As a current California/former Arizona resident, I've been to San Diego about a hundred times. Interestingly, somehow I always end up there with people who haven't been before, so I've developed a sort of tour (plus or minus an activity or two) that I have now taken 17 people on (over 5 trips) during their first visits to San Diego.
For my third city guide, here's what I love to see and eat in wonderful San Diego!
Balboa Park is one of the most beautiful places in San Diego. I take the same pictures over and over again each time I go and it's really because I just can't resist the beautiful architecture and grounds. Interestingly, many of the beautiful buildings in Balboa Park were actually designed for the 1915 Panama - California Exposition. Balboa Park is not only gorgeous to walk around, but it's also home to many fascinating museums, the world's largest outdoor pipe organ, and another item on this list - the San Diego Zoo. If you're in San Diego, Balboa Park is a must see!
Just a quick jaunt across the bay from downtown San Diego is a true gem - Coronado Island. You can reach it by bridge and it is a beautiful community with shops and restaurants along the main drag, Orange Avenue. My favorite thing to check out on Coronado Island is the Hotel del Coronado. It's a beautiful, historic, red-roofed hotel right on the beach and it's beautifully maintained. The "Hotel Del" as it's called, is nice to walk around and has a very rich history, including its very own ghost story, which I always get a kick out of. The beach on Coronado Island is also very nice and seems to be less crowded than others in San Diego.
San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo is pretty famous and I'm sure you've heard of it. According to Wikipedia, the San Diego Zoo grew out of exotic animal exhibitions abandoned after the 1915 Panama - California Exposition. The zoo is very well-done and has every animal you might want to see on your list, including some very famous panda bears. I've been to the zoo a handful of times and last time I went was the first time I got a pass for the double-decker bus that drives around the zoo - which I highly recommend you do. You can hop on and off the bus and I thought this was a much more enjoyable way of seeing the zoo as it's so large that it takes forever to walk around the entire thing.
Old Town San Diego
Old Town San Diego is slightly off the beaten path and mostly consists of one street with lots of Mexican restaurants and some touristy shops. I think it's fun to visit Old Town at dusk and grab some reliably good Mexican food while you're there. The area is lit with gas lamps and is a wonderful spot to have dinner one of the nights you're in town.
La Jolla & Seal Beach
La Jolla is one of the prettiest areas in San Diego and has a great downtown area to walk around. There are many shops, restaurants and art galleries to visit and the main part of town sits right above cliffs that hang over the ocean. I usually stop by La Jolla each trip to walk around and take in the views and I almost always pay a visit to La Jolla Cove and the seal beach that is situated there. You can walk out onto a small peninsula that surrounds the cove and see hundreds of seals laying on the beach. For anyone who hasn't seen many seals up close, it's pretty comical to watch them try to move around. Mostly they just lay there, but it's definitely amusing.
I visited Snooze during one of my more recent San Diego visits and I really enjoyed it. The restaurant has a fun atmosphere and the food was excellent. Snooze is a breakfast/brunch only restaurant, so it's only open until 2:30, but it doesn't disappoint.
I discovered The Prado during a trip to San Diego in 2009 and I've gone back for lunch every time I've visited since. The Prado is situated right in the heart of Balboa Park (thus, making it a bit tricky for Uber drivers to find) and is actually quite a fancy restaurant (which is why I always go for lunch). The food is delicious and there's a great drink menu as well. The restaurant is very uniquely decorated and is full of amazing Chihuly glass.
Picking a Mexican restaurant in San Diego and calling it your favorite is always going to lead to some disagreement. San Diego is known for amazing Mexican food (it's literally minutes from the US/Mexico border) and you really can't go wrong no matter where you go. Cafe Coyote is admittedly a bit touristy and is situated along the main drag in Old Town, but I love it for the consistently good food. Sometimes it's fun to be a little touristy.
I went to Searsucker when I was in San Diego on a work trip and the food was excellent. I think we stopped in for two reasons - the restaurant is gorgeous, and because the restaurant was created by Brian Malarkey (a former Top Chef contestant) and I used to be pretty obsessed with Top Chef. It's a bit easier to go when work is covering the bill, but I'd definitely go back even if I had to foot the bill myself. According to their website, Searsucker serves "classic homestyle dishes with an elegant twist" and they've got a long list of specialty cocktails and infusions. If the dinner menu is a bit out of your price range, I'd still recommend popping in here for what looks to be a pretty decent happy hour; Monday - Friday 5-7PM.
Just a twenty-something with a full-time job and a full-time obsession with traveling. It's best to LiveTraveled.