Unofficially termed “America’s Finest City,” San Diego often receives praise for its seemingly perpetual warm weather and sunny skies. The coastal city in Southern California covered in palm trees presents the lure of city life in the downtown Gaslamp area combined with the attraction of the serene beach scene along the shoreline.
The Gaslamp District, which was once a mecca for gambling sailors in the late 19th century, is now an intriguing nightlife hot spot featuring top restaurants and nightclubs. Although the downtown area has made great strides since its early days, some of the downtown hotels in San Diego, California, still feature the originally prominent Victorian-style architecture.
Outside of the city landscape, some of the best hotels in San Diego lie along the coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean. From the San Diego hotels perched on top of the La Jolla bluffs to the beach resorts lined along the Mission Beach Boardwalk, guests are certain to find peace and relaxation at these seaside accommodations.
More inland, guests can book cheap hotel deals in San Diego in areas such as Hotel Circle, which is centrally located near the trolley station, Fashion Valley mall, Sea World, beaches, and other must-see attractions. And for those in search of hotels in San Diego tucked away in slightly more remote areas, consider a getaway in Temecula, San Diego’s whimsical wine country.
Travelers with San Diego on their minds book flights to San Diego through Expedia and land at the San Diego International Airport. This airport is conveniently located just minutes from downtown and only a short ride from the coast.
Visitors from further up the coast in Oceanside and Los Angeles often hop on the COASTER commuter train, which allows them to skip the traffic jams common along the coastal highways. Other guests looking to travel by train ride Amtrak to San Diego’s Santa Fe Depot station.
For those vacationers adding San Diego to their road trip itinerary, I-8, I-5, and I-15 are some of the common interstates to America’s Finest City.
Vacationers often vote driving as one of the best ways to explore San Diego. The city is sprawled out, so driving allows travelers the freedom of experiencing all the sites at their own pace. And because San Diego boasts comfortable weather and nearly perpetual sunshine, travelers most often choose to walk or ride bicycles once they arrive at their destination to further explore the area.
For San Diego visitors who didn’t reserve car rentals or bring along their own vehicles, The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System offers both trolley and bus service around the city. The light rail system services the downtown spots, such as the Gaslamp District and the Convention Center, along with southern areas near the US-Mexico border, and locations out east in El Cajon. As for the buses, they transport passengers to various must-see destinations, including Coronado, La Jolla, and Hillcrest among other hot spots. And for hassle-free transportation, passengers often purchase day passes, which provide them entry onto both the trolleys and buses at no additional cost.
Things to Do
Regarded as the world-famous zoological gardens, the San Diego Zoo is a must do on any vacation to America’s Finest City. As one of only a few zoos worldwide housing the giant panda, the San Diego Zoo is also home to more 3,700 animals and 650 species. The massive zoo is committed to animal conservation and preservation as it cares for a number of endangered species. On your visit, trek through the Tiger River and listen for the Malayan tiger’s growl, and stroll through the Polar Bear Plunge to see the white beasts frolic in the water.
San Diego vacationers looking to witness wildlife in its natural habitat may want to place a visit to La Jolla Cove at the top of their things to do in San Diego guide. This slice of paradise is a mecca for marine life, as sea lions and seals flock to the shores to bask in the sun. From the shore, the ocean floor spans out into the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park and then plunges into the deep La Jolla Canyon. Snorkelers, scuba divers, and kayakers congregate at these prestigious areas, which attract migrating whales along with curious dolphins, harmless leopard sharks, and countless fish. While visitors are welcome to marvel at these species, remember to respect the marine life and refrain from touching or getting too close to it.
San Diego vacationers with some extra time on their hands may venture to the Gaslamp District to experience more of a concrete jungle than a wildlife preserve. The Gaslamp Quarter provides a sense of slick city life in the midst of the mellow coastal city. This hotspot, packed with downtown hotels, concert venues, comedy clubs, and eclectic restaurants, comes alive after the sun sets. However, there is still plenty to excite travelers during the daytime. Join a walking tour and stop by the William Heath Davis Historic House Museum to see the oldest structure in the Gaslamp Quarter or dare to enter the Horton Grand Hotel, which is said to be a haunted hotel with ghostly visitors.
For some additional historic exploration, drive across the massive Coronado Bridge and arrive at the famous Hotel Del Coronado. Built in 1888, the Victorian luxury hotel was the largest resort in the world at the time. It soon became the stomping grounds for famous faces, including Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, John F. Kennedy, and more recently Barack Obama, Madonna, and Oprah Winfrey. From presidents and royalty to Hollywood favorites, Hotel Del has remained a celebrity playground for years. Reserve a night at the prominent San Diego resort, tour the property, or dine at one of the hotel’s various restaurants.
Arts & Entertainment
Balboa Park is the nerve center for much of San Diego’s eye popping art and culture, as it features popular exhibits including the San Diego Museum of Art, Mingei International Museum, and the Museum of Photographic Arts, among others. The Museum of Art displays a collection of artwork with a special emphasis on Spanish art, while the Mingei International gallery focuses heavily on folk art from around the world. For film, photography, and video exhibits, spend some time exploring the Museum of Photographic Arts.
Theater arts also play a major role in San Diego. Shakespeare fanatics may want to reserve tickets to a show at The Old Globe Theatre, which is a replica of the Globe Theatre in London, where Shakespeare debuted many of his plays during his lifetime. And for those staying in downtown hotels, another nearby stage is the Spreckels Theatre, which when it opened in 1912 was the only playhouse west of the Mississippi. This historic theatre now welcomes nearly every form of cultural entertainment from opera and dance to concerts and Broadways shows.
The Kumeyaay Native people lived in San Diego for thousands of years before the Portuguese explorer, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, discovered the area in 1542. However, it wasn’t until 1774 when the first colonists officially began to arrive after the explorer Gaspar de Portola founded the region’s first mission and the establishment of the city’s first town: Old Town. This integration of these colonists disrupted the natives’ culture, causing a turbulent period of war and the conversion of “Mission Indians.” A series of monumental events, including the Mexican War for Independence, the addition of California into the United States’ Union, and the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad helped pave the way for San Diego’s future success.
By the late 1800s, San Diego was acknowledged as a prime spot for naval affairs, and it soon became a marine, air, and naval hub. However, this military presence also helped to fuel the seedy downtown area called Stingaree, which lured in sailors with its saloons, gambling halls, and brothels. Despite the scandalous setting of downtown, the coastal city flourished with its new military involvement, greatly contributing to both World Wars and attracting military personnel and families. Nowadays San Diego’s birthplace, Old Town, is popularly known for its Old Town hotels and prominent Mexican culture, fish tacos, and margaritas.
Although San Diego may not have a shelf of trophies for its sports team, the Southern California city definitely has team spirit. Root on the Charges at Qualcomm Stadium near Hotel Circle, but don’t forget your powder blue and gold face paint. The Chargers, San Diego’s NFL team, will no doubt have the whole stadium singing “San Diego Super Chargers,” in unison after every touchdown and victory. Though the team lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the 1994 Super Bowl Championship, the Chargers still have a spirited following of locals and tourists alike.
For a unique bird’s eye view of America’s favorite game, book a boutique hotel Downtown with balcony views of the city’s baseball stadium, Petco Park, where the Padres take to the field. While some of the baseball team’s only notable records may not be the ones fans like to brag about, such as they are the only MBL team to pitch a no-hitter, the Padres win in other ways. As a matter of fact, the Padres were the first MBL team to initiate an annual military appreciation event, in which the baseball players don camouflage uniforms to honor the men and women who serve in the military. The team now honors the military every Sunday home game, as well as certain holidays, such as Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Independence Day.
When it comes to nightlife, San Diego offers various after-hour scenes to suit any night owl’s preferences. For visitors in search of entertainment evocative of the hottest strips in Manhattan or Brooklyn, the Gaslamp Quarter may fit the bill. Meanwhile, the smaller San Diego coastal towns offer a slightly more laid back vibe for visitors looking to kick it in the evenings.
The Gaslamp Quarter in downtown features upscale bars, dance clubs, and comedy venues, which exude a sense of New York City sass. For night crawlers looking for a young party scene near the ocean, Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach is the place where college students and those wishing to relieve their wild college days flock for music and nightlife. This seaside strip features various hotels on the beach within walking distance of these watering holes. And for those who just want to unwind and watch the sunset, Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach features a handful of mellow bars with easygoing vibes within walking distance of the shore.
Because San Diego nearly borders Mexico, the Southern California city is well renowned for its authentic Mexican grub. The best San Diego guides herald Taco Tuesdays, which are more or less a weekly celebration in this coastal city. Tuesdays are the best day of the week for scoring the tastiest (and cheapest!) fish tacos on this side of the Mexican border. Other scrumptious Mexican-inspired dishes with a San Diego twist include breakfast burritos and carne asada fries. For vacationers well versed in gastronomy looking for more culinary deliciousness, the Gaslamp District and Hill Crest neighborhoods offer a variety gourmet options and eclectic cuisines.
San Diego is one of the most welcoming cities for furry four-legged, so much in fact, dogs are not only invited to dine along with their companions at countless restaurant locations, but some dining establishments even whip up a special menu specifically for canines. And better yet, some pet friendly San Diego hotels even host “yappy hours,” where vacationers can sip on cocktails with Fido at their feet.
San Diego vacationers may flock to this Southern California coastal destination for the sun, sand, and fish tacos, but they will certainly want to add shopping to that list as well. In San Diego, thanks to the year-round favorable weather, the city is all about the outdoor shopping experiences. Vacationers shop till they drop here as they peruse the name brand stores in the outdoor shopping malls and bargain hunt at the swap meets near all the best hotels in San Diego.
Downtown is home to various boutiques, but San Diego also presents several outdoor shopping malls where vacationers find all their name-brand favorites. Fashion Valley Mall, Westfield Mission Valley, and Westfield UTC are just a few of the shopping destinations where retail lovers can shop under the California sun in the open air. And for some one-of-kind finds, vacationers won’t want to miss Kobey’s Swap Meet, a flea market with Mexican crafts, antiques, and vintage gems. This outdoor market is the ideal shopping spot to find extraordinary trinkets and treasures for the unconventional shopper.
Some visitors may be surprised at some of the beach laws in San Diego, which are slightly more relaxed than their East Coast counterparts. For example, several of the beaches in San Diego, such as Ocean Beach, Coronado, and Mission, offer fire pits where beachgoers can gather round and roast marshmellows during the day and evenings. Vacationers will also find beaches where they can bring theirs pups or grill up lunch. And the city even has its own nudist beach, Black’s Beach, which is the largest one in the United States. Though San Diego beaches are lenient with some of their regulations, do realize consuming alcohol and sleeping on the beach at night are prohibited.
Another aspect of the beach San Diego visitors should understand is the ocean tends to be unpredictable with strong riptides and currents. Before venturing into the chilly waters, especially with children, it’s always a good idea to make a detour to the lifeguard tower to find out about any potential risks, as the water’s behavior can change drastically. Double check you and your swimming partners know how to escape a rip current before diving into the ocean, and always head the lifeguards warnings. Because of the danger associated with the water, only swim in areas where and when a lifeguard is on duty.
Personalities & Culture
San Diego exerts a laidback beach vibe, where the dress code usually consists of flip flops and beachwear all year round. It’s not uncommon to see a flock of surfers heading to the ocean zipped up in their wet suits in the dead of winter. Though these surfers, along with hippies, skaters, and musicians make up much of this coastal city’s scene, San Diego attracts all different walks of life. Due to the alluring climate and strong military association, America’s Finest City, draws a vast population of out-of-towners who not only stay at San Diego hotels, but also relocate here long term. Commonly referred to as transplants, these non-natives greatly contribute to the diversity in this Southern California spot.
Also, as San Diego is just minutes from the Mexican order, there is obviously a huge Mexican influence in this city. Fish tacos, margaritas, and Mexican delicacies aside, the cultural influence is evident, with aspects such as the Mexican architecture, which prevails in San Diego, especially in areas such as Balboa Park. Meanwhile vacationers are just as likely to hear the Spanish language spoken as they are to hear English. Another major perk of the city’s near vicinity is visitors can easily book San Diego cruises to intriguing Mexican hotspots and resorts along the coast.
Weather & Climate
While San Diego has a reputation for always boasting sunshine and temperature around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, this of course, isn’t always the case. The city’s semi-arid climate sees temperatures drop slightly between December and March, with much cooler temperatures in the evenings. However, the rest of the year, temperatures do tend to range from low to high 70F, while the height of the summer can see temperatures rise as high as 90F on some days. Although San Diego features comfortable day-time weather practically all year round, bring a sweater regardless of when you’ve booked your San Diego hotels, as the evenings cool down during every season.
Locals often refer to the months of May and June as, “May gray and June gloom,” due to the thick marine layer, which clouds up the shoreline. The fog frequently rolls in, especially around the coastal spots, blocking out the sunshine during these months. Although the shore may be foggy during this time, generally the sky clears up when you drive inland, providing those bright sunny skies San Diego is known for.
Though San Diego can’t possibly live up to the perpetual sunshine and 70F rumors every single day of the year, its sweeping coastlines, nightlife entertainment, and kid-friendly attractions certainly make up for the occasional gray day in this year-round vacation destination.
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