From beautiful beaches to friendly locals to a burgeoning food scene, San Diego has some of the best attractions California has to offer. Whether you’re just planning a trip to America’s Finest City or are traveling south from Los Angeles for a few days, here are some places that will help you experience the low-key lifestyle that the citizens of San Diego enjoy.
You could spend a whole day here, strolling through the Japanese Friendship Garden for some serenity, perusing the Mingei for its unique, folk-art collections, watching the koi swim lazily among the lilies, or browsing artists’ wares in the Spanish Village. To eat, you can spread a blanket on one of the many expansive lawns for a picnic, or choose from one of two restaurants, The Prado or Panama 66. At night, catch a play at one of several theaters, including outdoor summer Shakespeare in a replica of the Old Globe. Balboa Park is San Diego’s inland crown jewel.
If you’re looking for sun and salt water, Aqua Adventures offers kayak and paddle-board rentals. Paddle past sea lions lounging on the docks, duck into quieter coves or (for the more adventurous) paddle out from the jetty toward the Pacific Ocean. In the summer, you can watch firework displays from the water, and if you’re looking to tie the knot, they even offer proposal packages. While you paddle, they will set up a private location on the bay where you can paddle up and propose on a beach with a fire, tiki torches, roses and wine.
This long stretch of coastline is one of Southern California’s more picturesque attributes. La Jolla Shores offers plentiful parking and a wide beach. Cliffs to the north stand above more remote, difficult-to-access strips of sand. Other neighborhoods to the south provide access to charming little coves and coastal crannies. Scripps Park has a wide expanse of lawn from which to take in the view. When in doubt, just drive along the water until you find parking, hop out and start walking. It’s hard to go wrong with so many spots to gaze out to the great ocean beyond.
The locals often head east to the mountains to go hiking, but if you’re only in town for a few days, there’s no better place than Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Stop at the visitor center at the top of the hill for information about the surrounding wildlife, and then wander the miles of meandering trails that offer unparalleled views of the Pacific. For a little more adventure, descend the steep trails to the beach below. From up high or down low, you can watch the waves roll in underneath a sunset sky for a quintessential Southern California experience.
Established in East Village long before the neighborhood became a hipster hangout, Café Chloe has cut its own path from the beginning. Every detail is attended to, from the design to the impeccable service. Offering traditional French dishes for brunch, lunch and dinner, it’s the closest thing you will find to Paris west of the Seine. Eat inside their beautiful restaurant or at a sidewalk table like a Parisian. Try the pommes frites with the trio of dips, the lavender mimosa, or the croque madame.
You may not find this restaurant in many guidebooks, and for good reason. The Wellington has a speakeasy feel, as if you are traveling back in time to an era when the drinks were stiff and privacy the norm. A small restaurant with an even smaller bar offers low-lit tables and a sleek atmosphere. The menu is full of elegant meat dishes and classic cocktails. You don’t have to order a martini and Beef Wellington, but you’d be a fool not to.
Find a bit of the Old Country in the New World by visiting Costa Brava. Specializing in dishes from northern Spain like pan tomaca con jamon and patatas a la brava (with a few like paella from the south), Costa Brava makes you feel like you’ve just arrived in Spain. Avoid the soccer crowd (the schedule’s on their website), but try the Sunday flamenco shows, or pick a table either in the rustic dining room or on their heated patio.
For lovers of perfectly paired food and wine, visit this restaurant tucked away in the Mission Hills neighborhood. Specializing in prix-fixe, three- and five-course menus built to complement wine flights, this intimate bistro offers gourmet fare. Both the heated patio and dining room with a fireplace and wine shelves are cozy. You’ll feel like you’ve stumbled upon San Diego‘s best-kept secret.
A San Diego institution with rich history, ‘The Del‘ has been hosting royalty, politicians and celebrities since the Victorian era, with good reason, too. This beautiful hotel right on the beach offers superior service, charming decor and world-class dining all in one location. Enjoy brunch at Sheerwater, stroll along one of San Diego’s best beaches, and dine in style at 1500 Ocean. Sunday brunch in the Crown Room is a feast for the eyes and the palate. Located on Coronado, you can hop on a ferry to go downtown, or simply choose to spend your stay on the ‘island‘.
View of Pacific from Hotel Room | Courtesy of Tower 23 Hotel
Tower 23 Hotel
L.A. chic meets laid-back San Diego at this boutique hotel in Pacific Beach. Located just north of Crystal Pier, you can walk farther north for quieter cliff views, or stroll south to cruise along the boardwalk. A long stretch of beach full of surfers and sun worshippers is a stone’s throw away. Its modern, minimalist decor is gorgeous, but it doesn’t distract from the real beauty of the Pacific outside your window. Enjoy cocktails in the swanky bar, and then watch the sun set over the Pacific as you sample delicious, locally inspired cuisine at their top-flight restaurant JRDN.