Coming in on the city countdown as lucky number seven, San Diego is known for its ideal weather, beautiful beaches, over 90 golf courses, fashionable boutiques, a world class zoo and theme parks. Consider visiting the Museum of Contemporary art, dining in Little Italy or the Gaslamp Quarter or have an “out of this world time” at the San Diego Air and Space Museum. Alright, enough with the corny jokes! But one of our all time favorite SoCal experiences is staying at, or at least visiting the legendary Hotel del Coronado, located in nearby Coronado, California. It’s been listed by USA Today as one of the “Top 10 Resorts in The World.” San Diego is located within a close proximity to the nearby city of LA, at just a 2 hour drive (120 miles) and it’s a 5 ½ hour drive from Las Vegas (330 miles).
Top 10 Attractions
1. The San Diego Zoo has a wold-wide reputation of excellence and many, including ourselves, would call it the best zoo in all of America. Sprawled across 107-acres, this zoo has been a hit among families since it opened in 1915. They have over 4,000 animals and 950 different species making them one of the best zoos in the world. Get a “bird’s-eye” view of the zoo by riding in the gondola lift called the Skyfari. The zoo is almost entirely outdoor unlike many other major zoos. Animals include African wild dog, anteater, polar bear, giant panda, cheetah, jaguar, lion, snow leopard, chimpanzee, dolphins, elephant, giraffe, gorilla, hippo, kangaro, koala, chimpanzee, sea lion, red panda, I could go on and on. In my interview with the author of “America’s Best Zoos,” I learned that they are also the only zoo in the USA with the tasmanian devil, which made me really wish I would have seen them back when I had visited (it really pays to be in the know before you go)! San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park is located just 32 miles south from the San Diego Zoo and both zoo’s are run by the Zoological Society of San Diego. It’s also home to the world’s largest veterinary hospital. While they often stay open to 8 PM, in the winter, it gets dark around 5 PM, and few lights are on the exhibits. Don’t expect to see much of anything after sunset. Admission is $44 for adults and $34 for children.
Besides the zoo, Balboa Park is also home to 15 museums, performing arts venues, gardens and more, making it the nation’s largest urban cultural park.
Fun Fact: It’s part of only four other zoos in North America to house the giant Panda, the Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico City (3 pandas), the US National Zoo in Washington (3 pandas), DC, Zoo Atlanta in Atlanta GA (4 pandas), and the Memphis Zoo in Memphis, TN (2 pandas). American Zoos typically have to pay $1 million a year in fees to China to lease the pandas!
2. Old Town San Diego is perhaps the best place to experience its roots with a little Mexican flavor. Taco Tuesdays are the best time to visit old town when the restaurants and bars celebrate the day with discounted Margaritas and delicious Tacos. This historic district also holds many old-time shops such as Hacienda de las Rosas Winery, Churchill Cigar Shop and Cousin’s Old Town Candy Shop. Take a look around in the early hours of the day before the shops close and enjoy dinner in the evening at restaurants like Cafe Coyote.
3. Coronado Island makes for the most spectacular day at the beach! This cozy town just across the San Diego Bay is a great place to walk around and enjoy the white sands and gorgeous Pacific coast. A day at the beach quickly becomes a scenic treasure with the grand sights of famous Hotel del Coronado and sunset in the distance—so be sure to bring a camera to capture the view. The beaches of Coronado Island are a great place to walk in the sand, take a swim or watch the dogs play at Coronado Dog Beach. Be sure to take a look around town and stop in for some sweet treats at places like Fuzziwig’s Candy Factory, Nado Gelato Cafe and Coronado Cupcakery.
4. Balboa Park is a gem located in the heart of San Diego. Explore the museums, gardens and fine restaurants of this expansive city park. Walk among the shaded archways and intricate architecture surrounded by fountains, lily ponds and colorful blooms. Within the many art museums, discover modern photography, sculptures from across the globe and paintings by famous names such as Rembrandt. Collections inside the Museum of Man and the Natural History Museum are some of the most unique additions to Balboa Park. Step among the bonzai trees in the Japanese Friendship Garden and take a look around the exotic plants found within the Botanic Gardens. For those who enjoy exhibits rich with scientific displays, head over to the Air & Space Museum or check out a grand IMAX screening within the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. Most museums close around 4:30 PM, so I highly encourage you to come earlier in the day.
5. SeaWorld San Diego remains one of the best theme parks in Southern California. Touch and feed dolphins, watch a polar bear, see a live action show, and get sick on one of the parks vicious roller coasters. Get out of the heat by visiting one of the indoor animal exhibits, going on a water ride or seeing a show. Get wet on the 8 story Journey To Atlantis ride or watch Shamu, the killer whale (orca),soak the crowd. (I hope reading the word “killer whale” didn’t remind you of the horrible death that happened to one of the trainers, notice that the trainers no longer swim with the animals). Admission is $84 for adults and $78 for children. Admission to their Aquatica water park is $46 for adults and $41 for children.
6. Collect sea shells, play in the sand, swim, surf, or catch up on your tan at one of the 30+ Beaches, all of which are free to the public. These beaches stretch along 70 miles of breathtaking coastline. From the bottom to the top, the beaches are named Imperial Beach, Silver Strand, Coronado Beach, Sunset Cliffs, Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, La Jolla Cove all the way up to Oceanside. Each beach holds a different culture and vibe, so there is always something new to discover with a day at the beach.
7. The Gaslamp Quarter in Downtown San Diego holds many of the best restaurants, bars and clubs of the city. This place is perfect for a night out on the town with shows in the theatres, live music and dancing or a quiet evening with family and friends inside one of the many unique restaurants on the block.
Sit back for a baseball game at Petco Park or check out Horton Plaza, an outdoor shopping mall complete with ice-skating rink in the winter months–but whatever you do, you have to get your picture taken in front of the iconic Gaslamp Quarter sign!
8. La Jolla Cove & Village just north of San Diego is a grand side-quest that you won’t want to miss. This beautiful cliff-side city drops down into the turquoise waters of the Pacific with grace. Walk the cove by taking advantage of the paved coastal trail and keep your eye open for many seals that like to lay about the rocks and tide pools. When you have taken in the scenes down at the beach, top off the day with a visit to La Jolla Village—one of the best places to shop for designer brands. With names like Armani, Lucky Brand and Banana Republic, you can’t go wrong.
9. Maritime Museum of San Diego is very unique. It’s renowned for its fine collection of historic ships, which includes the world famous Star of India (1863), the world’s oldest ship that still goes to sea. Allow 90 minutes to bard and tour each vessel. A great value, entertaining, and educational. Admission is $14 for adults and $8 for children.
10. LegoLand California – Inspired by the toy bricks, this theme park is obviously geared towards younger kids. Right outside of the park you will find the Sea Life Aquarium and Legoland is located north of San Diego in the city of Carlsbad. Admission is $85 for adults and $75 for children.
11. Haunted San Diego – A great way to step into San Diego’s past is a tour with Haunted San Diego. This two hour bus tour takes you to the paranormal sites of Old Town with tales of hauntings in the Gaslamp Quarter. Haunted San Diego is a fun, informative and entertaining experience with guides dressed in Victorian garb. You get to explore some of the best sites for ghosts such as Old Town’s El Campo Santo cemetery and enter three haunted locations to learn about who still haunts the place today. We feature it in our post on 13 Bone-Chilling Haunted Tours in the US. The tour can be found inside The Best Western Plus Hacienda Hotel at 4041 Harney Street. It runs at 7 pm Wednesday through Sunday and costs $35 per person.
Video: The Best Of San Diego
Addison – The signature, restaurant of The Grand Del Mar Resort offers contemporary French cuisine in an old-world ambiance, complete with a view of the golf course. They even have a wine room at was meant for a king. It’s Southern California’s only 5-star/ 5 diamond restaurant. A 4-course meal costs $98 per person and a 7-course meal costs $175 per person. Just knock a night off your vacation to be able to afford to eat here, it’ll be worth it!
Corvette Diner – Located in Liberty Station and named as one of the “world’s weirdest restaurants” by the Food Network, this 50’s diner keeps the good times alive and kicking and the servers singing and dancing their way through the day with their bouffant hair dos, poodle skirts and plenty of good natured sass. They often have a live DJ spinning upbeat tunes from back in the day. They have a huge arcade and each room is given a different theme. It received a 2013 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence and the “Tops for Fun Award from Gourmet Magazine and others have given it the title of “Best American Restaurant” and “Most Kid Friendly.” It’s also quite affordable with dishes like the $9.99 “Hogan’s Hero Hoagie” and the $10.50 “Four Tops Philly Cheez Steak.”
Opaque – Dine in complete darkness! Many of the servers are blind (well, even if they weren’t, it wouldn’t do them much good!). The experience is designed to allow you to ignore the atmosphere and solely take in the sounds, feelings, and of course the tastes. It is quite pricey, in fact a three-course meal can cost over $100. But where else can you get such an experience (turn the lights off at home and eat?!). They also have locations in LA, San Francisco, Dallas, and New York.
Lucha Libre Tacos – This isn’t just any old run of the mill corner taco stand. Nope, this place is a family owned and operated, wrestlers paradise, with delicious home-made salsas. Here is where you get to practically eat gourmet tacos in a Mexican wrestling rink, surrounded by a variety of paraphernalia and of course there’s always a classic wrestling film on the old school television. Don’t forget to come in wearing a Lucha mask to get a discount!
Hard Rock Cafe – Located in the historic Gaslamp Quarter, a renovated historic area packed with restaurants, clubs and other attractions, a western Bourbon St. without the Cajun accents. The Cafe’s cozy confines will wash all that local culture out of your head in no time, allowing you to fill it with important rock ‘n’ roll history and trivia.
The Cheesecake Factory – Since first opening in Beverly Hills in 1978, these restaurants have become well known for their fun atmosphere, huge portions and more than 200 menu selections to choose from. They offer 50 cheesecakes and specialty desserts, with some that are only offered seasonally. These include: Key lime cheesecake, Chocolate Chip Cookie – Dough cheesecake, pumpkin cheesecake (available from October – holidays), Pineapple Upside-Down Cheesecake, and after thanksgiving they even have a peppermint Bark Cheesecake! Located at the Fashion Valley Mall.
Those looking for affordable transportation, look no further. Mozio is an airport transportation search engine. If you have no idea how you are going to quickly and economically find your way to the airport, Mozio will show you all the shared-ride shuttles, airport service buses, limo and taxi services and even helicopters and fly planes to get you from A to B.
3 Star- The Pearl Hotel (Avg. price $89-$220) From the outside façade you may think you’ve pulled up at a Days Inn, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised once you see the interior décor. This vintage-contemporary vibe has that designer feel we love, that can’t be found in your typical hotel chain. Located 2 blocks from San Diego Bay and 15-minutes (driving distance) from the Gaslamp Quarter or SeaWorld. The poolside bar hosts a weekly Dive-In outdoor Theatre. Look around your hotel room (they only have 23) and you’ll notice live fish swimming around a wall mounted fish bowl!
4 Star- Hotel del Coronado (Avg. price $238-$602) Featured in the New York Times Bestseller 1000 Places To See Before You Die, this unique, luxury hotel has hosted 15 presidents and a number of celebrities since it first opened, as the largest hotel in the world, in 1888. (Located in nearby Coronado, CA)
Once the largest hotel in the world!
4 Star- Also located in Coronado, Loews Coronado Bay Resort (Avg. price $207-$364) can be found on a 15-acre peninsula 9 miles from downtown San Diego. Take it slow at the spa or go for a walk on the beach. My only complaint: self parking is $22 per night and valet is $28 per night!
4 Star- The Hard Rock Hotel (Lowest price $149) – Located in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, which is famous for its nightclubs and restaurants. The San Diego Convention Center and the Petco Park are only 1 block away. It has a health club, an outdoor pool, and sauna, and a full-service spa. Business amenities include a 24-hour business center, wireless Internet access, meeting rooms for small groups, and audio-visual equipment. Guest rooms include 42-inch plasma televisions with premium TV channels, pay movies, and minibars. Beds come with down comforters and cotton sheets.
5 star- The Grand Del Mar (Avg. price $420-$585) From the moment you pull up you’ll feel like you’ve arrived at Bill Gates mansion (not Warren Buffets!). Travel in high style at this luxury resort, which was recently rand by Travel and Leisure as the #1 resort in California.