For a dose of vitamin D, a surfer scene and the best Mexican in the US, the city has it all
With its miles of glorious beaches, idyllic year-round weather and mix of cultures, this Californian city is a bucket-list destination. San Diego offers diverse neighbourhoods, from eclectic North Park to the lively Gaslamp district – home to all the bars and nightlife – but the majority of the city consists of sandy beaches and parks, including the spectacular Balboa Park. San Diego’s a good-time hotspot and a beach lover’s paradise.
Surf and turf
Beach life is a part of everyday life in San Diego, and the place to hang out is the beautiful sandy shores of La Jolla, just a 20-minute drive from downtown. Not only does the beach offer beautiful views, but you’ll find the world’s first women’s surf school Surf Divas (Surfdiva.com). With its “girl power” attitude, they offer lessons on how to get to grips with California’s favourite pastime. We enjoyed an hour’s one-to-one lesson with enthusiastic instructors who showed us the basics before we hit the waves. It’s fantastic fun, and don’t worry, no experience is needed as long as you can swim.
After a hard day’s surfing, refuel with a stop for lunch at George’s At The Cove (Georgesatthecove.com). It offers modern California dining, and the stunning rooftop view overlooks La Jolla Cove. The crispy shrimp tacos are not to missed – try them with a cheeky mojito. Nearby, you’ll find The Children’s Pool beach, which is home to some of San Diego’s adorable seals and their cubs. Once designed for kids, this small cove with shallow access to the sea has now become a safe haven for the seals to raise their cubs, while you watch from the deck area above.
If your idea of a day at the sea is a little more tranquil, then set sail on a beautifully restored 36ft yacht on a two-hour sailing tour of the bay, taking in views of Downtown, Point Loma and Coronado Island with San Diego Sailing Tours (Sandiegosailingtours.com). You can enjoy drinks and snacks on board, and be sure to ask your captain about the local history.
Get out and explore
Balboa Park is a 1,200-acre space with 17 museums and cultural institutions, including San Diego Air & Space museum, San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego Natural History Museum and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. The attractions are an easy walk away, or you can jump aboard the park’s tram or hire an electronic scooter!
To see some local history, head to Old Town, San Diego Historic Park, which is currently celebrating 250 years since its founding. It marks the site of the first Spanish settlement on the US west coast, and represents the city’s Hispanic heritage.
If you want to do some shopping, a must-visit is artsy North Park. Vintage fashion and book stores are in abundance, and our favourite stop was Artelexia (Artelexia.com). You’ll be blown away by this vibrant shop (top right), specialising in Mexican gifts, art, décor and gourmet foods.
Food, glorious food
Mere miles from Mexico, San Diego serves up some of the country’s most sought-after Mexican cuisine at a host of restaurants. One of our favourites was El Jardín (eljardinrestaurantbar.com), where the amazing Chef Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins, of America’s Top Cheffame, heads up a fabulous fusion menu while you dine in stunning garden surroundings. We’d recommend the house guacamole and wood-grilled rib eye, and their taquitos are a taste sensation. For the best pasta in town, head to Civico 1845 in Little Italy. Its authentic menu is made from local produce, and the restaurant itself has a buzzing atmosphere.
It’s trendy to stop for brunch in the US, and most restaurants offer extensive menus to set you up for the day. We especially love Breakfast Republic (Breakfastrepublic.com) in North Park. Try the amazing flight of three pancakes or the breakfast hotdogs – but only if you’re very hungry! If you’re in the Seaport Village area, then Carnitas Snack Shak (Carnitassnackshack.com) has a menu of comfort food, great craft beers and views of the bay.
Visit some of San Diego’s hidden speakeasies (secret cocktail bars) for a fun night out. Hundred Proof (Hundredproofsd.com) in Hillcrest offers craft cocktails created by Stephen Kurpinsky, head of the San Diego chapter of the US Bartenders Guild. For a taste of the unusual, Realm Of The 52 Remedies has an Asian twist, or hidden behind a stack of beer barrels in East Village, you’ll find Noble Experiment – check out the bonkers faux monkey-skull wall.
Where to stay?
We stayed at the new InterContinental, located on the waterfront in the Downtown area. It has 400 rooms, most with stunning ocean views. Surrounded by chic and stylish décor, chill out on the fourth-floor deck pool, or hit the Sky bar and outdoor terrace for drinks. Then, enjoy dinner at the onsite Vistal restaurant.
Need to know
· British Airways flies direct from London to San Diego from £733 return, including taxes and fees. Book online at Ba.com/sandiego or call 0344 4930122.
· Starting rates at the InterContinental San Diego start from £175 per night. Book online at Intercontinentalsandiego.com
· For more information on what to see and do, visit Sandiego.org