My first trip to San Diego and the first time in California was nothing short of amazing. It was mid-October and the weather was so good – it actually got really hot by the afternoon and there was lots of sunshine with little to no rain. The nights got cooler so you will definitely want to pack a cardigan or sweater for the evenings. I do know that San Diego was actually having a heatwave when I was down and the temperatures reached 30+ degrees on the last two days of my trip. This could be a slight anomaly for mid-October temperatures as after I got back to Calgary, the wildfires started up in L.A and other places in California.
San Diego was a different city than most places I’ve been to in the USA and probably why I am longing to go back – It didn’t feel like things were miles apart and actually had a city feel where most of the other cities I’ve been to (mostly eastern states) feel as if the cities are small clusters with lots of green pastures and farmland around them like in Virginia, Pennsylvania or Vermont. Even things in Orlando appeared to be very spread out and I don’t remember seeing transit as frequently as I saw it in San Diego.
If you can, you should try to go visit the island – there isn’t a lot to do here other than the famous hotel, beach and some shopping and restaurants. Coronado Island is located across Seaport Village and the best way to get there is by car or Uber as it is on the other side of the long bridge that pedestrians cannot walk on. Our Uber driver told us that if anyone sees people walking on the bridge, they call the police right away because they assume it is a jumper. They also have rails put up all along the bridge to prevent suicide attempts and phones on either side.
Hotel Del Coronado is a must-see! It is an iconic hotel that has had some movies filmed there. You can walk around the back of the hotel towards the beach and there is a boardwalk with some boardwalk restaurants and cafes to grab some food and/or a drink if you would like. There is a delicious gelato parlor at the base of the hotel called “Sundae’s at the Del”. They have SO many gelato options and also sorbets for those that are dairy-free. My favourites were the peanut butter gelato and salted caramel gelato.
Feel free to take your shoes off and walk on the sand and even dip your feet in the water which wasn’t so warm but it wasn’t cold either. There weren’t too many people in the water swimming but it was also a Thursday evening. From the boardwalk, you can take one of the streets up to Orange Ave and walk along it. There are lots of cafes, shops, and restaurants. If you are fancying lobster rolls, there is a great small place called Lobster West. My first time having a lobster roll and it was actually so good! They even have a gluten-free bun option.
Old town is another area to check out and is really close to the airport, Hotel Circle N and S, and Mission Valley. This is a historic village and reminded me a little of the Alamo area in San Antonio. Everyone recommended that if we want to have authentic Mexican food, Old Town is where to go and there are many Mexican restaurants here, all with good ratings. Cafe Coyote being the most popular is where we ate and they had a lineup to be seated – the restaurant is huge and they have lots of seating so we didn’t have to wait for long. Their margaritas are huge. I had the tamarindo margarita which is perfect if you like sweet and sour and it was only the regular size. They do offer free nachos and salsa with each order. Either their portion sizes are huge or I just stuffed myself with the nachos which they provided free refills for but I ordered the chicken tacos plate and couldn’t finish it. I thought it would be too soggy to have the next day, but it definitely tasted awesome for lunch the next day.
Gaslamp district is one of the areas that is extremely lively at night! The streets are packed with so many people and the restaurants were so full! There are many bars and lounges including a few hookah lounges. There a few nightclubs too. I checked out Mina Shisha Lounge which was more of an upscale lounge, the service was very slow and something to note is that most of the lounges charge by the amount of time you stay there for. There were some nightclubs in the area as well.
La Puerta is a Mexican restaurant with delicious nachos and soft shell tacos. It was a little on the expensive side but for the food quality, I didn’t mind paying a little more. The décor is pretty cool too. The famous Ghirardelli chocolatier has an ice-cream parlor in the Gaslamp district as well. The ice-cream looked so good but because I don’t react well to dairy and it was quite late, I decided to not try it thinking I will come back another day. Their waffle cones smelt amazing.
This Place. Wow! If you have good weather and are planning a trip to San Diego, make sure you go visit La Jolla. The water, seals and cliffs are so picturesque and the town is so cute, resembling a beach town – definitely high end. I highly suggest you rent a car and go visit La Jolla rather than use public transit so you can drive around into the neighbourhoods and check out the HUGE houses and the cars you see driving around are probably on your dream car list.
Bobboi Natural Gelato has some delicious gelato flavours – I got the charcoal and rose flavours (because I am obsessed for anything rose except the flower). The coconut gelato was so good too, I actually couldn’t pick which flavours I wanted. They did have some dairy-free flavours too. If you fancy macarons, Le Macaron had some delicious macarons and the associate told me that the macarons are gluten-free and made from almond flour. They also had some really pretty chocolates which I didn’t taste.
When you are so close to the Mexican border, you have to have all the Mexican food you can get. Jose’s Court Room is next to Le Macaron and has burritos, tacos, taco bowls and healthy fare including gluten-free bowls. I had their original lime margarita and I have to say that this was by far the best original margarita I have had in a while.
If you have time, go check out the La Jolla Cove and cave – I didn’t have time for this but I will definitely visit this area again when I go back.
I am so glad I rode the train to Seaport Village on my last day. It’s situated right by the water and you can walk along the water to the USS Midway Museum. The village itself has characteristic building styles, souvenir stores, craft stores, lots of restaurants and cafes, ice-cream parlors, and Frost Me Cupcakes as featured on the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars as a winner. It’s an open-air village and it was so hot that day but luckily there is shade provided where you can eat if you choose to eat from one of the canteen places instead of a restaurant. I couldn’t leave San Diego without having any burritos so I got a chicken burrito from Margaritas Kitchen and Cantina along with a churro and both hit the spot!
Phil’s BBQ is a popular BBQ restaurant with multiple locations and they offer beef ribs and BBQ chicken among burgers too. It took a while to figure out the ordering process and they were super busy so it took a while for the food to be prepared but one of the staff members gave me some free whoopie pies which were so delicious. If you fancy fast-food burgers check out In and Out Burger – a famous burger chain that I actually had never heard of. Their burger was delicious. It is probably because they don’t use fillers or preservatives in their burger patties. Their fries and strawberry milkshake was equally good too for someone who hasn’t had a milkshake in a while because of avoiding dairy.
If you are looking to go shopping, the Las Americas outlets near the Mexican border can have amazing sales but if there are no sales then I wouldn’t consider it worth it to shop there. There are signs to the outlets to pay attention, especially if you are driving at night because it literally is the last stop before the Mexican border and you don’t want to get to the border! You can actually see the city lights of Mexico from the outlets.
If you are into health food and nutrition, don’t forget to check out the Trader Joe's, especially if you don’t have a Trader Joes in your hometown. I went to the one in University Heights and seriously…. I wanted to buy everything I saw because things looked unique and I was surprised to see prices were actually reasonable for gluten-free, dairy-free and other healthy/natural food. Trader Joe’s just needs to open up a location in Calgary!
The best places to stay for tourists are within the downtown core so you are close to Coronado Island, Seaport Village, Gaslamp and transit is also easier but accommodation in this area is expensive. Mission Valley is a little more reasonable then downtown San Diego area and is still fairly accessible to everything and has good transit into downtown.
The city has a good transit system if you are travelling within Mission Valley and the downtown area but mostly everyone recommended to use Uber or Lyft to get around from point A to point B or if you are travelling in the outskirts of downtown. If you are going to use Uber, I would recommend getting a travel data plan for location pickups. Renting a car is another option especially if you are going from suburb to suburb or if you are doing more sightseeing and going from place to place as Uber can actually add up and be more expensive. I rented a car for going to La Jolla and the outlet malls.
If you are just travelling within the downtown core, you could rely on public transit as their train system is pretty good. I took the Red line transit from Mission Valley to Seaport Village and it cost $2.25 one-way and was quick and easy to use.
I definitely want to visit San Diego again and the following places will be on my list to check out next time:
- Pacific Beach (if you like to party)
- Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo located within the park;
- Mission Beach
- Café 21
- Crushed restaurant
- Better Buzz Coffeeshop
- Extraordinary Desserts