With its sunny beaches, family-friendly attractions, and world-class beer, San Diego doesn’t need to offer much more to be a perfect vacation destination. But according to locals there is more—a lot more.
“It's not just as great as everybody says—it's even better,” says Beth Demmon, who writes about San Diego beer and spirits for her newsletter Prohibitchin'. In the latest episode of the California Now Podcast, Demmon and two other San Diego experts tell host Soterios Johnson about some of their favorite places, many flying under the radar.
Certainly, the San Diego craft beer scene offers plenty of nuances. “With over 150 independent breweries, we have everything the beer drinker could want and more,” says Demmon. You could start your tasting tour, she says, by focusing on the city’s “super-super-hoppy” West Coast IPAs.
“A number of places around town have become icons of the style,” she says, including North Park Beer Co., McIlhenney Brewing, Burgeon Beer Co., and Pizza Port. “We're also a really big lager town,” thanks to breweries such as Eppig, Coronado Brewing, and Mexican restaurant Puesto, whose “brewmaster is arguably the best lager maker in San Diego, if not California.”
Or, Demmon says, use beer-tasting as a way to explore cool San Diego County neighborhoods. She shares names of don’t-miss breweries—with detours for tacos, brunch, or ice cream—in communities such as Barrio Logan, Chula Vista, and Oceanside. Bagby Beer Company, for instance, offers “innovative beers that you aren't going to see everywhere—stuff for the beer nerd, as well as the new beer drinker. After a few pints, walk to the Oceanside Pier to watch the sunset over the Pacific. It's a great spot for families.”
Johnson’s next guest discusses another great destination for families: Sesame Place San Diego, the new water and theme park based on the Peabody Award–winning TV show. Tyler Carter, the park’s vice president of operations, tells Johnson how the Chula Vista park’s appeal extends well beyond the preschool set.
“It resonates with all generations,” he says, thanks in part to the Sesame Street Neighborhood zone, which includes a recreated set from the show and meet-and-greets with Big Bird and Elmo. Carter has enjoyed seeing fans discover the park—“watching the faces of young kids and of adults, transported into this neighborhood that they’ve seen on TV their whole lives.” The inclusive-minded park is also a Certified Autism Center, with a wide range of amenities for specials-needs families.
Carter offers tips on getting deals on tickets, and shares his favorites among both the classic rides and water park features—including a wave pool, lazy river, and waterslides that bigger kids and grownups will love. He admits a soft spot for Super Grover's Box Car Derby. “Even though it's a junior coaster,” Carter says, “it truly has wow-moments for everyone.”
For more fun surprises around San Diego, Jessica Johnson offers a wealth of suggestions. The creator of Hidden San Diego tells Soterios how she started her website “to be the ultimate adventure guide to the city, beyond the most famous places.” One great spot to start: the North County town of Escondido—which literally means “hidden”—and its sculpture garden Queen Califia's Magical Circle. Johnson encountered it while hiking Kit Carson Park’s back trails: “Suddenly there was this whole mosaic wonderland. It's a huge maze.”
Head further inland, Johnson says, to explore the high-desert town of Jacumba and quirky roadside attractions such as Desert View Tower and Coyote's Flying Saucer Retrieval and Repairs. Back in the city, Johnson shares her favorite speakeasies, like Raised by Wolves (tucked away in the UTC mall) and The Realm of 52 Remedies, located in the Asian-cuisine hotbed Convoy District.
Bottom line, she says, it’s never hard to find new places to love in her hometown. “Do neighborhood walks,” she suggests. “Every week, I'm going to a new place, and I'm like, ‘How didn’t I know this exists?’ There's no way you can possibly explore it all.”