San Diego is an interesting city. It’s the eighth largest city in the United States, and because it’s so spread out it feels even bigger. It has a very relaxed vibe, and a laid-back feel that reminds me of home. The people are warm and welcoming, and there’s a huge amount to see and do- most of it reasonably inexpensive. It’s taken me this long to write about San Diego because I desperately miss it!
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is where you’ll find all the original buildings, including the first school, jail, and courthouse. The museums here are all free as well, making it an inexpensive place to visit. There are lots of little stores where you can buy candy, gifts, and books, and even make your own candles. To learn about the history of Old Town, take advantage of one of the free walking tours which leave at 10am and 2pm Wednesday through Sunday.
The best part of Old Town is exploring the historic buildings from the 1800’s, but the food is great too. We found it very hard to decide where to eat with so many options, many of them mexican, and the margaritas were excellent.
The tour through the Cosmpolitan Hotel is interesting, although I’m not sure how much it costs since it was free the weekend we went. We were lucky enough to have the manager of the hotel as our guide, and he was both knowledgeable and amusing. I’m a sucker for a good ghost story and he told us the Cosmpolitan’s with a flair and sincerity that left me almost convinced that there was indeed at least one ghost roaming the hotel. We had lunch downstairs after the tour, where all the servers were in period costume. The food was great!
You’ll find Little Italy on and around India street, close to the airport and downtown. With small cafe’s and restaurants, and a relaxed atmosphere, it’s the perfect place to sit outside and people watch. Once a year in February there is Little Italy Carnevale, where lots of people dress up and you can wander around the stalls and watch different bands perform.
Although Little Italy isn’t big, It’s a nice place for a coffee on a Sunday morning, or dinner on Friday night. There’s a great coffee shop called Caffe Italia which has delicious gelato and free Wireless.
La Jolla (pronounced “La Hoiya”) means “The Jewel” in Spanish, and it’s my favorite place in San Diego. You’ll see why when you get there so make sure you take a camera or you’ll be kicking yourself like I was when I first visited.
Seal rock is impressive, and although there’s always lots of tourists, you can find a nice spot to sit on the beach and watch the wildlife. Walk down to the children’s pool where the seals are and then continue walking right along the coast and you’ll come across the sea lions (you’ll hear and smell them before you see them). At the end of the walk there is a shop called The Cave. For four dollars you can walk down 145 steps to the only dry cave in La Jolla. All of the other caves are only accessible by kayak so this is a fun thing to do, especially if you’ve got kids.
Seaport Village is best on the weekend when there are lots of people wandering around. If you walk next to the ocean you’ll see Tarot card readers, painters, guys making balloon animals, and people selling all kinds of stuff. It’s the perfect place to wander with an ice-cream in hand, and if you’re lucky you’ll even see “bird guy” who scared the crap out of my cousin Hayley when he walked up behind her and planted a bird on her shoulder. While it was the source of much amusement to me, you can see her trying to smile through her terror:
Named the best beach in America in 2012, Coronado is the island across from San Diego. There are heaps of shops to buy postcards and ice creams, good places to eat and it’s a fun place to hang out and have a wander. You can grab the ferry across from San Diego, or drive across the bridge (get someone else to drive so you can take photos of the stunning views). Check out the Hotel Del Coronado, which was built in 1988 and a temporary home to many presidents including Barrack Obama, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton to name a few.
I have many fond memories of Mission Beach, and one of my favorite things to do there was to visit Belmont Park which is an amusement park that was built in 1925. Ok so this place is no Six Flags, but if you accept it for what it is: a fun place to pass the time and soak up the sunshine, it’s a nice way to spend an afternoon
If you head to Mission Beach you should check out Wave House. This is an outdoor bar on the beach, with plenty of room to drink and dance, heaps of bars, and even one of those surf machines (I have no idea what they’re called but here’s a picture):
For those of us who prefer to simply relax in the sun with a cool drink and people watch, this bar is great for that too:
If you plan to stop by the Wave House, make sure you have your passport with you. I usually just used my New Zealand licence when I went to bars in the US since I didn’t want to lose my passport, but these guys usually insist on seeing your passport. We were able to charm the door guy into letting me in without it, but I wouldn’t count on that happening again!
One thing I’ve noticed since I began selling travel to the United States , is that San Diego is an incredibly underrated destination. Aussies and Kiwis generally head to LA, Vegas and New York, or if they’re doing the West Coast it will be LA, Vegas and perhaps San Francisco if they’re feeling a bit adventurous. San Diego is only two hours south of LA, and in my opinion it’s about ten times better. The people are nicer, the streets are cleaner, and there’s far more to do.