Top 5 Walking Tours in San Diego

Photo from Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation

The local beauty and wonder that surrounds San Diego may seem advantageous to explore on your own. San Diego offers so much to its local natives that it can be exasperating to try and visit each location as a tourist. That’s where walking tours become the ideal way to explore new destinations! You get the luxury of being your own tour guide, without the frustration of not knowing where you're going. So many options are available to you and your party; no matter your previous experiences, you’re sure to explore somewhere you’ve never been or learn the history behind it. To make things easier in deciphering the best tours, we found the top 5 walking tours in San Diego!

The Gaslamp Quarter 

As any local native knows, the Gaslamp District is a popular tourist spot and renowned for its nightlife attraction. Although you may be familiar with the area, the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation provides guided tours of the quarter each Saturday, starting at 11am. Learn the history and grandeur of the Victorian and Edwardian architecture that surrounds you on your walk as told by an informed guide.

Whilst on the walking tour, guests will get a taste of the past and present as antique buildings are reimagined into popular restaurants and boutiques. The first stop is Horton Plaza, a 12 acre span of popular dining and shopping attractions, where guests will encounter wonders like the historic Jessop Street clock which features numerous global times.

The remaining tour will include historical sights like the old city hall and the William Penn Hotel. Museum fans will enjoy the Chinese Mission that features the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum, home to the history of Chinese Immigrants. On the tour’s break, guests can enjoy exploring eateries and gift shops on their own. With so many historical sights to behold and some of the best shopping & dining around, it is clear to see why the quarter is such a popular attraction to locals and tourists alike. The tours typically last around an hour and a half and are conducted at the premiere time of day, before the destination becomes too crowded with tourists. Get more information on purchasing tickets and tour stops at Gaslamp Quarter.

La Jolla

Looking to spend the day soaking up the warm Southern Californian sun? Look no further than a walking tour of scenic La Jolla to satisfy the balance of the beautiful shoreline and the allure of notable shopping and dining. 

From the Mary Star of the Sea, a mission-style catholic church, you begin your tour, visiting informative and intriguing educational stops such as the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and Athenaeum Music and Arts Library. To get your sandy fix, visits to La Jolla Cove, the Sunny Jim Cave, and a coast walk will make you envious of those lucky enough to call La Jolla home. To finish your tour or to simply take a break before exploring more, the Girard Gourmet bakery caters to visitors with their pastries, baked goods, and deli choices for lunch.

You really can’t go wrong on this tour, with such a scenic destination as La Jolla, you are bound to fall in love with the sights, as well as the rich history. Tours are daily and can last around 3-5 hours.

The Embarcadero 

For those who are nautically minded, spending the day at the Embarcadero might sound like a perfect little getaway. This walking tour will take you up close and personal with some of the watercrafts featured on the waterfront. History and art collide on the Embarcadero with a maritime museum as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art. The Urban Trees art project exhibits unique artistic sculptures, which change annually.

Besides the typical ferries and cruises you’ll see passing by, the 1944 aircraft carrier, the USS Midway, is on display, allowing visitors to come aboard and learn about the carrier’s long history. Fortunately, due to the proximity of the ocean, the dining on the Embarcadero takes the meaning of fresh seafood to a whole new level. You can get your shopping done at the Seaport Village, where an array of boutiques will catch your eye. It is recommended to witness the sunset—if your visit is during the evening—on the Top of the Hyatt’s 40th floor lounge for optimal viewing purposes. Like most popular locations, weekdays are recommended to beat heavy tourism as well as absurd parking. The tour should last about an hour and a half, not including your shopping and dining tendencies.

Balboa Park

Although walking tours are most likely a step up from the self-orchestrated ventures you’re accustomed to, for those wanting a more special tour, in Balboa Park there is a semi-private escorted tour. This is a must-see for any visit to San Diego, no matter if you’ve never been or have visited a thousand times. Balboa Park is a breathtaking destination that begs to be explored. With over 1,000 acres, you’ll find new spots you’ve never encountered before.

This specific tour through the National Historic Landmark will include a guide pointing out the noteworthy history the park holds. Being built in 1868, there is quite a bit of history to be told. Besides the historical value of the site, there are many attractions such as museums, a theatre, the San Diego Zoo, and notable vegetation. And with events occurring throughout the year, you’re sure to experience something special each visit. To truly gain a full understanding and appreciation for Balboa Park, it is best to join a walking tour with a knowledgeable host. 

Ghosts of the Gaslamp

Perhaps one of the most unusual walking tours offered in San Diego, and definitely a must-have on our list, is the Ghosts of the Gaslamp walking tour. Located in the Gaslamp Quarter, guests will experience a walking tour out of this world. You may have experienced the history of the Gaslamp Quarter before through exploring museums and shops in antique buildings, but you might not have imagined that this area is also home to supernatural entities. That’s right, each Friday at 5pm rain or shine you can partake in a ghost tour that recounts the history of ghostly encounters in the area.

Guided by a Davis-Horton House historian, Sandee Wilhoit, the tour travels through the area’s old establishments like brothels and saloons that may still house undead spirits. Throughout the tour, Wilhoit will give detailed accounts of hauntings and paranormal activity in the past and even the present. The most riveting aspect of the tour lies at the very end. Guests are allowed inside of the Davis-Horton House, which is the single most haunted building of the tour. If you’re a thrill seeker, this guided tour will be perfect to keep you on your toes. Reservations are limited to 20 participants, so be sure to reserve your place before Thursday Gaslamp Foundation.