Location: 124 miles / 2 hours south of Los Angeles via train or car (without traffic)
- Travel: about $50 *we drove from Orange County and between each destination
- Accommodation: $200 *two nights in our AirBnB
- Food/Drinks: $170 *we ate out every meal, so we could’ve reeled in our budget here
- Recreation: $5 *donation to Balboa Park, otherwise we partook in free activities
Best for: families, friends, leisure, culture, romance
Getting there: San Diego International Airport, train station (Santa Fe depot), various freeways
Getting around: renting a car is not necessary since there is great city-wide transit via the buses, trolleys, and public bikes are available for rental
We flock to San Diego for various reasons – its gorgeous year-round weather, bountiful art and cultural scene, hopping nightlife, and its active outdoor lifestyle. Peter and I have been to various towns within San Diego County (mostly Encinitas, Carlsbad, and Del Mar) because of the surf and dog-friendly beaches, so getting into the city itself for a weekend was a fun little adventure. Enjoy!
Day 1, Friday: Getting in and settled.
Arrival – We left at around 3pm on Friday to miss the heavy weekend traffic and got to our AirBnB at 5pm. Eager to start exploring, we dropped off our luggage and searched for dinner.
Dinner – San Diego has an array of amazing food and we decided on the Tandoori House in the Midway District since it was so close to our AirBnB. We ordered the veggie samosas and yellow daal with rice (all fantastic and absolutely recommend) and ate entranced by the extravagant Bollywood music videos playing on the TVs.
Drinks – Next we moved on to the Ballast Point Home Brew in Morena; we are big fans so this won’t be the last of Ballast on our trip🍺. They call it the Home Brew Mart because they sell supplies for DIY beer brewing and they also have a super neat souvenir shop so there’s plenty to par-ooze through. This location feels like a typical brewery – less bar-y and restaurant-y in comparison to its sister location in Downtown so it’s perfect for a quiet first night in town.
*If Indian food isn’t your thing or you’d rather hang out in one area for the night, there are plenty of restaurants in walking distance to Ballast and they also have a food truck schedule! If delicious beer isn’t your idea of dessert 🙊, the Classics Malt Shop is close by to the Tandoori House and looks like they offer a mean shake (link to their yelp).
Day 2, Saturday: Balboa Park, Coronado Island, and Downtown.
Breakfast – We woke from our lovely slumber and got out the door by 9am. We decided on breakfast at Wow Wow Waffles in North Park – a hip neighborhood just a hop away from Balboa Park. It’s a cute, unassuming place – their sign says ‘seriously, behind the laundromat’ as the restaurant is actually behind a laundromat. They serves up some yummy Belgian-style waffles with equally-yummy toppings like berries, coconut flakes, almond butter, and their ohh so delicious whipped cream.
Balboa Park – This can easily be an all-day affair and Pete and I are planning to come back to spend at least a whole day visiting the many museums and gardens here. We discovered the Balboa Tram Service which travels back and forth between several stops within the park and a large parking lot near the Veterans Museum (access the schedule and map of the route here). We debarked in the Plaza de Panama and began our journey through Balboa Park. Our first destinations were the Botanical Garden and the Zoro Garden, both free and offering shady respite from the hot San Diego sun. Afterwards, we visited the Museum of Photographic Arts which was hosting a very interesting exhibition showcasing photos of criminals from the 1800s, their charges (which ranged from public drunkenness to robberies), and corresponding punishments (ranging from a nickel’s payment to a month in jail). We spent the rest of our time in the park admiring the amazing architecture, wandering through the corridors, and wishing we had planned our trip to include more time here. The park’s website has a directory along with access to the ‘Explorer Pass’ that they offer patrons whom wish to visit multiple museums/gardens (it’s a real bargain).
*The reason our trip here wasn’t as successful as it could’ve been is because of laissez-faire planning. We missed out on some of the Balboa Park experience so are excited to return to visit the Museum of Natural History, Fleet Science Center, Museum of Man, Japanese Garden, and the Botanical Collection so keep an eye out for these articles! If you find museums a bit dull and would rather be outside, simply walking through the park and the Botanical Gardens is free 👍🏽.
Coronado Island & Lunch – Coronado is a picturesque and serene peninsula accessible to downtown by highway 75. The trip over on the highway is an adventure and sight-seeing opportunity in itself since you pass over the bay and get beautiful views of downtown and Coronado’s marina. If you decide to spend most of the day at Balboa Park but do wish to see Coronado as well, try to plan to drive over with some light left in the day so that you can see the view and grab some dinner!
Coronado is like the Newport Beach of San Diego – it’s expensive to stay here but there are cheaper eateries, making a short visit affordable. We found Miguel’s, a reasonably-priced and lively restaurant nestled between idyllic Spanish-style buildings. It’s Mexican decór, friendly staff, and large portions made for the perfect pit-stop before exploring the rest of Coronado.
You can walk off those generous portions by strolling through the shopping area on Orange Ave, the main road getting into Coronado. There are ice cream parlors and coffee shops along the way and plenty of beachy boutique stores for souvenirs. Pete and I were more fascinated by the beautiful architecture of the surrounding homes so we slowly made our way to the beach while weaving through the neighborhoods. It was a chilly evening but there were plenty of people at the beach still playing in the water and laying out on their towels. We walked towards the Hotel Coronado (the sprawling and majestic red-topped hotel that makes you feel like you’ve been transported to England in the 1960s) and sat, admiring the cloudy skies and slow sunset.
Downtown & Dinner – San Diego has a nice downtown area – it’s easy to navigate, clean, and safe. We came after sunset so we weren’t there for the sight-seeing and rather were interested in finding somewhere cozy to eat and somewhere close-by to have a few drinks. We settled on Underbelly in Little Italy, a trendy Japanese restaurant that puts a twist on traditional Japanese ramen. The food is flavorful, portions are good, prices cheap, and the location is a great jumping off point.
Now for Part II of our Ballast Point brewery visit, this time in Little Italy, a few blocks from Underbelly. After a hearty lunch and dinner we weren’t quite ready for drinks so we took a walk along India Street to peek into the lively Italian restaurants then made a U-turn to head back up towards Ballast Point. This Ballast is more of the bar and restaurant type, as opposed to the quiet Modena location. There is a wider demographic here too – families, singles, couples, young people, and older people.
Day 3, Sunday: Point Loma, Sunset Cliffs, La Jolla, and home.
Breakfast – We made loose plans for our last day in San Diego and dragged it out about as long as we could’ve while getting home early enough to get ready for the week. We packed our bags, loaded up, and headed to Fig Tree Café in Liberty Station for brunch. There is ample outdoor seating, an extensive menu, and generous portions – all the makings for a wonderful meal. This place is truly so so delightful and I encourage you to make it a point to get here 🙏🏽. After possibly having the best meal during our trip, we stopped in the neighboring Trader Joe’s for some lunch-time snacks and headed Westward.
Sunset Cliffs – The Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is a great home base if you are interested in venturing along Sunset Cliffs Blvd. There is a trail on the Western side of the road that hugs the coast and allows you to see down to the beaches below and feel the lovely ocean breeze. From the Natural Park to Point Loma Ave (the end of the coastal aspect of Sunset Cliffs Blvd) is 1.3 miles and it’s not an arduous walk since it’s flat but still, we recommend comfy shoes, sun protection, water, and your bathing suit since there is beach access along the trail.
La Jolla – This stop on our way home was one we had been looking forward to for quite a while. Pete and I both scuba dive and La Jolla has great diving – clear, warm water, and an abundance of marine life. We didn’t dive today but we saw some incredibly voluptuous and jiggily seals. For the good of your olfactory senses (aka smell), we hope you are not downwind of those stinky seals, unless you enjoy the smell of fish and seal armpits.
The little town area here is similar to Coronado’s – they maintain a small-town atmosphere and have plenty of boutiques, coffee shops, and restaurants. After some wandering about the town, we called it a day and got our move on home.
This trip was great for us since we live so close by. If you are coming from farther away, I would plan to stay at least an extra day or more if you want a full beach day, to see a baseball or football game, go to the Zoo, delve deeper into Balboa Park, or snorkel in La Jolla. There are endless things to do if you love the outdoors, so taking the extra day is worth it. Public transportation is well-organized and well-priced so if you don’t have a car, staying close to downtown will allow you ease of access to the busses, trolley, and rental bikes around the city! There are also some scrumptious places to eat so prepare yourselves for some great food along with quality craft brews. San Diego has it all – weather, public transportation, beautiful beaches, museums, sports games, food, clubs etc. So whether you’re trip is family-friendly, romantic, relaxing, or a time to let loose, you’ll find what you’re looking for.
Thanks so much for your read and please comment with any pointers and feedback – we love to know how we can improve and what we’re doing well!
Pete and Kiki