Vacation Planning for Type A Personalities!
Augghh, work is so stressful! Early morning conference calls with that idiot on the east coast who doesn't understand time zones, pre-meetings and post-meetings to discuss more meetings, your idiot boss is now making you track everything you do on your Blackberry and layoffs are happening more often than company paid holidays. You need a vacation and you need one now!
LOCAL WALLY'S HOT MONEY STRETCHING TIP: The Go San Diego Card gets you into the Zoo, Wild Animal Park, Legoland, USS Midway, Harbor Excursion, Balboa Park museums, Birch Aquarium, plus many other attractions for one ridiculously low fee. Get it - you're going to need it!
You're staring out the airplane window like a dog in a car, excited to finally be in San Diego. Unfasten that seatbelt the second you hear the landing gear come down and push your way to the front of the plane as soon as you hear the ding. You're here!
So how was the food on the plane? Did you go with the artificial cheese product glued to formed beef ("Philly-like Cheesesteak, only available on airplanes!") or were you lucky enough to fly on a "peanuts only" airline? And what's with that guy who brought on Popeye Fried Chicken for his entire Oompa Loompa sized family? Well good things come to those who wait and if you're getting off the plane hungry you're in luck because right down the street from the airport is some serious good eats with a "Welcome to San Diego" view!
Wait - you did rent a car, right? If you listened to Local Wally you know that San Diego is very spread out and that the public transportation is great... if you're homeless. Lucky for you that Local Wally not only gives great advice but discount hotels, discount attractions, last minute deals and yes, car rentals!
First Stop: One of the best view restaurants in town for a snack and cocktail!
Don't die from hunger on your first day in paradise - and don't waste time looking for a place to eat after you land. Instead head straight to C-Level, a moderately priced restaurant located right on the bay and literally just minutes away from the airport. Locals and tourists both agree that the outdoor patio is one of the best settings for al fresco dining and the food is excellent non-tourist trap quality. Kobe beef burgers, lobster mac-n-cheese, it's upscale comfort foods, California cuisine, a perfect way to start your vacation. (Tip: Don't confuse C-Level with the more expensive Island Prime next door).
Second Stop: Visit the Star of India ship and Tour the USS Midway aircraft carrier!
Now hop back in your car and cruise to the Embarcadero, the strip along the bay along North Harbor Drive. What's that? A pirate ship? Nope, that's the Star of India, the world's oldest active sailing ship. Park your car as soon as you can and pop in some quarters into the parking meter (bring your own as there are no change machines) and head towards the ship. The Star of India is part of the San Diego Maritime Museum and is much more than a static display of interesting vessels. You can actually sail on an old ship on special days and if you're lucky enough to be in town at the right time, even take part in a mock canonball battle. If you plan on touring the ships, get advanced discount tickets to avoid waiting in lines.
Keep walking down the Embarcadero past Anthony's Fish Grotto. You'll want to remember this place if you want some of the best fish and chips in town in a family friendly setting. If you really want to "do it all", stop by the take out window (the Fishette) and order a combo plate of freshly fried seafood to go. No, this isn't fancy foodie food but who cares? It's tasty good like the food at the fair and it's a San Diego institution - and yes, if you dine inside there are plenty of non-fried seafood options as well but really, what's the point?
Up ahead is the USS Midway aircraft carrier. For a nominal fee you can strap on a headset and tour the giant ship. There's fighter planes on the top deck, flight simulators inside, and lots of displays to give you a good idea of what life on this giant floating city was like. Hey, how DO these things float anyway?
If all of this military stuff reminds you of Tom Cruise in Top Gun and you have a desire to sing "Great Balls of Fire" in the sleazy bar like Goose did, that "bar" where Top Gun was filmed is right down the street at Kansas City BBQ, one of San Diego's favorite places to get ribs and a beer. Stop in for a beer and snap a few photos, the bar is a hoot with the hanging hats (and bra's) from the ceiling, all donated by their patrons.
Third Stop: Run Through Seaport Village and Buy those Postcards and T-shirts Now!
WARNING WILL ROBINSON! TOURIST TRAP AHEAD!
Locals all over San Diego are cringing as they read that I'm sending you to Seaport Village, San Diego's most obvious "tourist trap", but I actually like Seaport Village! Located right on the bay, detractors will say that Seaport Village is a cross between a Cape Cod village and an El Torrito restaurant in architectural style filled with t-shirt shops, average restaurants, and the obligatory hot sauce store. That being said, the setting right on the bay offers spectacular views of the water and Coronado and the setting is picture postcard perfect. Head over to the grassy area that juts out into the bay - that's Marina Park - to watch the people flying giant kites. And don't miss the old wooden merry-go-round, a beautifully restored carousel that should delight people of all ages. So yes, Seaport Village is a bit Disneyland-ish, but for a couple of hours of strolling and sightseeing, it's hard to beat the setting.
This is also the best time for you to get some postcards and the "thank you" gift for the kid who's feeding your cats back home. Get them now so you don't waste time later in the week. Now that that's done you can head over to your hotel to check out the pool, but don't get too comfortable as you're going out to dinner tonight!
Fourth Stop: Explore the Gaslamp District and Stay for a Fabulous Dinner!
There was a reason why the military men once voted San Diego and the Gaslamp District their favorite port of call, and it wasn't because they had the best cappuccino's in town. Once the "red light" district, San Diego's Gaslamp District has always had the reputation for being a bit risque, a bit dangerous, and the place to be for those looking for action. By the 1970's it had fallen into serious disrepair but today it's one of the most active city attractions with rows of restaurants, night clubs, live music and plenty of locals and tourists mingling on the busy sidewalks. Underground clubs for the hip hop crowd, live jazz and Irish pubs for the above ground group, there's something for everyone. Take some time to walk the streets (no, I'm not suggesting that!) and check out the shops.
Now there are a ton of great restaurants in Gaslamp District, so many it can be overwhelming. If you want a safe bet just head into Croce's for some upscale American standards and some live jazz afterwards. Croce's is the brainchild of Ingrid Croce, the wife of the late, great Jim "Bad Bad Leroy Brown" Croce and has been a local favorite for years. After dinner stop in at their jazz bar, or check out the pub scene. For more dining options check out Local Wally's Guide to San Diego's BEST Restaurants.
I'm not trying to embarrass you, I promise! Yes, I know that getting on a fake trolley with rubber wheels and sitting next to that guy with pasty white legs is so uncool, but the Old Town Trolley is the best way to get a good and fast overview of San Diego. Don't worry, no one will see you and I'll never tell. Besides, have you looked at your legs lately? Maybe you're that guy!
First Stop: Old Town
So head over to Old Town, the birthplace of California and hop on the Old Town Trolley. They'll take you to all the big highlights of San Diego, from Little Italy to Coronado. Come on, no one even cares that you look like a dork and you'll have a great time getting some history of the city and seeing the sights at the same time. You can hop on and off the trolley if you want but stay on board until you get the second to the last stop, the San Diego Zoo.
Second Stop: The World Famous San Diego Zoo!
Hippos in giant aquariums! Baby pandas! Giant elephant exhibit! The San Diego Zoo is everything you've ever dreamed it would be. It's a super Zoo filled to the brim with every animal imaginable and landscaped in tropical San Diego style.
If you love pandas, and who doesn't, make sure you head straight there to avoid long waits, especially if there's a new baby. And don't miss the opportunity to hand feed a giraffe! It costs a few bucks but all of the money goes to saving endangered species so it's all good. Those with big wallets will want to spring for the Backstage Pass, an exclusive look at the zoo where you get to hand feed a rhino - you'll literally have them eating out of your hand.
People food is expensive and surprisingly bad at the zoo so smuggle in some sandwiches in a backpack if you dare - outside food isn't allowed but "security" is looser here than an Iraqi airport. And if you do get busted there's picnic tables right outside the entrance.
I'll say it again - avoid the long lines by buying Discounted San Diego Zoo Tickets or the Go San Diego Card online and make sure you grab a map and plan out your destinations before you start walking. This zoo is so big and hilly that it's easy to miss major exhibits if you just wander around. There's also an optional zoo tour bus that lets you hop on and off that's not just for the exercise-phobes - the guides provide great info on the animals along the way. Allow yourself a minimum of 3 hours at the zoo and know that you can easily spend twice that much time if you stop and experience each exhibit.
LOCAL WALLY HOT TIP: During the Summer the Zoo is also open at night, a great experience and a great way to cram in a trip to the zoo if your schedule is tight.
Third Stop: Back to Old Town for Sightseeing, Tacos, and yes, yes, yes, Margaritas!
Get back on the Old Town Trolley and you'll go past Little Italy, an authentic Italian neighborhood. The best time to visit Little Italy is on Saturday mornings when they host a Farmer's Market. Squeeze that in your agenda if you can, but for now stay on the Trolley and get back to Old Town.
Over the years Local Wally has both loved Old Town, and hated it. Once the highlight of any trip to San Diego, our not-too-bright Governor Davis decided to sell off the concessions to an out of towner and turn the park into a politically correct mess. The park nose-dived into a ghost town and by 2008 the park had fallen to such dismal levels that they gave the concessions back to a local who is trying hard to bring it back to its original glory. It's getting better and as of 2010 I can say it's now safe to return to Old Town.
PBS types will love the educational aspects of the park, from visiting the original cemetery to touring the historic buildings. If you see dead people you'll want to stop in at The Whaley House, voted the Number 1 Haunted House in America. But I suspect by now you're wanting a margarita and thankfully Old Town has no shortage of tequila. Tourists line up at Casa de Reyes, located in the middle of the plaza. I won't mock you if you succumb to the party atmosphere there, but if you want better food head down the street to either El Agave or Cafe Coyote, two restaurants that take their tequila seriously - so seriously that they have hundreds of options on their menus. Another good restaurant choice is the Old Town Mexican Cafe with their signature dish, carnitas - slow cooked tender pork wrapped in freshly made thick tortillas. Locals sometimes shun OTMC due to the crowds, but no one can deny that the Mexican food here is authentically delicious. There are plenty of other good choices for Mexican food but the Enchirito Award for Least Authentic goes to Fred's Mexican Cafe, possibly the worst Mexican food I've ever tasted.
Type A personalities don't just want to go to the beach - they want to experience it! Lucky for them that San Diego is home to the Torrey Pines Hang Glider Port. If your life back home has you caged in a cube doing stupid reports, then maybe it's time to let that person inside of you out to play for a bit.
First Stop: Torrey Pines
The Torrey Pines Gliderport offers tandem rides for a mere $150 - that's a lot cheaper than a therapy session. No experience necessary, you get strapped in, you hang on, and before you know it you're jumping off the cliffs and flying over the ocean with an experienced pilot doing all the work! Your exhilarating ride lasts 20 to 25 minutes but the experience a lifetime. You can even pay a bit more for a video of your flight to prove to the other lab rats back home that you still have spunk! Even if you're too chicken to fly, the Torrey Pines Gliderport is still a great place to stop to see the others having fun but come on, isn't it time you stepped outside your comfort zone and got some adrenaline going?
Second Stop: The Quintessential San Diego Beach, La Jolla Shores!
Locals will argue over which is their favorite San Diego beach, but no one can deny that for the quintessential "Baywatch" experience - complete with suntanned bikini girls and abs of steel surfer dudes - the place to be is La Jolla Shores. With large expanses of sand and gloriously crystal clear waters, this is the San Diego beach day you've been dreaming of. On Day 3 it's time to get your toes in the sand and start working on that tan you'll need to make everyone back home jealous.
LOCAL WALLY TOP TIP FOR HOW NOT TO LOOK LIKE A TOURIST: You can always tell the tourists by their red, cooked lobster colored sunburn. No matter what, wear sunscreen!
A few things to know about La Jolla Shores before you go -
1) No booze or bottles - though those who are not through their 12 step program can sneak a beer in an empty Starbucks cup. Wow, Mom drinks a lot of coffee!
2) No smoking - don't even think about it!
3) Parking is tough after around 10 AM so pull into the lot to drop off the family, the beach paraphernalia and cooler, then send Dad out to hunt for a space. Bring two cell phones so he can call to find you once he gets back to the beach.
Third Stop: Dinner at Roy's or Hodads or .... ?
San Diego is often compared to Hawaii so tonight it's fitting that you'll have dinner at Roy's Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine. Roy's has two locations - one in a La Jolla shopping mall and the other in the Marriott near the Convention Center. Locals favor the original La Jolla location, though there's no view and it can get quite noisy inside. The newer location in the Marriott has outdoor dining and a bay view, but no free parking. Either way the food is awesome and the $35 Prix Fixe dinner with appetizer, entree and dessert is a great deal for a gourmet meal.
For more local dining check out Hodad's, one of San Diego's best burgers in a neighborhood beach joint that's best described as post-60's hippie with the chopped VW Bus in the middle of the restaurant. Or head over to The Brigantine (multiple locations) and go straight to the bar for fish tacos, fresh oysters, great clam chowder and salads. They don't serve the fish tacos in the actual restaurant but the family friendly bar is large with casual tables. For the truly restless hop on the Coronado Ferry and take the short ride across the bay to Pehoe's, a Hawaiian theme'd restaurant with a wonderful view and a Rachael Ray recommendation - and if the food isn't quite as good as Roy's, the experience of riding the ferry boat makes up for it.
I hope you enjoyed your day off at the beach yesterday because today you're going to get a workout! Get up bright and early, bring an extra set of clothes (I'll explain later) and head over to Mission Bay where you'll find SeaWorld San Diego, home to Shamu the killer whale and so much more!
First Stop: Dolpins, Penguins and Whales, Oh My!
First, let's start with the shows. SeaWorld is set up with you Type A people in mind since the shows revolve around a set schedule - as soon as one show is done another will start in just enough time for you to get there and sit down. This is an important tip - DO NOT THROW AWAY THE PROGRAM as it has all of the start times for the shows!
You can also deviate off the show schedule to check out some of the exhibits, from Emperor Penguins to the Dolphin pool where you can actually reach out and touch them. And for those who really want the full experience, SeaWorld has special programs that let you get into the water with the dolphins or a Beluga Whale to feed them and interact with them the way the trainers do.
LOCAL WALLY HOT SEAWORLD TIP: Take their "wet zones" warnings at the shows seriously. When they say the first 20 rows might get wet, what they mean is that you are virtually guaranteed to be drenched like a rat stuck in a storm drain! Bring extra clothes unless you like walking around soaking wet all day.
SeaWorld also has thrill rides and educational exhibits as well as a brand new area just for the small fry with rides sized just for them. There's even a Dine with Shamu program where you get to try to eat a meal while Shamu is flopping around begging for raw fish right next to your table! Is this culinary heaven or what?
Second Stop: The Road to Cabrillo!
I sure hope you took me seriously when I said you would get wet and to bring extra clothes because when you're done with SeaWorld it's time to head out to the tip of Point Loma to visit the Cabrillo Monument and the original lighthouse. The short drive takes you through military property and you'll want to stop by Fort Rosecrans Cemetery just to check out the view. Once at the lighthouse and on the tip of Point Loma the view is inspiring with ocean on one side, the city on the other.
Head down the way to the tide pools where you get to torment, I mean observe, the little animals stuck in low tide praying you don't see them. You find tiny sea creatures like crabs or small fish trapped in various tide pools. They sort of remind you of your own life before vacation, don't they? Go ahead - put your finger in a helpless sea anemone. You da Boss, as they say! Just don't hurt them, and no trying to take them back to the hotel with you. Think of it as an HR violation.
All kidding aside, don't be flinging the starfish like a Frisbee unless you want a tap on your shoulder from the nearby Ranger who will not so gently remind you that the animals are protected. Check the tide report to make sure you're there at low tide and wear walking shoes as the rocks can get slick.
Third Stop: See the Fish, Eat the Fish!
If a full day of seeing fish has made you hungry, why not taste a few? I mean come on, why should Shamu get all the seafood? The local favorite seafood restaurant is Anthony's Fish Grotto - now I know, it's sort of a weird family restaurant that looks so old fashioned it's retro, but the view is great and the fish - especially the fried seafood - are a San Diego institution. Or step up for mesquite grilled fish and seafood at The Fish Market. Their formula for success is simple - take ultra fresh fish, toss it on the grill, put it on a plate. Simple indeed, and good enough to warrant the long lines. Or go upscale and dine at The Top of The Market, the upstairs fancy restaurant at The Fish Market. Tablecloths replace paper placemats and sauces glaze over the seafood, it's more of a gourmet approach to seafood and while simple is good, sauces are better!
Today it's back to the beach, only this time you're going to get a bit more interactive. It's back to La Jolla only this time you're going to head towards La Jolla Cove to kayak and snorkel into the sea caves!
First Stop: Kayaking La Jolla Cove!
The crystal clear turquoise waters of La Jolla are teaming with wildlife, from the bright orange garibaldi fish to seals and leopard sharks (don't worry, they're harmless). Carved into the sandstone walls are the Seven Caves of La Jolla, real caves you can explore while on a kayak. The best way to experience this is to take a tour that provides all the equipment, instruction, and a guide. And while there's no experience necessary, the instructors will help you get the hang of the kayak and will make sure the entire experience is not only fun, but safe.
For those of you wanting to professionally document your adventure on a kayak, San Diego Beach Shoots will not only take you out on a kayak but take "magazine quality" photographs of you as well. Stunningly beautiful photography, you won't believe it's you in the picture. Planning a honeymoon? Use these guys for some great memory shots.
Afterwards you can snorkel at La Jolla Cove, or perhaps take the kayak out towards The Marine Room restaurant (north of the caves) where you can see the leopard sharks in the shallow waters. For those of you who want to see a cave but avoid the kayak, you can visit one of the caves via stairs from The Cave Store, and everyone should take the short hike that runs behind the cave store (going north) that runs along the bluffs featuring stunning views of the caves and the shoreline.
Second Stop: Visit the Seals on the Beach... Really, Live Seals Right on the Beach!
Are there really seals just lying on the beach?
You betcha! From the cove walk south along the boardwalk past the Hare Krisna's selling t-shirts towards the Children's Pool, aka seal beach. The brick seawall was built in the 1930's to provide the local townspeople a place for their kids to swim away from the waves. But it wasn't long before the seals figured it out and took it over, creating a controversy that continues today. Who's beach is it? Wealthy locals argue the beach is for the people while the seals bark "augkk augkk", which loosely translates to "get lost". Luckily, a 2010 court ruling has sided with the seals with the next step to turn this into a protected reserve.
Stand back and gaze in wonder as the seals frolic in the surf and sunbath on the sand. If you see people crossing the yellow "do not enter" line, don't follow. These are the radical nuts who want to kick the seals off the beach and are encouraging people to get close to the seals hoping to scare them away. For more "save the seals" info check out the La Jolla Friends of Seals.
Afterwards walk up the hill to Prospect Street where the shops and restaurants are and if you see an open table at Alfonso's of La Jolla you might want to stop for a margarita. Or head to Burger Lounge, considered by many locals to be the best burger in town and featuring only the best and freshest ingredients. If you planned ahead and brought a change of clothes, check out George's Ocean Terrace, a moderately priced casual restaurant with a stunning view overlooking the cove - one of the best views in town and an essential San Diego dining experience loved by both tourists and locals.
Third Stop: See a Concert at Humphrey's!
Every April locals open their Sunday newspaper in anticipation for what performers will be playing at Humphrey's Concerts by the Bay that Summer. Will it be oldies like the Turtles or CSN? Or some jazz from Wynton Marsalis or Norah Jones? Performers from all around love playing Humphrey's for the same reason why locals love seeing them there - the small 1,300 seat outdoor theater is surrounded by the bay, the tiki torches and palm trees around the resort makes it look and feel just like Hawaii, the setting is picture perfect San Diego.
There's not too many bad seats in the house but for the best seating make sure you opt for the Lexus dinner package. You'll dine in the resorts' restaurant where the food is top notch then get seated in the first seven rows. Not too shabby!
LOCAL WALLY'S HUMPHREY'S PARKING TIP: Save some cash by parking across the street in the huge FREE parking lots next to the water.
What will the neighbors think when every shot of your vacation shows you either drunk or on the beach? You need some culture to show them you really do have class, but don't worry, this is still going to be a really fun day!
First Stop: San Diego Mission
San Diego's Mission de Acala was the first of California's 21 missions with the goal of spreading the word to the natives. You might want to read up on it ("blah blah blah") or just do a quick stop to get a photo standing in front next to the bright red bougainvillea bushes. I promise I won't tell your neighbors you skipped out on your history lesson. Hey, this isn't a field trip, this is vacation, so take that picture and let's keep moving! We got lots of things to do today.
Second Stop: The Incredible Balboa Park!
It's hard to believe but there was a time when San Diego had to do some outrageous things to attract visitors to our city. In 1915 a spectacular World's Fair was held at the Balboa Park to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal. Say what? It probably made more sense back then but the good news is the beautiful buildings built for that event became the foundation for the park as we know it today.
Then in 1935 the city leaders stuck in the Depression (very depressing) and fresh out of ideas decided that if it worked once, it would work again and hosted another World's Fair and once again the buildings were saved. Very cool!
Ton's of Museums, Ton's of Activities, Hours of Amusement!
Looking more like a trip to Europe than Southern California, Balboa Park's architecture is good enough reason to visit. But holy moly, check out the list of museums! Fine art? Historic automobiles? The actual Apollo 9 Command Module Spacecraft? Hands-on science experiments? Real mummies and robotic dinosaurs? Yes, just about every museum you can think of, and some you never imagined, are represented here. Don't believe me? When was the last time you went to a museum dedicated to electric trains?!
LOCAL WALLY'S BALBOA PARK MUSEUM TIP: With so many museums the only way to see Balboa Park is with a discounted Passport to Balboa Park which allows you access to all 14 museums over a 7 day period. The Go San Diego Card gets you into most museums as well.
As if the eclectic mix of museums wasn't enough, Balboa Park also has an IMAX theater, one of the world's largest pipe organs that they fire up every Sunday, koi ponds, a botanical garden, fun theater at the Starlight Bowl, more serious theater at the Old Globe, and even
puppet shows - hey, I like puppet shows! There's so much to do at Balboa Park that it's wise to study up a bit and decide ahead of time what your A-list of activities will be. And good news - when you get hungry you don't have to resort to the hot dog stand. Instead head over to The Prado, an excellent restaurant right in the park with a beautiful outdoor dining area and creatively prepared food that's not aimed just at tourists. Yes, it's good enough that locals go out of their way to dine there.
LOCAL WALLY'S 'DON'T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU READ ON THE INTERNET' TIP: Lots of websites incorrectly state that Tuesdays is free museum day, but this only applies to residents and those in the Military. Of course, if you live in San Diego county you're going to want to check out the schedule.
Third Stop: Take a Sail on the San Diego Bay!
Sure you could go on a harbor cruise if you want, but isn't that sort of grandma-ish? The kickback harbor cruises are good enough for most people, but Type A's like you need a bit more excitement, a bit more wind in your face, a bit more out of the ordinary. So how about a ride on Dennis Conner's America's Cup winning sailboat? It's true, the actual Stars and Stripes racing yacht, one of the fastest boats in the world, will take you on an unforgettable trip where you get to be part of the crew! There are also sunset trips where they let you bring along your own adult beverages - nice!
If you really want to try something different, come aboard the Californian, the Pirates of the Caribbean looking "tall ship". This is a four hour sailing expedition so you may need to juggle the agenda around a bit to make it fit (arrive by 11:30am or you're out!). Release that inner child that's been repressed for so many years and just enjoy yourself as you embark on a trip that ends with a cannon salute. And if you're really lucky, at certain times of the Summer they actually take out multiple ships and have a real "mock" (is that an oxymoron?) cannon fight! The dynamite-level booms can be heard all over downtown and you're on the boat next to the explosions! Yeow!
Fourth Stop: Hungry? Let's get off the beaten path and Dine with the Locals!
While it's true that locals love the big name restaurants as much as visitors do, when we go out it's usually to a smaller, lessor known neighborhood eatery. San Diego's local food scene has become very lively over the past few years and some of these "not seen on Food TV or Travel Channel" restaurants offer some of the best food in town, usually for a price much cheaper than the big tourist stops. Tonight you're going to Local Wally's Favorite Unknown Restaurant called Urban Solace. They've been winning local awards right and left for their upscale take on comfort foods.
Located in definitely-not-touristy North Park, an older San Diego neighborhood on the rebound, the outdoor facade looks a bit like a New Orleans transplant. Inside the vibe is cool and, well, urban, with the cement floors and cozy setting. Order up some of the incredible mussels with smoked tomato sauce, a perfect starter. Items like Duckaroni (mac n cheese with duck confit), or "Not your Mama's Meatloaf" hint at the playfulness of the chef and his take on your favorites. It's gourmet in an unassuming and totally accessible way. Braised beef cheeks? Yup, delicious! There's also a bluegrass brunch on Sundays where the menu is equally creative and delicious.
On your last day in paradise you could go to The Wild Animal Park or, if you have spoiled kids, Legoland, but come on, how many more tourist filled theme parks can you handle? I think you break away from the crowds and take a trip up the coast to see how locals live. These are real beach towns straight out of a Gidget movie and while many things have changed over the years, many remain the same.
First Stop: Del Mar, Where the Surf Meets the Turf!
Exit Highway 5 (going north) on Del Mar Heights Road and head towards the ocean. The stunning view as you approach feels like you're going to drive straight into the water - cool! Once on Highway 101 go south (left) until you get to Torrey Pines State Park. Drive to the top of the hill and you'll find short, scenic trails that wind through the pines and along the bluffs, offering incredible views of the Pacific. Keep an eye out for dolphins and make sure you stop in at the old lodge to check out the nostalgic memorabilia.
Whoa, are those people down there nude? Yup, that's famous Blacks Beach below, San Diego's unofficial nude beach. Access is way challenging so don't even try but maybe today's a good day to test that 24X zoom lens!
Second Stop: Shop at Eclectic Cedros Design District, then off the Surf City Cardiff!
Hey, what's with all these quonset huts? Yes, a strange setting indeed for an eclectic shopping area called Cedros Design District. Built in the 1940's when this was an industrial area, the quonset huts have become sort of a local landmark that's somehow perfect for the beach vibe. Egypt has pyramids, we have quonset huts. And shopping, lots of shopping.
But don't worry, guys. This isn't some crappy theme shopping mall with the usual suspects. Most of the shops are individually and locally owned. Women's boutiques for sure, but more whimsical stores as well. Solo offers one of a kind finds, the sort of stuff that you won't find back home, and Leaping Lotus is a giant warehouse of local arts and treasures. Cedros is also home to The Belly Up Tavern, one of the top live music venues.
Back on the highway and back heading north, you'll soon be in Cardiff, one of the top surfing areas in the country. You'll know you're in Cardiff when you see the strange statue of a rather effeminate surfer, nicknamed Fairy Mary and The Cardiff Kook by the local surfers who were not exactly pleased with how their sport is portrayed. Sometimes pranksters dress up Kooky Mary in a dress or other outlandish costumes. Hey, don't be flaming me about being politically incorrect - I don't make this stuff up!
Hungry.... Must find tacos before I die....
I know, I got you all addicted to real tacos and you just realized that after today you're going back home and might never see a real taco again! San Diego loves tacos and one of the best taco stands is found in one of the most unlikely places, the San Elijo State Campground.
Bull Taco is the official concession stand at the campgrounds which is located right behind, ummm, you know, the enlightened surfer statue. Now come on, has Local Wally ever led you wrong? No way, and you'll know what I'm talking about when you see the picnic tables overlooking the ocean, a view that you'd normally have to pay $35 a plate for but today will set you back $2.50. But Bull Taco isn't just another taco stand. Their menu looks like something Anthony Bordain would be checking out with their pork belly or chicken heart tacos. Duck burrito? Foie Gras taco? Oh yes, gourmet tacos on an ocean view picnic table, that's what I'm talking about! Of course there's the traditional fare as well, but today, your last day, stretch out a bit and try something you've never had before. And because these are street tacos (meaning 3/4 size), you can get a bunch of them and try them all! The service is incredibly slow, but the food, well I'm drooling right now just thinking about it!
Third Stop: Hot Rods, Woodies, Boat Houses, and Swami's...this is Encinitas!
Odd, very odd!
All over Southern California the little beach towns are being developed and upscaled with multi-million dollar homes and Real Housewives of the OC kind of people - but Encinitas remains nearly the same today as it was 50 years ago. Your first stop is Swami's, aka Self Realization Fellowship, once the hang out for ex-Beatle George Harrison and his sitar buddy Ravi Shankar. No, I'm not sending you to church, God forbid!, but rather to the gardens in the back that look like you somehow ended up in Maui. Cascading koi ponds, tropical plants, and a view of the Pacific at the top to knock your socks off. Last time I spotted dolphins swimming in the waves, so look carefully and you might get lucky too!
Travel off the main road on 3rd street and you'll see a sight that's certain to make you slam on your breaks. What in the world? Two boats on dry land set up on wooden stilts? These are the famous "as seen on Travel Channel" Boat Houses built in the 1920's. Stop for a photo op but don't think you can go inside - these are private residences.
Back to the main drag where you'll find lots of local shops and restaurants. There are some seriously good eats here, from Hawaiian plate lunch at Keilani's to bistro food and wine bar at 3rd Corner to rustic Italian at cozy Trattoria i Trulli, among others. Breakfast lovers won't want to miss The Potato Shack where the pancakes are the size of manhole covers and deep fried potatoes served up with a dozen or so different toppings options are an entree- what's not to love about that? Or get back in your car and head north a bit to a scary looking taco shop that has some of the best burritos in town, Juanita's. Yeah, it has bars on the windows and surf stickers on the sign, but the constant line out the front door tells you these guys know what they're doing and the carnitas, mmmm pork, is a juicy, fatty delight. Do it - you'll be back on the airplane before you know it wishing you had.
Back to the Beach, One More Time
La Jolla Shores, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, even Torrey Pines..... packed with tourists during the Summer. Locals head instead to Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, a beach that time has forgotten. Woodies and hot rods, hot dogs and snow cones, it's like 1965 all over again with local surfer girls and guys all checking our the waves and hanging in the sunshine.
Rent your boogie boards and gear right at the concession stand. If the main beach is too crowded, which it can be on a hot Summer day, head north a bit and the crowds disappear, making it feel like you're all alone on a deserted island.
Restrooms and plenty of parking makes Moonlight a top local pick, but if you can put up with porta-potties go even further north on Highway 101 past La Costa Blvd and you're at Ponto (map), another locals only beach. What's great about Ponto is that even on the hottest Summer day there's space to spread out. Hugging Highway 101 the beach is wide and the area undeveloped - for now. See it before they build a giant resort on the other side of the highway, so sad but true.
Fourth Stop: Last Dinner on Vacation...Let's Make it a Good One!
What's the quintessential San Diego dining experience, the one that stands out above the rest as the best way to cap off a week in paradise? My vote goes to George's at the Cove, which is really two restaurants in one.
The California Modern restaurant is first class all the way with inventive cooking and gourmet touches. From the first sip of the fresh cocktails - no syrups, no artificial flavorings - to the stunning entrees that are almost too beautiful to eat, George's lives up to its hype as possible the best meal in town.
For more casual dining go upstairs and outside to the Ocean Terrace. If getting dressed up is not on your agenda but good food is, the Ocean Terrace is the perfect solution. The bistro menu has something for everyone and if it's not as over-the-top as the main restaurant, it's executed well enough that many locals would rather eat here than anywhere else in La Jolla. And the view? Oh baby, what a view!
If a romantic, quiet dinner is you ideal setting then head to The Marine Room, a fine dining restaurant that's so close to the beach that the waves actually can splash on the windows during high tide. It's slightly more elegant than George's contemporary setting and the food is as superb as the view. And if you want to be right on the beach for your last dinner, Del Mar's Poseidon is literally on the beach, a short sea wall being the only thing that separates the outdoor patio from the sand.
And in the End, a Great Vacation and Great Memories, Thank You Local Wally!
As the sun drops one last time on your vacation n San Diego , think back and smile about all the cool things you've done. Take one more walk along the seashore, smell the ocean air, give that person next to you a kiss. And I won't blush if you tell me that Local Wally really is da man, the Big Kahuna, the guy who turned an ordinary week into an extraordinary vacation. Email me your adventures or post them on the message board so others can read about the stuff you liked and the stuff you would avoid next time. And when you get back to the office don't forget you can follow my adventures and random pics by following me on Twitter
From the bottom of my heart I wish you a great vacation in my hometown. If you like my humble homegrown site, please book your hotel and attractions through me as that's what keeps the site up and running - my hotel rates now have a BEST RATE GUARANTEE and a long list of happy customers.
And if you're ever going to my second favorite place, Napa, make sure you visit Local Wally's Guide to Napa (www.napatouristguide.com) and Sonoma (www.sonomatouristguide.com) for the same big tips and insiders info.
Q4 2014: Summer is here but Fall is right around the corner, one of the best times to visit. Our summer-y weather lasts into October and there's nothing better than walking on the beach during the holidays.
Big changes coming to Local Wally as I continue a major re-design. The new version will have more local bits, more discounts, and a mobile version with great coupons you can use while on vacation. Be patient- I should launch Early 2015.
Local Wally is the oldest local website on San Diego and the only one left still run by a local guy. I'll help you plan your best vacation ever with honest advice from a real local as well as having cheap hotel and discount tickets.
And if you like beer, check out my newest site DrinkUpSanDiego.com, the complete guide to San Diego's micro-breweries.
See You Soon,