Glorious weather, amazing beaches, and fantastic culinary scene make it easy to spend a week in San Diego, exploring it and the nearby beach towns. During a recent visit with my sister, we found truth to the adage it never rains in Southern California. We enjoyed non-humid, mid-70s temperatures and plentiful sunshine while beach-hopping along Highway 101. But we also took time to explore the area.
We split our lodging between two coastal properties north of the city: the Hilton Grand Vacation Club MarBrisa in Carlsbad, about 45 minutes from downtown San Diego, and an Airbnb cottage in Solana Beach, located about 30 minutes from downtown. When we checked out of each, we didn’t want to leave.
Here are five of our favorite experiences.
1. Leave your heart at the San Diego Zoo
Ask anyone who visits San Diego about their best-loved attraction and it’s likely to be the San Diego Zoo. Even if you’re not an animal lover, you’ll fall for the koalas – Burley, Gummy, Logan, Burra, Oliver, Simba and Moki. to name only a few. More than 12,000 rare and endangered animals reside on this 100-acre property, which doubles as an accredited botanical garden with more than 700,000 individual plants.
2. Get good vibrations at Balboa Park
Plan to spend some time in Balboa Park, a 1,200-acre cultural treasure surrounding the San Diego Zoo. Phew! That’s a lot of real estate to cover, so allow a local expert to guide you to the best parts. We took a deeper dive with Jenn on the Balboa Park Highlights with Beverage Tour.
During our two-hour tour we covered two miles. Jenn helped us explore the nooks and crannies of the park, sharing architectural details, showing us delightful gardens and offering background on each of the park’s 16 museums. These include The Folk Art Museum, The San Diego Museum of Art, and the Timken Museum of Art.
We especially enjoyed the Spanish Village Art Center’s 37 studios. The studios represent a diverse group of craftspeople, including jewelry makers, clay artists, painters, sculptors, print-makers, and photographers. It’s a perfect place to buy local handmade gifts and support local artists.
3. California dreaming along Highway 101
Indulge your inner beach bay with a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, Route 101. Do it for the views, each one more picturesque than the next; for the unspoiled scenery; for the funky beach towns; and for the architecture and design. Aim for aptly named La Jolla, Spanish for “the jewel,” which hugs seven prime miles of the Pacific coastline.
Watch the sea lions and seals in their natural habitat in La Jolla Cove. Following them in and out of the water as they swim and climb on the jetty is sheer joy. (Ooh, ooh, ooh, if you’re visiting during February, you might see the seals birthing their babies.)
4. Surf city: Catch a wave at Swami
Before sunset, cruise further north on Highway 101 and stop at Swami Beach. That’s where all the cool surfer dudes go to ride the big waves. The water currents require experienced boarders, so this is not the place to try the sport. But it is a great place to watch it; especially from atop the mountain at sunset.
Afterward, head into Encinitas for drinks and dinner.
5. Discover a culinary temple of love eating road-stand tacos
Since about 30 percent of San Diego’s population is Hispanic, it’s no surprise San Diego has excellent tacos and other Mexican fare. You’ll find tacos at specialty restaurants, food trucks, and roadside stands. (Some of the roadside stands have better tacos than the formal restaurants.)
My sister and I couldn’t end our week in San Diego without sampling an authentic local taco. So the night before our departure, we took a drive to Roberto’s Taco Shop on Highway 101 in Solana Beach to indulge in delicious fish and shrimp tacos as well as enchiladas loaded with cheese and the fresh guacamole and chips. We devoured every last morsel and promised to return the next time we visit San Diego.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- The weather in San Diego is perfect year-round, with mostly sunny skies. Temperatures average between 50°F and 77°F, rarely dropping below 44°F or above 84°F.
- The coastal towns of San Diego make for nice day trips, and you can group a few visits into a single day. For example, you can tour Encinitas in the morning and Solana Beach in the afternoon.
- You will need to rent a car to get around, and gas in California is expensive.
- Traffic can back up on the California highways during peak periods. Be sure to leave extra time if you have reservations for an attraction or for dinner and check your GPS for alternate routes.
- Some terrain can be rocky underfoot so wear appropriate shoes when hiking or going to the beach. Be sure to wear good walking shoes at the San Diego Zoo, because there are quite a few hills to climb to reach certain areas.
The author’s weekend stay at MarBrisa in Carlsbad, California was provided by Hilton Grand Vacation but any opinions expressed in this post are her own.
All photo credits: Judy Freedman
- Also on GettingOnTravel:
Read Anne Nelson’s post about her stay at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar in San Diego.
- For more ideas about what to see and do in San Diego:
Official website of the San Diego Tourism Authority.
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