San Diego: a neighbourhood guide

By Ellie Ross, Travel writer and frequent San Diego visitor.

Photography by Sam Antonio Photography/Getty Images

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January 2018

From cool café culture and buzzing breweries to sparkling beaches and outdoor adventures, every corner of San Diego has something to offer. Ellie Ross has the lowdown on where to stay, where to eat and what to do in four of the city’s classic districts.

Little Italy

Once home to San Diego’s Italian immigrant community and a flourishing fishing industry, Little Italy is now a vibrant neighbourhood with arguably the city’s most dynamic food and drink scene.


The Renaissance San Diego Downtown Hotel is nearby, a 258-room hotel that features two pools (one outdoor), a spa, plenty of dining options, as well as parking and a bicycle hire service to explore the surrounding area.

The turreted, maroon-and-white Hotel del Coronado – nicknamed “The Del” – has welcomed guests including Bill Clinton, Marilyn Monroe and Michelle Obama since 1888.


Filippi's Pizza Grotto serves authentic Italian fare, including mouthwatering pasta dishes, inside a quirky restaurant with wine bottles hanging from the ceiling. Fine dining options include Juniper and Ivy headed by celebrity chef Richard Blais who oversees a whimsical menu.


Make sure you visit the Mercato, a farmers’ market held on Saturdays from 08.00 until 14.00, with stalls selling everything from live sea urchins to artisan jewellery. Sample San Diego’s burgeoning craft brewery scene at Bottlecraft, which serves hundreds of beers.

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  • Snorkel and scuba in La Jolla’s gin-clear surf © Getty.

    White sands

    Home to brightly coloured garibaldi, stingrays and leopard sharks, the waters around La Jolla are a hotspot for divers, while land lovers will enjoy paddling in the crystalline shallows.

La Jolla

Set amid pretty cliffs and coves, La Jolla – often referred to as San Diego’s ‘Jewel by the Sea’ – is an elegant coastal resort, dotted with swaying palm trees, designer boutiques and luxury villas.


The Hyatt Regency La Jolla is a good base from which to explore the area’s glittering coastline. Set in 11 acres of manicured grounds, the hotel boasts an Olympic-style pool and a restaurant serving award-winning sushi.


Galaxy Taco is a fun, Mexican restaurant and tequila bar serving super-fresh delights, such as Baja fried fish tacos. For something sweeter, pull up a chair at the umbrella-dotted patio at The Cottage for the signature lemon ricotta pancakes.


Kayak with sea lions and Garibaldi fish in La Jolla Cove – Everyday California offer guided tours – keeping an eye out for the caves used for smuggling alcohol during prohibition. Keen hikers should head to the scenic Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve for 1,750 acres of pine forests, sandstone canyons and indigenous wildlife.

  • Juniper and Ivy’s whimsical take on American classics tout seasonal produce and quirky condiments © CeCe Canton.

    Delectable dining

    From ahi tuna Wellington to “Cinderella” pumpkin curry, Juniper and Ivy’s menu will knock your socks off with big flavours and peculiar, but delectable, pairings.

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  • Winter surf swells are in no short supply at Torrey Pines Beach © Alamy.

    Back to nature

    This stretch of wild, coastal land is a favourite with nudists, if you dare to bare.

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  • Proximity to the border means San Diego’s Mexican cuisine is a cut above © Myles McGuinness.

    Taco time

    Make sure to stop for lunch at Galaxy Taco for the to-die-for Barbecoa short rib tacos and roasted Brussels sprouts with chipotle mayo and lime.

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Gaslamp Quarter

Named after its Victorian street lighting, this 16-block area in Downtown is the epicentre of San Diego’s nightlife – though it’s also rich with galleries, museums and theatres worth visiting by day.


Centrally located, The Marriott San Diego Gaslamp Quarter offers a good range of room types, including suites with living areas. Its 22nd floor is home to Altitude Sky Lounge, a rooftop bar with DJs, fire pits and stellar city views.


You’ll be spoilt for choice with dining options, but a top contender is Jsix, which serves inventive cocktails (it’s worth noting that happy hour is 16.00 until 19.00, Monday to Friday) and American cuisine with a sophisticated twist, such as caviar puffs and pumpkin‎ lobster bisque.


Petco Park is the place to watch a baseball game, or get a taste of San Diegan life in Victorian times by visiting the Gaslamp Museum at The Davis‑Horton House, the oldest standing structure in downtown San Diego.

  • Relax poolside at Hotel del Coronado, where you can rent luxury cabanas that come with 47-inch TVs, a fully stocked fridge, and fresh fruit delivered at midday © Barbara Kraft.

    Make a splash

    Pamper yourself at the hotel’s spa with a Some Like It Hot stone massage, using warm stones and flowing movements that ease and relax knotted muscles.

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Coronado Island

A laidback getaway just a stone’s throw from the city, Coronado Island (actually an isthmus) boasts spotless beaches, exclusive boutiques and a small-town feel.


The turreted, maroon-and-white Hotel del Coronado – nicknamed “The Del” – is the island’s crown jewel and has welcomed guests since 1888, including Bill Clinton, Marilyn Monroe and Michelle Obama. The best rooms in the main building have sea views, while luxury villas offer extra privacy.


The lavish Sunday brunch at Hotel del Coronado has become something of an institution. Arrive hungry, and fill up on pancakes, pork belly and fresh doughnuts, washed down with Bloody Marys garnished with lobster claws. Clayton’s Coffee Shop is a 1950s-style diner serving affordable food and good coffee.


Make like a local and run or cycle – bikes can be rented at Hollands Bicycles – six miles around the perimeter of the island. The completely flat route gives you glimpses of the Naval base and the underside of the Coronado Bridge.

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