Otherwise known as my new favourite city in the USA.
We left Vegas early on the Friday morning, jumped into our rental car and hit Route 15 all the way to the California coast. Driving on an American freeway is a bit of an experience – especially where trucks are involved – and we had our first glimpse of crazy LA traffic, but we eventually arrived in San Diego without a hitch.
I’ve never stayed in a hostel before this trip so I had a feeling the first few nights were going to be eye-opening! We checked in our 4 bed dorm in the USA Hostel, right in the middle of the city’s Gaslamp Quarter, and immediately I was so impressed. Perfect location, clean comfy bunk beds and plenty of social activities on offer. The bathrooms and kitchen weren’t nearly as scary as I’d been expecting either! Panic over.
Since we arrived quite late in the evening we launched straight into the “Fiesta Friday” party being thrown in the common room. I loved (and still do love) how it was instantly so easy to make friends when you know that we all have at least one thing in common – an interest in travelling. The hostel provided free beers, margaritas and tacos so we spent the whole night happily chatting with our new buddies from all over the world.
The following morning were told about an event called Tequila & Taco Music Festival which sounded far too good not to check out! It was being held at Embarcadero, a section of the pier on San Diego bay, so we left early to explore…
…and obviously pick out our future yacht.
Once in the festival we settled down for a few hours of live music and excellent tacos. All of the best restaurants & food trucks from across the city set up stalls and sell their speciality dish. Martin’s baja fish taco from Sandbar Grill was the best he’s ever had (and he’s tried a lot, especially now that we’re in Mexico!) and I found a vegan stall with the nicest staff selling the veggie al pastor tacos of my dreams.
(I devoured my tacos so quickly that I only had iPhone photos – they were too good)
By the time we left we were full, happy and extremely sunburned – I stupidly hadn’t expected the California sun to be so harsh! We tried to keep to the shade and wander the rest of the San Diego harbour, which is absolutely beautiful.
Until we eventually hit the famous USS Midway – an old World War 2 era aircraft carrier that has been turned into a maritime museum. Sadly we were too late to buy tickets for the day, but it was still cool to see it. The sheer size of it alone is pretty impressive!
We spent that night in the same way as the previous – making new friends in the hostel and drinking free Tecate beer. With a few games of beer pong thrown in for good measure!
The following day, determined to get some exercise and spend some time in nature, we headed to Balboa Park. This massive 1,200 acre park is home to 16 museums, a few theatres, botanical gardens, the zoo, and a football stadium. Plus of course huge grassy fields, woodland areas, kids play parks and (my favourite) a dog park. There’s a lot to explore and it’s very easy to spend a full day here.
We picked up a couple of gigantic sandwiches from the local deli, trekked up to the park and settled in for a picnic.
A few locals popped by to see what we were up to…
After lunch we walked through the park to El Prado, the wide boulevard which houses most of the museums. Accidentally, we got into the Museum of Man for free (it involved looking a bit lost and a nice man opening a gate for us that he probably shouldn’t have!) so spent an hour or so wandering round all the exhibits. It was fascinating, full of information on the evolution of mankind with specialist sections covering the Mayans, Egyptians and other ancient peoples. There was also a very moving exhibit on the perception of race in the modern world – I was a bit teary-eyed reading some of the statements they’d gathered from local children on how they felt others looked at them. Overall an extremely interesting museum and one of the best I’ve ever been to.
Once back outside, the building itself isn’t bad to look at either.
We continued our walk along El Prado past the beautiful botanic gardens…
…along to the fountains at the end of the road. There were families and groups of friends everywhere, just relaxing and hanging out on their Sunday afternoon.
I was already in love with San Diego but spending time in Balboa Park enforced how liveable this city is. I could imagine spending most weekends here, working my way round all the museums or just enjoying the sunshine and people watching.
After a quiet Sunday night, we were up bright and early on the Monday morning to collect our rental car. The aim of the day was to drive north to Los Angeles, but not before a quick tour of the San Diego coast.
First stop – Ocean Beach.
The strong current and big Pacific waves here make this beach ideal for surfing. The streets filled with shops & bars nearby all have a relaxed California surfer vibe and are undoubtedly hippyish in parts too!
Further up the coast is Mission Beach. We didn’t spend any time here as it’s mostly a wealthy residential area known for it’s good bar scene – not much use to us on a Monday morning! It’s also a very family friendly beach with a Coney-Island style amusement park and roller coaster on the waterfront.
The next stop was La Jolla, again a very wealthy suburb of San Diego. La Jolla has many beautiful beaches stretching along their 7-mile coastline, but possibly the most famous is Children’s Pool – a small cove protected by a concrete sea wall which over 200 local seals use to raise their pups.
The beach is protected so that humans can’t enter during pupping season, but it’s still a huge tourist attraction with people lining up around the pier to watch the seals swimming or sunbathing on the surrounding rocks. They don’t seem to mind the audience!
Slightly further north is La Jolla Shores where we found an absolute gem for lunch – Caroline’s Seaside Cafe. American classics like burgers and sandwiches with some of the most amazing beach views I’ve ever seen!
The beach is a mile long stretch of perfect sand and gentle waves so it’s very popular for swimming and sunbathing. Sadly we had no time for either and had to make do with a few pictures before jumping back in the car.
We left excited to get to LA but already planning a list of what we’d love to see and do on our next visit. We’ll be back San Diego!