San Diego is one of my favorite places… ever. I went there with a friend during spring break in 2007 and 2008, and most recently with Bryan last November. I envy anyone who lives there. There’s nothing like the weather, beaches, and cuisine to keep you in a great mood.
I’m sure you could find lots of lists online of cool things to do in San Diego, but this post is different. I’m sharing experiences that I actually had. So keep reading for my own little San Diego travel guide: where to stay, what to do, and where to eat.
Where to Stay
The Grande Colonial, La Jolla
It’s an intimate boutique hotel right near the beach. It opened in 1913, which makes it La Jolla’s oldest hotel, but it has been completely modernized. It’s absolutely gorgeous. The European-style lobby is filled with black and gold decor, and a lounge area with a fireplace, a chess set, and numerous coffee table books. I wish we had spent more time there. It seemed like the perfect place to cozy up after a long day. The hotel also has the award-winning restaurant, NINE-TEN, which I’ll talk about in a minute.
Empress Hotel, La Jolla
The second place we stayed was the Empress Hotel. It’s a bit further from the beach than the Grande Colonial, but it was still just a 15 minute walk to the water. Although the hotel is in a beach town, it certainly didn’t feel that way. I felt like we were staying in an upscale trendy hotel in downtown San Diego. I personally loved the free cookies in the lobby!
What to Do
Visit Coronado Island
Coronado is a must-see if you’re in San Diego. The beach is rated one of the most beautiful in the country! While you’re there make sure to stop at the Hotel del Coronado and tour the property. They have really cool shops with unique gifts for friends and family.
Simple Tip: DON’T park at the Hotel del Coronado. It’s crazy expensive. Street parking in some areas is free.
Walk around downtown La Jolla
We spent a lot of time in La Jolla and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Downtown La Jolla has amazing little shops and bars and is super close to the beach. Go down to La Jolla cove and check out the seals and sea lions.
Simple Tip: Don’t feed the seals and sea lions.
Take a ferry to Catalina Island
Although it’s technically not in San Diego, Catalina Island is a great day trip. You can drive up the coast and take a ferry from Long Beach to Avalon, Catalina. When you see Catalina from a few miles out, it looks like Jurassic Park! The island has great restaurants and boutiques, and the people that live there are some of the nicest that I’ve ever met.
Simple Tip: Book your tickets from a reputable seller, and try to get to the island as early as possible. We bought our tickets from a sketchy website at first, and ended up having to cancel our order and repurchase due to overbooking.
Take an Old Town Trolley Tour through downtown San Diego
Taking a trolley tour is the easiest way to see all the neighborhoods in San Diego. The tour guides were very entertaining and made it a lot of fun. There are pickup and drop off spots all throughout the tour, which makes it easy to hop off, explore a neighborhood, and then hop on the next trolley.
Simple Tip: Plan your stops ahead of time. The pickups end at a certain time and you want to make sure you can get back to your original destination.
Watch the sunset at La Jolla cove
Hands down the best place to watch the sunset is at La Jolla cove. We watched it from the cliffs, but we saw many people watching it from the sand. I personally loved this area because it’s a stunning place for sunset photographs!
Simple Tip: Bring a jacket and a camera. No matter what time of year you go, it’s going to be a bit chilly near the shore.
Go hiking at Torrey Pines, Del Mar Beach, and Solana Beach
After reading numerous articles about hiking in San Diego, we decided to check out Torrey Pines, Del Mar Beach and Solana Beach. All three places are must-sees. Hiking on the cliffs near the beach is something I’ll never forget. There are trails for all types of fitness levels. The beaches are great because they are dog friendly and have lots of nets for volleyball.
Simple Tip: Wear good shoes, but ones that you’re not afraid to get a bit sandy. Leave your flip-flops at home.
Dine and dance on a Hornblower Harbor Cruise
One night during our vacation we went on a dinner cruise up and down the harbor. We had a blast dancing the night away, and seeing great views of the San Diego skyline. The DJ plays a great variety of music from oldies to current day.
Simple Tip: Make sure to Uber there, so you can have a few drinks without having to drive home. Visit this link or use code ‘4jiun’ for a free first ride. Be safe peeps!
Where to Eat
1. The Patio on Goldfinch, Mission Hills: Great Mexican inspired dishes
2. Deli-icious, La Jolla: Great on-the-go bagel sandwiches and wraps. Very affordable.
1. Georges at the Cove, La Jolla: Best view in La Jolla. Eat on the ocean terrace. Order the Cemita (chicken) or the Blackened Fish Sandwich.
2. In-n-Out, Pacific Beach: West coast staple for meat-a-tarians.
1. Piatti’s, La Jolla: BEST Italian food I’ve ever had. Super fresh, home-made pasta! Get the Saffron Pappardelle.
2. NINE-TEN, La Jolla: Award-winning chef makes some of the fanciest and unique dishes in La Jolla. Great for date-night.
1. Vitality Tap, Downtown San Diego: Juices, smoothies, acai bowls, and homemade kombucha. People who work here are very down to earth and knowledgable about their products.
2. Kaboose, La Jolla: A bit more affordable option for organic acai bowls.
1. Ballast Point Brewery, Mission Hills: Order the flight to get a tree stand worth of beer. No joke. If you want to try something unique, sample their sour beer. It’s a game changer. East coast needs to step it up.