I grew up in San Diego, so I’ve spent years hearing people say to me, “Oh my GOD, San Diego is the most beautiful city in the United States” and being, like, “Huh? I guess.” Growing up in a place often makes it hard to appreciate it’s natural beauty so after moving away for college and then to New York for post-University work, I’ve finally realized how good I had it with the endless 70-degree days, incredible beaches, irreplaceable Mexican good, and can’t-beat-it access to Mexico and Central America. And now that I’ve learned my lesson, my mom decided to move east, so my excuse to go to SoCal and visit have dwindled. Here are the spots I think about when I’m California dreamin’, after the jump…
Del Mar Racetrack at the Del Mar Fairgrounds
2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar
(858) 792-4235, DMTC.com
Nothing fuels sexual tension like a little competition – the Del Mar Racetrack in Northern San Diego county is just a few miles from the beach, has the sweet smell of salt in the air, and has horseracing going on all summer long. Place some bets, have a mint julep, and whoop his ass with your impressive gambling knowledge.
San Diego Surfing Academy
820 Cathy Lane, Cardiff by the Sea
(800) 447-7873, SurfSDSA.com
How can you come to San Diego and NOT surf? The city features some of the most beautiful beaches in California, not to mention a mix of impressive waves for experts and smaller rip curls for beginners – ideal for those looking to learn but don’t want to head home covered in bruises.
San Diego Zoo
2920 Zoo Drive
(619) 234-3153, SanDiegoZoo.com
So maybe going to a zoo doesn’t sound especially offbeat, but when the zoo is as renowned as the one in San Diego, you’d be crazy to miss it. The 100-acre site holds over 4,000 rare and endangered animals, not to mention an amazing botanical garden. When you’ve had your fill of the wild life, head down the road to Balboa Park’s “Big Tree”, a Moreton Bay fig tree that was planted in 1914 and has a girth of 145 feet, and have a picnic.
The Sofia Hotel
150 West Broadway
(800) 826-0009, TheSofiaHotel.com
Located in downtown’s “Gaslamp” district, the Sofia Hotel is a boutique inn in a Victorian-era building just steps from some of the city’s best restaurants, entertainment, shopping, and ballpark. Best of all, it’s pet-friendly, for those of us who can’t stand to travel without man’s best friend.
600 F Street
(619) 814-1000, IVYHotel.com
Also in the Gaslamp Quarter, the gorgeous modern furnishings offer a serene vibe when you’re holed up in your hotel room, but the downstairs restaurant and bar is so hoppin’ with activity, it’s easy to get the best of both worlds. Also, for those of you hiding an inner DJ AM, the hotel’s club offers DJing lessons to hotel guests. Oh and there’s in-room bottle service for P. Diddy-types.
723 Felspar Street
(858) 270-2323, Tower23Hotel.com
Located in Pacific Beach, just blocks from the ocean and tons of amazing restaurants (including the hotel’s own chic eatery JRDN), Tower 23 is THE hip hotel to stay at. The hotel itself is minimalist and mellow, with tons of light – a grown up Jeff Spicoli would be at home here.
1116 25th Street
There are plenty of cheesy wannabe L.A. or New York clubs in San Diego, not to mention a fine collection of grimy dive bars, but for those gals looking for a pretention-free evening with cool dudes into music, look no further than the Turf Club. While you could certainly eat here – the restaurant section allows patrons to grill their own meat – the bar is the place to go to meet single, friendly, smart hotties.
701 C Street
(619) 814-5126, JadeTheater.com
This Shanghai-themed lounge is teeming with romantic energy and tons of 20-somethings. The best time to stop by is between 4:30 and 7pm on Monday-Friday for Happy Hour, where the after work crowd downs cheap, but delicious drinks, and $5 appetizers. If you’re staying late night, gobble up some of the restaurants fantastic sushi before dancing to the nightclub’s amazing DJs on three levels.
660 K Street
(800) 661-9739, AltitudeSkyBar.com
This open air club/lounge is 22 stories about downtown San Diego, so if you have a fear of heights or a hatred of Las Vegas-esque scenes, you might want to skip this joint. That said, if loud music, hot dudes, and pricey but creative cocktails are you’re thing, Altitude can’t be beat.
DINNER A DEUX
721 9th Avenue
(619) 232-3242, CafeChloe.com
This little French bistro in downtown San Diego is a slice of Parisian heaven. Twinkling tea lights, art deco furnishings, and the most amazing mussels and frites make this one of my first dining spots when I head home. Killer wine selection too!
3627 University Avenue
It’s not the most romantic spot on earth, but if you go to Southern California and don’t take the time to eat some Mexican food, you shouldn’t have even come. Where the best Mexican food is in San Diego will be a debate that goes on for decades, but Super Cocina is appreciated by the locals for its authentic carnitas and enchiladas.
Jack’s La Jolla
7863 Girard Avenue, La Jolla
(858) 456-8111, JacksLaJolla.com
Jack’s is kind of beyond a restaurant – it’s got three levels, a couple bars, an area just for sushi, a DJ, etcetera – the Los Angeles Times called it an “epicurean funhouse” which is totally fitting, especially if you and your date are foodies. For dinner, eat at Viaggio and order the sweet corn ravioli with lobster. It’s sex on a fork.
Wear It Again Sam
3823 5th Avenue
(619) 299-0185, WearItAgainSam.com
Gah! Vintage! Aisles and aisles of it and it’s not all $20,000! In highschool I got two amazing finds here – my vintage butter yellow prom dress with a bodice dipped in rhinestones and a red peacoat that I wore to shreds. Fifteen years later, the wares still floor me – even if you just want a chic vintage scarf or a glam brooch, Wear It Again Sam will have it.
130 S Cedros Avenue, Solana Beach
(858) 259-8589, TucciBoutique.com
There was once a time where it was really hard for San Diego to compete with L.A. in terms of availability of fashion-forward designers and trends. But then Tucci came along and other boutiques followed suit – this comfy and cozy shop carries Philip Lim and Mayle, amongst others, and is totally worth the trip up the coast.
2689 Via De La Valle, Del Mar
(858) 523-0693, Maddi-D.com
While you’re on the way to Tucci, stop by this little boutique, where the store’s owner (his name is Matti, obvi) will act as your personal stylist and hook you up with his great eye for style. The clothes are on the pricer side, but the shop has certain designers and items that are hard to find at mainstream department stores like Saks or Bloomingdales.