San Diego is a golden-hued playground beckoning thrill-seekers, revelers, and soul searchers with its magnificent sunsets, sparkling waters, and promise of the good life. A typical weather forecast is 70°F and sunny, and pretty much everybody wears sunglasses all the time.
Balboa Park’s 1,200 acres are home to some of the city’s best museums and gardens, as well as the famous San Diego Zoo.On the beaches, locals sport board shorts, wetsuits, and bikinis, and the air carries the mingled scents of surf wax, suntan lotion, and salt water. On a clear day, sailboats traverse the bay, scuba divers explore underwater canyons, golfers tee up, and bicyclists cruise from beach to beach.
San Diego offers 80 miles of coastline, but with the resources of a major metropolitan city. For all its leisurely appearance, the city supports thriving industries—a vibrant performing arts scene, an emerging culinary identity, the finest craft brewing, and research institutions that attract some of the world’s brightest scientific minds.
With a southern border and a western edge, San Diego collects people from every direction. Some come for the sunshine and the beaches, then stay to form a community of friendly, optimistic, and relaxed individuals who love and appreciate the natural resources of “America’s Finest City.” To make the most of your time in San Diego, all you need is a laid-back approach and a gentle push in the right direction.
San Diego’s urban Downtown was built around its huge, naturally protected harbor. Mere blocks from the city’s skyscrapers are ships, bayside parks, and pleasant ocean breezes.
Within Downtown are pocket neighborhoods with their own appeal and personalities. The embarcadero is where the city meets the harbor; it’s home to the tall antique ships of the San Diego Maritime Museum, the USS Midway Museum, San Diego Convention Center, and plenty of visitor-friendly businesses. The Gaslamp is filled with bars and clubs that attract revelers to blow off steam. South of the Gaslamp, the East Village is a hip area home to Petco Park and the San Diego Public Library. On the northern border of Downtown is Little Italy. While traditional Italian restaurants still populate this ethnic quarter, lately the design-savvy neighborhood has become a top destination for California cuisine as well as craft beer, artisanal coffee, and urban wine.
Balboa Park’s 1,200 acres are home to some of the city’s best museums and gardens, as well as the famous San Diego Zoo. The heart of the park is El Prado, a Spanish colonial plaza that hosted an exposition celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal. The neighborhoods surrounding the park are among the oldest in the city, including upscale Banker’s Hill and the quiet enclave South Park on its eastern border.
Uptown actually comprises several neighborhoods, almost all of which abound with great food and craft beverages. Hillcrest has been an LGBT hub since the 1970s and stays lively with great bars and restaurants. In North Park, the city’s tastemakers and creatives find a community among the area’s century-old Craftsman homes.
Old Town and Mission Hills
Before Old Town was a town, it was a pueblo. The original Mexican village of San Diego has been faithfully restored within Old Town State Historic Park, preserving the city’s adobe origins with plenty of gift and souvenir shops. Among the historical museums, you’ll find homage to the city’s Mexican origins and influence.
Mission Bay and Beaches
The Mission Beach boardwalk’s rides and attractions make family forays an adventure. The beach can be fantastic, while adjacent Pacific Beach provides a raucous playground for young adults both day and night. The real action takes place in Mission Bay, which can put you on a fishing boat, Jet Skis, wakeboards, or other watercraft that don’t need a good swell to be a blast.
Ocean Beach and Point Loma
Ocean Beach (better known as OB) offers a wild blend of hippies, surfers, bikers, and sailors that must be experienced to be believed. The character of the community extends to a sometimes hilarious nightlife. Or enjoy a quiet evening at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park watching the sun dip into the ocean each night.
The Point Loma peninsula sits across the bay from Coronado. On the bay side of the peninsula, seafood lovers have access to the morning’s fresh catch at Shelter Island, home to many of the area’s yachts and fishing boats. At the tip of the peninsula, the Cabrillo National Monument commands the widest panoramic view of all of San Diego.
La Jolla is the city’s most upscale neighborhood, with fine dining, high-end shopping, and multimillion-dollar homes. The views are just as rich below the ocean surface in protected La Jolla Underwater Park. La Jolla Shores is one of the county’s best beaches for relaxing and splashing in the waves. Just to the north, the cliffs at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve offer scenic hiking opportunities and undeveloped beaches, as well as a famous golf course.
Just across the harbor from Downtown, Coronado actually connects to a long sliver of peninsula, but the sleepy upscale beach community feels like an island. Coronado’s claim to fame is the Hotel del Coronado, which made a starring appearance alongside Marilyn Monroe in the film Some Like It Hot.
Greater San Diego
Some sights are worth the drive, whether it be the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá in Mission Valley, beer-vana at Green Flash Brewing Company in Mira Mesa, or SeaWorld’s Aquatica San Diego in Chula Vista.
Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon San Diego.