American Trails City Guide – San Diego

Credit: Port of San Diego/ Flickr

Possibly one of the coolest cities in the whole of the USA, add to that the museums, culture and animal attractions and you have San Diego. This sub-tropical picturesque city is visited by tourists all year round- many of those using the city as stop on a road trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas or San Francisco. It is a welcoming city that encourages all races and sexualities- voted the seventh most welcoming by the LGBT community, which makes it head and shoulders above other US cities.

It is often referred to in television, films or music with multiple songs from Californian band, Blink 182 written about the city, the first installment of Anchorman is set here and teen comedy Drake & Josh is also filmed here.

Words: Alex Dudley

Where to stay

Credit: Sean Zanganeh/ Flickr

Rancho Bernardo Inn

Located off Interstate 15, this fancy Spanish-style resort is only one mile away from the Bernardo Winery, and a further nine miles from San Diego Zoo. They offer plush and warm rooms with original artwork with complimentary Wifi, iPod docks and flat-screen televisions. There is also a championship golf course and beautiful gardens- so there is something for everyone depending on how you relax best. Prices begin from 130 USD a night.

17550 Bernardo Oaks Drive


L’Auberge Del Mar

This astounding accommodation boats over five acres of landscaped gardens overlooking the Del Mar Beach. It is a high-end resort and is only steps away from the outdoor shopping complex- the Del Mar Plaza. All the rooms have a tropical feel to them; it is not the place for you if you’re looking for a dark and gloomy place to stay. Most of the rooms come with an outdoor patio or balcony, while, included in the price you also get complimentary swim/beach gear. Prices begin from 200 USD a night.

1540 Camino Del Mar


The US Grant

Set in the always-busy Gaslamp Quarter and overlooking the beautiful San Diego Bay, this upscale hotel which is celebrating its 18th birthday this year is also less than a mile away from the USS Midway Museum and a further mile away from the San Diego Zoo. Featuring Empire-state furnishings, this property also plays host to a beautiful penthouse with panoramic city views and 24/7 room service. There is also a fantastic restaurant and a sophisticated cocktail lounge.

326 Broadway

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Where to eat

Top of the Market

If you are a fan of sea food, this is the place for you. This is a high-end restaurant located on the pier with bay views. Presented in a white-tablecloth setting above the best Fish Market in the city. From your table you will be able to experience fresh fish as well as looking at the expansive views of San Diego Bay from the Coronado Bridge or Point Loma. It is the perfect place for a date.

750 N Harbor Dr


Island Prime

Another restaurant with a view but this is the place to go if you’re looking to experience some traditional Californian cuisine. It has a slick and modern decor which is also open aired, there are also sofa booths which are perfect for groups of friends to eat there. It is ideal for a warm night as you can have the light breeze from the coast come through the restaurant. There is also a happy hour on snacks, cocktails and beers between 15:30 and 17:30, Monday to Friday.

880 Harbor Island Dr


Breakfast Republic

Everyone loves breakfast and there is no better place in San Diego than Breakfast Republic. With five locations across the city, there is bound to be at least one location near your hotel. The best of the locations is on Ocean Beach. Breakfast with a beach view, what could be better? Breakfast is served from 7am until 3pm. You can choose from sandwiches, burgers, omelettes, eggs or pancakes. Their American breakfast is huge and well worth ordering.


Where to drink

Aero Club Bar

This dive bar has been popular with tourists and locals alike for the past couple of years. It is a warm atmosphere inside- something that doesn’t look that way from the outside. It is a typical dive bar where the main form of entertainment is that of the people that drink in there. However, there is a pool table and pinball machine that can add further elements of entertainment and competition. Their range of whiskeys is its main drawing point; they have over 1000 different types on offer!

3365 India St

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The Nolen

The Nolen is the destination for those looking for an open-air roof terrace with modern and timeless cocktails. Named after John Nolen who was a city-pioneer and notably was responsible for the way San Diego was mapped out in its early landscape. Simply take a trip in the elevator up to the 14th floor and unwind from the hassle of the downtown neighborhood and enjoy breathtaking views with wonderful cocktail.

453 Sixth Ave


Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens

This massive hip gastro-pub and brewery is well worth a visit if you’re a big fan of trying new beers in a massive outdoor seating area. They pride themselves on making sure all their food is fresh and natural. With over 40 craft beers on offer- including the Stone year-round, there is sure to be something for everyone here. Going with your kids? This is the perfect place; there is a big cinema room which shows movies throughout the day. There is also a souvenir shop where you can pick up t-shirts, beers glasses and bottled beer.

2816 Historic Decatur Rd


Where to shop

Fashion Valley

No trip is complete without a spot of shopping. Surrounded by gorgeous palm trees and iconic fountains, you will find the Southern California’s hippest shopping center. With more than 200 shops including fashion houses such as Hermes and Prada and leading department stores like Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s. The open-air shopper’s paradise also has multiple food options such as True Food Kitchen and the Blue Smoke Sushi Lounge. One place you must try is the Cheesecake Factory.


Carlsbad Premium Outlets

Located right off the intersection of I-5 and Palomar Airport you will find one of San Diego’s premium shopping complexes. Here you will find more than 90 designer and name-branded outlet stores including Coach, Kate Spade New York, Michael Kors and the Nike Factory Store. You can stroll through gorgeous courtyards sandwiched by elegant fountains and buildings. Carlsbad would round off a day to LEGOLAND, the San Diego Zoo and the Flower Fields as they are all within the same area.

5620 Paseo Del Norte

Credit: Praytino/ Flickr


Cedros Avenue Design District

Cedros is the shopping complex that is located right on the beach front, but don’t expect to find big named stores here. Located on Solana Beach this unique experience is well worth a visit, San Diegans occasionally visit this spot themselves to take advantage of it in-town treasures. The journey from Downtown almost makes it an essential journey as the scenic route leaves you pondering on your next visit as you don’t take your eyes off the windows. The avenue offers everything from endless entertainment options, specialty shops and day spas and yoga and Pilate’s studios.

410 S Cedros Ave



Mission Beach

One of the most glorious beaches that America has to offer. Mission Beach is a community between Pacific Ocean and Mission Bay. It is nearly two miles long of pure beach, while there is a bay that runs on both sides of the community. The south end is most impressive with grass and parking only steps away from the ocean. On your visit here, be sure to check out The Beachcomber.


La Jolla

The fact that thousands of artists visit San Diego to look for inspiration just expresses how picturesque this beach is. There is also no shortage of food opportunities as La Jolla oozes with relaxed and award winning culinary restaurants. This would be a perfect place for a date night with luxurious bars. It is well worth a visit regardless and is only a short journey away from downtown.

Credit: Lukasz Lech/ Flickr

Ocean Beach

Probably the most touristy of all the beaches in San Diego but you do get the SoCal vibe while being on this beach or having a drink in a sea-front bar. This is the beach to brush up on your surfing skills with many surf schools located up and down the coast line. While nearby Newport Avenue has antique, beachwear and souvenir shops to give you a chance to stock up on gifts at reasonably cheap prices.


Things to do

Balboa Park

This is the most visited attraction in the city and it combines culture, science and nature to create a jam-packed day of family fun. It is home to over 16 museums, lots of gardens and paths for long walks and recreational activities all spread out over 1,200 acres. There is also a golf course, tennis courts and the San Diego Velodrome; there is always something going on! It also plays host to historic monuments such as the California Tower, Cabrillo Bridge and the El Cid Statue. It is not only just family friendly- adults could spend the day here by themselves. It will be the best day you will spend in San Diego.

Credit: Eric Bier/ Flickr

San Diego Zoo

The legendary San Diego Zoo is another main attraction inside Balboa Park but such its pulling power, tourists would venture to it no matter where it was in the city. Spread across 100 acres of land, it is well known for its lush and unique animal encounters. It is home to over 3,500 rare or endangered animal species. You can see giant pandas, koalas and reptiles of various shapes and sizes. Because of the size of the Zoo there is an express bus that you can get to take you to different sections. I would highly recommend the guided bus tour- this takes around 35 minutes but gives you a good overview of the zoo and enables you to get used to where everything is. I could not recommend this enough.

2920 Zoo Dr

Credit: Tom Childers/ Flickr

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

I recommend the last thing that you do in San Diego is this Natural Park. It is the perfect lasting memory of this beautiful city and offers views of the coast that you cannot get anywhere else. The park itself is 18 acres stretching along the Pacific Ocean and bordering the western edge on Point Loma. You can take long walks or bike your way through the park with many different points to stop and take a break scattered around the site. Driving to the park is wonderful as you can experience going along Cliffs Boulevard through Adair Street and Ladera Street, there is no shortage of jaw-dropping scenery.

Ladera St

Credit: Sergei Gussev/ Flickr



Alex Dudley

Web Content Editor