San Diego Travel Guide: Maximize Your Visit!

San Diego! I am so mesmerized by this city. I ventured to SD the second weekend of October with my boyfriend, as a mini birthday trip for us to spend together. To give a bit of background: the last time I was in San Diego was on a family trip as a 12 year old. 14 years later, I am back to appreciate all this glorious city has to offer! San Diego is a huge city and a weekend is simply not enough to absorb it all! We stayed for 4 days, which gave us ample time to see most of the highlights. With that said, I bring you my San Diego travel guide to making the most out of your upcoming trip!

When and Where to Buy Your Flight to San Diego

In this San Diego Travel Guide, I would advise starting to look for flights a month in advance. I started looking around that timeframe, but ended up booking 3 weeks ahead of the trip date. In order to maximize our weekend, we decided to fly out on Friday afternoon. TRAVEL HACK: look into one-way flights first before looking at round trip flights. The price difference will shock you! A roundtrip booking would have costed at minimum $260 per person for this specific weekend. We booked two one-way flights and spent $116 total per person (see below):

10/9; Southwest Airlines, 1:20pm, SFO—- 3pm, SAN $78/pp

10/13; United Airlines, 7:39am, SAN— 9:24am, SFO $38/pp

I have not flown Southwest in several years (honestly cannot even remember when I flew it last), so I was pleasantly surprised with the service. We all know that Southwest is known for their free checked bag policy, but other things that were enticing about our experience were the beautiful airport terminal, getting to choose our seats while on the plane, and the extremely friendly and charismatic flight attendants. Another TRAVEL HACK: try to pick dates of travel that will allow you to extend! Our original return date was Monday morning (which was a holiday for most companies). My boyfriend’s job was originally having him come in that day, but on Friday evening he got the day off so we took advantage of the extra day and extended our trip. We flew home Tuesday morning to maximize the full Monday. Shoutout to United Airlines for allowing us to change our booking for free!

Where to Stay: San Diego Travel Guide

In choosing hotels, we wanted one that was central to sites, food, and excursions. We also wanted an advantageous price for what we would get during a 4-night stay. HotelTonight app was the best way to find not only a great location, but look into the amenities the hotel offer during our stay. We chose Westin Downtown San Diego, and we were very pleased with our package! The hotel was $105 a night and our resort fees offered us:

  • Complimentary airport shuttle
  • $15/day credit to use at the hotel restaurant
  • Daily snack happy hour
  • Free bike rental
  • 4 Daily complimentary water bottles

The room itself was modern, spacious, and comfortable: we did not want to leave the bed! The location was perfect! We were able to walk to Gaslamp District, Little Italy District, and the Pier with ease.

San Diego Travel Guide: A Day-by-Day Breakdown

This section of the San Diego Travel Guide is a breakdown of what I did while in San Diego! If you do not have as much time as I did, I suggest choosing your most preferred sites and spots to visit prior to arriving.

Friday

  • Oscars Mexican Restaurant: This was our first stop in San Diego after arriving at the SAN airport! I had heard such great reviews from this place and was very excited to try their famous tacos. The prices were reasonable as well (~$5/taco). I had the smoked fish and grilled shrimp tacos, and PJ had the Surf & Turf tacos. We both raved about what we got!!! Definitely a must-visit place.
  • Ballast Point Brewery: We decided to come here for pre-dinner drinks while watching the Lakers game. I know San Diego has a huge brewery and distillery scene, and this place had great reviews. PJ and I wanted to try flights so that we could get a sense of how multiple beers tasted without committing to one full glass. I loved all my choices! If you’re curious on which ones I chose, head to my Instagram @nkbaybayy and click the “San Diego” highlight to see how I ranked each one! TRAVEL HACK: Ask to sit in the cabanas! We got one all to ourselves, equipped with TVs and A/C, at no additional cost!
  • Lumi by Akita Back: This was such a stunning rooftop restaurant, and Akita Back is a Michelin-star chef! This spot specializes in Japanese cuisine with an emphasis on sushi. We were told by the waiters that many of the staff and chefs worked prior at Nobu, a world-class sushi restaurant, so we were already impressed prior to ordering food. We ordered the baby back ribs, Lumi roll, Surf & Turf roll, and the monthly cocktail special “Evil Apple” with tequila and apple cider. The service was impeccable, and the food was both beautiful and delicious! This place books out a month in advance so get your reservation asap!
  • Gas Lamp Quarter: After dinner, we were about 1 mile away from our hotel so we decided to walk home. We walked through the Gas Lamp District, which is a vibrant and popular area of town. The main street (5th street) was closed to traffic, which allowed for visitors to enjoy an unobstructed street filled with music, art, bars, and restaurants. It felt like another world! We definitely enjoyed seeing the character of the city through this district.

Saturday

  • “Smile, You’re in San Diego” mural: This mural was only 2 blocks away from our hotel so we decided to stop here first thing in the morning. It is a vibrant and bold sign that spans an entire building of San Diego. If you like murals, this is one of the most popular signs to visit! Address: 109 W C St in Downtown San Diego.
  • Cafe21: We went here for brunch and I was blown away! It features Mediterranean style cuisine, and the menu is super creative. We started with a mimosa flight, which offers 6 flavors. Black Sesame Vanilla and Spicy Cranberry Chipotle were my favorite flavors! These were the most unique flavors I have ever heard of! For food, we got a pesto chicken sandwich, banana caramel dutch pancake, short rib omelette, and poached egg avocado toast. Everything was so incredible! No reservation needed here, but when you get there expect a 15-20 minute wait.
  • Balboa Park: We rented the hotel bikes to venture here. This park gives Golden Gate Park a run for its money! I was amazed by how big, beautiful, and populous the park was. Must see spots in the park are: Museum of Man, Artist Village, and Old Cactus Garden. We saw coy-fish and turtles in the pond! How rare is that?! I was mesmerized by everything in the park, and it was a memorable experience to see it via bike ride!
  • USS Midway: PJ is a huge history buff, so this spot was high on his list of things to see. We rode our bikes here and got to bike along the pier and see all the massive marine ships docked. There are tours available for this attraction, and i’ve linked more information here!
  • Topside Terrace Kitchen & Bar: This swanky spot sits on top of Hotel Republic, a stunning boutique hotel. Rooftops are widely common in San Diego, and each one continued to impress me all weekend long. The rooftop features alluring modern lighting, comfy seats, firepits, and an open and airy floor plan. For food, we ordered honey chipotle wings and chicken pesto gnocchi pasta. The presentation was phenomenal and the food matched!
  • Born & Raised: 3 years and 6.5 million dollars later, this restaurant came to fruition and I am very glad it did. I did heavy research on this place and snagged a reservation one month in advance in order to dine here. TRAVEL HACK: plan your reservations well in advance! PJ and I intended to only buy drinks since we had made dinner plans, and that worked out smoothly. The service was exemplary, the facilities were pristine, and the cocktails were out of this world! I walked around the restaurant for 10 minutes just to take it all in prior to sitting down. We ordered the following drinks: The Daisy, Espresso Martini, and the Corpse Reviver #2. Everything about this 1920s inspired spot is thoughtfully curated.
  • Little Italy District: Born and Raised sits in the heart of this district, so we walked through it on the way home. We observed artists, musicians, and festive banter through the streets. The district came alive in the nighttime in ways I have never seen in other major cities. So much culture and spirit, and definitely a must-see in San Diego and a must-add to your San Diego Travel Guide.

Sunday

  • Morning Glory: I can’t say enough about how great this place is! It absolutely blew me away with the aesthetics, ambiance, and menu. The usual wait time is 2 hours, but we befriended a waitress from Born & Raised who also works here and she sat us in 15 minutes! TRAVEL HACK: get here by 8:15am to get a chance to dine here! To see a play-by-play of this dining experience, check my ‘San Diego’ highlight on Instagram. We ordered the Morning Glory Fried Rice, Soufflé pancakes, Chicken and Waffles, and Dirty Scalloped potatoes. For drinks we ordered a Hurricane 75 and a Cafe De Olla. It was a lovely sensory experience and I will be back!
  • Ketch Brewery: After breakfast, we went to the airport to pick up a rental car. TRAVEL HACK: rent a car to see spots outside downtown! Everything we did this day was made possible by a car and allowed us to set our own schedule, and it is overall way cheaper than multiple Ubers across the city. We paid $60 total (gas included) for 24 hours. PJ organized for us to meet his mentor and company, so we drove to Ketch after picking up the car. This spot is located on Portside Pier, and the weather was particularly glorious that afternoon. This rooftop brewery offered many different beers and I fell in love with their hazy IPA! We got to sit right by the waterline and could see out for miles!
  • Coronado Island: This was one of my favorites sites to visit because of the history behind the iconic Hotel Del! The beach itself was stunning and the pictures *almost* do it justice. We stayed here for about an hour and took pictures. TRAVEL HACK: Even if you are not a resident of the hotel, you are still able to access the beach and walk inside the lobby of the hotel!
  • El Prez: From all of the Instagram stories and pictures i’ve seen over the years, I needed to see what all the hype was about. This massive 3-story restaurant/bar/day club is an entertaining hangout destination. We came here right before sunset and got a seat in the corner of the rooftop which was the best view of the house to watch the sunset. We ordered loaded nachos and the legendary “Phuck-it” buckets! Due to Covid, this place was definitely not to its normal par of socialization, but it was still a cool experience and i’m glad I went!
  • Pacific Beach: We did not sit at Pacific beach, but we were able to walk along Ocean Blvd to check out the street vendors and popped into a few rooftop bars! It was a very walkable area, and the weather was a perfect breeze after the sunset.
  • Firehouse Rooftop: We ended the night at this rooftop that donned funky neon lights, and plush furniture. We ordered a watermelon cocktail and some beers. They have lots of TVs so we watched a few sports games before heading home. This place takes reservations so I recommend reserving prior to coming. We spontaneously came here and waited 20-30 minutes to get in. It was an overall relaxing vibe.

Monday

  • Breakfast Republic: We went to the location in East Village, which was less than 5 minutes away from our hotel. We ordered the Jurassic Pork Benedict and the churro pancakes. The portions are huge! For drinks we ordered the pink ribbon mimosa. This place doesn’t take reservations, and we waited about 15 minutes to get seated. We enjoyed the food!
  • “Greetings from San Diego” mural: This quintessential sign was nestled in a seemingly quiet spot of North Park. It is an eye-catching and vibrant sign, that we enjoyed taking pictures at! Address: 4225 30th St.
  • Spruce Street Suspension Bridge: This secluded spot was a true beauty! It is located in an inconspicuous residential area, and it is a nice, short, leisurely distance. We spent under 30 minutes here, and were able to see everything there was to it.
  • Mission Beach: I was so amazed at how beautiful, accessible, and enjoyable beaches are in this area. I never grew up in places where beaches were prevalent, so to be able to venture here and sink my feet into the warm sand, and feel the temperate water on my skin, I was in pure bliss! We spent an hour here, and it was a perfect amount of time. Having the car was a major plus because the beach is 35 minutes away from our hotel. Definitely a must-see spot!
  • Liberty Public Market: I’ve been to public markets in many cities, and this was one of my favorites! We walked around to see what food vendors they had, and there were countless! We spent time in the Mess Hall, which offered a wide selection of beers on tap so we decided to do an impromptu beer flight tasting. With our purchase, we had to buy an $8 food voucher, and we spent it on *super yummy* macaroons! The outdoor deck layout was beautiful and cozy. This was an unexpected highlight of the trip!
  • Old Town: This spot features acres of Mexican heritage, historical sites, colorful shops, and eclectic restaurants. For lunch, we went to Miguel’s. Their portions are large! We ordered the enchiladas and the sizzling chicken fajita plate, along with margaritas. Their chips and salsa are addicting!!! I had multiple servings of them. We then went to Fred’s and ordered their famous massive margaritas. We walked around and popped into some stores. Definitely a tourist destination, but glad I got to see it!
  • La Jolla Cove: This spot is talked about extensively, so we had to make our way over. It is about a 45 minute drive from downtown, and we wanted to watch the sunset. Thankfully, PJ’s cousin was able to give us a ride here! Once we got there, the smell of sea lions and the ocean were pungent, but that was quickly overshadowed by the impromptu seals and sea lions show we walked into! The views of the water were gorgeous!
  • Scripps Pier: It’s been the site of countless Instagram posts and promotional ads for San Diego. We walked 2.7 miles from the Cove to the Pier and tried our best to make it before sundown (and we *barely* made it)! Simplistic, yet stunning scenery! TRAVEL HACK: get here at 5:30pm for Golden Hour! By doing this, you will get the perfect *postcard* photos! The water is also the perfect temperature! We walked in the water most of the way down and we were comforted by the small waves sinking through our feet!
  • Tacos El Gordo: The only place PJ absolutely wanted to take me was here. For a late dinner, we went to the location in National City. The Adobada tacos were UNREAL! So cheap, yet so fantastic! I was still full from lunch but willingly ate my 2 tacos and was a happy camper! It was a great ending to our wonderful trip!

In conclusion, I hope this San Diego Travel Guide provided helpful guidance on planning your next San Diego adventure! Want to see my San Diego experience come to life! Watch my latest Youtube video below!

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1 Comment

  1. February 7, 2021 / 10:47 am

    These are really fantastic ideas!

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