Best adventure sports in San Diego: Top 21 South California activities

Mar 05, 2020 BY Paul McWilliams

With its unique mix of desert, ocean, forest and mountains, the best adventure sports in San Diego can match those found anywhere in the US. This list of the top 21 South California activities shows the sheer variety on offer.

surfing in San Diego one of the top 21 South California activities Pixabay royalty free image

Best adventure sports in San Diego

San Diego is located in the far south of California right on the border with Mexico. Around 120 miles south of Los Angeles the city is on the Pacific Ocean which provides many watersports.

San Diego is surrounded by reserves, state parks and national forest that offer many South California activities. About 40 miles east you’ll find the Laguna Mountains that reach nearly 2000m and provide some of the best adventure sports in San Diego.

Take to the water, earth or air around the city with a dazzling array of adventure options. You can enjoy extreme sports, wildlife encounters or outdoor activities with an unbeatable range of experiences. 

Top 21 South California activities

As with any top 10 (or 21!) this is just the authors option. Let us know in the comments at the bottom if we have missed any of the best adventure sports in San Diego.


No list of the best South California activities would be complete without surfing. Dan Diego and the sport have a long history.

Surfing one of the best adventure sports in San Diego Flickr CC image by moonjazz

The consistent waves, warm water and La Jolla reefs make it easy to see why. There is a superb choice of surfing beaches within easy reach of the city, including Oceanside and Pacific Beach. 

Paragliding and hanggliding

Located next to the university to the north of the city is Torrey Pines Gliderport. This is one of the most historic aviation sites in the US.

Lindbergh made his maiden flight from here and it has been a world class paragliding and hanggliding spot ever since their inception. Fly solo if you’re qualified or take a tandem flight for incredible views.


For unbeatable views of the ocean, why not throw yourself out of a plane? Attached to an instructor and a parachute, of course.

Close to San Diego is Skydive Perris, Southern California’s only tandem skydive drop zone. Jumps take place at 13,000 feet and you get stunning views up and down the coastline at one of the best drop zones in the US.

Best US dropzones where to skydive in the USA Image courtesy of Skydive Perris by Craig OBrien


San Diego is home to the longest zipline in California, located in La Jolla reservation. Fly over and through more than a mile of tropical jungle, passing through canyons and over the famous San Luis Rey River. You can reach a maximum speed of 50mph. 


Head up into the San Diego foothills where you can find waterfalls and swimming spots. Work up a sweat on the trail and then cool off in the water as you explore more of the Devils Punchbowl in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park by foot. 

Jet skiing

With a fleet of brand-new Yamaha VX jet skis for rent, enjoy an unforgettable day on the water. Set off from the SD Adventures Jet Ski Rental and explore more than five miles of coastline around the bay.

You can take in some of the most spectacular sites in the city from the water. This is easily one of the best South California activities.

jetski one of the best adventure sports in San Diego Pxfuel royalty free image

Speed boating

Pilot a 13-foot speedboat on a sightseeing loop around the harbour, following your guide. Along the way you’ll see US navy vessels, the downtown skyline and Seaport Village.

You don’t have to be an experienced skipper and even first timers can have a go. The speedboats carrying up to three people at a time. 

Quad biking, dirt biking or 4×4

The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest in California and located just outside the city. To really see more of the park, you’re going to need to get off the paved road.

Which is why you’ll need an off-road vehicle to explore the lost canyons and desert badlands. Quad biking and dirt biking are great for adrenaline. Alternatively cross dry lake beds and camp out under the stars on a overnight 4×4 adventure.

Kayaking and SUP

All along the La Jolla coastline there are a network of caves and coves. The best way to explore them is by kayak or SUP.

Kayaking la jolla in San Diego one of the top 21 South California activities Flickr CC image by Supermac1961

You’ll paddle past friendly (and noisy) sea lions, and when the tide is low enough you can get inside some of the cave networks and explore. Always go with a guide though as it can be dangerous if you don’t know the area. 

Whale watching and jet boating

San Diego is one of the best places for adventurous whale watching. You can see humpbacks, orca, grey, blue, and much more. Seeing a whale at any time is an incredible experience. But imagine doing it on an actual jet boat.

The 70ft 1,400 Patriot is available to rent for whale watching tours from December through to April. The ride around the bay, includes sharp turns and 360-degree spins to add to the excitement. 

Trek, bike and rock climb

At just a two drive from the city, by American standards Joshua Tree National Park is right on the doorstep. It’s accessible as a day trip or plan an overnight stay to make the most of your adventure. 

This iconic park is traversed by miles of hiking and biking trails and is an incredible place to enjoy a night under the stars. It is also rated as one of the world’s best rock climbing holiday destinations.

Joshua Tree USA The best rock climbing holiday destinations Google image by Jarek Tuszynski

Hot air ballooning

Pop open the cork on a bottle of champagne as you glide between 1,000 and 2,500 feet above Southern California. Hot air ballooning is a magical experience.

Flights last about an hour and are run by some of the most experienced ballooning companies in the state. A serene and peaceful experience with truly breathtaking views.

Ski and snowboard

San Diego may sit right on the Pacific coast near to the Mexican border and be surrounded by desert. But there is some world class skiing and snowboarding just three hours away. That’s the beauty of California – it’s an incredible mix of landscapes. 

Big Bear mountain resort, twinned with Snow Summit, is the best large ski area nearby. You’ll find terrain parks and half pipes, plus 59 runs between the two mountains.

Snow Valley Mountain resort is just two and a half hours drive away. It is smaller and offers a more traditional ski and snowboard experience. But still has a mile long terrain park.

As you can see, the best adventure sports in San Diego have got it all. From skydiving to sea kayaking and jet boating to snowboarding, use the city as a base and you can explore the surrounding area and beyond.

Agree with this list of the top 21 South California activities in and near San Diego? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. And be sure to check out our adventure discounts in California as you could save a fortune.


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