What To See, Where to Eat and Where to Stay in Beautiful San Diego
If you’re going to take a vacation in San Diego, first off, I should tell you Congratulations! It’s not called “America’s Finest City” by accident. Well, it’s probably mostly called that because their marketing team gave it that name, but it still rings true. 😉
Are you familiar with the communities of San Diego? From the equestrian estates of Rancho Santa Fe, to the retro surfing hippie vibes of Ocean Beach, to the quintessential Cali style of Pacific Beach, it’s all San Diego. I prefer hanging out in the coastal communities and if you’re here for a week, you should too. If you’re taking the whole family, make sure to hit up Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo and Legoland in addition to the beach.
If you’re taking a beach vacation in San Diego for the first time, I’ve got some suggestions for you.
1. Stay somewhere along the coast as close to the beach as you can get.
We chose to stay in the community of Pacific Beach at the gorgeously designed Tower23 Hotel on the corner of Ocean Boulevard and Felspar. It’s sophisticated, modern and sleek and San Diego’s only beach-side lifestyle luxury hotel.
Tower23 Hotel – 723 Felspar Street, Pacific Beach, San Diego, CA 92109
The hotel signage is clever and flirty. The notecard survey next to the bed, “hey good-looking, and was it good for you?” My answer to that is, “Oh yes Tower23, it was.”
The hotel features mid century modern architecture plus modern with tones of sand and aquamarine. The landscaping incorporates water wise gorgeous plants of succulents and native flowers. All the staff from the front desk to the staff cleaning the floors in the morning all smiled and nodded and greeted me warmly and genuinely.
2. Get Outside
If you’re in San Diego, you’re here for the weather and the water, so get outside as often as you can. If you’re staying at Tower23, they have beach cruiser bikes (as well as an entire closet of skateboards, beach towels, boogie boards and other beach gear) to use totally complimentary. If you’re staying somewhere else in the neighborhood, grab a bike to rent and take it for a spin. There are plenty of places to rent bikes, surf boards and boogie boards. You can also arrange for morning surf lessons. (Most morning surfers wear wetsuits, but you can probably get away without one for a little while.)
Beach tip: wear a big floppy hat (or at least a baseball cap), lather on the sunscreen and drink plenty of water.
We rode our beach cruisers north along the boardwalk from Pacific Beach up toward La Jolla and then turned around and rode down to the end at Mission Beach Cove where we nestled down on the beach to watch the sunset. I think we passed through every slice of Southern California demographics along that path. Beaches are for everyone.
Along the crowded path filled with both locals and tourists, you’ll pass dilapidated original beach homes that have been turned into family vacation rentals through VRBO and AirBnB. You’ll pass multimillion dollar luxury private homes and their beach shack neighbors. The restaurants are packed, the bars are frequent and the taco stands serve kick ass Mexican food. It’s all California.
The Beach Communities
- Solana Beach
- Del Mar – Del Mar, an upscale community, is known for the Del Mar Fair.
- La Jolla – La Jolla, a swanky community with upscale shopping, is known for its Seal Cove. Once upon a time, the locals created a small Seal Rock to provide a marine sanctuary. The seals were like, “La Jolla is now ours. Bow down before your new pinniped overlords.” It’s filled with seals and sea lions and the whole thing is controversial. Want to visit? Read La Jolla Mom’s article on how to see the seals.
- Pacific Beach – PB has all the California casual, grunge, and surf vibes wrapped up in a beach party atmosphere.
- Mission Beach – Mission Beach is where you’ll find Belmont Park, a lot of commercial beach restaurants and a bustling, young atmosphere.
- Ocean Beach and Point Loma – OB is casual, a bit retro and a bit gritty and my second home. Point Loma is a residential area known for the Cabrillo Monument and Sunset Cliffs Nature Preserve. Sunset Cliffs is simply gorgeous and worth a walk down with your camera in hand.
One of the cool things about San Diego (and the Southern California coastal life in general) is the varied food options. If I was so inclined, I could enjoy a sushi buffet, followed by a vegan raw green smoothie, followed by a serve yourself frozen yogurt sundae. Practically all at the same restaurant.
Holy deliciousness, Batman!
When in coastal California, we eat fish. A lot. So instead of asking, “What do you want to do for dinner?” our question is more along the lines of “Do you want fish tacos, sushi or poke?”
When looking for a place to eat, I go by two criteria: personal recommendations and Yelp.com. Sushi Kushi fit the bill, so to speak. Just two blocks from the water, when you walk through the front door at Sushi Kushi, every employee in the restaurant hollers you a welcome greeting. Gotta love that! It has a casual vibe with a vibrant green interior and a geisha lips theme. We sat down and immediately noticed the signs on the wall for $.99 sake bombs and 50% off sushi. Hmmm…is the sushi ALWAYS on sale? Ah well, whatever gets people in the door, I guess.
Sushi Kushi – 4475 Mission Blvd. Ste. C, San Diego, CA 92109
We also got swanky for dinner and cocktails at the JRDN at the Tower23 Hotel. I can only assume that it’s too chic for vowels in its name.
Surf. Sky. Spirit.
Surf, Sky, Spirit is JRDN’s slogan. And pretty much mine too.
There’s a private deck for guests upstairs that overlooks the boardwalk, the pier and the ocean. We stretched out on the cushioned loungers, enjoyed a delicious bottle of chilled Chardonnay and then helped ourselves to an appetizer of crispy brussels sprouts and a dish of steamed mussels.
If it’s cocktail hour, nothing beats sitting by the boardwalk (AKA Ocean Blvd) watching the skaters of all ages, the tattooed cyclists with pet parrots riding their shoulders and the bikini clad rollerbladers (yes, there are STILL rollerbladers out there) doing their Southern California thing. If there’s one thing that San Diego does perfectly, it’s that Southern California beach scene.
Click a photo below to enlarge. And why so many freakin’ photos on this post you may ask? Someone got a new Nikon D3400 for her birthday. (It was top rated as the entry level DSLR on Wirecutter and I’m kind of obsessed with it now.)
A few years ago, San Diego enacted an alcohol-free ordinance at the beach. While I’m all for a good party at the beach, this ordinance has drastically improved the beach experience, as well as public safety and litter from the beer cans and bottles that used to be strewn across the sand.
If you’re introverted like me, people watching is pretty much a sport.
I like to get up early (even on vacation) and spend the mornings by myself. I headed down to Krono’s Coffee and then walked along the beach, watching the surfers and snapping photos. People are out here either just sitting and enjoying the peace of the morning or they’re out here with their dogs romping in the surf.
There’s a mist in the air and an incredible green blue cast it to the water. A woman walked by with three pugs on leashes and one in a dog stroller. I don’t think anything of it because you know…it’s California. The joggers and doggers are still out in full force.
I love it. Every single sun soaked bit of it.
Have you stayed in the San Diego beach towns? Which one is your favorite?
Disclaimer: The Tower23 Hotel graciously hosted me but all opinions are my own and I am one opinionated lady. Because seriously…a chic and sophisticated boutique hotel on the water that’s affordable?! It’s true love.