With 70 miles of coastline and average high temperatures ranging from 66 degrees in January to 77 in August, San Diego is a city where people like to spend time outside. This city of over 1.42 million between Los Angeles and Mexico has endless beaches, parks and cultural opportunities to explore. Its history combines native Kumeyaay people, Mexicans and European explorers, who first landed in San Diego Bay in 1542. Nowadays it’s home to people from around the world and welcomes nearly 36 million visitors per year.
San Diego outdoors
San Diego’s mild temperatures and beautiful topography make it ideal for biking, hiking and, of course, water sports. La Jolla Sea Kayak will take you on a tour of this beach town’s seven sea caves, where you might see sea lions, leopard sharks and dolphins. If you prefer a more placid paddle, the SUP Connection at Liberty Station offers a sheltered area to practice your SUP and kayak maneuvers.
Some of San Diego’s best views are from Cabrillo National Monument at the end of the Point Loma peninsula. An excellent historic lighthouse welcomes lighthouse lovers, the ocean views stun bicyclists and hikers, and this national park unit has some of the best tide pools in the area. In springtime, the wildflowers are awesome.
If you’re visiting San Diego with your canine friend, don’t miss the dog-friendly beaches. Dog Beach is a spacious section of Ocean Beach where dogs can run off-leash 24/7. Most of Fiesta Island in Mission Bay is also open to dogs. The SUP Connection offers SUP Pups— private lessons for if you want help training your dog to join you paddle boarding.
If you can tear yourself away from the ocean, Balboa Park is an enduring San Diego attraction for museums, gardens, a miniature railroad, the zoo and just walking around. Much of the park was built for the 1935-36 California-Pacific International Exposition. The botanical building and lily pond are much beloved photographic backdrops. On the park’s eastern edge, the less-trafficked historic cactus garden features succulents and African protea. The Spanish Village Art Center houses 35 working art studios for those who like to shop and meet makers.
Some of the area’s best beaches are on Coronado Island. For a varied outing, take the ferry from downtown San Diego to Coronado, rent a bike and explore. Don’t miss the famous Hotel Del Coronado. Built in 1888, the wooden Victorian beach resort provided the setting for many movies, including Marilyn Monroe’s “Some Like it Hot.” The beach in front of the Hotel Del has calm water and family-friendly swimming.
San Diego wellness
Not only does San Diego have a bazillion yoga studios, but many classes are also held outside. Whether you want to do yin yoga in Ocean Beach or vinyasa at Bird Rock in La Jolla, yogis dot every major beach. Mission Bay Aquatic Center will help you take your practice onto a stand-up paddleboard. Or go a little inland and join a Hatha class beside a koi pond at the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park.
Just a little bit up the coast in San Diego’s North County, you can visit the Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas. Founded by Paramahansa Yogananda, the SRF offers lectures, meditations, kirtans and other events. Or just stroll through the beautiful meditation gardens.
Also in North County, the Chopra Center is part of Omni La Costa Resort in Carlsbad. It hosts varied multi-day meditation and wellness retreats from an Ayurvedic medicine perspective.
Dining out in San Diego
San Diego has a high veg IQ, with plenty of vegetarian and vegan restaurants. For old-school veg food, try Jyoti-Bihanga in Normal Heights. Run by devotees of spiritual master Sri Chinmoy, this vegetarian restaurant has been serving Neatloaf sandwiches and other hearty meals for more than thirty years.
For modern fast-casual wraps, bowls, tacos and burgers, try one of Native Foods’ three vegan outlets in San Diego County. In Ocean Beach, Peace Pies has all your raw vegan needs covered, from mango curry wraps to coconut cream pie. Veganic Thai Café in Hillcrest and Plumeria in University Heights and Encinitas allow you to enjoy your pad thai without worries of fish sauce contamination. Heartwork Coffee Bar in Hillcrest offers a case full of delicious vegan croissants, scones and other treats.
Southern California is known for its car-centered ways, but many San Diego neighborhoods are extremely walkable. Since the city is large and spread out, you might need to take a bus, trolley or Uber to get between neighborhoods.
San Diego Metropolitan Transit System runs the county’s extensive bus and trolley system. If you’re visiting Tijuana, the easiest way is to take the trolley to the border and walk across.
For those with limited time who are firmly on the tourist track, buying a day-pass on the Old Town Trolley will take you directly to San Diego’s most-visited spots. You can hop on and off as much as you like. Guides will clue you in on the city’s history and lore between stops.
Amtrak is a good way to get to other southern California cities, such as Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, without braving the hectic highways. For those needing to cross water, ferries run to Coronado Island, or you can call a water taxi.
Since San Diego’s airport is downtown, it’s one of the few American cities where you can easily walk to many hotels. A shared-use bike/pedestrian path connects the airport to Liberty Station and Point Loma to the west, and downtown San Diego to the east.
Many San Diego hotels are getting greener, but the city has a few real standouts. Hotel Indigo is the city’s only LEED-certified and Platinum Level GreenLeader, featuring rooftop composting and an eco-roof. It’s also central to all kinds of public transit. The Lafayette Hotel, Sheraton Hotel & Marina, Bahia Resort Hotel, and La Jolla’s Estancia Hotel & Spa are Gold Level GreenLeaders. The Bahia’s long list of eco measures includes subsidizing public transit for employees, converting cooking oil to biodiesel, participating in beach cleanups, and composting 100 percent of food waste. The Lafayette combines eco-consciousness with 1940s Hollywood style glamour.
One warning: Avoid the many hotels located in the area called Hotel Circle, as you’ll find yourself walled in by unsightly freeways and a total lack of charm.
Images via Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat