I have been in San Diego for the past week. It has been one of my favorite vacations. In general, Southern California has great weather. San Diego has the best weather. For most days in the year, it is between 70 to 80 degrees and sunny all year round. As there is only 9 inches of rain per year, you will rarely encounter rain or bad weather. At worst, there will be some clouds. In addition, it is very close to the Mexican border. As such, it is a great vacation destination if you love Mexican Food. Another reason I love the city is that all the attractions are within a 10-20 minute drive. Below are my recommendations for San Diego.
San Diego Zoo (2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101)
This is an amazing zoo. It is very big and includes a lot of great animals such as pandas, polar bears, grizzly bears, elephants, tigers, etc. Of course, the three pandas are the main attraction. They have a mother, father, and baby panda. However, it is hit or miss as they can be lazy. Consequently, there is a chance that they stay in the back and you cannot now see them. I got lucky during my visit. The mother and the baby were active. Moreover, the baby decided to climb a tree. While the pandas are a must see, there are other great animals to see even if you are unable to view them. I spent approximately 4 hours at the zoo. I started my visit with a 40 minute guided bus tour near the entrance of the zoo to understand the layout. The Skyfari is also a good ride to see the zoo from above. While the zoo is a great time, it is not cheap. An adult ticket is $44 while a ticket for a child is $34.
SeaWorld (500 Sea World Dr, San Diego, CA 92109)
Similar to the zoo, SeaWorld is a fun time and has great animals that include killer whales, dolphins, penguins, polar bears, etc. It also has a lot of great shows that begin around noon. The signature and best show is “One World” which is a show that features the park’s killer whales. They do amazing tricks and get the front rows soaked when they splash water. The show is only done once per day as opposed to the other shows that are done twice daily so make sure you plan your visit around it. The next best show is “Blue Horizons” that features dolphins. It is spectacular and includes acrobatic and amazing flips from the dolphins and the park’s human performers. The “Sea Lions Live” and “Pets Rule!” shows are very entertaining. The sea lions show is a comedic sketch that is a parody of pop culture. The pets show features dogs, cats, and a pig performing tricks. They are all great shows. If you are pressed on time and need to skip one show, I would skip the “Pets Rule!” show.
The park also has rides. Two of the most popular water rides are “Shipwreck Rapids” and “Journey to Atlantis”. You will get soaked on both so make sure to consider that fact before riding. I have tried the former in a previous visit. You are in a tube that spins and goes down an artificial, curvy river. It is a lot of fun. While I have not tried the Atlantis ride, I have seen it as it is visible from everywhere in the park. It is a light roller coaster with a final plunge that will get you soaked. It is a slightly more intense Splash Mountain. A ride I would recommend to everyone is the “Skytower”. It is a quick and relaxing 5 minute ride that slowly spins around and gives you a beautiful view aerial view of the park. It goes up high and back down at a slow pace. It is also fully enclosed with windows.
The one negative of SeaWorld is cost. It cost me $78 for an adult ticket. However, you do get a free admission for a child with each purchase of an adult ticket.
Torrey Pines State Park (12600 N Torrey Pines Rd La Jolla, CA 92037)
The park is 10-15 minutes north of San Diego. It is the most amazing hike I have ever done. If you like to hike, it is a reserve for you. It has multiple hiking trails on cliffs right next to Pacific Ocean. Moreover, the trails are very developed and clear. As such, it is not dangerous at all if you stay on the trails. From the top of the cliffs, you can see the spectacular California coastline along the ocean. One of the trails also leads directly down to the beach. From the reserve, you can also see the Torrey Pines Golf Course. It was the course for the 2008 US Open. It was the last golf major championship Tiger Woods won.
The cost of parking is $15. If you park at the bottom, you can walk up the road to add to your hike. You can also drive up the road closer to the actual trails.
There are great beaches along the entire California coast. Below are the beaches in the San Diego area that I visited.
Torrey Pines State Beach
This is a thin beach between the Torrey Pines State Park cliffs and the Pacific Ocean. While the north beach looks like a conventional beach, most of the beach is very unique as it is right next to large cliffs. Consequently, I thought it was a beautiful sight I have never seen before except in movies. There is no separate admission for this beach as parking is for the park and the beach.
La Jolla Coves
La Jolla is an affluent neighborhood 10 minutes above the city. On its coast, it has gorgeous coves. It is very popular to rent kayaks and paddle in the cove. There are also small beaches within the coves and a beautiful walkway on top of the coves. It is also a great location to see sea lions as you will see people swim only feet away from them.
This was the most conventional of the three beaches I visited. There are many vacation home rentals along this beach. It is also a great place to go for a run. I enjoyed running on a path along the beach with a beautiful view of the ocean the whole way. The surrounding neighborhood is filled with many young professionals. As a result, it is known for being a party spot at night.
If you love Mexican food, there is a plethora of options in San Diego. Below are a couple of the restaurants I tried during my vacation.
Fred’s Mexican Café (1165 Garnet Ave, San Diego, CA 92109)
Fred’s is a small chain with multiple locations in San Diego. I ate at the one in Pacific Beach. It has excellent tacos. On Taco Tuesdays, it has $2 tacos. While the pork tacos I tried were average, the fish and chicken tacos are great. The crispy chicken taco is my favorite dish at this restaurant. They also have a complimentary and unlimited chip bar with excellent salsa.
Café Coyote (2461 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110)
I was underwhelmed by this restaurant. The tortilla soup is excellent. However, the carne asada plate I ordered was disappointing. The steak itself did not have much flavor. It tasted good after I added the avocado. However, it is a testament to the taste of avocado as opposed to being well cooked meat. However, it is in the historic location of Old Town. It is the site of the original San Diego. It is a very lovely location with many other restaurants. While my order at the café was subpar, I recommend Old Town.
Crest Café (425 Robinson Ave, San Diego, CA 92103)
It was recently featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” on the Food Network. The crème brulee French toast and the butter burger were featured on the show. I tried the French toast during my visit and it was excellent. The best French toast I have ever had is at Blue Moon Café in Baltimore. The second best is at Blu Jam Café in Hollywood. While those two are in a league of their own, Crest Café’s crème brulee French Toast is amazing in its own right. The home fries are also great.
The Broken Yolk (1851 Garnet Ave. Pacific Beach, CA. 92109)
It is a chain with multiple locations throughout San Diego. I tried the one in Pacific Beach. I took the opportunity to try the nutella strawberry crepe. It is very good and the home fries are great. The Broken Yolk is not a must try. However, it is a quality breakfast spot.
Bali Hai (2230 Shelter Island Dr, San Diego, CA 92106)
It is a very good Polynesian restaurant that is known for its seafood. The fried calamari appetizer is amazing. I ordered the wok fried bass as my entree. While it was very good, it was not overwhelming. The best aspect of the restaurant is that it offers a beautiful, panoramic view of the city of San Diego. The view is stunning at night.
This area is San Diego’s most famous bar scene. The most well known nightclub is The Shout House (655 4th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101) which is a piano bar. Make sure to tip the piano player if you want your song request played. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to visit it. Nevertheless, it was highly recommended by a couple of my friends who have been to it.
I was also in San Diego for the first football Sunday. Gaslamp Tavern (868 5th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101) is an excellent place to watch games. It is clean and comfortable. While it is full, it is not overcrowded. I like that it is open on two sides so you have the feeling of being in open air. It also has a very good breakfast burrito which includes home fries inside.
San Diego has my two favorite fast food restaurants, In N Out and Chick Fil A. In N Out is the best fast food burger I have ever tried. It has a very simple menu: burgers, French fries, and milk shakes. The burgers are great. The fries are made fresh by cutting potatoes after you place your order. The milk shakes are also phenomenal as they are made with great ice cream. In addition, you can look up In N Out’s secret menu online. For example, if you order fries “Animal Style”, you will get cheese, onions, and spread put on top of them. Chick Fil A is a southern fast food chain that only serves chicken. For breakfast, it has an amazing chicken and biscuits dish. The tater tots are also very good. At lunch, they have chicken sandwiches. I love their spicy chicken sandwich. Moreover, I love their Polynesian sauce and put it on all my sandwiches. It has a sweet and sour taste. Chick Fil A also has great milkshakes. While I love the cookies and cream milkshake at Chick Fil A, I give the vanilla milkshake at In N Out a slight edge.
Yogurtland (855 Garnet Ave, San Diego, CA )
It is a self serve yogurt chain where you pull levers for the flavors you want then go to a toppings bar to put on any additional items you want. There are many locations in California. Again, I went to the one in Pacific Beach. In my first trip to California in 2009, I had my first experience with self serve frozen yogurt in a Yogurtland in Anaheim. I loved the experience and have been trying to try as many different yogurt places in different locations (New York City, Washington D.C., etc.). While I have found some great places (e.g. 16 Handles in New York), Yogurtland is still the best I have tried so far. I thought I found an equal in 16 Handles. However, I realized that Yogurtland still has an edge. All of their flavors are fantastic. My favorite flavor at Yogurtland is pistachio. Similar to 16 Handles, I am convinced that Yogurtland actually uses ice cream as it is too good to be frozen yogurt.
The Baked Bear (4516 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109 in Pacific Beach)
It has a unique and brilliant idea: custom ice cream sandwiches. You pick two cookies from a selection of freshly baked cookies and a flavor of ice cream. Next, they will build your ice cream sandwich for you with the ingredients you selected. I recommend two funfetti cookies with cookie dough ice cream.
For my East coast brethren, be careful. Things are slightly different in California. Instead of putting up signs that prohibit parking in some areas, they paint the curb blue and red. The blue means that the area is for handicapped. Red means that you are not allowed to park there. As the East Coast puts up signs in front of those designated areas instead, it is a difference that people in the East Coast often fall victim to in California.