48 hours in San Diego

By Ellie Ross, Travel writer and California enthusiast.

Photography by Art Wager/Getty Images

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January 2018

Sandwiched between sea and mountains, California’s southernmost city is bursting with culture, heritage and outdoor pursuits. Travel writer Ellie Ross takes you on a 48-hour whirlwind tour of San Diego.

Day One

Settle in

Staying in the Gaslamp Quarter puts you in a central location close to the major attractions, within easy access of both transport and the rest of the city. One of the city’s hottest new properties, The Pendry is an elegant boutique hotel with slick rooms, a fantastic spa and a rooftop pool. Equally well located, the Hilton San Diego Gaslamp is a modern, affordable option.

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You won’t be short on dining options in the Gaslamp Quarter, the 16-block area named after its Victorian street lighting and the epicentre of San Diego’s nightlife. Searsucker serves ‘new America

21.00 – Nightcap

You won’t be short on dining options in the Gaslamp Quarter, the 16-block area named after its Victorian street lighting and the epicentre of San Diego’s nightlife. Searsucker serves ‘new American classics’ inside a pared-back interior, and has DJ nights on Fridays and Saturdays from 9pm. Or head to Prohibition a cosy, 1920s-style speakeasy bar serving exquisite cocktails.

  • Climb into the cockpit of WWII era aircraft on San Diego’s USS Midway © Getty Images.

    AV geeks unite

    The aircraft carrier museum lets visitors fly in an aerial combat simulator, tour the flight operations’ command centre, and delve into the wardrooms and engine rooms below deck.

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  • Catch some rays beside the art-deco rooftop at The Pendry, San Diego.

    Lap of luxury

    Set in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter, the hotel’s rooms are kitted out with Fili D’oro linens, elegant, custom furnishings and amenities by MiN New York.

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  • Discover San Diego’s local marinelife with Explore California’s sea kayaking guides.

    Oar-some waves

    Spot sea lions, dolphins and brightly coloured garibaldi fish while cruising the surf in La Jolla Ecological Reserve.

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Day Two

California’s birthplace

Spend the morning exploring some of San Diego’s 110 kilometres of coastline. Hire a car and head west from Downtown, pausing at the seven-day market at Liberty Station, until you reach Point Loma. This rocky peninsula with its famous Cabrillo National Monument is recognised as the birthplace of California and affords fantastic city views.

11.00 – Walk this way

Continue north up the coast, stopping to discover San Diego’s beach communities, which still maintain their laid-back feel. Stroll along the boardwalk from Ocean Beach, with its funky 1960s vibe, past great surfing beaches until you reach Mission Beach. Pop in to Belmont Park for candyfloss and a ride on the Giant Dipper, a 1925 wooden roller coaster.

12.30 – Lunch with a view

Further north, in Pacific Beach, Jrdn is a hip restaurant serving contemporary Californian cuisine alongside enviable sea views. Menu highlights include fish and shrimp ceviche and chicken fennel sausage burger.

  • Home to some of the west coast’s best waves, don’t forget your surfboard when heading to San Diego © Getty Images.

    Paddle out

    San Diego has waves to suit all appetites – try Trestles if you’re after a challenge or La Jolla Shores for gentler breaks.

    Explore San Diego

15.00 – Kayak the coast

Discover why La Jolla – the elegant coastal resort 20 kilometres north of Downtown – is known as ‘the jewel’ of San Diego, by kayaking in its protected bay. Everyday California runs group tours, and a guide will point out the marine life - including sea lions and Garibaldi fish - and regale you with fascinating stories as you paddle past the Seven Sea Caves.

19.00 – Mexican fare

Just north of Downtown, Old Town is the site of the original Spanish settlement. Today it’s home to dozens of restored buildings housing shops and museums. It’s also arguably the best place to sample authentic Mexican cuisine in the city. Head to Café Coyote for traditional tacos and margaritas.

21.00 – Night moves

Uptown is quickly emerging as San Diego’s equivalent to London’s Shoreditch, with hipster bars and restaurants popping up in the Hillcrest and North Park communities. Catch a cab to Hillcrest, the heart of San Diego’s LGBTQ scene, where The Alibi is a neighbourhood icon and popular dive bar. For something more sophisticated, The Wine Lover offers wine tastings and meat platters.

Day Three

10.00 – Ship shape

At the waterfront board the USS Midway, the longest-serving US Navy aircraft carrier of the 20th Century that’s now a museum. Former servicemen give fascinating talks and you can roam the flight deck, cramped sleeping quarters and sit inside fighter jets.

12.00 – Island getaway

Catch the ferry and make the scenic, 15-minute crossing over the bay from Broadway Pier to Coronado Island, with its pristine beaches and small-town feel. The peninsula has the city’s most exclusive boutiques and hotels, including the iconic Hotel del Coronado, which has been frequented by everyone from Bill Clinton to Marilyn Monroe since opening in 1888. If it’s a bit beyond your budget, try their all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch instead.

15.00 – Wheels in motion

Hire a bicycle from an outfit such as Bikes & Beyond and pedal around the ten-kilometre, completely flat circumference of Coronado Island. Don’t miss the home of The Wizard of Oz creator L Frank Baum (at 1101 Star Park Circle) and Spreckels Park. If you have extra time, pedal over Coronado Bridge towards the Hispanic community Barrio Logan to see the murals at Chicano Park, designated a National Historic Landmark in 2016.

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