Beyond the great weather, which makes it easy to enjoy outdoor attractions, another plus in San Diego is that the city offers a wide variety of activities — meaning that you can be as active or sedentary as you like.
You’ll definitely want to spend a significant amount of time in Balboa Park. On its own merits it’s one of America’s most spectacular city parks, but there’s so much more here. Created in 1916 for the Panama-California Expedition, the 1,200-acre park, with its Spanish Colonial Revival-style buildings, is home to numerous art galleries and museums, including the Natural History Museum, the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, the Spanish Village Art Center, the Timken Museum of Art, the Veterans Museum and the Japanese Friendship Garden, to name just some. Phew!
San Diego is also easily accessible by airplane, train, bus or car. Once in the city, you’ll find the public transportation system clear-cut and easy to use. Seniors will enjoy discounts not only on transportation but at nearly every major attraction in the city.
Tip: Consider buying a pass for the Old Town Trolley Tour of San Diego. The trolley stops at most of the city’s major tourist attractions and runs all day, offering on-and-off touring and historical narration along the way.
Home Away From Home
The best thing about the Manchester Grand Hyatt is that it’s close to the cruise terminal (in fact, if you wake up early you may be able to spot ships sailing into the harbor), adjacent to the touristy but cute Seaport Village, and within a pleasant stroll’s distance of the Gaslamp District. As well, for those folks who just want to experience in-hotel R & R, the place is huge, offering a variety of options for dining, activity and recreation.
The Days Inn SeaWorld/Airport offers basic accommodations at very reasonable prices. It’s a good option for travelers arriving by car because of its large parking lot (something many downtown hotels lack). It offers a free continental breakfast daily and free shuttle service to the airport, Amtrak station and SeaWorld.
The first thing you’ll do when you arrive in San Diego is head out of town. Some of the most interesting attractions in the city are actually located outside the city center — for example, the string of missions that dot the California coast, beginning in San Diego County. Just a few miles north of downtown, you’ll see the first of the 21 missions that continue to operate and preserve the city’s Spanish past: Mission San Diego de Alcala. Today it operates as a Catholic parish, and has a small museum and gift shop.
The next two missions are Mission San Luis Rey de Francia and Mission San Juan Capistrano, located further north in Oceanside and San Juan Capistrano, respectively.
Depending on how many missions you decided to visit, you may be ready to head back to your hotel for a rest. But if not, head to Old Town to experience more of San Diego’s history. Stop at the Old Town Mexican Cafe for excellent Mexican food and to watch tortillas being made by the famous “Tortilla Ladies.” Be sure to check out the Bazaar del Mundo for free entertainment and to shop for Mexican folk art, ceramics and fashions.
Head to the Gaslamp Quarter for dinner. This area really comes alive after dark as the restaurants and cafes fill up with the sounds of chatter and music. There are over 200 restaurants in this small area serving every cuisine under the sun; a few standouts are Trattoria La Bocca, for reasonably priced Italian and an affordable wine list, and Rei Do Gado, a Brazilian-style all-you-can-eat steakhouse where prices are per person rather then a la carte.
The United States Navy’s presence in San Diego is hard to overstate; since World War II, the city has served as the Navy’s Pacific Command Center. Take a stroll along the waterfront path of the Embarcadero and stop in at the Maritime Museum, made up of historic ships. The most impressive is the Star of India, the world’s oldest active ship. If you’re a real enthusiast, take a half-day adventure sail aboard the Californian, a 145-foot schooner.
Dip into more a glamorous type of American history by heading across the bay to Coronado via bridge or ferry and to the Hotel del Coronado (known affectionately as “The Del”) for a sunset cocktail. The luxury resort has a long history of catering to the rich and famous and was also the place where Marilyn Monroe filmed “Some Like it Hot.” If you have time, the hotel’s upscale shops are worth a browse, or take a stroll along its beautiful, sugar-white sand beach.
End your day with dinner at one of the Hotel del Coronado’s restaurants. Fine dining is on the menu at the elegant 1500 Ocean, or enjoy a more casual experience on the terrace at Sheerwater.
Spend today exploring the beauty and culture of Balboa Park. 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. Strolling along El Prado, you’ll come across several of the park’s museums housed in Spanish Colonial Revival-style buildings. Some of the highlights worth checking out are the San Diego Museum of Art, the Timken Museum of Art and the Museum of San Diego History. Various passes and packages are available for joint admission to selected attractions within the complex.
Rest from the morning’s cultural and historic excursions with a light lunch at the Tea Pavilion, near the garden, where you can dine (indoors or out) on sushi, Japanese noodles, rice bowls, miso soup and other treats.
If you would prefer to spend this or any other day on a more rural outing, consider a day trip to La Jolla, about 20 minutes north of the city. This picturesque town offers upscale shopping and dining ina beautiful setting. Nature enthusiasts will delight in the beaches, lagoons and trails at Torrey Pines State Park. La Jolla also offers great dining options; for views of the Pacific, head to George’s at the Cove. For a casual bite, check out Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza. For fine dining, head to the Sky Room at the La Valencia Hotel.
–written by Genevieve Brown