San Diego is a city with a palpable energy. It’s simultaneously active and relaxing, playful and meditative. From lush cacti and succulent gardens to roads lined with palm and eucalyptus trees, the shiny blue Pacific Ocean to golden cliffs of sandstone, the scenery is in a word: breathtaking.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting San Diego with my husband and we had a fantastic time! In this travel article, I would love to share with you my experiences in San Diego, provide a few insights on the best things to do, where to stay, places to eat and a few general recommendations for your visit there. Before I do so, let me tell you a little bit about myself.
My name is Annabelle Fox Tieman and I grew up in the adorable New England town of Wilton, Connecticut. From an early age I had a knack for all things theatrical. Adorning myself in necklaces and tutus while twirling around the living room was my normal. This came as no surprise given that my dad and grandmother both had backgrounds in musical theatre.
I stepped into my first lead role at age 11 as Annie in Annie and never looked back. I was lucky to get the chance to perform some dream roles in high school and that validation encouraged me to pursue Musical Theatre as my major at Nashville’s Belmont University. This was not only where I honed my skills but where I met my future husband too!
After college, I moved to NYC where I worked survival jobs and performed professionally in and out of the city. It seemed the stars were aligning in my career when all of a sudden the pandemic hit. The shutdown of my industry was a huge catalyst for change. My husband and I moved back to where we first met and have begun a new chapter in Franklin, Tennessee.
The pause also gave me the time to pursue other passions like interior design, fashion and spending time with our new puppy. I currently work as the social director for an interior designer while still auditioning and working on different theatrical projects as restrictions lift. It’s been a crazy journey in the last year or so but I can’t wait to see what the future holds!
What Inspired us to Visit San Diego
I’m a third generation Californian but had never visited the “Left Coast” until my trip to San Diego! My husband worked at the Old Globe in 2018 – a theatre located smack in the middle of Balboa Park in San Diego – and immediately fell in love with the city’s natural beauty. I have second cousins there too who took him in and introduced him to California the right way.
I never heard the end of all his Cali travel stories and he has been adamant about getting me to San Diego, plus of course I was eager to explore the city myself! We first saved up enough credit card points and then booked our trip, after getting vaccinated to ensure the safest travel scenario.
My first impression of San Diego was that it felt like a perfect blend of Barcelona mixed with all my favorite sophisticated corners in NYC’s West Village. We began our stay in a cozy Airbnb in South Park for four nights, then headed to Marriott Resort on Coronado Island for one night and finally stayed in Rancho Bernardo Inn with family for the last two nights.
How we Spent Our Days in San Diego
The day we got in we met up with my cousins and biked the boardwalk on Pacific Beach. We walked to the pier, snagged the best fish tacos from Oscars and then grabbed the coziest sweatshirts from a souvenir shop. On Sunday, we explored Balboa Park on Bird scooters! We walked through the market, art square and tried the most amazing coconut water.
On Monday we hiked Torrey Pines in La Jolla! The hike was about four and a half miles of stunning beauty around every corner. The first half of the hike gave us views of golden cliffs and cacti, but when we reached the top and stepped out of the brush we looked out at pure blue ocean bliss.
We had the most insane post-hike burrito from Roberto’s Taco Shop and tried the West Cliff latte from Bird Rock Roasters right next door which was seriously next level. Next we went to La Jolla Cove for sunbathing and then made our way to the Beach House Bar for tequila sodas on Mission Beach.
Tuesday saw us explore the Old Town of San Diego and we purchased the cutest hand painted ceramic salt and pepper shakers made in Mexico. We walked La Jolla shores before heading to Little Italy for dinner at Barbusa Italian Restaurant (which honestly deserves its own featured blog).
On Wednesday we left our Airbnb and headed for Coronado Island. We walked through Hotel Del and then laid out on the beach. At first I was worried the marine layer clouds would block the sun, but by noon there was nothing but blue skies! Later we biked around the neighborhood before checking into our Marriott. For dinner we walked to Saiko Sushi and were blown away by their signature roll and Snowmaiden saki.
The following day we went kayaking at the La Jolla Caves! This was the only activity we purchased advanced tickets for and I’m so glad we did because it was beyond incredible. We even saw dolphins! On Friday we walked the farmer’s market at Bernardo Winery and met some wonderful artisans. We left with a gorgeous authentic tablecloth from Provence. Then we walked the beaches of Delmar before heading to dinner at Cordiano Winery.
We ended our San Diego trip in style with an incredible concert starring Eden Espinosa at the Old Globe. It was the perfect exclamation point at the end of a breathtaking week that featured everything: beautiful beaches, great food, stunning wineries, fantastic shopping, hiking adventures and more. Feel free to use this itinerary as a guide for your visit to San Diego!
Falling in Love with the La Jolla Neighborhood
San Diego is stunning and every neighborhood has its own flair but La Jolla was hands down the most magical. Depending on the side of the beach you are on, you can have the classic beach party vibe complete with volleyball or a more private time tucked into a cove of your choice.
There are wonderful hiking options too! It was hard to narrow down which one to do, but locals highly encouraged Torrey Pines and it exceeded our expectations. It was an intermediate level trail with a steady incline at the start and semi-treacherous cliffs towards the end to get to the beach shore.
Our kayaking trip with HBK tours was another magical experience. You can choose between a single or tandem (we braved the tandem). It was a relationship strengthening opportunity for us! The tour was led by two entertaining guides who taught us about the area’s history and wildlife. We saw pelicans, sea lions, dolphins and even a prohibition era liquor hideaway.
6 Must-Do Experiences in San Diego
- Torrey Pines Hike (4.5-5 miles)
- Kayak La Jolla Caves (3 hour experience/book in advance)
- Pasta and Wine at Barbusa in Little Italy (Arnelle is the best waiter!)
- See something at the Old Globe (the most stunning outdoor venue)
- Scooter through Balboa Park and breathe in the roses at Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden
- If you have time, snag a picture or two under the Unconditional Surrender Statue in Tuna Harbor Park!
Phenomenal Food of San Diego
Every meal was better than the last in the neighborhoods of San Diego. It seems this city specializes in fish tacos, gourmet sushi and Italian cuisine. In North Park, go to Communal Coffee for avocado toast and bellinis all in the most aesthetically pleasing boutique you would have ever seen.
At Pacific Beach go to JRDN for oysters, sushi and the view! In La Jolla the best shrimp burritos can be found at Roberto’s Taco Shop, right across from Torrey Pines! In Old Town nothing beats Fiesta De Reyes. We got the “choose three,” their mango margarita, and Mexican ice cream for dessert.
We weren’t sure if Little Italy would be worth it, especially since we had our own favorites in New York City, but Barbusa was out of this world amazing. Pick one of their Italian wines and order the Granchio pasta dinner. In Escondido you must go to Cordiano Winery for the view and pinot grigio!
Best Accommodation Options
In the future I would like to book an Airbnb in La Jolla or on Coronado. Those places were tourist friendly and cute! Marriott Resort in Coronado had gorgeous views of the pool and the bay, and was easily accessible. It even had a Starbucks in the lobby! Everyone says to stay at Hotel Coronado, but I thought the decor was dated and the rates were outrageous.
Need to Know Before you Go
Pack layers for your trip! It’s cool in the mornings and evenings. In fact I learned the cloudy sky that occurs some mornings is called the marine layer and typically it lifts around noon. Book touristy activities in advance. We booked kayaking two months in advance and it filled up fast.
Stay hydrated! San Diego is deceiving because even though the temperatures are moderate it’s dry. Renting a car is a great option. It gives you the flexibility to go where you please. Finally, brace yourself for the trip of a lifetime. You don’t have to do it all, just be present and enjoy the ride.