San Diego is known for its picture-perfect weather, world-famous attractions and miles of stunning sun-drenched coastline.
With its rich history, cultural treasures, a myriad of museums, award-winning beaches, magnificent Pacific Ocean views and tantalizing cuisine, “America’s Finest City” as it is aptly named, is one of California’s favorite travel destinations. And for good reason.
Simply put, San Diego is as gorgeous as California gets. With its ideal 70-degree Mediterranean-like weather almost year-round, 265 average days of sunshine, coastal ocean breezes and incredible beaches, any time of the year is perfect for a visit. The insider joke among locals is “Why bother to check the weather?” It’s practically the same every day – sunny and mild.
As one of the nation’s most vibrant urban cities, San Diego takes pride in its laid-back easy-going character. It’s hard to believe San Diego is the 8th-largest city in the U.S. and 2nd-largest in California. The municipality encompasses 73-square miles while the county of San Diego covers a whopping 4,526-square miles including 17 incorporated communities. No matter where you are, a carefree “live and let live” attitude reigns supreme here. San Diegoans love the outdoors and as a result many attractions and activities are focused on the surf, the sand and the celebration of Mother’s Nature’s gifts to this region.
I first moved to San Diego in the 90s and was introduced to what I call the “surf culture.” It seems as if almost everyone here either surfs, body boards, stand-up paddles, dives, snorkels, kayaks, sails or hang-glides. The water just seems to be the natural draw.
Outdoor recreation is king in San Diego. As a result, more people here are more interested in the best surf spots, beaches or places to hike, bike or just relax rather than what you do for a living. Attire is for the most part total casual- shorts, flip-flops, sundress and of course a sweater or sweatshirt for our cool evenings, even in the summer. It’s quintessential California dress at its best.
Sports figures like professional golfer Phil Mickelson, NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers and pro skateboarder Tony Hawk reside in San Diego. Singer-songwriter Steve Perry, rocker Adam Lambert, and American author and alternative medicine advocate Deepak Chopra likewise call San Diego home. One of our most famous children’s and cartoonists of all time, the late Theodor Seuss Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) lived and wrote in San Diego’s La Jolla area until his death in 1991 and L. Frank Baum, the author of the Wizard of Oz resided in Coronado Island while he completed his famous novel.
With so much to explore in this incredibly fun and fascinating town, it’s a challenge to see and do it all in one visit. There are however some definite must-do jewels not to be missed. But, don’t stress about seeing it all, for guaranteed after one trip here, you’ll be planning your return!
Where to Stay
With a city that touts thousands of hotels, one of the first questions asked is “Where should I stay when visiting San Diego?” Location is a major factor. And choosing the right accommodations can also set the best tone for embracing the destination. Here are four delightful and fascinating lodging venues to suit any taste.
It’s worth the splurge to at least stay a few nights at this legendary historic hotel whose red turrets and white wedding-cake trim are an icon of San Diego. Built in 1888, it was once deemed “the unrivaled Queen of seaside resorts.” The “Del” as it’s fondly called, has hosted royalty, presidents and celebrities alike. The magnificent white sand beachfront it resides on stretches north for over a mile. Coronado’s walkable downtown with quaint boutiques and a host of restaurants is a mere stone’s throw away.
A tropical slice of paradise in San Diego’s Pacific Beach community, the Polynesian-inspired resort overlooks picturesque Mission Bay. It’s casual elegance with a magical touch of aloha. The Catamaran sports lush vegetation, palm trees, tiki torches, waterfalls, koi ponds, and exotic birds that love chatting with the guests.
Luxurious yet unpretentious, this oceanfront Balinese-inspired bed-and-breakfast hideaway is situated in the heart of La Jolla fronting the Pacific Ocean. Pantai provides a relaxing warm atmosphere unlike any other place in town. The quaint 30-room boutique inn offering unique cottage and suite accommodations is walking distance to the charming downtown seaside village.
Horton Grand Hotel
Located in the heart of downtown’s famous Gaslamp Quarter, this elegant historic Victorian hotel exudes timeless charm. Built in the mid-1880s, rooms feature classic antique furniture and gas fireplaces. Play enthusiasts will love the Horton Grand Theater located just around the corner.
Where to Play
San Diego is truly full of endless adventure and fun. Knowing where to find it makes all the difference. Everyone has their favorites but there’s no doubt that these amazing places will be at the top of everyone’s must-do list.
San Diego Beaches
San Diego boasts 70 miles of pristine sand along its stunningly beautiful coastline. Whether it’s relaxing, sunning, surfing, kayaking, beach volleyball or body-boarding, there are some great beaches to choose from. Our favorite spots are La Jolla Shores, Pacific Beach, Del Mar and Coronado.
One of the ways to explore stunningly beautiful San Diego is by water. For a relaxing two-hour 13-mile trip around the bay, San Diego Hornblower Cruises provides visitors close up views of the amazing historic Star of India, USS Midway WWII carrier, Coronado Bay Bridge and Navy ships. Tour guides point out over 50 San Diego landmarks and waterfront attractions including the amazing marine life that lives in the Pacific waters. For those who love the sun on their face and wind in their hair, a Catamaran sunset sail on the glittering San Diego Bay is an unforgettable experience.
Magnificent Balboa Park with its impressive Spanish architecture was built for the 1915 International Exposition. This historic park includes a myriad of impressive gardens and Botanical Building filled with rare flowers and orchids and hosts 17 museums.
For an impressive panoramic view of San Diego, we climbed seven stories and 125 stairs to a spiral staircase leading to an outdoor viewing deck at the Museum of Man’s California Tower. With Balboa Park below and the harbor, mountains and city beyond, San Diego appeared as an inspiring canvas of sight and color. On a clear day you can see all the way to Mexico.
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my. San Diego is home to a world-renowned zoological park housing more than 3,700 animals, many not seen in other zoos around the world. The San Diego Zoo is dedicated to protecting and breeding endangered species. Some of our favorite exhibits include the giant pandas in Panda Canyon and fascinating kangaroos and those cute, cuddly koalas perched in eucalyptus trees in the Australian Outback. We love riding the Skyfari Aerial Tram for a bird’s eye view of the lush and varied landscape (and animals) below.
Considered the “birthplace” of California, Old Town State Historic Park depicts California as it was in the 1830s when it belonged to Mexico. Old Town features restored adobe homes, a historic hotel and vintage shops with a true flair of the old Southwest. The Bazaar Del Mundo and Fiesta De Reyes areas feature colorfully festive displays, Mexican crafts, live entertainment and sumptuous restaurants.
The historic heart of modern San Diego is a walkable urban playground consisting of 16 blocks of restored Victorian-era buildings, historic hotels, museums, fine restaurants, pubs, nightclubs, theaters and shopping areas. The Gaslamp also hosts the San Diego Padres baseball stadium. You won’t find another area of the city with more vibe and energy – especially after dark.
Where to Dine
San Diego is a metropolitan city where visitors can find numerous restaurants covering international food genres. But to really get the feel of what makes San Diego cuisine so unique, here are some of the best.
Guaranteed you won’t get a better view than at this incredible restaurant on Harbor Island jutting over the waters of San Diego Bay. It’s land and sea dishes are delightfully delectable. Happy Hour not only features some of the best appetizer choices with breathtaking patio vistas of the bay, city skyline and Coronado Island.
Just crossing over the Coronado Bay Bridge is an exhilarating experience in itself. So is the dining at Peohe’s. Located on the water’s edge at Coronado Island’s Ferry Landing, this splendid restaurant specializes in fresh tropical Pacific Rim seafoods while providing spectacular views of the San Diego Bay and downtown skyline.
Old Town San Diego is filled with numerous top-notch Mexican restaurants but Casa De Reyes has the most fun and festive vibe in an open-air courtyard setting. The menu is extensive so everyone can find something they love. But word of warning: Portions are as large as their fish bowl-sized margaritas.
It’s Italian food at its finest with a modern twist on classics at Civico 1845 located in the heart of San Diego’s Little Italy district. What sets the restaurant apart from other eateries in the area is the quality of its authentic Calabrian-inspired dishes. Pastas and breads are made in-house and the menu focuses on locally grown and seasonal ingredients. Even the interior of the resplendent trattoria is designed with reclaimed woods and antiques.
Ansel Adams once wrote “It is all very beautiful and magical here—a quality which cannot be described. You have to live it and breathe it, let the sun bake into you.” He must have been thinking of San Diego.
Words and Photographs by Noreen Kompanik