Travel guide | San Diego
Every year around the holidays, my family is lucky enough to unite our East and West Coast sides for a week’s long getaway. This Christmas was our third time visiting San Diego. I love this city for its lush horticulture, diversity of neighborhoods and of course…the beaches.
With record breaking cold sweeping a lot of the US, I hope you find this quick guide to San Diego to be a little reminder that sunshine does exist. I don’t think I need to tell you, but San Diego is one of those locations that is great to visit year-round. So just GO!
We rented a house in La Jolla to fit the whole family. It’s a great location for a multi-generational group, close to the shoreline and the iconic La Jolla Cove and tide pools. While La Jolla is absolutely beautiful, if you’re a smaller group, I’d say you can cast a much wider net when choosing where to stay.
Any trip to San Diego kicks off to a great start by visiting La Jolla Cove. They offer a wide range of activities, but all I need to be happy is a walk through the Ellen Scripps Park to peer down onto the Children’s Pool, aptly named with its intention of being a safe beach for children, but instead grew to be a big attraction for seals and sea lions!
Head to the cove in the morning, when tourists are few and seals are plenty. After spending a morning at the cove and walking up and down that area of the coast, wander up to George’s at the Cove (I recommend making reservations in advance). Described as “California modern,” there’s a wide range of vegetarian and meat/seafood lover options. Make sure you request their ocean terrace, so you get an uninterrupted and open-air view of the cove and shoreline. And don’t worry if it’s a little chilly, they have blankets and heat lamps on the terrace.
The Cave Store Yes…that’s the actual name. Kitchy tourist shop, maybe. But once you’ve sifted through the various beach-themed knick knacks, you’ll come to a winding staircase that leads down to The Sunny Jim Sea Cave. It’s known as the only cave along the California coastline accessible from land, instead of boat. Great for any size group and a sweet little secret feeling spot where you’ll get a beautiful perspective of the Pacific.
A few other activities/restaurants I love in La Jolla (all in walking distance) are: the Sunday Open Aire Market which has a wide variety of vendors, Puesto with their colorful atmosphere is a great Mexican restaurant for groups, The Taco Stand boasting over 2,500 Yelp reviews and a few other locations around California, you can grab a taco to go and enjoy it on the beach, Harry’s Coffee Shop or Pannikin for coffee and breakfast and lastly, D.G. Wills Books for rare finds and an author speaker series.
I love North Park and its surrounding neighborhoods like Normal Heights and Balboa Park. It’s undoubtedly known as a very “hipster” area, but I’ve explored a lot of it and narrowed down a walking guide to five of my favorite stops:
Start your late morning off at North Park Beer Company…not just for the beer, but for brunch too! Next, stop by Pigment - home of the Instagram-worthy succulent wall and to artisan crafts and gift ideas that will make you want to transform your home into a hygge/plant/boho/cotton candy oasis. Whether you want to grab a little gift here or just try their photo booth, Pigment is a great pitstop for inspiration. If you visit North Park on a Thursday, beyond the hip barber shop/coffee joints, you’ll get to amble about their Main Street Market - green juices, hot sauces and fresh produce galore! Then visit Ranchos Cocina for dinner, they’ve got a great selection of vegan and vegetarian Mexican dishes. And why not hit up another brewery to close out the day? You’re on vacation, you deserve it. The Mike Hess Tasting Room of North Park (one of a few Mike Hess Brewing establishments) is their actual HQ, with the brewery and production side of things in plain sight, surrounding the tasting room. With darts and other games available and lots of various size tables, it’s a great location for any size group to gather.
Why head to LA for Disneyland when you can get lost in the crowds of Balboa Park? Joking aside, Balboa Park is a HUGE “urban cultural park” home to the famous San Diego Zoo, sixteen museums, gardens, restaurants, theaters and more.
We’ve never done anything at Balboa Park that costs money, because there are just so many free options! Park in whatever lot you can find a spot in, then zip to your desired destination in their free tram. You can view art at the Timken Museum, watch a show at the Spreckles Organ Pavilion and meander the numerous gardens (my favorite being the Desert and Alcazar Gardens), and maybe even grab a beer in a to-go cup for the rest of your walk around the park. Oh gosh, this is a beer heavy guide…I can already tell.
This little peninsula off of San Diego was originally incorporated into the city as a tourist destination. It’s famous for its gorgeous beaches and Hotel del Coronado, one of the most iconic images of the city.
We love visiting the hotel during Christmastime, ideally right after - for their big ornament sale! To get away from the crowds, I recommend heading down to the shoreline and finding their beach shack. You won’t find much information about it online, which makes it even more fun! A Jimmy Buffet-style shabby shack serves drinks, while you can grab Adirondack chairs and sets of stools and tables right in the sand. It’s a wonderful place to watch the sun go down…while pretending you’re a guest of this upscale hotel.
Some other favorite SD spots include
Kobey’s Swap Meet, where I love to wander the stalls for
unique vintage pieces and $1 succulents.
Located in an outdoor arena, this flea market is open year round every Friday - Sunday. As someone from the Northeast, I revel in the affordability and abundance of succulents and other plants in California. This is my go-to for bringing home as many air plants as I can fit in my luggage.
An old industrial park turned beer lover’s heaven, Miramar has more than twenty breweries of various sizes to try. A few of my favorites are Ballast Point (for a tour), Duckfoot Brewing (for board games) and Legacy Brewing Tap and Kitchen (for food).
San Diego’s Mission, known as Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá was the first of its kind to be built along the coast of California. It dates all the way back to 1769.
While the Missions’ original purpose by the Spanish to convert local Native Americans to Christianity is just plain depressing, it’s amazing to see European architecture brought here and preserved from several centuries ago.
A little hippie quintessential SoCal neighborhood that has a great boardwalk, a Wednesday night farmer’s market (wait, do I have a farmer’s market problem?) lots of cute breakfast and lunch spots (my most recent favorite being Te Mana) and Point Loma - a beautiful peninsula with hiking trails, tide pools and Cabrillo National Monument.
And there you have it - a quick guide for your San Diego visit! I still have so much more of the city to explore, so would love your recommendations. A few of my top places to visit are Chicano Park, Scripps Ranch Hiking and a wander through Little Italy in search of the best hidden pasta and wine.