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My Favorite 20 Things to do San Diego – Understand
San Diego is located all the way down in California, just a few miles north of the Mexican border. There is a bit of a Mexican resemblance in the city, but it’s very muted. San Diego is a mix of Las Vegas (in the Gaslamp Quarter), the Vandenberg Air Force Base (Coronado), Miami (Mission Beach) and some West Coast Hipster areas (North Park). It is much smaller and much less diverse than LA or San Francisco.
San Diego impresses with its beautiful beaches, a rather clean city (not in the downtown area though) and a decent amount of things to do should it rain. For a city so far south, San Diego has an amazing amount of places for great coffee and craft beer. I could find no less than a dozen breweries rated 9 or better on Foursquare; I have not seen that in any other town. The local beer creations are indeed fantastic.
My Favorite 20 Things to do San Diego – Safety
San Diego is a rather safe city. The leafy suburbs are very safe, but there are plenty of gritty areas in and around the downtown area as well as near the border, where it pays to be extra careful after dark.
My Favorite 20 Things to do San Diego – Get Around
Uber and Lyft provide ample services for short rides. San Diego is fairly stretched out, though, so a car is a good idea. There is street parking outside of downtown (often limited to two hours) but the downtown area usually requires you to pay for a garage.
My Favorite 20 Things to do San Diego – Sights
San Diego’s beaches are easily some of the best on the West Coast; the water is not as cold (though it’s still freezing) but it is more clear and not as dark as the algae brew up north in San Francisco.
Mission Beach is a long stretch of pretty beaches with a lovely beach walk. The view is magnificent, the sand is soft and the waves are calm on most days.
The long island of Coronado is split into an upscale residential area, the beach and various military installations. At Coronado, you can see plenty of fighter jets and Navy helicopters while you chill at the beach. I found that very interesting!
The whole island is just pure joy to see and drive through on a sunny day. The palm-lined streets, the little parks and outdoor cafes make you jealous of the San Diego lifestyle (though most of the cafes aren’t great to eat at or have coffee at).
Every boy’s dream is to step on an aircraft carrier and explore it and this is exactly what you can do at the USS Midway Museum. It’s a fantastic way to spend 3 hours; the museum’s curators have done a great job here.
Ocean Beach is the more down-to-earth beach; it attracts more hippies and also has better food options right behind the beach.
Upscale La Jolla also has a beach, but it’s a bit smaller and has more interesting cliffs.
Balboa Park is home to the San Diego Zoo, but it is much more than that; there’s plenty of open space with lots of playgrounds, walking grounds and views on a foothill just outside of downtown.
My Favorite 20 Things to do San Diego – Eat & Drink
I had a whole week in San Diego, but felt I did not even touch the depth of the breweries in town. If you like beer (especially a darker West Coast-style IPA), this is ground zero for it.
Most breweries are around the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station (coincidence?) Big names like Ballast Point, Rough Draft and Green Flash are all located in the area. While I only went to one brewery, I’m fairly certain you could spend a few days exploring them and wouldn’t be disappointed.
North Park is ‘hipster central’ in San Diego and easily has the most diverse food and drinks options.
Nomad Donuts spins out some of the best donuts I have had anywhere. It’s cheap too and the staff are super-friendly.
Most places that serve coffee and food during the day and beer at night are rather dull and can’t do any of it right. However, Young Hickory pulls it off with great, simple food and a great vibe.
This company sells wholesale to many local coffee shops and restaurants. The North Park outlet is tiny, but the coffee is great and the staff really authentic.
Bahn Thai is likely the best Thai food in town, with great looking dishes and low prices.
I also went to the Mexican place next door but one, El Zarape (which was equally well-rated), but really did not like the food there.
Downtown/ Gaslamp Quarter
The whole downtown area is just getting its act back together. At times, though, there are more homeless people around you than people who shower in the morning.
A coffee shop right next to the ballpark, inside the most touristy quarter – can this be any good? Yes, it can; you will like the great vibe, spacious design and decent coffee and breakfast ideas here.
This Southern-style brewery in a lovely old building has fantastic IPA’s on offer. They look and taste like no others I had before. The small patio is awesome and much quieter than the indoors.
This pizza place looks shockingly average and not very inviting, but it churns out super-delicious, large, deep-dish pizzas for just $22. Come here if you are a big group and/or hungry.
This hipster coffee workshop tries a little too hard. Too much attitude and a ‘cold’ environment and the coffee did not make up for it.
Cafe Moto is the tasting shop for San Diego’s biggest wholesale seller of coffee beans. This little spot convinces with a relaxed vibe and warm staff. Plus the espresso drinks come in big portions and are delicious.
The Ocean Beach area features such great places as the OB Noodle House Bar 1502 (whoever came up with this name?!) which has a great selection of authentic Vietnamese dishes (it’s often very loud inside, though).
Further up, Azucar Bakery has lovely desserts and delectable chocolates if you are still hungry.
In La Jolla, you should stop by Bird Rock Coffee Roasters for the awesome espressos they have made for almost two decades now, Oscar’s Mexican Seafood for cheap and excellent fish tacos and The Taco Stand, where I enjoyed the best burrito I ever had.
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About the author: Torsten is a serial entrepreneur who started almost a dozen ventures on four continents. Torsten's love for travel has brought him to 130+ countries and travel with most of the world's airlines. You can reach Torsten at [email protected]
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