Distances are not walkable in most cases, but nothing in this city is farther away than 30 minutes by car.
Worthy attractions: Cabrillo National Monument; SeaWorld; Coronado Beach; Old Town San Diego; Torrey Pines State Preserve.
Left for another visit: Balboa Park with a number of museums.
Last visit: September 2021.
Two multi-day visits to the San Diego area separated by over 20 years hardly make me an expert on the city. On both occasions, I stayed with friends in La Jolla, so I technically spent more time there than in San Diego proper. Nonetheless, in a city not significantly known for must-see cultural attractions, I acquired a reasonable feel for what a visitor may do here.
Things to See and Do
Cabrillo National Monument ♥♥ offers amazing views, walking paths, just the right amount of historical and local context, interesting room displays in the lighthouse, and a couple of other small expositions. There is also a most agreeable coastal path. Well worth half of the day for a visit.
Coronado Beach ♥ is another popular location to go to. The north side, centered around the ferry, has a great promenade facing downtown San Diego (as well as a pleasant seaside strip mall). You can rent bikes or family surreys for a leisurely ride along the promenade. On the south side, the famous Hotel del Coronado anchors the area full of eye-catching houses. (Note: parking is usually easy by the ferry but can be very challenging by the hotel).
Downtown San Diego itself is not thought of as a destination by the locals, although Gaslamp Historic District may be charming enough.
Old Town San Diego is a nice attraction – with the added bonus of being free – but only one of its dozen small museum exhibits was open on the day of our visit. There are plenty of attractive artisanal shops and occasional entertainment to compensate for that. Also, a weekend street market closes a couple of streets nearby (not too big or fancy).
At the northern edge of San Diego boundaries, Torrey Pines State Preserve ♥♥ is a fantastic nature area, with great views, nice hikes, very pleasant overall. Miles of beaches lie below – many with little amenities beyond designated parking.
On the campus of US San Diego, Birch Aquarium is a popular attraction. If you have local friends who can guide you, just off the aquarium parking lot, an obscure path leads to a small clearing called Hidden Swings ♥, with a great view over La Jolla coastline.
West Coast is obviously more about catching sunsets, with many popular points, such as Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier in La Jolla. But early risers can also catch amazing sunrises: drive up to Mount Soledad ♥ to the Veterans Memorial at its highest point for a great view of the rising sun.
Driving through and strolling about coastal towns of Del Mar and Solana Beach to the north of La Jolla can be a pleasant diversion. In the latter, Cedros Avenue Design Center is a collection of eclectic shops that are fun to peruse.
One of the key points of interest in the city, Balboa Park, which is home to several potentially interesting museums as well as the San Diego Zoo, did not feature on our itineraries in town, but would be on most others’. We did go to SeaWorld ♥, another renowned attraction, but it was too long ago to include any details here with any pretense of being contemporary.
Places to Eat
The collective wisdom of a critical mass of visitors at a site like TripAdvisor is a better starting point for researching restaurants than the opinions of a single family, but nonetheless here are brief notes on a few places that we ate at on our most recent visit to the San Diego area at the end of summer of 2021.
Din Tai Fung ♥♥ in La Jolla center is an excellent and popular dim sum place, with a great menu and efficient service. Everything we ordered was incredibly tasty. Damage: $240 for 6 people, with tips.
Lil’ Piggy’s Bar-B-Q ♥ at the Coronado Ferry Landing is a great choice for lunch. Generous-size sandwiches, hot dogs, many kids’ favorites. Damage: $55 for 2 adults and a child, with tips.
Madeleine ♥♥ in Solana Beach cannot be beaten for a French-cuisine brunch. Everything was tasty, a number of key staples present, pleasant proprietors, and a good vibe. Damage: $150 for 6 people, including tips.