SAN DIEGO— We recently spent a weekend in California’s southernmost metropolis and can now cheerfully confirm that it’s one of our favorite cities in North America. We find it underrated, and found ourselves wishing we lived in a city like this. Warm, compact, cultural, and on the ocean, full of tourist-friendly activities both touristy and off-the-beaten-path, it’s everything we want in a destination. So what to do in a quick weekend trip in San Diego? Here’s our top 5 things to do followed by some more tips and favorites.
San Diego is beer heaven. I’ve traveled around and sampled some great beer cities worldwide but this is where it’s at. San Diego has some of the best breweries in America, and the size and scale of the beer industry here is mesmerizing. There are over 130 breweries in San Diego County. Check out the San Diego Breweries Map (a handy Google Map). Planning your beercation could be as simple as walking into whatever brewery you run across, or doing some research and pre-planning to visit the ones most interesting to you. Either way, order some samplers and go.
We visited the following (admittedly some of the bigger breweries) and can highly recommend:
Ballast Point. We visited the Little Italy location and the selection of flavors here is incredible. Sit down and order a selection of tasters. The variety of flavors blew my mind and I still think of this place to this day! Some decent food, too.
Green Flash. Located in Miramar, a heaven of craft brewing in a residential/industrial neighborhood, Green Flash has its own food truck (with tasty eats!) and great beer. The tasters are only $1.25 which is insane. Definitely worth the drive as we loved the beers here.
Stone Brewing. My beercation started with a full pint at Stone’s Liberty Point location which was a mistake as I had not yet learned the wonders of the beer taster, and started with a pint of a smoked IPA that was less than delicious. Had I ordered a taster I would have not felt as regretful. My bad. However, their other beers are top notch. This is one of the premiere brewers in San Diego and any of their locations are worth a visit. They also have great food that’s quite expensive (the ramen was $24 but delicious).
If you’re in San Diego you need to get some sun, sand and surf. Obviously. Hit up beaches all along the coast. We were unfortunately cloud-bound for the majority of our weekend here (so didn’t get much sun) but loved Pacific Beach (for a beer stop, check out Pacific Ale right off the beach). Our ultimate favorite, and one of the coolest beach stops I’ve ever made, was Black’s Beach – part of Torrey Pines State Beach, near La Jolla. It is a hike down from Torrey Pines Glider Port (park in the parking lot and just walk). So many factors went into this being such a unique experience, including the fact that it’s clothing-optional – avert your eyes if you’re squeamish (it’s 10:1 men, brimming with sheer penile confidence), and be conservative with that camera. It takes quite a beautiful hike downhill to get to, which was amazing in itself, as hangliders fly above you in picturesque fashion the whole way down. On a Sunday afternoon, it was busy and full of life and incredibly entertaining with waves crashing, nude dudes strolling and hangliders weaving their way through the sky above you.
A must stop area, with beaches, coastline, sealions and seals, shopping, and food. Definitely make La Jolla part of your itinerary and just relax here.
Especially vibrant on a weekend evening, Little Italy is worth checking out. Definitely stop at Ballast Point for some beer and eat there or one of the vibrant eateries. Little Italy here kind of took me back to our recent trip to Milan. And it’s right in the midst of things (in downtown). One oddity I loved was watching planes fly right over the area at night which was satisfying for the plane lover in me.
Witness the original San Diego, where it all started. Definitely worth a walk-through if not a longer stay. Plenty of restaurants, shops and historical sights. We visited during Day of the Dead and it was a great vibe and amazing time to go (see more below).
Home of the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park (bigger than NY’s Central Park!) is a destination in itself even if you’re not into animals. It’s museum central in San Diego, with a whole array of museums. A few of the sites are free (Timken Museum of Art, and the Botanical Gardens), and do visit the Spanish walk. We liked the cactus gardens and rose garden near the perimeter.
A must stop on any San Diego itinerary. Experience the beautiful beach, check out the classic Hotel Coronado (where people like Marylin Monroe stayed) and walk throgh the town for shops and food. The drive on Coronado Bridge is a cool experience in itself, or you can take the ferry which would be even more of an adventure. It’s a quaint little island where you can experience a bit of peace and quiet just a short journey from busy downtown San Diego.
Do it Mexican
You’re very close to the Mexico border, so live Mexican! Try Tacos El Gordo’s if you haven’t been to the one in Vegas. We loved buying groceries and cheap breakfast at the El Super grocery store, which was just a short drive from our hotel in National City. Definitely eat some Mexican in San Diego – you’re just minutes away from the border. If you have extra time, why not make it to Tijuana?
Also, consider coming during Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) around November, where Old Town and parts of San Diego come alive in celebration of this traditional Mexican holiday. See more.
And of course you’ve got your other tourist favorites like SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo, the USS Midway Museum, Belmont, the US etc. For Canadians I’d highly recommend the San Diego Go Card (there is a 2- and 4-day available at Costco.ca starting at 134.99 for 2 days for adults) which gives you unlimited access for the timeframe to the biggest – and sometimes most expensive – attractions in San Diego. If you devote your time to using it you can definitely get your money’s worth (considering a day at SeaWorld can cost up to $90 for adult admission).
Another tip: If you are flying out of the San Diego airport and have Amex Platinum (Canadians can sign up here), you can use the Airspace Lounge before your return flight for free. This is one of our favorite credit card airline lounges we’ve ever used!
Where to stay? San Diego’s pretty small (compared to places like LA) so staying in a neighboring suburb can be cheaper yet still a quick highway drive from wherever you want to go. We stayed in a suburb called National City (the Best Western Gateway National City was a perfect spot for our trip).
♠ All in all, San Diego is a great city to visit and one of those places that made us think, hey, we need to retire here. Have any more tips? Share them in the comments below!