Even though you might not know it, San Diego is the second largest city in California not San Francisco (Los Angeles is the largest). San Diego, on the southern border of the state, has more than 1.5 Million residents and more than 4.5 Million in the metropolitan area. It also has glorious weather, beautiful beaches, delicious food and one of the nicest lifestyles of any city in the world!
San Diego lies on the Pacific Coast of California that’s immediately adjacent to the Mexican border. In fact, Tijuana, Mexico is, for all intents and purposes, part of the same metro area as San Diego. Its often referred to as the ‘birthplace of California’ because it was the first place a European explorer claimed the land for Spain in 1542.
Meet Charles, the Prince of Whales!
Camp Pendleton, Miramar Marine Corp Base and Naval Base Coronado give San Diego a distinctly military feel. The city grew very rapidly in the post-World War II period because of its excellent climate, beautiful scenery and convenient amenities. Today, San Diego is affectionately the leading city in ‘SoCal’ – the local nickname of “Southern California” and one of the nicest places for a city-break in the world.
You’ll probably fly into San Diego International Airport; it’s just 4.8km (3 miles) northwest of Downtown San Diego and is easily accessible via local taxis and Uber. The Airport only has a single runway because of its geographic position which makes SDIA the busiest single-runway airport in the world.
No Gas-lighting about the Gaslamp Quarter!
There’s an endless number of things to do in San Diego whether you like exploring nature, shopping, relaxing on the beach or all in the same day. Here are my favourite sites in San Diego:
- Balboa Park– This is probably THE thing to do in the city because there is just so much available in this cool facility. This gorgeous, 1,200-acre urban park, has 16 botanical gardens and 16 museums. The historical buildings are decorated in typical Spanish-colonial style and really add to the energy of the place. Cotton candy, popcorn and other snacks are available as you explore.
- Gaslamp Quarter– There are 94 historic buildings in this revitalised downtown area. There’s so much to see and do in the neighbourhood. It’s the perfect place to visit and tour microbreweries, boutique stores and cafés.
- The San Diego Zoo– The San Diego Zoo may be the best zoo facility in the entire world! Its 100 acres is huge, so be prepared to walk a lot as you come face to face with so many amazing and beautiful animals. The Zoo is located in Balboa Park.
- Whale Watching– I try to go whale watching whenever the opportunity arises. The California Gray Whale migrates from Northern Alaska to Baja California to give birth and passes close by San Diego. During the months from December to April you can hop aboard a tour boat to spot these magnificent creatures as well as plenty of sea lions, seals and dolphins.
- USS Midway Museum– Walk along the Embarcadero, a beautiful seaside path, and visit this museum housed on the famous aircraft carrier. Don’t miss the WW2 aircraft deck which is interesting and interactive. You can also take the perfect photo by the Unconditional Surrender statue.
- Belmont Park– This amusement park is amazing, whether you’re spending the day or night! Be a big kid for the day and enjoy the fun and electric atmosphere, with exciting rides. You’ll have a blast.
- Beaches– Your options are enormous; there are more than 50 beaches in San Diego County, so you’re definitely spoilt for choice. Here are my two favourites:
- – Mission Beach is a wide and sandy beach in a tranquil area of the city but also has a ton of activities in this area. It has the perfect pavement to enjoy a seaside cycle, it’s next to Belmont Park and you can play volleyball on the beach.
- – Cross the San Diego-Coronado Bridge for a day at one of the best beaches in America; Coronado Beach. Beachfront mansions line the coast, as well as the elegant Hotel del Coronado, giving this beach a real exclusive feel. It’s a perfect spot for a picnic and a bit of swimming.
Visiting La Jolla makes me jolly!
- La Jolla Cove– This is one of the most photographed coasts in California because it is just beautiful! La Jolla Ecological Reserve consists of many different habitats from reefs to sandy bays to underwater canyons. This is a perfect area for diving or kayaking.
San Diego’s Spanish past and proximity to Mexico makes for amazing dining options. These are my favourite foodie spots around the city:
- Oscar’s Mexican Seafood – This restaurant is the shining star for seafood tacos. Their ‘Taco Especial’ is the stuff of legends including smoked fish, shrimp and scallops, served with cabbage, onion, tomato, cilantro, avocado, and cheese.
- Tacos el Gordo– If you’re looking for authentic, Tijuana-style tacos, then look no further. These amazing tacos are topped with different types of rich meat like beef or pork, pineapple, avocado and a whole lot of other equally delicious options!
- Mariscos Nine Seas Seafood– This incredible food truck is a local favourite. Fresh, high-quality seafood is served at a reasonable price. Everything on this menu tastes great but don’t miss the ceviche tostadas with fish or shrimp.
A city like San Diego is perfect for enjoying warm evenings with friends. These are my favourite night-time activities:
- South Bay drive-in cinema– I’m always on the lookout for a classic drive-in cinema. Many have gone out of business in the US so it’s always exciting to come across a great one. This is a cool and classic experience in a post-Covid world!
- Upper East Bar– The Gaslamp Quarter is super-cool at night, especially in this amazing, open air, rooftop bar. It has a laid-back vibe, excellent drinks and is a place to see and be seen.
- Noble Experiment– This tiny speakeasy-style bar lies hidden behind a wall of beer barrels and the drinks are just as cool as the decor. This is a place where mixology is an art. The drinks are carefully curated. I recommend you try ‘La Guapa’ to spice up your life; made of blanco tequila, ancho chile liqueur, lime, and red pepper. This drink is spicy but yummy!
Here’s another pro-tip: Garnet Street is the perfect place to mingle on a warm night. It practically turns into a party block at night due to the close proximity of bars. It is the best spot for a bar crawl.
You’re spoilt for choice on stays in San Diego. No matter what your style, you’ll find a cool place to stay. Here are my favourites:
- Horton Grand Hotel– This stunning hotel in the Gaslamp Quarter oozes charm and historic architecture. Aside from being in the perfect location, the rooms are very comfortable, all the modern amenities you’d expect are included and some of the rooms have gorgeous little balconies from which you can sip your coffee.
- Hotel Marisol Coronado– This boutique hotel is a Designated Historic Building. This is the perfect intimate and relaxing setting. It features lush Italian linens, free bicycle loans and free beach chairs.
- Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa– This hotel has the ultimate California vibe, with Spanish colonial architecture, upscale boho furnishings and a peaceful garden oasis. Each luxurious room features plush bathrobes (my all-time favourite hotel perk), there’s an excellent spa and you can take a yoga class in the garden!
All dressed up for a night out!
Like Tupac and the Beach Boys, San Diego has me “California Dreaming”. I know you’ll love visiting San Diego because everyone does!