One woman, ~48 Hours, San Diego - what to do?
July 1, 2014 11:07 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to have a weekend or more to burn in San Diego in mid-September. I've visited several times before & done most of the obvious tourist things (list behind the jump). Complications: I can't drive so public transport/on foot options only; vegetarian; I'm active enough to walk/hike distances but not interested in sports activities; I'm comfortable doing most things by myself, but bars are always a challenge unless you know it's a zero-harassment place; I'll be based in Old Town.

Things I've already done:
All the museums & the zoo at Balboa Park
Walked the waterfront & seen the maritime museum
Visited the Boardwalk & walked the beaches there
Spent lots of time in Old Town
Walked a lot of La Jolla and visited the art gallery there (I can't remember its name!)
Walked most of the UCSD campus at La Jolla
Taken the train to & from LA

nb: the fact that I'm a vegetarian doesn't mean I'm only interested in veggie restaurants, just that I don't need recommendations of, for e.g., meat-only BBQ restaurants where the servers wear t-shirts that say 'Vegetarian means village idiot har har har'.

The last time I was there was probably 4 or 5 years ago.
posted by AFII to Travel & Transportation around San Diego, CA (19 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
My friends went to Catalina Island and thought the ferry trip was great. They liked the island too but both are kind of maniacs. Mario and Kitty. I've only been to San Diego once but I was amazed at the hangliders suspended above the bluffs.

Were I brave I might try a tandem hang glide. Not those paragliders though, no freaking way.
posted by vapidave at 2:02 AM on July 2, 2014

Best answer: Take the trolley to Little Italy neighborhood and look at shops on the main drag.

Go see a show at the Globe Theater, La Jolla Playhouse or Starlight Bowl outdoor theater.

Take the Coaster train from Old Town to downtown Encinitas, Carlsbad Village, or Solana Beach. The first two are close to impressive beaches more beautiful than those south, eg Pacific Beach, La Jolla. The Oceanside stop is near a surfing museum but that closes in the evening; one of the curators started Ki's, a natural food restaurant in Encinitas you'd probably really like. A fun shop, Ducky Waddles, is on the 101 in Encinitas and reachable by foot or bus; nearby La Especial Norte is famous for its northern Mexican soups.

Did you know about the small aquarium at UCSD?

Have you taken the bus to the Cabrillo monument?

Have you been to the Mission de Alcala? There is a small museum. That is close to a trolley stop (5 minute walk) but be careful of traffic as you cross over.

You can reach the Hillcrest neighborhood (gay, trendy shops) or Kensington (quaint architecture) by bus as well.

You could always shop or catch a movie at the Fashion Valley mall or Mission Valley Center, both on the trolley line.
posted by mitschlag at 3:53 AM on July 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: thank you mitschlag, that's a great list. I haven't been to the beaches further north & wasn't sure there was much there to do other than, uh, beach stuff (as a non-active fish-belly pale person, I'm not much into that!), but a museum & food place is enough to keep me happy. And somehow I completely missed the Scripps aquarium, so that's on the list now too.
posted by AFII at 6:16 AM on July 2, 2014

Best answer: Mitschlag has some great suggestions.

Downtown Encinitas is lovely but you can cover it in an hour, a 5 minute walk will take you to Swamis, a cool clifftop overlooking a very popular surf break. There are also botanical gardens up there that are way cool, but tough to get to without a car.

Del Mar downtown is a little more tony, just shopping and food really, great to drive through but hard to spend a day there.

Have you thought about Ocean Beach? Just a 10 minute bus ride from Old Town. Total throwback to the 60s, hippies, head shops, beach bums, but quaint. Veggie places galore. You can walk the main drag (Newport Ave) looking at funky antique shops, grab a "Baja" fish taco at South Beach Bar (consistently rated one of the best fish tacos in the world). The bar overlooks the pier, which is the longest wooden pier on the west coast, you can walk out to the end and have a view of the coast. In big swells they close the pier, but September it usually doesn't get above 5 feet.

From OB you can take the bus to the top of Sunset Cliffs (or a 15 minute walk) and gawk at the houses, surfers and (surprise!) phenomenal sunsets. You'll likely see some dolphins in the water, but you are a couple months shy of the whale migration.

from OB you can also take a bus to NTC/Liberty Station in Pt Loma. They filmed top gun there but the navy left decades ago and they converted it to art galleries, ballet studios, pottery studios, caf├ęs, restaurants and a lovely park. It's a pretty neat place, and walking distance to the harbor. There is an Italian restaurant called Solare that makes wonderful food, and you can sit outside and watch planes take off.

Old town, OB and liberty station form a little triangle on the peninsula, getting back to old town from liberty station is a simple 10 minute bus ride down Rosecranz Street.
posted by BlerpityBloop at 6:37 AM on July 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you haven't already, the Getty museum in LA was life-changingly beautiful for me. Just the building and location it was built on struck me as the best art there.

Make sure you go on a nice day.
posted by bbqturtle at 6:38 AM on July 2, 2014

The ferry ride to Coronado (from downtown) is pretty neat, but Coronado is snoozeville, unless you wander down to the massively old but renovated Hotel Del, which is absolutely brilliant.

If you do go to Little Italy (and you really should) the bar El Camino Down the end has a back open air patio that is directly under the landing flight path for the airport. Have a margarita and good veggie quesadilla and watch the underbelly of planes zip past you within spitting distance. It's really quite spectacular.

the Casbah is right next door to El Camino, one of the best live music venues I've ever been to. A bit early for the September schedule, but I've seen everyone from Brendan Benson to the Black Keys there.
posted by BlerpityBloop at 6:50 AM on July 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

One last thing! If you do go to the aquarium, it's the Birch Aquarium, while up there, get a tour of the Salk Instutute grounds. They are neighbors.
posted by BlerpityBloop at 6:56 AM on July 2, 2014

2nding OB and Sunset Cliffs. Also for the more northerly beaches, Torrey Pines state beach is incredible. You can walk along the beach under the cliffs all the way back to La Jolla Cove at low tide, or just as far as you want otherwise. Be aware the Black's Beach, which is clothing optional, starts at some point on the trip south, so beware if you have trouble looking at leathery naked old mens' dongs.

Going to Torrey Pines with a picnic lunch is my favorite thing to do back in SD when I visit.
posted by Aizkolari at 6:58 AM on July 2, 2014

I had an amazingly delicious breakfast at Cafe 222 when I was there a few months ago.
posted by melissasaurus at 7:10 AM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can't believe I forgot to mention this. In NTC/liberty station they have the Frida Exhibit, every single one of Frida Kahlo's paintings on display, which not coincidentally I made a MeFi FPP about.
posted by BlerpityBloop at 7:36 AM on July 2, 2014

the Birch Aquarium, while up there, get a tour of the Salk Instutute grounds. They are neighbors.

Eh, not quite. They're relatively close to each other, but 2 miles apart. Maybe you're thinking of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography?

the Frida Exhibit, every single one of Frida Kahlo's paintings on display

Is this the one that's not the actual paintings?
posted by LionIndex at 8:22 AM on July 2, 2014

the Birch Aquarium, while up there, get a tour of the Salk Instutute grounds. They are neighbors.

Eh, not quite. They're relatively close to each other, but 2 miles apart. Maybe you're thinking of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography?

There is a campus shuttle that hits SIO, Birch and campus (cutting off the steep portion of the walk between Birch and Salk). I think it's meant for staff and students, but I've never seen them check an ID.

The Salk is beautiful, and next door to it is the glider port someone mentioned above and a good place for lunch, Bella Vista.

Also there is a new addition to the UCSD Stewart Collection since you've been to SD last which is pretty cool. It's called Fallen Star and is a house perched, Wizard of Oz like, on the edge of one of the big engineering buildings. If you're already in the neighborhood and feel like the walk.
posted by pennypiper at 10:45 AM on July 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you go to Little Italy and don't mind doing some walking, there are a couple of cool bridges and historical houses tucked away in our 'hood. Off of State/Laurel you can walk down Maple til you hit Maple up Maple Canyon and you'll come upon the First Avenue Bridge (Completed in 1931, the First Avenue Bridge over Maple Canyon is among the most visible and significant manifestations of early 20th century civil engineering projects in San Diego. The historic steel arch bridge is the only metal truss bridge in the City, and one of a handful truss bridges located within the State... to the end of the canyon and you hit the Fourth Avenue footbridge (formally called the Quince Street bridge the footpath to the top of the canyon and take a right on Redwood, a left on First, and a left on Spruce...walk down one block and you're at the Spruce Street suspension bridge, ("This Bankers Hill treasure, located just west of First Avenue, is an inconspicuous, but truly special footbridge, the only of its type in the county. It crosses 70 feet above Kate Sessions Canyon, which honors the famous horticulturist responsible for many of the plantings found throughout the city. The unique walkway floats among treetops, stretching gracefully for 375 feet by steel suspension cables anchored to massive concrete piers hidden beneath the soil at both ends. The lightness of the bridge allows it to sway and dance in response to wind and walkers. Initially to some it may be a little scary, but well worth the experience. From center span the downtown skyline can be seen")...after crossing the bridge on your left you'll see the Richard Requa/Frank Mead designed historic Mission Hills home that Requa built for himself. There are several other historic landmark homes in a few block radius of this area. Head down Curlew until it meets Palm...on Palm there is a long staircase cut into the side of the hill that crosses Dove street and continues in another winding staircase until you end up on Reynard. Take Reynard south until it turns into State, and you are back where you started. The entire walk takes an hour, and I'm walking slowly with 2 dogs. Bring water and a camera. Hope you enjoy your visit!
posted by Z if for Zillah at 11:17 AM on July 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

San Elijo lagoon and ecological reserve has trails and the like. I didn't do that part. I just wanted to see the amazing Leeds Platinum building on the site (/urban planning nerd).

Have you been to Horton Plaza in downtown San Diego? It is a five level open air mall that looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.

Actually, speaking of Dr. Seuss, if you have not seen The Geisel Library on the UCSD campus, you should. It is architecturally distinct and has a statue of the man on site (along with a statue of the cat in the hat). He lived in La Jolla and, having seen some of the flora and architecture of the area, his books now strike me as less fantastical and more "normal" fictional exaggeration of real things.

I have not been, but LEGOLAND is in Carlsbad. You can take the Coaster to one of the two stops in Carlsbad (I think you would need to get off at Poinsettia Station) and you should be able to arrange bus transit from there. SDMTS has great online tools for trip planning.

If you have not been here in a while, public transit has converted to using a plastic card in preference to the tickets they used to sell. You can still pay cash and I think you can still buy a paper ticket day pass but they add a $2 fee to it. If you are going to buy passes 2 days in a row, it makes more sense to buy the $2 card. You can go to any Albertson's or some of the train stations and buy a Compass card for $2 and then put a day pass on it to go pretty much anywhere in the county for one fairly low fee. It covers busses, Coaster, trolleys, etc. A good deal for you might be a regional 4 day pass for (currently) $15 (plus the $2 for the card itself). You can also get a 2 or 3 day pass but I am not seeing prices online listed specifically for that.
posted by Michele in California at 12:25 PM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I took a similar solo trip to San Diego last summer. I'm nthing suggestions of wandering around Ocean Beach. More specifically, I really enjoyed a quiet dinner at Peace Pies, a tiny raw vegan place.

Have you tried surfing before? Surf Diva's overly pink color scheme irks me, but I had fun doing some intro surfing lessons with them. (IIRC, I did the "party wave" small group lessons.)

have a good trip!
posted by brackish.line at 7:53 PM on July 2, 2014

New York Times has a "36 Hours in _____" series. Here is the article for San Diego:
posted by nathanm at 6:03 AM on July 3, 2014

Re Pennypiper's comment on the shuttle - unless things have changed drastically, they shouldn't check for your ID on any of the UCSD shuttles. The SD Transit, or the North County Transit buses will ask for cash, but the shuttles won't.

good point Michele on the Geisel - the double helix is pretty cool.
posted by mitschlag at 6:56 PM on July 3, 2014

Oh, and if you're visiting Birch, you can cross the bridge and then walk down to Scripps Beach, very easily. Sometimes SIO features events that allow you to learn more about their research.
posted by mitschlag at 6:57 PM on July 3, 2014

Response by poster: Brilliant, thank you all, especially for the public transport trips - they definitely had paper weekly tickets last time I was there so it was good to get updated.

(As it happens, the Geisel library is the reason I go - I work with materials there & the Seuss archive and material culture is amazing.)
posted by AFII at 12:43 AM on July 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

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