How to vacation
August 20, 2018 9:43 AM   Subscribe

Mr. 77 and I are heading to San Diego this weekend for 4-5 days. We haven't vacationed much outside of visiting family, and I'd like your help with general advice as well as San Diego-centric advice.

I don't really know how to have a vacation where there aren't family obligations, and where we've never been to the place before. I've done a ton of research, but I'm still worried we'll end up sitting in the hotel.

Complication A is that I use a wheelchair, so long walks on the beach aren't quite our style. But I really like water, so I want to see the ocean. We're staying near the Gaslamp District, and there's a ton of public transit nearby. Where should we take a bus to, to see the ocean without much walking, and hopefully with flat (not hilly) walks? We can easily get to Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, or Coronado Beach (puppy dogs!). Which would you recommend for chill views, not a long schlep from the bus to a few restaurants or bars, and maybe a flat paved surface for a bit of meandering?

What else do people do on vacation? I feel like all we're going to do is eat, drink, and walk. Rinse and repeat. Throw in maybe a tour or two of the area. We'll go up to Balboa Park for a day. Is that set up for walking through, or is it better to drive in? (I want to see Museum of Man.)

It looks like the Gaslamp area has a lot of chain restaurants. Are there some other gems in there - restaurants, bars, coffeeshops, shops, etc.? Have you done a SO Diego tour? Would it be worth it?

I'd love to just find a coffeeshop where we can chill and play games for a few hours. Does that exist in the downtown area?

No car, so we're using public transit, and cabs/ubers as needed.

We'll probably get up to Little Italy or Old Town - would you recommend one over the other, especially in terms of compactness and flatness?

Any other don't miss things? We're always up for beer, tacos, good food, etc.

Thanks for keeping up through this sprawling ask! I appreciate any assistance you can offer.
posted by hydra77 to Travel & Transportation around San Diego, CA (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Re: beach view - I think your best option is the board walk between Mission Beach and Pacific Beach, completely paved and flat.
posted by icy_latte at 9:51 AM on August 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you have good access to transportation, one of the best ocean views I saw near San Diego was from the Birch Aquarium. We were well above the beach, but I didn't mind, because I could combine staring at the sun setting over the Pacific with watching all the fascinating creatures in the (artificial) Tidal pool exhibit.

(The aquarium is not in San Diego, but La Jolla, which is a significant drive away. There is public transit from San Diego downtown, but I don't know if there is accessible public transit. The aquarium itself is accessible).
posted by jb at 9:59 AM on August 20, 2018

I'm sorry - I just re-read your question and realized you do not have access to a car. I should have been more careful in my reading.
posted by jb at 10:00 AM on August 20, 2018

Best answer: Balboa Park! You can get tours. Its’s beautiful. It’s not just a park. Tons of museums, too. Really worth the trip.

San Diego is great. You’ve picked a good place, and you’re within easy access of lots of places. Yes to Gaslamp, Little Italy. Little Italy has a brand new piazza with a lovely view of the water. I do recall some of the streets nearby under construction, however, so some parts of little Italy might be difficult to navigate in a wheelchair right now. (I was there a month ago.)
posted by greermahoney at 10:04 AM on August 20, 2018

Best answer: For walking around, I'd probably recommend Mission Beach/Pacific Beach. I'm not sure how it works with the bus, but you can most likely get to within one sidewalked block of the actual beach, and in MB/PB the space between the first row of buildings and the actual beach is a flat wide paved sidewalk, so you can go along it as far as you want. The whole coastal strip and Mission Boulevard is full of places to eat and drink. OB is neat, but kind of oriented the other way - the main commercial strip runs perpendicular to the ocean instead of parallel, and the coastal walk is short before you get to the river on the north side or hills an cliffs on the south. Coronado is a neat town, but there's not much on the beach there besides the Hotel Del. There's a lively commercial district a bit inland.

Balboa Park is the gem of San Diego, and the main central portion with all the museums has sidewalks connecting everything. It's mostly flat in that area, but topography happens in most of the park. Most of the museums, including the Museum of Man, are located along the strip called El Prado, which also has theaters and a really nice restaurant. There's a few other things down President's Way to the south. The zoo is also in Balboa Park - the zoo is a lot of canyons and mesas, but they do have a bus tour and enough flat area near the entrance to make it worthwhile. To sum up, Balboa Park is not a "maybe" thing on your list.

Old Town is more compact than Little Italy, but they're really not comparable. Little Italy is mostly flat (some slope upwards toward the east, away from the bay), but is basically a commercial district with a lot of restaurants. Old Town is a commercial district with a lot of restaurants, but it incorporates a historic state park, and based on that, the restaurants are mostly Mexican. Little Italy is mostly more of a fine-dining/hipster thing; Old Town is more tourist-trappy.

Transit note: some newer trolley lines have cars that wheelchairs can roll right onto; I'm not sure if the ones going from Downtown north are there yet. Older cars are accessible, but with the lift gate thing. It's possible that they've retrofitted everything by now.
posted by LionIndex at 10:05 AM on August 20, 2018

Best answer: La Jolla (which is actually part of the city of San Diego) might be the most scenic beach in town, but there's all kinds of hills, and I think the bus doesn't get real close to the water in the village area.
posted by LionIndex at 10:07 AM on August 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Any other don't miss things? We're always up for beer, tacos, good food, etc.

I can give better recommendations for food than beaches in the downtown/Gastown area.

Hodad's: Downtown location - 10th Ave & Broadway (just outside Gastown) - amazing piled-high burgers

Inka's Bar & Grill - right in the middle of Gastown, delicious Peruvian food; the Pisco sours are delicious!

Valentine's Mexican Restaurant - there is (obviously) Mexican food all over San Diego, but this place was great food for not so much, and decidedly not a chain-restaurant.
posted by jb at 10:10 AM on August 20, 2018

What else do people do on vacation?
I tend to go to the zoo and at least one movie while I am in a city. Also, check the National Parks website for nearby locations because it includes more than just the huge parks, like a lot of historical sites. Most states will also have lists of things to do.

I would specifically recommend the San Diego Zoo and Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego. There is a bus that goes to Cabrillo, but it is going to end sometime this year. I think that is a place that is worth taking a taxi or rideshare service to see.
posted by soelo at 10:14 AM on August 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I don't normally recommend site-seeing bus tours, except in San Diego, where I've taken the Old Town Trolley tour twice.

Yes, it's a little bit hokey in terms of the patter, but it really gives you an opportunity to get out and see the entire city (and keeps you from being stuck in a hotel room). I actually recommend taking it early in your stay so you can familiarize yourself with the area and make decisions about where you want to return and spend more time on your own.
posted by sardonyx at 10:16 AM on August 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The zoo is really phenomenal and they have a bus that can take you around the whole place on an extended tour. If you're up for something like dolphins, you could book a dolphin swimming tour at Sea World. We just got back from there and spent a morning at Coronado Beach, and there is a really long stretch of sand between the parking and the ocean. Perhaps there are different entry points that vary? But it wasn't very wheelchair accessible from my perspective. Balboa park is very hard to find parking in (maybe you'll have better luck with an accessible spot, though), so go early to get a prime spot.
posted by LKWorking at 10:43 AM on August 20, 2018

Best answer: Balboa Park is awesome for wandering around (lots of sidewalks and plazas) and the Zoo could keep you occupied for a day or more.

If you like dogs, I recommend hanging out in Balboa Park a bit in the evening. The Spreckels Organ Pavilion offers free concerts on Monday nights (7:30 I think). You can enjoy the music and the locals who walk their dogs in the park. Many people bring their pups to socialize on-leash.

I don't know if you're interested in beach wheelchairs and such, but San Diego has made an effort to make their beaches more accessible. If it's something you think you'd like to try, they have beach mats to facilitate wheelchairs on some beaches and beach chairs that can be borrowed. More info here.
posted by annaramma at 10:45 AM on August 20, 2018

Best answer: If you are in Little Italy i can wholly endorse eating at The Crack Shack for delicious fried chicken.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 10:48 AM on August 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm so, so partial to Coronado because I used to spend part of the summer there, with my grandparents. You could take the Old Town Trolley to the Hotel Del, where you could get a drink and see the ocean. There used to be a pretty good Mexican place right across the street.

And of course nthing Balboa Park in general and the zoo specifically. It is amazing.
posted by lyssabee at 10:48 AM on August 20, 2018

If you have passports, go to Tijuana for tacos! There's a trolley station at the south end of the Gaslamp district. Costs about $7 for a day pass; the trolley stops every 15 minutes, takes 30-40 minutes to the border. Cross the border and stroll into town.
posted by bricoleur at 11:05 AM on August 20, 2018

(That day pass is also good for the buses.)
posted by bricoleur at 11:07 AM on August 20, 2018

Best answer: On LI vs OT - there is more history in OT but the restaurants are much worse. There are a lot of great new eateries in LI and an added bonus of a flatter topography and better sidewalks.
posted by q*ben at 11:28 AM on August 20, 2018

Best answer: Coronado is nice and flat and has a good wide sidewalk all along the beach. The Hotel Del is definitely worth a visit and as mentioned above you can get a drink and enjoy the ocean views even if you aren't staying there.
I'm sorry I can't give you better info about mass transit but I imagine there's at least something that goes over there!
I know there's a ferry from the Embarcadero area (near downtown) that goes across to Coronado, but you end up at the other side of the island from the hotel. Still, it's a nice marina area!
Here's some info on Coronado without a car.

Also as mentioned above, the paved Mission Beach boardwalk is a great place for people watching and seeing the ocean.
I've never been on the Old Town trolley tour, but I just spent all of breakfast last week talking to a guy who is one of their guides and it sounds like a lot of fun! Oh, and it goes to Coronado as well! Another of the stops is Seaport Village, which is a cute shopping/restaurant area right by the water that's got lots of wide paved areas to get around on.
posted by exceptinsects at 11:43 AM on August 20, 2018

Best answer: Oh, and Little Italy is pretty flat in one direction but quite steep in the other, so if you want to go on more than one street it might be difficult. There's also not that much interesting besides restaurants there.
I would probably recommend Old Town--it's touristy but in an interesting way, and the main part is quite flat and easy to navigate.
posted by exceptinsects at 11:48 AM on August 20, 2018

Best answer: Sorry to keep posting!
I looked at the SO Diego tour website and the restaurants on there seem pretty underwhelming.
If you like beer, the North Park brewery tour would probably be fun, though!

Feel free to memail me if you have questions; I am a SD native.
posted by exceptinsects at 11:55 AM on August 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

Try to get to the Midway. They have 60% wheelchair accessibility.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 1:24 PM on August 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the information. You've given me hope that I'll enjoy the vacation and not over-stress about it. And I really want to go to Crack Shack now!
posted by hydra77 at 11:44 AM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

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