at the request of two jaunt readers, i am including a post on san diego today! san diego embodies southern california to me. it has all of the relaxation of the beach cities with a little bit of urban edge. mix in a strong mexican culture (seen in its abundant mexican food restaurants and over-the-top dia de los muertos festivities), along with a strong armed forces culture (the navy is everywhere in this town from the uss midway aircraft carrier and museum to the naval base at point loma, and the marines have a huge base just north of town) and you have a city rich in personality.
i never know where to start with san diego because there is so much to do and so varied of choices. let me give you just a taste of my favorites:
- the culture – balboa park is home of the zoo, 15 museums, and gorgeous grounds, and is an absolute must-see. i really enjoy strolling the pedestrian areas near the lily pond and japanese friendship garden. for a quick (and perfect) break, enjoy happy hour at the gorgeous prado restaurant. a nearby bandstand has an enormous outdoor pipe organ, and provides concerts throughout the year. the old globe theater is also inside by the museum of man. i am not a big fan of zoos, but the san diego zoo is a definite stop. it’s famous, and there is a reason why. the peacocks roam freely throughout the park and the pandas are too cute for words. the orangutans are right there in front of you, hanging out inches from the glass that separates you. my friend, nic, swears the dc zoo is better, but i haven’t been there, so you’ll have to be the judge. the safari park is also supposedly amazing, though i have not visited, and it offers a zipline over the elephants, giraffes, etc.
- the food – little italy is full of restaurants (mostly italian) and always packed with people. everyone argues over the best italian restaurant, but i’ve enjoyed the pizza at isola, one of the newer restaurants in the area. a stop at extraordinary desserts afterward is necessary if for no other reason than to ogle at the beautiful pastries and cakes. nearby, just north of the airport, lucha libre offers the largest and most inventive burritos i’ve had. as seen on diners, drive-ins, and dives, this place is known for its large and delicious burrito concoctions in an atmosphere filled with luchador mexican wrestling memorabilia. the lines are long, so try to go during non-peak times.
- the beaches – i stayed at the beach cottages on pacific beach during my last trip to san diego, and the beach culture is something else. walking along the boardwalk, every house had a surfboard over the balcony/veranda, with wetsuits hanging on clothes lines outside. beautiful people bike, skate, and run by carrying surfboards, walking dogs, or just grabbing a beer at one of the many establishments along the beach or mission bay drive. lahaina beach house provides amazing views with a great patio, as does woody’s just a few doors down. the olive cafe on mission bay has a warm atmosphere, as well. also check out the embarcadero, a stretch of land along the san diego bay filled with public art, grassy knolls, and shopping.
- the nightlife – the gaslamp district near downtown is full of bars, restaurants, clubs, and some of the city’s nicest hotels, and is completely walkable. on one of my trips to san diego, we were able to walk from our hotel to petco park (home of the san diego padres), then to dinner, and later out for dessert and drinks. altitude sky lounge at the top of the marriott was named by travel + leisure as one of america’s best outdoor bars, and there are plenty of late night bars that offer reverse happy hours that run until midnight!
who should go: beach-goers, photogs, the overworked looking for some relaxation
what to listen to: mexican institute of sound
what to pack: a swimsuit, a camera, and a picnic for balboa park or the embarcadero