What do you prefer more around Valentine’s Day, flowers or a sunny getaway? If you head to San Diego, you won’t have to choose. It’s wildflower season and the mercury is pushing 70 degrees. Plus, you’ll benefit from cheap airfare from many U.S. departure cities, along with easy-to-find hotel discounts. And if you’re planning a romantic surprise this winter or spring, your siggy won’t have to know that you spent less than $500 on him or her.
Finding airfare to San Diego
Many readers ask me why their city isn’t represented in the $500 equation in my columns. The answer is twofold: I can’t physically list every city, and sometimes the prices are simply too high. However, San Diego is one of those rare destinations that includes just about everybody. I looked up fares in February and March, and found a superabundance of cities with low fares on a bouquet mix of airlines, from legacy staples US Airways and Continental to small carriers like Sun Country and ExpressJet. Low-cost upstart Virgin America recently added service to San Diego from San Francisco, New York, and Washington, D.C., and will also include Seattle in mid-March.
- San Francisco: $99 (Virgin America)
- Minneapolis: $185 (Sun Country)
- Omaha: $196 (Frontier)
- Salt Lake City: $207 (Delta)
- Buffalo: $210 (Delta)
- Indianapolis: $210 (Frontier)
- Houston: $215 (Continental)
- Atlanta: $217 (US Airways)
- Kansas City: $219 (Midwest)
- Chicago: $219 (American)
- Seattle: $220 (United)
- Baltimore: $223 (Delta)
- Colorado Springs: $228 (ExpressJet)
- Cleveland: $231 (Continental)
- Detroit: $231 (Continental)
- Jacksonville: $231 (Continental)
- Boston: $232 (US Airways)
- New York: $232 (US Airways)
- Albuquerque: $233 (US Airways)
- Charlotte: $237 (American)
All listed fares include taxes and fees.
If your city isn’t listed, chances are high you’ll find a fare that will work within the $500 budget. It’s best to remain flexible with your travel dates and times, and to compare prices.
Finding a hotel in San Diego
When looking for an affordable hotel, I would go straight to the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau hotel section, which comes with a robust deals list.
If you wanted to get away for two nights, for example, you could stay at the brand-new Hard Rock Hotel San Diego, which opened in November 2007, for $199 per night for two guests through March 31. I spoke with a hotel representative who told me those same rates for the same “King studio” rooms usually run from $260 to $300. That’s a savings of at least $61 per night.
I verified that you can actually get the discounted rate, and the total with taxes of $57.71 came to $455.71 for two nights. Divide that number by two to get $227.86 per person. Then add airfare of $237 from Charlotte (the most expensive city I’ve listed), and your grand total comes to $464.86. That leaves enough room for renting a car, which you might want in San Diego. Rentals will cost around $20 to $30 per day, or $10 to $15 per person if you ride-share.
If you want to stay more nights, there are plenty of other deals at lower prices. For instance, you can stay at The Pearl Hotel, a “vintage-modern” boutique hotel refurbished in 2007, for much less. I’ll spare you the math, but rates start at $119 per night, with an extra 20 percent off select rooms such as “The Jewel” for $111.20.
Depending on how low the rates are, you could have plenty left over for food and fun in the sun.
What to do and eat in San Diego
If you can travel this winter or spring, you’re in for a treat—in the form of flowers. Wildflowers bloom in late February or early March at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, located about an hour and a half from San Diego. Admission is completely free. Also, The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch, just north of San Diego, opens in March. Adults pay $9 to enter.
If you want to hang out right in the city and save, February is designated as Museum Month, which means half price at more than 30 attractions. In the spirit of the flower theme, the program includes Quail Botanical Gardens and The Water Conservation Garden. Also note that many museums have a free day every month, usually on Tuesdays.
For romantic dining with good value, I love the restaurants in La Jolla, particularly the Brockton Villa for its $9.75 breakfast “Coast Toast.” The Cottage is another great spot, with lunch entrees costing between $9 and $15. For cheap eats, you can’t go wrong with Rubio’s, which has about 20 locations in the San Diego area and meals well under $5. For example, the “World Famous Fish Taco” at the original Mission Bay location costs just $1.99; add beans, chips, and a drink for $2 more.
For more new and affordable things to do, read our latest San Diego Trip du Jour.
Email me your favorite money-saving tips for San Diego, and I might publish them in a future article. Or, feel free to comment or suggest a new Escapes Under $500 destination.
All prices, dates, and booking details listed here were valid at the time of publication. Some information may have changed since that time.