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6 Weeks in San Diego, CA

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