The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. Marcel Proust
San Diego is known for its iconic attributes, namely magnificent beaches, constant 70-degree weather, and legendary surf, as well as attractions like Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo, and the Gaslamp Quarter. But San Diego is also a city filled with undiscovered treasures, places very few know of, or think twice about. Its vibrancy can oftentimes overshadow its true brilliance, the very land on which it sits, the natural beauty that surrounds every inch of it, and the dark hidden corners no one expects to find.
San Diego is one voyage of discovery that most certainly needs you to open new eyes in order to see all that you’ve missed for too long. We’re going to help you do just that by providing a list of secret locales that some may know all too well, while others will be shocked they even exist. It’s time to see what San Diego has been hiding in its depths, and we’ve got a whopping eight places to get you started.
The Pink Lady
Situated in the upscale neighborhood of Del Mar sits a Mission-style mansion known as the Canfield-Wright House, also known as the Pink Lady due to its vibrant color. It was built in 1910 by Charles A. Canfield, an oil tycoon whose life is said to be the inspiration behind the iconic movie There Will Be Blood. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since it’s restoration in 2004, this city treasure is a beautiful site and photo op hidden within the hills.
Location: 420 Avenida Primavera, Del Mar
Harper’s Topiary Garden
Most people won’t believe there is a private sculpture garden hiding away in the Mission Hills neighborhood, but it is entirely true. And it’s been there for over two decades. Nicknamed “Edna Scissorhands,” the local artist behind Harpers Topiary Garden has sculpted over fifty shrubs into figures on her front yard. A diverse collection of shapes from elephants, snakes, and dinosaurs to pyramids, a surfer, a Buddha, and everything in between. But don’t take our word for it, check it out yourself.
Location: 3549 Union Street, Mission Hills
While many people have no doubt enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the sandy beach near Hotel del Coronado, few may have noticed the hidden messages in the sand. If you haven’t, it’s probably because they look like no more than sandy heaps of seaweed and ice plant, and while that is in fact what they are, that is not all they are. If you know what to look for, or happen to be high in the sky (the best vantage point), you may notice these artful sand dunes are also words. Specifically, Coronado and Beach.
So how did they get there and what are they? In 1988, city worker Armando Moreno was assigned the task of removing seaweed and kelp from the beach, but decided to add his own twist. He ended up sculpting the mounds, which he covered with sand after and sowed with rice. It took several years for him to complete this project, and the city ended up loving it so much, they’ve continued to maintain it throughout the years.
Coronado Beach, Ocean Boulevard, Coronado
A Musical Bridge
If you’re ever sitting in traffic on Highway 94 near 25th Street and suddenly hear a melodic tune that takes your breath away, it’s probably coming from the musical bridge. Hidden behind a railing that separates traffic from the sidewalk is an incredible public art piece created by Roman de Salvo in 2003 that plays Crab Carillon by Joseph Waters. Its 488 chimes respond to each step, those who follow the sequence will end up creating some beautiful music as they simply stroll by.
Location: 700 25th Street, Golden Hill
The Secret Swings
Hidden on a La Jolla hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean and a picturesque cityscape, a quick hike up from Expedition Way near UC San Diego, you’ll find the land of “secret swings.” While their style is continually changing, and they often seem to move about, one thing remains constant. There is always at least one swing in this low-key locale. Throughout the years tire swings, handmade seat swings, and swinging bench chairs have all made an appearance. Nobody really knows where the old ones go or how the new ones appear, but one thing’s for sure their mysterious nature only adds to their enchantment.
Expedition Way, La Jolla
When most people think of waterfalls they think of Hawaii, Oregon, or maybe Niagara Falls. Well, most people do. And while there are far more places to find and enjoy these natural music makers, you’d be hard pressed to find one in San Diego. Just ask a local. We don’t have them. Or do we? Yes, actually San Diego has a number of waterfalls to the complete shock of us all. You just need to know where to look. One of the best is located twenty miles north of downtown in the green lush canyon of Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve.
Location: 12020 Black Mountain Road, San Diego
Low Tide Shipwreck
Back in 1937, the SS Monte Carlo, a 300-foot casino ship, ran ashore on Coronado Island. Before it made its fateful end it served as a water-bound casino that was frequented by the Hollywood elite including famous stars such as Mae West and Clark Gable. Today, it serves as one of the only visible shipwrecks in California and can only be seen during low tide. To see this fascinating site, visitors need to travel along Orange Avenue past Hotel del Coronado to the south end of Coronado Shores Beach. The shipwreck emerges at the shoreline during low tide providing an epic photo op.
Location: South End of Coronado Shores Beach
Queen Califia’s Magical Circle in Carson Park’s Iris Sankey Arboretum attracts visitors of all ages with its whimsical sculptures. Kids will appreciate the 400-foot-long giant snake wall and maze, and parents will be thankful for the integrated bench seating. Art connoisseurs will recognize the work of famous French artist, Niki de Saint Phalle, who created the mosaic project based on California’s cultural and historic roots. The colorful mosaic sculptures are inspired by local Pre-Columbian, Native American, and Mexican art, and of course, the artist’s unfailing imagination.
Location: 3333 Bear Valley Parkway, Escondido
That wraps up our list, but this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to San Diego’s secrets. Tell us about any low-key San Diego spots you’ve discovered and think everyone should know about.