10x Why San Diego Is My Favorite City In The USA

Travel San Diego California USA La Jolla

I recently realized I’ve been to San Diego three times in the past year and a half, and I haven’t written a single blog post about it. Shame on me. Especially since San Diego is probably the only city in the US I would seriously consider relocating to. Yes, I said it. Well, the other San might be the runner up (yes people, I mean San Francisco). What can I say: west coast, best coast.

Travel San Diego Pacific Beach California USA

Travel San Diego California USA Pacific Beach

Full disclosure: if we ever were to move to North America, it would probably be to a cabin in the woods on Vancouver Island so I can work for  Sitka (only the coolest brand ever), or a ranch near the Canadian Rocky Mountains so we can go paddling on the lakes every weekend. A girl can dream, right? But! If my surf career takes off at some point (note: a baby bump does not help with this career plan), it’ll definitely be San Diego.

Travel Surf San Diego California USA

The first time we arrived in this laid-back Southern California city, was on our NYC to San Diego honeymoon road trip in November 2015. Yes I know, I still have to share soooooo much details of our cross country adventure (catch up here). Please bear with me! Anyway, it was so cool to finally reach the Pacific Coast after driving our little home on wheels all the way from New York. And especially to park right in front of the awesome Pacific Beach pad my brother and his wife live in. We walked over to the beach, had a few beers while munching on fresh seafood, and we watched a beautiful sunset. Yep. I fell in love with San Diego instantly.

Travel San Diego California USA

After that first week living it up San Diego style, we came back for a second visit only 6 months later, and we had our third visit last March. Yes, the fact that we have family living here is absolutely the best excuse to keep coming back here, but even if you don’t, I’ll give you 10 reasons why you shouldn’t skip San Diego on your next California vacay!

1. Sun, Sand & Surf

Even though this list is written in no particular order: the beaches have to be the number one reason why I love San Diego. And not necessarily because I am a beach person (I’m actually very bad at being a sunbather), but because this is what gives this city its cool and relaxed vibe, without being pretentious like another SoCal beach city… Yes Los Angeles, I’m talking to you.

My favorite beaches are Pacific Beach, Mission Beach and Ocean Beach, where you can chill in the soft sand, play some volleybal or watch the locals catch some waves. If you’re in the mood for surfing yourself: know your own skill level, respect the locals, and have fun out there!

Travel San Diego California USA

Travel San Diego California USA

Mission Bay is the perfect beach if you’re traveling with young children, since the water is very calm here. It’s also a good place to go stand up paddle boarding! You can rent equipment at the Mission Bay Aquatic Center, which is owned and operated by students of San Diego State University and UC San Diego.

2. Balboa Park

What started as a city park in 1835 is now known as one of the highlights of a trip to San Diego. It was renamed Balboa Park during the 1915 Panama-California Exhibition, after Spanish explorer Vasco de Núñez de Balboa.

Travel San Diego California USA Balboa Park

Travel San Diego California USA Balboa Park

It currently hosts around 15 museums, multiple gardens, the Old Globe Theatre, the gorgeous Spreckels Open Air Organ Pavilion, a golf course, and the world famous San Diego Zoo (see more below). You can roam around the beautiful Spanish mission style buildings, check out the pond in front of the Botanical Building, and have a lovely afternoon picknick.

Travel San Diego California USA Balboa Park

Travel San Diego California USA Balboa Park

Travel San Diego California USA Balboa Park

3. San Diego Zoo

The above mentioned 1915 Panama-California Exhibition also meant the opening of the San Diego Zoo. It’s now world-famous, mostly because it’s one of the first zoos in the world that used an open-air concept instead of the cage-like zoos that were common at the time. It’s also one of the few zoos in the world that houses ánd breeds the Giant Panda.

Travel San Diego California USA San Diego Zoo Panda

Travel San Diego California USA ZOO

Yes, that’s enough reason to go for a visit right? Well, I will make it difficult for you because the San Diego Zoo also has a Safari Park, which unfortunately is in a totally different location. So why go to the Safari Park? Two words. Cheetah Run. And yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds. They train young cheetahs alongside their best friends – ridiculously cute domestic dogs – to run at full speed, like they would learn from their moms in the wild. It’s so cool to witness the fastest mammal on the planet reach its top speed.

Travel San Diego California USA Safari Park Cheetah Run

Travel San Diego California USA Safari Park

I can’t tell you which park to visit, obviously I’d recommend both, so you might have to look into them and see what fits your interest and itinerary best. You can’t go wrong either way.

4. Old Town

You simply cannot do a San Diego trip without a visit to the oldest settlement in California. That’s right. The Old Town neighborhood houses the San Diego Military Presidio, where the first settlers in present day California pitched their tents back in 1769, and the Old Town State Historic Park.

Travel San Diego California USA Old Town

If you want to get a sense of what life was like in those early days, you should definitely spent a few hours roaming around here. The old buildings nowadays house old school shops, museums and restaurants (tacos anyone?). Also very fun ánd educational for little kiddos.

Travel San Diego California USA Old Town

5. Food Glorious Food

Okay, truth be told, finding some delicious food in San Diego is super easy. First of all, it’s in California, so hello farmer’s market galore! Second of all, it’s an ocean city, so hello seafood galore! And third of all, it’s super close to the Mexican border (like 20 miles or so), so hello taco galore! So my best advice is to follow your nose, see where the locals eat, and check out #EatSanDiego on Instagram. Obviously we had a lot of help since my brother and his wife know all the good places, and I’ll share a few of our favorites.

• Swell Coffee for the best breakfast in Mission Beach.

Travel San Diego California USA Swell Coffee Pacific Beach

Woody’s for a pre-surf hearty breakfast burrito wíth a Pacific Beach view.

Travel San Diego California USA Woody's Pacific Beach

Holy Matcha for Instagrammable drinks and interior in North Park.

• The Catamaran Resort for a fancy lunch with a view in Mission Bay.
• Rigoberto’s Taco Shop for super affordable and super delicious carnitas tacos.

Travel San Diego California USA Rigoberto's Taco Shop
• SEA180 for a lunch with a view at Imperial Beach.
• In-N-Out Burger obviously needs to be on this list: best fast food in California (order animal fries!).

• Stone Brewing at Liberty Station for great food and craft beers in a beautiful patio.
• SD Tap Room in Pacific Beach where you can tap your own craft beer and munch on great bar food.
• Miguel’s for tacos and margaritas (in pitchers!) on Coronado Island.

Travel San Diego California USA Coronado Island Miguels

JRDN for amazing seafood and gorgeous Pacific Beach sunsets.
Dunedin for amazing New Zealand lamb burgers in hipster hood North Park.
Tom Ham’s Lighthouse for a fancy seafood dinner with beautiful downtown views.

Travel San Diego California USA Downtown

6. The USS Midway

Okay, even if you’re not really into this kind of stuff, I can HIGHLY recommend visiting the USS Midway, docked in downtown San Diego. It was commissioned around World War II and until 1955 it was the largest vessel in the world. {Insert Trump voice} It’s huge. It’s amazing. It really is. To give you a sense of how big it is: its flight deck has the length of three American football fields. CRAZY. It was decommissioned as a Navy ship in 1993 and it has been a museum since 2004.

Travel San Diego California USA USS Midway

Included in your ticket is a self-guided audio tour (which I always love), and you can roam around the 2000 (!) compartments and even take a seat in some of the aircrafts. Very cool. We visited on Veterans Day – by accident might I add – and it was super interesting to hear stories from the actual pilots that flew these aircrafts on and off the USS Midway, with only 45 seconds (!) between landings.

Travel San Diego California USA USS Midway Veterans Day

Travel San Diego California USA USS Midway

On the pier next to the Midway you can find the kissing statue (“Unconditional Surrender”), which is often used as a photo op for ceremonies.

Travel San Diego California USA USS Midway Unconditional Surrender Kiss Statue

7. Coronado Island

You should definitely take the ferry to Coronado Island and rent a few beach cruisers when you get there. It’s a lovely resort island and is most famous for “The Del” – Hotel Del Coronado.

Travel San Diego California USA Coronado Island

Travel San Diego California USA Coronado Island

Travel San Diego California USA Coronado Island

8. Petco Park

Let’s Go Padres! If I’m correct the San Diego Padres aren’t the greatest team in the league bút their stadium has been named the best stadium in the US multiple times. And I don’t know what it is, but the atmosphere at a ball game really gets me every single time. I love it! So if you have the time, see if you can catch a game.

Travel San Diego California USA Petco Park Padres

Travel San Diego California USA Petco Park Padres

9. Whale Watching

Okay, I’m cheating a little bit here because we haven’t done any actual whale watching in San Diego (though we’ve seen them in Monterey, Vancouver Island, Maui, and the Azores Islands). But if you’re in San Diego in whale season – between December and April – you should hop on a tour because seeing these animals is always a magical experience and you have great sighting chances in the area. Side note: you should skip Sea World (watch Blackfish!) and go see the whales in their natural habitat, instead of cages.

10. La Jolla

Supposedly, La Jolla is the most popular beach destination in the greater San Diego area. And although I prefer the above mentioned Pacific Beach, I totally get why a lot of people stay in La Jolla. It’s simply a beautiful beach town, with gorgeous dramatic sea cliffs, a classy upscale vibe, ánd a local seal colony. Nuff said, right? But fyi, even if they look like they don’t mind, please don’t disturb these crazy cute animals. Taking 100s of pictures is no problem though (guilty!).

Travel San Diego California USA La Jolla

Travel San Diego California USA La Jolla

Travel San Diego California USA La Jolla

Travel San Diego California USA La Jolla

Where to Stay

In terms of neighborhoods I would MOST DEFINITELY recommend basing yourself in either Mission Beach or Pacific Beach. This is what your California surf life dreams are made of – or they should be.

Travel San Diego California USA Pacific Beach Mission Bay

Travel San Diego California USA

The vibe here is extremely relaxed, there are fantastic eateries, bars and coffee places on each corner, you can walk to either Mission Bay or Pacific Beach (better yet: rent some beach cruisers), oh and for sure get your groceries from Sprouts Farmers Market (only the best supermarket on the planet).

Travel San Diego California USA

Travel San Diego California USA

During our last visit we stayed in this wonderful Airbnb, and I would absolutely book this again for a future visit. If you’re new to Airbnb you can get a €35 discount if you sign up using this link. Please note, I will get a travel credit as well but it doesn’t cost you a thing. Win win!

More San Diego?

A fun day trip from San Diego are the Carlsbad Flower Fields (see this post). Obviously, there is so much more you can do in San Diego, and I already have a full list of things I want to explore on our next trip. Like seeing Cabrillo National Monument, hiking Torrey Pines State Beach, photographing wildflowers in Anza Borrego State Park, the Tide Pools, hike Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, and many, many more activities. Okay, that’s it for now, I hope you’re now ready to put San Diego on your must visit list: it’s worth it! Full disclosure: I’m checking ticket prices as we speak…

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Travel San Diego California USA Top 10 Things To Do


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