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The best Hotels, Restaurants, Shopping, Art, Cultural Attractions, and just plain Fun Stuff to do and see in San Diego, California.
HOTELS: SAN DIEGO
Pacify your inner banker without sacrificing comfort at La Pensione Hotel, a Mediterranean-style 75-room inn in the city’s Little Italy neighborhood. Rooms from $80. 606 W. Date St.
The 1926 downtown Pickwick Hotel was recently given a $16 million update to emerge as the gracious Sofia Hotel. The handsome brick exterior was preserved, but inside is a 24-hour yoga studio, the latest in-room technology, and the just-opened American brasserie Currant. Rooms from $149. 150 W. Broadway
The Victorian-age charmer Hotel del Coronado has all the right vintage touches where you’d like them—cage elevator, lush courtyard, spacious terraces—but interiors are thankfully updated with cushy beds, WiFi, and flat-screen televisions.Rooms from $300
RESTAURANTS: SAN DIEGO
Prowl the newly trendy Gaslamp Quarter, the historic redlight district, after-hours. Dine on homemade foccacia, organic salads, and mini burgers at the retro-chic, three-story Stingaree. Then mosey one block over for a nightcap by one of the four rooftop firepits at the hip Hotel Solamar’s J6Bar.
Fuel up with a generous breakfast at the funky Café 222, the early-morning darling of the downtown district. While waiting for your pumpkin waffles or peanut-butter-and-banana-stuffed French toast, check out the inventive décor, including a Melmac cup and saucer chandelier (take one home for $295). 222 Island Ave.
Detour north to Fidel’s Little Mexico or Tony’s Jacal in Solana Beach. The neighboring family-run restaurants have been in business for more than a half-century. Choose the locale with the shorter wait. At Fidel’s, opt for the “Diablo” salsa and fish burritos; at Tony’s Jacal, the chile relleno. Try a margarita regardless.
Admire the conical crimson-roofed, wedding-cake-of-an-inn Hotel del Coronado, one of San Diego’s original tourist attractions. Enjoy dinner on the outdoor patio at the hotel’s Sheerwater restaurant. You’ll take in both the sunset over the sea and the magical setting of the Marilyn Monroe film Some Like It Hot. Rooms from $300. 1500 Orange Ave.
Motor north up the coast along a series of surface streets known by many names—including La Jolla Blvd. and Highway 101. Stop off at Nine-Ten restaurant for lunch in La Jolla on the main automotive—and social—drag. 910 Prospect St.
SHOPS: SAN DIEGO
Nose around the 50-plus California lifestyle specialty shops at the Disney-esque harborfront Seaport Village. Bring home souvenirs like surf wear (San Diego Surf Co.), dragon-shaped kites (Kite Flite), U.S. 101 highway signs (San Diego City Store), wind chimes (Windsong), and hammocks (Swings and Things) poolside. 849 West Harbor Dr.
Hop the San Diego Ferry from Broadway Pier bound for the Coronado peninsula. Once there, leave the souvenir-lined Ferry Landing Marketplace and rent wheels from Holland’s Bicycles to tour the bike-friendly burg with 15 miles of dedicated paths. Roll slowly down tony Orange Avenue to window shop along the way.
ART: SAN DIEGO
Explore the cultural heart of Balboa Park, home to 15 major museums and the Zoo. Start at El Prado, a promenade bordered by ornate Spanish Renaissance buildings. Switching cultures, lunch on soba noodle salad, curry rice salmon, and green dragon chai at the Japanese Friendship Garden while overlooking the koi ponds.
CULTURAL/HISTORIC: SAN DIEGO
Board Old Town Trolley’s first car of the day (9 a.m.) at Old Town Depot. The 32-mile loop hits all the major tourist attractions—including Balboa Park and the Gaslamp Quarter—with entertaining narration along the way. Make use of on/off privileges, eliminating navigation and parking frustrations.
Glimpse the past at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. Five original adobes, a blacksmith shop, stables, and schoolhouse arranged village-style show life in Mission San Diego in the 1800s. Pick up Mexican maracas at local shops and have a bebida from the hundreds of tequilas stocked at El Agave Tequileria. San Diego Ave. at Twiggs St.
Request permission to board the USS Midway. The longest serving aircraft carrier in U.S. naval history is now moored in San Diego Harbor. Twenty-five aircraft permanently rest on the 1,001-foot runway atop the ship. Attempt to pilot one in the virtual-reality flight simulators located below deck. 910 N. Harbor Dr.
Explore the shoreline at Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma. Between December and March, look beyond the bluff-top 1850s lighthouse toward the horizon to catch the migration of Pacific Gray Whales en route from Alaska. Before you leave, peek into the tide pools for a glimpse of colorful sea stars. 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr.
Walk the .7-mile Guy Fleming Trail at Torrey Pines State Reserve
FUN STUFF: SAN DIEGO
Go deep with marine life at SeaWorld San Diego. Spy the sharks circling, the rescued manatees playing, and the bat rays and moray eels feeding. Shamu, the acrobatic killer whale, is the marquee kahuna in the park, and well worth the inevitable wait to get a seat for his show, Believe. 500 Sea World Dr.
Immerse yourself in the wild kingdom at the 100-acre San Diego Zoo. Walk through the new Monkey Trails and Forest Tales, a multi-level tropical forest habitat. Then make a beeline for the giant pandas, the zoo’s bamboo-munching star attractions. An early arrival means fewer humans and more animal activity. 2920 Zoo Dr.
Stash your bike at the town’s main strand, Coronado Beach. Have a sit on the shore, a stroll along the surf in search of washed-up sand dollars, or a jog behind the Navy SEAL squads that pound the hard-packed shore. Regular wave action makes this a great spot to try body surfing or boogie boarding.
Scream through an old-fashioned thrill aboard the Giant Dipper. The rollicking wooden roller coaster has been plunging riders up and down at the waterfront Belmont Park since 1925. If you’ve still got the stomach for it, hit two classics: Bumper Cars and Tilt-a-Whirl. End the visit with a ride on the retro Liberty Carousel.3146 Mission Blvd.
Buzz the beaches of La Jolla on a fat-tire bike rented from San Diego Bike and Kayak Tours. Bring a camera to snap photos of the surfers at Windansea Beach’s breaks, the harbor seals and sea lions at the Children’s Pool, the sea caves on La Jolla’s sandstone bluffs, and the Pacific views from Coast Walk. 2222 Avenida de la Playa, La Jolla
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