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  • Allyson Rychlak

San Diego: A Week in SoCal's Sunny City

Eager to escape the gloom of a Northeast winter, my boyfriend, Aidan, and I decided to spend a week in San Diego, a city neither of us had yet explored. Our trip marked Aidan's first time in on the West Coast and my first to Southern California, and it is safe to say we fell in love with San Diego. I worked remotely for the first half of the week from our AirBnB in Pacific Beach, and we filled our afternoons, evenings, and the two weekends that bookended the trip with restaurants, hikes, and more. For the last leg of the trip, we stayed in San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter, which was a great location to see the sights and sounds of downtown and be close to our choice of restaurants.

Pacific Beach's sunsets were stunning, even in (chillier than we hoped) February!

While we debated renting a car, we ultimately realized it would still be more reasonable to Uber/Lyft to further destinations, such as our hikes. We did a ton of walking, so pack comfortable sneakers, and truly felt like we had explored the city. I loved our time here and cannot wait to return. Check out my recommendations (and suggestions from others that did not make it on our itinerary due to timing) below!

Things to Do:

  • Explore Pacific Beach: Since we stayed in PB for the majority of our trip, we went on plenty of beach walks, tried many restaurants, and had our fair share of sweets (see end of the list for dessert recommendations). This young beachside neighborhood was great to use as a home base for the week. While it wasn't quite ideal beach weather as we visited during an unusually cool time for the city, we enjoyed walking on the beach and pier, watching surfers, and catching a gorgeous sunset along the boardwalk. On the one rainy day of our trip, we walked down to the Belmont Park amusement park for mini golf in Mission Beach. If we had more time and the weather was warmer, I would have definitely checked out Mission Beach!

Watching the surfers in PB was one of our favorite activities, along with strolling the boardwalk

  • La Jolla: No trip to San Diego is complete without seeing La Jolla Cove, the sweeping ocean views, basking seals and sea lions, and a stroll down Girard Avenue's shops. If you're a book lover like me, or want to explore a cute gift shop, check out Warwick's, the country's oldest continuously family-owned and operated bookstore. We sea kayaked through La Jolla's Marine Reserve with Everyday California Guides (pro tip: rent the wet suits, especially if it is the off-season. You will get wet.)

The seals and sea lions love to sunbathe on this rocky point in the cove - you'll hear them before you see them!

  • San Diego Zoo: Situated inside Balboa Park is the United States' most visited zoo and frequently considered one of the best zoos in the world. With over 650 species represented on 100-acres, there is so much to explore. We arrived right before the gates opened at 9am and made our way immediately to a 35-minute guided bus tour of the zoo, which was helpful to get a bearing of the layout. The tigers (and red pandas) were my personal favorites, but each exhibit is laid out so well. Since we visited on a holiday weekend, it became very crowded by 1pm, but we enjoyed seeing the zoo and ending our trip here.

  • Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve: Out of everything we did on this trip, I can honestly say our hike at Torrey Pines was my favorite. We went in the afternoon and left just as golden hour was setting in, and the park is just beautiful. Each trail was more beautiful than the last, and we ended up checking off 7 miles. Minus a few steep staircases, the trails are easy to moderate. This is about a half hour from our home base in Pacific Beach, depending on traffic, but it was so worth it!

The cliffs at Torrey Pines are truly breathtaking!

  • Ocean Beach & Wednesday Farmers Market: After our walk at Sunset Cliffs, we headed to Newport Ave. in OB to explore the Farmers Market, which is open 4-8pm every Wednesday year round. Vendors include food, flowers and plants, local produce, breads and desserts, jewelry and clothing, and more. I wish we had spent more time in OB exploring, but time was of the essence!

  • Sunset Cliffs: This cliff walk is almost 2.5 miles out-and-back, and was also stunning during the afternoon. While we did not see sunset here as the name suggests, this spot is famous for catching beautiful sunsets. While the trail is narrow and very popular, especially in the late afternoon and evening, we explored a few beaches and really enjoyed this easy hike/walk.

Be sure to check out stairs along certain parts of the Sunset Cliffs walk leading to the beaches below

  • Balboa Park: A collection of museums, walking paths, theaters, gardens, and more make up this 12,000-acre urban park situated beside Little Italy in San Diego's downtown. A week could be spent visiting the museums in this park alone (including the San Diego Air & Space Museum, the San Diego Museum of Art, the Museum of Us, and more), but be sure to check out the Botanical Building and the Japanese Friendship Garden. It is truly a complex and beautiful space with so much to do and see.

  • Coronado: Take the ferry from downtown in 2 locations (Convention Center or Broadway Pier) for $7 each way and spend the day on one of the loveliest beaches and seaside towns in San Diego. Coronado is repeatedly voted one of the best - if not the best - beaches in the United States. Stroll from Ferry Landing facing downtown San Diego down Orange Avenue to check out restaurants, shops, and more. The legendary Hotel del Coronado, built in 1888 and designated as a National Historic Landmark, awaits at the beachfront end of Orange Ave.; it is even prettier than the pictures.

With its picturesque grounds and pristine beaches, the Hotel del Coronado is a sight in itself

  • Seaport Village: We loved walking around this shopping and dining area on the marina waterfront with over 70 restaurants, galleries, and shops.

  • USS Midway: While we did not check this off our list (on this trip, at least), Top Gun fans and history buffs alike would enjoy a tour of the aircraft carrier situated off the Embarcadero in downtown San Diego. Tickets for adults start at $31.

Restaurants & Bars:

Pacific Beach
  • Oceana Coastal Kitchen: The Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa's signature restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and offers views of Sail Bay. We tried 3 sushi rolls and truly enjoyed our meal, and the service was excellent. This place is perfect for an upscale dinner, and although the forecast was cloudy, I did try to align our timing with the sunset.

We tried 3 out of the 5 sushi rolls on Oceana Coastal Kitchen's menu - my favorite was the crunchy tuna

  • Pacific Beach Alehouse: Also known as PB Alehouse, this bar and restaurant is less than 2 blocks from the beach and has "Hoppy Hour" from 3-5 on weeknights, as well as specials on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Game Days. We sat on the upstairs, open-air patio at the bar to watch the Super Bowl (Philly fan always!) and had a great time with views of the ocean and sunset.

  • Oscar's Mexican Seafood: No frills, great tacos. This seafood-based Mexican spot is delicious and very popular in PB. With limited seating inside, many orders seemed to be takeout, and it has a very casual vibe. The ceviche is unmissable!

  • Bayside Landing: After our flight landed, we walked here for a bite to eat before our week ahead. With pool tables, picnic table-style seating, and 24 rotating beers, ciders, and seltzers on tap (as well as draft wine!), this is a great spot in the Crown Point neighborhood of PB.

  • The Grounds Bean Bar: Located around the corner from Bayside Landing, this coffee shop is perfect as a remote work spot. With an impressive list of breakfast options and coffee and teas, anyone in need of caffeine will not be disappointed. I enjoyed my order - avocado toast with prosciutto and burrata and an iced turmeric latte, and could have come back every morning!

The Grounds Bean Bar's bohemian, beach decor and free Wi-Fi makes for a great remote work space

  • Better Buzz: You'll likely find one of these coffee shops during your time in SoCal - they are a chain, and pretty popular in San Diego. Nonetheless, Better Buzz has a perfectly vanilla, perfectly spiced chai latte. Some locations are drive-thru as well!

  • Palmy's: On our last morning in PB, we finally decided to try Palmy's for breakfast, and my only wish is that we had gone sooner! Open 7-3 daily for breakfast and lunch, Palmy's boasts a great menu of coffee and teas, smoothies, and grubs - highly recommend the breakfast burrito and breakfast "sando"!

  • Lahaina's: Recommended as the best "dive" bar in PB, Lahaina's certainly looks like nothing special from the outside. We came during a weeknight for a drink just after sunset, and the vast deck overlooking the ocean hints at its popularity on weekend nights, where I've seen the deck packed (via social media). Outdoor heaters on the deck helped the unusually chilly beach breeze for our time in February!

  • Breakfast Republic & Eggie's: This spot is also a chain for breakfast (if the name didn't give it away) around SoCal and we stumbled in unplanned during our first morning exploring the beach and boardwalk in PB. The service was unmatched, and ordering was a challenge due to the size of the menu! I settled on the shrimp and grits (and raved about it all day).

*The following spots in Pacific Beach we did not visit ourselves, but were recommended by multiple friends and have great reviews:

  • Board & Brew: Chain spot for sandwiches and beers - it can't get better than that!

  • Pacific Beach Fish Shop: I wish we had an extra night in PB just to go to this spot. Each time we passed the restaurant, it was crowded - and it was recommended in the guide book in our Airbnb for the best fresh seafood in the area.

  • Flamingo Deck: With its bright interior, location a block from the beach, and Italian-influenced menu, you can't go wrong with brunch, lunch, or dinner at Flamingo Deck.

  • Waterbar: Visit for seafood and sunset, as Waterbar is situated right on the beach with some of the best unobstructed views.

  • The Grass Skirt: Polynesian décor, speakeasy style, and tiki drinks await at this PB bar. Supposedly, you find the spot by visiting a Poké restaurant and entering through the freezer door, but don't quote me on that one.

  • Civico 1845: Delicious Italian (Calabrian, specifically) ended our foodie tour of San Diego located in - you guessed it - San Diego's Little Italy. A starter of burrata hit the spot, and our pastas to follow (Fusilli alla Norma and Ragu Calabrese) were delicious.

  • Queenstown Pub: A few blocks from Civico, this New Zealand-inspired spot offered aesthetic indoor and outdoor seating and an extensive handhelds menu. Try the fatty fries with house seasoning!

Queenstown Public House's white sangria, leaf and all!

  • Bolt Brewery: We stopped here for a drink, and to escape the rain before our final dinner of the trip. Great list of beers, options for flights, and dog-friendly.

  • Cerveza Jack's: Great spot for Happy Hour and located in the midst of Gaslamp Quarter's Fifth Avenue! We enjoyed our drinks here and sat at the open-air indoor/outdoor bar.

Gaslamp Quarter's Fifth Avenue, which boasts many restaurants and bars, including Cerveza Jack's

  • Tacos El Gordo: One of several locations throughout the San Diego area, this Gaslamp Quarter hole-in-the-wall does not mess around when it comes to authentic tacos. Each time we passed there was a line out the door, and we finally checked it off our list for lunch on our last day before flying out. The carne asada and chorizo tacos were to die for!

  • Taco Centro: Inspired by Mexican street food vendors and stalls, this spot also located in the Gaslamp Quarter. With tacos, burritos and bowls, quesadillas, and more, the menu is impressive and the food is even better.

*The following spots in downtown's Little Italy we did not visit ourselves, but were also recommended by San Diego residents and visitors and have a fair share of superb reviews!

  • Barbusa: Italian, of course, with a Sicilian flair.

  • Cloak and Petal: A bit more upscale than some of the other spots on Little Italy's India Street, this restaurant offers Japanese tapas and specialty cocktails.

  • Morning Glory: Pink, airy, and super popular. Be prepared for a wait for brunch, but the menu looks worth it!

  • Kettner Exchange: As Little Italy's only rooftop patio with harbor views, this spot has two levels of indoor/outdoor seating with a modern American menu.

  • Miguel's Cocina: Aidan and I ate here during our day on Coronado and were not disappointed. Tasty tacos complete with rice and beans, specialty margaritas, and serene open-air seating make this a treat for any patron, and its tucked-away nature separates it nicely from busy Orange Avenue and Hotel del Coronado across the street.

  • The Henry: Recommended by friends, I can vouch for the popularity of this spot due to the hour wait for lunch and line out the door. The indoor/outdoor open-air seating looks out to Orange Avenue, and the restaurant's expansive menu offers something for everyone.

  • Serea Coastal Cuisine: The Hotel del Coronado's signature restaurant boasts an impressive seafood menu with views of the ocean and the hotel's grand grounds. It is only open from 5-9pm, so we weren't on Coronado late enough to try, but reviews are fabulous.

Bonus... spots for dessert:
  • The Baked Bear: Oh goodness, where do I start with this spot in Pacific Beach? Our eyes were definitely bigger than our stomachs when we stopped here for a little afternoon snack, but we were blown away. Build-your-own cookie and ice cream sandwiches has never turned me away.

  • Handel's Ice Cream: Located right across the street from The Baked Bear (convenient for all cravings of sweet), this Pacific Beach ice cream shop was divine.

  • MooTime Creamery: Local and handcrafted right in Coronado - what more can you want?

Shoutout and much appreciation to Talia and Tess for so many helpful recommendations, and thank you to the many others who gave us pointers and must-dos for our trip. As always, feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns if planning a trip to beautiful San Diego.


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