A cold day in San Diego is any temperature below 65 degrees. This nearly perfect location on the southwest coast of the United States doesn’t always garner as much attention as California’s other metropolitan giants (LA and San Francisco), but it does offer an adventure for all types of vacationers. For art lovers, San Diego’s Balboa Park has a complex of modern and classic museums, while the pristine coastline beaches give the more relaxed traveler a perfect view. And for the urban hikers, San Diego’s diverse neighborhoods offers us a challenge of fitting as much as we can into one trip.
Balboa Park: When you fly into San Diego’s airport, try to catch a glimpse of the iconic California Tower, a Spanish-style spire that marks the entrance to one of San Diego’s main attractions. Travelers can easily spend a full day exploring Balboa Park, visiting museums including the Museum of Man, the San Diego Museum of Art, or the Museum of Natural History. For the nature lovers, take a stroll through the Botanical Gardens, or pack a picnic lunch and find a shaded spot in the Japanese Friendship Garden.
San Diego Zoo: Just north of Balboa Park is the world-famous San Diego Zoo, which is home to over 3,500 animals. If you are traveling with kids, this is a must-see destination.
Coronado Island: Half military base, half vacation destination, this island is famous for its red-roofed luxury hotel. While prices may be steep, this is a great destination to visit for a drink or meal, followed by a sunset stroll along the beach.
Gaslamp District/ Downtown San Diego: If you are looking for evening plans, look no further than the Gaslamp District in San Diego’s downtown. Located across from the Marina and Convention Center, this strip has shops, restaurants, and bars, perfect for a casual dinner, a stop before catching a baseball game at Petco Park, or a rowdy night of bar hopping (you’ll see plenty of bachelor/bachelorette parties in the area). Start your walk at the marina, stopping in to the USS Midway Museum and wander through the Seaport Village. Here, you’ll get stunning views of Coronado Island and the Naval base, and then head on over to the Gaslamp District (looked for the arched entryway over the street).
Pacific Beach: If you’re looking for a 1970s surfing vibe, look no farther than Pacific Beach. While a little modernized, the boardwalk still gives you an authentic Californian coastline, with fishing piers, surf shops, and plenty of people watching. Take a stroll along the board walk, or venture onto the sand and put your feet in the Pacific Ocean.
La Jolla: North of San Diego city is the posh neighborhood of La Jolla (for those of you like me who love to point out places you’ve visited when watching TV, this is where ‘Grace and Frankie’ takes place). Here, you’ll find yoga studios, swanky shops, glorious vacation homes, and seaside restaurants, but the best part is of course taking some time to visit the seals and sea lions. Start at La Jolla Cove, you’ll know you’re close to the action because you can smell the sea lions as soon as you exit your car. (A note—keep your distance from all animals. While you can walk onto the rocks, these creatures will bite if provoked, and can carry some nasty bacteria with them.) Head south along the pathway until you reach Children’s Pool. Once a swimming spot for San Diego’s children, this man-made cove was quickly overrun by seals (Amazingly, the seals and sea lions have their own designated areas, but rarely mix). The best time to visit is in the spring, as starting in March the seals and sea lions start to have babies, so you can spend your time watching the moms teach their pups how to swim! When you’ve had your fill of adorable animals, take a stroll up to the La Jolla Village for lunch.
Torrey Pines Gliderport: Feeling adventurous? Right by UCSD’s campus (and the architectural wonder that is the Salk Institute), you can take a leap off the cliffs and slowly glide down to safety. Or, if you’re like me, just grab a coffee and watch these daredevils soar to the Pacific. There are hiking trails along the cliffs that will bring you down to the beach (WARNING: Bring proper shoes as the path is steep, and be aware that the beach below is a legal nude beach), or you can walk into the university campus (be sure to visit the library!).
Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial: Touring San Diego, you come to realize one important thing very quickly—it’s big. So, to get your bearings and to see a great view of the entire city, take a drive up to the Mt. Soledad Veteran Memorial, high above the coastline. It’s worth the quick stop.