The Sand and Surf
Younger residents enjoy Mission and Pacific Beaches; a three-mile stretch of sand and sun that is lined with joggers, rollerbladers and (slightly odd) Segway riders whizzing past beautiful sunbathers and volleyball players. The regions are known for their daytime drinking and are filled with bars serving up ice cold beers and a regional favorite: fish tacos. (They may sound strange, but a visit to SD wouldn’t be complete without a fish or lobster taco and a cold beer: we recommend the ones from Lahaina, World Famous or PB Shore Club.)The laid-back hippie crowd flock to Ocean Beach, located just south of Mission Beach and home to one of the city’s best farmer’s markets (which is actually more of a street fair than a showcase of local produce). Residents flood the streets on Wednesday evenings to sample street food and peruse vendors, occasionally ducking in to one of Newport Street’s famous bars before catching a glimpse of the sunset over the Ocean Beach pier.
Family oriented residents and tourists favor La Jolla Cove and Coronado Island: both are stunning beaches with a more laid-back crowd. Families can rent kayaks, bicycles, surfboards or snorkel gear to get the most of their time in the water, and many choose to scour La Jolla’s tide pools for a glimpse of sea life.
San Diego’s booming downtown, nicknamed The Gaslamp District, is a charming scene: nightclubs and restaurants are situated in New Orleans-style buildings and the cobblestone streets are lined with the gaslamps that are the region’s namesake. Just a few streets away lies the trendier “East Village”, housing beautiful Petco Park, fusion restaurants, bars full of artisan beers and a booming nightlife for the “hipster” crowd.
Italian cuisine lovers flock to Little Italy, one of San Diego’s gems, which is located in between Downtown and the Embarcadero. Once a fishing village that was home to Italian immigrants, this fascinating region of San Diego now boasts stunning simultaneous views of Downtown and the Harbor and streets lined with delicious Italian restaurants (Bencotto Italian Kitchen, located on Fir Street, is highly recommended). As an endearing throwback to an older time, elderly Italian men can still be seen at the local coffee shops, sipping espresso and speaking in their native language.
Tourist “Hot Spots”
Of course, San Diego houses numerous “traditional” tourist destinations: the world-famous San Diego Zoo, beautiful Balboa Park and its many museums, Sea World, the Wild Animal Park and Lego Land are all full-day adventures for tourists (especially those traveling with young children). The supposedly haunted Hotel del Coronado on Coronado Island is a stunning architectural feat (and a great place to grab a cocktail while watching the sun set after a hard day of laying on the beach). Sunset Cliffs, thus known for its name, is another perfect place to end a San Diego day.
Those interested in shopping will fall in love with Fashion Valley: a stretch of shopping malls and stores that is so large, it only seems fitting that the word “fashion” is incorporated into the name of this region. Decently-priced boutiques (with clothing for both men and women) line the streets of Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach and high-end boutiques are a staple of La Jolla and Del Mar, two posh beach towns just north of downtown.
San Diego’s proximity to Mexico ensures that Mexican cuisine is authentic and delicious. Hole-in-the-wall taco shops are a staple of any region in San Diego, and fine-dining Mexican restaurants can be found throughout the city as well. We recommend Ramon’s in Pacific Beach (a drive-thru or walk-up venue with delicious breakfast burritos) and Cantina Mayahuel, a small, beautiful restaurant that serves up EVERYTHING grilled alongside a shot of tequila from their impressive collection.
For a more extensive menu (and still impressive tequila selection) try Ponce’s in Kensington. Given its location next to the water, seafood is an obvious favorite of the city as well. Anthony’s Fish Grotto, located on the Embarcadero, is a tourist favorite (its view of the water is hard to beat!). Just south of the Embarcadero is The Fish Market, whose first floor is a working fish market and second floor is a beautiful restaurant with a gorgeous view of the water and the Point Loma peninsula.
San Diego is known for its artisanal beer community, and several restaurants offer local microbrews that are delicious. Try Ocean Beach’s Pizza Port: diners can order pizza by the slice and sample any of their numerous craft brews. Another local favorite is Hamilton’s Tavern: located in South Park, this venue has the feel of a casual pub yet serves high quality, regional microbrews.
Wine lovers can take the one hour drive to Temecula, San Diego’s wine country, to tour wineries and taste the local wines. Although the wines are not as high in quality as Central and Northern California, the tours are a fun way to spend a day, and the wineries are quite beautiful.
Of course, a trip to California would not be complete without a trip to In N Out, arguably the best fast food (so good, in fact, that I refuse to consider it fast food). A double-double animal-style and a chocolate milkshake are the perfect way to say “adios” to the city of sand and sun.
Written by Amanda Roberts
Main image by Whitney Currier