San Diego’s everlasting sunshine warms some of the most beautiful hills and beaches in California. Blooms of small white and yellow native flowers line the highways in welcome throughout the year, a botanical counterpart to the local folks’ easygoing friendliness to visitors such as yourself. Even if you can only spend a few short days visiting LA’s little sister, you will find much to enjoy in the culture, the food, the drinks and, of course, the scenery. Make the most of your whirlwind weekend in San Diego.
To begin, you should find a place to stay in the Gaslamp Quarter downtown. The quiet resort city of Coronado attracts many other visitors, but its distance and generic tourist appeal soften its appeal for visitors who want a true San Diego experience. The historic Gaslamp Quarter, meanwhile, has a unique urban energy you won’t find anywhere else, and will give you walking access to lots of restaurants and bars that would require driving from anywhere else. Any hotel here would probably do, but the Gaslamp Plaza Suites will add a historic ambience to the already great location.
Once you’re settled, you only have a little bit of time, so skip the typical time traps of SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo. These attractions may be bursting at the seams with unusual ways to encounter cool animals, true, but you will have plenty of time for that sort of thing with the kids in a few years. For this short journey, avoid the considerable expense in time and money.
Instead, spend some of your time sinking your teeth into that glorious San Diego coastline. There are about 70 miles of it, and the state of California has deemed all beaches public property — so you have a lot to explore! To the north, San Diego’s trademark hills drop yellow cliffs straight to a wide beach at Torrey Pines State Park, and you can walk several paths along the top of the terrain. The most convenient parking costs $15, but if you’re patient, you can find free street side spots along Torrey Pines Park Road.
Southward, you can watch wild seals sunning themselves on Casa Beach in La Jolla. In the warmest days of summer, the harbor seals tend to stay in the water during the heat of the day, so later in the morning tends to be the best time for seeing this majestic sight, which is best caught from the walls along the beach. Walking on the beach with the seals is also permitted, so long as you keep a safe distance and don’t do anything that might disturb them.
On your way back from the beach, why not stop for a pint at one of the city’s many brewpubs? San Diego’s reputation as a craft beer paradise supersedes all others, so it will absolutely accommodate whatever your specific tastes may be. You can walk to Pizza Port Ocean Beach from the La Jolla Beach, or if you’re coming from Torrey Pines, Green Flash is in the nearby Sorrento Valley. Or if you really want incredible food and a famous, big-name beer in a swanky atmosphere, Stone Brewing spreads its lavish beer garden northward in Escondido. You might want to take a cab or Lyft to that one; its sumptuousness can draw you in for a while!
Once you head back downtown, you’l probably be getting hungry. Right in the center of the Gaslamp Quarter, BiCE serves the best halibut in town, and it’s worth the extra cash for their in-house cheese specialist to prepare something for the table. If you’re interested in a quicker, cheaper dining experience, Miguel’s Cocina in Old Town serves locally sourced fish in its popular fish tacos. And the fireside dining on the patio makes this place feel as classy as any other establishment!
As for nightlife, San Diego won’t disappoint. If you’re up for taking a cab, the Renaissance at North Park area has become one of the most exciting places for evening fun. Tiger!Tiger! offers a cozy ambience with a full bar and great beer selection, while a few blocks south, Toronado also has a drool-worthy beer and pub food selection but with a more aggressively fun atmosphere. If you prefer live music and all-night dancing, Whiskey Girl in Gaslamp has an energetic vibe that attracts locals as well as visitors. And for a really special night, put on your best outfit for Onyx Room and Thin’s deep house, acid jazz and loads of swank.
San Diego could keep you busy for weeks, but a quick weekend trip can at least satisfy some of that Southern California craving. Wherever you’re from, this city is sure to have better weather, and that alone would be worth the trip. No matter what you see and do while in San Diego, by the end of your short visit you’ll already be planning your return.