If you’re looking to explore abandoned places in San Diego, I got you covered. Below are my 10 favorite abandoned locations in “America’s finest city.”
Abandoned Places In San Diego
1. Daley Ranch
Daley Ranch was home to American Indians for hundreds of years before eventually being claimed by white settlers around 1869 (nice). The area was named after the white settler Robert Daley who built a small cabin in the area. Shortly after a federal land survey in 1875, the land was seemed to be his. He soon expanded from 160 acres to nearly 3000.
When Daley died in 1916, the property didn’t get much use. It was leased for ranching and dairy production until the lease was no longer profitable. The land was bought by the Escondido City Council and marked as a habitat preserve.
One of the few surviving artifacts is an old ranch house from 1925, which still bears its bright red color after all these years. According to locals, much of the wood used to make the cabin came from salvaged shits that docked near Cape Horn.
Traces of Native American artifacts are difficult to find, but not impossible. You’ll need a sharp eye and some boots to handle the terrain off the path.
2. Old Highway 80
Old Highway 80 is just like the famous Route 66, but a lot less talked about. It was built in 1926 and ready for motorists in 1927. The two-lane highway twisted through midwest mountains and cut through the California sand dunes. Unfortunately, the newer and wider US 80 route would steal traffic from the old 80. This left many communities and businesses without traffic, forcing them to move on.
Route 80 stretches all the way from San Diego to western Georgia, making it a great option for a cross-country road trip. Like Route 66, there are tons of abandoned homes, rusted cars, and forgotten Americana along the way. Parts of Old Highway 80 are impassible without an all-terrain vehicle so be cautious when following the route.
3. Chargers Park
Chargers Park was the old Chargers Headquarters before the team left San Diego. This caused quite a stir among charges fans and many were devastated when the news broke the team would play for Los Angeles. When the announcement was made, many former fans flocked to Chargers Park to burn their memorabilia.
The facility was left empty for years, with the lights and water still running. Taxpayers stated this was a waste of their resources but the city defended their actions stating that utilities were needed to keep the building secure and semi-functional. For a brief period of time, the local police department occupied the space.
While the facility is in decent shape, the field where the team would train is overgrown. The interior is in disrepair but still appears to be functional. Its definitely one of the most iconic abandoned places in San Diego, so you won’t want to pass this place up.
4. Old California Theater
The theater was built in 1927 and cost just under $350,000 to build. During its heyday, the five-story auditorium could seat just over 2000 people. The theater housed many silent films during its early years, and expanded into more modern plays during the 1970s.
The Old California Theather fell on hard times during the lates 70s. With mounting maintenance costs and dwindling sales, the building was in danger. After the owner failed to pay back its loan for restoration, the theater shut its doors for good in 1990.
The Old California theatre is just as deadly as it is beautiful. Inside the wall and ceilings suffer from random collapse and asbestos covers the wall and insulation. The old theater is possibly one of the best-preserved abandoned places in San Diego.
5. Goat Canyon Trestle
Built-in 1919, this stretch of isolated track was dubbed the “impossible railroad” due to its curvature and size. Even still today it’s known as the world’s largest all wooden trestle. The track was built when a nearby tunnel collapse prevented trains from moving west.
Engineers opted for an all-wooden construction to combat the corrosion and the effects of rust over time. Their strategy paid off. The track was operational until being closed in 2008. There was a brief attempt to restore service to the line, but costs and other collapses down the line forced workers to scrap their plan.
Although abandoned, the Goat Canyon Trestle is still in great shape and is a known destination for local hikers. The tracks, abandoned tunnels, and old train cars can still be explored. The track is five miles off Route 8 in the middle of the desert, making it one of the more difficult abandoned places in San Diego to visit.
6. Horton Plaza Dead Mall
First opened in 1985, Horton Plaza was known for its vibrant colors and mix of indoor and outdoor commercial spaces. The mall thrived throughout the 70s and like most malls, sharply declined in the mid-2000s. While the rise of e-commerce plays a large role in the mall’s failure, many also blame mismanagement and exorbitant parking fees for its downfall.
The mall shuttered in 2016, with the last store, Macy’s leaving the building in 2020.
Horton Plaza is one of the largest abandoned places in all of San Diego, but it won’t stay that way for long. The complex is scheduled for demolition soon, where highrise apartments will take it’s place. In the meantime, the mall is an eerie playground for explorers and those curious enough to venture inside.
7. Marshal Scotty’s Playland Park
Marshal Scotty’s Playland Park was a quaint amusement park that entertained families throughout the 70s up until the mid-90s. The owner had a plan to expand the small park into an empire, an oasis in the desert. Unfortunately, after investing nearly half a million dollars into the park, the business filed for bankruptcy in the late 90s.
Remnants of the massive waterslide, Ferris wheel, and many of the original rides all sit idle throughout the park. While the park is privately owned, it is only been known to reopen around Haloween as a haunted attraction. While the park is small, it’s still a unique abandoned place to photograph not too far from downtown San Diego.
8. Old Blockhouse
One of the more obscure abandoned places in San Diego is nestled in the shadow of Mt. Soledad. On a hill, barely visible from the road is an old WWII command and control bunker quietly withering away with time. Long-time residents knew the place only as of the Old Blockhouse.
Built after the attack on Pearl Harbor, staff at the bunkhouse would be the first to see incoming Japanese ships, submarines, or planes. Its elevation also made it a great communication outpost. The building was shuttered in 1961, but was deemed too difficult to demolish.
La Jolla Light did an excellent write-up on the location’s history if you’re interested in learning more.
From what I gathered, the bunkhouse is still abandoned, but the property is used by the High-Performance Wireless Research & Education Network which uses the antenna to send real-time data regarding natural disasters.
9. Camp Minnewawa WWII Bunkers
Camp Minnewawa Bunkers are another abandoned place in San Diego that was built in response to WWII. Scattered over 3500 acres of land, the army carved concrete bunkers into the hillside facing west. The bunkers were designed to store radar units, along with fuel and maintenance supplies to support communications. The site was abandoned in 1947 just after the war was won.
Many of the bunkers are in great condition despite their age. Getting to the bunkers requires a four-wheeler or a vehicle with all-wheel drive. Alternatively, you can always park and hike along the cliffside.
10. SS Monte Carlo
The SS Monte Carlo was one of hundred of concrete ships constructed during WWI. A shortage of steel prompted the Navy to mass-produce concrete ships as a reserve emergency fleet. When the war ended, the military was stuck with hundreds of impractical concrete ships. Some of these ships were turned into artificial reefs, or break walls to combat erosion.
The Monte Carlo however was marooned on the coast on New Years Day in 1937 when a storm took her off into the shallow waters near Conoado Island.
The deck and hull of the ship is just visible during normal conditions. It’s a popular tourist place, so don’t be surprised to see beach goers crowding the area. To view the abandoned ship best I’d suggest going during sunrise and using a drone.
Go out and explore!
That concludes our list of abandoned places in San Diego, but that doesn’t mean that’s all there is to find. Take the back roads, follow train tracks, and find some places for yourself. There are plenty of places I kept off this list so get out there and explore.