Our new series on weekend road trips aims to inspire you for what's to come as we slowly return to travel.
Covid-19 Disclaimer: Make sure to check the status of the states, regions, and establishments in which you’re planning to visit prior to travel. Many regions continue to see high infection rates and deaths, while many states and counties remain under varying stay-at-home orders. Those traveling from areas with high rates of Covid-19 should consider avoiding travel for now in order to reduce spread.
San Diego is the perfect miniature getaway from Los Angeles—it’s just far away enough to feel like you’re on vacation, while only being a three-hour drive and therefore not seeming like that far of a drive (especially for an Angelino who is probably already driving way too much). There’s a little bit of something for everyone here: gorgeous beaches and pristine oceanview brunches to beachy sports bars and craft breweries; kitschy tiki bars and casual shopping to a fun and lively downtown area that you may only know from that last part of The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Here’s how to take a quick weekend getaway to San Diego from Los Angeles. (It’s one freeway and under three hours–you got this).
From Los Angeles, San Diego is a straight shot down the I-5 South, getting you there in about two and a half hours. You can also get there from Los Angeles via CA-73 South and I-5 South in roughly the same amount of time.
Assuming you leave around 10 a.m. at the latest, you’ll roll into San Diego around 1 p.m. Check into your accommodations, and head on over to Pacific Beach to grab lunch at Rocky’s Crown Pub (arguably the best burgers in San Diego). After lunch, take a walk to nearby Garnet Avenue in downtown Pacific and Ocean Beach—here you’ll find a mélange of antique stores, clothing boutiques, beachy tourist shops, and a really great Buffalo Exchange. There’s also a Mr. Frostie Ice Cream, where you can pop in for a quick and tasty little cone.
Insider Tip If shopping isn’t your style and you’re more of a beach sports super active type, catch some waves on your surfboard at Tourmaline Beach & Surf Park, also in Pacific Beach.
After an afternoon of exploring downtown Pacific Beach and all of its little shops and wonders, and after heading back to your hotel to change if you feel like it (no need though—San Diego keeps it pretty casual), head over to Pacific Beach Shore Club for fish tacos, pub food, and drinks in a rooftop-bungalow-meets-sports-bar kind of setting (so, the beach). Stick around after dinner for a casual beach bar party atmosphere or hit the town further at Amplified Ale Works Kitchen + Beer Garden or Modern Times Beer (two nearby breweries) or head over to trendy Mexican restaurant El Prez for specialty cocktails and margs paired with gorgeous views overlooking Pacific Beach and the boardwalk.
You will begin your day the only way anyone should ever begin their day in San Diego—by standing in line for however long it takes to get a burrito at Kono’s on Pacific Beach, right by Crystal Pier. Kono’s Surf Club Cafe is—hands down—the best place for breakfast (burrito or otherwise) in the city (possibly the world). Since 1991, Kono’s has been drawing long lines of both tourists and locals for their affordable (and delicious) all-day breakfast menu.
After breakfast, you’ll be stuffed, naturally, and probably want a walk—so, either stroll Pacific Beach some more or get in the car and take a short drive to La Jolla for a pleasant and not-difficult beach trek on the La Jolla Coast Walk Trail. If you walk the whole trail, you’ll cross over 10 different beaches—although not a lot of people do (that’s a lot of beaches for one walk, and we’ve got more walking to do elsewhere, so go easy on yourself).
Okay, well, now you’re definitely hungry, so make your way to Mitch’s Seafood for locally-caught fish and craft beer from many local San Diego breweries. Plus, it’s right on the marina so the waterfront views are the loveliest possible. After lunch, it’s time to walk through Balboa Park—here you can visit the San Diego Natural History Museum or stroll through the gardens surrounding it—there’s a cactus garden, a garden dedicated to plants native to California, a desert garden, a sunken stone grotto garden (Zoro Garden)–plenty of options and they’re all gorgeous. Or if a museum-garden pairing isn’t your style, the San Diego Zoo is also located in Balboa Park.
Next up, head on over to Bali Hai, a sprawling Polynesian restaurant known for its Mai Tais (and other tiki drinks) and breathtaking bay views. They’ve got a killer happy hour menu (coconut shrimp and other delicious little appetizers, plus drinks) and a full dinner menu—and you’ll want to stick around for a few hours. It can’t be overstated: This place is beautiful.
After dinner and drinks, spend the early part of your evening wandering nearby Seaport Village, a waterfront dining and shopping complex right next to the San Diego Bay. It is touristy, sure, but it’s also very special and essential to your San Diego trip. When the early evening passes into the later hours, get on over to the Gaslamp District for your nightlife activities. Coin-Op Game Room is an ’80s themed bar-arcade where you can game and drink beers and should be visited first while you still have the energy. When you’re tired of gaming and want to move back into this decade, head to Trailer Park After Dark, a kitschy bar decorated like an actual (really fun) trailer park.
Good morning. Last night was fun. But now, we’re moving away from fun and funky and onto pristine and fancy—that’s right. Check out of your accommodations and get in your car—we’re headed to nearby Del Mar, the fanciest neighborhood in San Diego County. First thing’s first: It’s our last day, so we’re getting up early. Head to Torrey Pines Reserve in Del Mar for an early morning hike and gorgeous beach views and lookout points. Keep it light or go for a while, but immediately after, proceed directly to Jake’s Del Mar, the spot for brunch in Del Mar, loved by locals and tourists alike. This upscale eatery boasts incredible ocean views, whether you’re seated on the patio or not (thank you, floor to ceiling windows). Brunch starts at 10 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m.—get there early if you can (it’s a popular place).
After brunch, take some time to let the mimosas flow through your body and lounge around on Del Mar City Beach. Once you’re sick of laying around, head on over to Downtown Del Mar, where Del Mar Village has upscale clothing boutiques (for men and women), beauty shops, as well as kitschy beach stores and gift shops. Del Mar Village also hosts your happy hour location for when you’re shopped out—Viewpoint Brewing Co. has a real gastropub atmosphere with communal seating. Have a pint or two before heading to Pacifica Del Mar, an upscale eatery serving seafood, steak, and pasta—and over 200 types of vodka.
After dinner, linger on the beach for a bit before heading back to Los Angeles. Don’t worry—you’ll be home in two and a half hours. That’s just like a really bad day in traffic when it’s raining.
WHERE TO STAY
The best place to stay in San Diego is Pacific Beach and you’ve got several options as far as price goes. Pacific Beach Surf Beachside Inn is a good bang for your buck—each room opens up to the outdoor courtyard and seating area and it’s relatively cheap (Around $100 a night) for a beachside hotel. For something a little more upscale, there’s nearby Pacific Terrace Hotel, a 4-diamond hotel with rooms, and a pool overlooking the beach and boardwalk. If you’d rather stay in La Jolla, La Jolla Shores Hotel is a 3-star hotel right on the beach.
WHEN TO GO
Summer is obviously the best time to visit San Diego (June through September), but note that June will be gloomy (and you might be able to find a deal or two because of this). The best month to go is September because the rates will be lower and the weather will still be warm. Rates are lowest, however, from September through November.