How to Spend a Perfect Weekend in San Diego
Beyond the grounds of a certain famous zoo and keeping an eye out for Ron Burgundy, there's a great deal to do on a long and leisurely weekend in San Diego.
The best place to start your weekend is by taking a long stroll amidst the many features of the San Diego Waterfront Park. After grabbing a coffee, you can watch the daily dance of boats in the harbor, runners, yoga enthusiasts, and teacup Yorkie-walkers.
A long walk south on the Waterfront Park will lead you straight to Puesto at the Headquarters, which is a perfect place to stop for a margarita or three (try the jalapeño). Sitting outside under their bright orange canvas umbrellas is a nice place for a pause and why not stay around for grilled swordfish tacos. This entire complex used to house the San Diego police department, so check out the historic jail cells (don't worry, they've been gussied up), complete with photographs, handcuffs, and other tools of incarceration.
After such a respite, keep on walking over to the main outpost of the San Diego Public Library. Walk on through the expansive two-story lobby and head on up to the top for 180-degree views of San Diego Bay, downtown, and other landmarks. It's a great way to get the lay of the land for the rest of your trip.
Read on for nine ways to fill your weekend getaway to America's Finest City, from a spirited tour of the city's past to whale-watching out on the water.
Palomar San Diego
Hand-decorated surfboards in the lobby of this downtown hotel remind you that “Hey, this is San Diego.” The Palomar has a number of other distinct touches that can help you get comfortable, including rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out across the Gaslamp District all the way to the harbor. Don’t forget to check out their outdoor pool, which is the best place to have a drink and perhaps join an impromptu dance party.
Brothel, Bites & Booze Tour
If you’re coming to San Diego, you’re coming on this tour. What other pedestrian excursion could bring together stores of the city’s past with spirited beverages, louche tales of bordellos gone by, and cupcakes? It’s a marvelous way to spend two-and-a-half hours but make sure to book early, as it does sell out.
Owner Cecilia Church got her start in theatrical design and she brings a unique sense of couture to her boutique in Little Italy. Amidst clasp bracelets, men’s linen shirts, and other fineries, there’s also an excellent selection of locally made items. Top honors here go to found object cufflinks and a lovely print of San Diego beach towns made by Orange & Park, a local design firm.
Juniper & Ivy
They call it “Left Coast Cookery”, but the flavors at Juniper & Ivy speak to palates from this corner of California to Karachi. Stepping into the industrial chic interior with touches of dark wood, you’ll want to start things off with one of their rotating cocktails and order a few of their toast starters which are gently topped with Fuji apple, smoked cheddar, and pickled red onions. While the mains rotate frequently, the “Garden & Grain” (ancient grains and a variety of heirloom vegetables) is available throughout the four seasons.
Puesto at the Headquarters
Bright orange umbrellas welcome you to this casual Mexican spot, located charmingly enough within the former headquarters of the San Diego Police department (Never fear: it’s been cleaned up). Grab a seat on the second floor for peak people-watching. The Mexican street bowl (fresh mango, pineapple, melon, cucumber and more) is a great way to start, or come by Monday through Friday from 3-5 p.m. for a few tacos and $6 margaritas.
Waterfront Park on the Embarcadero
A walk along the Embarcadero is a fine way to get to know San Diego and the milieu here has been mightily improved via the creation of a new 12-acre waterfront park. Channel your inner water sprite by exploring the 830-foot long fountain with elaborate water jets. Also, there’s a fine children’s play area and several picnic areas.
Hornblower Cruises: Whale Watching
If you enjoy the world of charismatic megafauna, a 3 1/2 hour whale-watching tour is basically the best way to get out on the water in San Diego. With thoughtful commentary from a San Diego Natural History Museum naturalist, this journey includes the change to spy gray whales, along with passing dolphin pods and sea lion colonies.
Tour the San Diego Public Library
With its soaring steel and mesh dome, this remarkable structure by Rob Quigley is a miraculously piquant home to books, conversations, chess players, and much more. Take a one-hour tour to learn about the Dr. Seuss-themed children’s library, the two-story light-filled reading room, and to look over the 150 plus pieces of art scattered among the various floors.
Climb the California Tower
Most visitors to San Diego will find their way to Balboa Park and there’s now one more reason to make the trek. Recently the stunning California Tower was reopened to the public after being closed for 80 years. This orange structure brings together baroque and rococo details to create an ersatz Spanish-mission style facade. After walking up the 125 steps, you’ll be able to pause and take in view of the San Diego Zoo and the Coronado Bridge.