JM – San Diego personifies California’s cool and laid back vibe. In this guest post, Christina Mattos tells us all about the gorgeous beaches and delicious Mexican food of her home town.
To locals, San Diego is known as “America’s Finest City,” and for good reason. Not only is it home to some of the country’s best beaches with great weather year-round, but its many neighborhoods are culturally diverse with lots of vibrant nightlife.
Things to See and Do
Balboa Park is a favorite spot in San Diego for locals and tourists alike. Take a picnic and lounge on one of the many grassy areas and gardens, stroll through the main walk and check out the early 1900s-era buildings’ Spanish architecture, or visit one of the many museums on the grounds – then, go to The Prado for cocktails and lunch!
Believe it or not, San Diego’s Downtown was once full of brothels and saloons during the late 1800s. Today, there are high-rises, locally-owned restaurants, bars, a major league ballpark, boutique shops, and nightclubs.
It is one of the cleanest downtown areas I have ever seen, and is very accessible even if you are driving (unlike NYC or SF)! Two areas to check out are the Gaslamp District, and East Village – both have a plethora of great restaurants, bars, and shopping.
Pacific Beach is one of San Diego’s quirkier (and rowdier!) beach communities. Take a stroll along the boardwalk for some great sunset views over the crashing waves and awesome people watching! Feel free to don your roller blades if you are feeling adventurous. Then, go bar-hopping on Garnet Avenue when the sun goes down.
PB, as it is known to locals, is also a popular spot for a trip to the beach for surfing and swimming – plus there are a bunch of great bars and restaurants steps from the beach for a break from the sun.
Torrey Pines is actually a State Reserve – and thankfully, 2,000 acres of this beautiful San Diego ocean-front landscape has been carefully preserved. Whereas most all the rest of San Diego’s beachfront has been developed, Torrey Pines remains a great place for a hike where you can witness the natural habitat of the area and get some exercise in all at once!
At the start of the trail, you ascend up a hill until you reach the top of the bluffs overlooking the ocean – can’t beat the views. You then descend back down to the water front and walk along the sand on your way back – or you can bring a beach chair and hang out.
Coronado Island is most well-known for the historic Hotel Del Coronado – but it’s beaches were recently named the best in the country. Coronado became a huge resort destination during the late 1800s, and was home to the famous Tent City.
Drive over the Coronado Bridge to get there and spend some time lounging on the beaches and wandering around “The Del” – maybe you’ll see the ghost that reportedly still haunts the halls! There are also many great restaurants just down the street, perfect for an evening stroll to The Del after dinner.
Food and Drink
You cannot make a visit to San Diego and not eat Mexican food at least once. There are authentic taco shops and family-run Mexican food joints everywhere you look, and when people move away from here, Mexican food is the first thing they miss! San Diego also has a lively craft beer scene – don’t miss the breweries!
Hands down the most reasonably-priced restaurant with the best view in PB – you sit right on the boardwalk with the beach just beyond. They also happen to have great lobster tacos, half-off on Wednesdays!
The rest of their food is great as well, especially breakfast. The parking here can be a hassle, so its best to walk or bike.
Mmmm, Mexican. In San Diego, you have the best of the best of this cultural cuisine. From fancy, gourmet spots, to hole-in-the-wall taco shops, we have it all. Miguel’s on Coronado Island is one of my favorites.
It has a great courtyard with an authentic Mexican ambiance, a great location, and the jalapeno cheese dip they give you with fresh tortilla chips is to die for. Can’t miss the margaritas as well.
Visit Stone Brewery and sample one of San Diego’s more popular local craft beers. You can take a tour of the brewing facilities while you sample, then fill a growler with your favorite to take with you! This location also has a great restaurant – Mac ‘n Beer Cheese, anyone?
The surrounding one-acre organic beer garden is another highlight of the property. The Stone IPA is pretty popular, but they have a huge selection to chose from so it’s easy to find something to suit your tastes. The location is a bit out of the way (in Escondido), but it is worth a visit.
Fig Tree Cafe
This cute and cozy cafe was once a house, and has since been converted into a breakfast and brunch favorite. All of the seating is outside on the patio, either under a tree in the front, behind a white picket fence, or in the back garden – great for enjoying the sunny San Diego weather.
Their french toast is amazing, as is almost everything else on the menu; they pride themselves on locally sourced ingredients and made-to-order meals. The wait can get really long on the weekends, so try and show up before 11 AM to get a table, or plan to go on a weekday morning.
How to get there
Driving to San Diego is easy, as it is just a few hours from Los Angeles via Interstate 5, or just over five hours from the Phoenix, AZ area via Interstate 8. Driving is the preferable method, as lack of public transportation in San Diego makes it difficult to visit any other area than the one you stay in if you don’t have a car. San Diego’s many neighborhoods are spread-out and mostly only connected by freeways, so some kind of vehicle is essential if you want to see more than one area of San Diego.
The airport has a great location, right near Downtown San Diego. Flying in is a good option, as there are usually multiple flights per day arriving, and not many weather-related delays. Again, if flying in, I would recommend hiring a rental car as well in order to maximize your time spent visiting here.
A bit of orientation
Here’s a handy map laying out all the sights mentioned above to give you an idea of where things are in San Diego. Click on the markers to see the sight listed and zoom and pan around to see more of the map.
View 48 hours in San Diego in a larger map
Get around in San Diego
As there is little to no public transportation in San Diego, your best bet is driving or renting a car. If staying in one of the beach communities, renting a bike for a day or two would allow for exploring those neighborhoods, but that would restrict your mobility to other areas of San Diego.
If you are staying Downtown and are not interested in visiting any other areas, you could get away with no vehicle, as there are taxis everywhere and the area is very walkable. There is a trolley that services a few areas, primarily Downtown to Old Town and then on to Mission Valley and Fashion Valley for shopping.
Where to Stay
In looking for lodging in San Diego, it depends what you are looking for and how much you want to spend. There are many high-rise hotels Downtown if you want an urban, city vibe and will be spending most of your time away from the beach – The Hard Rock Hotel is popular and has a central location.
In the beach communities, there is not as much of a selection in hotels, but you can find more budget accommodations in PB or Ocean Beach – these two areas also have a plethora of beach-front vacation rentals, which can be a better choice for a large group versus a hotel.
There are a good number of upscale and luxury accommodations
As with most coastal areas throughout California, there is a high cost of living in San Diego, and this translates over to the tourism industry. Drinks and food can be expensive, especially Downtown or in other upscale neighborhoods. If you are planning on going to the bars or nightclubs, plan on shelling out up to $12 per drink. Make it to Pacific Beach or Ocean Beach and it is a bit cheaper with more of a relaxed, beach-town atmosphere, thus prices are a bit lower. If coming from out of state, also keep in mind gas prices are higher here as well.
San Diego has something for everyone, young and old alike. Whether you are a city-dweller looking for a beach getaway with family, a single who loves the night-life and nightclub atmosphere, or an outdoorsy type craving some adventure – even a mix of all of the above, you will find it here.