Should I vacation in San Diego?
April 23, 2006 3:42 PM   Subscribe

How is San Diego as a summer vacation spot? The target date is mid-late August.

I'm trying to decide where to spend a week-long vacation this summer, and thought of San Diego. A few things I'm concerned with are:

How are the beaches?
Can I find reasonably priced beachfront accomodations?
What else can I do besides relax in the sun?

The San Diego Zoo, Sea World and Balboa Park all sound like good tourist spots, and that's about the extent of my research so far. Should I spend my vacation in San Diego? If so, where should I go, what should I do and where should I stay?

Also I you've got a better destination in mind, please feel free to offer up your suggestion.
posted by tomorama to Travel & Transportation around San Diego, CA (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The beaches to the South of downtown SD on Coronado Island are the best. Heading North of SD you have decent beaches in Pacific Beach an La Jolla. Each city offers a unique taste of Southern CA. La Jolla is upscale; Pacific Beach is a laid back beach town with a decent nightlife; Coronado Island is clean and quiet. Each city offers a downtown area to explore. Downtown SD has the Gaslamp district which can be fun depending on your tastes. The Wild Animal park is also something to be seen.
posted by Sagres at 4:48 PM on April 23, 2006

Indeed, the San Diego Wild Animal Park is far superior to the Zoo. It's 30-40 minutes from downtown and you can schedule a tour that gets you amazingly close to the free roaming animal residents.

The Birch Aquarium in La Jolla is also a great spot to spend a few hours.

Also in La Jolla, breakfast at Brockton Villa is not to be missed. Sit outside and look out over the exquisite La Jolla cove.

The Hotel Del Coronado is a spectacular and historic beachfront spot on the aforementioned Coronado Island that has hosted guests from the Prince of Wales to Babe Ruth.
posted by dickyvibe at 4:57 PM on April 23, 2006

SD is something of a tourist mecca in the summer months. The beaches are nice, but crowded, because everyone else really does have the same idea as you. I especially like Torrey Pines, which has a park up on top of the bluffs and some nice paths that take you through the park and down to the beach. I have no idea about the affordability of beachfront accomodations-- the housing-for-purchase market is crazy but I don't know about the rental market or the hotel pricing situation. The public transportation is awful so be prepared to have a car.

As for other things to see, I'd also advise checking out the Wild Animal Park, which is a little more out of the way, but equally as good as (if not better than) the Zoo, and a very different experience. (They're also part of the same organization, so you can get one pass to both.)

San Diego Harbor is nice-- if you're into boats, it's a great place for a sail. There are also sightseeing boats which zip around and... well, I have no idea what they see or do, but they're there and it's a nice area. (If you do go sailing or boating by yourself, local note: stay the hell away from the sightseeing boats, their skippers feel that the right-of-way rules apply only to other people.) I've seen kayaks out on the harbor but I don't know that I'd recommend it. Some of the hotels offer one-day windsurfing courses. San Diego is a really great place for watersports in general.

If you have a fair amount of time and you get really bored, there is Julian, which is an old mining town with mine tours, kitschy shops, etc. And really good bakeries. It's a fair ways out of San Diego, though. (Still, if you like pie, check out the local grocery stores-- they will often have Julian pies for sale.)

The Comic-Con is in late July this year, that is always a trip and a half. You don't even really have to be interested in comics, although an interest in science-fiction is useful.
posted by posadnitsa at 5:03 PM on April 23, 2006

San Diego would probably be a nice destination if all you're concerned about is sunning and seeing a few touristy sites. The Wild Animal Park is also fun, but it's more of a trek than the zoo.

The beaches are quite good, and you have a few to choose from. My personal favorite is Ocean Beach. Ocean Beach is a "funky" little beach community, with some beautiful cliffs and a small tidepool area. There are some cheap Mexican food places (Nico's on Newport Avenue if you eat meat, Rancho's on Sunset Cliffs Blvd if you don't), and the excellent OB People's Food Co-op.

If you like cycling, there are several nice routes. I would personally reccommend going north from Torrey Pines or Del Mar. You'll have to ride with traffic quite a bit, but there are excellent views.

For entertainment, if you like DIY/punk things, you could check out what's on at the Che Cafe. If you're more into normal rock stylings, then The Casbah might do you well. Or you could see what's on at Symphony Hall. San Diego's Street Scene is also scheduled for early August, if your dates are flexible.

San Diego also has quite an active theatre scene. Check out The Old Globe, The San Diego Rep, The Broadway theatre, and The La Jolla Playhouse.

Keep in mind that you'll need a car to get around in any reasonable amount of time. San Diego has shitty public transportation, and is very spread out.
posted by beerbajay at 5:08 PM on April 23, 2006

Some good ideas in this previous thread.

The Cabrillo National Monument is spectacular.
posted by Wet Spot at 8:39 PM on April 23, 2006

Second that, Wet Spot. And the views from Point Loma on the way to the monument are amazing. Ocean on one side, bay and huge, extremely active military base on the other.

If you want to get out of the city, consider heading 25 or 30 miles north to Encinitas and Carlsbad, both of which have miles of great beaches. FWIW, there's even a dog beach in Encinitas, a funky-surfer-dude kind of place. Carlsbad is more upscale and thus not quite as fun, but the whole coast of northern San Diego County is gorgeous.

Or you could head the other direction to Tijuana, which is covered nicely in the thread Wet Spot points to. If you go, I'd recommend spending as little time as possible on the main, deafening tourist row of Avenida de la Revolucion (although, of course, you should give it a few minutes). I love the Mercado Hildago (scroll down). It's essentially a big open-air grocery store with hardly a souvenir in sight or a word of English spoken, unless you ask for directions to los baños.
posted by diddlegnome at 9:47 PM on April 23, 2006

I was there in the spring a couple of years ago. We rented a car and took a couple days to see the high desert at Joshua Tree and came back through Ansa Borego. There's great hiking at both where you can see ancient glyphs. The desert's cool if you haven't been to one before and are into different flora and fauna.

We also took a day and drove to Tijuana. We parked on the US side and walked in, did some shopping, had a great meal and walked back out. I was with a friend who knows something about the city. It was a good day.
posted by wsg at 10:09 PM on April 23, 2006

Also, tide-pooling during low tide at Sunset Cliffs Park was fun and something I'd always wanted to do.
posted by wsg at 10:12 PM on April 23, 2006

Sorry. This is the correct Sunset Cliffs Park link - - not the one above.
posted by wsg at 10:14 PM on April 23, 2006

Black's Beach, at Torrey Pines, is amongst the most beautiful places in the world. It is also nude and (at least used to be) frequented by gay folks.

I was fortunate to have caught sunset one evening, at La Jolla. What made it special was the dolphins who happened by. They played in the waves. The sun shown through the waves, revealing the dolphins under water. How sad I had no camera at the time.
posted by Goofyy at 1:16 AM on April 24, 2006

My favorite thing to do when I lived in San Diego was drive inland past Julian to Anza Borrego. It's the only place I've ever been where you can drive for an hour and the temperature changes 60°F.

Ride a mountain bike all the way down Tecalote Canyon.


Check out the view from Mt. Soledad.

And you CAN get good food in San Diego. Just stick with the fish tacos, or go to Convoy Street for dumplings.

Drink the tequila and eat the mole at El Agave.

Get your sparkly sparx game on at Onyx Club in the Gaslamp District. "Dress to impress, no denim!"

I also recommend the Wild Animal Park, hiking in Torrey Pines, brunch at Brockton Villa, ice cream in Ocean Beach, a tour of the Mission San Diego, outdoor dinner with margaritas in Old Town, Marxist punk shows at Che's Cafe, pho at Saigon on El Cajon which used to be a car dealership I think, a game at PetCo Park, an unforgettable dining experience at Jyoti-Bihanga, spying on the navy at Cabrillo Point, and as many meals as you can get at Rancho's.
posted by billtron at 7:31 AM on April 24, 2006

A few things others haven't mentioned already -

- Balboa Park is worth exploring. If you like museums at all you can easily spend a couple days just checking out those. But don't miss the Spanish art village and the organ concert as well. Get to Balboa Park early if you don't want a parking nightmare. Also, the park is wonderful to wander around in after dark.

- Summer in San Diego is full of festivals and special events. Be sure to check the Internet before you arrive so you'll know about any cool events.

- While not a food mecca, San Diego certainly has some truly great food. Phil's BBQ, Kono's Cafe, Point Loma Seafoods, The Prado, El Agave, Old Town Cafe, Emerald Seafood (for lunch/dim sum), are all very good local places. Nothing fancy on that list, just good casual food. Also get a fish taco somewhere if you haven't had one of thos
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:49 AM on April 24, 2006

The ferry that goes between Coronado and downtown is very pretty, if you don’t feel like driving to Coronado, is a nice way to see some of it on foot. (And the ferry landing is only about a 5-minute walk from the Hotel Del Coronado.)

Also, not quite a time-consuming event, but it’s wonderful to go to the Torrey Pines Glider Port at sunset. It sits on the cliffs over Blacks and Torrey Pines beaches, which is beautiful in and of itself. But it’s also spectacular to watch the gliders take off and land. (And if you’re adventurous, you could try it yourself.)

While you might not want shell out the money to stay there, the Torrey Pines Lodge is amazingly beautiful and has a great restaurant with patio seating (where, in the afternoon, you can order from the bar menu if you’re on a tight budget). And they have the PGA golf course there, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Sunny Jim Cave (more info at veeeeery bottom of page) is fun and interesting. And it’s right at the La Jolla Cove. Great to do after lunch at the aforementioned Brocton Villa as the entrance is right across the street.

Eat fish tacos. Go to Santanas. Get a burrito with potatoes in it. Walk through Balboa Park and Mission Hills. Go kayaking. It’s a fun place to be.
posted by samsarah at 1:43 PM on April 24, 2006

The beaches are okay, but not great. In August, they'll be very, very crowded.

You're from New York, not Bumfuck, Iowa, so you can find "reasonably" priced accomodations. Not cheap, but reasonable.

I live in San Diego, love it, and spend almost no time relaxing in the sun. There is a lot more to the city than just beaches (as others have pointed out). There's great food, shopping, lots of quirky neighborhoods, great music/theater/etc (but you can get that in NY), and Balboa Park is wonderful. I work there, and even though I'm there every day there's still tons I've yet to see. You can easily occupy yourself for a week, and the weather is beautiful in August. Feel free to email me if you want more interest-specific recommendations.
posted by booknerd at 4:44 PM on April 24, 2006

I second the Pacific Beach recommendation - a great way to start the day is to people-watch whicle having breakfast a Kono's on the beach. I also recommend browsing through mmm-yoso a teriffic San Diego food blog with reviews of lots of reasonably-priced, interesting restaurants, from tacos to hot pot. We also really liked the Scripps Aquarium - nothing like watching them feed the fish from *inside* the huge tank.
posted by deliriouscool at 12:45 PM on May 4, 2006

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