San Diego is California’s second largest city with citywide population of nearly 1.3 million residents. It’s located on the Pacific coast of California and is renowned for its pristine beaches, parks and consistently warm climate. San Diego’s Balboa Park is the largest urban cultural park in the U.S. and is home to 15 museums and many famous attractions, including the San Diego Zoo. Today, San Diego has become a beer-lover and surfer haven, with lots of great neighborhoods to explore. Below, a San Diego Travel Guide brought to you by local, Micah.
THE LOCAL: Micah
WHY YOU SHOULD TRUST HIM: (from Micah) I lived in San Diego for three years and have visited friends every year that I’ve been away. I lived in North Park and Pacific Beach, worked downtown, and spent time in every neighborhood in the area. I ate, I drank, I hiked, I surfed. San Diego is amazing and I loved living there!
SAN DIEGO LOCAL QUICK FIVE
1. Favorite place to stroll?
The Strand.It runs from Mission Beach to north Pacific Beach. It’s 3 miles of oceanfront, beaches, volleyball, surfing, and people watching. Keep a close eye out for Slo-Mo, a rollerblading, Pacific Beach legend. Strolling is great… but a cruiser bike is even better!
If you want to get away from the crowds, Torrey Pines State National Reserve is one of the most beautiful places in San Diego. You can hike from the sand bluffs to the ocean. Depending on the time of year, you can also see migrating whales and seals. It’s definitely worth the trip even though parking can sometimes be difficult. We suggest parking at the Four Seasons and then walking to the trail. Uber/Lyft drivers should also know the spot well- the drive is only about 20 minutes from downtown.
2. Best coffee shop or bakery?
Bird Rock Coffee Roasters in Little Italy. If your coffee palette demands tastiness, this is a great spot. San Diego local roasts and great service. Another local favorite is Better Buzz in Mission Beach, just off the Strand.
3. Essential San Diego tip?
On your trip to San Diego, don’t go downtown, unless you want to go to a Padres game or to a nightclub. The Gaslamp district is a tourist trap. Spend your time in funky North Park or go to the beach towns! Little Italy is the only place close to downtown that holds any water.
4. Best Beach?
Pacific Beach. Ocean Beach is a little grimy, and La Jolla isn’t that great. Head to Diamond Pier in PB to get the best waves, sand, and sights.
5. Your recommended Saturday night agenda?
Head to North Park! It’s funky and different. You can catch a show, try some of the best, most affordable food in the city, or try some tasters at one of the many new North Park breweries. There are plenty of unique bars and restaurants to choose from in the area. Only head down-town if you want to club it up.
U.S. NEWS TOP SAN DIEGO ATTRACTIONS
1. Balboa Park– Huge Thumbs Up!
Super cool architecture (Spanish Colonial Revival) and tons of nature trails. Check out the lawn bowling courts, El Prado museums, and stroll through the many gardens. The California Native Plant Garden has more than 100 plants on display, all of which can be viewed from the foot path. Plus, the garden is free to the public year round.
2. Mission Beach– Thumbs up.
Mission Beach is on a sandbar between the Pacific Ocean and Mission Bay. It’s little less busy than PB and great for walking or people watching. Tons of great cafes and casual eateries line the beach as well.
3. Coronado Beach- Thumbs up.
It’s beautiful and pristine, but pricey if you’re there to grab a bite or have a drink. The Hotel del Coronado and many mansions are built along the beachfront, which hugs Ocean Boulevard.
4. Gaslamp Quarter- Huge thumbs down.
Overpriced, touristy, and chock full of drunk people. Stay away.
5. San Diego Zoo Safari Park– Thumbs middle.
It’s more unique than regular zoos (Safari Park a wildlife preserve where safari animals such as lions, elephants and cheetahs roam), but generally, I find it a bit underwhelming.
Did U.S. News miss any top attractions? Would you add any to the list?
As noted above, I would recommend Torrey Pines National Reserve. I would also recommend Cabrillo National Monument, which is at the southern portion of Point Loma, and offers great tide pools and hiking. There’s an old school lighthouse there which offers free tours.
Children’s Pool Beach in La Jolla is where all of the seals hang out and raise their pups. Scripps Aquarium in La Jolla is pretty impressive for an aquarium, and another attraction to check out if you’re in the area. It’s a major research center and they have a thing for seahorses. Finally, Mount Soledad between La Jolla and PB offers great views of the ocean and the city. You can drive to the top, park, and take some amazing pictures. And if you find yourself in La Jolla in the morning, head to Cody’s for a delish brunch!
TRIPADVISOR’S TOP SAN DIEGO RESTAURANTS
1. A.R. Valentien at The Lodge at Torrey Pines– I haven’t been there, but this is one of San Diego’s luxury restaurants that overlooks the famous golf course.
2. The Taco Stand– Thumbs up, but there are so many amazing taco places throughout San Diego. Whichever one you choose, make sure that you try the California Burrito (carne asada, french fries, cheese, and pico de gallo). It’s delicious wherever you go! Locals love Don Bravos in Bird Rock for the unassuming but delicious fish tacos.
3. Civico 1845- Haven’t been, but it’s a popular spot in Little Italy.
If you’re a foodie (or just interested in a nice dinner), TTL suggests making a reservation at Herb & Wood in Little Italy. Celebrity chef Brian Malarkey and partner Chris Puffer do rustic American right at this sprawling space (formerly an art warehouse) with swanky, plush decor to impress. We counted at least ten different chic light fixtures in the space. If you go, ask for some guidance from the knowledgeable waitstaff. We’ll bet they recommend the Gnocchi with Oxtail (which is a must!) And save room for dessert- pastry chef Adrian Mendoza’s menu includes a blueberry soufflé and a 24-hour crepe torte which are both worth every calorie. If they’re booked at night, stop into their new casual counterpart next door, Herb & Eatery.
4. Parma Cucina Italiana– Thumbs Up. An older couple (from Parma, Italy) run this restaurant just north of Balboa Park and serve Northern Italian cuisine with fresh ingredients and simple presentations.
5. Cottage (La Jolla)- I haven’t been here, but one restaurant La Jolla locals continue to recommend is Eddie V’s for a beautiful seafood dinner with sunset views.
City Taco – The best street tacos in San Diego. It’s in North Park. I’m drooling just thinking about it.
Hodad’s – In Ocean Beach, Hodad’s serves great burgers and onion rings in a cool atmosphere.
La Puerta – Great food… even greater tequila. One of the only redeeming qualities of the Gas Lamp.
Shore Club – Located in PB on the second floor. It overlooks the ocean, has a great patio, and seriously good bar food. In my opinion, the best place to have a beer and grub in PB.
Soda & Swine – In North Park, they offer any sort of meatball that you can imagine! Also, ice cream and sodas. It’s delicious.