Local’s Guide to Hidden San Diego Spots

Explore the magic of San Diego with its countless reasons to visit. Sure, we’ve got the famous museums, theme parks, and awesome weather that draw crowds year after year. But beyond the tourist hotspots, there’s a whole world of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Locals know all about these off-the-beaten-path treasures, and now it’s your turn. If you’re up for some adventure, here are a few of the coolest hidden spots in San Diego.

The Hidden Swings (multiple locations)

In San Diego, you’ll stumble upon these awesome tree swings straight out of your childhood dreams. They’re scattered around, offering killer views of the city, but here’s the twist: no one knows who put them there! Sometimes they vanish or pop up in new spots, keeping the mystery alive and locals on their toes. It’s like a cool scavenger hunt, and once you find them, it’s pure joy swinging high and feeling the breeze in your hair. So, tap into that playful spirit and swing away—it’s all about embracing the fun and wonder of being a kid again!

Family on Swing

(Photo: @jkrewfam)


Secret Speakeasies (multiple locations)

The speakeasy (or secret bar) emerged in the 1920’s as a way for revelers to sneak in some surreptitious sips during the Prohibition era. And even though the necessity of undercover imbibery has passed, the thrill of cloak-and-dagger cocktails nonetheless retains its appeal. So if you’re looking for some hush-hush hideaways to enjoy a little elbow-bending, hit up some of the sneaky spots listed in our previous post, “A Guide to San Diego’s Secret Speakeasies.” Just make sure to be prepared with reservations, precise directions and even passwords before you set out on your search. 

Tiki Bar

(Photo: @falseidoltiki)


Open Ceiling Cave at Sunset Cliffs (3.1 miles)

Embark on an enchanting coastal journey to this stunning example of nature’s artistry combined with rugged beauty. As the sun gracefully dips into the Pacific, hues of amber and magenta paint the sky, casting a mesmerizing glow over the sea cave’s jagged edges. Venture inside to witness the dance of light and shadow, creating an ethereal atmosphere that captures the essence of California’s coastal allure. This is a must-see for those seeking an intimate communion with nature’s wonders.

Man standing in cliff tunnel at beach

(Photo: @the_az_explorer)

800-898 Sunset Cliffs Blvd, San Diego, CA 92107


Harper’s Topiary Garden (5.6 miles)

Alex and Edna Harper have created an amazing sight at their home in Middletown. Topiary is the practice of shaping shrubbery into whimsical forms, and the Harpers have turned their front garden into a showcase of this botanical art. Their display includes countless bushes trimmed into the form of animals, geometric shapes, human figures, and more. Visitors are welcome to stop by — as long as they respect the Harpers’ space.  

Girl in front of shaped gardens

(Photo: @yayitzel)

3549 Union St, San Diego, CA 92103


Spruce Street Suspension Bridge (5.7 miles)

Tucked away in the Banker’s Hill neighborhood, this pedestrian-only footpath spans nearly 400 feet across Sessions Canyon, and sits 70 feet above it. The bridge was built in 1912 in order to connect a newly built trolley stop to a residential area. It has remained in place as a favorite spot for locals to take a gently swaying stroll above the treetops. This secret span is an adventure and a destination in one, so you’ll want to pay it a visit. 

Girl on suspension bridge

(Photo: @yours.chuly)

W Spruce St, San Diego, CA 92103


Balboa Park Palm Canyon (8.7 miles away)

While renowned Balboa Park is hardly a secret given its abundance of museums, restaurants, and public art, there is a hidden corner of it that many locals don’t even know about. Famed horticulturist Kate Sessions — who was responsible for introducing several plant species to southern California — helped establish a two-acre plot within the park that features a wide range of palm species. It can be accessed via a winding, secluded path and exists as a sanctuary within an oasis. It’s hidden, but worth the search.  

kids running on hiking trail

(Photo: @visitsandiego)

1549 El Prado San Diego, CA 92101


The “Sin Ship” Wreckage (12 miles)

Coronado Island is also home to one of the only shipwrecks in the Americas that’s observable without diving gear: the SS Monte Carlo. The Monte Carlo was an infamous gambling and party vessel that operated offshore during the prohibition era. It was destroyed by a storm just off the coast of Coronado. It remained buried for decades before being revealed by shifting tides years later. Today it remains moored where it was destroyed.

Lady standing on cliffs on beach

(Photo: @snubkin)

North Pacific Ocean, Coronado, CA 92118


Sunny Jim Cave (12.8 miles)

Originally hand-dug beneath the home of miner Gustav Schultz in 1902, the Sunny Jim Cave was initially mined for minerals before being turned into a bootleggers’ smuggling passage during the 1920s. Today, the cavern sits beneath The Cave Store, a popular La Jolla gift and souvenir shop. The store offers self-guided tours of the cave by reservation, so be sure to call ahead and set up a time to go spelunking during your visit.

View of San Diego bay from the cave

(Photo: @52fromthebay)

1325 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, CA 92037


Queen Califa’s Magical Circle (30.5 miles away)

Nestled in Nearby Escondido, this magical spot has been delighting kids of all ages for more than 20 years. Featuring colorful, larger-than-life artworks from noted French artist Niki de Saint-Phalle, this enchanting enclave proved to be her last major work — and her only American sculpture garden. Each piece was inspired by her late-career move to the area and reflects local legends, stories, and folklore. Don’t forget your camera! 

(Photo: @sandiego.mamas)

3333 Bear Valley Pkwy, Escondido, CA 92025 


The Carlsbad Flower Fields (31.7 miles)

Escape into a kaleidoscope of colors at the Flower Fields, a mesmerizing spectacle in nearby Carlsbad. Spanning fifty acres of vibrant blooms, this fragrantly floral paradise welcomes visitors to wander through endless rows of brilliantly hued flowers in full bloom. From mid-March to early May, the air is infused with the sweet scent of blossoms, creating a sensory wonderland. Immerse yourself in the breathtaking scenery, where rolling hills adorned with hues ranging from soft pastels to vivid oranges create a visual masterpiece. 

Mom and daughter standing in flowers

(Photo: @the_flower_fields)

5704 Paseo Del Norte, Carlsbad, CA 92008


Potato Chip Rock (35 miles)

Hiking is a popular San Diego pastime. The variety of terrain, the spectacular views, and the always-perfect weather are just some of the reasons why. Sometimes the reward at the end of a solid hike is a singular sight, like Potato Chip Rock. Named for its unique shape, this slim outcropping on Mt. Woodson Trail is a favorite spot for locals. Once you experience it for yourself, you’ll no doubt see why. 

Girl sitting on Potato chip rock

(photo: @ontheroadapril)

Mt. Woodson Trail, Ramona, CA 92065


Discover the Hidden Side of San Diego at Island Palms

Ready to start your treasure hunt? Take a look at our Special Offers page to select the San Diego travel deal that’s right for you, and we’ll gladly host your adventure.