To take in all the best of San Diego in five days, you’re going to be very, very busy. Fortunately, between your museum-hopping, boutique-browsing, and enjoying the sights, sun, and sand, you’ll have a chance to fuel up at over a dozen delicious cafes and eateries.

Day 1

  • Get an early start and head up to the San Diego Zoo, where the animals are always livelier in the morning. Watch the pandas cuddle and the polar bears swim, then go next door to Balboa Park for lunch at Panama 66, a sculpture garden-restaurant with hot sandwiches and a terrific tap list.
  • Your first stop for an afternoon of museum-hopping is to peruse the minor masterpieces at the San Diego Museum of Art. Study humankind at the San Diego Museum of Man, marvel at aeronautic engineering in the San Diego Air and Space Museum, then catch your breath in the Botanical Building.
  • Head up to North Park for happy hour at Polite Provisions; their beautiful cocktail lounge may hook you up with some small plates if you’re hungry. Save the appetite, though—North Park’s Restaurant Row is nearby.
  • Slurp ramen and savor yakitori at Underbelly gastropub, a great first stop for the local beer scene. The slick Modern Times tasting room is next door, or walk up the street to Coin-Op for vintage video games with your brews.
map of San Diego

San Diego

Day 2

View from the Coronado ferry landing across the water to the San Diego skyline.

View of San Diego from the Coronado ferry landing. Photo © Pam Burley/123rf.

Day 3

  • Start the day with doughnuts and coffee from The Donut Bar, which will fuel you without leaving you too full for a day of action.
  • Catch a morning surf lessons from Surfari at north Mission Beach, and enjoy some prime people-watching on the Pacific Beach Boardwalk while you catch your breath. You’ll have worked up quite an appetite, so sate it the way a local surfer would—with fish tacos from Oscars Mexican Seafood.
  • Next up is Mission Bay, where you choose your speed: kayak, Jet Ski, wakeboard, or sail. (Hint: there’s time to do two.) After playing all day, you’ll need serious nourishment.
  • Roll up to La Jolla for sustainable ingredients perfectly prepared at Whisknladle. If you still have energy, nourish your mind with a destined-for-Broadway show at La Jolla Playhouse.

Day 4

  • Spend a long morning in Old Town State Historic Park. exploring the adobe buildings and browsing the many gift shops. You’ll be tempted to sit down for a Mexican lunch at one of the tourist restaurants, but save your appetite for a more genuine experience at El Indio, just up the street in Mission Hills.
  • After lunch, ride over to Ocean Beach for a walk along the lengthy Ocean Beach Pier, a great vantage point for watching surfers. Grab your own spot of sand and enjoy the local color while you soak up some sun.
  • Hit happy hour at Wonderland Ocean Pub when you get thirsty, then sit at the window to wait for an incredible sunset. Or, make your way up to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park to stroll the cliffs and experience the panoramic pink, purple, and bright-orange majesty as the sun goes down.
  • Finish off the day over the hill at Stone World Bistro & Gardens Liberty Station. The local brewer celebrates beer from all over (as well as its own) and raises the gastropub bar with an excellent local, organic menu.

Day 5

  • Beat the crowds into La Jolla and grab a cup of local coffee at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters.
  • Take advantage of the calm morning conditions to snorkel or scuba off La Jolla Cove and experience the vibrant below-sea-level nature reserve of the La Jolla Underwater Park. This will prime your appetite for some of the city’s best Mexican food with a taco plate at Puesto, in the center of La Jolla Village.
  • Walk it off along the famous shoreline, then spend the afternoon exploring neighborhood shops and art collections, including the Madison Gallery and Museum of Contemporary Art.
  • Pick up a couple of sashimi plates at the excellent fresh seafood counter El Pescador Fish Market and take them with you up the hill to Kate O. Sessions Memorial Park. Snack while lounging on a grassy hillside with a wraparound view of the city’s bays, beaches, and skyline.
  • At night, celebrate the conclusion of a terrific trip. If a restaurant caught your eye but didn’t fit into your schedule, now’s the time to try it. Alternatively, treat yourself to a prime steak dinner at Cowboy Star in the East Village.
map of La Jolla

La Jolla

Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon San Diego.