Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo was on his boat, the San Salvador, for weeks before he saw it. Big hills dipping down onto a long flat beach that formed a crescent around an island not far from the coast. It had taken years of exploring to find it, but once Cabrillo spotted the bay, he immediately recognized that he had finally stumbled across what he was looking for.
Cabrillo claimed the San Diego Bay on that day in 1542 for Spain not because of what was there, but because what he thought it could be. Standing on the deck of his sun-soaked ship looking eastward, he imagined a lively, teeming city that would serve as both a cultural and economic capital. He was right.
San Diego is now the 2nd largest in California and the 8th largest in the country. More than just attracting beach-goers and weather weary Northeasterners with its agreeable average temperature, San Diego has fostered an incredibly creative community of restaurateurs, business owners, artists, and athletes.
Like most people do, we have a real love for our home city. We’re proud to call it our own and are even more excited to kick off our new travel series by highlighting some of the best that San Diego has to offer. From sushi to burgers, surfing to beer breweries – we’ve laid out our some of the must see spots if you were to find yourself with 48 hours to kill in San Diego.
Where To Stay
When it comes to oceanfront hotels, San Diego has a lot of options to choose from. Whether you are in the city for a big conference or are just looking to get some much needed R&R, one of the best picks is the Mariott Marquis. It boasts gorgeous views of the bay while still being close to the center of downtown. If being near all the rowdy energy of the Gaslamp isn’t quite your idea of fun, however, there is Hotel Del Coronado right across the bay. Known as a haunt for old Hollywood stars in the 1920s, the hotel has retained its original appeal of fantastic amenities paired with an uninterrupted view of the Pacific.
"It does not belie its reputation"
- Population: 1,394,928
- Average Annual Temperature: 63 degrees
- Annual Hours of Sunshine: 2,958
- Average Cocktail Price Downtown: $12
For those who aren’t quite as interested in what the downtown area has to offer, the Lodge at Torrey Pines offers up a more remote and wooded feel to it that has been recognized by Conde Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Award and been given a Five Diamond Award. If the beaches or downtown aren’t quite where you want to stay either – we would recommend getting an Airbnb in one of the neighborhoods north of Balboa Park. Being within walking distance of 30th Street in North Park puts you in the center of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods, and still just 15 or 20 minutes from the beach.
Where To Eat
Mexican food. Ok, we said it. There are some really damn good Mexican eats in San Diego, and you should most definitely go and get yourself as much as you can stand while visiting. For the most part, any place you go in and visit will be fantastic in its own way, but a town favorite is Puesto. Located in both La Jolla and in the Marina, they offer up creative, wild, and incredibly delicious tacos, burritos, and more. But the city has more to offer than just that. Sushi Ota, a small chef owned sushi restaurant located in an understated strip mall in Pacific Beach is quite possibly one of the best in the entire state. They serve up incredible plates that will please the connoisseur and stun the neophyte. For those looking for more turf and less surf, however, there is Hodad’s and Carnitas’ Snack Shack. The former is a much-loved burger joint known primarily for its enormous and satisfying burgers. With three locations – it is hard to pass this burger joint up. Just be sure to make room in your day for a food coma. Carnitas shack offers up a different approach. They made their name in the city by making slow-cooked pork-centric cuisine along with local craft beers.
Where To Drink
San Diego is famous for its breweries, so there is no way we couldn’t include one of the oldest and most respected – Stone. The OG microbrewer boasts a tasting room right by the ballpark, another in Liberty Station, and even one at the airport. If you are willing to make the trip, however, going up to the Brewery in Escondido is well worth it. Their taproom up north is peerless. But don’t get too distracted by the beer.
America's Hoppiest City
While there are a lot of big names in the San Diego beer scene, there are plenty of smaller brewers that are just as deserving of some shine. We’ve highlighted some standouts, along with some of their regularly available beers.
Saint Archer: The hoppy lovechild of extreme athletes, musicians, and artists located in Sorrento Valley. (Mosaic Double IPA)
Mission: Brewery located within walking distance of Petco Park. (Dark Seas With Espresso)
Pizza Port: Old school local brewery that serves up great, limited beer on tap alongside fresh pizza. (Mongo IPA)
Modern Times: A young, hip brewer with creative and vibrant tasting rooms in North Park and Liberty Station. (Blazing World)
While the city has an incredibly vibrant brewing community, it has just as exciting a craft cocktail scene. There are a lot of bars you could head to in order to get a taste of this, but our recommendation would have to be Noble Experiment. This reservation-only bar is located behind a secret door downtown and boasts a wild interior only one-upped by the quality of their drinks. Outside of great cocktails, the city also has a lot of options in terms of straight whiskey bars. For instance, Seven Grand in North park offers up a wide array of high-quality whiskeys in a classed up setting – while Aero Club has made its place in the bar scene by dint of their jaw-dropping number of bottles and competitive prices.
What To Do
Beaches are the Mexican food of San Diego. They are what people talk about most, and yes – they are as good as everyone says (if not maybe even better). Whether you want to venture all the way up to north county and explore beaches like Swami’s in Encinitas or stick around south and head to Coronado, Windansea beach in La Jolla, or Mission to the south – you will not be disappointed. Head east in from the beaches, though, and you’ll find just as much to do. The outskirts of the city offer up great trails for hikers. Mission trails, for instance, is a collection of large trails suited for running and even some natural rock climbing for the vertically inclined. But you don’t have to go too far out for great places to waste away a day outside. Balboa Park, located in the heart of the city, boasts big open fields, museums, art galleries, gardens, and more. If you were to find yourself in the park, it would be just as worth it to head on out to San Diego Zoo. Generally considered one of the world’s best, the Zoo has everything from cheetahs to pandas and orangutans.
A trip is never complete without picking up one or two items to fly back with you. We’re not talking about keychains or toothbrushes. We’re thinking more clothing, EDC, or grooming supplies; in short, stuff that some of the more creative retail stores in San Diego carry.
Final Thoughts From A Local
“San Diego is an adrenaline town. Within an hour or two in any direction, you can do pretty much anything there is to do outdoors. Mountain bike, surf, ski, snowboard, skateboard, parasail, hike, you name it.” – Paul Basile, Principal & Lead Designer at Basile Studio (Photo: John Dole)
Hansen’s, a classic surf shop is hard to pass up. They’ve been around since the 1960s, and have never failed to carry the best apparel for surfers. Head a little bit south on the 5 and you’ll come across Lone Flag. The small shop specializes in raw denim, but they have everything from everyday carry items to men’s basics and shoes. Moniker General, a recently opened store in Liberty Station shares a building with a cafe and retails everything from top of the line surfboards to bikes, denim, hair care, and even dining sets – all made locally. A real stand out among in the city is Gym Standard. Walk into pretty much any cafe or craft cocktail bar in the city and you’ll see the signature “Gym Standard” beanie or “GYM” hat on at least a few heads. The store itself is stocked with a wide variety of shoes, hard to come by magazines, pins, and more. Along with carrying hard to find clothing and shoes, they often host readings and shows from local artists that are well worth trying to catch if you are in town.