by Lisa Boemkes
San Diego: California’s Cynosure
I have to admit that I hadn’t heard much about San Diego before I went there. To be honest, all my knowledge about the city derived from the Madagascar movie. I knew that the city had the biggest zoo in the world and that it was also the location of one of the Sea Life theme parks. However, I decided to spend my summer in San Diego as I was attracted by the Southern Californian lifestyle and because I often heard that it was said to be a nice city.
After two months of living and working in San Diego I can say that it isn’t a nice city, it is a beautiful and amazing city that has become a symbol of summer and sun and which combines an easy-going lifestyle with rich culture.
There is so much to see and do in San Diego that even two months weren’t enough to cover everything that was on my bucket list and that other people recommended. However, here are my top 10 things to do in San Diego that impressed me each in their unique way:
1) Strolling around Seaport Village
Seaport Village is a very touristy area and I know that in most cases touristy places aren’t that inspiring or beautiful. Simply because they’re too crowded or artificial. But the promenade walk with a number of colorful shops and lovely restaurants will impress you with its charm.
There’s something to be discovered everywhere and the place provides a lot of shadow, which is not unimportant when you talk about Southern California. The place is a true happy place where you should enjoy life and spend a nice afternoon. You can also have a nice walk along the promenade if you don’t like to be surrounded by people all the time. You can also just sit and relax in the park of Seaport Village and watch sailing boats and yachts floating on the water while eating ice cream. And even at night, there happen to be atmospheric concerts or other events.
2) Be inspired by the Spanish Art Village in Balboa Park
Balboa Park is the best place to go for San Diegans if they want to escape the city and find a calm place to relax. And the park doesn’t only offer nature but it is also the location of several architectural and cultural highlights.
Throughout the park, you will find museums, buildings and other beautiful attractions. My favorite among them is the Spanish Art Village. Paved with slabs of every color it already emphasizes what the village is all about. The little houses, each of which is painted individually, accommodate artists’ works that can be looked at and also bought. The artists show their paintings, sculptures and jewelry and the spark of creativity is visible in every corner of this inspiring place.
3) Become adventurous at Palm Canyon
Another one of my favorite places in Balboa Park is Palm Canyon, an area of the park in which more than 450 palms were planted in order to create a subtropical jungle in the middle of California’s second largest city.
What I love about this place is the nature which you find yourself in. By entering Palm Canyon you enter a completely different world and at some point you will start to believe that you’re somewhere in the wilderness and definitely not in a big city. You can even feel like a little adventurer and the canyon is full of great photo spots. Moreover, it is one of the calmest places in all of San Diego as chances are high that you will meet only a small number of people.
4) Have a walk from Coronado’s west end to its east end
Coronado Island is known for its exclusivity and it is the place where the wealthy society resides. The island is easy to reach by car or bus and offers a lot of nice places to visit. Start at the west side of the island, right in front of the famous Hotel del Coronado with its iconic red rooftop, which is the oldest wooden building in California.
Here, you will for sure feel a bit of glamour…or creeps if you believe in the ghost stories that are told about room 304. But before a cold shiver runs down your spine, you should enjoy the beautiful white sand of Coronado Beach. From Coronado Beach you can have a 30-40 minutes walk to the east side of the island and the walk is worth it. You pass touristy boutiques, imposing houses and then reach the Coronado ferry terminal, where you can marvel at a unique view on the skyline of San Diego. Coronado is probably the best place to go if you want to feel the the lifestyle of the Californian upper class.
5) Celebrate life at Fiesta de Reyes in Old Town San Diego
It’s not a question that Old Town San Diego Historic State Park is a paradise for tourists and I would recommend you to avoid Old Town on weekends but I fell in love with the place. Underneath the touristy surface, there is indeed a lot to discover and to learn about San Diego’s past and you will for sure love the colorful and joyful atmosphere.
My absolute favorite is the separated courtyard called “Fiesta de Reyes”. In the evening, a Mexican band performs songs that open up your heart and release the pure love of life. It is amazing to watch people who spontaneously started dancing and maybe you want to join them. I couldn’t keep myself from dreaming of Mexican nights and the spirit of freedom and ever since I could witness this atmosphere I have been remembering the evening at Fiesta de Reyes.
6) Watch the surfers at Pacific Beach
San Diego wouldn’t be San Diego without its beaches. I personally fell in love with Pacific Beach as it embodies Southern Californian lifestyle and surf culture like no other beach in the area. Thus, it is probably the best place to watch surfers trying to tame the wild ocean waves.
It is already nice to watch them performing on the water while relaxing at the beach but it is even more captivating to watch them from Pacific Beach pier. The pier is not too crowded and you have the chances to watch the surfers from a bird’s eye perspective and from a close distance. I often caught myself watching the colorful hustle for half an hour or longer without realizing how time had passed by.
7) Hiking the cliffs near Ocean Beach
Sunset Cliffs is a well-known tourist destination and it is indeed beautiful. However, the cliffs between Ocean Beach and Sunset Cliffs are a hidden gem and could be referred to as Sunset Cliffs’ little sisters. Some tourists make it to the first meters of the cliffs but soon they will turn around because of the waves crashing on shore.
It is true that the waves can be pretty big and that it is not unlikely to get soaked. Moreover, it can in fact be a bit dangerous to hike there but if you are careful you will be rewarded with impressive views and imposing waves breaking on the shore and flooding the cliffs. And if you hike long enough, then you will end up at a small hidden beach where you will meet locals avoiding crowded Ocean Beach. Just start your little hike at the south end of Ocean Beach, where you can also discover the tide pools at low tide.
8) Go whale watching
First of all: We didn’t get to see any whales during our whale watch trip but that wasn’t a problem at all! I knew that summer wasn’t the best time to see whales off the coast of San Diego but the boat ride itself was a spectacle and after only a couple of minutes we saw groups of dolphins curiously swimming around our boat and following us.
Our friendly guides told us that we were lucky to see approximately 600 dolphins and that this was a unique encounter. It was amazing to watch the dolphins jump around the boat and see them from a very close range. But we also saw a huge mola mola, also known as sun fish, and a couple of sea lions between the dolphins. The whale watch trip is an amazing experience to understand the power of the ocean and it furthermore sparks your imagination of the creatures that could be swimming under the boat but which you can’t see. If you’re interested, make sure to go with San Diego Whale Watch.
9) Watch a Californian sunset at the beach
Watching a sunset at the beach is a must in when you’re in California and as San Diego has the best beaches all over the state it is obvious that you can’t miss this beautiful spectacle of nature.
Ocean Beach was my favorite place to watch the sunset as it combines a colorful and luminous sky with impressive waves so that the sunset is turned into something wild. The sun goes down like a gleaming fireball and it is breathtaking to see it set behind the horizon. Look carefully for this one moment when the sun has just disappeared! If you’re lucky you will have the chance to see “the green flash”, a green light that appears on the horizon for just a fraction of a second and that is pure magic.
10) Spend a morning at La Jolla Cove
La Jolla is the place where wealthy San Diegans live and where many locals go on weekends. If you go to La Jolla Cove on weekday mornings, you can have a wonderful time in an even more wonderful surrounding. And La Jolla Cove is much more than just a place to relax and take a bath.It is a mecca for people who love being active.
Besides kayaking around Goldfish Point and cliffs you can also rent snorkeling equipment and have an encounter with leopard sharks. They’re not dangerous at all, so don’t worry. But telling your friends and family that you snorkeled with sharks sounds pretty impressive, doesn’t it? And if you just want to have a nice day with your friends you can always visit the picturesque shops and boutiques or have a chat during lunch in one of the beautiful cafes and restaurants. My favorite is Goldfish Point Cafe!
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