Exploring "America's Finest City:" A Guide to San Diego, CA
Updated: Jun 10
I had no idea that I would fall in love with San Diego when I registered to attend a conference hosted by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. I had only been to #SanDiego once before for a day, so clearly that did not count! However, my friends who have gone to San Diego raved about it, and they were not wrong. During my long weekend here, I managed to maximize my evenings and free time by exploring a variety of things. My conclusion: San Diego truly has it all!
Why should you go to San Diego, California?
It has nearly perfect weather all year round: sunny, dry air, averaging 70 degrees
San Diego has a range of neighborhoods and vibes to explore. You can explore San Diego’s coastal, urban or inland neighborhoods.
San Diego has a very chill atmosphere, a "beachside attitude."
San Diego has very tasty food for very cheap prices. You will eat GOOD!
San Diego is truly picturesque. You will be left in awe. I am a New Yorker, so it is not easy to amaze me. However, San Diego did so in many ways.
Fun Facts about San Diego, California
San Diego produces the most avocados in the United States.
The first drive-in restaurant in the United States was opened in San Diego by the man who later founded Jack in the Box in 1951.
Cameron Diaz, Mario Lopez, Tony Hawk and Nick Cannon are all from San Diego
The city imports an estimated 80 to 90 percent of its water, totaling 168 million gallons a day!
The city of San Diego has never won a World Series, a Super Bowl, or an NBA Final title.
San Diego’s International Airport is the busiest one-runway airport in the country and the second busiest in the world, falling just behind London Gatwick.
Check out my guide to exploring "America's Finest City:"
PLACES TO VISIT:
1. Barrio Logan Chicano Park
This is a hidden gem that I did not discover until the morning that I decided to check it out. Originally, we planned to visit the San Diego Zoo. However, we were feeling lazy and cheap. As a result, I searched for #freethings to do in San Diego and I was overwhelmed with vibrant images of street murals from Chicano Park in the Barrio Logan neighborhood. As a major lover of street art, I knew that I MUST check this spot out.
When you arrive in this neighborhood, you feel a completely different vibe from downtown San Diego. #BarrioLogan feels like you are in Little Mexico, with all the taco shops and fancy old time cars you see lining the street. Locals frequented the streets, enjoying their neighborhood (which I feel was not the case in downtown San Diego). It's amazing that Tijuana, Mexico is about 25-30 minutes from that area. Although I did not get a chance to visit Tijuana, I will definitely return to San Diego and add that to my trip!
In the Barrio Logan neighborhood lies #ChicanoPark, which is the largest collection of outdoor #murals in the United States. It is unassuming considering that it is located underneath the intersection of Interstate 5 and the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge. The park is not only has pretty walls, but also has a quite interesting history. Developed in 1970 after a peaceful 12-day occupation by those residents who remained amidst the construction of the interstate and bridge, it achieved National Historic Landmark in 2016.
The paintings that you see were meant to celebrate the struggle to reclaim the neighborhood There are different aspects of Chicano culture depicted including historical events and figures as well as Mesoamerican influences and mythology. There are also themes of immigration, feminism, and civil rights.
2. La Jolla Cove and Beach
This was another last minute decision influenced by an Uber driver suggestion and a Google search. It was the best decision ever! Known for its sea lions (who are clear celebrities),I wonder if they ever get tired of the attention. However, I did see some of them strategically position themselves in areas that no tourist can reach.
La Jolla is the epitome of San Diego. It is a perfect example of how gorgeous the natural landscape truly is. I was just in awe the whole time, which takes a lot for me to reach that point. It had me wanting to pack all of my belongings and move out here! The weather was the perfect 70 degrees temperate temperature. The sun was shining, the skies were clear, and the flowers and plants were in full bloom. It does not get any better than that, except that it did! The views of cliffs, beaches, and animals for days will have you endlessly entertained.
#LaJolla is the ultimate spot for lots of instagram shots! It has lots of cute boutiques and a tasty gelato shop that you can check out once you are done exploring the natural side of the area.
3. Gaslamp Quarter
This was the first spot that I explored during my long weekend conference. The #GaslampDistrict was formerly called the "New Town" area back in 1868, contrary to the the much older original Spanish settlement that was called "Old Town." In that time period, the city installed about 50 gas lamp street lights in order to light up this new, modern town.
Today, it is an area filled with many trendy restaurants, bars, and nightlife. Whether you are interested in tacos, Italian food or brunch, this 16.5 block section of San Diego has it all. You will never be bored!
4. Balboa Park
Although I did not get a chance to visit here during this trip, I did come here during my last day excursion in San Diego and loved it. The architecture takes you back in time and transmits Spanish vibes. #Balboapark interestingly began in 1868 when civic leaders decided to set 1,400 acres of land aside to establish a park overlooking downtown San Diego. At the time, there were only 2,300 residents. However, community leaders intended to make history as it was the second city to dedicate a large urban park (besides New York City’s Central Park).
Today, there are 17 museums, a garden and the San Diego Zoo. Although I have visited the Museum of Man and the Museum of Art, I definitely need to return. You need a few days alone in order to take full advantage of what Balboa Park has to offer. Depending what your pockets are looking like, some museums are free and you can stroll around the area. However, if you want to take advantage of the Zoo, I know that the price tag is pretty high (but supposedly well worth it). It is certainly high on my list for next time!
THINGS TO DO:
1. Sing a long at The Shout House (Piano Bar)
This is one thing that I would stress you to check out if you are in San Diego. I originally got this recommendation through watching the IG stories of @travelingcocoagirls, who was in San Diego for a conference. I did not realize what I was getting myself into when I convinced my coworkers to check this place out with me! The experience is very unique. I would describe #TheShoutHouse as a mix of freestyle and karaoke. There are two piano players/singers performing at two, face to face grand pianos at the same time in front of two large mirrors. They perform hits, both throwbacks and of the present day, and take requests from the audience. They often remix songs as well. I was just impressed how they were able to play such a wide range of requests and transition so quickly. It's a great time as the whole audience is singing along.
TIP: Want your song played? Be sure to leave a good tip! Seating is first come, first serve, so be on the lookout for tables that clear out. We lucked out on getting seats within the first five minutes, front and center.
KEEP IN MIND: Service is very slow! One does not come to this bar for the food and drinks, but more so for the experience. It is probably quicker for you to make your way to the bar and pick up your drink.
Couldn't help to include another video!
2. Wander the city streets searching for street art
In addition to Chicano Park, there are #streetart murals all over San Diego. Here is an example of a mural I bumped into while in San Diego!
THINGS TO EAT:
I've always heard that the West Coast has great #tacos. Although I was never impressed by the tacos in Los Angeles or San Francisco, San Diego is truly winning on the taco front. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that it is so close to Mexico. Every taco place that I tried was very different. However, each taco place was delicious in its own right. I still have a list of taco places to check out. For some ideas of places to check out, see my blog post "Let's Taco About It: Best Food Spots in San Diego Edition." That is how prominent tacos are in San Diego culture! There is nothing better than a handmade corn #tortilla for your taco. Debate me!
2. Fish Tacos
In San Diego specifically, #fishtacos are in its own category. Being surrounded by lots of water, San Diego has lots of great seafood. So why not combine seafood and tacos? You must try fish battered tacos here! You will thank me later.
At some point, you will probably get taco-ed out. That definitely happened to my coworkers and I. In craving something different, we tried #seafood. Everything from fried fish to calamari and oysters was simply amazing. The main thing that distinguishes San Diego from a lot of other spots is the freshness and cheapness of the seafood.
Know before you go…
From Monday - Thursday, most things in San Diego close by 9 PM or 10 PM. However, on Fridays and Saturdays, things are lit especially in the Gaslamp Quarter section of San Diego
Why pay more when you can pay less? San Diego has many happy hour specials specifically for food. Do your research to see what satisfies your hungry stomach!
Uber and Lyft is SUPER cheap! For most rides, I only paid between $3 and $5 for Uber X. In NYC, that is usually the starting cost before adding mileage!
If you stay in the downtown area, many things are within walking distance (about 10-15 minute walk). However, there are other things that are deceivingly far. For example, a 10 minute Uber drive can be a 2 hour walk.