A Perfect Day In San Diego
When I travel on the plane, I often skim through the airline magazine, such as Hemispheres on United, before I get to my beloved sudoku page. One of the articles I often pay attention to is “Three perfect days in a particular town”, which describes how you can potentially spend three days at some town, starting from the lodging, talking about attractions and dining options. Over the past 3 month, I was in San Diego in California twice, and came across a few places which I found worth talking about, thus I decided to come up with the similar post to those I mentioned before. Writing about 3 perfect days might get a bit too intense, so let me compose for you just one, potentially perfect, day. Here we go.
Let’s start with the place to stay. San Diego has no shortage of the hotels, of course. The reason for me to recommend the two hotels below is because I personally stayed in both and liked them very much. First option is the Residence Inn San Diego Downtown, located at 1747 Pacific Highway. Yes, it is the part of the chain of Marriott hotels, and while it is not unique, it nevertheless offers a great convenience of stay for the family, with all rooms being suites with kitchenettes. It is also located within walking distance from Little Italy area (lots of great restaurants!) and the number of attractions right by the water, like USS Midway Museum. This hotel is within 20-25 minutes walking distance to the Gas Lamp Quarters (lots of restaurants and great night life), and it is easy to get to and from the highway.
The second hotel I can recommend is called Kona Kai Resort and it is located on on 1551 Shelter Island Road. Even taking into account that hotel was undergoing renovation during my stay there, the location and the views were absolutely spectacular. Yes, I stayed at many beach-front hotels before, however, in case of Kona Kai, the combination of marina with numerous boats and the hill covered with the houses was one of the most tranquil settings I ever experienced in the hotel. Just sit in the chair and be transported away in the dreams… Small private beach, lots of different water sport activities, bonfires – the hotel definitely offers a lot for the very enjoyable stay.
Now, let’s talk about few things you can do. Of course San Diego Zoo, as well as Seaworld need no introduction, so I will not be talking about them. Also, if you are traveling with kids, don’t forget that Legoland is only about 40 minutes away from San Diego. However, I would like to bring to your attention a few of probably lesser known places. After breakfast (please see below for recommendation), head out to the Cabrillo National Monument. While you can think basedon the name that this is only a single structure, Cabrillo National Monument is actually a park, which offers stunning views of San Diego and San Diego harbor, the Lighthouse, a small military history museum and the number of hiking trails – you can easily spend a few hours there.
Depending on how much time you will spend at the Cabrillo National Monument, you might or might not be ready for lunch – in any case, you will find my suggestion below. After lunch, I have few more places for you to visit. First, the Balboa Park, which is a very interesting collection of botanical gardens, beautiful grounds and lots of different museums. Depending on how much time you will have available, there will be no problems to spend not only half day, but pretty much the whole day in the Balboa Park. One of the most stunning images for me was the Towering Moreton Bay Fig tree, with the root more resembling a dinosaur’s foot and towering crown disappearing high in the sky:
One feels really humbled walking around these magnificent trees.
Once you are done with the Balboa Park, I have the last attraction for you to see for the day – Sunset Cliffs. This is also a park, which offers stunning views of the ocean, as well as opportunity to surf and hike. To me, just sitting down and watching the waves, is enough of attraction on its own. And I would also guess from the name that the best time to visit the cliffs is during the sunset, but I didn’t have an opportunity to check this myself.
And now, let’s talk about food! As we are talking about the perfect day, I would like to share three recommendations with – yes, we are talking breakfast, lunch and dinner.
And now, it is time for lunch. I hope you are craving seafood, as the place I want to send you to is a fresh seafood heaven, very much resembling the New England, or rather even Cape Cod seafood joints, the hallmarks of the fresh seafood restaurants. With its unassuming and non-pretentious simplicity, Point Loma Seafoods reminds you of many of the Guy Fiery’s triple-D worthy establishments – inexpensive, always filled with people, offering great variety of seafood which is as fresh as it can be, with different styles of preparation. In the mood for sashimi? You got it. A plate of fried oysters or clams? No problems. A whole clam sandwich (this is what I had)? Here you go. Fresh fish, salads, soups, oysters, crab cakes – definitely there is a variety to chose from. Make sure you will allocate time, both to find parking and to wait in the line – but the wait is very manageable, the service is quite quick and efficient. I highly recommend you will include Point Loma Seafoods into your travel itinerary.
After all the walking, climbing, and may be swimming, kayaking and sun bathing, you probably feeling tired and reading for an exciting dinner. Your wish is my command. Let me suggest that you will take a short trip to Coronado Island, and find the place called Chez Loma (yep, we are going French again – how about that!).
Again, an interesting parallel with New England, as Chez Loma restaurant is located in the regular house-looking structure. Simple ambiance and chanson music definitely add to your mood. And the food… Well, before we talk about food, few words about the wine. The wine list has reasonable size and very reasonable prices, with most of the selections coming from California, France and New Zealand. For no particular reason, we started with NV Scharffenberger Mendocino County, California - simple wine, with nice touch of toasted apple on the nose, and good weight on the palate. This wine had a bigger body than typical NV Champagne would have, with the same toasted apple being a main theme. Overall, easy to drink and refreshing. Our second wine was delicious 2012 Matua Pinot Noir Marlboro New Zealand (13% ABV) – smokey nose, vibrant acidity, tart cherries on the palate, excellent balance – the wine was perfectly complementing the variety of dishes we had for dinner.
And then, there was food. For the appetizers, we went with the few different options. Ceviche “Verde” (rockfish, tomatillo sauce, avocado) was somewhat “off the beaten path”, very refreshing, with the avocado and tomatillo sauce adding an interesting touch. Escargot (mushroom, sweetbread, asparagus, garlic butter) was probably the best I ever had – somehow, all the elements worked together creating literally a sublime experience. Tartare of Beef (hand cut beef, shallots, horseradish, parsley, pomme frites) was another great appetizer. I fell in love with this dish in Paris, and ever since, when it is on the menu in the restaurant which I would trust to serve me a raw beef, I would go for it. This version was very nicely done, with the perfect flavor profile. And lastly, the Three Beets (yellow, striped and red, thyme vinaigrette, Bucheron goat cheese) was simply a music for the eyes – bright, colorful, and most importantly, very tasty! Perfect texture on the beets – not too hard and not mushy, just right, and an excellent pairing with very gentle goat cheese.
Couple of entrees I want to bring to your attention. Peppered Filet Mignon (tenderloin, black pepper crust, brandy sauce, potato puree, haricot vert) was perfectly cooked, with very fresh cracked black pepper, simply a perfection on the plate. And the Sea Scallops (vanilla infusion, cauliflower puree, bacon crisp, orange sauce) were perfectly done, with the right texture and delicious textural enhancement of cauliflower puree and bacon bits. Again, one of the best Sea Scallops dishes ever, and I have to tell you that 3 times out of 4, if the menu has Sea Scallops on it, this would be the dish I would take. For dessert, we shared Gingerbread (orange-caramel sauce), which was mostly a nicely done bread pudding. All in all, a great dining experience and I can’t recommend this restaurant high enough.
After leaving the restaurant, see if you will be able to get a quick tour of the historical Hotel del Coronado – it definitely worth a few moments of your time – seeing all the wooden paneling and lavishly appointed hallways. Note – you might have to look for the way to sneak in as a registered guest. Upon return to the hotel you are staying at, spend a few moments admiring San Diego and marina nightlights. It was a long day, but I hope it was a good one.
Here you have it, my friends – my version of the perfect day in San Diego. Whether you visited any pf the places I mentioned or not, I would love to know what you all think. Cheers!