After living in this great city, at some point, you may think you’ve seen and done it all (raise your hand if you’ve crossed off everything on our ‘100 Things to Do in San Diego with Kids‘ list or already tackled our guide for ‘Free Things to Do this Month‘). But there’s still so many quirky, wacky, magical, unbelievable and curiously strange places, aka hidden gems, to explore in San Diego. From a hidden message on a beach to a house that is teetering on the edge of a high-rise building, there are so many cool hidden gems around San Diego, we bet even the most in-the-know local has yet to uncover them all.
Coronado's Hidden Message
The sand dunes at the entrance of Coronado Beach are not only fun for kids to climb and slide down, they actually spell out "Coronado." While you can only see the full display from an aerial view (hello helicopter ride?), it's fun nonetheless. Why is it there? A city worker decided to get creative when removing the built-up kelp and seaweed from the beach.
1063 Ocean Blvd.
Crab Carillon Musical Bridge
Music makes the world go round—and across this quasi-pedestrian bridge (one of only four pedestrian bridges in all of San Diego)—you can listen to an artful melody as you walk. Called Crab Carillon Musical Bridge, artist Roman de Salva and composer Joseph Water made this giant xylophone art piece. "To play, ring chimes while walking." Bring a large stick or other object to ring the chimes as you cross the bridge. Fun Fact: This musical installation is a palindrome—it plays the same way in either direction.
763-799 25th St.
Strike gold in Julian with a guided adventure through the world of a 1870s mining operation. Explore 1,000 feet of tunnels, learn about the mining process and the tools they used, and try your hand at panning for gold. Take the crew for apple pie and ice cream and explore the town of Julian once you're finished.
2320 C St.
Related: Everything to See & Do in Julian, CA
Harper’s Topiary Garden
Passersby young and old delight in the garden creations of owner (and artist) Edna Harper who (along with her husband) fashions all kinds of magical topiary critters for the enjoyment of everyone. Inspired by her worldly travels, you'll find elephants, a Buddha, a surfer, a fairy and even Mickey Mouse. You can't walk through the garden, so it's a street-side view only and will take you about 5-10 minutes to oooh and ahhh over it, but it's worth the trip to find this secret spot.
Good to Know: This spot is not only near Balboa Park so you could stop here before spending the day museum hopping, but it's also close to the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge—a pedestrian-only bridge that is a thrilling, wobbly walk that delivers epic views of downtown San Diego.
Vine & Union St.
South Mission Hills
The Fallen Star House
This precariously-teetering home looks as if a tornado dropped it on the corner of the Jacobs Engineering building at the University of California, San Diego. Created by Do Ho Suh for the Stuart Collection, it "explores the notions of home, cultural displacement, one’s perception of space and how one builds a memory of it." While it's closed at the moment, typically you can go inside the cantilevered house and see the interior that emphasize the sense of dislocation thanks to the mis-matched angles of the floors and walls.
UCSD Jacob's School of Engineering
9500 Gilman Dr.
La Jolla, CA
Little climbers will love playing on this wacky, playful, gator-like sculpture. This beautiful, yet quirky mosaic-tile creature, designed by Niki de Saint Phalle, and is lovingly called the 'Nikigator' is located just outside the Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park.
Plaza de Panama
1439 El Prado
Sunny Jim Cave
Located just 22 miles north of San Diego, here you can enter a bootlegger’s tunnel through the historic Cave Store and follow it down through the sandstone cliffs and into a sea cave. The story goes that the creator of The Wizard of Oz inspired the cave’s names when he noticed that the opening looks like the Sunny Jim cartoon character. Tours are self-guided and take about 15 minutes to complete.
1325 Coast Blvd.
La Jolla, CA
Head up Hillside Dr. in La Jolla and look for the white house that's low to the ground with smaller-than-usual features. What is it? Legend has it, it's called 'The Munchkin House' because a few actors from the 'Wizard of Oz' moved here after filming the movie. Famed architect Cliff May apparently embraced the natural hill, giving the illusion that the features are much smaller than they really are—head here and decide for yourself—small in person or an optical illusion?
La Jolla, CA