A stop in San Diego during our road trip is one that truly changed our lives. We were so quickly mesmerized by the city's enchanting beauty that we instantly decided to make a permanent move here. This magical city lured us to leave our home in New York City, where we have lived for the past twenty-three years, with its sights and sounds of nature. That's how utterly powerful the beauty of San Diego is. It is a true paradise on California's southern tip that makes it almost impossible for visitors to leave.
Surprisingly San Diego is huge relative to its population of 3.4 million residents. Coming from a city with 8.4 million people, mostly cramped together, the space seems endless here. There are more than enough activities, neighborhoods, encounters with nature, restaurants, etc... for everyone to enjoy without feeling overly crowded. The sky is always blue, the sun is always shining, and you can hop through many attractive and lively neighborhoods without ever leaving the coast's side. After four weeks we just couldn't peel ourselves away from this utopic city and extended our visit for two more weeks and then knowing we never wanted to leave, we decided to call it home.
Below is my vetted list of the Top 23 things to do when visiting San Diego.
1. LINGER IN LA JOLLA FOR AS LONG AS YOU CAN
La Jolla is the only town in San Diego that has earned its own zip code because there truly is nowhere on the continent like it. Known as "The Jewel City", this coastal city has endless sparkle with no limits on sunshine, nature, and a beautifully slow pace that comes with beachside living. There are countless activities to enjoy in this part of San Diego without ever having to leave.
Tune in with Nature at La Jolla Cove for Sunset, Sea, & Seals
Have you ever seen seals in the wild and heard their cacophonous communications up close and personal? Whether you have, or have not, spending time in La Jolla Cove is an experience not to be missed. This picturesque cove is surrounded by cliffs with waters that are protected by a marine reserve. You'll often spot scuba divers and swimmers entering the waters to revel in the rich marine life underneath the surface. Throughout the year there are dozens of seals perched on the rocks and cliffs of the coves playing, fighting, sleeping, and shouting out constantly. Although these mammals sure aren't quiet, they are fascinating creatures to watch. It is possible to observe them within a couple of feet but mind your manners and never try to pet them as they can be aggressive. These guys are magical any time of day but there is something extra mesmerizing about watching them as the sun sets into the horizon.
Swim or Sunset Watch with the Locals at La Jolla Shores
You'll find many others congregating here during each part of the day whether it's to soak in some sun, let their dogs free for frisbee catching, side-by-side walks with feet in the sand, or for a good old swim in the sea. From sand crabs to stingrays, the shore is filled with wildlife. Make sure to practice the shuffle when you enter the water to avoid those painful stingray jabs. My suggestion is to pack a blanket, some snacks, and wine, and just watch the sun's last moments of the day as she paints the sky in spectacular colors.
Surrender to the Scenery at a Secret Beach
Black's Beach may not be a complete secret but its difficult-to-access location keeps the crowds away. Driving down the long and steep path is only granted to residents of the La Jolla Farms community. Everyone else must park on top, along the street, and trek down the long, steep path, but it's the coming back up that's the challenge that keeps most locals heading to nearby La Jolla Shores instead. There are droves of surfers who are willing to shlep their boards up and down this difficult path to ride the waves with stunning cliffs in the backdrops. This is a little piece of heaven that's worth working towards. Pack a light picnic and plant your feet in the sand, you won't want to ever leave. This is my favorite La Jolla beach and I have a feeling you will agree.
Bask in the Beautiful Flavors of Bobboi Gelato
Using organic, seasonal ingredients to whip up traditional and non-traditional flavors, Bobboi rocks in the gelato flavor department. You can enjoy their creamy and creative scoops in La Jolla and Little Italy. With flavors like banana rum, salted caramel, rose almond, charcoal vanilla, and coconut chocolate chips you cannot ever make a wrong choice. They also have vegan flavors. Oh, and they are one of the few fun gelaterias that allow you to have two flavors in a small cup. I personally always love enjoying a couple of flavors at once while keeping my calorie count as low as possible.
Pamper Yourself with Great Coffee in a Cozy Garden
Pannikin serves perfectly brewed coffee along with a delicious menu of breakfast and lunch items to be savored in their adorable outdoor space which has been converted into a charming garden. The Wi-Fi signal is strong, and so is their coffee, so definitely head over to get some work done in their inspiring space. To top it all off, they also sell the most delicious baked goods from pastries to sourdough bread that is seriously out of this world. You'll want to make daily visits here. You'll see.
Bring Out the Bohemian in You to Bird Rock
Bird Rock is a quirky seaside community in La Jolla that boasts a much more laid-back, beach bum feel despite its massive waterfront homes. The homes here are striking with many of them lucky enough to have direct views of the Pacific Ocean. There are no retail chains, well, besides a CVS and a Starbucks, along the main shopping strip. The real magic awaits in the several access points to the beach where you can get lost watching the surfers connecting with the sea, scuba divers entering a world underneath the waters, and the constant crashing waves along the cliff sides. Flip flops are welcomed here along with outdoor yoga on Riffs Yoga Studio's lovely deck followed by a cup of Joe at award-winning Bird Rock Coffee Roasters where organic beans are an obvious choice.
Have Fun with Fresh Food in the Farmer's Market
The La Jolla Farmer's Market is held every Sunday from 9:00 am -1:00 pm and is jam-packed with locals stocking up on fresh produce for the week. There is an awesome section of food vendors serving insanely delicious bites from the best grilled-cheese sandwiches to Mexican avocado toasts. You'll want to hop from vendor to vendor and get a little bit of everything to walk over to the park where you can nibble on your selections. Some of our favorites are Casa Ocho, Chaupain Bakery, Gourmet Tamales, Grill Cheese Station, and Masala Cottage but I can't imagine you'll go wrong at any station. Oh, and make sure to pick up some berries at one of the farm stands, they are by far the best we've ever had! We bought a huge crate of strawberries each Sunday that are just the reddest, sweetest and juiciest.
2. STAY FIT WITH THE LOCALS
The California sun, landscapes, and fresh produce inspire locals to stay fit and healthy. There are hundreds of gyms to choose from in the San Diego area and dozens of options in La Jolla. You'll easily find anything you fancy from private trainers to yoga studios to pilates reformers. We really enjoyed the SoulCycle in the UTC neighborhood of La Jolla. It is located in a beautiful outdoor mall, Westfield, and they have bikes set up outdoors, under a tent, so you can ride with fresh air in your face. Also, the headphones they provide allow you to adjust the volume of the music which I found helped me zone out more than usual. Another La Jolla workout favorite is BXNG CLUB, a massive facility with two boxing rings, a jiu-jitsu space, a gym with cardio and strength training equipment, a pilates studio, and every type of fitness class you can imagine on the schedule. We loved the class line-ups here, the friendly staff, and the many offerings to choose from. Our favorite was the Burn class led by Erica. She is one fierce lady who will make sure you get what you asked for: a crazy burn! Ask about their discounted one-month membership with unlimited access to the club.
3. SOUJORN BY THE SEA
The Pacific Ocean is one of the biggest draws in California. San Diego has many lovely coastal towns to choose from like Del Mar and Encinitas. We chose to anchor ourselves in La Jolla because we love the hundreds of shops and restaurants along Girard Street and Prospect Street and its proximity to the sea. It is rare to find a city in California that is so pedestrian-friendly with a plethora of activities to access by foot.
We got really lucky with our Airbnb rental as it was in a perfect location for our first four weeks in La Jolla. The hosts were wonderful, the house was light-filled and extremely well-stocked lacking nothing. It is an ideal fit for large families or multiple families/couples traveling together, as there are seven bedrooms, a game room, a beautiful outdoor area, and four bathrooms. Most importantly walking to the village and coast was an easy stroll making everything super convenient. I should also mention that the hosts are amazing fellow humans.
Since there are so many lodging options with proximity to the sea in the San Diego area, you'll pick the one that best fits your needs and budget but pick one by the water. Having stunning beach vistas regularly during your visit will be the highlight of your trip.
For our last two weeks, we rented a lovely house one block from the beach and main street of the Bird Rock neighborhood of La Jolla. We booked the four-bedroom home through 710 Vacation Rentals who have a great portfolio of rental homes in the area. The house was bright, clean, and had great ocean views with the sounds of the waves playing melodically throughout the day. Everything we ever needed was within walking distance adding to the wonderful experience of our stay here.
4. LIVE IT UP IN LITTLE ITALY
I've lived in New York City for twenty-three years and have been to the city's Little Italy neighborhood maybe three times. It's ridden with tourists and has never quite delivered an authentic Italian experience for me. On the flip side, Little Italy in San Diego is a local's haven brimming with people from all over the city coming together for outstanding food, excellent espresso, and non-stop people watching. This part of town is oozing with great vibes and energy. You'll want to take a leisurely stroll through the streets, stop for a coffee at Piazza della Famiglia, and grab some great Italian grub at one of the many bustling restaurants.
5. WANDER AROUND WATERFRONT PARK
This beautifully designed park was constructed with the intent of allowing San Diegans and outside visitors to lay in the green grass, under the blue skies, and in front of the aqua waters to unwind and relax. There are several waterfront restaurants and historic fishing boats, and even submarines, along the promenade. I think you'll much prefer basking in the sunshine, kicking back with your personally curated stash of snacks, and simply be reminded of how stunning this city is.
6. GET GOING TO GASMLAMP QUARTER
You must make a stop in this historic district while visiting San Diego. The sidewalks are lined with restaurants filled with patrons and the music blasting from their speakers. Beautiful architecture houses a variety of well-known names, like Nobu and Sugar Factory, and many locally run establishments too. The Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation gives tours of the area ranging from ghost tours and paranormal investigations to walking tours that focus on the history of the area, one that very much includes Wyatt Earp's decade here as a local. The cobblestone streets along with the still-standing structures that were erected in the 1800s make for a great place to wander. You'll especially love the juxtapositioning of old and new buildings along with the modern San Diego skyline.
In the middle of Downtown San Diego, right off the Gaslamp Quarter, you'll find Petco Park, home of the Padres. This baseball stadium is in mint condition inside a well-kept park surrounded by apartment complexes. Some lucky tenants on higher floors have access to free games during the season right out their windows! Off-season stop by to enjoy the city views, feel the energy of past games that still linger in the air, or stop by for some shade under a tree to rest those tired feet from all the walking you'll do around the downtown area.
7. GET LOST IN THE GARDENS OF BALBOA PARK
This 1,200-acre park in the middle of San Diego houses several theaters, museums, gardens, walking paths, open space areas, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. The park is extremely well kept with no litter in sight and lacks the sketchy characters that often come with city parks, at least the ones I am used to in New York City. There is so much to do here, you will need to make multiple visits to experience all the park offers. For a great, free, day at the park, I suggest visiting the stunning Balboa Park Gardens. We easily spent a couple of hours strolling through the perfectly manicured gardens, each one successfully transporting us to wonderful memories, like walks through Spain or the deserts of New Mexico, all the while never leaving the grounds of San Diego. Keep in mind, the Japanese Friendship Garden does charge an admission fee, but the others are completely accessible free of charge and full of beauty.
8. EXPLORE ENCINITAS
Encinitas is another vibrant coastal town in San Diego brimming with active locals surfing, cycling, running, playing beach volleyball, and strolling along Main Street. There are tons to do in this lively city and if you have the time you might find yourself making more than one visit here.
Get your zen on at the Meditation Gardens (which were unfortunately closed during our visit) but you must visit if they are open while you are in town. The gardens are a wonderful place to find inspiration or do some soul-searching among koi ponds and beach vistas. The center also offers ongoing meditation classes and spiritual retreats.
Explore a lesser-known part of the coast at Stonesteps Beach, strikingly gorgeous throughout the day. There are steep stairs that lead down into the water. During low tide, you can walk along the stone-filled shore, along the large cliffs, towards Moonlight Beach, the more well-known and visited part of the coast. At high-tide you can watch the Pacific Ocean dance gracefully towards the shore, sometimes using all her might as she crashes violently.
Mix in with the locals at Moonlight State Beach, a great spot to watch surfers catching some waves, fitness buffs jogging along the coast, families setting up their grills for a day of fun in the sun, friends playing a match of volleyball, and lifeguards monitoring people of all ages enjoying a swim. This is a full-service beach with restrooms and even a grassy area.
Find the only two boats out of the water in the residential part of town. In 1928 Miles Minor Kellogg built two unusual homes, Encinitas Boat Houses, in the shapes of boats on a residential street out of recyclable materials. There are people currently living in them so be mindful of their privacy when you visit but it's worth a stop to see how one man's quirky artistic vision has survived almost a century later.
Find inspiration in Dave's Rock Garden. In 2015 Dave decided he was tired of the unkept, city-owned lot adjacent to his property that was constantly filled with trash and weeds. He decided to clean up the land and give it a makeover by turning it into a community-loved rock garden decorated with succulents and hand-painted rocks by the thousands of visitors who have made their way. Make sure to chat with Dave when you visit, he loves sharing his story and may even invite you to paint a rock and leave behind a message. He is another example of a wonderful human being who has made a positive dent in our world.
Dig into Doughnuts at Broad Street Dough Co, which is hands down the best doughnut bakery in the USA. There are so many incredible choices your head will spin. Rest assured, it is impossible to make a wrong choice here. We planned on taking our doughnuts home to enjoy later in the day but when I was handed a warm box of just-made doughnuts we grabbed a seat and dug into three of the outrageously incredible six flavors we chose: The Monmouth (vanilla & oreo), Wake and Bake (coffee & mini chocolate chips), Queen Bee (Bavarian cream, jelly, caramel & sea salt), Mulberry Street (cannoli cream & powdered sugar), Broad Street (chocolate, pretzels, peanuts & caramel), and Funky Monkey (banana & chocolate). Seriously, these doughnuts will blow your socks off.
Stroll down the city's main street on S. Coast Highway for an endless stretch of retail shops and restaurants. You'll love the energy here and the notable equal mix of ages enjoying the chill vibe of this wonderful neighborhood. Everything from high-end designer retail stores to crunchy vegan restaurants and even vintage car dealers, take hold of this colorful stretch of sidewalks that are just a few steps away from the beach. Encinitas surely has its own culture of California living and it offers a beautiful lifestyle indeed.
9. GET YOUR GOAT YOGA GROOVE ON
If you've never experienced goat yoga, there's no better place to have an adorable goat in your face as you dip into a downward dog than at Sugar Sweet Farm. Located in the farmlands outside of Encinitas you're guaranteed a wonderful experience on the family-run, sprawling farm. This is an activity that is great for all ages.
10. MEANDER THROUGH MISSION BEACH
Mission Beach has a lovely promenade along the sea that is reminiscent of Venice, CA. Packed with runners, bikers, skateboarders, skaters, and strollers, the strip is super fun to walk on while people watching and enjoying the gorgeous views of the Pacific. While there, a stop to Belmont Park can't be missed for some good old-fashioned theme park thrills. From go-Karts to miniature golf or roller-coasters to arcades, the park appeals to all ages and thrill-seeking levels. Although it's a rather small amusement park, it definitely delivers big fun.
11. STAY CURRENT ON THE THRIVING MEXICAN CULTURE
The Barrio Logan neighborhood has gone through some major changes over the years. Once known as a lesser-desired area in San Diego, the area is now booming with art and shopping thanks to the mostly Mexican populated area that fought for this area to be protected and invested in. Chicano Park, in Barrio Logan, boasts more than eighty vibrant and passionate murals over seven acres. The artists convey powerful messages of love, justice, peace, and many commemorations of those loved and lost. If you follow the path under the I-5 you will cross hundreds more of these impactful works of art.
If you have time, head over to Las Cuatro Milpas for the best tacos, at least from what I hear. We arrived at 11:30 am on a Monday and there was already a line of at least forty people waiting to be served by this well-known taco stand. Unfortunately, we didn't have the patience to wait but perhaps you'd like to give it a try and let me know if it's worthy of all the buzz.
12. LINGER ON CORONADO ISLAND FOR THE DAY
Just on the other side of downtown's skyline awaits a small island that will transport you for the day. Coronado Island is extremely well-maintained, bicycle and golf-cart-friendly, and boasts a stunning coastline. Plan to relax here for several hours, there is plenty to do! Within minutes of arriving you'll feel like you've been on vacation for a week.
Orange Avenue is the island's main street designed with an upscale feel in mind. The strip is packed with restaurants and shops of all types.
Rent a bike to explore the island at Wheel Fun Rentals. For some great laughs, rent a surrey, which is how we chose to roll through the island. Although there aren't many bike lanes, the roads are pretty empty and the rental company provides maps with the best roads to take. You can also ride along the promenade for some great views, people watching, and great vantage points of the iconic Hotel del Coronado.
Really take your time on the boardwalk. The beaches here are rather spectacular. Some sections have rolling dunes, others have rocky landscapes, and some parts have the greenest grass sprouting with wildflowers growing right out of the sand. Definitely slow down the pace on this gorgeous stretch because you will certainly notice things you missed while zipping by on wheels.
No sunny day by the sea would be complete without a scoop of ice-cream. MooTime Creamery seriously serves the creamiest scoop in a fun, retro space that welcomes its visitors with a statue of Elvis and a big cow.
13. DISCOVER DEL MAR BY SUNSET
This coastal town cannot be missed while in San Diego. Del Mar is known as one of the city's most affluent neighborhoods, yet it is casual and unassuming. Whether you wander along the sidewalks of Camino Del Mar for some shopping inspiration in one of the many boutiques that line the street or prefer to stroll along the boardwalk of Powerhouse Park & Beach to find inspiration in nature, you will find yourself walking endlessly here as the beauty abounds everywhere. Of course, Del Mar is also famous for its horseracing, but I think it should be most famous for its epic sunset viewing at Torrey Pines State Beach or Sunset Seat. If you decide to pay homage to the sun at either park, arrive early as many others line up to salute her into the night at the end of each day.
14. SOAK IN STUNNING SOLANA BEACH
Clearly, there are no shortages of attractive beach towns in San Diego. Each one has its own unique charm and you'll just love getting to know all these little coastal cities. Solana Beach is just a twenty-five-minute drive from downtown San Diego and totally worth the short trek.
Fletcher Cove Beach Park is a picturesque, grassy park with basketball courts, picnic tables, and stunning ocean views. There is easy access to the sand for a barefoot stroll or you can opt to keep your shoes on and admire the scenery from the paved path above.
At Cedros Design District you'll find 85 merchants showcasing their fine jewelry, one-of-a-kind curations, and unique fashion lines along with cafes, art galleries, and restaurants. This hip district is a great place to shop, play, and waste the day. The town oozes charm and charisma. Each store truly has its own personality, the streets are lined with artistic touches and vibrant colors, and the sea is just a few steps away. As far as I'm concerned, a visit to Solana Beach is a must when visiting San Diego.
15. TAKE A HIKE
You'll probably need an entire year in San Diego to get through all the hiking trails in the city. Seriously, there are so many options to connect with the gorgeous surroundings, for all levels. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is one of my favorites. The park offers about ten trails all perched on top of cliffs overlooking the ocean. The views here will leave you breathless; and so will some of the paths. The Parry Grove trail takes you down (and back up) 118 steep steps while the North Grove trail is flat, easy to walk and hugs the Pacific Ocean throughout the trail. Note that admission into the park costs $15 per car giving access to parking by each trailhead. There were plenty of people who opted for free parking outside of the park and hiked their way up instead.
The Beach Trail is a moderate 1.8-mile hike in Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve with lots of stairs to climb on your loop back towards the parking lot. It boasts spectacular views and the trails are less crowded than some of the other ones at the park. Walking this trail is pretty special as it allows you to grasp the varying heights of the cliffs as well as the natural formations on the surrounding rocks. There are even some wildflowers along the way!
La Jolla Natural Park
This hike is not easy by any means as the ascension is a non-stop one-mile climb to the top that will ultimately lead you to one of La Jolla's best-kept secrets making the difficult hike totally worth it. The sweeping views are some of the most beautiful vistas of the coastline. You'll have forty-two acres of preserved land all to yourself wishing there was someone around to pinch you because it will feel like a dream.
16. FLY LIKE A BIRD OR WATCH OTHERS SOAR THROUGH THE SKY
The Torrey Pines Glideport has paragliders and hand gliders launching off the cliff, hundreds of feet over the ocean, throughout the day. Grab a drink and a bite at the Cliff Hanger Cafe and watch as the experts prep their equipment and test the winds before running into flying mode. The colors of their parachutes gliding through the bluest of skies over the neverending sea below is a sight not to be missed. Some brave newbies always join for tandem flights and it's hard not to feel butterflies of excitement while witnessing them enjoy this magical experience. Flights are coordinated with Mother Nature, there are no exact launching times or schedules. Gliders take off throughout the day but you'll need to be prepared to sit back, relax, and wait an hour or so in between wind changes. It's worth the wait and maybe in the waiting process, you'll decide to take a flight too.
17. LEAVE SAN DIEGO TO EXPLORE THE NEARBY COASTAL CITIES JUST NORTH OF IT
My idea of an ideal day trip is hopping in the car and driving north of San Diego to explore the many stunning coastal cities that are within a 90-minute drive. Take a day to enjoy town hopping while stopping for strolls and bites along the way. Below are glimpses into our favorite beach towns south of Los Angeles.
San Clemente, Dana Point, Laguna, Balboa Island, and Newport Beach are dotted along the sea and each offers a unique character and charm. Take a day to explore these towns and soak in their vibrant flavors.
Dana Point Harbor has a small shopping village along its marina that is definitely worth a visit. Musicians were singing away to the crowds that gathered, diners were happily conversing at their tables with wine in hand, and many visitors were simply enjoying a beautiful walk along the promenade. Make sure to stop in Chocolate Soldier to pop one of their "melt-aways" in your mouth for some pure bliss!
You can make a quick stop in Laguna Beach as you hop the coastal towns listed above or you can indulge in an entire day spent just here (which is what we did!). Since it is only an hour and fifteen minutes away from San Diego, Laguna Beach makes for a perfect day trip to Paradise. For the quintessential beach town vibe, ridiculously gorgeous stretches of sand, and swimmable beaches, beautifully maintained parks, and promenades, visiting Laguna Beach makes the list of best things to do while in San Diego. Between a dip in the sea, a walk along Heisler Park, visits to the countless art galleries the city is known for, and a bite to eat in any of the many restaurants, you will easily spend a full day here making the hour drive well worth it. If you don't have time for a full-day excursion, include it in your drive up the coast and hop out of your car for a quick walk along Heisler Park. The sites will make a mark in your dreams for months ahead.
Lunch or dinner at The Deck will get you as close to the sand as possible. With the wind in your hair, the music blasting, and the waves crashing, you will literally feel like you are worlds away from any responsibilities, troubles, or worries. No joke, the grilled cheese sandwich here is to die for. The food happens to be absolutely delicious, it is no surprise that this is one of Laguna Beach's most popular grub spots.
Balboa Island exudes New England charm. This is one of my favorite towns along the sea north of San Diego. Enjoy walking along the marina and the town's sidewalks which are filled with unique boutiques and colorful shops. This place is just so charming and quirky, you'll instantly fall in love!
No visit to Balboa Island would be complete without a stop at Sugar N' Spice for a custom-made frozen banana. I excitedly ordered a banana dipped in dark chocolate with salted caramel and roasted coconut. YUM, YUM, YUM. You can choose from any chocolate dipping flavor and dozens of fun toppings to create the perfect masterpiece.
Newport Beach is a popular destination but in my humble opinion the city is too large and spread out to maintain a similarly charming experience as the other listed towns do. One thing we did really enjoy in Newport Beach was our delicious dinner at A Restaurant. This iconic establishment has been serving fresh, seasonal ingredients since 1926 and successfully serves mainly steak and seafood with fantastic service, presentation, and flavors.
18. LEARN ABOUT THE CITY'S HISTORY IN HISTORIC OLD TOWN SAN DIEGO
A state-run park preserving the first Spanish-occupied town in San Diego with original structures still intact from the mid-1800s, Old Town San Diego is one of the city's most visited parks. The mile-long enclave is filled with restaurants, markets, live shows, and even ghost tours. Visitors can tour La Casa de Estudillo, one of the largest examples of a large Spanish- Mexican house in California. The guides are enthusiastic about sharing information on the home's history so feel free to ask as many questions as you have! There is also a blacksmith in the park who is passionate about his craft and will walk you through iron shaping. Visiting here is truly an educational experience and best of all, it's free!
Make sure to make your way to Nibble Chocolate tucked behind a courtyard at the park's entrance. Their vegan, organic chocolate is outstanding. You must try their Mexican spicy truffle, it is so decadent with quite the kick to it. Their ground Peruvian hot chocolate is also delicious and a great purchase for some homemade hot chocolates.
Next, head to nearby Presidio Park where the Mexicans fought the Spaniards in the 1800s and used the fort as the capital during their rule of Baja California. It's a remarkable structure that stands strong and well preserved all these years later.
19. OBSERVE THE ODDBALLS IN OCEAN BEACH
Many of the folks attracted to this super laid-back beach town are odd, in the best way possible! From surfers to sidewalk musicians to hippies dancing in the park, you will find all types here. There is a sketchy and grimy element too, in a Coney-Island-kind-of- way. The characters here are a big part of the scenery and people watching lovers will find a haven in Ocean Beach. In addition to the interesting crowds, you'll find San Diego's largest pier (and boy is it long!), tons of bars and restaurants, and markets throughout the week selling anything from fresh produce to incense and beaded jewelry. Ocean Beach is very different from the other coastal towns that made my list and should not be missed to get a well-rounded feel for the different neighborhoods along the shores of San Diego and how much they vary in personality and flavor.
20. STARE INTO THE MOST SENSATIONAL SUNSET
We have been fortunate enough to view many sunsets. The ones at Sunset Cliffs are unforgettable. Firstly, hundreds of people gather to pay homage to the sun. There is a spiritual uniting of folks who take time out of their day to pay tribute to the magnificent wonders of our planet. The energy in itself is magical. The sun glows extra brightly here, unobstructed, as it slowly begins to hide into the horizon. As it makes its way towards a new day, everything around it seems to glow - the earth, the sky, the sea. Bring a blanket, grab a spot, and count your blessings. Here the sun will remind you just how lucky you are.
Sunset Cliffs also offers an easy 1.5-mile hike that hugs the coast. It is filled with vegetation and breathtaking views. There are plenty of spots along the cliff to find refuge from anything and anyone in the world. This is a place where nothing gets between you and the Pacific Ocean. If you're looking for added adventure, there is a narrow path along the cliff that will take you down to the sand to a secluded place on our planet that is the epitome of picturesque perfection.
21. PLEASE YOUR SENSES AT PACIFIC BEACH
By 9:30 am on a Saturday this place was bustling with runners, skaters, cyclists, and surfers. In fact, there were more surfers congregated here than any other coastal communities we explored in the San Diego area. In addition to the active fitness enthusiasts moving quickly down the promenade, there was a community yoga class held with a couple of hundred yogis holding their warrior pose while facing the sea. There was also a street market with vendors selling their politics. Yup, that's right. From "recall Newsom" booths to BLM booths to pro-Trump ones, all viewpoints were covered. Seriously, this place was booming with activity. You'll easily spend a couple of hours here strolling along the sea and
soaking in the surrounding beauty.
Before leaving the shore, make sure to head over to The Baked Bear for customized cookie sandwiches. You'll get to pick from a huge selection of freshly baked cookies for your sandwich (you can even choose two different cookies to make your top/bottom!), then you'll choose your ice-cream flavor and toppings too! and then you get to watch them hot press your creation. Holy Moly if this doesn't bring out the kid in you, nothing will!
More inland and up the hill, you'll find Kerry Sessions Park, a lovely stretch of greenery packed with soccer players, fitness buffs, unleashed dogs, and simply put, great energy. The park is rightfully known for its outstanding skyline views. Grab a blanket and a shaded spot under a tree, kick back, and enjoy the vistas!
22. PONDER OVER NATURE'S PERFECTION AT POINT LOMA
On this spectacular peninsula, you will quickly grasp the magnitude of the Pacific Ocean. From the Cabrillo National Monument Visitor Center, you'll witness infinite shades of blue as the sea stretches into eternity. Watch in wonder as boats sail by with downtown San Diego in the backdrop along with the iconic Coronado Bridge in clear view. The views are epic throughout the park so just follow the paths and the sea for an extremely memorable experience. If you can, plan your visit with low-tide at the Point Loma Tide Pools where you'll be able to see the bountiful sea life up close and personal. Remember to respect Mother Nature- look but don't touch! For those of you, who like me, have a weird affinity to lighthouses, you'll love the Old Point Loma Lighthouse (make sure to read about its history on the nearby plaques). There is plenty to explore, discover and experience on this peaceful peninsula so make sure to head on over during your San Diego visit.
23. DISCOVER DELICIOUS DINING
Please note that I only share the spots that I feel strongly about recommending. There were a few restaurants that we dined in during our San Diego visit that in my opinion are not worthy of a recommendation. I omitted these less-desirable spots entirely (I prefer to never write bad reviews, as reviews are only a matter of opinion and I would never want to hurt someone's business). Rest assured, that the establishments highlighted below are delicious while offering a worthy ambiance as well. Enjoy!
Eddie V's, La Jolla
You don't want to miss a meal at Eddie V's. Not only is their menu comprised of sensational seafood dishes, but the outdoor patio also offers magnificent panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean that are hard to beat. Years ago we were obsessed with their Kung Pao calamari and six years later we continue to be huge fans of this staple. The truffled mac & cheese is outstanding and is served with a generous portion of truffle shavings, the Brussels sprouts with peanuts and Korean glaze is divine, the yellowtail sashimi will melt in your mouth, and the parmesan-crusted sole will leave you yearning for more. Seriously, this place consistently delivers perfect dishes with fantastic views.
Bernini's Bistro, La Jolla
This quaint bistro is a local favorite that proudly bears its title of "top 10% restaurants in the world". Although I definitely don't agree that the food is that good, I mean top 10% in the world is no joke, I do think their pizzas and salads are delicious and memorable. Bernini's Bistro offers a large menu including pasta, seafood, and steaks but they really stand out with their woodfired pizzas topped with interesting combinations of ingredients. The Meditteranean pie topped with spinach, feta cheese, artichoke, roasted red peppers, and kalamata olives is terrific. I am not a crust fan but this place nails the art of crust making. Even their Margherita pizza stood out as really really good. You should also try their salads as we were truly impressed with their crunchy ahi tuna salad and Ceaser salad both of which were packed with crunchy, fresh veggies. For a perfect pie, this is your place.
The Taco Stand, La Jolla
I never knew I am capable of eating as much as I stuffed my face with at The Taco Stand. You won't be able to stop yourself from taking bite after bite of the Mexican street food made at this neighborhood favorite. There is always a line down the street with eager diners waiting to be fed. I, myself, devoured one batter-fried fish taco, one grilled fish taco, Mexican corn, and a bean and cheese burrito. I am still impressed with myself. Their hot sauces are all homemade and absolutely yummy and their handmade tortillas are exceptional. TIP: Call your order in ahead of time to avoid the long lines.
Catania, La Jolla
For well-prepared Italian cuisine and a beautiful view of the sun setting over La Jolla Village, head over to Catania. You'll love each bite of the traditional Italian dishes that are proudly served here. We truly enjoyed the arancini appetizer, beet and burrata salad, roasted cauliflower, gluten-free pasta, and their absolutely incredible thin crust oven-baked pizza. They have many hard to resist pizza options but we ultimately chose the Margherita, an artichoke, black olive, fontina, garlic, and smoked mozzarella pie, and the wild mushroom pizza with garlic confit, chili, and burrata cheese. We asked them to throw a couple of eggs on the latter. Can you say DELISH??? You will!
Don Bravo Grill, Bird Rock (La Jolla)
Californians love their tacos and there are tons of taco joints on every street. A local sent us running to Don Bravo's which we would have easily missed. At first glance, some may judge it as a "hole in the wall" but let me tell you this cantina in Bird Rock makes some seriously incredible Mexican fare and its small outdoor patio even has superb beach views. For a quintessential California experience, eating here is a must. Their fish tacos are uh-mazing, make sure to top them off with their homemade green salsa and habanero sauce too (if you like it spicy as I do). Their chicken and steak tacos are also outstanding and so are their loaded nachos and burritos. This is a no-frills place but for authentic Mexican street food at a very reasonable price, it's not to be overlooked. We couldn't resist making several return visits.
Beaumont's, Bird Rock
The thing that stands out most at Beaumont's is the fantastic service. The staff gives off happy vibes that set the tone for this beachy establishment which serves California cuisine on a colorful outdoor patio. The menu offers plenty of delicious veggie options along with staples like burgers and, of course, fish tacos. The mushroom kung pao was outstanding, we have never seen this creative dish on a menu before. We also really loved our halibut tacos, Beaumont's burgers, cauliflower appetizer, crispy Brussel sprouts, tofu with rice pilaf and string beans, and cauliflower steak with seasonal vegetables. Locals flock to this neighborhood institution so be sure to make a reservation in advance.
Union Kitchen & Tap, Encinitas
You will love the menu, service, and vibe at this lively establishment in Encinitas. The brunch dishes we ordered were a huge hit. Union Kitchen & Tap is well-loved by locals for their daily specials and happy hours. Everything we ordered was delicious. It helps that eggs are thrown onto every dish, making them so much yummier. I highly recommend their avocado toast, truffle fries, and mushroom flatbread. Wash them down with one of the great brunch cocktails on the menu. Kick back and enjoy the coastal vibe of Encinitas as you dig into delicious dishes.
L'Auberge, Del Mar
We have made many fond memories here watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean while sipping cocktails by a fireplace. This is my favorite place in Del Mar, and possibly one of my favorites in all of San Diego. Unfortunately, when we arrived on this trip, their deck was under construction and the alternate patio did not offer ocean views. However, it did offer as equally incredible cocktails and bites as we remembered. The shrimp bao and spicy, fried calamari are just perfect. Coupled with a cocktail and great company under the California sky, you'll be so happy that you stopped by.
Madeleine Café & Bakery, Solana Beach
For a little taste of France by the Pacific Ocean, breakfast or lunch at Madeleine Café & Bakery is highly recommended in between your shopping rounds in the Cedros Design District. This casual cafe delivers authentic French fare with freshly baked croissants, sweet & savory crepes, quiches, and fantastic french fries. The owner takes your order at the counter with his thick accent which only adds to the experience of an authentically delicious French meal.
Hodad's, Ocean Beach
Known to serve San Diego's best hamburgers, Hodad's is an institution. This small burger joint explodes with character and brims with the eclectic decor of surfboards, license plates, and stickers galore. Once a surfer's favorite burger dive is now loved by all. I'm a vegetarian and was thrilled to see a veggie burger on the menu. I loved that they do not use the ubiquitous impossible burger patty and that they fill the bun with all the toppings you'd find on a regular burger. Sipping it down with a thick and creamy vanilla milkshake by the beach is what I call perfection!
Juniper & Ivy, Little Italy
When fresh ingredients presented with creative twists come together with great flavors, presentation, and service, a truly harmonious experience erupts. At Juniper & Ivy you can expect each dish to be infused with seasonal ingredients, dedicated creativity, and passion. The staff has mastered the art of juggling the fine line of being present and available without hovering or being overwhelming. The menu is designed for plates to be shared, which is the best way to experience as many dishes as possible anyway, right? Some of the major highlights of our meal included the blackened yellowtail tostadas, the caramelized madeleines with housemade pimento cheese, the halibut Crudo with pineapple and coconut snow, the beets and burrata salad with strawberries, the grilled cabbage with an Asian flair, the potato and cheddar ravioli with cured egg yolk and smoked mushrooms, and the herb gnocchi. For dessert, do not miss their Yodel which is a creative interpretation of the yodels of your childhood filled with marshmallow cream, graham crumble, strawberry puree, and smoked chocolate ganache. Simply put, you definitely want to make a reservation here.
Barbusa, Little Italy
You'll devour your dinner at Barbusa. Boy, this place delivers a delicious dining experience. The tempura squash blossom filled with Quattro Formaggi and apricot chili jam paired with a crisp glass of Falanghina is a match made in heaven. This starter set the tone for an incredible culinary experience ahead. The handmade plates of pasta were perfectly prepared with the most incredible sauces. Those gnocchi balls, little nuggets of love, topped with Pomodoro and burrata. Bravo! The Frutti di Mare spaghetti dish is out of this world, you'll have an extremely difficult time resisting the urge to lick your plate. The fettucini with caramelized onion topped with a farm-fresh egg. Oh my. Seriously, make sure to enjoy a meal here.
Kono's Surf Club, Pacific Beach
This place is an institution. By 9:00 am expect a very long line filled with eager patrons willing to wait as long as necessary to get their hands on some grub at Kono's Surf Club. You'll love the large portions of delicious breakfast items at a very reasonable cost. The five of us gobbled up five dishes and waters for under $55. The homemade tortillas used to wrap their legendary breakfast burritos are one of a kind. Stop by this casual neighborhood favorite to see what all the worthy buzz is about.
Bali Hai, Shelter Island
The food and beverages at Bali Hai are pretty good but the fantastic view and ambiance are the big draw here. Live music fills the air of this sprawling Polynesian restaurant that can rightfully claim access to the most stunning views of the San Diego skyline, especially during sunset when the sun's glow lights the skyscrapers in golden hues. This place will make you feel like you're a world away on an exotic vacation. It's fun, it's lively, and with the coastal breeze in your hair, you will find yourself smiling throughout your meal.
We are nearing almost seven and a half months of our journey exploring the USA. We have been blessed to discover our country and develop a new, deep love for its unlimited beauty. There are such varying landscapes, people, personalities, cultures, and climates from state to state, each perfect in their own unique way. Yet, somehow San Diego had a magnetic pull on us, not letting us leave its grasp. Our road trip stop here was the most impactful one of our more than 230 days on the road. I truly hope that you will one day have the opportunity to visit and experience first-hand why this place is so special.
The biggest lesson of our journey on the road is that we will never know what other opportunities are out there without exploration. Any kind of exploration, whether it be physical or spiritual, is crucial in transforming and evolving as human beings. Please take the time to explore yourselves, others, and the world, as much as you can and as deeply as you may. You will never know what is available to you without learning what is "out there" or "within you". And in order to discover this, you need to do some searching. So whether you get out and drive or go in and soul search, just explore. There's something worth discovering that you don't yet know about but it will change your life forever once you find it.