San Diego is awesome all over. No matter where you go - from the sun-soaked beaches to the buzz of the city - San Diego’s big, bright state of mind is contagious. You can see it in the friendly people, the vibrant culture and the energetic nightlife... and chances are, you’ll catch the good vibes, too.
San Diego, the eighth largest city in the USA, is known for its year-round perfect climate. It’s positioned along the beautiful Southern California coast in the southwest corner of the country, giving it a unique two-sided vibe, similar to Barcelona. On one side you have the chill, laid-back beach life. On the other, you have the excitement of the diverse urban experiences. And both sides shine.
Don’t believe us? Here are some of the best ways you can experience this sunny, city-wide playground.
1. Embrace the Outdoor Lifestyle
What’s a trip to Southern California without getting on a surfboard? San Diego is the best place to learn, with plenty of good beginner beaches and loads of surfing schools to help you stand up and find your balance.
In fact, San Diego is a mecca for all watersports. Try your hand at paddleboarding, jet-skiing or sailing in Mission Bay, or get paddling in a kayak around La Jolla Cove. Take a kayak tour through this ecological reserve and explore the seven sea caves. You’ll see all kinds of marine life, from sea lions to leopard sharks. Don’t worry - the leopard sharks are harmless.
If you want to take your outdoor adventures to new heights, try paragliding at Torrey Pines Gliderport. The views of the cliffs, trees, beach and ocean are incredible. If you’d rather keep your feet on the ground, get them moving along the countless hiking trails in the mountains and along the coast. If you’re looking for a challenge, get yourself to Cowles Mountain in Mission Trails Regional Park - the highest peak in the City of San Diego. The views are worth the effort.
2. Eat. Drink. Repeat.
Europeans love to complain about American beer, but San Diego pours a pint that proves us all wrong. San Diego is known as the Craft Beer Capital of America, with more than 150 craft breweries making world-class, award-winning pints. The city is famous for creating the super-hoppy (and super popular) West Coast-style IPA. Book an interesting and entertaining tour at one of these breweries, like Stone Brewing, Green Flash Brewing Co. or Karl Strauss Brewing Company.
Make sure to also grab a drink (either one of those craft beers or a hand-crafted cocktail) at one of San Diego’s many rooftop bars. With warm weather year-round, there’s no better place to enjoy a sip and a sunset than on a rooftop patio. Check out downtown’s ALTITUDE for a spectacular view of the city from 22 stories above the street.
You can also head to the beach, where the 70 miles of coastline filled with great places to grab a drink. Mission Beach’s Cannonball is the largest oceanfront rooftop in the city - and also home to some great sushi. Enjoy a cocktail and watch the world go by.
San Diego’s dining scene is another bright spot. It’s known for its fresh and healthy California cuisine (yes, eating your veggies can be tasty) as well as amazing local seafood. Find the catch of the day at many fish markets and seafood restaurants. The city’s Cali-Baja food scene is also a must-eat. It’s a creative culinary approach that blends together Mexico’s Baja-Mediterranean cuisine with California’s emphasis on fresh, local ingredients. Expect the deliciously unexpected (calamari tostadas, anyone?) with a Cali-Baja dish. Looking for more eating options? We love this list by San Diego Magazine.
3. Party Up After Sundown
San Diego shines even after it gets dark. Save some energy on your daytime adventures, because the party continues through the night. San Diego has the hottest nightlife scene on the USA West Coast, and its historic Gaslamp Quarter is the heart of it. Walk the 16.5 blocks of high-energy fun, with 130 restaurants, 50 bars and 10 nightclubs. Each spot seems to have its own unique vibe, music and energy, so you’ll be able to find whatever kind of party you like. The boutique Oxford Social Club is a swanky option, with an eclectic range of music. Omnia is a premier nightclub with top-tier, international DJs and a massive dancefloor…as well as a rooftop terrace where you can chill and take in the sights of the city.
4. Sample Their Culture
Balboa Park is the cultural heart of San Diego and, at 1,200 acres, it’s the largest urban cultural park in the United States. The ornate Spanish Colonial Revival architecture is breath-taking, with the iconic California Tower rising above the park as a must-see. Explore the 17 museums, beautiful gardens, amazing theatres, carousel and more. While it’s great to simply explore without a plan, there are events throughout the year that are worth checking out. Look at their events calendar for an idea of exhibitions and concerts taking place during your visit.
You know how we said that Balboa Park is big? Well, the world-famous San Diego Zoo is actually within Balboa Park, and it’s a can't-miss . You’ll see your favourite animals as well as ones you’ve never even heard of! Consider participating in one of their up-close-and-personal animal encounters. Their sister property, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, is also incredible. Watch the animals roam in this huge reserve, which matches their natural habitats. There’s even an overnight sleepover experience (the “Roar & Snore Safari”) where visitors can sit around a campfire and listen to the sounds of the animals. But we think the Flightline Safari, where you soar across the park for two-thirds of a mile, is the coolest part.
Art lovers will want to make their way to La Jolla, where you’ll see massive paintings covering billboards and adorning the sides of buildings. These are the Murals of La Jolla, and Instagrammers are all over them. They make the perfect picture backdrop. The project was created to bring energy and vibrancy to the neighbourhood… and we think they hit the mark. You’ll also want to visit the La Jolla Playhouse, where you can see musicals, live theatre and experimental performances. In fact, there have been 28 acts that have transferred to Broadway from the La Jolla Playhouse, earning 38 Tony Awards® - the highest honour in theatre.
5. Step Up Your Game
San Diego is consistently rated one of the most athletic and active cities in the United States, so it’s safe to say that sports are a big part of this destination. However, you can get your game on without breaking a sweat by watching a baseball game at Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres. USA Today calls the park the undisputed best ballpark in baseball. This is probably because of the superb views of downtown San Diego, the huge selection of local craft beers and the wide range of food options, including some of San Diego’s favourite restaurants curated within the ballpark. Don’t worry if you don’t have a clue about the rules - just ask your neighbours. They’ll be happy to give you the rundown of the game, but don’t bother trying to explain cricket in return.
Now, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to an awesome San Diego holiday. No matter where your sun-soaked adventure takes you, it’s sure to lead to good vibes and great times.
Looking for more inspiration?
We’ve put together a guide to the foodie scene in San Diego to whet your appetite. And we fell in love with San Diego’s Cali-Baja and all the places you can see this Mexican influence throughout the city, so we’ve got that covered for you, too.
Plan now at SanDiego.org
Funded in part with City of San Diego Tourism Marketing District Assessment Funds
Artwork Credit: Kelsey Brookes, One Pointed Attention, 2014, Murals of La Jolla, a project of the Athenaeum