Parasailing off the cliffs of La Jolla, San Diego
Stuart Bak

Adventurous Things to do in San Diego

San Diego is an adrenaline fiend’s playground, a sprawling city of beaches, cliffs, canyons and theme parks that promise all manner of thrills, from century-old wooden rollercoaster rides to paragliding from the bluffs high above La Jolla’s pristine sands. Brace yourself for our pick of the 10 most adventurous things to do in San Diego...

Kayak Through the Sea Caves

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Set sail from La Jolla Shores and paddle your way gently across the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park, an astonishing marine reserve with gin-clear waters where you might spot friendly leopard sharks, stingrays, sea turtles, harbor seals and bright orange Garibaldi fish darting under your boat. You’ll soon reach the seven secret sea caves at La Jolla Cove. Steer your kayak inside to follow in the footsteps (boatsteps?) of smugglers who snuck alcohol and opium into San Diego via these same secret passageways during the Prohibition era. Kayaks are available for rent at La Jolla Shores.

Ride a 100-Year-Old Rollercoaster

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Expect thrills galore with a healthy dollop of nostalgia at Belmont Park, an oceanfront fairground that’s been operating at San Diego's Mission Beach since 1925. Amid ultra-modern scream machines that perform high-speed vertical drops and stomach-flipping somersaults you’ll find more sedate old-fashioned amusements such as mini golf, bumper cars and an aerial assault course. The Giant Dipper rollercoaster is the undisputed jewel in the park’s crown. Here since the park opened, this traditional wooden construction provides rickety thrills aplenty along its 2,800 feet of track. Hop aboard, if you’re brave enough.

Hit the Surf

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San Diego’s gentle rolling waves make for ideal surfing conditions, attracting thousands of surfers to its shores every year. Hire a board to give it a go yourself. Sheltered areas at La Jolla Shores and Pacific Beach are particularly forgiving for newbies, and your inevitable first wipeout should be considered a rite of passage. But, if a mouthful of sand and seawater is enough to confirm that surfing isn’t for you, look on the bright side: you can always plonk your board upright in the sand and use it as a sunshade while you admire the views.

Brave California’s Longest Zipline

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Thrillseekers rejoice! For here’s an extreme sport that will really get the adrenaline pumping. Set in an Indian reservation north of the city in the verdant Pauma Valley, the La Jolla Zip Zoom boasts the longest zipline in California. Here, brave souls can soar high over canyons, forest canopies and the San Luis Rey River at speeds reaching up to 50mph. There’s over 6,000 feet of ziplines to whiz down across the whole reservation, with the longest a whopping 2,500 feet. Not for the faint of heart.

Lace up your Boots

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San Diego’s unique landscape makes for some excellent walking opportunities. Hit the hiking trail through Torrey Pines Nature Reserve, 2,000 acres of rugged cliffs and wild plateaus named for the endangered Torrey pine, which is unique to this reserve. You’ll also find colorful wildflowers, towering cacti and monolithic rock formations; maybe even the occasional cheeky raccoon or lizard. Head to Yucca Point Overlook for fine views across the La Jolla bluffs to the golden beaches and shimmering ocean below. There are also guided tours available at Mission Trails Regional Park and Tecolote Canyon.

Rent a Jet Ski

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Do you feel the need... the need for speed? Tear up the waters of San Diego Bay on a Yamaha Waverunner jet ski ride against the picturesque backdrop of the Downtown skyline. These streamlined dream machines can reach speeds of up to 65mph so you can visit bay attractions including the USS Midway aircraft carrier, Shelter Island and the curvaceous Coronado Bridge in no time at all. Keep your eyes peeled for playful seals and dolphins frolicking in the surf and maybe even racing alongside you!

Leap off La Jolla’s Cliffs

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San Diego activities don’t come much more adventurous than leaping into the unknown on a paragliding experience from the cliffs at Torrey Pines. Take a tandem ride from the Gliderport here and let your expert guide do all the hard work while you admire sweeping views of the coastal bluffs and spot leopard sharks cruising the clear waters below. Top tip: paragliding is also a mesmerizing spectator sport, so those without a head for heights can simply bring along a picnic and enjoy the colorful spectacle from terra firma.

Have a Whale of a Time

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San Diego is prime whale-watching territory, with majestic blue whales often spotted off the coast in summer and fall, and gray whales migrating to and from the warm lagoons of Baja en masse for calving season in winter and spring. Get up close to these magnificent creatures on a boat tour. If you’re lucky you might even spot a mother swimming with her calf, or get close enough to feel the sea spray from a blowhole or disappearing tail fin. Dozens of trips depart daily from Downtown and Mission Bay, with many guaranteeing a refund if you fail to see anything.

Sample Unusual Beers

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San Diego is the craft beer capital of the USA, with dozens of microbreweries concocting weird and wonderful beverages for your delectation, and taprooms on nearly every street corner. It would be simply remiss not to sample a few while you’re here. Head to Hillcrest Brewing for unusual brews including Crotch Rocket Irish Style Red Ale and Banana Hammock Scotch Ale. And stagger on down to North Park for a punchy, hazy Technomancer at Modern Times’ taproom, known locally as ‘the Flavordome’. Major beer festivals hit town in June, October and November, when sampling the gamut of beers, from stouts to sours and frothy IPAs to flavored brews, is positively encouraged.

Go Ghost-Hunting

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Here’s a way to increase your heart rate without going to the extreme lengths of e.g. jumping off a cliff strapped to a man with a big parachute. Once described by LIFE magazine as ‘the most haunted house in America’, The Whaley House in San Diego’s Old Town has seen its fair share of grisly deaths over the years and was reputedly built on the site of a former gallows. Eek. Scare yourself silly on one of the museum’s spooky evening tours – if you dare.

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