Historic San Diego

A trip to balmy San Diego isn’t complete without hitting the beach or ordering a crispy fish taco. But the city’s coolest destinations have roots that run deep.

Known for luring the rich and famous, the Hotel del Coronado is a San Diego can't-miss

Known for luring the rich and famous, the Hotel del Coronado is a San Diego can't-miss

PHOTO COURTESY OF HOTEL DEL CORONADO

Old Point Loma Lighthouse, Cabrillo National Monument

It’s hard to imagine living here, but between 1855 and 1891, lighthouse keepers and their families did just that. A quick hike gets you from the gift shop to the lighthouse’s base, but it takes a journey up the spiral staircase inside to really appreciate the structure. The original Fresnel lens is on display, as well as interactive exhibits that explain how it works (multifaceted glass prisms reflect and bend light, then magnify it, making light rays that would normally scatter in all directions focus into a single beam). Nearby military structures add another element of history, and the view from the top is incredible; listen closely during your walk and you’ll likely hear the echoes of seals bellowing from the harbor below. Check out the tide pools, which allow for hands-on interaction with sea life, before leaving. A $5 charge per vehicle allows you access to the entire park. nps.gov/cabr

Giant Dipper Roller Coaster

Mission Beach Boardwalk is comparable to the East Coast’s Coney Island with surf shops, tattooed beach-goers and loads of greasy food joints. Historical Belmont Park serves as its anchor. After opening in 1925, and surviving demolition threats in the 1980s, the Giant Dipper roller coaster remains one of the park’s most popular attractions. A ride on the classic coaster offers a prime view of the waves—unless, of course, you have your eyes squeezed shut. A $6 ticket buys a one-minute, forty-five-second thrill. Grab a fish taco at nearby Sandbar Sports Grill afterward. belmontpark.com

Hotel del Coronado

Since its 1888 founding, the Hotel del Coronado has catered to the rich and famous. Rent a room and you’ll join the ranks of eleven presidents, Thomas Edison and Babe Ruth, all of whom were former guests. If you choose to stop in for just a few hours and enjoy the facility’s elaborate interiors and specialty shops, you won’t be disappointed. With its brilliant red rooftop and Victorian architecture, the hotel, named a national landmark in 1977, is an iconic part of the area’s skyline. It’s not surprising, then, that this building sees more than two million visitors each year. hoteldel.com

USS Midway Museum

As a naval town, San Diego knows a thing or two about ships. That knowledge is sure to rub off as you tour the USS Midway, a Navy carrier active between 1945 and 1992. Spanning over 970 feet, it hosts twenty-nine restored aircraft. Expect to spend a few hours on your tour through the vessel, which offers a glimpse into life as a sailor, from the bunkrooms and dining halls to the flight deck. Chat with a veteran on your way out to hear some personal stories and show appreciation for his or her service. It’s a journey sure to delight both young and old, history buff or not. midway.org

Mission San Diego de Alcala

Founded in 1769, this mission was the first church in California, and the first in a series of missions that extends north via El Camino Real. Still active, the mission is one of the city’s quieter destinations. A chorus of bells greets visitors each Sunday before Mass, though guests are welcome daily. Despite not being the original structure, the current church was modeled after a historical version. Stroll the grounds and the garden, which hosts a variety of flowers along with olive and avocado plants. missionsandiego.com

Hannah Kiddoo is a freelance writer and a former Madison Magazine intern.

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