If you worked in a 16th-century castle on a private island, it might be hard to quit your job. But when Kerry Dunne got the chance to move from southeast Ireland to sunny San Diego, she jumped.
"I came to San Diego on an 18-month management development program with Hilton, but 18 months turned into eight and a half years," says Dunne, senior event manager at Hilton San Diego Bayfront.
Because her job is planning multi-day conferences at the 1,190-room hotel, the London-born 32-year-old has become an expert on San Diego.
"Little Italy is a booming San Diego food destination that feels very European. It has a piazza that's closed off to cars where you can sit outside at tables and drink a glass of wine. I tell our guests to go to one restaurant for an appetizer, another for an entrée, and then finish off with a dessert restaurant or ice cream shop," she says. Local favorite Extraordinary Desserts, for instance, offers almost-too-pretty-to-eat delights such as the Chocolate Dulce de Leche, a cake lined with chocolate mousse and encrusted with macadamia nuts.
For visitors who want an orientation to the city she loves so much, Dunne suggests the Old Town Trolley Tour. "It's a hop-on, hop-off tour that gives a good introduction to the city's different neighborhoods. You can jump off in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, where you can learn about San Diego's history or eat good Mexican food. It also goes to Presidio Park, where there's a beautiful view across San Diego, as well as Coronado Island."
San Diego is famous for its world-class attractions—like the Maritime Museum's majestic ships and Balboa Park's cultural sites—but Dunne says visitors should also branch out to the city's lesser-known neighborhoods to see how the locals live.
"South Park is full of historic, Craftsman-style houses, and there are some great vintage shops and clothing and jewelry boutiques. It's pretty to walk around, especially after dark—all the trees are wrapped in twinkle lights. You can go to The Rose, a wine bar that serves a fantastic charcuterie board, or Buona Forchetta for gourmet pizza."
Working for Hilton means Dunne has opportunities to transfer to other cities, but she's not going anywhere. "San Diego is a hard place to leave," she says. "I really love my job, and I love my leisure time here. I never have to check the weather in the morning. I can just put on my flip-flops and shorts, then go sit in the park and read or sit on the beach and enjoy life."
FIVE MORE FAVORITES
Dunne, a veritable recommendation machine, is confident that visitors will also love the below experiences:
Instagram gold: “For people who want cool cityscape photos, I tell them to walk down the boardwalk from our hotel at night. When you get past the Maritime Museum and walk into the marina, just turn around and there's a great view of the city at night. It's perfect for ‘gram photos.”
Awesome burger: “My favorite burger is at The Friendly in North Park. They have only three burgers on the menu, and I get the OG Dirty Flat Top. Two patties are smashed together with cheese and grilled onions, cooked on a flat-top grill, and served on a soft brioche bun. There are no frills like lettuce or anything. It's just meat and cheese and so tasty. They also have a great garlic aioli you can get with their onion rings or fries.”
Best brewery: “You can taste beer almost anywhere in San Diego, but I really like Hess Brewing in North Park. They have tables and seats inside the space that houses the brewing tanks. If you're hungry, different food trucks show up every day.”
Game day: “Our hotel has a bridge that connects to the entrance gate at Petco Park. On game days, it's really cool to see the crowds making their way over to the baseball stadium. If the team hits a home run, they shoot off fireworks, and we can see them from the hotel.”
Scenic vista: “My favorite spot for views in San Diego is Cabrillo National Monument. It's out on the very edge of Point Loma and has expansive views across the city, the bay, and the ocean. There really isn't anything else like it.”