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Dave Lauridsen

Balboa Park

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Balboa Park
Visit a historic gem called the “Smithsonian of the West”

From pandas and koala bears at its iconic zoo, to a remarkable collection of museums and gardens, this oasis in the heart of the city has been a vibrant part of San Diego culture for a hundred years. First and foremost, Balboa Park is a horticultural marvel: the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden alone has more than 130 varieties of roses (learn more about it and the rest of the park’s greenery on free, 1-hour Offshoot Tours, offered on Saturday morning).

Museums abound; local favourites include the Museum of Man, San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego Natural History Museum, Fleet Science Centre, and the San Diego Air & Space Museum. Culture reigns supreme too: The Old Globe Theatre hosts its famed Shakespeare Festival each summer; live bands and outdoor film screenings abound.

All this, plus one of the world’s finest zoos. Over 3,700 animals from 650 species—many of them extremely rare— are showcased at the San Diego Zoo, with naturalised exhibits covered roughly 100 acres/40 hectares. Get a special look at the zoo’s three giant pandas by signing up for “Early Morning with Pandas,” visiting the panda viewing area before it officially opens for the day. Check the Balboa Park website for special events, and for ticketing deals bundling zoo and museum visits.

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Rick Schwartz on Balboa Park
Rick Schwartz, Animal Care Supervisor for the World Famous San Diego Zoo, shares his love of the city's Balboa Park.
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San Diego Skyline by John Bahu

Southern California

Spotlight: San Diego

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25
August
Average (°C)
June - Aug
23°
High
18°
Low
Sept - Nov
22°
High
15°
Low
Dec - Feb
18°
High
9°
Low
Mar - May
19°
High
13°
Low

As if all that sunshine isn’t enough, here’s a waterfront city brushed by perfect breezes, the light just right, the beer perfectly hoppy after a day of wave-and-water fun. Whether you’re standup paddling on Mission Bay, kayaking into sea caverns along La Jolla’s idyllic shores, savouring a sweet shave ice in Balboa Park, or dining and dancing after dark in the lively Gaslamp Quarter, you’ll find yourself smiling in San Diego.

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Courtesy of Hotel Del Coronado

Hotel del Coronado

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Hotel del Coronado
An illustrious past meets modern luxury at this iconic oceanfront resort

Film buffs know the Hotel Del Coronado as a backdrop in the Marilyn Monroe movie Some Like It Hot, but this luxury resort has been a star among Southern California resorts since it first opened in 1888.

For more than a century, this designated National Historic Landmark with the distinctive, Queen Anne–style red turrets has attracted U.S. presidents, dignitaries, and, indeed, plenty of movie stars to Coronado Island, a 15-minute drive from downtown San Diego. Today, the 757-room resort, known to locals as the Del, sits on 11 hectares of private, pristine beachfront property, blending old-school luxury with high-end accommodations and modern amenities.

Stay in either the main Victorian building, loaded with historic charm, or the more contemporary Ocean Towers. If you plan to plant yourself poolside, get a room in one of the California Cabana buildings. For larger groups or families, the spacious Beach Village suites feel like a home away from home—if your everyday home is a luxury beach house that’s just steps from the sand.

At Del Beach, you can take a surf lesson, play volleyball, or just lounge the day away on a plush daybed while enjoying beverage service. A nighttime bonfire in the sand is a popular resort tradition—and now you can order up artisanal pizzas, s’mores, and more to nosh around the fire pit. During the day you can also take a tour of the hotel grounds (complete with stories of resident ghosts) or even join a seaside painting class. Don’t leave without visiting Spa at the Del for themed body treatments, like the Mindful Waves Massage or the Some Like It Hot Stone Massage.

Kids ages 4–12 will love the resort’s DelVentures activity center, where they can participate in programs like Mermaids & Pirates camp. For a fun activity for the whole family, rent bikes (or a surrey) at PeDels and explore the island, which has more than 24 kilometres of dedicated bike paths. Follow the Silver Strand to Imperial Beach and back for a 13 kilometre coastal cruise.

Or you can just soak up the scenery from one of the seven dining options, all with ocean views. Hotel del Coronado’s signature restaurant, 1500 OCEAN, showcases fresh seafood like Pacific Opah Crudo and oysters, while the Sunday brunch in the Crown Room is nothing short of legendary, with multiple carving stations, a huge seafood spread, and a Bloody Mary bar.

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The Pendry San Diego

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The Pendry San Diego
Soak up the coastal-chic vibes at this trendy downtown destination

Located in San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter, The Pendry San Diego isn’t just a luxury hotel—it’s an experience. Step inside and you’ll find a buzzing social scene fueled by the property’s six(!) in-demand restaurants and bars. While discerning travelers may visit for the first-class accommodations in the heart of downtown, locals know The Pendry is the place to be, any night of the week.

Built in 2017, every inch of the property feels positively posh thanks to a mix of unexpected details, from the Moët and Chandon champagne vending machine (the first in Southern California) to the ultra-luxe Fili D’oro bedding in the 317 guest rooms. Despite the first-class touches, the overall atmosphere is SoCal chill.

The stylish rooms feature chic custom furnishings and calming colours inspired by San Diego’s beach and surf culture, and many offer stunning views of the city skyline and sailboat-dotted harbour. If soaking up the region’s year-round sunshine is on the top of your agenda, reserve the Cabana Pool Suite, complete with direct access to the pool and a wet bar—perfect for group gatherings. Be sure to check the hotel’s website for special offers to amplify any occasion or sample one of Spa Pendry’s ocean-inspired treatments.

What really sets The Pendry apart, though, is the spectacular food-and-drink scene, which brings together some of the city’s most celebrated chefs and cocktail crafters under the same roof. You’ll find modern coastal cuisine at Lionfish, seasonal dishes and gourmet coffee at Provisional, small plates and poolside drinks at The Pool House, craft cocktails at Fifth & Rose, local microbrews at Nason’s Beer Hall, and an upscale nightlife experience at Oxford Social Club.

While you may be tempted to never leave, The Pendry’s location is ideal for exploring the city’s eclectic neighbourhoods. The funky East Village (home to Petco Park and the San Diego Padres) and beautiful waterfront are just a few blocks away, and the food-and-drink hotspots of Little Italy and North Park, are both within a 5- to 10-minute drive.

San Diego
Vacationland

5 Amazing Things to Do in San Diego

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5 Amazing Things to Do in San Diego
From parks to nightlife, discover this Southern California city beyond the beach

With lively neighbourhoods, an internationally renowned craft beer scene, and one of the world’s most beautiful urban parks, there’s a whole lot of San Diego to explore beyond its famous beaches. Experience this dynamic city as you prowl the vibrant Gaslamp Quarter and see the exotic animals at the San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park.

Stay in a stylish Gaslamp Quarter hotel

To find the most happening spots in San Diego, sometimes you have to look up. That’s certainly true at the Pendry San Diego, where the rooftop Pool House lets you bask in the city’s perfect weather by day and a cool lounge scene after dark. Stop into Provisional, the hotel’s combination restaurant and marketplace, for all-day dining and to shop for housewares.

Explore San Diego’s hottest entertainment district

Proving that the hip and historic are hardly incompatible, the Gaslamp Quarter combines beautifully restored 19th-century buildings and 21st-century nightlife. Dine on chef Leyla Javadov’s innovative (and healthy!) cuisine at Café 21, which features live music every day. Or check out the action on all three levels at The Tipsy Crow, a sports bar, pub, and club all in one.

Stroll El Prado in Balboa Park

Lined with museums housed in elaborate Spanish Colonial Revival buildings inspired by landmarks in Spain and Mexico, El Prado is the romantic heart of Balboa Park. The dazzling films at the San Diego Natural History Museum’s The Subaru 3D Experience will transport you into the planet’s most spectacular natural settings. Or lose yourself in an exotic world of cycads, orchids, and ferns at the historic Botanical Building. (And don’t forget to take a selfie along its lily pond.)

See the menagerie at the San Diego Zoo

Sure, you’ll find lions and tigers and bears, but the San Diego Zoo is most famous for its beloved koalas and pandas, animals that are only found at a few select zoos worldwide. Catch glimpses of African penguins, baboons, crocodiles, and leopards at the newest exhibit, Africa Rocks, and for one of San Diego’s best views, ride high on the Skyfari Aerial Tram—also a great way to get across the zoo’s lush and verdant 100 acres.

Eat chicken fried by a celebrity chef

Proving that there’s more to the Little Italy district than pasta, former Top Chef winner Richard Blais takes fried chicken and eggs to a whole new level at The Crack Shack. Hang out on the patio at this rustic chic spot and play some bocce, then bite into such irresistible sandwiches as the Coop Deville (fried chicken, pickled chilies, lime mayo on brioche) or The Royale (chicken sausage, egg, and smoked Cheddar on an English muffin). And don’t forget the deviled eggs.

Raise a glass at Ballast Point

Celebrated for its West Coast–style Double IPAs, San Diego is consistently ranked as one of America’s top craft beer cities. Order up a flight and taste your way through some of the city’s best brews at Ballast Point’s Little Italy brewery, tasting room, and restaurant. Make a reservation in The Kettle Room, where the prix fixe menu features dishes perfectly paired with Ballast Point beers.

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Maggie Walton

Maritime Museum of San Diego

Maritime Museum of San Diego
Explore the historic ships at this open-air museum along the Embarcadero

Some museums boast of being living history, but the Maritime Museum can easily attest that it is floating history. Located along downtown San Diego’s Embarcadero, the museum is actually a collection of seafaring vessels, from large sailing ships to old-school yachts and Navy submarines that you can explore—and sometimes even ride on short voyages.

The museum focused primarily on one historic ship, the Star of India, when it first opened in 1948, but today comprises 11 permanent exhibits and a variety of rotating exhibits. The Star of India still makes a good place to start your visit : The iron-hulled 1863 sailing ship is a State and National Historic Landmark and the oldest active ship in the world. Military buffs will also love the USS Dolphin, the U.S. Navy submarine that holds the record for the deepest dive. Lookie-loos, meanwhile, can’t resist the Medea, a steam yacht from the Gilded Age.  

Visitors often remark about how Maritime Museum of San Diego is unlike any other museum they’ve visited,” says Dr. Raymond Ashley, president and CEO of the Maritime Museum of San Diego. “Each vessel is like a time machine into a different world—going from ship to ship is like going on a series of voyages through time.

You can even take some of the exhibits out for a spin, ranging from a 45-minute ride around the harbour on the 1914 Pilot boat (the oldest working boat of its kind on the West Coast) to a military-themed tour in a Vietnam-era Swift Boat or a four-hour ride on the San Salvador, a replica of theship that explorer Juan Cabrillo sailed into San Diego Bay in 1542. To add wildlife to the mix, take the four-hour excursion on the America (a reproduction of the yacht that the America’s Cup is named after) and you might see blue or gray whales, depending on the time of year.

Kids really love this fresh-air museum, even if they never leave the dock. It’s a fleet of working ships that they can explore, rather than a hushed building full of artifacts,” says Kelli Lewis, Director of Education and Development. “Just stepping on board—smelling the wood tar and salt, feeling a faint roll of the deck, and gazing aloft at the sails—brings depth and realism to children’s imaginings.” 

This four-day event in San Diego turned a simple taco fest into something delightfully global

When this festival first launched in 2013, its inspiration was pretty local: the south-of-the-border Mexican cuisine of Baja California. But the four-day event—the largest of its kind in the U.S.—...

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Courtesy of Latin Food Fest
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Courtesy of Cohn Restaurant Group

Coasterra

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Coasterra
Book a table at this San Diego waterfront knockout

Got a boat? That’s the only way you’ll get a better view of San Diego’s waterfront skyline and twinkling bridges than the panorama you get from Coasterra Modern Mexican restaurant, the third Cohn Restaurant Group offering on the city’s Harbor Island. (The other two are the successful Island Prime and C Level.)

Every table of this multilevel dazzler—with a special event space for up to 500 guests that actually floats above the water—has a view that will have you Instagramming throughout your meal, especially if you’re there at sunset. “Table 408 outside, right at the tip of the pentacle over the water—that’s my favorite table,” says chef and Cohn Group partner Deborah Scott. “When the sun begins to set, there’s a shell-like color lighting up the buildings downtown. And it keeps changing—it’s like a nonstop slideshow, with tankers and sailboats going by.”

Even after dark, the 8,500-square-metre, $15 million restaurant is an eye-catcher. Sit at Coasterra’s bar, order a Deb’s Coconut Margarita—made with Olmeca Altos reposado tequila, coconut cream, lime juice, and a coconut salt rim—and take in the restaurant’s sleek, contemporary styling. “I like minimalist design, and that’s what you see here,” says chef Scott, who had a strong hand in creating the space. “There aren’t any Mexican blankets or piñatas—it’s dramatic and open.”

Yearning for traditional Mexican fare? There are a few tacos and enchiladas on the menu, but most of Coasterra’s dishes are creative twists on Mexican classics. Ceviche gets an upgrade with Mexican shrimp and bay scallops, Pacific sea bass, lime, orange zest, roasted tomato salsa, and cilantro. Dipping sauces for fresh-shucked oysters include pickled onion-habañero mignonette and fire-roasted cocktail sauce. Classic surf and turf becomes a spectacular stacked presentation of a beef short rib topped with Oaxacan mole, a lobster-risotto cake, grilled asparagus, and a lobster claw.

All told, Coasterra serves up a hard-to-beat combo of sophisticated design, deliciously eclectic dishes, and a world-class view.

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Dave Lauridsen

Mission & San Diego Bays

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Mission & San Diego Bays
Visit waterfront parks for boating, biking, and coaster rides

Mission Bay and San Diego Bay trim the edge of the city like sparkling gems. Dozens of outfitters can get you out amidst the blue via every imaginable conveyance; kayak, stand-up paddleboard, motorized watercraft, sail boat, or kite board. For a more novel approach, board the Bahia Belle, a Mississippi riverboat, snuggle aboard a romantic Venetian gondola, or try jet-packing to skim across the water like James Bond.

Cruise in style too. Hornblower and Flagship Cruises let you get a millionaire’s view of the bay on scenic tours, as well as dinner and brunch cruises.

You can have fun on land here, too. Mission Beach, the narrow strip of land between Mission Bay and the Pacific, is a chock-o-block assemblage of surf shops, t-shirt joints, and funky beach bars, and there’s a 3-mile/4.8-km oceanfront boardwalk that rivals Venice Beach for people watching. At Belmont Park, classic amusement rides include the Big Dipper wooden roller coaster. Mission Bay also has 27 miles/43 kilometres of water’s-edge pathways, perfect for strolling and biking.

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Dave Lauridsen

San Diego: Neighbourhoods

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San Diego: Neighbourhoods
Cultural flair or flip-flop casual—San Diego’s got it all

Little Italy, North Park, South Park, East Village; San Diego’s diverse neighborhoods are filled with personality—and local finds. These pedestrian-friendly enclaves are the epicenter of San Diego’s burgeoning culinary movement, progressive art scene, and craft beer boom. Start your own sampling in North Park, the neighborhood bordering Balboa Park’s northeast side. Along 30th Street and University Avenue, enjoy farm-to-table cuisine and boutique wines at Urban Solace, or wing it at local favorite Carnitas’ Snack Shop (the menu changes daily depending on fresh produce and other ingredients available that day).

Hip art abounds in North Park; on the second Saturday of each month (called “Ray at Night”), join the cool crowds along Ray Street for gallery hopping and live music. In the East Village, locals savor gourmet burgers at Neighborhood; in South Park (east of Balboa Park), find whimsical clothes and jewelry at Junc.Life Boutique, or enjoy a Hawaiian shave ice at Daily Scoop on Juniper. Food, craft beer, boutique shopping, and live music are all part of historic Gaslamp Quarter, the part of town that tends to keep things hopping ‘til the wee hours. Little Italy, known for (you guessed it), Italian eateries, also has trendy-chic shops housed in bungalows, as well as plenty of sidewalk cafés and pizzerias along India Street. And if you’re hankering for handmade, still-warm tortillas, head straight for Old Town, site of California’s first Spanish settlement, with restored adobes now housing shops and restaurants.

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Tina Mickelson on Great Date Nights in San Diego
Tina Mickelson shares some of her favorite San Diego date night spots.
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Gwynne Spann

San Diego: Craft Beers

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San Diego: Craft Beers
Raise a glass in one of America’s top craft beer towns

Microbrewing has caught on big time in San Diego, with more than 85 craft breweries throughout the region. The tidal wave began with innovative brewers like Stone Brewing Company and Karl Strauss. Now, it’s craft-y all over San Diego—in pubs, restaurants, and in the breweries themselves (many offer tours). And in a growing trend, San Diego’s chefs are starting to design beer-pairing menus or foods featuring local brews. Some breweries now offer their own eateries (Stone Brewing’s World Bistro & Gardens is a stellar example).

San Diego’s brews and brewers haven’t gone unnoticed, earning international recognition. (Yes, there is a World Beer Cup; no, you cannot be a judge). AleSmith Brewing Company and Ballast Point Brewing Company are two microbreweries that have been lauded. And you don’t have to go to a brewery to taste these world-class beers: many eateries, such as Hamilton's Tavern in South Park, offer an array of local brews.

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San Diego Brewers on the Craft Beer Capital of America
Raise a glass and salute the more than 115 breweries in San Diego County.
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La Jolla

La Jolla

La Jolla
Find something for everyone in this multi-faceted seaside jewel

Although technically part of San Diego, the community of La Jolla feels like a destination unto itself: You could easily spend a few days in this enclave and get a full Southern California experience—along with a walkable village of hotels, shops, and cafés that possess a sophisticated vibe.

For starters, La Jolla (pronounced la HOY-uh) has a prime perch on San Diego County’s coastline. Located about 20 minutes north of downtown, La Jolla is home to the wide, white-sand beaches of La Jolla Shores, with surfing, snorkeling, and made-for-sunset firepits, as well as an adjacent playground for kids. Head out onto the waters with one of the local operators, like La Jolla Kayak or San Diego Bike and Kayak Tours, and paddle or snorkel among La Jolla’s marine denizens, from colourful garibaldi to (harmless) leopard sharks. To see more aquatic critters while on land, explore the Birch Aquarium, affiliated with the renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography, or stand along the sea wall at beach known as The Children’s Pool, and watch a large community of seals lounge, bark, and tend to their cubs. 

The seals live right next to the heart of La Jolla, the hilly village areas known as The Cove and Bird Rock. The ocean is still in plain view amid the shops, eateries, and places to stay—like La Valencia Hotel, the Mediterranean-style “Pink Lady” that once hosted World War II soldiers about to ship out, as well as Hollywood A-Listers like Gregory Peck. Shop in the upscale boutiques along Girard Avenue and Prospect Street, or dine at beloved George’s at the Cove, farm-to-table WhisknLadle, colourful taco haven Puesto, or seafood-rich Nine-Ten.

Don’t miss the cultural stops, too, like the La Jolla branch of the Museum of Contemporary Art San DiegoWarwick’s (the nation’s oldest family-owned bookstore), or the local art galleries such as Legends Gallery, where you can see out-of-the box paintings by the late Theodore Geisel, the longtime La Jolla resident better known as Dr. Seuss. (Insider tip: Look at the unique flora around La Jolla to see what may have inspired Seuss’s whimsical plants and trees).

Some must-stops in La Jolla stretch beyond the Cove. The Marine Room, in La Jolla Shores, offers incredible “high tide” brunches and dinners where the tall waves crash into the giant windows as you eat. To the north, tee off at Torrey Pines Golf Course (which will host the U.S. Open again in 2021), next to the sumptuous Lodge at Torrey Pines.

Or, go see a future Broadway hit at La Jolla Playhouse, located on the University of California San Diego campus. Co-founded by Gregory Peck in 1947, the theater has been the birthplace of a long list of crowd-pleasing and Tony Award-winning hits, from The Who’s Tommy and Thoroughly Modern Millie to Jersey Boys and Come From Away. Come for one of its Page-to-Stage performances to watch (and offer feedback on) works still in progress. You can even bundle in a dinner of fresh seafood or a Kobe burger at the theater’s on-site James’ Place, helmed by acclaimed sushi chef James Holder.

Another great option: Hike the ocean-view trails at the Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve, under the shade of the rare, long-needled pine trees that are common in this little pocket of the Golden State.

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Courtesy of Cohn Restaurant Group

Coasterra

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Coasterra
Book a table at this San Diego waterfront knockout

Got a boat? That’s the only way you’ll get a better view of San Diego’s waterfront skyline and twinkling bridges than the panorama you get from Coasterra Modern Mexican restaurant, the third Cohn Restaurant Group offering on the city’s Harbor Island. (The other two are the successful Island Prime and C Level.)

Every table of this multilevel dazzler—with a special event space for up to 500 guests that actually floats above the water—has a view that will have you Instagramming throughout your meal, especially if you’re there at sunset. “Table 408 outside, right at the tip of the pentacle over the water—that’s my favorite table,” says chef and Cohn Group partner Deborah Scott. “When the sun begins to set, there’s a shell-like color lighting up the buildings downtown. And it keeps changing—it’s like a nonstop slideshow, with tankers and sailboats going by.”

Even after dark, the 28,000-square-foot, $15 million restaurant is an eye-catcher. Sit at Coasterra’s bar, order a Deb’s Coconut Margarita—made with Olmeca Altos reposado tequila, coconut cream, lime juice, and a coconut salt rim—and take in the restaurant’s sleek, contemporary styling. “I like minimalist design, and that’s what you see here,” says chef Scott, who had a strong hand in creating the space. “There aren’t any Mexican blankets or piñatas—it’s dramatic and open.”

Yearning for traditional Mexican fare? There are a few tacos and enchiladas on the menu, but most of Coasterra’s dishes are creative twists on Mexican classics. Ceviche gets an upgrade with Mexican shrimp and bay scallops, Pacific sea bass, lime, orange zest, roasted tomato salsa, and cilantro. Dipping sauces for fresh-shucked oysters include pickled onion-habañero mignonette and fire-roasted cocktail sauce. Classic surf and turf becomes a spectacular stacked presentation of a beef short rib topped with Oaxacan mole, a lobster-risotto cake, grilled asparagus, and a lobster claw.

All told, Coasterra serves up a hard-to-beat combo of sophisticated design, deliciously eclectic dishes, and a world-class view.

What a change in weather! It was sleeting when I left St. Louis. Here, on the 23rd of February, palm leaves flutter in warm wind and sun.
Charles Lindbergh
I like the beach community there. It’s very much like the ‘60s still...I go to San Diego to get back in touch with what I’m supposed to be doing sometimes.
Phil Garris (Grateful Dead cover album artist)
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Dave Lauridsen

San Diego: Waterfront Dining

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San Diego: Waterfront Dining
Sunset views, fresh seafood—a perfect pairing in San Diego

With the Pacific Ocean and San Diego Bay at its doorstep, San Diego defines waterfront dining. Travel the coast to get a taste—literally—of what the region has to offer along the edge of the sea.

Start in La Jolla with brunch at Brockton Villa—the Crab Ipanema Benedict egg dish won’t disappoint. Casual lunch? Anthony’s Fish Grotto (downtown) serves creamy, chock-full clam chowder and crunch-perfect fish and chips. Also downtown on the Embarcadero, there’s Sally’s Seafood on the Water and The Fish Market, two more places to try for fresh catch of the day with waterfront views. Across San Diego Bay, head to Harbor Island and Tom Ham’s Lighthouse (yes, it’s really housed in a lighthouse). Nearby, Island Prime makes the most of the view with floor-to-ceiling windows and an over-the-water patio. If you want tunes, try Humphrey’s Restaurant on Shelter Island; it presents quality live music in its outdoor amphitheatre. Slip away to peaceful Coronado, and relax at Mistral at Loews Coronado Bay Resort. 

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Dave Lauridsen

Coronado

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Coronado
Explore the Del and get a dose of small-town charm

Like an island getaway a stone’s throw from the city, the appealing island community feels like a private enclave wrapped with perfect beaches, including ultra-family-friendly Coronado Beach. Besides those soft sands, the island’s crown jewel is the Hotel Del Coronado, built in 1888 and topped by russet red, castle-like turrets. Explore the lobby and grounds on your own, or join a guided tour offered by the Coronado Historical Association; docents share tidbits on the Del’s remarkable history and guest list (including Marilyn Monroe, who starred—alongside the hotel—in the 1959 comedy Some Like It Hot). The Del also serves a sumptuous Sunday brunch, and the Babcock & Story bar is fine for sipping a craft beer with views of the Pacific.

The diminutive island, reached by the arching Coronado Bridge, is easy to explore by bike. Rent one from Holland’s Bicycles to pedal past elegant oceanfront mansions and tended gardens, or visit Orange Avenue, lined with shops, restaurants, galleries, and theatres. More shops and art galleries are located at Ferry Landing, and restaurants like Candelas on the Bay and Peohe’s have expansive views of San Diego’s downtown skyline across San Diego Bay.

Travel tip: Traffic on the San Diego-Coronado Bridge can get thick, especially on summer weekends. Flagship Cruises will ferry you from Ferry Landing, across the Bay to Seaport Village. Water taxis are available too.

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Cabrillo National Monument
Learn about San Diego’s Spanish roots

Charged by his native Spain to explore new worlds, Spaniard explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo stepped ashore at this tip of land in 1542, making him the first European to set foot on the West Coast. The Cabrillo National Monument, established in 1913, commemorates his discovery on the point of Point Loma in San Diego.

Start at the visitor center, where short films and ranger talks offer interesting insights into Cabrillo and his history. Walk to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which has been restored to reflect what lighthouse life was like for lightkeepers and their families in the 1800s.

But locals (and sage visitors) also know that this tip-of-land perch offers astounding views of the San Diego skyline and the seething Pacific. Hiking trails twist through 660 acres/267 hectares of coastal habitat, so it’s easy to strike out on your own for even more panoramic beauty. The 2.5-mile/4-km Bayside Trail looks out to San Diego Bay, and the easy Coastal Tidepool Trail takes you to some of the best tidepooling in California (look, but don’t touch). Visit in late fall or winter for the best viewing opportunities, when low tides occur during daylight hours. Keep an eye out for multiple tidepool species, which range from periwinkle snails and acorn barnacles to anemones and sea stars, in a variety of different intertidal zones.

Look for the coastal defense systems the city put in place in World War II to fend off the Japanese Navy. From mid-December to late March, the bluffs - and specifically the Whale Overlook - are a great place to watch migrating Pacific gray whales. If you forget binoculars, a limited number are available at the visitors center.

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Trip 8-10 days 10 stops

Ultimate Southern California

Beach Towns & Big Thrills
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Your trip begins in California’s largest city. L.A. has nonstop action and things to do, but it can be a challenge to navigate, so planning your trip in advance is a big plus. Start in the coastal city of Santa Monica, with a wide, uncrowded beach, a signature pier topped by carnival rides and...

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Famous for their giant sequoias, soaring mountains, deep canyons, and roaring rivers, this tandem set of parks have plenty to see, even though they are less well known than Yosemite, roughly 75 miles/120 kilometres north. Within the borders of Sequoia & Kings Canyon are Mount Whitney, the...

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The world's oldest, still working ship, the Star of India was built in 1863 and has her home port in San Diego. She has completed 21 circumnavigations.
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USS Midway & the Waterfront
Experience hands on maritime history that will shiver your timbers

Most kids love boats, so you can imagine how excited they get about a really, really big boat. Downtown San Diego’s U.S.S. Midway Museum is just that: a retired aircraft carrier that is now permanently docked and open to visitors along the city’s Embarcadero.The deck of the enormous ship is covered with naval aircraft from World War II through Operation Desert Storm—not just for looking at but for climbing inside and exploring, too. Other interactive exhibits  include you-are-there-style recordings of real conversations between military pilots and a chance to ride in a flight simulator.

Also on the downtown waterfront, the Maritime Museum of San Diego is fittingly housed within one of the finest collections of historic ships in the world, including the awe-inspiring sailing ships Star of India, HMS Surprise (floating star of Pirates of the Caribbean 4), and the Californian, a replica of a gold rush-era revenue cutter and the Official Tall Ship of the State of California. Coolest of all, some of the ships go sailing and whale watching, with you aboard; including a 75-minute tour of San Diego Bay aboard an aptly named, Vietnam War-era Swift Boat.

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Dave Lauridsen

Getting Around

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Getting Around
It’s so easy you’ll never know you left the car behind

In summer (Memorial Day to Labor Day), a few dollars allows you an all-day ride on the Big Bay Shuttle, with eight stops along the bay front from Harbor Island to the South Embarcadero (downtown); you get on, you get off, where and when you want. Along the downtown waterfront and in the Gaslamp Quarter, you’ll find pedicabs and horse-drawn carriages. Downtown you can also look for the iconic bright red trolley; the San Diego Trolley plies to and from key locations in the city and also heads for places like Old Town and Mission Valley. Water is no obstacle. From downtown’s Broadway Pier, 15 minutes on Flagship Cruises’ ferry sees you to Coronado Island. And have some fun with your transport. GoCar Tours-San Diego has a fleet of three-wheel, convertible mini-cars for two—each complete with a GPS-guided tour of downtown San Diego and adjoining neighborhoods. And honestly, much of San Diego – neighborhoods like North Park and Little Italy -- is easily explored on foot, and once you put your foot down -- the Gaslamp Quarter alone has over 100 restaurants, bars and nightclubs -- you may not want to go anywhere else.