City Guide: San Diego

San Diego is best known for its surf culture, stunning beaches, and sunny weather. There are endless activities for the outdoor adventurer, but no one will blame you if your agenda consists solely of getting sand in your toes and salt water in your hair.

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If you feel like exploring the city, you’ll be charmed by San Diego’s small town feel. Beyond the beautiful beaches and well-known tourist destinations is a diverse city with burgeoning neighborhoods, each with a distinct vibe. You’re never far from unique restaurants, coffee shops, bars and boutiques. Farmers markets and farm-to-table restaurants abound, since San Diego has more farms per capita than any other city in the country. The craft beer scene is emerging as one of the best in the country, with something to offer the beer snob and the beer novice alike.

As you plan your coastal getaway, get ready to eat and drink well in between soaking in the sun.

For a Beach Day
You can’t go wrong with 70 miles of beaches, but I recommend spending the day relaxing at the picturesque Windansea beach. This secluded, rocky beach is a top spot for surfers and is reminiscent of a beach in Hawaii. For stunning coastlines, walk along Sunset Cliffs and hike down to No Surf Beach (its a bit of an adventure, so just be prepared). Be sure to stop first for the best açai bowl in town at OB Smoothie. Yes, it’s a hole in the wall. No, you’re not at the wrong place.

For more open stretches of sand, try Coronado or La Jolla Shores. Rent bikes in Coronado and explore the island before hitting the beach. Stop at the historic Hotel Del Coronado and at Bayview Park for a Instagram-worthy view of downtown. Or head to La Jolla Shores for surf lessons, then grab a late lunch at the top deck of George’s at the Cove, which overlooks the seals, snorkelers, and kayakers exploring the sea caves. Which of course, you’re free to do after your amazing meal. Or hike Torrey Pines Reserve for stunning views of untouched shoreline, and keep your eyes peeled for sightings of whales or dolphins.

Make reservations for dinner at Ironside Fish & Oyster, the best restaurant in town. You’ll love the decor, the fresh seafood, and the specialty drinks. After dinner, walk through the adorable streets of Little Italy to Craft & Commerce, a gastropub lined with taxidermy, old books, and literary quotes where mustached mixologists take their craft seriously.

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For an Urban Day
Stay at the retro-chic Lafayette Hotel to be close to Northpark, which Forbes named as one of America’s best hipster neighborhoods. Start your day with artisan pour over coffee or cold brew at Coffee & Tea Collective, then head to brunch at Swami’s for an authentic San Diego experience, or The Mission for big portions of Asian-Latin fusion food. On Sundays, Urban Solace hosts a bluegrass brunch at Urban Solace on their back patio, where you can enjoy live music while eating southern-style comfort fare.

After brunch, shop Northpark’s boutiques. You’ll definitely want to go to Mimi & Red for boho & street chic clothes at great prices, Aloha Sunday for a modern take on traditional surf apparel, Bottlecraft for local brews, and Pigment for gifts, succulents and home goods that would make Pinterest jealous. Pigment also offers crafting workshops like calligraphy, macrame and watercolor for aspiring DIYers. If you want to continue shopping, grab coffee or tea at Influx, and drive a few blocks to Southpark, where you’ll find eclectic and unique stores like Junc Life, Make Good & Progress.

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Send the next few hours wandering through Balboa Park, a 1200 acre urban park home to dozens of museums, Spanish colonial architecture, gardens, theaters, and the renowned San Diego Zoo. You can visit the Timken Museum of Art and the Botanical Building for free, or catch a free concert Sunday afternoon at Spreckels Organ Pavilion. If you love the theater, see see what’s playing that night at the internationally esteemed Old Globe Theater. The summer Shakespeare performances do not disappoint.

You’ll have a range of options for dinner nearby. Get your Mexican food fix at casual but eclectic taco shops like Lucha Libre, where the interior is an homage to wrestling in pink and gold, or El Camino, which has a Frida Kahlo meets Dia de Los muertos vibe. For locally-sourced, high-quality food and cool decor, snag a seat on the outdoor patio at Starlite. Get their famous moscow mule, and don’t leave without trying their ice cream sandwich. Mid-century modern fans will appreciate Great Maple, a European dinette that serves seasonal fare.

After dinner, head to Polite Provisions, an apothecary-esque bar serving up craft elixirs and homemade sodas. The decor will transport you to a different era, with its prohibition style marble countertops, velvet stools, intricate wood inlays and brass statues.

For the Beer Lover
Even if you aren’t a beer enthusiast, San Diego’s craft brew scene is worth checking out. Tasting rooms are popping up all over the area, designed to idle away afternoons. They are just what Sunday Funday was invented for. Spend the afternoon at Stone Brewery in Liberty Station, sampling beer, playing bocce ball, and catching a movie on the lawn. Check out Ballast Point’s tasting room, and see what the hype is about over their sculpin beer. Those who appreciate good design will love one of the Modern Times tasting rooms. Try their hoppy wheat, which is perfection. Or head to a bar/craft brew mecca like Tiger! Tiger! or Blind Lady Ale House.

Whatever your itinerary, chances are you’ll leave San Diego feeling refreshed, refueled and inspired. Cheers to a great getaway, and stay classy, Darling visitors.

Have you visited San Diego? Where are your favorite spots?

Images via Morgan Ashley Photography

Tiffany consults on talent strategy, company culture and human resources for cause-driven organizations like Invisible Children and The Giving Keys. She believes in mindful living, good grammar, and green smoothies. She lives in San Diego with her husband and their hyperactive puppy.

2 COMMENTS
  • Nichole Dunst January 14, 2015

    Very detailed and local-minded city guide! I’m actually spending the day in San Diego today and will be returning later this month. I look forward to checking out some of these places!

  • Hannah December 3, 2014

    This guide hits all of the best SD spots perfectly. Well done!! Some of my favorite places in San Diego are Puesto for tacos, Pannikan in Encinitas, & Parma in Hillcrest for authentic Italian food. SD is the best.

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