Hidden San Diego Gems You Need to Find

San Diego is absolutely filled with must-see attractions. When planning a trip to “America’s Finest City,” chances are good that Gaslamp Quarter, Balboa Park and SeaWorld are on your list — as well they should be. Even so, if you’re looking for an experience that’s a little more off the beaten path, we have some suggestions for great places that don’t always make the “best of” lists. Want to embark on a few secret sojourns? Here are a few of the coolest hidden San Diego gems.

The Secret Swings

(Photo: @rahulvjadhav)

The legendary San Diego “Hidden Swings” are classic playground-style tree swings, secreted in hush-hush locations. The only common thread? They’re often in spots that offer truly amazing views. And while nobody’s really sure who put them up (since sometimes they disappear, or pop up in different places), one thing’s for sure: you’re in for a renewed sense of childlike wonder when you track down these treasures. Insider tip: Here’s a good lead on where to find the swing in La Jolla.


San Diego’s Secret Speakeasies

(Photo: @nobleexperiment)

The speakeasy — or clandestine underground bar — first became popular during the prohibition era. These concealed taverns were often tucked away as (sometimes literally) underground social spots, and their locations were spread through word-of-mouth. Although popping out for an adult beverage is no longer a no-no, the mystique of these secret saloons persists. Check out this overview from our friends at The Dana on Mission Bay to begin your adventure.


Harper’s Topiary Garden (4.1 miles away)

(Photo: @eastcoast.meets.west)

Alex and Edna Harper have spent years creating something truly special at their home in Mission Hills. Topiary is the practice of shaping shrubbery into whimsical shapes, and the Harpers have turned their front garden into one of the country’s finest exhibits of this botanical art. Their display includes countless bushes trimmed into the form of animals, geometric shapes, human figures, and more. If you go, be sure to snap a selfie.

3549 Union St, San Diego, CA 92103


Spruce Street Suspension Bridge (4.2 miles away)

(Photo: @dmg.ventures)

Located in the Banker’s Hill neighborhood (and sitting 70 feet above Sessions Canyon), this pedestrian-only footpath stretches nearly 400 feet across. It was built in 1912 as a connection between a residential area and trolley stop. And even though the transit station has long since ceased operation, the bridge has remained in place. Locals enjoy taking gently swaying strolls above the treetops, but why should they have all the fun?

W Spruce St, San Diego, CA 92103


Coronado Sand Dunes (10 miles away)

(Video: @joshiespicturepage)

The Coronado Sand Dunes may only be “hidden” from a specific perspective. Still, these human-engineered hills are nonetheless cleverly concealed if you’re standing at ground level. Seen from an overhead vantage point — as they often are by pilots flying into and out of the nearby Naval base — the dunes spell out “CORONADO BEACH.” Even on foot, the dunes themselves are a fantastic place for a picnic or beach day on Coronado Island.

Ocean Blvd, Coronado, CA 92118


The SS Monte Carlo Shipwreck (10.1 miles away)

(Photo: @lagacerod)

One of the only shipwrecks in the country that’s observable without scuba gear is right here in San Diego. In the 1930s, the SS Monte Carlo — an infamous gambling and party vessel that operated offshore during the prohibition years — was known as ”The Sin Ship”. It was sunk by a storm just off the coast of Coronado. It was buried for years before shifting tides uncovered it. Today, it remains moored where it was destroyed.

North Pacific Ocean, Coronado, CA 92118


Sunny Jim Cave (11.8 miles away)

(Photo: @thecavestore)

Nestled beneath the cliffs of La Jolla Cove is a cave unlike any other. Originally hand-dug beneath the home of miner Gustav Schultz in 1902, Sunny Jim Cave soon became a bootleggers’ smuggling passage during prohibition. Today, the cavern sits beneath The Cave Store, a popular La Jolla gift and souvenir shop that offers self-guided tours of the cave by reservation. Be sure to call ahead and set up a time to go spelunking while here.

1325 Coast Blvd. La Jolla, CA 92037, USA


Parisien Gourmandises (12.1 miles away)

(Video: @palmtreesandpellegrino)

Hidden inside the just-as-worth-a-visit florist Floral Palette is a stealthy spot full of secret sweets. Parisien Gourmandises is an authentic French-style bakery, boutique and confectionery that offers a grand gamut of Gallic goodies to those intrepid enough to discover them. When you go, don’t pass up the macarons; they’re the best in town by far. And since spring has sprung, why not grab a bouquet of fresh-cut blooms for the road?

7643 Girard Ave La Jolla, CA 92037


Plan Your San Diego Adventure

Are you ready to discover these undercover attractions for yourself? Take a look at our Special Offers page at Holiday Inn San Diego Bayside and get the best rates for your stay.

(Top photo: @lafinquitawinery)