Of course, this guide doesn't encompass every little thing we love about the seaside destination — we'd need an entire tome for that! Instead, our carefully chosen picks represent over a dozen different pockets of S.D., and are guaranteed to appeal to locals and first-timers alike. Whether you're looking for a little adrenaline boost (hang gliding, anyone?) or simply a great place to share a meal, our list has something for everyone. So, hop on the 5 and get ready to explore America's Finest City!
Photos: Via Bertrand at Mister A's; Balboa Park; Brooklyn Girl; California Dreaming Hot Air Ballooning
Bertrand at Mister A's
Our award for best restaurant with a view? Bertrand at Mister A's, which is perched on Bankers Hill with sweeping views of Point Loma, Coronado, San Diego Bay, the downtown skyline, and yep, even Mexico. The first-class vista comes with a first-class menu, so reserve this upscale spot for special occasions when you're willing to shell out big bucks for dinner.
Bertrand at Mister A's, 2550 Fifth Avenue (near Laurel Street); 619-239-1377.
The cultural hub of the city, Balboa Park boasts 17 museums, nine performing arts venues, 19 different gardens, and countless picture-perfect photo ops — not to mention the world famous San Diego Zoo. If you have young kids (or just want to bring out the juvenile side in yourself!), be sure to stop by the oh-so-charming carousel and miniature railroad, both of which are located by the zoo entrance.
Balboa Park, 1549 El Prado (near Pan American Road); 619-239-0512.
Opened about a year ago, Brooklyn Girl has quickly become a trendy, go-to spot in the neighborhood of Mission Hills. We love its cool industrial design as well as its selection of organic food, locally produced craft beers, and affordable wines.
Brooklyn Girl, 4033 Goldfinch Street (at Fort Stockton Drive); 619-296-4800.
California Dreaming Hot Air Ballooning
Do champagne and panoramic ocean views sound like a good time to you? Book a hot air balloon ride with California Dreaming. The sunset flights glide over picturesque Del Mar every day of the week and are guaranteed to make lasting memories!
California Dreaming Hot Air Ballooning, 33133 Vista Del Monte Road (near Calle Contento); 951-699-0601.
A mere three blocks from the ocean, hole-in-the-wall La Jolla pizza joint Carino's is a local favorite. With only a handful of tables inside, we suggest getting the signature thin-crust pizza to go and enjoy a picnic at the beach.
Carino's, 7408 La Jolla Boulevard (near Marine Street); 858-459-1400.
Hunt & Gather
Vintage lovers, hightail it to North Park's Hunt & Gather. It stocks new and vintage clothes, jewelry, and accessories for both men and women, as well as an awesome collection of records and artwork.
Hunt & Gather, 2871 University Avenue (near Kansas Street); 619-297-3040.
San Diego Botanic Garden
If you want a peaceful place to interact with the great outdoors, look no further than the 37-acre San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas. Picnic tables, four miles of garden trails, an abundance of exhibits, and a delightful gift shop make this spot the picture of tranquility.
San Diego Botanic Garden, 230 Quail Gardens Drive (near Mays Hollow Lane); 760-436-3036.
Situated in downtown's historic Gaslamp Quarter, this place touts itself as "San Diego's Most Authentic Irish Pub and Restaurant," and for good reason! Original artifacts from a turn-of-the-century pub in Ireland were shipped piece by piece to create The Field's decor. Grab a pint of Guinness and use the bar as a jumping off point to explore the Gaslamp.
The Field, 544 Fifth Avenue (near Market Street); 619-262-9840.
Photos: Via The Hotel Del Coronado; Capricorn; La Jolla Kayak; Ashen
The Hotel Del Coronado
It doesn't get much better than the Hotel Del. Even if you're not renting a room here, you can still enjoy the 125-year-old iconic landmark's restaurants, shops, and ultra-wide beach. Did we mention that it's played host to Marilyn Monroe, Thomas Edison, Babe Ruth, and eleven U.S. presidents?
The Hotel Del Coronado, 1500 Orange Avenue (near Ocean Boulevard); 619-435-6611.
Black-and-white checkered floors and an antique fireplace lend Capricorn a cool, stylish vibe. Take a peek at this lovely Bird Rock boutique for brands like Charlotte Ronson, Genetic Denim, and Repetto Paris.
Capricorn, 5544 La Jolla Boulevard (near Midway Street); 858-551-2660.
La Jolla Kayak
For a fun way to explore S.D. by sea, consider renting kayaks at this shop. You can hit the water on your own or sign up for a guided tour, where you'll be led to La Jolla's stunning sea caves. But be warned: Pick a day when the waves are small to avoid the dreaded nosedive while coming back to shore!
La Jolla Kayak, 2199 Avenida De La Playa (at El Paseo Grande); 858-459-1114.
This clothing boutique in La Jolla also doubles as a full-service salon — talk about a one-stop shop! Brands stocked include Parker, House of Harlow 1960, and Lauren Moshi, while the salon offers a slew of services such as hair cuts, manicures, pedicures, waxing, and makeup application.
Ashen, 6903 La Jolla Boulevard (near Nautilus Street); 858-459-3216.
Con Pane Rustic Breads & Cafe
You'll find one of the best sandwiches in all of S.D. at this Point Loma cafe. Known for the fresh bread baked daily, Con Pane serves up delicious pastries, teas, and coffees in addition to mouthwatering, under-$10 sandwiches. Our pick: the Italian Salami on Point Loma Sourdough.
Con Pane Rustic Breads & Cafe, 2750 Dewey Road (at Historic Decatur Road); 619-224-4344.
The owner of this Mission Hills shop studied fashion in college, which translates to an expertly picked selection of clothes and jewelry from top brands like Corey Lynn Calter, as well as local designers.
Cecelia, 928 Fort Stockton Drive (near Hawk Street); 619-692-3802.
Get away from it all at Poway's Iron Mountain hiking trail. The roughly six mile, moderately difficult hike offers spectacular views — with hardly a single man-made structure in sight!
Iron Mountain, 14868 California 67 (near Poway Road); no phone.
While surfers will revel in this shop's huge selection of surfboards, wetsuits, bikinis, and more, newbies will have a blast participating in the surf camps and lessons.
Surf Ride, 1909 South Coast Highway (near Vista Way); 760-433-4020.
Roughly a one hour drive from downtown — but still within San Diego County — is the former gold-mining town of Julian. What makes it worth the trek? Two words: apple pie. As evidenced by the ever-present line out the door, many a San Diegan flock to Mom's Pies to satisfy their sweet tooth. Once you're full, take a relaxing stroll on quaint Main Street and soak in that fresh mountain air.
Mom's Pies, 2119 Main Street (near B Street); 760-765-2472.
Photos: Via Vintana Wine + Dine; Torrey Pines Gliderport ; Casa Guadalajara; Surfy Surfy
Vintana Wine + Dine
Vintana Wine + Dine isn't your average fine-dining eatery — it's located on the top floor of the Lexus car dealership in Escondido and cost an impressive $2.5 million to build. The restaurant boasts floor-to-ceiling windows and a gourmet menu with dishes like pan-seared mahi mahi and lemon-thyme roasted chicken.
Vintana, 1205 Auto Park Way (near Tanglewood Lane); 760-745-7777.
Torrey Pines Gliderport
Up for a thrill? Head to the Torrey Pines Gliderport, which has been in operation since the '30s and offers both hang gliding and paragliding. You'll be soaring over the Pacific with fully certified, professional tandem pilots — no experience necessary!
Torrey Pines Gliderport, 2800 Torrey Pines Scenic Drive (at North Torrey Pines Road); 858-452-9858.
A visit to Old Town San Diego should definitely be on your list. It's a tourist-heavy area to be sure, but locals also regularly stop by for amazing South-of-the-border fare. Case in point: Casa Guadalajara, which will win you over with its authentic Mexican food, pleasant patio, tasty margaritas, and lively mariachis.
Casa Guadalajara, 4105 Taylor Street (at Juan Street); 619-295-5111.
What's a San Diego guide without a surf shop (or two)? We're crazy about this mom-and-pop shop in Leucadia, which specializes in shaping, glassing, and sanding handcrafted surfboards. Not just a place to buy a new board, Surfy Surfy also regularly hosts events with live music and drinks.
Surfy Surfy, 974 North Coast Highway 101 (near Jasper Street); 760-452-7687.
Fidel's Little Mexico
San Diegans take their Mexican food very seriously, so when a restaurant has been in business for over 50 years, you know it's good. Located in Solana Beach, this S.D. mainstay is housed in a former residence and comes complete with a taco buffet, two heated outdoor patios, and two bars that get jam-packed during happy hour.
Fidel's Little Mexico, 607 Valley Avenue (at Genevieve Street); 858-755-5292.
Bixby & Ball
Everything about this Solana Beach boutique has us smitten. We adore the owners' hand-selected collection of home decor, art work, bedding, one-of-a-kind jewelry, and beauty products, not to mention the cute '20s cottage it's housed in.
Bixby & Ball, 214 South Cedros Avenue (near Rosa Street); 858-436-7214.
Del Mar Dog Beach
If your pup will be joining you on your San Diego jaunt, take him or her to Del Mar's Dog Beach, the half-mile stretch of sand north of 29th Street. Its pretty coastal bluffs and wide shores make it the perfect setting to toss a frisbee.
Del Mar Dog Beach, 29th Street (at Camino Del Mar); no phone.
Mimi & Red
Dolce Vita, LNA, Level 99, Nixon, and Charlie Jade are just some of the labels sold at this heavenly boutique, which has locations in both North Park and Bird Rock. Style-conscious shoppers will fall in love with its chic clothes, jewelry, accessories, and home accents.
Mimi & Red, 3032 University Avenue (near Ohio Street); 619-298-7933.