By Nora Heston Tarte
Escape the rainy Northern California weather by heading south, where the forecast reads 75 and sunny almost every day of the year. San Diego with its scenic beaches and booming nightlife is the perfect escape for Central Valley residents this spring. From one-of-a-kind restaurants and bars, to more natural beauty than you can imagine, San Diego offers the ideal blend of comfort and luxury; an upscale city, with a cool, kicked-back vibe.
Stay in Style
If laid-back luxury is what you seek, look no further than Hard Rock Hotel San Diego (207 5th Ave.) Located near the hustle and bustle of San Diego’s famed Gaslamp Quarter, vacationers can bask in the big city feel of this beach town.
Designer suites are comfortable escapes worthy of rock stars. The style is modern with ultimate convenience. Attached terraces overlook the city, while in-room bars help to get the party started.
The central locale gives visitors access to high-end shopping, prime eateries, and other worthy attractions (PETCO Park—home of the San Diego Padres—is just one block away). But you don’t have to leave the hotel to have a good time.
Hard Rock Hotel San Diego encourages in-room jam sessions. Plug-and-play technology helps guests turn rooms into dance clubs. Indulge in a jam sesh while you get ready, or at least grab a pair of drumsticks and perform air-style to your favorite tunes.
This hotel is primed with activities and amenities to maximize relaxation. Prepare for your night out by choosing a few luxuries from the Rock Spa’s extensive menu, featuring rejuvenating treatments for everyone. The Royal Honey Body Ritual is just one of the highlighted experiences, complete with the immunity-boost you need. Organic and all natural, the honey beehive-derived products strengthen your immune system with detoxifying properties. Includes both a facial and a massage. Looking for romance? Duet rooms offer two massage tables and a joint shower for couples.
Or, start your vacation with a slim down. The Shape It treatment targets problem areas such as the stomach and thighs while promoting fat burning and circulation to give you a sculpted body for your big night out. Skin emerges smooth and firm for a better overall appearance.
When evening comes, there’s no better place to start or end your night than Float, the rooftop lounge. The same place that offers poolside cocktails and private cabanas during the day, transforms into a top-notch dance club with popular DJs spinning records at night. Gather around a fire pit and order drinks with your crew before taking the party downtown. Or, start with dinner at Nobu San Diego—where chef Nobu Matsuhisa is known for his Japanese fusion cuisine. Make a reservation, or grab cocktails and appetizers in the lounge. Not a fan of Nobu? The 1960s diner-feel of MaryJane’s is a popular novelty, or for drinks only, head to 207—the cool, casual lobby bar turned nighttime hotspot after dark.
On the Town
The close proximity of downtown San Diego’s raucous dive bars and dance clubs make party hopping an accessible amenity. Start your night at The Shout! House (655 4th Ave.), an oft-packed dueling piano bar that thrives on audience participation. Sidle up to the bar or grab a table if you can find one, and start requesting your favorite songs. Cash tips entice musicians to take your request, and big bills can garner a rendition of even the most obscure single.
Sit back and allow yourself to be surprised at the musical library hiding in the players’ fingertips. From 90s rap classics to Billy Joel favorites, the venue doesn’t celebrate one genre over another. I dare you to leave without hearing the ever-popular Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond. The establishment favorite garners cheers from boisterous bar mates. The longer you stay, the louder it gets. And if you make a big enough scene, or an embarrassing request, you may find yourself being serenaded on stage.
Next, head out into the night and stumble into The Tipsy Crow (770 5th Ave.), a tri-level venue with food, drinks, music, comedy, and bar games. If you skipped Nobu, grab pub grub here before taking your chance at the shuffleboard table. Don’t forget to visit all three levels—the main floor boasts a mahogany bar, intimate booths, and the aforementioned shuffleboard while upstairs is better equipped for private parties, and downstairs proffers dancing, the now-famous Gaslamp Comedy Show, or live music; it all depends on the night.
Don’t stop there. Double Deuce (528 F St.) is an expansive, two-room, country-style bar not far away. You’re probably just tipsy enough to brave a ride on the mechanical bull, strap on those cowboys boots, and show off those line dancing skills. Don’t let the country-theme deter you. Even if it’s not your usual jam, Double Deuce is for everyone.
When the bars have closed and you’re calling it a night, grab one last bite before heading to bed. Brian’s 24 (828 6th Ave.) is the restaurant that never sleeps. Here, enjoy a 2 a.m. breakfast or 3 a.m. appetizers before you call it quits. Feeling hungry? Take the Pancake Monster Food Challenge, a five-stack of buttermilk pancakes layered with four strips of bacon, two sausage patties, an eight oz. ham steak, an eight oz. country fried steak, and three eggs any style on a bed of home fries. Lick your plate clean in under an hour and it’s free!
Lucky for you, all this hopping nightlife is within walking distance, but if your legs are feeling tired, call a cab. There’s a heavy presence of them throughout the night, especially after last call.
Take advantage of the favorable weather and spend your day outside. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park (1253 Sunset Cliffs Blvd.) will leave you speechless. Climb to the top of one of the rocks overlooking the ocean. Sunrises and sunsets are spectacular from this place, but it’s a worthwhile venture any time of the day. It’s also a prime location for snapping a few photos. Not only does it capture the essence of San Diego—all crashing waves and blue skies—anyone looks good against that backdrop.
While tourist attractions are popular for a reason, taking the road less traveled is a welcome escape. Cabrillo National Monument (1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr.) marks Juan Cabrillo’s discovery of San Diego, but perhaps more impressive is the sea cave located on its western side. Only accessible during low tide, it’s a hearty hike not meant for everybody, but if you’re up for the challenge, the payoff is huge.
Looking for an easier trek? La Jolla boasts caves, coves, and tide pools (Coast Blvd.) that are more accessible. It’s another adventure best set for low tide, sans the hefty hike. Here, the magic is created during high tide when water is trapped in the rocks, creating fun-to-explore tide pools.
Balboa Park is one of those places tourist maps will send you, but it doesn’t take away from the beauty of this urban cultural park. The 100-acre San Diego Zoo (2920 Zoo Dr.) is located here, and it houses over 3,700 animals made up of more than 650 species and subspecies. This includes the giant panda, a rarity among zoos across the world.
Perhaps best known for its open-air exhibits, a concept it helped pioneer, the animal habitats emulate a more natural environment. See the animals from new heights, with a gondola ride through the trees, or stay on ground with a guided tour bus that covers 75 percent of the park. Better yet? Work off the calories of San Diego’s infamous grub by walking.
Once you’ve exhausted your zoopportunities, explore the rest of Balboa Park. Sixteen museums make up much of the cultural area. Among the most visited are the San Diego Museum of Art (1450 El Prado) and the San Diego Natural History Museum (1788 El Prado). Don’t skimp on the smaller attractions. The San Diego Air & Space Museum (2001 Pan American Plaza) and the San Diego Automotive Museum (2080 Pan American Plaza) are just two of the many worthwhile exhibits.
Load up on vitamin D and exercise by continuing your excursion through the on-site gardens. Floral enthusiasts can take in the beauty of the Botanical Building (1549 El Prado) and Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden (2125 Park Blvd.) There’s also an entire garden dedicated to cacti. History buffs will love learning about the Veterans Memorial Garden (2115 Park Blvd.) while cultural enthusiasts will enjoy the Japanese Friendship Garden (2215 Pan American Rd.)
Just 14 miles from downtown San Diego, Coronado (also known as The Crown City) may be the only reason worth leaving the city. In fact, if you opt to stay anywhere other than the Hard Rock Hotel, Hotel Del Coronado (1500 Orange Ave., Coronado) is the place to go.
The vibes are different here. The pristine sandy beaches are revered around the world as some of the best, and hotel visitors can walk straight from their rooms to the gorgeous beachfront. The National Historic Landmark was built 125 years ago, and remains one of the most luxurious beachside destinations in not just Southern California, but the world.
Guests can request s’mores baskets, outfitted with all the fixings for a beachside bonfire, rent a poolside cabana, take a dip in the main pool, or get active with fitness classes and water equipment and bike rentals.
You don’t have to stay at the iconic red-roofed hotel to visit its beach. Guests are welcome to peruse the stretch of Pacific coastline, as well. And while you’re there, don’t forget to head downtown where kitschy shops and art galleries are lined with local treasures.
On your drive in and out, draw your attention to the San Diego-Coronado Bridge, an architectural marvel unique to this charming, small-town community.
Grub Like a Local
Where do San Diego locals like to eat? Depending on the meal, there are restaurants all over the city that offer everything from a quick bite, to a romantic multi-course meal. Check out these establishments to get a taste of the local scene.
For the best Mexican food in the city, head to Juan Bertos Mexican Food (9530 Miramar Rd.), near the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Bite into a California burrito (packed with all the regular ingredients plus a handful of French fries), or gorge on cheese-loaded quesadillas complete with carne asada. The horchata is praise-worthy.
For a romantic night out, head to Bertrand at Mister A’s (2550 5th Ave.) Just minutes from downtown, guests take an elevator to the French-hued, American restaurant, giving new meaning to the term high-end. Whether seated inside or visiting the wraparound, outdoor patio, the location gives diners a view of San Diego’s illuminated skyline and best destinations.