts the best sightlines in baseball and fabulous views of downtown San Diego.
While the sports viewing is limited in the immediate area, the city of L.A. is just a two-hour drive – so even the most diehard sports enthusiast will be in their element. Fans can visit epic stadiums, see some current greats and schedule a time to visit when the home team is playing.
And if you’ve got grandkids coming in to the area – or if you’re young at heart – a day trip to L.A’s amazing theme parks will prove to be great fun.
Read all about sports and leisure in the L.A. area – including major league baseball, basketball and hockey franchises, as well as famous theme parks – in our Coachella Valley post.
Parks, Arts and Culture
USA Today has called San Diego “One of America’s most creative cities,” and it’s no wonder. Balboa Park alone features 17 museums and cultural institutions with a wide range of artistic and historical experiences, making it the largest urban collection of cultural exhibits in the U.S. It’s also home to the world famous San Diego Zoo and a stunning assortment of unique gardens that are perfect for strolling, reflection or exploration.
But creativity extends well beyond the boundaries of the park! In fact, San Diego county is home to 248 museums, and the city is proud to present two Tony® Award-Winning theatres, a range of public art spaces, exciting music venues, dance performances, film festivals and more.
Within Balboa Park, there is a wide range of museums catering to virtually every interest – from science to puppetry, sports to modern art.
The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center for instance, is a fascinating science centre and a great destination if you’re bringing kids along. It features the world’s first IMAX Dome theatre and is known for hands-on learning and activities.
The San Diego Hall of Champions, meanwhile is the largest multi-sports museum in the U.S., and the San Diego Air and Space Museum celebrates all things related to aviation and space flight. You’ll even find several real aircrafts that have been restored to their original condition.
San Diego Museum of Art is the oldest and most beloved art museum in the region, and the Model Railroad Museum features the largest model railroad display in the world.
In addition to museums, you can take in theatre, ballet, puppet shows and musical performances, all within the convenient confines of Balboa Park. But outside the park, there is plenty of art and culture to experience. In fact, there are nine art districts throughout San Diego, each featuring the distinct character and local talent of the area, as well as a diverse and rich dance scene where you’ll find classical, contemporary, ballet, modern jazz, hip-hop, and ethnic performances.
The famous San Diego Zoo is consistently rated the #1 zoo in the world. A San Diego icon, the zoo has animals from all across the globe, including Australia, Asia, Africa, Central America and South America. It features 100 acres of animal exhibits, over 3,700 animals and 650+ species, as well as abundant plant life (it also qualifies as a botanical garden).
The Zoo is very easy to get to by car, bike, walking or public transportation, as it’s centrally located in Balboa Park, near downtown San Diego.
Balboa Park has lush, unique, landscaped, gardens from end to end. The Japanese friendship garden, desert garden and old cactus garden prove to be the most popular, but feel free to poke around the park to explore them all. Roses, cacti, water lilies, lotus blossoms and orchids all thrive thanks to San Diego’s year-round mild and sunny climate.
Shopping and Dining
San Diego is home to an exciting dining scene that has truly taken off over the last 10 years. Previously known as a hot spot for tacos and burritos, the culinary options today are as diverse as they are delicious. Conde Nast Traveler has put out a Top 20 list of restaurants in San Diego proper – as well as neighbouring suburbs – so you can get a taste of what the city has to offer.
If you’re in the mood for some retail therapy, you’re also in luck in San Diego. Whether you care to stroll the many outdoor shopping malls and outlet centres, explore up and coming shops and designer boutiques, or dig for treasures at the weekly farmers markets, you’ll find what you’re looking for here. To give you a hand, Racked.com has a great map of boutique and vintage shopping in the city and Sandiego.org has compiled of listing of their favourite outlet malls and shopping centres for your browsing pleasure.
Housing in the San Diego area tends to be more expensive than other snowbird regions, with the median home price coming in at $625,759. But there is a large condo market in the region, offering more affordable options for those wishing to make this seaside region their winter home. And with several desirable suburbs – including Encinitas, Solana Beach, Poway and La Jolla – there’s lots of real estate to choose from.
Median home prices per city:
Solana Beach: $1,311,000
La Jolla: $1,732,000
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Getting There and Around
There are regular, non-stop flights to San Diego from several Canadian cities. Many snowbirds choose to drive from Canada, with several scenic routes to that travel through spectacular landscapes featuring mountains and rock formations. Getting around San Diego is easiest to do by car, but public transportation is a viable option if you’re sticking within the city limits.
With near-perfect weather all year, the San Diego area offers an exciting range of outdoor activities, attractions and culture for the Canadian snowbird looking for a getaway that is so much more than a beach. While home ownership does tend to come at a higher price in and around San Diego, there are a number of beautiful suburbs to explore, and a range of housing options to choose from. If you’re willing to pay a bit more for an active, exciting seaside retirement, it’s worth taking a second look at San Diego.
Want to see what other snowbirds are doing? Take a look at our article: To Buy or Not to Buy? 3 Cross-Border Couples Share Their Perspective for some insights into the retirement moves of other snowbirds.
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