The birthplace of California and the closest West Coast city to the Mexican border, San Diego has a distinct SoCal-meets-Mexico vibe, from the chilled out beach communities to the proliferation of excellent taco joints. The sprawling city covers almost 400 sq miles, so you wont see everything in one trip, let alone one day, but with a little planning it’s easy to get a feel for the many delights of this low-key, friendly place where the sun almost always shines.
Stop 1: Breakfast, So-Cal Style
Start your day of exploring off right with the classic So-Cal breakfast – a burrito. A Mexican-American hybrid, fillings can vary for this deliciously decadent start to the day, but are most often a combination of eggs, bacon, salsa, cheese and perhaps avocado. We love the Cali Breakfast Burrito at Saltbox in the historic Gaslamp Quarter downtown. Wash it down with a Mexican Mocha, a rich chocolaty coffee with a kick of cinnamon and chilli.
Stop 2: A Walk in the Park
Not just any old park. Balboa Park is a 1,200 acre playground housing manicured gardens, several excellent museums and the San Diego Zoo. Beautiful Spanish Colonial style buildings with shaded colonnades (which you’ll appreciate after an hour out in the strong Cali sunshine), share space with centuries-old trees and curved walking paths. Kids will love the Air and Space museum with its collection of vintage airplanes and Apollo 9 command module, while adults might prefer the San Diego Museum of Art. Outdoors, the Japanese Friendship Garden, Botanical Building and Alcazar Garden (modeled on the grounds of Alcazar castle in Spain) are particular highlights.
Stop 3: To Market
Liberty Public Market in Point Loma has only been open for one short year, but it’s already a hit with the city’s foodie population. You can enjoy a sit-down meal at Mess Hall, with a daily menu sourced from the market’s produce, but lunchtime is best enjoyed as a grab and go feast, so peruse the different stalls and decide what looks best to you. The Maine lobster roll is a firm favorite of ours, but the decadent burgers at Stuffed! (the burgers are filled with gourmet cheese) and fish tacos at Cecelia’s are also solid choices. If you’re feeling indulgent, add a scoop of ice cream to the lunch menu, made by local experts MooTime creamery.
Stop 4: Coronado Island
Ok now you’ve earned some do-absolutely-nothing time, so grab your book and make your way to Coronado Island, just across the water from downtown. You can drive over the bridge, or jump on the convenient ferry run by Flagship Cruises, which zips across from the Marina in under 15 minutes. However you get here, once you arrive head down Orange Avenue to Coronado Beach, a wide expanse of sparkling sand (the sparkle comes from mica particles in the sand) flanked by those rolling Pacific waves.
Stop 5: Sunset Drinks
San Diego boasts incredible sunsets night after night, but the beauty of this nightly show never gets boring. And sightseeing has a way of making us thirsty by day’s end. How to combine these two? With a sundowner at the elegant, fabulous Hotel Del Coronado! Known to locals as the Hotel Del, the chi-chi beach resort has been a fixture on the island for 125 years, welcoming well-heeled visitors and locals with its East-Coast preppy vibe on the West Coast. Take a seat outside, order up a cocktail (we love the dark and stormy with a twist of pineapple), then just sit back and enjoy the view.
Stop 6: Taco Time
End your day in the city as you began – with a Mexican flavor. Head back across the water to Seaport Village (just next to the marina) and get yourself to Puesto, a hip taco joint with some of the best guacamole in the area. You might have to wait a while for a table, but you’ll be glad you did. The Nogada guac, with pomegranate seeds, mango and candied walnuts is deliciously fresh, while the Puesto Perfect, with chunks of parmesan and habanero is creamy and indulgent. Grab a Modelo Especial beer on the side and toast to a SoCal day well-spent.
Where to stay in San Diego