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Help a Picky Traveler Plan a San Diego Trip
December 13, 2013 2:26 PM   Subscribe

I'm planning a trip to San Diego in early February. Not sightseeing, just being somewhere else and getting out of the Michigan cold for a while.

What I want to do is:
  • Wander around the interesting areas, at least the Gaslamp Quarter, Embarcadero, Hillcrest, and Balboa Park, including the Zoo. Maybe Seaport Village, Mission Bay and/or Old Town, though not if they're just tourist traps.
  • Go to some of the bigger farmers' and street markets (maybe Hillcrest, Little Italy, La Jolla, Old Town, Public Market).
  • Spend some time on a beach (probably Pacific and/or Mission). I do realize that it may not be good weather for sitting on a beach, but hope I can at least walk along a beach and a boardwalk.
If I can, I'd like to do is stay somewhere that would let me do all that without renting a car. I'm fine taking taxis and buses when I need to, but not if it means I'm spending my whole trip waiting for a bus or looking for a cab. I'm also fine staying in the central area for a while and then moving to a beach hotel.

So my questions for people familiar with San Diego are:
  • Is it reasonable to skip the car rental, or should I just bite the bullet and drive?
  • How many days would you suggest for the seeing a decent amount of Gaslamp/Embarcadero/Hillcrest/Balboa Park? I've been to the Zoo before, I'm thinking I'd spend half a day there, but don't know about the rest. And do you recommend Seaport Village, Mission Bay and/or Old Town, and how much time for them, if so?
  • Any good suggestions about places to stay - either areas or specific hotels? I like interesting hotels, but will be on my own, and feeling safe (including being within walking distance to restaurants) is a high priority.
Thanks.
posted by still_wears_a_hat to Travel & Transportation around San Diego, CA (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you stay in/near downtown, then you are a reasonable walking distance from Gaslamp, Embarcadero, and Balboa Park, including the zoo (I live in the Cortez Hill area, which is the north side of downtown). From downtown, there are easy buses to Hillcrest and Old Town, and you won't need to wait more than 15 minutes for those. La Jolla is a bit further, and while you can get there via regular buses, I'm not sure how frequent those are. Same goes for the beaches.

If I were you, I'd stay downtown and plan on renting a car or taking a cab if I wanted to get to La Jolla or the beach.
posted by hootenatty at 2:50 PM on December 13, 2013


I was in San Diego a couple years ago and want to warn you that Old Town and the Seaport Village are both tourist traps. Old Town, as I recall, was all reproduction buildings erected in the 70s and selling expensive, Mexican-inspired arts and crafts. The Seaport Village was not dissimilar, though the products being sold were more gimmicky things and educational toys and such. It was right on the water and a decent place to hang out and relax, but it's not what I think of when I think 'great travel.'
posted by charlemangy at 4:43 PM on December 13, 2013


Yeah, skip Old Town. The only upside is if is an easy trolley rider to get there. I find it super touristy and there are at least one million better places in town to get Mexican food.

Seaport village is also uber touristy. But if you're downtown and walking along the embarcadero you can walk through and see it for yourself. There is a bookstore in seaport village that is nice but I'm blanking on the name.

You can go to Coronado Beach from downtown by taking the ferry from the broadway pier to ferry landing. I prefer it to pacific beach and mission beach. I like the beaches up the coast even more.

Having a car is best especially going to la Jolla. There are buses but getting there and back will take a while. Unfortunately the trolley doesn't go near the beaches, Hilcrest , the zoo, etc. You can take the Coaster from downtown up to north county beaches.
posted by birdherder at 5:39 PM on December 13, 2013


San Diego is so wonderful. I visited a few years ago with my sister and had an amazing time. Here is my question which got some really good suggestions - San Diego recommendations.

We rented a car because we wanted to drive up to La Jolla for kayaking and also hit up the zoo and the wild animal preserve . We stayed 5 days which I thought was a good amount of time to sample a bunch of different activities and museums and still have some time to relax and just bumble around.

Oh my god, we stayed at the best hotel ever. The Pearl. Reasonably priced, well located, chill staff, nice little restaurant/bar, and all these quirky little details like a fishbowl in every bedroom, a little board game center where you can lie on the fluffy rug and play games, and a little pool oasis where they play movies on a big screen outside every night. Such a great place. Also, there are several decent restaurants in walking distance.
posted by silverstatue at 7:58 PM on December 13, 2013


Wander around the interesting areas, at least the Gaslamp Quarter, Embarcadero, Hillcrest, and Balboa Park, including the Zoo. Maybe Seaport Village, Mission Bay and/or Old Town, though not if they're just tourist traps.

To a certain degree, every place you've listed here is a tourist trap, with the possible exception of Hillcrest. Sometimes, tourist traps are worth it, especially in the case of Balboa Park and the Zoo (which is actually in Balboa Park). Mission Bay isn't really much other than a water recreation area, so it's nice to walk around but it's more someplace people go for recreation (sailing, jet-skiing, water-skiing, kayaking, swimming, running, volleyball, company picnics, etc.) than sightseeing. Old Town has its historic elements that are preserved in the state park, but pretty much every historic building contains some kind of tacky shop. If you're interested in San Diego history from that period without the touristy elements, it might be better to go to the Mission or Presidio Park. Presidio Park is right next to Old Town, so it doesn't really matter.

Go to some of the bigger farmers' and street markets (maybe Hillcrest, Little Italy, La Jolla, Old Town, Public Market).

Hillcrest is pretty good (Sunday mornings) as is Ocean Beach (Wednesday afternoon); I think they're both better than most others as far as actually getting produce and not just people selling trinkets.

Is it reasonable to skip the car rental, or should I just bite the bullet and drive?

I think you could reasonably do everything you want without renting a car. To get to La Jolla, just hop on the 30 bus - no transfers required. Most buses in San Diego go downtown at some point; the 30 is no exception. As a bonus, if you want to walk by a beach with a boardwalk, the best place to do that is probably Pacific/Mission beaches, where there's a sidewalk at the back of the beach with occasional commercial spots, and it's easily accessed from the 30 bus route at the west end of Grand. Hillcrest can be reached from downtown via the 3 or the 120 (120 is an express). Old Town can be reached by trolley, as can Mission Valley and the actual Mission if you want to see that. You'd only really need to rent a car if you wanted to go to the mountains, the Safari Park in Escondido, or some other places.

How many days would you suggest for the seeing a decent amount of Gaslamp/Embarcadero/Hillcrest/Balboa Park? I've been to the Zoo before, I'm thinking I'd spend half a day there, but don't know about the rest.

I guess it depends on what you want to do, but I'd say 1. The Gaslamp is a relatively small section of downtown with a bunch of bars and restaurants, so it's mostly a nightlife kind of place. Unless you're really into shopping, you can walk around it in a couple hours. Hillcrest is more of a neighborhood, and the commercial district is really just a few square blocks between 1st and 5th, Washington and Robinson. It's mostly shopping and restaurants, plus some gay nightlife spots. The part of Balboa park that you'd actually want to see is fairly close to the zoo and is mostly between Park Blvd and the 163 freeway - depending on how many museums you want to see, that could easily take less than a day (it's kind of an odd suggestion, but my favorite museum is the model railroad museum, where they've recreated historic train lines from the region). There's not much to the Embarcadero - there's hotels, the convention center, Seaport Village, the Midway aircraft carrier museum, and the maritime museum.

And do you recommend Seaport Village, Mission Bay and/or Old Town, and how much time for them, if so?

Eh. If you stay downtown, they'll all be pretty easy to get to. Sometimes its fun to be cheesy, and some of the Mexican places in Old Town have pluses that others don't - the Old Town Mexican Cafe has handmade tortillas.

Any good suggestions about places to stay - either areas or specific hotels? I like interesting hotels, but will be on my own, and feeling safe (including being within walking distance to restaurants) is a high priority.

You'll be fine staying just about anywhere downtown, and that would give you easy access to everything you want to do. I can't recommend specific places, but the area west of say, 9th street is pretty safe. Little Italy would be another contender - lots of restaurants, not quite as fancy as downtown, and right on a trolley line so you don't really lose any of the accessibility.
posted by LionIndex at 2:51 PM on December 14, 2013


An additional thought: if you want to try out the current San Diego hipster scene, you'll want to head to North Park, around the intersection of 30th and University. Lots of hip restaurants around there, along with a heavy representation of the local beer culture. Generally the restaurants are more "gastropub" type rather than fancy restaurant. I've been to Tiger Tiger! and URBN a couple times.
posted by LionIndex at 3:24 PM on December 14, 2013


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