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Uncovering the Best Gems: A Guide to San Diego Favorite Attractions with Local Flare

We are delighted to live in a city that is not only beautiful weather-wise, but there is always but the city offers so much in our nature & landscape and no doubt, there is always something going on! As locals, we love to tourist in our own city, heading out to our favorite places to enjoy a day on the town. We gave you a few of the classic staples with our local spin! Since San Diego has so many options, check out some of our other posts that give you gems to vacaction like a local!

A Cultural Journey through Balboa Park 

Choose your own adventure with an Explorer Pass, which will give you access to sixteen museums within Balboa Park, choosing how you want to experience the cultural attractions in the heart of our city. One of our favorites includes the Japanese Tea Garden, where you descend into the wandering paths of blooming florals and a sense of zen envelops the space around you. 

As you walk Balboa Park, there are three full service restaurants and countless coffee and snack stations to grab on the go.  During a day in the park, we frequent Panama 66, where we are able to sit under the Tower of Man, drink wine and eat curated snacks from charcuterie boards to sandwiches. It is great for a summer evening to take a picnic blanket and listen to jazz on the weekends. 

Catch a Summer Concert at our favorite outdoor venues: The Shell, Humphreys by the Bay or the SDSU Open Air Amphitheater 

Nothing says San Diego summer nights better than listening to your favorite band and a drink in hand! San Diego has a number of fantastic venues but nothing beats the stars above, as you enjoy the sounds of summer. 

The Rady Shell: You can’t miss this beauty, as you walk The Embarcadero behind the Convention Center. It is San Diego’s latest venue and there isn’t a bad seat in the house … especially when it’s surrounded by water and you can watch the sunset during an evening show.  The acoustics and sound make for a premium experience. We suggest steak & cocktails at Lou & Mickey’s in the Gaslamp prior to the show! 

Humphreys by the Bay:  This outdoor theater is nestled in the Marina on Shelter Island, surrounded by the Humphreys Half Moon Inn (reserve a hotel room balcony at the Inn for a true Humphrey’s experience!) This venue is a real front row show with only 1,400 seats in the venue, it’s an intimate experience that makes it feel like you're watching a show in someone’s backyard! We suggest a pre-show stop for dinner and  mai tais at Bali Hai with sweeping venues of the San Diego skyline!

SDSU Open Air Amphitheater: While it is not on the water, the Open Air Amphitheater is a special arena built into the ground and surrounded by trees. You will most feel the magic of the lights in this venue of 4,600 seats. We suggest burgers & beer on the patio at Eureka!, a block away! 

Stroll through Old Town and hop on a Trolley Tour

Old Town is the birthplace of California, with the first permanent Spanish settlement, establishing the first of 21 missions that were to be the cornerstone of California colonization. Present day, it is a bustling area with restaurants, shops, museums and historical sites to stroll through any day of the week. Días de las Muertas, the day that Mexican culture honors the dead, is a great time to visit this area with it's vibrant celebrations.

With so many great Mexican restaurants to choose from on this small strip, Shana loves the  housemade tortillas at Old Town Mex, while Steve prefers the outdoor patio at Casa Guadalajara but one thing is for certain - you can’t go wrong with either! The hospitality of both restaurants are exceptional and we find ourselves regularly there for happy hour! 

After a stroll through the park and shops, hop on a Trolley Tour for an entertaining 2.5 hour tour through San Diego with over twelve stops at key iconic destinations, where you can hop on & off to make it a crawl with drinks, appetizers and sites along the way. A word to the wise, start early to get the full tour with the many foodie destinations through America’s Finest City.

Come back in the evening for a Haunted Tour through the most spirited locales such as The Whaley House, the Cosmopolitan Hotel and El Campo Santo, Old Town’s own cemetery.

Enjoy the Little Italy Culinary Experience

There is a special spirit of this sweet urban neighborhood on a weekend evening, when the sun sets and the lively energy of Piazza della Familglia starts to take hold! This European inspired piazza is full of tables, surrounded by rooftops, shops, bars and restaurants. Sit next to the fountain and listen to a jazz duo, while sipping on wine from the local market. 

Little Italy has a wide variety of culinary experiences to include The Top Chef Alley of Kettner Blvd., and the many Italian restaurants that are straight from the Northern & Southern cuisine of Italy. Homemade pasta all around! Born and Raised is a beautifully adorned steakhouse that will take your expectations of a foodie experience to new limits! 

Stop off for a nightcap at a favorite of ours, the oldest watering hole in Little Italy, the Waterfront Bar and Grill for a local dive bar feel!

Come back on a Saturday morning for a walk through the Little Italy Mercato, the city’s largest open air market that includes fresh produce, florals, artisans,  local eats and specialty foods to take home! 

Spend an afternoon on Iconic Coronado Island

Travel across the water to San Diego’s own “island” of Coronado … but all locals know that it is truly a peninsula connected at Imperial Beach (another fun beach hang!) Our favorite way to journey to Coronado is to catch the ferry from downtown San Diego at the Broadway Pier. Ferries leave on the hour from the Broadway Pier and on the half hour for your return from Coronado. 

Once in Coronado, we love to take bikes through the neighborhood of old historic homes, cruise Glorietta Bay and then down the Silver Strand and then back to the Hotel Del Coronado.  

During the summer, weekly jazz concerts are held on Sunday afternoons at Spreckles Park.

End your day with the endless options of dining and drinks! Don’t just take our word for it, check out the 21 Happy Hours to get to know Coronado What a better way to cruise Orange Avenue!

Wave Therapy at Windansea Beach with breakfast sandwich

There is something incredibly special about the mornings at Windansea Beach, located between Bird Rock and La Jolla Village. The cliffs are sandstone rocks carved out by the waves and giving a secluded feel. When I first moved to San Diego, spent every Sunday morning at Wind n Sea, sitting cliffside watching the waves crest next to me, while the surfers traverse below. I always walk away from wave therapy feeling a little more zen than when I arrived. 

As an added bonus, stop by and grab sandwiches from Cafe Vahik around the corner on La Jolla Blvd, serving soups, grilled paninis, salads and espresso. It is run by the sweetest couple that make you feel like a local from the minute you walk in the door!

Beware: no kooks allowed! Windansea is located on a coral reef, that breaks at the shoreline. During the winter months, Windansea can have up to eight feet surf. 

Taste the best of San Diego Breweries with a North Park Brewery Crawl

San Diego has been named the Craft Beer Capital of America with over 150 breweries and countless tasting rooms to enjoy the culture. In the hip neighborhood of North Park, you can start your own self guided tour starting on the north end of 30th Street and following the street to the south end, an approximate 1.3 mile walk, with many other brewery and bar options along the way. 

Fall Brewing : This tasting room has communal tables and patio with barrel topped tables and a light hearted jovial staff with great beer. Also, nightly food trucks to give you a taste of SoCal. 

Pure Project: The beauty of this patio is the aestethic of biergarten vibes with rockers, picnic tables and lounge vignettes. A comfy place to to sip back and drink ;) with over 20 different beers on tap. 

Mike Hess: At this location, as you walk into the brewery, you are greeted by the stainless steel brewing systems of the Mike Hess brewers and walk on a sky bridge on the way to the bar. If you’re so intrigued, brew staff is on hand to chat with you! Live sports on tv, trivia nights and rotating food trucks - make for great compliments to your beer. 

Modern Times Flavordome: At the end of the 30th street tour is the Flavordome, filled with communal tables and over 20 taps - specializing in both coffee and beer, our favorites! Be sire to grab a growler and bag of coffee to take home! 

Root for the Padres at the #1 baseball stadium - Petco Park!

America’s favorite pastime in America’s Finest CIty! The San Diego Padres is our hometown team. Summers are spent cheering for the Pads during a sunny day game in a stadium with no bad seats in the house!

Voted the #1 baseball stadium in the country by USA Today, Petco Park is a baseball fan’s dream. Even if baseball isn’t your thing, the stadium offers an array of local eateries to delight your taste buds, San Diego brews and kid’s activities in Gallagher Square. There’s never a bad day at the park! 
Our other favorite teams & sporting events include, the San Diego Wave - our National Women’s Soccer League or the San Diego State Aztecs NCAA basketball men’s basketball team. 

Set Sail on a Whale Watching Tour in the San Diego Harbor 

San Diego, with its breathtaking coastal beauty, offers a unique opportunity to witness the awe-inspiring spectacle of whale migration. Embarking on a whale watching tour in this Southern California gem promises not only a thrilling adventure but also a chance to connect with the marine wonders that grace its shores.

After your tour, be sure to stop by Portside Pier with plenty of bay view eateries such as Miguels and The Brigantine. If the wait is long at either place, head upstairs to Ketch Brewing or Top Sail to take in the views and a cocktail. 

Take the Surfliner train to Oceanside 

The San Diego Surfliner is a popular train service connecting San Diego and Los Angeles. Catch the train from the Old Town Trolley Station, where you can sip coffee (or a mimosa!) on your way to Oceanside, as the train passes canyons and waves of southern California. 

Oceanside, one of its stops, boasts attractions like the Oceanside Pier with stunning ocean views, the California Surf Museum showcasing the region's surf culture, and the historic Mission San Luis Rey offering a glimpse into California's past. 

The Oceanside Harbor is also worth exploring for its waterfront dining and recreational activities.
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