Most Surprising Things About San Diego From a New Yorker + Photos

  • As a New Yorker visiting San Diego, California, for the first time, I was surprised by many things.
  • I couldn’t get over how nice the weather was, and we had some unique experiences zip-lining.
  • All of the Instagram-worthy food we ate was also delicious, and we found Aperol spritz on tap.

As a New Yorker visiting California for the very first time, I was blown away by the landscapes, gorgeous weather, wildlife, and experiences.

Southern California — the San Diego area specifically — is truly stunning and quite different from the East Coast.

Read on for the things that surprised me most on my trip.

It really seems like it’s sunny every single day

Some days, New Yorkers open the weather app, and it’s scarier than a Stephen King novel. I’ve experienced blizzards, flooding, torrential storms, high winds, and even thundersnow (which I didn’t know was a thing).

To glance at the upcoming weather for my trip to San Diego and see nothing but sun, and then actually experience it in person, was mind-blowing.

Of course, like anywhere, you’re going to have the occasional rainy day. But I’ll take that over thundersnow any day.

The parks are on another level

structure at Balboa Park in san diego


There was so much to do and see in the park.

Jessica Kelly

When I think of parks, I immediately picture some average gardens and greenery.

My jaw dropped while driving into Balboa Park.

It featured Spanish-inspired architecture, performing-art venues, vendors, 17 different museums, live music, street performers, and so much more.

You can actually sip on drinks while spotting seals at George’s at the Cove

bowl of soup at george's at the cave in san diego next to a photo of the seals on the rocks outside the restaurant


The restaurant had good food and great views.

Jessica Kelly

Seeing pictures of all the seals in La Jolla Cove, I definitely knew it was a hotspot, but I didn’t know that you could also see them perfectly from George’s at the Cove.

You can relax on the restaurant’s patio with a cocktail, some fantastic gazpacho, or a cup of coffee while admiring views of the Pacific Ocean. You’ll see seals lounging on the rocks and splashing in the water as well as pelicans diving down to gulp up fish.

I was shocked to find Aperol spritz on tap

glass of aperol spritz in front of a marquee sign for aperol spritz in san diego california


Civico is a great spot for Aperol spritz lovers.

Jessica Kelly

If you love an Aperol spritz, like me, you have to check out Civico by the Park. It serves light, authentic Italian dishes made from seasonal, locally grown ingredients whenever possible.

But the thing that surprised me the most about Civico was that the restaurant had Aperol spritz cocktails on tap.

When you order one, you also get a free enamel pin. These are my people.

You can zip-line over rhinos, antelopes, and giraffes at the zoo

woman ziplinning over san diego zoo animals


It was like we were in a totally different country.

Jessica Kelly

A lot surprised me about the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, from the exhibits to the experiences.

The exhibits for these animals were not tight cages like some other zoos. They had acres and acres of land with watering holes and greenery. That alone shocked me because sometimes zoos can leave you feeling sorry for the animals.

During the Flightline Safari, you can even zip-line over rhinos, antelope, and giraffes. The view made it feel like I was transported to another country.

Afterward, we spent some time exploring the baby elephants and the platypus exhibit at the Australian Walkabout.

There’s even a section of the Australian Walkabout where you can coexist with wallabies and kangaroos. You can’t touch them, but being able to roam freely was a completely different kind of zoo experience.

The Instagramable meals here taste as amazing as they look

hand holding basket of character buns outside of Harumama Noodles + Buns in san diego


We tried all sorts of cute foods and drinks.

Jessica Kelly

I’m a sucker for a picture-perfect colorful meal, and I know I’m not the only one. But I always look for quality and flavor to match how Instagrammable the food is.

I was shocked by how many restaurants held up to this standard.

Parakeet Café had mint drinks, lavender lattes, beet-cured salmon, and fresh juices. Harumama Noodles + Buns served character buns filled with pork, chicken, and beef, as well as sweet ones with egg custard or Nutella. Breakfast Republic had flights of pancakes or French toast and over-the-top coffees, like salted-caramel lattes with flaky salt and whipped cream.

Everything was picturesque and delicious, who could ask for more?

One touristy gift shop offered more than met the eye

cave under the cave store in la jolla cave san diego


There’s a full cave under the store.

Jessica Kelly


Shopping is plentiful in the city, but there were some surprising finds, particularly at The Cave Store near La Jolla Cove.

Once inside, visitors will see what looks like a basic gift shop full of postcards, pins, knickknacks, and crafts.

Upon further inspection, I spotted a door that looked like an entryway to someone’s old basement. It opened to a spiral staircase leading down to a sandstone sea cave where you can see crashing waves and wildlife.

The area inspired some pretty incredible story characters

brown pelicans on rocks by the water in san diego


The creators of “Jurassic Park III” studied the brown pelicans.

Jessica Kelly

I took a tour with Everyday California where our guide shared a lot of fun surprising facts about the San Diego area.

For example, he told us the brown pelicans we saw along the coast actually inspired the movement and look of the pterodactyls in “Jurassic Park III.” As a fan of these movies, I thought that was really unique.

Also on the tour, I learned that Dr. Seuss lived in the area for some time. You can even see his old house along the shoreline.

Many of his imaginative stories were apparently inspired by scenery and experiences he had in the area.

Paragliding was one of the best ways to take in views 

I had no idea, but Southern California is known for paragliding and hang gliding, and it’s an incredible way to really admire the views of the area.

You can even take tandem flights on days that aren’t too windy.

Even though there’s beautiful weather all the time in San Diego, these experiences are quite finicky because they depend on the exact right amount of wind. It’s best to call ahead and ask if tandem flights are being offered on any given day.

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