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Drop a pin: San Diego’s most iconic landmarks

Consider these our Hollywood signs.

Alcazar Garden at Balboa Park

The Alcazar Garden at Balboa Park — and the iconic California Tower, also peeking over the blooms. | Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

Table of Contents

We’ve all been there: Someone’s trying to give you directions by describing 10 lefts, 20 rights, and a jumble of cardinal directions. Isn’t it easier to just point out a landmark?

That’s exactly what we’re doing. We have 25 of the most recognizable San Diego landmarks — from the California Tower to Chicano Park. Not only are these local icons easy to remember, but they’ll also get you where you need to go in a jiffy.

SD California Tower Landmarks Guide

The California Tower and its dome are part of the Museum of Us at Balboa Park.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

California Tower

Address: 1350 El Prado
Nearby: Museum of Us, Cabrillo Bridge, Alcázar Garden

Built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, this iconic building — designed by Bertram Goodhue and known for its arched arcades and intricate details — is synonymous with Balboa Park. The Museum of Us offers daily guided tours of the California Tower for visitors ages 6+ — and we can vouch, the climb is worth those epic views at the top.

SD Chicano Park Landmarks Guide

One of the many colorful angles at Chicano Park.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

Chicano Park

Address: Logan and National avenues
Nearby: San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge, Barrio Logan, Logan Heights

Designated a National Historic Landmark, this 7.4-acre park covered in powerful murals has been a symbol of Latino/a activism and community for 50+ years. More than 80 art pieces cover its walls and concrete pillars, making up the largest concentration of Chicano murals in the world. Brush up on the park’s history — and don’t forget to visit the neighboring Chicano Park Museum and Cultural Center.

Balboa Park

Balboa Park — San Diego’s crown jewel.

Photo via Canva

Balboa Park

Address: 1549 El Prado
Nearby: Bankers Hill, Golden Hill, East Village

The 1,200-acre landmark — built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition — is home to 20 cultural attractions and museums spanning interests. Visitors will also find parks, trails, gardens, fountains, and a 100-year-old Moreton Bay Fig Tree, plus a few restaurants. Pro tip: Don’t miss the Spanish Village Art Center and Daniel’s Coffee Cart.

SD San Diego Zoo entrance

The entrance to the world-famous San Diego Zoo.

Photo via Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

San Diego Zoo

Address: 2920 Zoo Dr.
Nearby: Balboa Park Carousel, Naval Medical Center

This world-famous, 100-acre wildlife park is home to 14,000 rare and endangered animals representing 700+ species and subspecies. Did you know? The San Diego Zoo is also an accredited botanical garden, boasting 700,000+ individual plants that include ~13,000 specimens and 3,100 species.

SD Balboa Park Carousel September 2023 close-up

The staff works hard to keep the menagerie looking bright and polished — including “Rosie.”

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

Address: 1889 Zoo Place
Nearby: San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park Miniature Railroad

This historic 1910 Herschell-Spillman carousel has been at Balboa Park since 1922 and still features the original menagerie and features from 100+ years ago. The heartbeat of the ride is San Diego native Bill Brown, who’s worked here since 1972 and takes immense pride in operating the carousel for generations of San Diegans.

SD International Cottages San Diego House of Peru

The House of Peru was among the nine new cottages added to the site in 2021.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

International Cottages

Address: 2294 Pan American Plaza
Nearby: Spreckels Organ Pavilion, Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre

The first batch of House of Pacific Relations International Cottages were built for the 1935 California Pacific Exposition with a mission to promote multicultural goodwill and understanding through educational programs. Today, this consortium of tiny, historic houses represent 30+ countries and cultures around the world and regularly host cultural events.

Spreckels organ pavilion with an organ player on the stage

This landmark is a visual and musical wonder.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

Spreckels Organ Pavilion

Address: 2125 Pan American Rd. E.
Nearby: Japanese Friendship Garden, International Cottages

If you’ve ever walked through Balboa Park, you’ve heard the sounds of this iconic instrument featuring 5,000+ pipes — the largest open-air musical instrument in the world. Sugar magnate brothers Adolph B. and John D. Spreckels donated the organ to the City of San Diego for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. Since 1917, the city has employed a civic organist to perform free, weekly concerts for the community.

SD Cabrillo National Monument Landmarks Guide

The centerpiece of Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

Cabrillo National Monument

Address: 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr.
Nearby: Point Loma, Fort Rosecrans Cemetery, Naval Base Point Loma

Located on the southern tip of Point Loma Peninsula, this is the site of European explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo’s 1542 expedition into what is now the West Coast of the US. Cabrillo reported arriving at “a very good enclosed port” — now San Diego Bay — and historians believe he anchored his San Salvador ship near the land where his monument now stands.

SD Old Point Loma Lighthouse Cabrillo Landmarks Guide

The Old Point Loma Lighthouse at Cabrillo National Monument.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

Old Point Loma Lighthouse

Address: 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr.
Nearby: Cabrillo National Monument, Bayside Trail, Fort Rosecrans

At 422 ft above sea level, this historic, Cape Cod-style lighthouse began operating on Nov. 15, 1855. Over the next 36 years, 11 principal keepers and 22 assistant keepers served at the lighthouse. Due to its elevation, the building’s light was often obscured by fog, and it was deactivated in 1891. Today, it serves as a museum and a glimpse at life during San Diego’s early days.

USS Midway Museum San Diego

The USS Midway Museum is docked at San Diego Bay.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

USS Midway Museum

Address: 910 N. Harbor Dr.
Nearby: Broadway Pier, “Embracing Peace” Statue, Tuna Harbor Park

The US Navy aircraft carrier-turned-museum sits on San Diego Bay along the Embarcadero. It boasts 30+ restored aircraft spanning the Battle of Midway in 1942 to present day, plus hands-on exhibits. Climb into cockpits in the Hangar Deck, or head to Below Deck to explore how Navy life was for the sailors who once lived on the USS Midway when it was in service.

Hotel del Coronado San Diego

The iconic Hotel del Coronado has offered luxury accommodations since 1888.

Photo via Hotel del Coronado

Hotel Del Coronado

Address: 1500 Orange Ave.
Nearby: Coronado Beach, Glorietta Bay

The Del — with its signature red turrets and seaside setting — debuted in February 1888, quickly attracting a wealthy and distinguished clientele. “Wizard of Oz” author L. Frank Baum frequented the hotel and wrote three of his “Oz” books there, and Marilyn Monroe famously filmed “Some Like It Hot” at the resort in 1958. The hotel was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977.

SD Liberty Station Landmarks Guide

From 1923-1997, Liberty Station served as the Naval Training Center.

Photo via NTC Foundation + Liberty Station

Liberty Station

Address: 2820 Historic Decatur Rd.
Nearby: Point Loma, Midway District, San Diego Bay

Today, Liberty Station serves as a hub for restaurants, specialty shops, Liberty Public Market, and the arts, but in 1923, this site opened as the Naval Training Center (NTC). The US Navy ran this site and its Spanish Colonial Revival-style barracks until it closed in 1997 and the site became known by its modern name. In 2000, the space was repurposed into a center for history, arts, and entertainment.

SD Coronado Bridge Landmarks Guide

The Coronado Bridge is instantly recognizable.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

Coronado Bridge

Address: state Route 75
Nearby: Barrio Logan, Coronado Island, Imperial Beach, San Diego

The 2.2-mile bridge opened on Aug. 3, 1969, during the 200th anniversary of the founding of San Diego. It was built tall enough for US Navy ships to pass under as they sail across San Diego Bay.

Davis-Horton House

Address: 410 Island Ave.
Nearby: Gaslamp Quarter, Petco Park

Built in 1850, this is the oldest standing structure in downtown San Diego — originally dubbed “New Town.” Today, it serves as a museum that’s open Wednesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Each room depicts a period in its history, from its use as pre-Civil War barracks and a county hospital to its life as a private home to various San Diegans, including Alonzo Horton.

Seaport Village San Diego

There’s a whole lot of change happening at Seaport Village these days.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

Seaport Village

Address: 849 W. Harbor Dr.
Nearby: San Diego Bay, Embarcadero Marina Park

Seaport Village has been a waterfront hub and tourist destination since 1980. Sitting on prime real estate along San Diego Bay, the Port of San Diego assumed ownership in 2018, vowing to invest $8 million to revitalize and diversify its offerings. Since then, the landmark has experienced a restaurant renaissance, opening lots of new eateries. The site is undergoing a redevelopment as part of the Port’s Central Embarcadero project, and developer 1HWY1 is leading those efforts.

SD Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala Landmarks Guide

California’s first mission.

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá

Address: 10818 San Diego Mission Rd.
Nearby: Grantville, Mission Valley, Snapdragon Stadium

This landmark has the distinction of being California’s first mission — founded on July 16, 1769, by Spanish missionary Saint Junípero Serra. It moved to this site in 1774 and is the first in a chain of 21 missions that stretch 600 miles north along the coast of the state. Book a tour.

SD Old Town SD Landmarks Guide

Old Town San Diego is also known as the “Birthplace of California.”

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

Old Town San Diego

Address: 4002 Wallace St.
Nearby: San Diego Avenue, Immaculate Conception Church, Presidio Park

This California Historical Landmark and tourist attraction is the site of the first permanent Spanish settlement in our state, and thus considered the “birthplace” of California. Today, it houses museums and historic buildings that give a glimpse into local life from 1821 to 1872, plus staffers in period attire. Old Town is also home to modern-day restaurants and retail shops brimming with colorful treasures.

Whaley House SD

The Whaley House Museum is open for tours daily.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

Whaley House

Address: 2476 San Diego Ave.
Nearby: Immaculate Conception Church, El Campo Santo Cemetery

This 1857, two-story Greek Revival style home — once dubbed “America’s Most Haunted House” — belonged to the Whaley Family. In its heyday, it was considered the finest home in Southern California and also served as the city’s first commercial theater, second county courthouse, and a bilingual general store. Today, the California Historical Landmark serves as a museum, open daily for self-guided or guided tours.

SD Mason Street Schoolhouse Landmarks Guide

Mason Street Schoolhouse was San Diego’s first public schoolhouse.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

Mason Street Schoolhouse

Address: 3966 Mason St.
Nearby: Old Town San Diego, La Casa de Machado y Stewart

The one room structure was built in 1865 and was the first publicly-owned school in San Diego County, where all grades were taught under one roof. Today, the schoolhouse is set up with desks, signs, and other decor to depict a typical school day of that era.

SD El Campo Santo Cemetery Landmarks Guide

El Campo Santo in Old Town San Diego.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

El Campo Santo

Address: 2410 San Diego Ave.
Nearby: Whaley House, Old Town San Diego

Also known as California Historical Landmark No. 68, this is the second oldest cemetery in San Diego, with 477 burials from 1849 to 1897. Over the decades, some portions of the site have been paved over, leaving some gravesites under the cement. Look down — if you spot a small, round grave marker, you’re standing on one of the paved sites.

Sunset at Windansea Surf Shack

The Windansea Surf Shack is a local icon.

Photo via @ivan_farca

Windansea Surf Shack

Address: 6600 Neptune Place
Nearby: Windansea Beach, La Jolla Cove

Built in 1947 (or 1946, depending on who you ask) by returning WWII veterans Woody Ekstrom, Don Okey, and Fred Kenyon, the shack was designed to offer surfers respite from the sun. Over the decades, it’s been knocked down and rebuilt, but has always served as a reminder of the importance of surf culture in SD. In 1998, it was declared a local historical landmark.

SD Mt. Soledad Landmarks Guide

Mt. Soledad — you can’t miss it.

Photo via @batamoo

Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial

Address: 6905 La Jolla Scenic Dr. S.
Nearby: La Jolla Cove, La Jolla Village

With its distinct cross, this memorial sits above La Jolla and is dedicated to US service members who have fought for our freedom — both living and those who’ve died. Visit the wall covered in names, plaques, photos, and stories of the brave men and women who have served our country.

SD Fort Rosecrans Landmarks Guide

Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery

Address: 1700 Cabrillo Memorial Dr.
Nearby: Cabrillo National Monument, Naval Base Point Loma

This landmark cemetery is the final resting place for more than 120,000 Americans who died as early as 1846. Wreath ceremonies are often held here — adding color to the pristine white gravestones sitting on the grassy hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

The Christian House in heritage Park, San Diego

The Christian House.

Photo via @galina_visuals

Heritage County Park

Address: 2454 Heritage Park Row
Nearby: Old Town San Diego, Presidio Park

This 7.8-acre park features several restored Victorian homes from the 1800s, plus the city’s first synagogue, the Temple Beth Israel. You can take a self-guided tour of the exteriors — or reserve your spot for afternoon tea at Coral Tree Tea House inside the McConaughy House.

SD Petco Park Landmarks Guide

Petco Park, glowing at night.

Photo via @kidfrom619

Petco Park

Address: 100 Park Blvd.
Nearby: San Diego Convention Center, Harbor Drive Pedestrian Bridge, San Diego Central Library

This ballpark has been the home of the San Diego Padres since 2004. It features iconic elements like the historic Western Metal Supply Co. building built in 1909 — the epicenter for the construction of the entire stadium — the Breitbard Hall of Fame mini museum, and the Tony Gwynn statue.

📩 We know there are so many more local landmarks — so we’ll be adding to this guide often. If your favorite landmark isn’t on the list, let us know using this survey.

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