By Madeline Scheier
It’s true what they say about San Diego: the weather really is perfect. Nicknamed “America’s Finest City,” the daily sunshine (with an average temperature of 72), pristine sand (70 miles of gorgeous Pacific Ocean coastline) and a vibrant downtown with restaurants and shops to explore, had lured us to the West Coast. We were an over-worked, over-scheduled family of four, which included my two twenty-something sons, who I knew would not be up for many more family vacations. I needed a locale that would seal the deal for them, and San Diego, with its laid-back beach towns, abundance of Cali-Baja cuisine and a mix of activities did just that.
Departing from JFK airport, the cross country trip took six hours and change, but was worth it when we stepped off the tarmac at San Diego International Airport to blinding sunshine and Palm trees.
We stayed at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, which was a great location: 15 minutes from the airport via Uber, and within walking distance to the Gaslamp Quarter. The hotel faced the bay, which made for beautiful water views. Another perk was the 10-minute walk along the harbor to Seaport Village, a shopping/waterfront dining destination (seaportvillage.com).
For our first night in San Diego, we took a walk over to the Gaslamp Quarter, comprised of 16½ square blocks of restaurants, clubs, theaters and shops. The historic heart of San Diego, Gaslamp celebrated its 150 year anniversary in 2017.
Being from Long Island, we were desperately missing our weekly intake of Chinese food and stumbled upon Monkey King, a funky restaurant with a cool vibe and a décor to match. The restaurant was named after the original lottery house in the early 1900s, which existed in the basement of where the restaurant sits (monkeykingsd.com). A few blocks away, the scent of chocolate—and the line outside—beckoned us into Ghirardelli of the San Francisco fame. Do not miss their World Famous Chocolate Sundae or their Sea Salt Caramel Quake Shake (ghirardelli.com).
Tucked away within Seaport Village was The Headquarters, which sits on the spot of the former headquarters of the San Diego Police Department. The original HQ opened in 1939 and housed the courts, jail, law library, crime lab, exercise areas and even a pistol range. Now it’s a beautiful open air market place with restaurants and boutiques. Check out the fully restored eight-cell jail block, which is home to historic photos and police memorabilia.
We also dined at Puesto, a delicious indoor/outdoor San Diego family-run restaurant that served the best elevated tacos I’ve ever had. The secret is the fresh house-made blue corn tortillas (eatpuesto.com).
San Diego is packed with so many attractions and family-friendly fun. Here’s a gathering of more places that won’t disappoint your crew.
The San Diego Zoo
A nonprofit organization, the San Diego Zoo is home to more than 3,500 rare and endangered animals representing more than 650 species and subspecies. We spent five
hours walking along the natural hills and valleys checking out the animals and their habitats. It’s 100 acres, so wear your sneakers. The Zoo is located within Balboa Park. Don’t miss the koalas, Giant Panda bears, giraffes and, of course, the elephants (sandiegozoo.org).
Old Town Trolley Tours
One day we hopped on the Old Town Trolley Tours (trolleytours.com) to give ourselves the lay of the land. We chose the San Diego–Coronado route, which included 10 stops. It is a 25-mile loop so you can spend all day jumping on and off. It was a great way to visit the most popular areas without renting a car. Our favorite stop included a ride over the
gorgeous Coronado Bridge to Coronado Island. Last year, Coronado Beach was voted one of the top 10 best beaches in the U.S. by Dr. Beach. The beach did not disappoint—it was breathtaking.
Hotel Del Coronado
The star of the island is this famous beautiful hotel built in 1888. You can’t miss its sprawling Victorian architecture and soaring red turrets. A National Historic Landmark, Hotel Del Coronado holds the honor of being one of the largest wooden structures in the U.S. Coronado means “the crowned one” in Spanish and this beautiful town dubbed “The Crowned City” can’t be missed. We walked up and down Orange Avenue admiring the charming shops, tucked away restaurants, and galleries. We toured the Hotel Del Coronado, which is rumored to have been the inspiration for Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz books, as Oz author, L. Frank Baum stayed there often (coronadovisitorcenter.com).
Everyone we spoke to said Balboa Park could not be missed. Later I found out that it is the nation’s largest urban cultural park. We set out early one morning and took a 15 minute Uber ride over. Balboa Park was originally named City Park but was renamed after Spanish explorer Vasco Nuñez de Balboa in 1915. Balboa Park was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1977 and it is worth visiting. The park is 1,200 beautiful acres and home to performing art venues, gorgeous gardens (make sure you visit the Japanese Friendship Garden), and 17 major museums. We checked out the San Diego Museum of Art, the San Diego Automotive Museum, the San Diego Natural History Museum, and the Museum of Photographic Arts to name a few. Plan on spending the day here (balboapark.org).
La Jolla means “The Jewel,” and it certainly was stunning. The town is filled with fun, stylish shops and restaurants, but it’s the coastline views that take your breath away.
The vibe is relaxed and serene with so many people strolling the coastline, just enjoying the majestic view. The concierge at our hotel advised us to be there around 4:30 p.m. to take advantage of the gorgeous sunset over the Pacific Ocean. And we couldn’t miss the famous sea lions and seals who reside in La Jolla Cove, a small cove where you can get up close and personal with SoCal’s notorious wildlife. They came right up on the rocks and hung out with the tourists and locals (lajolla.com).
Liberty Public Market
About 15 minutes away from downtown San Diego is Liberty Public Market. Originally a Naval Training Center commissary, it has been repurposed into a 25,000 square indoor/outdoor marketplace with retailers, farmers market vendors and food truck operators (libertypublicmarket.com).
After ogling the fresh cheeses, artisanal ice creams and specialty coffee roasters, we discovered the family-owned Officine Buona Forchetta next door. Master Pizzaiolo, Marcello hails from Naples and you can taste it in his fresh, cheese-dripping signature Neapolitan pizzas that are cooked in gold tiled pizza ovens in the center of the restaurant (officinebuonaforchetta.com).
There is so much to do in San Diego and we can’t wait to return to “America’s Finest City.”