City Guide: San Diego, California
The Perfect Getaway to Sun, Sand and Mountains!
San Diego is one of my favorite cities in the United States because it offers beautiful beaches, stunning scenery, breathtaking mountains, desert, a fun city and neighborhoods as well as delicious foodie spots. Although I don’t like to travel to a city more than once, mainly because I like to see new places, San Diego is a destination I never get sick of.
The past few times I have been to Southern California, I visited San Diego as well as Orange County and Los Angeles and let me tell you, these areas could never disappoint! A couple of weeks ago, I decided to visit my good friend Kathryn who recently moved to San Diego and explore new places around the city that I hadn’t been to in prior SoCal trips.
(Kathryn and I share some great memories. Click here to read my blog post on when I visited Kathryn in her hometown of St. Louis, MO last year. Also the below photos at Sunset Cliffs were taken by Kathryn’s boyfriend Carey. You can check out his awesome and talented work here.)
Photo Credits: Carey Brown
Since I was able to just explore San Diego County this time around, I put together the best places to visit in and around the city so that you can experience the best of it during a week vacation, long weekend or even a day trip!
Enjoy an Adventurous or Relaxing Day at the Beach
Whether you are relaxing in Coronado, surfing in Mission Beach or hiking Torrey Pines, San Diego’s beaches offer something for everyone – even if you are not a beach person! Below are a list of my favorite beaches in San Diego and everything they have to offer.
- La Jolla Cove: One of my favorite places in the city of San Diego is La Jolla. This beautiful seaside village offers rugged coastal cliffs; sea caves on the beach and wonderful tide pools where you can hang out with the cutest seals. In addition to the Cove, the town of La Jolla features posh boutiques, waterfront restaurants and so much more!
- Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve: Torrey Pines is a state park that preserves 3,000 of the US’ most rare pine trees, salt marshes and so much more! There are eight miles of trails that offer different experiences for hikers. During my recent trip to San Diego, I did the Beach Trail where I was able to go under pine tree paths to a beautiful overlook of the Pacific Ocean. In addition, this trail offers cool canyon paths that lead you down the cliffs onto the beach. I had a blast! Once you are on the beach, there are incredible views of the cliffs!
- Coronado: Although the above two beaches are the most scenic in San Diego, I love Coronado Beach to sit down and have a relaxing and peaceful beach day. The beach is wide and flat and the ocean offers the best swimming area since there are no rocks and wild seaweed like what you normally see in La Jolla and Torrey Pines. I personally like to sit on the beach near the famous Hotel del Coronado because there is a beach bar and I think the hotel is so pretty! In addition, I love the town of Coronado because it offers some of the best restaurants and shops. Along with the beach and cute town, I also enjoy walking around the neighborhoods and admiring the gorgeous mansions. (A girl can dream!)
- Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach: If you are looking to enjoy a fun beach day with friends, watch a surfing competition or experience a “boardwalk” type of day, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach are the perfect places to go! I personally love hanging out in these towns because there is so much lively action and you could even grab breakfast or lunch at a beach café that directly overlooks the ocean. In addition to foodie spots, these beaches also offer great breweries with live music. If you have little kids and are looking for a place where they can go on rides, Belmont Park in Mission Beach is the perfect place to go!
Have Fun Downtown
- Gaslamp Quarter: The Gaslamp Quarter in Downtown San Diego offers some of the best nightlife in California. Easily accessible by car, public transit or bike, this great area is where modern architecture meets the Victorian-Age. Besides nightlife, the Gaslamp Quarter has great shops, gastropubs to watch a game and amazing restaurants and candy stores.
- Little Italy: Years ago, a large group of Italians came over to make their living by the Pacific. They lived in a specific neighborhood (now called Little Italy) that is currently flourished with cute patio cafés, the best Italian restaurants, urban wineries, Italian art galleries, boutique hotels and so much more! Plenty of our nation’s top chefs have created restaurants in Little Italy.
- Seaport Village: This cute little area is the perfect place to shop with a view. As you search for the perfect souvenir, watch sailboats and US Naval ships sail on by!
- Petco Park: Known as The World’s Best Ballpark in America, Petco Park is home to the San Diego Padres. Not only can you watch the Padres and another one of your favorite US sports teams play in the stadium, but you could also catch stunning views of San Diego Bay and the city’s skyline.
Explore Balboa Park
When I visited Southern California with my family back in summer 2016, we visited the famous Balboa Park. This beautiful park is known to be a place where culture, science and nature blend together. I love how this gorgeous park features beautiful Spanish architecture; it gave me a déjà vu of being back in Spain. In addition to going into the museums, Balboa Park is a great place to picnic, hike, bike ride and so much more!
Go on a Hike in the Desert
During my week in San Diego with Kathryn, I went on my first desert hike in the beautiful Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Wintertime is the best time to visit a desert since the weather is perfect for hiking. If you decide to go during the summer, expect to be hiking in 100-degree weather.
As the largest state park in California, Anza-Borrego is located in the Colorado Desert and offers 500 miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas and many miles of hiking trails. The drive into the desert was spectacular and it made me feel like I was in Mars.
If you are looking for a cool adventure, I definitely recommend doing the trail my friends and I did called the Palm Canyon Oasis. This 3.25-mile loop begins in the heart of the desert with floral cacti and ascends into a magical oasis with waterfalls and palm trees. It is truly an alluring desert canyon! You can even catch unique animals hanging out in the canyon.
About an hour south of Palm Canyon Oasis is the Borrego Springs. Surrounded by the beautiful marble rock of the canyons, enjoy relaxing in Anza-Borrego’s geothermal pools. It was the perfect way to end the day after a great hike.
In addition to hiking and relaxing in the geothermal pools, Anza-Borrego is a great place to also find the perfect camping ground!
Photo Credits: Carey Brown
Other great hikes in San Diego County are Mount Laguna, Mission Trails Regional Park, Cabrillo National Monument and so much more!
Sip on the Best Craft Beer
San Diego is considered to be the “Craft Beer Capital of America”. Beer in this city is embraced by the local food. A few of my favorite places to sip on a delicious brew are Barrel Republic in Mission Beach, Pizza Port in Point Loma, Ballast Point Brewing in Little Italy and Knotty Barrel in the Gaslamp Quarter. In addition to beer, I loved Madison – a fancy cocktail bar with a cute courtyard located in University Heights.
Taste Your Way Around the Different Neighborhoods
In addition to beer, San Diego is also known for it’s crafted food made by renowned chefs from all over the world. In fact, California ranks second, behind New York, as having the best food (in my opinion). Not only can you find the best Mexican and Asian Fusion food in this great city, but you can also find delicious Italian, Indian, Greek, Middle Eastern and American restaurants in San Diego. Below is a list of my favorite places to eat:
- Bistro d’Asia (Asian Fusion): Coronado
- RoVino (Italian): Little Italy
- Catania (Brick Oven Pizza): La Jolla
- City Tacos (Tacos): North Park
- Brockton Villa (Breakfast): La Jolla
- Bangkok Spices Thai Restaurant (Thai Food): North Park
- Moniker General (Coffee House): Point Loma
- Woody’s Breakfast and Burgers (Beachside Food): Pacific Beach
- Hammond’s Gourmet Ice Cream (Ice Cream): Pacific Beach, North Park, Point Loma
- Donut Bar (Donuts): Gaslamp Quarter
- Somi Somi (Korean-style Ice Cream): Kearny Mesa
- Gelato Paradiso (Gelato): Coronado
Watch the Sunset on the Pacific or Catch the Sunrise Over the Mountains
No matter where you are on the Pacific Coast, you will be sure to catch an amazing sunset along the ocean and among the swaying California trees.
When I was visiting Kathryn, I knew that I definitely wanted to catch a sunset at San Diego’s famous Sunset Cliffs, since I had never been before. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park offers intricately carved coastal cliffs, panoramic views of the ocean and you can even catch California gray whales from a distance (unfortunately, I didn’t see any when I was there).
The moment we reached Sunset Cliffs, I felt immediate bliss! The views were incredible and the ocean mist felt amazing against my skin. Experiencing a summer-like sunset in the middle of the winter is by far one of the best feelings!
Photo Credits: Carey Brown
Sunset Cliffs runs 68-acres along the western edge of the Point Loma area. The cliffs are super steep and you definitely need to watch where you step because there are no fences or guard rails. One of the cool things you can do is walk down this staircase to the beach area where you can catch the waves crashing along the cliffs. It was truly a beautiful evening.
A few other places you can catch the sunset in San Diego is at Mission Bay, Cabrillo National Monument, Seaport Village, a rooftop downtown and more!
Photo Credits: Carey Brown
The sunrise is also amazing to catch early in the morning. Depending on where you are, you can catch it at Mount Julian, Cabrillo National Monument and Coronado to name a few.
Spend Mornings Drinking Coffee on the Beach
Besides beer, coffee has also become a popular staple in San Diego. No matter what neighborhood you are in, you will sure find an amazing coffee shop! What is cool about San Diego’s coffee shops is that you can find them in some interesting areas and even on the beach! There is nothing more amazing than sipping a fresh cup of coffee with a view.
Get Cozy at a Bonfire on the Beach
Yes! A place where you could have a bon fire on the beach in real life and not have to live it through the movies – score!!! Some of San Diego’s beaches have fire pits lined up so that you and friends could get together and enjoy a cozy night snuggled up by the fire, while hearing the ocean crash. (It totally beats any other “wild” Friday or Saturday night.)
During one of the nights I was in San Diego, we all enjoyed a bonfire on Coronado Beach. We had a blast sharing stories, making s’mores and drinking San Diego’s locally crafted beer. What was cool was that the weather went from being clear to foggy. We felt like we were out in limbo since you could not see anything except your shadow in the fog. It was definitely one of the most memorable times in San Diego.
Visit a Winery
You don’t have to travel to Napa Valley to taste great California wines; Southern California also has amazing wineries with gorgeous scenery like what you can find in Northern California.
If you are looking to do something different than going to the beach or taking a hike, visiting a winery is definitely a great idea! Urban wineries are booming throughout the region and you can find a few of them in San Diego’s downtown area. I think going to an urban winery is a great idea if you live up north and want to get the vineyard experience during the winter or on a rainy day. Since I was in San Diego, I just HAD to go to an outdoor winery.
Kathryn and I found a great wine village in Escondido called Bernardo Winery. What is cool about this winery is that it is known as “Southern California’s Oldest Operating Winery”. As you taste your wine, you are allowed to walk around and enjoy the beautiful weather, head into the little shops and buy a souvenir, admire local art and even get a chocolate pairing with your tasting from the village’s sweet shop.
Last but not least, San Diego is the best city in the country to stay active. Since the city has sunshine for over 300 days out of the year with an average temperature around 65 degrees, there is no excuse to not be outside.
Photo Credits: Carey Brown
In this city, there is something for everyone! Some popular activities to get involved in are hiking, surfing, cycling, yoga, golf, swimming, beach volleyball, skateboarding, basketball, soccer, football, tennis and so much more!
I hope you all enjoyed reading my blog post on one of my favorite cities. I know you will fall in love with San Diego just as much as I did when you get to visit.
Photo Credits: Carey Brown
Live my trip and check out our 5-Nights in San Diego package. San Diego is a city offering a lot for everyone. Tons of beaches line San Diego’s coastline, ranging from the surfer’s beach to the family beach, to the private romantic beaches hidden away from the crowds. Attractions like Sea World and the world famous San Diego Zoo are a big reason San Diego is a great family destination. And for those who are just here to get away for the weekend and have a good time, San Diego offers an unbelievable nightlife with outrageous nightclubs, live concerts, professional sports, theatrical performances and much more.
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