San Diego, California: Destination Spotlight

We may be a little biased (we call this lovely city home!), but we think San Diego is one of the best places in the world. From the great beaches to fun neighborhoods and towns, San Diego has a variety of things visitors can explore. Whether you are just visiting for a beach vacation, or it is the first stop on a California road trip, San Diego is a great destination!

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Where to Stay

While downtown San Diego and the neighborhoods surrounding downtown have a ton of hotels, we suggest staying in the upscale beach community of La Jolla. We love La Jolla as a base for your stay in San Diego because of the community’s prime location and walkability to nearby shops and restaurants. Plus, La Jolla is located right on the water, so a beach is guaranteed to be close by. We have two hotel suggestions in La Jolla:

high tide at the La Jolla Shores in San Diego
La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club

This private club offers hotel rooms for tourists, and if you stay here, you get to enjoy all of the amenities of the club (including use of the only private beach in San Diego). La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club is located immediately on the water, and many of the rooms are only separated from the sand by a boardwalk. This resort is located in La Jolla Shores, a smaller community next to the beach, and is a five minute drive from the larger La Jolla Village. In addition to the prime beach location, this hotel offers a summertime snack bar, restaurant, pool, tennis courts, and a small golf course (larger than a mini golf course but smaller than a par-3 course). The rooms aren’t fancy, but the location on the beach is unbeatable.

La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla
La Valencia Hotel

For those who would rather stay in the primary part of La Jolla village, we suggest the La Valencia Hotel. This hotel is located in the heart of La Jolla on Prospect Street. Plus, it’s only a few minutes walk to the famous La Jolla Cove. The hotel is a beautiful Spanish style building, and much of the hotel boasts amazing views of La Jolla Cove. Plus, the restaurant located just off the lobby is great for breakfast, especially if you want an amazing view!

Where to Eat

San Diego consists of several smaller communities, many of which are very popular amongst tourists. While in some neighborhoods we suggest specific restaurants, in others, we think you should just go explore the neighborhood and find somewhere that looks fun:

Restaurants in La Jolla

Piatti’s: Located in La Jolla Shores, Piatti’s is a delicious Italian restaurant. Whether you are dining inside or on the patio, the amazing food, great service, and nice setting will not disappoint.

Duke’s La Jolla: Located on Prospect Street in La Jolla, Duke’s offers Hawaiian inspired food and boasts fabulous views of the La Jolla Cove. Duke’s is great for fish, burgers, and steaks. The restaurant offers both a main floor dining room, which you can make a reservation for, and a second floor bar (where you can also order dinner). Both floors include huge decks that overlook the Pacific Ocean. 

Puesto: This La Jolla Village taco shop was originally a fast food street taco place. Over the years though, this restaurant has recreated itself into a Mexican restaurant, complete with plenty of cocktails and a modern vibe. But the tacos have never changed: even today, they are still the delicious street tacos we’ve always known. While at Puesto, if you are adventurous, check out fun taco toppings such as cactus!

Our Favorite Restaurant in Old Town

Old Town Mexican Café: This is probably the most popular restaurant in Old Town, and it’s definitely our favorite. If Puesto is hip and modern, Old Town Mexican Café is traditional. From Carnitas plates to massive quesadillas, the food here is classically Mexican. Make sure to watch the restaurant’s employees make homemade tortillas in the window while you wait for your table!

Other Neighborhoods with Great Restaurants (Pick your Own Restaurant!)

Little Italy: Located just north of downtown San Diego, Little Italy is (not surprisingly) home to some of the best Italian restaurants in the area. Enjoy strolling through this lively neighborhood until you come across a restaurant that piques your interest. For desert, consider Gelato Vero Café, located just a couple blocks from the center of Little Italy for our favorite dessert in San Diego.

Gaslamp: Gaslamp is in the center of downtown San Diego. While Gaslamp is famous for a crazy bar scene, we enjoy the area for lunch and early dinners when we are downtown. The Gaslamp district is lively and offers a ton of food options, such as burgers and Italian food. Wander the streets until you find something that suits your fancy (and consider the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop for dessert)!

Things to Do in San Diego

San Diego has plenty for visitors to do, from beach days to amusement parks. Here are a few of our favorite suggestions for how you should spend your time here:

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

The San Diego Zoo is recognized around the World for wildlife conservation. It’s a must-see stop on any San Diego vacation, and is great for families. The zoo has every kind of animal imaginable, plus it offers fun activities such as guided bus tours through the park and a gondola that whisks visitors from the back of the park to the entrance.

SeaWorld San Diego

The other famous wildlife amusement park in San Diego is SeaWorld. With a mix of animal exhibits and fun rides (including roller coasters), SeaWorld is a great stop for families and those who love marine life. Plus, SeaWorld boasts great firework shows, which occur throughout the summer and on some weekends (check for updated firework schedules and dates).

Sandy beach in San Diego, CA
Visit Coronado

Coronado, an island located in San Diego Bay, is a great place to visit while in San Diego. Coronado offers a great shopping district and a massive beach. Plus, visit the Coronado Ferry Center to find bay-front restaurants, souvenir shops, and bike rentals to explore the island. Additionally, the famous Hotel Del on Coronado is a great spot to get a cocktail while watching the sunset. You can get to Coronado either by driving across the Coronado Bridge or by taking the ferry from downtown San Diego.

Beach Day

San Diego is famous for fabulous beaches. If you want to play in the sand, we suggest La Jolla Shores or Pacific Beach. If you are interested in surfing, consider Surf Diva at the La Jolla Shores for rentals and coaches. For those more interested in walking the beach and enjoying the ambience, we would suggest the Coronado Strand (and make sure to look for sand dollars on the Coronado beaches)!

Sunset at Mission Bay in San Diego
Explore Beach-Side Towns

La Jolla, Pacific Beach, and Encinitas are all fun beach-side towns to explore. Each has their own vibe, and all of them offer fun shopping, cute restaurants and great beach access. Pacific Beach boasts a great beach boardwalk and lively bar scene. La Jolla is considered the upscale beach town of San Diego, and offers great restaurants. Plus, La Jolla Cove is famous for its beautiful cliffs and seals. Encinitas is smaller than the other towns, but is more laid back, with fun restaurants and cute shops.

Visit Torrey Pines State Reserve
Torrey Pines State Reserve in San Diego, California

Located just north of La Jolla Cove, Torrey Pines State Reserve spans 1,500 acres along the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean. The Reserve offers natural trails through a carefully preserved landscape. Torrey Pines offers great views, fantastic trails, and a is a great place to visit while in San Diego. You can learn more about the Torrey Pines State Reserve here. (Note: Entry is free, but there is a parking fee. The parking lot can fill up, so go early to get a spot.)

Visit Balboa Park

San Diego hosted the massive Panama-California Exposition (basically a World’s Fair) from 1915-1917. Balboa Park was created to host this Exposition. Today, the historic buildings are still in use, plus the Park offers grand green spaces and manicured pedestrian areas to walk through. Balboa Park is home to San Diego’s art museum, science museum, zoo, and several other major museums.

Visit Old Town

Located just north of downtown is a small neighborhood called Old Town. The area is an homage to California’s Mexican heritage. Today, you can find plenty of Mexican restaurants and a lot of fun souvenir shops here. Plus, Old Town is home to many of San Diego’s oldest buildings, including “Ramona’s House,” from the famous novel Ramona.