There’s A Reason This SoCal Destination Is Featured In So Many Movies
Take A Break is your ultimate guide to the perfect trips to recharge, rediscover yourself and your relationships, and reengage with the world. We’ll cover shopping stops, great bars, restaurants worth your money, photo opportunities, memorable experiences, and other important details you need before you book.
California is filled with terrific cities for tourists, but if you’re looking for postcard-worthy vistas, temperate weather and fresh fish tacos, then San Diego should zoom to the top of your list.
There’s a reason the SoCal destination is the backdrop for so many iconic movies. (Think “Top Gun,” “Some Like It Hot” and “Almost Famous.”) The sunsets alone are enough to attract travelers from all over, but the relaxed vibes and excellent food scene really seal the deal.
I’ve had the opportunity to go to “America’s Finest City” a few times, most recently for a friend’s wedding this summer. And with each visit, I make sure to try new restaurants and experiences unique to San Diego. Below, I’ve compiled some favorite dishes, attractions and more highlights from this coastal gem.
Where To Stay
On my most recent visit, I stayed at the Kimpton Alma Hotel, which is located right downtown and within walking distance of tons of great restaurants and bars. The hotel’s own restaurant, The Desmond, was also excellent. (Shoutout to the seasonal dips and incredible Brussels sprouts in dashi broth.) But I admittedly spent most of my time sitting by the rooftop pool, enjoying the bar and bites up there.
After a couple of nights at the Kimpton, I relocated to Estancia La Jolla, which my friend had selected as the venue for her wedding. It was easy to see why ― the grounds were filled with lush gardens and charming seating areas, and the spa and pool amenities were top-notch.
On a future trip to the San Diego area, I hope to stay at the iconic Hotel del Coronado. The beachfront atmosphere and striking architecture seem like something out of a movie.
What To Eat
The Desmond is far from the only good restaurant I’ve tried in San Diego. My favorite fine-dining experience was undoubtedly at Animae, a trendy Asian fusion restaurant by the water. Another classic waterfront option is George’s at the Cove in La Jolla, which is known for its views. And I’ve had great meals at a Mediterranean spot in the East Village called Callie and at Pacific Coast Grill, which is right on the beach in Cardiff.
Still, you’d be remiss to visit San Diego without trying some of the many amazing taco joints. I’ve enjoyed Tacos El Gordo, City Tacos and Lola 55 in the downtown area, as well as Las Olas in Cardiff. Friends have also recommended Oscar’s in Bird Rock, Don Carlos in La Jolla, Rudy’s in Solana Beach, TJ Tacos in Escondido and Juanitas in Encinitas.
On the sweeter side of things, I was overwhelmed by all of the baked goods at the aptly named Extraordinary Desserts downtown. (I managed to narrow down my selections to a chocolate chip cookie and chocolate-caramel treat.) VG Donut & Bakery in Cardiff sells delicious old-fashioned donuts and other treats, and the French toast at Brockton Villa, a historic home-turned-restaurant in La Jolla, is on another level.
Other highly recommended restaurants include Juniper & Ivy, Kingfisher and Herb & Wood. The fish in San Diego is perfectly fresh, so the seafood sandwiches at El Pescador and Point Loma Seafoods are a must. And there’s an incredible Little Italy neighborhood with pasta galore.
What To Drink
Gaslamp Quarter is a lively area of downtown with options ranging from wine bars to dance clubs.
While my friends and I had a fun time checking out a bunch of different spots, our favorite by far was the speak-easy Prohibition. This secret underground bar serves A-plus cocktails, and there was a great live band performing when we arrived.
Another favorite was Techo Beso, a wraparound rooftop bar at the AC Hotel. The tropical decor was incredibly inviting, and the DJ quickly had everyone dancing.
What To Do
Whenever I visit San Diego, it doesn’t feel like I have enough time to cover everything there is to experience, but I try to make the most of it. The famous Balboa Park offers a gorgeous place to walk around and is home to the massive San Diego Zoo. Although the pandas are no longer there, visitors can still see thousands of animals across a wide variety of species.
If you’re looking to stick to the downtown area, visit the USS Midway Museum or try to catch a Padres game at Petco Park. Venture up to La Jolla Cove to see the seals and sea lions lounging on the rocks and in the sand. (Just don’t get too close!)
My group went for a long hike at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and took in the magnificent views of the water. Down the shore, you can watch the hang gliders launch from the Torrey Pines Gliderport. And there’s the famous Torrey Pines Golf Course for those looking to splurge on a round.
Hiking enthusiasts might also want to check out the trails to the social media-famous Potato Chip Rock outside the city.
And while you’re in San Diego, don’t miss the opportunity to witness some of the most beautifully saturated sunsets of your life. Photos don’t quite capture the magic, but the memory will live on. The sunset views at Powerhouse Park in Del Mar were breathtaking, and I’ve also heard good things about Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach, Scripps Memorial Pier in La Jolla, and Sunset Cliffs.
Whatever you do during your SoCal visit, be sure to keep safety in mind, especially on the beach. Respect the rules and be courteous to the locals. San Diego has an easygoing vibe, so try to channel that energy into your trip. Then just sit back, relax and enjoy those stunning views.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story identified the incorrect location for Sunset Cliffs.