In continuation of our #WinterEscapes series and beginning a travel narrative about California, we share our top five reasons why San Diego is the perfect winter escape.
Images of California and her stunning Pacific Coast always evoke feelings of nostalgia for us. We first visited immediately after our wedding and spent two idyllic weeks on a road trip, ‘slow travelling’ our way north, hugging coastal roads from San Diego to San Francisco.
A number of memorable experiences on that journey combined to cement California in our minds as a lifetime, top travel destination. We learned that California never becomes familiar. Every visit presents an opportunity to experience something new.
Southern California, in particular, attracts a lot of attention for its immortalised beaches, relatively liberal views, and cultural integration. We begin drawing our picture of California with San Diego, a city that effortlessly combines some of Southern California’s highlights.
With so much to choose from, we finally selected our top five reasons why we think San Diego is the perfect city for a winter escape.
#1: The Weather – Just another day in paradise
“Here in Southern California we San Diegans have a saying…we go outside, look around, and then say, “Just another day in paradise.” In San Diego, near the ocean, it’s never bitterly cold and it’s never oppressively hot. Every five years we have about sixty months of heavenly weather.” – Anonymous quote from Goodreads.com
While many other warm weather destinations might vie for attention, San Diego appeals for its temperate weather which averages around 75°F (23.8°C) for most of the year. This makes it perfect for exploring the city’s many outdoor attractions including its notable food districts, parks, natural reserves and beaches.
The locals often wonder why anyone would want to live anywhere else. After a few days of wearing t-shirts and enjoying al fresco dining, it was easy to understand their point. During our last visit, a store assistant engaged us in conversation. We mentioned that we were visiting from London.
“Hey, I’ve always wanted to visit London”, he said. “But doesn’t it rain all the time there?” Our home city’s reputation for grey clouds and showers preceded us and so we grudgingly confirmed his suspicions. In return, we received a look of pity and incredulity.
#2: Beaches, beaches and more beaches
California has some of the nation’s most iconic beaches. In San Diego, you’re never far away from one. For a full list of San Diego’s beaches, go here.
Coronado Beach was a particular highlight for us. The glistening waters of San Diego Bay greeted us as we drove across Coronado Bridge, presenting one of the best views in all of San Diego as we descended into Coronado Island.
We found parking easily and before long we had our shoes off and feet buried in the dark sand as we took in our surroundings. The long sandy beach was busy but not overcrowded for a summer day. We admired the imposing figure of Hotel del Coronado on one side and the Pacific Coast on the other before heading off to write our names in the sand.
For sunset views of the Pacific, we headed to La Jolla on the outskirts of San Diego. This small deep water bay, with a small beach surrounded by caves is frequented by seals and sea lions. You smell them before you actually see them.
#3: Vibrant and diverse food culture
California has a history of integrating cuisines from across the world. Wanting to get a better feel for San Diego’s food cultures on a subsequent trip, we planned an itinerary centred around food.
We booked a downtown walking food tour with Bite San Diego, a vibrant tour company run by avowed foodies who have taken on the tasty challenge of introducing visitors to San Diego’s culinary diversity. In addition to downtown tours, they also cover Coronado and La Jolla neighbourhoods.
Our tour took us through the historic Gaslamp District and Little Italy which both have enough food options to keep visitors busy for months. The food stops on the tour were diverse enough to give us an appreciation for the city’s cultural diversity and engaging enough to give us an insight into how San Diego eats and drinks. Appreciating the historical trivia from our guide, it was a great way to spend an afternoon getting to know the city.
Jarret Leong writing for The Matador Network describes burritos as ‘a unifying part of the Californian experience’. To the burritos we’ll add San Diego’s many great options for tacos, guacamole, churros and tortillas thanks to its strong Hispanic community.
For fine dining, we checked out Nobu, an Asian fusion restaurant located in the Gaslamp Quarter. Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s signature Black Cod with Miso and Yellowtail Jalapeno was a nice addition to the city’s rich food tapestry.
#4: Hospitality at the Hard Rock Hotel San Diego
The opportunity to experience the outdoors as a lifestyle (or perhaps not having to spend as much time in traffic as their Los Angeles cousins) must certainly play a part in influencing the open attitudes of San Diegans towards visitors. The ubiquitous smiling faces we encountered on our forays into the city seemed to attest to this.
On previous visits to San Diego, we opted for stays at Airbnb properties. On every occasion, our hosts were nothing but warm and hospitable. This self-catering option offered us our best view of how the locals live.
However, on our more recent visit, we preferred to stay downtown and within walking distance of San Diego’s famous Gaslamp Quarter. Hard Rock Hotel San Diego, located next to Petco Park turned out to be the perfect fit for our city adventures.
More than music themed cafes and bars, the Hard Rock Hotel brand offered a unique version of Southern California hospitality. Details such as guitar monogrammed pillows, portraits of Janis Joplin, Tina Turner and Mick Jagger and a VIP lounge and cocktail bar added to our rock star feeling.
With a hotel-supplied in-room vinyl record player, we enjoyed an impressive selection of classics and treated ourselves to an immersive hospitality experience.
#5: Open spaces where your mind and body can breathe
A true escape is one which allows your mind to breathe and your body to rejuvenate itself. San Diego’s open spaces offer excellent opportunities for both.
Torrey Pines, north of La Jolla also has a long sandy beach. However, we were more interested in hiking through the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Park and experiencing its rare ‘pinus torreyana’ pine forests, canyons, and wildlife. At several viewing points in the park, we were rewarded with magnificent views of the ocean.
For a more urban experience of nature, Balboa Park was a revelation in its sheer size and diversity. Home to over fifteen museums including the Museum of Man with its striking old-world Spanish architecture, this was the ideal place to feel the pulse of the city while watching street performers, open air concerts and enjoying local eateries.
Long walks are a breeze in San Diego. One recommendation is the walk through the San Diego Convention Centre, along the harbour through Seaport Village towards the Maritime Museum.
HDYTI Tip: Balboa Park is huge! You will need a map and a plan. Consider renting a pedal car or bicycle and exploring. Families can head to the San Diego Zoo next door.
Is San Diego the perfect winter escape?
The answer is yes. San Diego is not a less glamorous version of Los Angeles. Its attractive spaces, people and places offer an excellent introduction to Southern California’s many charms and make it the perfect winter destination.
It was Henry David Thoreau who said “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” San Diego makes breathing, drinking, tasting and resigning oneself to nature rather easy to do.
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