A Guide to San Diego

From surfing to sunbathing, it's all on the agenda in this Southern California paradise

San Diego.
Balboa Park and Downtown are only a couple of the many locations you can visit in San Diego.
(Image credit: Illustrated / Catherine Garcia, Getty Images)

With its beautiful weather, miles of beaches, eclectic restaurants, and attractions galore, San Diego is a destination for travelers looking for fun in the sun. 

What to see and do

A young woman stands in front of a painting at the Timken Art Museum

The Timken Museum of Art has been called the "jewel box of Balboa Park"

(Image credit: Catherine Garcia / The Week)

The cultural heart of San Diego, Balboa Park is home to museums, gardens, historic examples of Spanish Colonial architecture, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. The Timken Museum of Art is a treat, its three rooms filled with an impressive collection of European old masters, American Art and Russian icons. For those who prefer being outside, the Japanese Friendship Garden of San Diego is a peaceful place where visitors can stroll past bonsai, cherry blossom trees and koi ponds. On Sundays at 2 p.m., free concerts are held at the Spreckles Organ Pavilion

A statue at Balboa Park

There are statues scattered throughout the 1,200-acre Balboa Park

(Image credit: Catherine Garcia / The Week)

Listen to the waves crash and gulls squawk at one of San Diego's 31 beaches. Each one has its own merits, with Del Mar Beach great for families and Coronado Beach-North a hot spot for experienced surfers. Some of the best views of San Diego and the Pacific Ocean can be found at the Cabrillo National Monument, where visitors can explore the Old Point Loma Lighthouse and tidepools. The best time to check out the tidepools is in late fall and winter, when there are low tides during park hours and it's easy to see the sea life.

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Feeling adventurous? At the Torrey Pines Gliderport, you can try paragliding and hang gliding, signing up for tandem flights with experienced pilots. You won't be doing any flying at the USS Midway Museum, but it's still fun to head down to the naval aircraft carrier and see up close 26 restored jet fighters, helicopters and attack aircraft. If you still feel the need for speed, check out the Air Combat 360 simulator and Screaming Eagles virtual reality experience.

Where to stay

Sunset over the beach in La Jolla

The sunsets in San Diego are spectacular

(Image credit: Rohit Arora / 500px via Getty Images)

The retro Pearl Hotel was built in the late 1950s, and retains that mid-century modern charm. There are 23 comfortable rooms featuring art made by local talent, all surrounding the pool and within steps of Charles + Dinorah, the property's restaurant and cocktail bar. Another charming spot is the recently renovated LaFayette Hotel. Not afraid of color, the rooms are decorated in bold colors and patterns, but the star of the show is the restored pool; guests are known to spend all their time in the water, only coming out to enjoy a snack from the chaise loungers.

The sign welcoming you to the Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego

The Gaslamp Quarter is home to bars, restaurant and clubs

(Image credit: Mitch Diamond / Getty Images)

For a more luxurious stay, The US Grant in the Gaslamp Quarter is known for its grand entrance, spacious rooms, five-star service, and $6.5 million art collection. A lot has happened inside this 11-story building over the last century, with the hotel having welcomed a who's who of celebrities and presidents.

Where to eat

Tucked away in Torrey Pines, the Farmer & the Seahorse is the spot for a leisurely brunch. Snag a table on the patio and start with the Mimosa Kit, which comes with a brut cava and choice of three juices, followed by one of the benedicts (the miso-cured salmon is delicious) or the bananas foster French toast. 

Liberty Station was once a naval training center, but is now a multi-purpose space with shops, restaurants and several food vendors in the Liberty Public Market. If you're traveling with picky eaters, this is where you'll find compromise, as everything from Mexican to burgers to sushi is available. Bring a blanket and stretch out on one of the grassy areas, where you can enjoy your meal while watching the planes take off from San Diego International Airport.

The entrance to Prado at Balboa Park

The Prado at Balboa Park is known for its eclectic menu

(Image credit: Catherine Garcia / The Week)

Tom Ham's Lighthouse is a San Diego classic, serving up seafood right on the water. Indulge in a shellfish platter with oysters, clams, bay scallops, jumbo shrimp, and P.E.I. mussels, or try the house shrimp ceviche. The Prado at Balboa Park offers diners the best of surf and turf in a historical building that was made in celebration of the opening of the Panama Canal. Start with the spicy calamari fries and seared prime beef sushi roll, followed by the Prado Paella in a lobster saffron broth.

A truly unforgettable experience can be had at Addison, the only Michelin-star restaurant in San Diego (and the first to receive three stars in Southern California). Each diner participates in a nine-course meal, with surprises around every corner; it starts with the synchronized pouring of water at the table, and goes up from there. It's pricey, but if money is no object or you're celebrating an incredibly special milestone, consider making a reservation.

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