18 Places in San Diego That Feel Like Another Country
18 Places in San Diego That Feel Like Another Country
By Gina Thompson
San Diego is filled with hidden treasures, including some spots where you’ll feel as if you have been transported from California to destinations across the world. Discover new wonders at these international locations in the San Diego area.
Around The World
1. Alta Vista Botanical Garden
The Alta Vista Botanical Garden is filled with flowers, plants, and trees from all over. The mission of the garden keepers is to preserve native plants from around the world while educating and bringing people together. Not only will you find the gardens of Australia here, but you’ll also find yourself in the Mediterranean, South Africa, and even in a garden from before the time of humans. The gardens are open every day and are just 45 miles north of San Diego.
2. Exotica Rare Fruit Nursery
In the heart of Vista, California, is the Exotica Rare Fruit Farm. Owner Steve Spangler self-describes the 4 acres as an “Eden-like garden” filled with exotic fruits. The nursery started as a seed business in Hawaii more than 30 years ago, but Spangler chose Southern California for his business thanks to its subtropical climate.
You can sort through hundreds of fruit trees and make a stop at the tasting table to sample in-season fruits. Here you’ll be able to find rare varieties of fruits like Cotton Candy Mangos and the banana-like Monstera Deliciosa.
3. House of Pacific Relations International Cottages
In Balboa Park, discover homes from around the globe. The House of Pacific Relations International Cottages was built in 1935 as part of the California Pacific International Exposition. Today, more than 30 cultures are celebrated and displayed throughout small homes. You’ll find cottages and gardens from France to Peru to Scotland. Nearly every weekend, a house is selected to showcase its country through food, dances, and celebrations.
4. Mingei International Museum
Another hidden gem in Balboa Park is the Mingei International Museum. The museum was founded by a San Diego State University professor who studied Japanese pottery-making. The Mingei will transport you from San Diego to ancient civilizations with rotating exhibitions from historical craftsmen and contemporary designers that draw inspiration from artifacts.
5. Villa Montezuma
On the outskirts of downtown San Diego sits a quirky historical house known as Villa Montezuma. The Queen Anne-style architecture sprinkled with Russian influence makes Villa Montezuma an unforgettable destination. Colorful stained-glass windows and textured wallpapers fill every room, each with its unique style. The mansion was built in 1887 for author and spiritualist Jesse Shepard. If you are into spooky destinations in San Diego, Villa Montezuma is rumored to be one of the most haunted homes here.
6. World Beat Cultural Center
At the World Beat Cultural Center, you’ll find art that preserves and celebrates the African Diaspora and Indigenous cultures. It’s not just music, dancing, and art that’s taught or showcased here, but also programs that promote STEAM research.
People are invited to participate in classes like gardening, percussion, and Qigong, a Chinese martial arts practice. It’s all part of a movement that started in 1984 to give the San Diego community a multicultural arts center.
7. Heritage Park Victorian Village
The Heritage Park Victorian Village is 8 acres of preserved Victorian-style homes from the late 19th century. Among the homes is Temple Beth Israel, San Diego’s first synagogue. The spirits of the McConaughy family are also said to haunt the McConaughy House. If you’re up for it, find out for yourself! The home is open to the public daily.
8. Horton Grand Hotel
9. Spanish Village
Take a trip to Spain with a visit to the Spanish Village in Balboa Park. Try new bites at a Spanish restaurant and find gifts for loved ones at one of the shops. You can also sip a refreshing drink from a cantina while enjoying the courtyard that resembles a small Spanish town. Spanish Village was one of the exhibits built for the 1935 Expo but was saved from demolition by a group of artists who wanted to use the space as a community center.
10. St. Malo Beach Community
Do you need a solitary beach day? If you’re in Oceanside, try to find a pedestrian entrance to St. Malo Beach. It shares the name of the small and secretive neighborhood that backs into the beach. From the Oceanside streets or the beach, you can take a peek into old Normandy. The community is named after a port city in northwestern France, Saint-Malo.
Since it’s a private gated neighborhood, you cannot walk around to see the enchanting homes or get easy access to the beach, but Article X in the California Constitution says the public has access to all tidelines. There is a hidden staircase on S Pacific Street you can find and use to get to St. Malo Beach, while others have walked along train tracks to get there.
11. Little Italy
Tucked in between San Diego Bay and the San Diego Freeway is a quaint neighborhood known as Little Italy. Little Italy San Diego was established as an Italian fishing community but now holds on to its charming roots with Italian restaurants, shops, and galleries. Throughout the year, the neighborhood hosts festivals celebrating all things Sicilian and Italian.
12. Phap Vuong Monastery
Hidden in Escondido is the Phap Vuong Monastery. In 2010 a rare jade Buddah made a stop at the monastery as part of a tour around the U.S. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported thousands of people traveled to see the Buddha at Phap Vuong Monastery. The Vietnamese monastery is filled with greenery and beautiful altars making it a place for a peaceful and meditative walk.
13. Deer Park Monastery
14. Japanese Friendship Garden
The essence of a Japanese teahouse built in 1915 lives on in the Japanese Friendship Garden. During World War II, the Japanese family charged with its care was forced into internment camps, and the teahouse was demolished in 1955. It was later rebuilt to signify the friendship between sister cities San Diego and Yokohama. When walking through the garden, notice how ancient Japanese techniques were used to adapt to the San Diego climate.
15. Chinese Historical District
San Diego’s Chinatown is eight blocks from a Chinese historical district. In the 1800s Chinese immigrants were forced to settle in this area near San Diego Bay, away from other neighborhoods, and were eventually forced out during WWII. Today, the district commemorates its roots at the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum and the San Diego Chinese Center.
16. Hobbit House
Have you ever wanted to see a Hobbit House in person? You don’t have to go all the way to New Zealand to experience where Frodo lived. You will, however, have to reserve this secluded Hobbit home on Airbnb. And just like Middle Earth, there is no electricity. Oh, and did I mention the showers and toilets are outdoors? Still, this is a fun getaway for fans to experience the simplicity and beauty of Hobbit living.
17. The Shire
Don’t want to leave Middle Earth just yet? Another whimsical place you can stay in San Diego is The Shire. The home was built in 1972 but looks like a life-size fairy home. James Hubbell designed the house, inspired by glasswork, sculpture, and brickwork. The current owners work hard to preserve the artwork and you can book a stay to discover the property for yourself.
18. Coya Peruvian Secret
Coya Peruvian Secret offers gourmet Peruvian fusion in a laid-back, relaxed seating with a colorful cottage house vibe. Unique and completely different dishes than any San Diego restaurant and a must try. 2 miles north from Torrey Pines State Reserve, first restaurant on the left hidden under the tree.
When visiting these beautiful places, please remember to “leave no trace.” Dispose of trash properly, respect wildlife, and don’t take plants or rocks from the natural environment.
One thing you can take with you? Inspiration! San Diego is a melting pot of cultures and full of hidden gems you can use to plan and care for your San Diego lawn! With native plants from a nursery and a proper lawn care routine, your lawn can rival the botanical gardens.
Gina Thompson is an experienced multimedia journalist, producer, and content writer born and raised in Texas. In her spare time, she loves catching a live band, dancing, and finding the next big taco spot.