Photo Courtesy of Ganapathy Kumar
San Diego is the birthplace of California and sits just 20 minutes from the border with Mexico. Mild weather, sunshine, and 70 miles of coastline help justify the nickname "America's Finest City." Travelers come to San Diego for world famous tourist attractions such as the San Diego Zoo and the beac…hes, but there's more to the city beyond the Gaslamp and Pacific Beach. In San Diego's culturally diverse neighborhoods, you'll find unique restaurants, breweries, art galleries, and locally owned boutiques. San Diego is built atop undeveloped canyons giving the city’s neighborhoods distinctive boundaries and interspersing the city with open space. The canyons also mean that attractions are a bit spread out.
What to know before you go to San Diego
During the months of May and June, known as "May Gray" and "June Gloom," the sun remains hidden much of the day behind a thin veil of high fog. The hottest months, with temps in the eighties, are August, September, and October, when hillsides are golden-brown. A little rain falls during winter, which is the best time to view the natural landscape at its greenest. The combination of ocean, coastal canyons, and mountains to the east creates a variety of microclimates. A 10-degree temperature difference can occur within as little as 15 miles.
Definitely check out Sunset Cliffs Natural Park in Point Loma. See the crystal waters from the sandstone bluffs. You might feel like you're in some other country—a beautiful one, for sure.
The border location plus the influx of Asian immigrants over the centuries means San Diego specializes in Mexican and Asian cuisines. The locavore movement is growing, and many restaurants have been developing relationships with farms just outside the city. You'll find chef-owned fine-dining establishments, hole-in-the-wall destinations, and dozens of food trucks.
San Diego's climate and location on the West Coast draw people from all over the world. A variety of cultures are reflected in the shops and restaurants around the city. Each neighborhood has its own feel and style. If you love architecture and hidden treasures, plan to park your car, get out, and walk around!
FESTA!, in Little Italy, is the largest Italian festival on the West Coast. Balboa Park December Nights is a Christmas-themed festival that draws over 350,000 visitors. Restaurant Week happens twice a year—a time to eat gourmet at a great price from more than 170 participating restaurants. The San Diego LGBT Pride fest in Hillcrest draws over 200,000 participants. San Diegans love their festivals, and something is usually happening every month of the year. At these lively events, the trolley offers an easy transportation alternative to parking a car.
- The best time of year is September and October, when the ocean is warm enough for most swimmers to get in the water without a wetsuit, and the hordes of tourists have left.
- Winter is considered "off-season," so you can get lower hotel rates and still enjoy great weather.
- No matter the time of year, dressing in layers is recommended, as the temperature can change in short distances due to microclimates.
- San Diego's weather is dry, so carrying water with you is essential!
- The neighborhoods of La Jolla, Ocean Beach, and Pacific Beach have only one main road leading in and out. Avoid visiting around the morning and evening rush hours or you may get caught in a traffic bottleneck.
The San Diego International Airport, formerly known as Lindbergh Field, sits right in the heart of San Diego. Flying in can be a real thrill as the plane passes low over Balboa Park and between buildings.
The San Diego freeway system is laid out in a grid, making it easy to get around by car anywhere in the 372 square miles of city. The trolley is a great choice if you are staying in downtown San Diego, as it stops at many destinations of interest. A machine at each trolley stop accepts cash or credit. Another option is to rent an electric smart car from Car2Go (register in advance, as it takes about five business days to get your membership card). Use the card to activate any Car2Go smart car, and when you're done, just leave it parked in any legal parking space in the city. To get to the various towns along the coast in San Diego County, or farther north, hop aboard the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner.
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Casey Hatfield-Chiotti is a former television news reporter whose passion for food and travel has taken her from the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro to the cobblestone streets of Paris’s Marais neighborhood, where she lived for two years. Casey’s been known to plan an entire trip around a destination restaurant and regularly sniffs out bakeries like a bloodhound. In addition to AFAR, the multimedia journalist’s work has been featured in the New York Times, Travel + Leisure, Sunset, Robb Report, Departures, Bon Appétit, and Modern Luxury. Her family travel-focused website travelproper.com launched in 2009.
Rajam Roose runs a small massage practice in San Diego and organizes conferences for manual therapists. She enjoys good food and hiking throughout the state of California, particularly the Central Coast. In her youth, she gave away her belongings to embark on a 4-year hitchhiking adventure around the U.S., Mexico, the Bahamas, and Venezuela. You can learn more at hitchhikingstories.com