When weekends roll around, the urge to get out of town comes on. Some prerequisites for the perfect getaway? A destination within driving distance. Endless beaches where sunsets like to show off. Sights and activities that spur imaginations. A food and culture scene that brings with it a sense of place. Something new and unexpected. Fitting this list of musts to a T: San Diego. A mere 120 miles away from Los Angeles, this city by the sea promises weekends with beloved faves, as well as exciting new discoveries to be made.
Though there are several routes that lead to San Diego, historic Highway 101 provides eye candy aplenty with sweet little seaside towns and Pacific coastline that calls for picnics (a highly recommended spot: Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve) and kite-flying. With reaching the clouds in mind, plan time at Torrey Pines State Beach to watch paragliders soar off clifftops.
Other daredevils that transfix are local surfers taking on the waves. Inspired by time communing with the waves, the urge to take a surf lesson may come on. Set course for La Jolla, a town known for its gorgeous beaches, friendly waves, and excellent surfing vibes. Going strong since 1996 is Surf Diva Inc., Surf Shop & Surf School offering private surf and stand-up paddleboard lessons from experienced lifeguard-certified surf instructors. Just need gear? They’ve got surfboards, bodyboards, wetsuits and more for rent.
Later, immerse in the area’s history with a visit to Old Town San Diego. A favorite mode of transportation for getting there is the Old Town Trolley Tour with 11 stops for hopping on and off when something interesting catches the eye. At Old Town, this means 32 historic buildings and shops. Explore San Diego’s past at the blacksmith shop, Seeley Stable Museum, Stewart House, Estudillo House, along with San Diego’s first schoolhouse (circa 1865), and the Whaley House (proclaimed the most haunted house in the U.S. by Travel Channel’s “America’s Most Haunted.”)
While here, check out the new Old Town Urban Market, a modern food hall experience with the cultural and historic feel of Old Town San Diego. This curated, outdoor food hall welcomes with birrias on handmade tortillas at Tuetano Taqueria, pozole from Flor’s Farm to Table, Mexican street corn from Elote, a Nutella Bomboloni at Bom Bom Bakehouse… A whole lot of deliciousness awaits.
Add one more San Diego institution into the mix to end the perfect day: baseball. Head Downtown to Petco Park, home to the San Diego Padres. Views of the city skyline and San Diego Bay are dazzling, and the action on the field can’t be denied. Post-game walk eye-catchers like the Historic Gaslamp Quarter will have ideas for the next day’s itinerary whirling.
Fans of Richard Walker’s Pancake House plan visits to San Diego solely to frequent this breakfast gem. There will likely be a line. No problem. All the more time to go over menu items like the savory German Pancake, Bacon Waffles, French Strawberry Crepes… Here, hearing the sound of taste buds dancing may be possible.
Ready to further delight the senses is the recently-opened WNDR Museum in the Gaslamp Quarter. Step inside this immersive, multisensory museum to be wowed by what’s found at the intersection of art and technology. All ages will enjoy the 20+ exhibits that make their way through the museum. Currently featured in WNDR’s immersive theatre is “God: Tempo” from Effixx, described as, “a living, breathing metronome inhabited by a pantheon of kinetic figures.”
Hungry for more art? Head to Balboa Park. There’s much to do on this 1,200-acre property with gardens, a miniature railroad, the San Diego Zoo, and more than 18 museums… Start with three not-to-miss attractions. The newly renovated Timken Museum of Art aims to nurture the creative spirit within us. With this in mind, the Putman Foundation’s collection of European old masters, 19th-century American art, and Russian icons usher visitors (admission is free) in with this challenge, “Dare to be inspired.”
Art of a different kind can be enjoyed at Balboa Park’s Comic-Con Museum. Pop culture has invaded this 1935-built Federal Building with comic book art, superheroes, and sci-fi creatures at every turn. Check in advance for movie screenings and special events.
Ready for some fresh air, head out to Balboa Park’s Japanese Friendship Garden. The bond between San Diego and its Japanese sister city Yokohama is definitely present here through the koi ponds, bonsai, black pines, and, of course, cherry blossom trees. Step onto the moon-viewing deck to search for a lunar peek-out.
Inspired to see more Pan-Asian culture, set a course for San Diego’s Convoy District, a walkable community chockful of markets, shops, live music, restaurants, and art. Be on the lookout for “Box Creations: A Utility Mural Box Project.” Waiting to be pondered are Michelle Gernon’s “Soul Light,” Karen Wang’s “Tied Together with Noodles,” Lulu Qu’s “Happy Yummy World”… If some of the 21 projects bring on an urge for lunch, the Convoy District has you covered with restaurants that feature everything from bahn mi and dim sum to sushi and Korean fried chicken. Save room. The evening holds an exceptional dinner in store.
Nestled among the hillside of the Fairmont Grand Del Mar’s grounds is Addison, San Diego’s first three-star Michelin restaurant. Chef William Bradley elevates California ingredients to a level of bliss. Highly recommended: the nine-course tasting menu paired with Southern California vintages.
The passionate sounds of the San Diego Orchestra conducted by Rafael Payare cap things off with a night under the stars at The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park. Set on the San Diego Bay, The Rady Shell has a rich slate of entertainment from La Jolla Playhouse’s “Without Walls” to Earth, Wind & Fire, to Charlie Puth. Also fun in this idyllic space: Fit Athletic Yoga Classes (free; reservations required).
A night on the waterfront may set the agenda for one’s final day, one that involves beaches, coastline, and attractions only to be found in San Diego. First stop, Liberty Station Public Market. Located in scenic Point Loma, this former Naval Training Center is now a thriving arts, culture, and food venue. Get caffeinated at Moniker General with a craft coffee (there’s a toast bar, too!) and time to peruse the bicycles, custom furniture, and home goods in the store.
Brunch is in order at Breakfast Republic. Kombucha with Breakfast Jambalaya, anyone? Between popping into shops, take in the Arts District’s public arts on display. Get interactive via Miki Iwasaki’s Facetime sculptures in the Sybil Stockdale Rose Garden and share favorite moments from the weekend.
Sating the urge for more time by the water, rent a bike to explore San Diego’s Embarcadero waterfront. Plan time for lunch over bay views via venues at the Portside Pier. San Diego-style surf and turf can be procured from Brigantine Seafood and Oyster Bar (bring on the Shrimp & Crab Louie!). Another option is Brigantine’s sister restaurant, Ketch Grill & Taps. The venue’s design melds nicely with the seaside location, as does a menu with pub fare and loads of seafood. After lunch, relax in the grass in Waterfront Park and watch the yachts and ships glide by in the deep blue sea.
When it’s time to dive into Pacific Waters, head to Mission Bay and Beaches. This 4,600-acre aquatic playground is ready for whatever watersport moves you: stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, jet skiing… Looking for a blend of sport and Zen? Head to the Mission Bay Jetty and South Mission Beach for fishing.
In need of an adrenalin rush? Belmont Park brings thrills via its 1925-built Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, bumper cars, rock climbing, and arcade games. Cool off with cocktails from some of Mission Bay’s favorite watering holes. Among them, Beach House Tequila + Taqueria’s tiki bar on the beach. Time it right to catch a live music performance. Or for those looking to spend quality time with their four-legged friends, dog owners will want to make a beeline to Ocean Beach Dog Beach for off-leash time by the bay.
As the weekend comes to a close, take in a stunning San Diego sunset at your choice of viewing points. Sunset Cliffs with their west-facing views, Crystal Pier on Oceanfront Boardwalk, Windansea Beach, where it’s possible to watch surfers chase the sun as it dips into the ocean… Can’t decide. No worries. Plenty more breathtaking sunsets wait for return visits in San Diego.