The Best of San Diego

Our quad squad (wife Valerie, Mom, sister Doo Doo, & myself) had the idea of visiting San Diego with these things in mind:

  • Food
  • Relaxation
  • Firepit + S’mores
  • (adult) Drinks
  • Games
  • Shopping
  • (some) Walking
  • Zoo

If that sounds like a recipe for a fun vacay to you, then I have THE best insight to create an amazing trip to San Diego for you. I am so glad we, you know, our quad squad, did the most binding promise to duplicate our trip again one day: the pinky promise.

STAY

After researching multiple hotels, we decided on the San Diego Mission Bay Resort. Here is what we liked about it:

  • Rooms & grounds were clean
  • Our room had a view of the water AND its own firepit
  • Convenient coffee shop (I hate in-room coffee machines)
  • They had a decent gym
  • The pool is grand & rentable cabanas were a nice option (too bad we picked a rainy week….)
  • Their on-site bar had a nice happy hour (we partook twice)
  • Location was fab and just a quick Uber to our destinations

SEE

THE SAN DIEGO ZOO

“They” are all correct, you can’t miss it. At first, I was just semi-excited about the zoo, to be honest. However, afterward, I was beyond thrilled we included the zoo in our itinerary. I will even go back when returning to San Diego. Here are some zoo tips you should trust me on:

Buy your tickets in advance here (you are able to scan your tickets electronically. You do not have to print them out.)

  • Get to the zoo at 9 am
  • Go straight to the guided bus tour line (which is short now because you arrived at the zoo when it opened) and ride the 35-minute narrated tour of nearly the entire zoo. Not only will see many animals, but you will also learn how to effectively navigate the 100-acre zoo. Ps. You can see the zoo in 4 hours if you don’t want this to be an all-day affair. We are living proof of this phenomenon.
  • Get a delicious craft beer at Sydney’s Grill in the “Outback” to keep your energy up as you walk the hilly terrain. Bonus: You get a cute souvenir zoo cup with a lid and a straw that enables you to get a cheaper refill (beer, margarita, etc.) for round 2!
  • Utilize the Kangaroo Bus. When you’re on the guided bus tour, you will see where the 4 kangaroo stops are conveniently located. Or, you can use a zoo map to find them. I didn’t think I would use this mode of transportation, but I also didn’t anticipate the hills. Plus, I didn’t want to spend 8 hours at the zoo- we had a lot more food stops to hit up. #priorities 

TIP: If you want to see the baby hippo (born February 8, 2020), be sure to visit the zoo on a Tuesday, Thursday, or on weekends, as that’s when the mommy & baby are in the hippo habitat. Also, the best chance to see the baby is at mealtime. (No worries if you go on a Monday & Wednesday, though. You will still see a hippo: Otis, a 4200 lb. beauty.

LA JOLLA

I debated writing this section because our first-hand experience in La Jolla was cut short due to rain- which yes, is super rare. We lucked out. *eye roll* However, what I did see of it through a coffee shop and Uber Suburban window, was great. 

La Jolla has a different vibe vs. the rest of San Diego we saw. La Jolla is upscale with the main shopping drag (Girard Ave. & Prospect St.) commonly compared to Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive. Not all shopping is fancy, though. I also saw local boutiques that I will hit up during my next visit. It’s fair to say that La Jolla has shopping for just about any budget, taste, or style.

What I am super sad we missed seeing are the seals and sea lions. I had the perfect 30 min. walking route planned out with beautiful scenic views that (I hear) is to die for. To “sea” these beautiful creatures, you should get Uber to drop you off at AT Coffee House for a Cafe Au Lait with oat milk, then, walk 450 ft. to The Cave Store when it opens (10 am weekdays, 9 am weekends) to begin your self-guided “tour”. You will take a century-old bootleggers tunnel down to the only sea cave accessible by land, and take at least 15 minutes to marvel at the beauty & hopefully spot your first seal lion or seal of the trip. Bonus: You might also see crabs, fish, and seagulls.

Then, continue south on Coastal Blvd. to hit up the following sequential hot spots to witness barking sea lions & tonal honking seals in abundance:

  • La Jolla Cove
  • Shell Beach
  • Seal Rock
  • Children’s Pool

To read more about these stops, visit this great blog: La Jolla Mom

The scenic Coastal Blvd. walk takes 30 minutes, but allow an additional 30 minutes, or so, to enjoy the land/seascape. Gorgeous views and exercise- what’s better than that?! Ah yes, food. Hence the exercise portion of this trip.

PACIFIC BEACH (PB)

Just a short ride from La Jolla is Pacific Beach. We enjoyed brunch (and insanely delicious mimosa flights) at Crushed, which I would recommend you do as well. We then walked west towards the beach and discovered some cute shopping opportunities along the way. I recommend sashaying through the Pangaea Outpost to experience a veritable shopping paradise from local artisans. You will find clothes, jewelry, decor, local art, gifts, kids toys, bags, etc. from over 70 local artists. Trust me and make this stop a priority! 

With your newly-filled shopping bag in hand, continue West on Garnet Ave. to Ocean Blvd & take photos of the beautiful waves, bright oceanfront stores, and (hopefully for you) clear “The Simpsons” opening sequence skies. (Yes, that perfect bright blue sky with just a few stark white clouds.)

If this is your cup of tea, you can walk all the way down to the kid-friendly Belmont Park to enjoy oceanside rides, carnival games, other various attractions, souvenir shops, and restaurants.

OCEAN BEACH (OB)

OB (which, dude, is an acronym you need to say to sound like a local) is where you need to visit to really get that local SoCal vibe! OB is a vibrant, boho-style neighborhood with a popular fishing pier and stunning views, surf boutiques, organic markets, antique stores, taquerias, & brew stops. You will also, most definitely, see a Mystery Machine-like van, or two. 

OB is the location of our fav taco stop: Mikes Taco Club. We also, yes, after eating a taco, walked up a flight of stairs to sit next to a Wonderland Ocean Pub. Our window table (which most of their seating is) allowed us to enjoy the ocean breeze, guacamole, local brews, and the most picturesque view of the seashore. 

If you happen to be in the area on a Wednesday, be sure to hit up the Ocean Beach Farmers Market from 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm for locally grown produce, art, & live music.

Although OB also has a vibe that I don’t jive with (think drug scene), it wasn’t overwhelming enough to make me uncomfortable or to take away from the highlights of this unique community.

LITTLE ITALY

Lively Little Italy in San Diego will trick you into believing you were knocked unconscious and came to on the streets of Italy. When you walk down the main drag, India Street, you will see a plethora of patio cafés, restaurants, craft brew stops, galleries, boutique hotels, and gelato for days. If you land this stop between 8 am – 2 pm on a Saturday, you will be lucky enough to peruse the Little Italy Mercado – a vibrant farmers market full of fresh produce, gourmet goods, pristine flowers, and mouth-watering bites. 

The beautiful & centralized gathering point is a 10,000-square-foot European-style piazza called Piazza della Famiglia, located at W Date Street & India Street. Enjoy the sound of the running fountain whilst sitting under an umbrella on the cobblestone street, eating a scoop of creamy gelato from the adjoining food hall and just enjoy living your best dang life.

After having dessert first, head over to Ristorante Illando and eat THE best meal in Little Italy. Start with the complimentary, toasted yet soft homemade bread and dipping oil, then order calamari (dinner only) and a glass of chianti. Next, unbutton your top button to prepare for the Spaghetti Carbonara that will blow your mind. I wasn’t going to admit this, but we ate this pasta twice. In one day. Uber eats DOES range from Little Italy to San Diego Mission Bay Resort, FYI. (To see the other restaurants we visited in Little Italy, check out my “San Diego for Foodies” blog post.)

If you continue East on W. Date Street just one block away, you will land at Amici Park which is home to an amphitheater, bocce ball courts & a dog park. We didn’t make it to this popular gem, which also saddens me, but I hear it’s worth the visit- which I noted for our next trip to San Diego.

Oh, and don’t leave without taking a photo sitting in a huge red rocking chair with the “Little Italy” street sign visible in the background. (Location: 1747 India Street, in front of the popular Filippi’s Pizza Grotto Little Italy)

DO

I know it seems cliche to get a massage on vacation, but this place is worth it: Happy Head Foot Reflexology and Massage – Sports Arena. Make an appointment & just do it. Once you’ve had of the best, inexpensive massages of your life, take a short Uber ride over to Liberty Public Market. This market is full of THE best foods, some local shops, and a large assortment of local brews on tap. (Read more about the delicious Liberty Public Market grub we had here.) While you’re in the area, make sure to stop by the airy-industrial Moniker Coffee Company for a coffee or cocktail & shop around in their lovely store. After that, walk over to the adjacent store, Pigment, and buy something. You won’t be able to leave this store empty-handed. I am obsessed with this shop and I have no doubt you will be, too!

RESTAURANTS

Visit my “San Diego for Foodies” blog post for a full list of restaurants we LOVED & will re-visit (plus new ones I can’t wait to try!) when we return to San Diego.

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