San Diego, California

The Taco Stand - there is no shortage of great Mexican food in San Diego, but for the best street taco, you have to try The Taco Stand on Pearl Street.
— Katy Tanghe
  • More about your oliver guide:
  • Trip type: Family, Beach, City
  • Activity level: moderate
  • Ideal length of trip: 5 -7 days to hit all the coastal areas/major tourist attractions; weekend if you prefer to stick to one part of the county (e.g. La Jolla, Coronado, etc.)

to & from

  • Flying into San Diego airport is easiest--it's small and easy to navigate. I highly recommend renting a car.
  • You can also fly into Orange County if the fares are less expensive. You will need to rent a car as it's an hour drive south to San Diego.

stay

San Diego is quite spread out. Before you pick a hotel, decide where in the county you’d like to be. Our favorite spots include Coronado, La Jolla, Del Mar (of course) and the other north county beach cities. If you plan to stay for more than a weekend, consider checking out VRBO but review listings carefully as some rentals now have 30-day minimums.

  • The Grand Del Mar is great for those who love five-star hotels, if the budget permits. Locals frequently visit for staycations. It offers beautiful accommodations, golf, swimming, horseback riding, guided hikes and so much more. Also, its central location with easy access to the I-5 freeway, provides easy exploration of attractions like LEGOLAND to the north and Balboa Park to the south.
  • La Jolla Shores Hotel is wonderful family hotel in La Jolla (near UCSD) and on the beach (and it won’t break the bank). It is one of the best places to learn how to surf, stand-up paddle board or kayak La Jolla’s rare 600-acre underwater ecological reserve. It is very easy to take the kids to the beach for an hour or two, take a break in the room, and return to the beach again in the afternoon. The rooms can appear a bit dated but you cannot beat the location. You are in walking distance to La Jolla Shores with great restaurants, Surf Diva and shops.
  • La Valencia in downtown La Jolla is another iconic hotel. Great for a long weekend, or if you are with your special someone. It has beautiful ocean views and walking distance to everything La Jolla has to offer. You will need to drive to the beach but its concierge service is fabulous and will make arrangements for you to go anywhere you wish.
  • Hotel Del Coronado and its red roof is one of San Diego's most famous icons. Its direct beach access is fabulous for families (think s'mores on the beach and paddle board lessons) and it's considered one of America’s best beaches by the Travel Channel. You will need a car if you plan to go off island but there is plenty to do if you want to relax and play. Make sure to either take a bike or walk to L. Frank Baum's house where he wrote The Wizard of Oz. We love to go every December for the weekend and enjoy its ice rink on the beach, s'mores on the sand and festive holiday activities for kids.
  • Park Hyatt Aviara is a good pick for North County, a secluded luxury hotel with great pools, an amazing spa, tennis, golf, etc. - a concierge can take you to Ponto Beach for boogie boarding and surfing lessons.
  • Manchester Grand Hyatt is a great big downtown San Diego hotel with water views … this hotel is huge with over 1600 rooms spread over two towers. It’s located on the San Diego Bay, within walking distance to some of San Diego’s best restaurants, attractions, Convention Center and PETCO Park. This hotel has sport courts for basketball, volleyball, tennis, a large outdoor pool, seasonal activities like kite flying, giant sized Jenga plus they do s'mores in their outdoor fire-pits.
  • L’Auberge Resort Del Mar: An easy dog friendly option in Del Mar.
  • Other options: Estancia Resort La Jolla, The Lodge at Torrey Pines, The Catamaran Resort and La Valencia Rancho Santa Fe.

eat and drink

  • The Taco Stand (La Jolla) - There is no shortage of great Mexican food in San Diego, but for the best street taco, you have to try The Taco Stand on Pearl Street.
  • Georges on the Cove (La Jolla) – Go for its breathtaking sunset while sipping one of their creative cocktails (I’m partial to the Elegant Lady…a cosmopolitan with a splash of champagne) and then stay for a delicious dinner or, after sunset, walk over to Whisknladle for great small plates and a cozy atmosphere.
  • Piatti’s (La Jolla) – Our kids love coming here for yummy Italian food and followed by a stroll the boardwalk after dinner.
  • Liberty Public Market (Point Loma/downtown) – Part of the newly designed Liberty Station (which was once both a navy and army base), this food hall/marketplace has amazing options for children and adults – not to be missed.
  • Cucina Urbana (Bankers Hill/downtown) – This place does not disappoint with creative spins on Italian dishes with a very cool atmosphere.
  • Herb & Wood (downtown) – With both a café and a formal dining room, this restaurant is relatively new and a favorite of locals.
  • Crack Shack (downtown & Encinitas) – is a great spot for families to enjoy the best fried chicken – locals are obsessed.
  • Carnitas Crack Shack (downtown and Del Mar) – Obviously San Diegans like their “shacks” – this place has delicious pork-centric dishes for adults and kids alike.
  • Kindred (downtown) – If you are vegan, this is a must stop for you – the cocktail menu is super fun.
  • Mitch’s Seafood (Point Loma) – The bay views are lovely, fresh seafood without pretense, very casual.
  • Coasterra (downtown) - For a fun take on modern Mexican, stop here on your way in or out of town. It's close to the airport and right on the bay - one of our favorites.
  • Best spots for breakfast: Snooze Eatery, The Donut Bar or Great Maple
  • Best desserts: Extraordinary Desserts (you will be glad you tried it!)

do

San Diego has a plethora of activities and destinations for children and adults alike. Whether you want to play on the beach, or go on an excursion, below are just some ideas that kids and adults will enjoy:

  • San Diego Zoo – this destination never disappoints!
  • San Diego Safari Park– this is located inland so you will want to make a day of your visit.
  • USS Midway – if any of your kids are military buffs (specifically navy), you will want to check out this aircraft carrier docked downtown.
  • LEGOLAND – for any LEGO enthusiast, young or old – you can make a day or weekend out of your visit.
  • Balboa Park – you can easily spend a whole day here visiting the museums, enjoying the green spaces and its fun cafes and shops. If you happen to go on a Sunday, be sure to check out the Hall of Nations.
  • Birch Aquarium at Scripps - this is great for younger children – incredible views and the space is manageable with little ones – our kids love it!
  • Mission Bay Aquatic Center – a great place to rent kayaks, paddleboards, sailboats, etc – one of our favorite things to do is paddleboard to Paradise Point Resort and have lunch at the Barefoot Bar & Grill and then paddle back.
  • San Diego has an abundance of hiking trails, our favorites include Torrey Pines and Potato Chip Rock – this trail has an nice/easy route and then a more challenging one. For more info, visit click here.
  • Whale watching (a winter activity – several tour options through various companies)
  • Carlsbad Flower Fields – best to visit mid-March through mid-April – it’s stunning and there are many activities onsite to make the day special.

inside scoop

  • If you can, avoid some of the bigger tourist attractions on weekends as you will be battling lines with locals.
  • When packing, think layers. Daytime can get warm, (year round) but evenings are usually cooler.
  • If you want to explore some of the beach cities, Del Mar is a great place to spend the day as the beach is smaller, parking is easier and there are plenty of restaurants and cafes to peruse.
  • Of course traffic will be a pain at peak times (7-9am and 4-6pm). If you are renting a car, be sure to use Waze - it will be a best friend to your nerves.

skip it

  • Mexico. Even if you wanted to take a day trip to Rosarito or Ensenada, the time at the border will be nerve wracking.

San Diego, California - Suggestions from the Oliver Community

  • Katy Tanghe Says

    Can’t believe I forgot…another fabulous spot is The La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club…they have suites with kitchens and you are directly on the sand (rare except for the bays). Their waterfront picnics are the best!

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