Before I visited San Diego my impressions of the city were based on the movies Top Gun and Anchor Man. On a recent visit there I’m pleased to say the experience was far more Top Gun than Anchor Man (although the concierge in our hotel did have an incredible Ron Burgundy-esque mustache).
San Diego is a lively and enjoyable place to visit with enough to entertain you, but not so much that you feel rushed trying to see everything. Bars and restaurants feel buzzy but not packed to the rafters like they do back in San Francisco.
I wrote in a little more detail about visiting San Diego Zoo Safari Park where we spent a whole day, so here’s a short summary of some of the other places we enjoyed visiting.
The aircraft carrier Midway (America’s longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century) has been turned into a maritime museum and now lives permanently in San Diego.
Admission is a reasonable $20 and includes an audio tour. I was surprised by how much I actually enjoyed visiting USS Midway. In particular, I found seeing where people lived for months on end in cramped conditions and the practical setup of the kitchens and even the laundry departments of the ship fascinating. Every space is utilized.
Pro tip: Don’t get in the middle bunk to try it out, despite the audio-tour encouraging you to do so. I hopped into the middle bunk (which was surprisingly comfortable) then proceeded to roll around like a beetle for several minutes – while a load of bemused Japanese tourists looked on in horror – because I couldn’t get back out.
A short walk from the USS Midway is Seaport Village, a waterfront complex full of shops and restaurants. It’s a perfectly nice place to walk around, but reminiscent of Fishermans Wharf in San Francisco due to being crowded, touristy and overpriced.
San Diego Old Town
San Diego Old Town is difficult to describe. It kind of has a wild west feel to it with a Mexican influence. If anyone from the UK reading this ever visited the ‘American Adventure’ theme park in Derbyshire – San Diego Old Town reminds me of that (minus the log flume).
There are some historical buildings to wander around, food and drink outlets and cute little shops. Although it has a pleasant atmosphere, there really isn’t much to do in the Old Town and we moved on to see La Jolla rather than spending the whole afternoon there.
The Gaslamp Quarter had been hyped us to by our guidebook as one of the best places to be in San Diego. I was personally a little disappointed by the area, finding it was more like Benidorm than Greenwich Village. We ate in a brilliant Sushi place there called Full Moon Sushi and enjoyed a beer flight in The Hopping Pig. Despite those two places being lovely, I found the Gaslamp Quarter in general underwhelming.
We much preferred Little Italy for drinks and food, which you can find more detail on in my other San Diego blog post.
A visit to southern California isn’t complete without some beach time, San Diego has plenty of them just a short drive outside of downtown.
My personal favorite was Pacific Beach, where we spent a lazy afternoon sunbathing and relaxing before having a beer and a snack in PB Ale House.
La Jolla is known for being upmarket and great for beach bums but personally, like the Gaslamp District, I didn’t feel it lived up to the hype. The resident seals are adorable, but the hoards of people getting way too close to them (despite many signs telling them not to) to get a selfie are so irritating. Like their sea lion cousins at Pier 39 in San Francisco, La Jolla’s seals STINK, which no one ever warns you about!
The last beach we visited (briefly) was Coronado, which is over on a peninsula accessible by a bridge or ferry from downtown San Diego. We actually almost stayed in Coronado and although it’s a beautiful area, I’m glad we didn’t as it’s too far from downtown and the other places we wanted to visit. That said, the beach is huge and has walkways and cycle paths, so it’s a great place to get some exercise.
In San Diego, we were surprised by the number and quality of bars, restaurants, microbreweries and the like, so I’ve written another post on where to eat, drink and sleep there.
One notable difference between San Francisco and San Diego is that we found the latter to be far less busy. I believe this changes when there is a large ship back from sea but on our visit, we loved the relaxed vibe and the freedom of not having to plan things down to a tee. Getting a dinner reservation at the last minute on a Saturday night was no problem at all.
Our flight time from San Francisco was just over an hour each way and with many airlines flying on that route, prices are competitive. I am sure we will be going back to San Diego again!