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San Diego Travel Tips

San Diego is one of the most pleasant cities in America to visit. The climate is ideal with high temperatures in the 70's most of the year. And there so many things to do and places to see that a long weekend will be a very busy one. My wife and I had one of those weekends not too long ago, and it was a great time.We spent our first day at the San Diego Zoo, rightfully known as the finest zoological collection in the world. The Zoo opens at 9:00 AM and it is entirely possible to spend the entire day there. It is beautifully laid out and you are constantly climbing and then descending from area to area so it feels like you are truly traversing untamed terrain.

One way to see the zoo is to take a narrated tour on a double decker bus. By doing this you can pick out parts of the Zoo you would like to spend some time visiting. That ticket is also good for an express bus that makes stops throughout the Zoo, so you can hop on and off at the various points of interest you found on the tour bus. Or you can simply get a map of the Zoo and go see whatever you want.

The one exhibit we felt we had to see was the one housing the giant pandas. The San Diego Zoo has had a love affair with giant pandas ever since two of black-and-white bears came to visit in 1987. After years of red tape and tons of application paperwork, the Zoo and The Republic of China agreed on a 12-year research loan of two giant pandas, Bai Yun and Shi Shi. A brand new exhibit was built for the guests, and it has since been renovated and expanded and is now called the Giant Panda Discovery Center. This was certainly one of the major highlights of this trip to the Zoo.

We decided on a walking tour of the Zoo, and it took up most of the morning and the entire afternoon. We decided we would enjoy a nice leisurely dinner. With recommendations from some friends, we decided to have dinner at George's in La Jolla.

George's is a gorgeous setting on the oceanfront overlooking La Jolla Cove. The rooftop, where we ate, is an outdoor dining bistro. There is a spectacular view of the ocean and has to be one of the best places to watch the sun sink into the Pacific Ocean. Reservations are a must for a table near the water and we watched a magnificent sunset.

Dinner entrees on the rooftop bistro range from $14 to $20 and do not include soup or salad. I had a wonderful salmon dinner and my wife had a crab salad special of the evening. Both were just excellent. Indoor dining at George's is more expensive and is a little more formal, but for my money you can't beat the outdoor area on the roof.

On our second day we decided to take a short day trip to Southern California's wine country at Temecula. Located in southwestern Riverside County, Temecula is about 60 miles north of San Diego. The rolling hills are covered with vineyards in an ideal growing situation with the cool damp air coming from the ocean through a gap in the mountains. This makes for one of the most ideal growing climates for grapes in North America.

Temecula Valley has 18 wineries producing award-winning premium wines made possible by a unique microclimate and well drained decomposed granite soils. The 1100 to 1400 foot elevation makes for cool summer nights, and cooling breezes come through the vineyards every afternoon throughout the summer.

I have always felt that a fine wine tastes even better if it is consumed in the region in which it is made. So we went on some winery tours and visited the tasting rooms to enjoy some of those very fine wines. Of course, we purchased several bottles to bring home and use them to recall this picturesque area of Southern California.

When it was time to head back to San Diego, we decided to drive over to Hwy 1, which runs north and south along the coast. One of the reasons for taking this route was to stop at the Mission San Juan Capistrano. This is where the swallows return from their winter hiatus in Argentina every year on March 19th. Our trip was in October and the swallows had already migrated south, but the Mission has quite a history. The story of the swallows and how they came to this particular destination is very interesting. It was definitely worth the effort to stop.

The drive down Hwy 1 was interesting. It seems that every day in the afternoon fog rolls in from the ocean. We ran into this as we drove south toward San Diego. It doesn't seem to bother the California drivers, but then nothing seems to slow down the drivers out there. I definitely was being very cautious as we drove into and out of rolling patches of ocean fog.

That evening we decided to go casual for dinner and went to the Gaslamp Quarter, a renovated area in the heart of San Diego. This area was once one of San Diego's seedier sections, but today offers a vibrant atmosphere to visitors. There is an architectural mix from the turn of the century with today's gaslamps, brick sidewalks, galleries, theatres, hundreds of boutiques and shops, more than 100 restaurants, bars and nightclubs, and many buildings completely restored.

We stopped at Dakota Grill & Spirits for dinner. It is a casual Southwestern style restaurant located on the first floor of a high rise. I had their horseradish-encrusted salmon while my wife opted for one of their specialties, BBQ ribs. The cost of our dinner was reasonable and the atmosphere laid back. We really enjoyed it.

We decided to go to Coronado Island for our last day in San Diego. It is just across San Diego Bay, and the drive is very picturesque over a bridge that connects the island to the mainland. The first stop on the island has to be the Del Coronado Hotel. The hotel is referred to as the "Del" and has been chosen as a National Historic Landmark. It is a beautiful luxury beach resort built in 1888. Architecturally superior, superbly maintained and a sought after location for weddings, vacations business or exhibitions, the Del is ranked among the top ten beach resorts in the world.

Many blockbuster Hollywood films have been shot at this location. Marilyn Monroe fans will love to check out the Beach House where she stayed while "Some Like it Hot" was being made. This was also the primary location for the movie adaptation of Tennessee Williams' "Suddenly Last Summer" which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift.

The Del is well known for its Sunday brunch. People line up and create a waiting time of 2 hours or more on just about any Sunday for this fabulous spread. It covers 6 or more tables of food and costs $50 per person, but it does include complimentary champagne. That's a little more than we were willing to spend, but it certainly looks exceptional.

We planned to spend a little while on the Del's beach. It is pure white sand and has to be about 100 yards wide with the tide out. The temperature is always pleasant and we just let the world pass by for a while.

There are other sights on the island besides the Del. Go see the Landing Marketplace, a specialty bayfront shopping and dining center. There are unique shops and galleries and several bike rentals. If you would like to get a little exercise and see some beautiful homes, rent a bike and cruise around. We spent some time at Landing Marketplace and had a light lunch at a little coffee shop there.

But our weekend in San Diego had come to an end. We set out for the airport to head back east with a lot of very nice memories of our weekend in San Diego.