For discerning travelers looking for a long weekend escape, San Diego offers just the right mix of luxury resorts, an innovative food scene, perfect beaches, and rich cultural experiences. Because the city has such a temperate climate, it practically begs visitors to get outside. This 4-day itinerary offers suggestions for what to do and where to go, but also allows time for travel improvisation.
There are two picturesque luxury hotels for you to choose from: the Hotel del Coronado on Coronado Island, or the Lodge at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, north of San Diego. Both offer outstanding access to the Pacific Ocean, top-notch dining experiences, and numerous outdoor activities. The Hotel del Coronado first opened in 1888, and was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1977. Today rooms across various buildings are modern and luxurious. At La Jolla’s Lodge at Torrey Pines, the design is Craftsman-style and guests enjoy priority tee times on the world-renowned golf course.
After unpacking and strolling around the grounds of your hotel, head to Balboa Park, San Diego’s 1,200-acre urban park. There are 17 museums and cultural institutions here, in addition to numerous gardens and walking trails. Take a private tour with the Balboa Park Conservancy. Afterwards, grab a cup of tea and a seat on the patio of the Tea Pavilion at the Japanese Friendship Garden.
Later that night, hit Juniper & Ivy, one of the city’s hottest restaurants. The Little Italy eatery is helmed by Richard Blais of Top Chef All Stars fame, and features American food with a twist. Don’t miss the semi-secret menu item, the In-N-Haute burger, made from a special blend of beef.
If you’re staying at the Hotel del Coronado, wake early for breakfast at the hotel and a walk along the beach. If you’re at the Lodge at Torrey Pines, get some early-morning exercise by taking a walk along the La Jolla bluffs. Then it’s time to return to Balboa Park for another day in paradise.
After the Botanical Building, head over to the San Diego Zoo—one of the largest and most renowned zoos in the country. On an “Inside Look Tour,” you’ll explore the zoo with a private guide, zipping from one habitat to another in the comfort of a golf cart. Depending on which tour you sign up for (Penguins and Friends; Elephants and Friends; Monkeys and Friends), the guide will take you behind the scenes at one of a handful of exhibits and give you access to parts of the zoo that other visitors don’t see (like the penguin beach and nesting area).
When the private tour is finished, continue exploring on your own. Take the Skyfari Aerial Tram from one side of the zoo to the other for a bird’s-eye view. Wander through the Africa Rocks! Exhibit, which opened in 2017 and is home to penguins, leopard sharks, velvet monkeys, lemurs, ibex, and meercats (to name a few).
Finish the day with dinner at Ironside Fish & Oyster, an innovative—and stunning—seafood restaurant and bar in Little Italy. Order cocktails and platters of shellfish to share.
Plan to spend your third day in San Diego exploring the city’s bustling downtown. Head first to the USS Midway Museum, a floating museum on an actual (but decommissioned) aircraft carrier.
From there, ride the Metropolitan Transit System to Old Town. Grab lunch at a classic Mexican restaurant such as Café Coyote. It’s never too early for a good margarita.
Take the afternoon and early evening to soak up the burgeoning art scene in North Park, one of the city’s coolest neighborhoods. Galleries such as Good Friday display original work by a variety of local artists, and cafes often host exhibits, too. Stop in the shops Artelexia and Visual to pick up cool souvenirs to bring home.
Conclude the day with dinner at the Smoking Goat, chef Fred Piehl’s second restaurant. The food has a heavy Mediterranean influence—the crispy Spanish octopus with Romesco sauce is a popular choice, and the pistachio-crusted rack of lamb will leave you longing for more. For dessert, the griddled banana bread is a modern-day spin on bananas foster, and it’s delicious.
Your fourth and final day in San Diego should be all about pampering. Start the morning with brunch in the Hotel del Coronado’s Crown Room, one of the oldest parts of the resort. The brunch boasts a chilled seafood bar, a gourmet Bloody Mary bar, and made-to-order mimosas. It is regarded as one of the best brunches in the city.
Later in the day, head north to La Costa for some wellness time at the Chopra Center. The Center was founded in 1996 by Deepak Chopra, and it hosts a variety of experiences designed to rejuvenate those who visit. Spend your time in the Ayurvedic spa, where therapists customize treatments using herbal-infused oils. The Abhyanga and Vishesh treatments feature two therapists at a time, massaging clients in a sort of choreographed dance.
Continue your Zen-like state with dinner at Addison, the fancy, French-inspired restaurant at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar. Chef William Bradley takes diners on a culinary journey with two distinct menus—a four-course tasting menu and a multi-course menu that often includes up to 11 different courses. Both menus often feature foie gras, escargot, oysters, and more. For smaller portions and lighter fare, check out Le Salon, which has an open-air terrace that is perfect for lingering on a warm night.