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There’s no replacement for exploring San Diego in real life, but it’s possible to see our slice of heaven from home. Through the San Diego virtual tours on this list, tourists can get a feel for what they may want to add to their sightseeing itineraries while residents learn something new, important or interesting about where they live.

While we’re spending time at home, I challenge you to watch one item from this list per day for two weeks. I haven’t done a study of it, but I’d guess you could extend that time frame to well over a year by the time you dive into each tutorial, app, online library, cam, TV show, or YouTube channel.

San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park Online Programming

A chimpanzee sits in the grass at San Diego Zoo.
A chimpanzee at San Diego Zoo

The resources that San Diego Zoo Global publishes online are far too many to name and ones I recommend tapping into under any circumstance. You check in on the animals at San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park at any time through the various animal cams. Follow both parks on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok and you’ll be treated to various live streams and videos of animals, behind the scenes work, and keeper talks. (I love the baby hippo videos.)

In addition, check out their robust kids’ curriculum that has games, crafts, and lesson plans for more in-depth learning about animal adaptations and then some. When it’s time to visit again, this section also houses self-guided kids’ itineraries for both parks.

Don’t forget that we have advice on how to save on San Diego Zoo tickets and San Diego Zoo Safari Park tickets including my exclusive ticket promo code. Every dollar you spend at the parks goes toward animal care and they will need our support.

I also recommend watching The Zoo: San Diego on Animal Planet to learn how the keepers care for the animals and more about San Diego Zoo Global’s conservation initiatives.

Ken Kramer’s About San Diego

We record Ken Kramer’s About San Diego (at this link you can watch all episodes) on KPBS weekly and view it together as a family. Each episode focuses on something interesting — big or small — like how Spreckels Organ Pavilion was built, the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, or what it’s like to walk through Annie’s Canyon in Solana Beach. I promise you’ll learn something new every time you tune in. This is a particularly good show for residents you’ll garner a deeper appreciation for buildings, natural structures, attractions, you may pass by daily.

Birch Aquarium at Scripps Resources

Four kids stand in front of the big Birch Aquarium kelp tank.
The Giant Kelp Forest

The public outreach arm of Scripps Institution of Oceanography is making available even more opportunities for online edutainment. I am a huge fan of year-round Birch Aquarium programming be it at the actual aquarium, summer camps, career events (for kids, too), pier walks, tide pool tours, whale watching with a naturalist and other off-site events.

You can truly learn a lot from simply visiting their website which you should do if your kids are interested in science. Take a look at the Giant Kelp Forest’s Kelp Cam to see plants and animals who live offshore, but stay tuned also for new materials sorted by grade that will need Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Balboa Park TV

Find the YouTube channels for all museums, arts, and cultural organizations that call Balboa Park home in one place. Show your support by subscribing to the channels that interest you and by watching a few videos.

This is one of the San Diego virtual tours that you can really get lost in because the content on these channels is so well-done and allows you to prepare for your next visit in addition to at-home activities.

San Diego Natural History Museum’s Coast to Cactus

The Coast to Cactus exhibit at the San Diego Natural History Museum showcases local flora and fauna.
The actual Coast to Cactus exhibit inside theNAT

Turn to San Diego Natural History Museum (theNAT) for a better understanding of who lives here. I’m not talking about humans, but rather our local flora and fauna. Of their many educational resources, I particularly like their Coast to Cactus site where, for example, you can sort by habitat or interest to see who lives where. Check it before hiking Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, for example, as you’ll learn about wildlife you might see.

Other fun activities include scavenger hunts that can be done at home or around the neighborhood. If you see a critter that you don’t know the name of, snap a pic and upload it to their iNaturalist portal for a museum scientist to identify. How cool is that?

San Diego History Center Online Library and Oral Interviews

San Diego History Center documents the story of San Diego through vast archives. I find the fact that they collect oral history interviews from residents with extraordinary experiences particularly interesting. Short clips from these interviews are available online.

Take a few minutes to listen to residents speak about what it was like to compete in the 1924 Olympics, ride a stagecoach to Ramona, live in the Point Loma Lighthouse, and so much more.

You can also get lost in their online library of historic photos (I enjoyed looking at black and whites from Anza Borrego that were shot in 1902), maps, and documents.

USS Midway Museum Virtual Experience

A military aircraft with an open cockpit sits on the deck of the USS Midway Museum.
Restored aircraft photo courtesy of the USS Midway Museum

Check the robust online programming offered by USS Midway Museum which gives a well-rounded overview of what to expect during your visit in addition to opportunities to start or continue the learning at home after a visit. (The amount of history one learns during a visit is quite staggering so an at-home refresh helps it sink in, especially for kids.)

You can listen to their awesome audio tour from home, take a look at the 30 restored aircraft before stepping into some of them on-site, view the museum in a 360 virtual tour, and download the Little Skippers word search, coloring, crossword, and other activity sheets including the USS Midway chocolate cookie recipe.

Hotel del Coronado Beach Cams

A lifeguard stands in front of a blue lifeguard tower on a sunny day at the Coronado beach in front of Hotel del Coronado.
The beach in front of Hotel del Coronado

Hotel del Coronado streams surf and sand via two beach cams. One points to the north and the other points to the south. What I like about these cams, as I receive A LOT of questions about what it’s like to stay here, is that you can see how crowded (or not) the beach is and some activity on the resort. I think it’s important for potential guests to see how big the beach is here and what the ocean is like. And, residents can take a look to see beach conditions before heading over for the day.

UC San Diego Narrated Tour

My alma mater, UC San Diego, offers an extremely well-done, high-resolution, narrated virtual tour of the campus, Scripps Pier, Geisel Library, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Sure, it’s designed for prospective students but you’ll learn about the important campus buildings, what life is like on campus, and take a peek at parts of the Stuart Collection (one of my favorite free things to do in La Jolla) like Fallen Star.

Museum of Man Mobile Tour

Courtyard view of the California Tower next to the Museum of Man dome.
Museum and California Tower (photo courtesy of Museum of Man)

Go behind the scenes at the Museum of Man via their mobile tour, available on the Balboa Park app. You can take a look at current exhibits, walk up the “secret” staircase (an original 1915 museum feature), and learn about what it takes to fabricate an exhibit.

Tip: When it comes time to visit the Museum of Man again, the California Tower’s earthquake retrofit is complete and ready for tours (book in advance). Bring your camera as the views are spectacular.

Surfline Surf Cams

There’s no need to guess what the surf is like here in San Diego when you can see it in real-time. Surfline has cams in multiple spots across the county including La Jolla Shores Beach, Torrey Pines State Beach, Moonlight Beach, Ocean Beach, and many others.

San Diego Museum of Art Podcast and Playlists

Two women admire art inside the San Diego Museum of Art.
Photo courtesy of San Diego Museum of Art

Subscribe to the San Diego Museum of Art’s YouTube channel for lectures and to learn more about their collection. I particularly like their SDMA + playlist where the museum sets the stage for performances by San Diego Opera, San Diego Youth Symphony, and other local performing arts organizations.

You can also tune into their Masterpiece Minute Podcast where a curator spotlights a piece of art each week for — you guessed it — a minute.

Presidio Hill Interactive StoryMap

One of the most overlooked yet historically important places in San Diego is Presidio Hill. Why? It was the site of the first European settlement in California, established in 1769. The historic structures are no longer visible but you can walk through the site, which is located in what is now Presidio Park. The Presidio Hill StoryMap showcases how the Kumeyaay used the land prior long before the Spanish arrived in addition to what was there and when. Sketches and photos accompany pinned points of interest on the map.

University of San Diego Virtual Tour

It’s not narrated but this virtual campus tour will give you a good idea of what the facilities are like at the University of San Diego from dorm rooms to the library if you’d like to see what college life is like on this gorgeous campus.

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