Driving into San Diego is an awakening of sorts. The green trees are lush. The misty sea air makes you want to roll down your windows and breathe. The casual vibe of confidence and energy is everywhere. It's no surprise that this coastal metropolis is the 8th largest city in the U.S.
If you journey to SanD, don't miss a trip across the bridge to Coronado Island. You can drive right over in your car or take the ferry across ($4.25/person; children under 3 are free). My family vacationed on the beachy peninsula every summer of my childhood so it holds a special spot in my heart. I recommend the beaches of Coronado, the quaint Orange Avenue strip for shopping and dining, and summer concerts at Spreckels Park.
Balboa Park is another great place to spend a day. Enjoy plentiful playgrounds, museums, walking paths, gardens, plus a miniature train ($3 for ages 1-99) and carousel ($2.50/person). The park is also home to a puppet theater ($5/ticket), symphony, ballet, and a number of restaurants. You can even pack a picnic! San Diego Zoo is also right next door.
If all that playing makes you hungry, try STACKED at Fashion Valley Mall. It's an innovative new restaurant concept where you can customize burgers and salads to meet your particular taste buds. Ordering is done on an iPad and you can add/delete ingredients with a quick swipe of your finger. When your order is ready, just hit "send to kitchen." Voila! Your order will be out in no time. P.S. Try the milkshakes. They're served in fun cylinder glasses with whipped cream on top.
Tired at the end of a wonderful day at sea? Relax in a bayside bungalow at Paradise Point. Bungalows (approximately $400/night) are mini cottages that feature a kitchenette with refrigerator and sink, a separate living area, one bedroom, and a front porch leading right out to the water. Read a book on the beach, build sandcastles, or toast marshmallows at the bonfire just steps from your door. The 44-acre tropical property also features five swimming pools, a fitness center, and surrey rentals. Note that the resort is less than 3 miles from both Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe's so you can save on meal costs without hassle. We bought raspberries & zucchini bread and enjoyed a relaxing breakfast overlooking the ocean.
Another option is to drive 1.7 miles down the road to ACQUA Restaurant at San Diego Mission Bay Resort. We enjoyed dinner in the outdoor patio, overlooking the water as the sun set. Some places offer a vibrant view without quality food on the menu. ACQUA is not one of them. The 5 spiced-roasted butternut squash soup with lobster was pure genius, creamy and decadent. I also highly recommend the filet of north atlantic salmon; each bite was sublime. Our girls gobbled up the all-beef hot dog and fresh fruit. Compliments to the chef.
For extended stay travelers and/or families on a budget, the Homewood Suites by Hilton San Diego Del Mar is an excellent choice. The 1-bedroom suite was ideal for our family of five. Having a full kitchen (complete with dishes, pots & pans, an oven, and a dishwasher) is a great amenity. Also, the hotel offers a complimentary breakfast every morning with a changing menu and a complimentary light dinner on Mondays-Thursdays. It was clear that the hotel prided itself on stand-out customer service. Outstanding value for $169-$179/night.
Overall, San Diego is a fun and active city without the traffic woes of Los Angeles. It features lovely shores and wonderful weather year-round. Be sure to inquire about parking rates as you plan your trip - many hotels and restaurants will charge exorbitant fees for your little vehicle. ;)
Have you ever been to San Diego? What did you like/not like about it?
* Special thanks to STACKED, Paradise Point, Homewood Suites San Diego Del Mar, and ACQUA for providing complimentary accommodations and dining for review purposes.