PeaceJoyAustin

Cheap, free, and local-endorsed things to do in beautiful places

San Diego

 

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  • Vibrant city with beautiful beaches
  • Known for having some of the most perfect weather in the world
  • Excellent food scene with arguably the best Mexican food in the country

Metro Population: 3.1 million (#17 in the U.S.)

When To Visit: Year-round

Climate: Warm, dry, and sunny year-round

Situated on the U.S.-Mexico border two hours south of Los Angeles, San Diego is a more relaxed, less congested younger sister to LA. Blanketed with gorgeous beaches and covered in palm trees, the city has many interesting pockets to explore and more than its fair share of delicious eats.

Photo: Highway 163 from University Avenue, Hillcrest

Where To Go in San Diego

La Jolla

This luxurious beachside neighborhood has beautiful coastal walkways and upscale shops and restaurants.

  • La Jolla Cove: This stunning beach in the heart of La Jolla has exquisitely carved cliffs and a population of adorable seals. Free. 1100 Coast Boulevard.
  • Torrey Pines State Reserve: The rare seaside-thriving Torrey Pine and majestic ocean views are the main draws of this park with dozens of miles of hiking trails which meander through the hills or deposit you down on the beach. Park along the beach to avoid the exorbitant entrance fee. Free. 12600 North Torrey Pines Road.
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La Jolla Cove

Downtown

The city’s beautiful center lies on the San Diego Bay and is very walkable.

  • Old Town: This historic district pays homage to San Diego’s beginnings as part of Mexican territory and has quaint restaurants, shops, museums, and the famously “haunted” Whaley House. Free.
  • Little Italy: One of the city’s most prestigious neighborhoods, this area just north of Downtown has a delightful variety of shops and restaurants to explore. Free.
  • Gaslamp Quarter: The hub of San Diego’s nightlife, this section of bars and clubs has casual, swanky, and everything in between. Free.

Coronado

This resort island is situated just across the grand Coronado Bridge from Downtown.

  • Hotel del Coronado: The most famous hotel in San Diego, this historic site situated on the beach has an ornate lobby and scenic outdoor areas to explore. Free. 1500 Orange Avenue, Coronado.
  • Chicano Park: On the eastern terminus of the Coronado Bridge, this park created under freeway overpasses features hundreds of murals from Latino(a) artists. Free. 1949 Logan Avenue, Barrio Logan.

Hillcrest/North Park

Two of the most popular neighborhoods for hip young professionals, these neighboring communities are the hub of San Diego’s hipster and LGBTQ communities.

  • Balboa Park: This beautiful and huge park has grand architecture, fountains, botanic gardens, and museums to explore. Free. 1949 El Prado, North Park.
  • San Diego Zoo: Widely renowned as the best zoo in the world, the San Diego Zoo is regarded for its huge size and large, authentic animal enclosures. $52 admission. 2920 Zoo Drive, North Park.
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Balboa Park

Mission Bay, Pacific Beach, & Point Loma

Popular among locals, these areas feature a conglomeration of casual bars and a huge bay in which you can boat, kayak, or paddleboat.

  • Sunset Cliffs: As the name suggests, these dramatic cliffs are one of the best places in the city to watch the sunset over the Pacific. Free. 1253 Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, Point Loma.
  • Cabrillo National Monument: This military cemetery on the tip of Point Loma just south of Mission Bay has a lighthouse and incredible views of the San Diego Bay and Downtown skyline. Free. 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive, Point Loma.
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Sunset Cliffs

North Coast Cities

A drive north from San Diego along the Pacific Coast Highway will take you through several small cities, each with cute downtown areas and beautiful beaches.

  • Del Mar
  • Solana Beach
  • Encinitas
  • Carlsbad
    • South Carlsbad State Beach: A long and gorgeous beach you can experience on sand or from above on a long boardwalk along the Pacific Coast Highway. Free parking available in the nearby residential areas. Free. 7201 Carlsbad Boulevard.
  • Oceanside
    • Oceanside Pier: One of the longest piers on the West Coast, Oceanside Pier features on-pier dining and is surrounded by miles upon miles of beach. Free. 300 South Pacific Street.

 

San Diego Cheap Eats

San Diego restaurants and fast casual eateries popular with locals where you can get a full meal for under $15. I always highlight some vegan or vegetarian options – cutting down on the amount of meat you eat is by far the #1 way you can reduce your environmental impact and contribute less to animal cruelty.

The Original Sab-E-Lee: Try authentic Northeastern Thai cuisine at this popular eatery with very affordable prices. 13223 Black Mountain Road, Suite 2, Linda Vista. (858) 780-0022

Phil’s BBQ: The city’s most famous eatery – come for great BBQ but expect a line. 3750 Sports Arena Boulevard, Mission Bay. (619) 226-6333

Las Cuatro Milpas: A hole in the wall that specializes in authentic Mexican street food. There’s usually a line, but it’s worth it! 1875 Logan Avenue, Barrio Logan. (619) 234-4460

Cenote Grill: If you’re in the North County area, stop into this cute pint-size family-owned Mexican restaurant for their unique take on the cuisine. 1896 West El Norte Parkway, Escondido. (760) 740-9911

Kous Kous: A cute local spot offering flavorful and filling Moroccan dishes. 3940 Fourth Avenue #110, Hillcrest. (619) 295-5560

Lucky’s Golden Phoenix: The cheapest breakfast spot in San Diego that serves traditional American breakfast dishes with silly fortune cookies in a homestyle setting. 3804 Grim Avenue, North Park. (619) 297-2760

San Diego Nightlife

San Diego bars, lounges, and clubs that are popular with locals and meet one or more of these criteria: A) Unique, unlike anyplace you’ll find in another city  B) Fun and lively, sure to be a good time  C) Beautiful decor or view

Bar Pink: A colorful cocktail lounge with good music and room to dance. 3829 30th Street, North Park. (619) 564-7194

Kettner Exchange: A stylish new multi-level bar with high ceilings and a pub feel. 2001 Kettner Boulevard, Little Italy. (619) 255-2001

Altitude Sky Lounge: A swanky rooftop bar on top of the Marriott with impressive views of the Downtown skyline. 660 K Street, Downtown. (619) 696-0234

Prohibition: The Gaslamp’s most popular speakeasy, this bar which is entered through a law office facade has a 1920s theme, creative craft cocktails, and wonderful Wednesday jam sessions. 548 5th Avenue, Gaslamp. (619) 501-1919

Rich’s: The largest and most popular gay club in San Diego, Rich’s has multiple rooms, bars, and dancefloors. 1051 University Avenue, Hillcrest. (619) 295-2195

The Tipsy Crow: A local favorite in the Gaslamp, this casual yet stylish bar has ample seating, a superb food menu, and silly decor. 770 5th Avenue, Gaslamp. (619) 338-9300

Nearby Side Trips from San Diego

Orange County: Just north of San Diego, the OC has several major cities and is most known for hosting the Disneyland resort in Anaheim and some of the nicest beaches in the state. Read more.

Los Angeles: The largest city in the West (2 hours north) is so much more than the entertainment capital of the world. Explore its plethora of neighborhoods and find hidden treasures like the tucked away canals of Venice and the secret stairs of Silver Lake. Read more.

Joshua Tree National Park: The alien-looking joshua tree is the main attraction at this park 3 hours north of San Diego, but there are also beautiful rock formations, oases, and wildlife to see. Read more.

Mojave National Preserve: Off the beaten path, this preserve 4 hours north contains the 3rd tallest sand dunes in the U.S., the densest grove of joshua trees in the country, and some unique hiking opportunities. Read more.

Channel Islands National Park: Accessible only via boat from Ventura (3 hours north of SD), this park allows you to explore five of the only islands off the coast of Southern California. Undeveloped, these islands contain several endemic species, beautiful sea caves, and prime hiking. Read more.

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