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5 Fun Places to Go to See San Diego’s Coolest Buildings

AAA/Frank Swanson
By AAA Travel Editor Frank Swanson
August 03, 2020
Some buildings are so distinctive that they come to represent the city they’re in and San Diego is no exception. Here are five places to see ranging from a dignified Victorian hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean to a head-turning, 21st-century library in the midst of downtown. Whether you think they’re beautiful or just bizarre is up to you to decide, but at first glance you’ll see why all of them have become symbols of their city.
AAA/Frank Swanson

Geisel Library at UCSD

9500 Gilman Dr.
La Jolla, California
(858) 534-3336
While it may look like the lair of a supervillain, the Geisel Library at the University of California San Diego contains nothing more threatening to world safety than books, manuscripts and art displays. In fact, it’s named for the man who created such non-threatening children’s book characters as Cat in the Hat and the Lorax—Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. A beloved campus landmark, the Geisel Library was designed in the late 1960s by William Pereira, who is responsible for renowned places to see in two other California cities: San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid and the Los Angeles Airport’s Theme Building.
AAA/Frank Swanson

Hotel del Coronado, Curio Collection by Hilton

1500 Orange Ave.
Coronado, California
(619) 435-6611
Presiding over Coronado’s beachfront for 130 years, the Hotel del Coronado is immediately recognizable thanks to its beautiful Victorian red-roofed towers and turrets and expansive whitewashed wood exterior. The height of luxury when it opened in 1888, this AAA Three Diamond resort retains its reputation for lavish comfort. One of the fun things to do with friends at the hotel is sip a cocktail at the Babcock & Story Bar or take a guided tour courtesy of the Coronado Museum of History and Art.
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AAA/Frank Swanson

San Diego Central Library

330 Park Blvd.
(619) 236-5800
If you’re looking for things to do downtown, stop by one of San Diego’s newest landmarks: the San Diego Central Library, which opened in 2013. Standing nine stories tall in the East Village neighborhood near Petco Park, the striking building gives off an industrial vibe due to its geometric glass, metal and concrete façade. What really makes the library stand out in the San Diego skyline is its unusual steel lattice dome that acts as a sunshade. Inside there’s a soaring lobby, a rare book collection, a charter high school, and of course, several floors of books.
AAA/Frank Swanson

San Diego Convention Center

111 W. Harbor Dr.
(619) 525-5000
Although the San Diego Convention Center might seem unassuming at first glance, it looms large in the minds of many visitors due to its distinct look, its bayfront setting and its role as a gathering place for several hundred thousand conventioneers each year. Gray concrete buttresses and semicircular glass roofs may make you think of the tubular modules of a hamster cage, but probably the building’s most memorable feature is its taut-fabric roof that is so much like a ship’s sails. Visit in July when tens of thousands of comic book, science fiction/fantasy and pop culture fans descend upon the center for Comic-Con International: San Diego, one of the city’s entertaining things to do downtown.
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AAA/Frank Swanson

San Diego Museum of Us

1350 El Prado
(619) 239-2001
Of San Diego’s many things to see, probably none is a more recognizable symbol of the city than the California Building, a stately cathedrallike structure in Balboa Park housing the San Diego Museum of Us. In a park filled with ornate and lovely remnants of the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition, the 200-foot-high California Building literally towers above them all. Colorful tiles in a starburst pattern adorn a large dome, and statues representing historical figures strike poses in the façade. It’s easy to see why this fanciful masterpiece is one of San Diego’s most photographed sights.
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