I’m still getting over the fact that I got to go to San Diego. What was first a passing suggestion grew more concrete every day, until finally after several phone calls back and forth we booked our flights. And so the fun began.
Whenever you go someplace new, it’s easy to fall into the tourist trap, going to the same places as everyone else, doing all the same things. While in Spain, I had a good balance of touristy must-sees and discovering hidden gems by hitting the pavement. This time my friend’s brother acted as our host and occasional guide through the city.
There’s really something for everyone in San Diego. I compiled a handful of my favorite things to do there, broken down by genre. I hope you get to go and experience it for yourself, but just in case, I’ll do my best to give the city justice.
I’m a warm weather girl; the cold makes my bones shiver. Most people can’t wrap their minds around it, but I’d choose being sweaty over being cold any day of the week. You can imagine how much I love California weather. Sunny and balmy, without the East coast humidity.
One of the best ways to soak up the San Diego sun is on its numerous beaches (a side effect of being on the California coast). Walk along the Ocean Beach pier or La Jolla Shores, and dig your toes into the warm sand while the breeze plays gently with your hair. I could spend all day relaxing that way.
At Mission Bay I discovered how cold the water of the Pacific Ocean still is in August. Luckily it only took a few minutes for my body to adjust to the temperature, as we dove under sparkling blue waves. Sitting at the water’s edge afterwards, you’ll see gorgeously variegated colors decorating the thousands of clam shells peppering the sand as they’re uncovered by the ebb and flow of the tide.
HIT 10K STEPS
Like I said, I think the best way to really see a city is to walk it. How else would I have seen all the giant cacti in people’s yards?
One of the first places we went to was Sunset Cliffs. You can climb down to the beach below or take a page from our book and settle down at the cliff’s edge, where we enjoyed a picnic dinner by the light of the descending sun. I was in complete awe watching it drop before my eyes, turning the Pacific into a glittery canvas.
For those of you who are more actively inclined, make sure to go on a hike. We did the Fortuna Mountain trail on Sunday. It’s about 6 miles long, reaching some serious elevation at the North and South Summits. Piece of advice— turn left at the beginning. The trail starts off easy enough, then hits you with steep uphill climbs that make your muscles burn as you go up and down the mountain.
It was worth every drop of sweat.
No surprise that the first thing I did after dropping off my suitcase was catch an Uber to the Ocean Beach Farmers’ Market. The tents stretch down Newport Avenue on Wednesday afternoons and the air carries the scent of hot food made to order.
I stopped to chat with a donut vendor who caught my attention with the word “shalom” (hello in Hebrew). The next block is full of brightly colored bouquets of flowers and baskets overflowing with freshly picked produce. Some local artists line the side streets with their wares, and a band was performing. Keep going a little further and you end up at the beach.
My other favorite foodie find anywhere I go are local coffee shops. First we went to Bird Rock Coffee Roasters in Little Italy. My friend’s brother claimed that they have the best coffee, and it did not disappoint.
Better Buzz Coffee Roasters in the Pacific Beach area really captured me. Even before walking in, you’re enveloped by its funky, upbeat atmosphere. When I asked the barista for her recommendation, she got adorably excited. I settled on a matcha latte with coconut milk, aka 16 ounces of pure bliss that ended far too quickly.
Here is all the more touristy stuff I mentioned. For the history buffs, Old Town is the original spot that San Diego started, and today is a model of what it once was. It reminded me a little of a long-ago family trip to Delaware, and pictures we have of us kids all “locked up” in town square.
You can also catch the ferry to Coronado Island and rent bicycles. We biked to the Hotel Del Coronado, a historical site on the other side of the island, where we stopped for drinks and to see the hotel. On the return trip we went to Seaport Village, a small area full of cute little shops.
A highlight for me was the San Diego Zoo. It’s famous for good reason; I’ve never been to a nicer zoo. I didn’t have time to see all the animals, but did get to the pandas, which was my goal. They’re adorable bears, but honestly strike me as dumb. Another awesome thing at the zoo is that they raise a dog together with each new big cat. Imagine our shock at reaching the cheetah’s cage and finding a Labrador retriever, too!
Make sure to also save time for the rest of Balboa Park. I’m not big on museums, so I skipped those. The Botanical Gardens are fabulous, though. The structure is architecturally beautiful and it’s like walking through a jungle. One plot is the “touch and smell garden,” composed of fresh herbs. First (and last) time I smelled pineapple mint. Never again.
The Spanish Art Village, right next to the zoo, houses over 200 local artists’ work, so if you like browsing (and shopping) for unique artsy things, head over there.
THRIFT & ANTIQUE SHOPS
Speaking of shopping, it’s last but not least on my guide to San Diego. There are tons of little boutiques and stores to wander through, but my personal favorites are the thrift and antique stores.
On Newport Avenue, by the Farmers’ Market, one of the antique shops takes up almost the entire block. The aisles are a slightly overwhelming, yet fascinating, journey back in time, as you discover the treasured pieces of people’s past.
Until Next Time
It feels like I did so much but still only experienced a small sliver of San Diego. I hope this is helpful for your (highly recommended) trip. There’s a limit to how long I can hold your attention here and I can already see the finish line. If you want to know more about my trip, please don’t hesitate to ask!