Flee from the heat this summer with a getaway to America’s Finest City.
San Diego Vacation Bucket List
Planning a trip to America’s Finest City this summer? Spend your days basking on the beach, immersing yourself in history and indulging in authentic Mexican food with this ultimate checklist of how to make the most out of a SoCal sojourn.
San Diego Vacation
Balboa Park is home to a cluster of cultural institutions, including the historical San Diego Air & Space Museum (2001 Pan American Plaza, San Diego, 619-234-8291, sandiegoairandspace.org) – the only establishment in the 1,2000-acre urban park to have safely reopened on the very first day each and every time museums were allowed to recommence operations during the pandemic. The reopening required closely following protocols including the wearing of facemasks regardless of vaccination status, capacity limitations, social distancing, routine cleaning and an abundance of hand sanitizing stations.
An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute, the institution is California’s official aviation and space museum. According to David Neville, the museum’s director of marketing and communications, visitors flock to the Apollo 9 command module exhibit, which is one of only 11 Apollo command modules on display throughout the world. The museum is also home to the only flight-worthy replica of The Spirit of St. Louis, the custom-built, single-engine monoplane that Charles Lindbergh flew from New York to Paris in 1927.
The museum boasts more than 120 planes and spacecraft and is the cornerstone of the historical Palisades sector of beautiful Balboa Park. The 100,000-square-foot building was built in 1935 by the Ford Motor Company for the California Pacific International Exposition, an event that was held to strengthen San Diego’s economy after the Great Depression.
The museum’s current special exhibition is SPACE: Our Greatest Adventure, an interactive exhibit that tells the story of the past, present and future of mankind’s space exploration. During its closure due to COVID-19, the museum offered several world-class virtual events, including an online 50th anniversary celebration for Apollo 14, a video interview with Apollo 7’s Walt Cunningham and two virtual interviews with experts from NASA’s upcoming Artemis program, which plans to put the first woman on the moon by 2024.
Where to Play
Mission Bay is San Diego’s 4,600-acre aquatic playground – the largest manmade water sports zone in the world. Offering an array of activities for all skill levels, it’s perfect for socially distanced diversion. Surrounded by 27 miles of meandering shoreline and consisting of a variety of waterways, inlets and islets, there’s plenty of room to roam. This expansive enclave is bordered by a slew of lively beach communities including surf and nightlife haven Pacific Beach, and Mission Beach, home to the family-friendly Belmont Park. During the day, soak up the surf and sun with all the watersports in one place – kayaking, standup paddle boarding and sailing. Come nightfall, wind down with a beachside bonfire.
Where to Stay
Evans Hotels’ Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa (3999 Mission Blvd., San Diego, 858-488-1081, catamaranresort.com) and Bahia Resort Hotel (998 W Mission Bay Dr, San Diego, 858-488-0551, bahiahotel.com) are located on Mission Bay and just a stone’s throw away from the Pacific Ocean. “Staying at a resort where you have beach and bay access is incredibly unique and what makes staying on Mission Bay so special,” says Evans Hotels community outreach manager Rachel Welsh. The Catamaran is a Polynesian-themed resort – think large waterfalls in the lobby and tropical flowers, tiki torches and even resident parrots populating the property. Bahia has more of a Moroccan flair – boasting a private beach lined with cabanas, tennis courts, pool and two Mississippi-style sternwheelers that ferry guests for tours of Mission Bay. Both properties offer pontoon, sailboat, kayak, SUP and powerboat rentals through Action
• The Catamaran Spa is set to reopen this summer.
• Stay tuned for a new bayfront restaurant at Bahia.
• COVID restrictions are lifting in California, making Mission Bay and its surrounding communities the perfect vacation destination for Phoenix residents.
Manchester Grand Hyatt
An upscale, coastal retreat in the heart of America’s Finest City
What is the tallest building on the stunning San Diego skyline?
Trick question: It’s actually the two Manchester Grand Hyatt towers (1 Market Pl., San Diego, 619-232-1234, hyatt.com) that loom large over the waterfront. The first tower was built in 1992, while the second added to the skyscrapers of SD in 2003. Both boast 40 floors featuring 1,628 guestrooms with sweeping views of San Diego below and the Pacific Ocean beyond. There are seven dining options on property, but the hotel is steps away from the city’s top dining districts including the Gaslamp Quarter, Seaport Village, Little Italy and the Embarcadero. Start your morning with a walk or bike ride along the Embarcadero walkway, which runs for miles along the bay.
Next, stop for lunch and explore the local shops at Seaport Village. End your day with a movie under the stars at the hotel’s on-site Rooftop Cinema Club, a unique outdoor experience on the fourth-floor rooftop terrace that offers modern and classic flicks on the big screen, plus a full bar and small bites.
This summer, Manchester Grand Hyatt is offering two ways to take advantage of your vacation with all the perks and comforts of home: Hyatt Night In (signature culinary and wellbeing-themed experience, early check-in, late checkout and more) and Work From Hyatt (premium Wi-Fi, dining and parking discounts).
Casa de Pico
Head to La Mesa for authentic cuisine in festively appointed environs that reflect the spirit of Mexico. Casa de Pico is known for its warm atmosphere, signature dishes such as a grilled chicken and mango quesadilla, tequila-lime shrimp and carne asada tampiqueña, handmade tortillas served hot off the grill and massive margaritas – choose from a selection of more than 95 tequilas and flavors that include strawberry, raspberry, peach and banana.
Customers can enjoy outdoor dining year-round on Casa de Pico’s spacious heated patio surrounded by trees, colorful flowers and sparkling fountains. Indoors, cozy dining rooms come alive with folk art and hand-painted décor.
The restaurant also has a rich history in San Diego. It first opened in 1971 in the Old Town State Park. Owner Diane Powers leased the site of the rundown Casa de Pico Motel from the state and launched a legendary renovation. Powers moved the restaurant to East County’s Grossmont Center in 2005, where it attracts diners from near and far.
Old Town San Diego
6 Must-Dos in Old Town
Known as “the birthplace of California,” Old Town was the Golden State’s first permanent Spanish settlement. In 1769, Father Junipero Serra established the first of 21 missions that became the foundation for the state’s colonization. Today, Old Town is a historical and cultural hub housing dozens of restaurants, shops, museums and other historical sites. Here are eight ways to enjoy all the fun and folklore Old Town has to offer.
This expansive, 8-acre park preserves examples of San Diego’s early architecture, including a tiny village of Victorian homes and the city’s first synagogue, the Temple Beth Israel. The temple now hosts weddings and bar mitzvahs, while its large lawn is open to the public and can be reserved for receptions.
This Greek Revival-style residence was built in 1857 – purportedly on a former graveyard – as a family home for businessman Thomas Whaley. A series of untimely deaths in and around the home have spurred rumors of supernatural residents, including an outlaw who was allegedly hanged on the property before the house was built, and Whaley himself. The home has operated as a museum since 1960 and hosts monthly ghost-hunting tours.
Mormon Battalion Museum
Put yourself in the boots of a 19th-century soldier at the Mormon Battalion Historic Site, where members of the LDS Church were stationed during the Mexican-American War in 1847. The interactive museum allows visitors to experience history through special effects, hands-on activities like gold panning and brick-making, and artifacts and archives.
Old Town State Historic Park
The Old Town Historic Park features a collection of buildings that commemorate the city’s early days, including a schoolhouse and San Diego’s first newspaper office. This historic district also features shops and restaurants featuring authentic Mexican cuisine and traditional handicrafts. Admission to the park is free.
Harney Street Artisans’ Market
In April, Old Town resumed its weekly artisan market, which features jewelry, pottery, clothing, paintings, glassware and more from local makers. It’s San Diego’s largest market of its kind, and is free and open to the public.
Old Town Market
A breezy courtyard houses this open-air market, which offers dozens of tiny shops selling traditional Mexican trinkets and textiles. Stop by Mexicraft for one-of-a-kind hand-painted ceramics, or La Sirena Silver for sterling silver and semiprecious stone jewelry.
Old Town San Diego Spotlight
Bazaar del Mundo
The shops at Bazaar del Mundo are full of colorful merchandise from around the globe. “We are the ‘bazaar of the world,’ after all,” says the market’s owner and operator, Diane Powers. “We are very selective about our merchandise and we cater to all ages and personalities.” Powers designed Bazaar del Mundo to reflect the traditional outdoor markets she fell in love with while traveling across several South and Central American countries. The specialty boutiques surround a vibrant courtyard complete with a dazzling fountain where shoppers can relax while admiring vendor carts overflowing with handmade paper flowers and hand-painted Talavera pottery. Pop into The Gallery to find artisanal jewelry, Artes de Mexico for the work of several masters of Mexican folk art, and the Guatemala Shop for treasures from across Latin America. “Everything has been carefully selected and curated to reflect the colorful cultures we so passionately admire,” Powers says. “We also create beautiful displays in each of our shops to help inspire our customers and show them how to accessorize their homes or outfits with the new merchandise we have coming in every week.”
Powers adds that the best thing about Bazaar del Mundo is that it’s the complete opposite of a souvenir shop, though it has frequently been deemed “the best place to buy a gift in San Diego.” The stores specialize in beautiful, one-of-a-kind items that “loved ones will treasure forever,” whether that’s a piece of authentic folk art, handcrafted jewelry, hand-painted pottery or traditional textiles.
Once you’ve explored the bazaar, stop by Powers’ Casa Guadalajara for delicious Mexican food and a vibrant atmosphere. The large menu features real-deal regional recipes with a priority on flavor and freshness. The dining rooms and patios were also influenced by Powers’ trips to Mexico and “have very festive vibes,” she says.
Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa
Venture up the coast for more sea breeze and beach fun at the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa (25135 Park Lantern, Dana Point, 949-661-5000, lagunacliffs.com). This upscale resort sits on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Dana Point, often touted as the “California Riviera.”
The resort recently underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation and will be opening Outer Reef, a celebrity chef restaurant helmed by John Tesar, this summer. The attribute that sets this coastal resort apart is its personalized level of customer service. The resort’s managing director, Jim Samuels, spent years working for high-end hotels like Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons. “I’ve taken everything I’ve learned and infused it into the culture of our resort,” he says. This culture includes “incredibly warm, friendly service that continues to bring people back.”
Originally built in 1987, the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa’s 378 guestrooms were updated within the last year, featuring hardwood floors, 55-inch LED TVs and fully renovated bathrooms. Those familiar with Coronado Island in San Diego will notice something special about the resort’s structure – the original developers designed Laguna Cliffs to replicate the iconic Hotel del Coronado. Guests are able to enjoy the coastal views on the resort’s spacious balconies.
Resort amenities include two coastal view pool areas, kids’ splash zone, a world-class spa, activities like family movie nights and hospitality suites where guests can enjoy a variety of games, ping pong and movies. “We wanted to make sure we offered a little bit of everything for the overall guest experience,” Samuels says.
Within walking distance from the resort is the bustling Dana Point Harbor, where you’ll find a variety of restaurants, local coffee purveyors, sweet treats and local boutiques. The Dana Point Harbor also features myriad aquatic activities. Guests can hop on the Catalina Express and visit the historic Catalina Island or experience whale and dolphin watching, deep-sea fishing and stand-up paddle boarding.
Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa offers the best of luxury amenities and a relaxed elegance that makes this resort an ideal location for your next getaway.