San Diego Travel Guide

Editorial StaffMay 3, 2022
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Beautiful beaches, theme parks, destination dining, cultural attractions, world-class hotels – America’s Finest City has it all for summer travelers.

There’s a reason San Diego is a beloved vacation spot for Phoenicians. Well, hundreds of reasons, actually. 

There’s the gloriously temperate year-round weather – a paradise for triple-digit-besieged Valley dwellers from May to September. There are the attractions for every interest and stage of life, from family-friendly SeaWorld and Birch Aquarium to history-buff havens USS Midway and San Diego Air & Space Museum. 

There’s the thriving restaurant scene, with colorful institutions like Mexican restaurant Casa de Pico and celebrity chef imprints like Richard Blais’s Juniper & Ivy. There’s a little thing called the Pacific Ocean, with opportunities for beach bums and water sports enthusiasts alike. Then there are the stunning hotels, where you can lay your weary head after a day of adventure and fun.

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Explore the best San Diego has to offer with our curated guide to the can’t-miss wonders of America’s Finest City.

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Hotel Spotlight
Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa

It’s always tiki time at this tropical hideaway on Mission Bay. Everywhere you look, Polynesian flourishes – totems, torches, koi pond, palm trees, indoor waterfall, Mai Tais galore – transport you to a slower-paced piece of paradise. Keep the calm going at Catamaran Spa, San Diego’s only beachfront spa. Bring your best beachy ensembles to celebrate the return of Sunset Luaus on the Bay, a summer tradition we desert dwellers can’t get enough of. With hula dancing, lei-making and a Hawaiian buffet, you’ll want to linger long past sunset. 

catamaranresort.com

photo courtesy Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa
photo courtesy Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa

Bazaar del Mundo 

For a taste of San Diego culture and history, make a pilgrimage to Bazaar del Mundo. This collection of shops and restaurants was founded in 1971 by interior designer Diane Powers, who resuscitated a dilapidated historical section of San Diego’s Old Town to create a shopping center inspired by Mexico’s grand marketplaces. A 2005 relocation brought Bazaar del Mundo’s labyrinth of goodies – still curated by Powers and her long-time staff – to Taylor Street.

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It may have celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2021, but Bazaar del Mundo (bazaardelmundo.com) is still au courant. It frequently tops local lists of the best places to buy gifts and is a fixture on San Diego gift guides. Peep our picks from some of its signature shops:

Ariana

No boring ropa here. Bazaar del Mundo’s “wearable art” shop is home to peasant tops, fiesta skirts, belts and bags, scarves, hats and embroidered and woven shawls, as well as jewelry. Our pick: burgundy Hamayu blouse with blue and orange flowers by Johnny Was.

Artes de Mexico 

Mexican folk art aficionados will be in heaven in this colorful curio shop. Hand-painted tiles, nichos, retablos, papier-mâché dolls, clay figurines, ornate chairs, hand-painted gourds, sombreros and coconut masks are among its riches. Our pick: Oaxacan clay female figure.

Guatemala Shop

Latin America textiles, handicrafts and artwork abound in this vibrant treasure chest of a store. You’ll find clothing, shawls, weavings, baskets, paintings, ceramics, rain sticks and hand-carved wooden religious pieces from Guatemala and Peru. Our pick: painted glass mirrors.

Kitchen Shop

Stock your kitchen with global finds from this foodie emporium, which offers not only edible goods – spices, salsas, vinegars, preserves, mixes – but hand-painted Talavera pottery on which to serve them. They have cookbooks, too! Our pick: oval blue and white Talavera platter.

Casa de Pico 

The crown culinary jewel of the Bazaar del Mundo empire opened in 1971 in Old Town State Park and relocated to La Mesa’s Grossmont Center in 2005. The vibrant colors and hacienda-like atmosphere of the original – dramatic archways, wrought-iron fixtures and lush landscaping – remain, as does a robust menu of Mexican classics, from ceviche to chimichangas.

Don’t take our word for it – Casa de Pico (casadepico.com) was recently named Best Restaurant in East County by the San Diego Regional East County Chamber of Commerce, and it has netted Best Mexican Restaurant awards from The San Diego Union-Tribune, La Mesa Courier and Mission Times Courier. Don’t miss these best-selling customer favorites:

Fajitas

Choose your protein – chicken, beef or a combination – and feast on a sizzling platter of it with smoky bell peppers, onions, mushrooms and tomatoes.

Enchiladas Suizas

These rich rolled enchiladas feature two tortillas drenched in tomatillo sauce, filled with shredded chicken and topped with more yummy sauce and cheese.

Carne Asada & Shrimp Combo Plate

Can’t decide between surf or turf? Get both with this generous mash-up of juicy, crisp-edged carne asada and sweet, tender shrimp. With sides of rice and beans, claro que si.

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Hotel Spotlight
The Lodge at Torrey Pines

It’s a milestone year for this iconic La Jolla property, known as the Jewel of San Diego. The California Craftsman-style lodge, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean and the world-renowned Torrey Pines Golf Course, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Guests can join the revelry with The Lodge’s $20,000 Platinum Premier Package, which includes a four-night stay for two in a luxury Blacker or Gamble suite, any combination of up to six rounds of golf or up to six spa treatments, three daily meals for two at A.R. Valentien restaurant or The Grill at Torrey Pines and an exclusive welcome amenity.

lodgetorreypines.com

photo courtesy The Lodge at Torrey Pines
photo courtesy The Lodge at Torrey Pines
photo courtesy Birch Aquarium at Scripps
photo courtesy Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Birch Aquarium

Exciting things are afoot at Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego – and those things have “happy feet,” to quote the 2006 animated movie.

This July, the public exploration center is welcoming the Beyster Family Little Blue Penguins habitat to its more than 60 habitats of fish and invertebrates. “We are so very excited to be adding the Beyster Family Little Blue Penguins to Birch Aquarium at Scripps. The new facility will allow us to contribute to an international Species Survival Plan and create an interesting new guest experience,” executive director Harry Helling says. “Little Blue Penguins will be wonderful ambassadors that can help us to engage our community more deeply and further our mission to connect understanding to protecting our ocean planet.”

Birch Aquarium (aquarium.ucsd.edu) will be the only place west of the Rocky Mountains to visit the boisterous seabirds, which are known for their outsize personalities that eclipse their petite stature. At less than 1 foot tall and weighing just 2-3 pounds, they are the smallest species of penguin. The Australia natives – some coming from Dallas World Aquarium and some from Australia – will occupy a 2,900-square-foot exhibit with rocky and sandy shores and an 18,000-gallon pool where guests can witness their interaction, swimming and nest-building.

“Little Blue Penguins and other seabirds are sentinel species for our ocean’s health and help us understand how we can be better stewards for our planet,” says Jenn Nero Moffatt, senior director of Animal Care, Science and Conservation. “Penguins, by their unique nature, are adored by our community, and in this way help to serve as great animal ambassadors. We hope that one look at their awkward waddling, their pint-sized bodies, torpedo swimming and social nature will leave our guests enchanted and wanting to learn how to aid in conservation efforts.”

photo courtesy Bahia Resort Hotel
photo courtesy Bahia Resort Hotel

Hotel Spotlight
Bahia Resort Hotel

Escape to Morocco at this property, the first hotel on San Diego’s Mission Bay. Tucked away on an idyllic, 14-acre peninsula, Bahia boasts deluxe renovated guest rooms, studios and suites, each with its own balcony or patio providing jaw-dropping views of the bay and the Moroccan-inspired getaway’s lush tropical gardens. Take in the scenery on the Bahia Belle sternwheeler cruise or by kayaking, standup paddle boarding, sailing or bicycling around the bay. New this year: Dockside 1953, a nautically inspired restaurant honoring the year the resort opened.

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Hotel Spotlight
Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego

This urban beach hotel offers not just ocean vistas, but stunning cityscape views as well. From its perch in the heart of downtown San Diego, it’s ideally situated for city exploration – it’s in walking distance of Gaslamp Quarter, USS Midway, Petco Park and dozens of restaurants and other attractions. But with access to rooftop pools, waterfront restaurant Sally’s Fish House & Bar (dog-friendly!), fitness center, rooftop cinema club, sky-high venues and new lobby bar The Landing (build-your-own Old Fashioneds!), you might find it hard to leave.

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photo courtesy Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego
photo courtesy Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego

San Diego Air & Space Museum  

Learn about space exploration and everyday aviation at the San Diego Air & Space Museum (sandiegoairandspace.org), a world-class interactive museum in Balboa Park that appeals to the entire family and makes learning fun for all. It’s open seven days a week, save for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

5 Must-Visits

Apollo 9 Command Module

Get a close look at the original command module for the pioneering spacecraft, which performed the first tests of the lunar module. It is one of only 11 on display in the world.

NYP-3 Spirit of St. Louis 

Three builders of Charles Lindbergh’s history-making aircraft were part of a team of 34 craftsmen who painstakingly built this flight-worthy replica.

GALILEO: Space Visionary 

This hands-on exhibition from the Artisans of Florence made its United States debut at San Diego Air & Space Museum. It centers on Italian astronomer, physicist and engineer Galileo Galilei.

SPACE: Our Greatest Adventure

Videos and experiential exhibits on the evolution of space travel let visitors learn about the race to the moon and take selfies in Mars space suits, among other nifty immersions.

American Women of Flight

There’s more to the history of women in aviation than Amelia Earhart, as proved by this comprehensive exhibit honoring pilots including Bessie Goldman and Fran Bera.

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SeaWorld 

Is there an attraction more synonymous with San Diego than SeaWorld? The aquatic wildlife park (seaworld.com) has a slew of new and improved offerings on deck for 2022, including:

photo courtesy Sea World
photo courtesy Sea World

Emperor 

Thrillseekers: Bookmark this ride, the first floorless dive coaster in California. It’s also the tallest, fastest and longest, with a 90-degree plunge (down 14 stories!), hammerhead turn, flat spin and barrel roll. It’s inspired by Emperor penguins, but it goes much faster than those adorable little waddlers at speeds up to 60 miles per hour.

Sesame Place

The West Coast’s first Sesame Street theme park (sesameplace.com/san-diego) is now open. The family-friendly playland has 18 rides inspired by the long-running hit TV show, water attractions, 500,000-gallon wave pool, family-friendly roller coaster, musical play area and interactive Sesame Street neighborhood. It’s also a Certified Autism Center with pre-visit planning resources, sensory guide and designated quiet spaces.

Viva La Música & Craft Beer Festival

The family-friendly Latin celebration  Viva La Música (May 7-22) will have you sampling fiery flavors and dancing to the hottest music. San Diego’s worldwide reputation as a craft beer hot spot is on display at the Craft Beer Festival (August 11-September 11). 

Hotel Spotlight
Ocean Park Inn

Design devotees will relish a stay at this mid-century-meets-modern beachfront hotel in the heart of Pacific Beach. Family-owned and family-friendly Ocean Park Inn unveiled a property-wide renovation in 2021, and its soothing color palette – black and white accented with cool mint and sunny yellow – and vintage photography conjure “California cool” via the 1960s. Indeed, the hotel opened in 1967 and has been shaped by the free-spirited elegance of surfers, students and artists. Take a stroll on the boardwalk and feel the ocean breeze and sea spray on your skin.

oceanparkinn.com

photo courtesy Ocean Park Inn
photo courtesy Ocean Park Inn

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