A Weekend Guide to San Diego
You know San Diego from its fine oceanfront views to its breezy blonde surf culture. I myself call it home, which leaves me in charge of sending friends and strangers alike on the grand tour of this intimate beach town. And, since it’s known for its wowingly low flight fares, it makes an ideal hotspot for weekend getaways. So, if you’re in the market for a few days off, jet to San Diego. Here’s the entire drop down menu to my favorite local haunts:
La Jolla Cove (Seal Cove)
Situated comfortably in Northern San Diego, the rocky beach town of La Jolla is not only peppered with old town culture, a range of darling dining stops, and overarching palms, but the seal breeding ground is alive at all hours of the day. While the odor is a bit rancid, you can step as close as you care to the barking, playful animals, see them in their wild habitat, and possibly peek in on a fishmerman’s loot (our last find was an octopus). The night life is buzzing, but if you choose to spend the day at La Jolla Beach (only a few miles north of the coves), you’ll encounter sunshine, surfers, and icy blue waters. Be warned, though: it’s a popular locale for hammerheads.
Carlsbad Flower Fields
Each year, between March 1 and May 13, the Carlsbad Ranch opens its airy landscape to the public for a momentous look at their budding floral collection. Nearly fifty acres of stunning, multicolored ranunculus dot the Northern San Diego fields, making it a spring tradition for locals and a glowing botanical show for onlookers. Get your tickets and the full wealth of knowledge here.
Ho Chi Minh Trail (in La Jolla)
If you’re looking for a hike to the private, open-ended Black’s Beach (it is technically a nude beach, but the people of California have an unwritten code against such exposure. Don’t rule it out, though!), you can embark on a tough, tangled trail of rocks and beach scenery with the local surfers. The best instructions for getting there are located here. The hike was surprisingly complicated, despite being under a quarter mile, so children are not recommended. A minor rope climb is involved, so be wary. And dress for a day in the mud!
One of the most iconically Californian areas is the lesser known city of Encinitas, which resides close to Moonlight Beach, one of my favorite stretches of beach along the coast. Encinitas is home to two of our favorite eateries (Hooked on Sushi and Handel’s Ice Cream–both musts), and makes for the perfect day of beach volleyball, closeby bites, and clean air. If you make it here on a Sunday, you may run into the bubble maker man, who’s known for sending enormous, flashy bubbles into the sea breeze.
Should your trip take you to the south side of San Diego, spending your sunset hour at the renowned Sunset Cliffs is far more underrated than it seems. The long strip of stony cliffs breeds incredible coastal views–they are climbable, intimate, and a charming opportunity to oversee the rolling ocean waves. Plus, you will almost always catch sight of dolphins or other sea animals. This is one of our favorite looking points, and one of San Diego’s bests.
If you are localized downtown and find yourself in search of a closeby beach with less commercialization, Pacific Beach is a notable locale that is openly engaged with its community. There are plenty of good bites (like Oscar’s Seafood, which is our top choice in San Diego), and a friendly vibe that will keep you occupied for the entire weekend.
The Food Guide
If you are brunching in San Diego, make a Friday morning break for The Great Maple ($$$) (I say Friday to avoid the morning rush–it is a hectic, popular joint on the weekends). If you don’t order their signature maple bacon donuts, you’ve done yourself a disservice. This tentative British breakfast lounge is fit with copper plumbing and eclectic furnishings, giving it that ever-coveted celebrity brunch feel. However, if you’re in the mood for a famous acai bowl (California’s stolen Hawaiian specialty), jump out to Pacific Beach for a taste of my favorite spot, Mad Beet ($). The Acaiwol Nation bowl is the perfect breakfast filler, although their elaborate collection of smoothies and bowls is yours for the taking. Last but not least, the locals of California are all in on one giant, friendly secret–Swami’s Cafe ($$). If you’re looking for the best for your buck, Swami’s will present you with a strong order, and a lot of it. Their acai and pitaya bowls are true and tasty options.
Are you convinced yet that Oscar’s Mexican Seafood ($) is the greatest ocean lunch break? As a local on the hunt for cheap, breezy meals (and fish tacos seem to always take the cake) this fresh menu of ceviche and mahi has blessed my stomach more than enough times. While I practice veganism (flexitarianism, for all you vegans who are doing eye rolls), I feel no harm in eating locally sourced fish on occasion, and have a dire and desperate attachment to the strong, outrageously fresh taste of Oscar’s.
Indigo Grill ($$$)
If you don’t go back to Oscar’s for dinner, there is always the city-centric bites that my husband and I dip into on a weekly basis. Our favorite food place? Indigo Grill. While it’s tough to get a table there (reservations required), its Latin fusion dishes are outlandish and harness fresh, homey foods (like their blood-warming cornbread) to bring an incredibly eclectic take on modern cuisine. We are already itching to get back, and would rank this as our top downtown city bite when it comes to the ever popular Gaslamp Quarter.
Raki Raki ($$)
Ramen is a hot topic in today’s food conversation. San Diego has its own ramen culture, headlined by the rich and centralized soups of Raki Raki. If you aren’t familiar with the fantastic new fad that’s taking place in soup, familiarizing yourself with ramen (no, it isn’t the 10-cent version–and it sure doesn’t taste like that) will help you branch out and into the delectable vibe of this moody little restaurant. We are in love.
American Junkie ($$)
As any hip downtown restaurant does, American Junkie pulls through on their fine, grass-fed burgers and many rich sauces. Their menu is a full upgrade from typical American dining, with a vibe that fits the metal age, and a staff that is friendly and productive. Careful, though–you must be 21 or over to even enter the premises.
Hooked on Sushi ($$)
You may be able to get sushi back home, but if home for you isn’t a twenty-mile radius from the ocean, you probably aren’t getting the uber fresh Japanese cuisine at its prime. I always suggest giving California sushi a go (and, no, that doesn’t mean a California roll). Hooked on Sushi is a modernized American sushi jaunt, and its delightful menu–littered with fusion flavors like Mexican rolls and Marilyn Monroe’s–is overflowing with neat options. Our favorite is the TNT roll, which features a topping of deep fried, caramelized onions, rich in flavor and floating somewhere between American and Japanese.
As a full family of five, my entire clan stepped into Union and fawned over their famous root beer and dabbled in all parts of the menu. Another coastal take on delicious American bites, Union is perfectly family-centered with a vibe that works for both the man’s man and a casual girls night out. In the heart of the city and surrounded by other local night life, it’s a good place to post up for comfort and hearty eats.
Whether you are a first-timer, a California native, or you've never touched based in this ocean village, feel welcome to our throngs of traffic and lovely local bites.
Enjoy your stay in sunny San Diego.