Interested in a San Diego urban-style vacation, where key activities include visiting museums, hitting trendy nightclubs, trawling the Old Town or dining in the city’s finest restaurants? Or would you rather aim for an outdoorsy getaway — paddle a kayak, get on a bicycle, pick up a golf club or simply bum out on a beach? San Diego’s schizophrenic that way — couples visiting this sunny seaside city can mix and mingle a bit of both.
Home Away From Home
The Britt Scripps Inn may well be one of San Diego’s few remaining 19th-century manses, and it’s definitely a throwback to the Victorian era, but its nine rooms are uniquely decorated and feature key modern amenities like 1,000-thread-count sheets, flat-screen TV’s and free Wi-Fi.
The downtown W San Diego is the perfect spot for hipster couples looking to check out the San Diego social scene. The rooms resemble stylish beach cabanas and are stocked with Bliss spa products. But the real attraction is the open-air bar on the roof that has a sand floor and fire pits — a little bit of the beach right at your hotel.
Spend today exploring Balboa Park, the largest urban cultural park in the country. There are over 1,000 landscaped acres and 15 of San Diego’s best museums in this cultural complex plus art galleries, street performers and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. A free tram runs through the park every 10 minutes.
Art lovers should spend the morning at the San Diego Museum of Art and the Timken Museum of Art; nature lovers will delight in exploring the Japanese Friendship Garden and the Botanical Building; and animal lovers can bypass everything else and head straight to the San Diego Zoo.
Head across the bay to Coronado for lunch at San Diego’s most famous historic hotel, the Hotel del Coronado, a historic luxury resort that caters to the rich and famous. Enjoy lunch on the outdoor terrace at Sheerwater; specialties include seafood dishes like shrimp scampi and fish and chips. The easiest way to get to Coronado is via ferry, which departs from Broadway Pier (right next to the cruise ship terminal).
After lunch, spend some time in Coronado — relax on the beach, wander into the shops on the town’s charming Main Street or explore the grounds of the Hotel del Coronado.
When you return to San Diego, have dinner downtown at Candelas, offering inventive Mexican cuisine in a romantic, candlelit setting.
If yesterday was, by and large, devoted to urban pursuits, today’s day trip to La Jolla will focus more on the great outdoors. La Jolla, the “Palm Springs” of this stretch of Southern California, is a seaside resort town perhaps better known for its designer boutiques and high-rent restaurants than the opportunity to go sea kayaking or nude beaching, but there it is again: the area’s schizophrenia! We’d suggest that you rent a kayak and explore the sea cliffs and La Jolla Cave, or head to Seal Rock to observe the harbor seals and sea lions playing in the water. For something a little more daring, head to Torrey Pines Gliderport and see La Jolla from the sky while you paraglide in tandem.
When you’ve worked up an appetite, have a gourmet pizza at Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza and then stroll along Prospect Street, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean and is lined with the town’s exclusive specialty shops, boutiques and art galleries. If you’re in the mood for something more extravagant than a pizza, head to George’s at the Cove for gourmet sandwiches and entrees with spectacular views of the ocean.
For couples who want to break up their trip in San Diego with a night in La Jolla (and in this case we’d suggest making it your first or last night of vacation), consider splurging on a night at The Lodge at Torrey Pines, the only five-star hotel in the city of San Diego (as rated by AAA). If the price tag is too hefty, you might still enjoy a massage there. And if one or both of you is an avid golfer, a round at the world-famous Torrey Pines is the feather in a golfer’s cap.
If you’re more in the mood for a party then for meandering around La Jolla, take a day trip to Tijuana, Mexico. The border is just 17 miles south and accessible via San Diego’s light rail network (do make sure to bring a passport, which is now mandatory). You simply walk through border control, and then you’re in Mexico! Taxis are available for the five-minute ride to the city, or you can walk to downtown in about 15 – 20 minutes.
Tijuana’s known for a lot of things, such as dog racing, jai alai and outdoor shopping plazas (mostly tourist trap stuff), but what’s really fun is to sample its famous tequila. In Mexico, you don’t shoot it, you sip it, even if it’s served in a shot glass. Order yours “completo” and it will come with sangrita, a tomato-based palate cleanser meant for sipping along with the tequila. Be forewarned — if you’re looking for anything other than a great party town, you’ll likely be disappointed in Tijuana.
Recover from last night’s partying with a morning on one of San Diego’s many beaches. Just like tourists, different beaches have different personalities, and we’ve picked a beach for nearly every kind of visitor.
Surfer Dudes: The city’s surfing beaches are concentrated about 30 minutes north of the city. At beaches like Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Solana Beach, Encinitas and Leucadia you can rent boards, take lessons or simply watch others catch the waves.
The Bookworm: Silver Strand, just south of the Hotel del Coronado in Coronado, has lovely sand and gentle surf … and is often nearly deserted.
All Action, All the Time: Folks who can’t sit still will love the action at Mission Beach. The promenade is always alive with activity, while the sand provides great people-watching and sports like volleyball.
Once you’ve soaked up enough rays, head back to your hotel to freshen up. Then spend the afternoon strolling along San Diego’s Embarcadero. You can visit the Maritime Museum or continue to Seaport Village where you’ll find a large assortment of souvenir shops, restaurants and street performers. Dine here or head to the Gaslamp District, where you’ll find over 200 restaurants serving every imaginable cuisine. Two that stand out are Confidential (tapas) and Athens Market Taverna (Greek). After dinner, take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the area and call it a night.
–written by Genevieve Brown