I am so excited to write about my San Diego trip! I have been buzzing ever since I landed yesterday. San Diego has been a top city on my bucket list for quite some time now so when my significant other, Kyle, told me he had a work trip in “America’s Finest City,” I knew I had to make this trip happen. I politely (at least I think it was polite) asked Kyle to ask his boss if it would be okay for me to crash in his hotel room. I promised Kyle I wouldn’t bother anyone and didn’t need to be entertained. I am quite adept at traveling alone and had a few friends living in the city I could visit. Thankfully, Kyle’s boss said yes, I could come! I was so excited. A top bucket list city and free accommodations? I was sold.
As I started researching flight prices from Newark, I was a little surprised to find that there weren’t many direct flights to San Diego or if there were, they were at odd times or out of this world expensive. Then it hit me, another item on my bucket list: driving the Pacific Coast Highway. I knew flights to LAX would be cheaper than to San Diego and they would be direct. I’d rent a car and drive the PCH from LA to San Diego. It would be perfect! I’d have to rent a car but I figured if I was spending the money and time anyway, I might as well do something cool! So I purchased a one-way ticket to LAX, rented a car, and purchased a nonstop flight back from San Diego to Newark (thanks, Black Friday flight deals).
Pro tip: Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to your plans. If you’re going to spend the time and money doing something, you might as well make the most out of it. Take my Croatia trip, for example. Flights to and from Croatia were going to cost almost $6,000 for two people. Um, excuse me, WHAT? No way. I started to think outside the box and considered my other options. Flights to London, I knew, were always fairly priced and I wouldn’t mind spending a day or two in a city I once called home. I also knew that flights from Germany were decently priced as well. By adding two extra days to our trip, even with hotels and food costs, we were able to save almost $4,000 on costs. Not bad, huh? Lesson: be flexible and get creative.
Now, I still want to drive the northern piece Pacific Coast Highway but I was thrilled by my drive from LAX to San Diego. I first stopped in Long Beach and had the most delicious brunch at The Attic on E Broadway. Seriously, I ordered the crème Brule French toast and it was truly one of the best French toast dishes I’ve ever had. Jamie, the bartender, was amazing and made me the most amazing peach Bellini, with fresh muddled peaches. This place is definitely a popular spot; I arrived around 1:00pm on a Friday afternoon and there was a 30-minute wait for tables of 2 or more. Luckily, I was flying solo and was able to snag an open seat at the bar. If you’re heading here, which I totally recommend, you should try and get a reservation.
After brunch, I hopped on the PCH and started my drive. I knew I wanted to stop at a few beaches along the way, the first being Laguna Beach. I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV in high school (I used to secretly stay up late at night to watch The Challenge) so I didn’t know much about the show until I started college and began watching The Hills. I’m fairly sure that my love of the Challenge combined with this new discovery of a true “reality show” kicked off my love of trashy, half-real, half-fake television shows. I, of course, went back and watched Laguna Beach and silently cursed my parents for not letting me watch it while all my friends did. Now, at 27, I had the opportunity to see where it all began. And it was gorgeous. I was expecting beautiful homes and beaches but this small little beach city was beyond charming. I know it may be cliché to stop in a city just because a reality TV show was filmed there but in this case, I do hope you consider making it a stop for the city itself. It may just surprise you!
After a few more stops, I noticed the sun was starting to set and I made my final stop along the shore to catch the last few moments of sunlight. I think I’ve mentioned how I feel about California sunsets in the past and how I’ve never been truly impressed. And I won’t lie; this sunset didn’t rock my world like the Greek sunsets did. But that’s to be expected, I’m sure, and this sunset was beautiful in its own special way.
Back on the road, I texted my friend (hands free, of course) and let her know I’d be arriving in her around 6:00pm. She let me know she had a great spot to grab a drink and I was sold. After picking her up, she directed me towards a restaurant on the water called Coasterra. If you’re driving here, be prepared to valet your car, as there are only a few self-parking spots. At $7, however, it’s not too bad of cost. And it’s worth it too. There’s a reason this restaurant lands on just about every top list of places to eat or drink. While I can’t speak to the food as we only grabbed drinks, I will say that they serve some of the best margaritas I’ve ever had. And the view of the San Diego skyline simply can’t be beat.
After a long day of travel and a few margaritas with a great friend, I decided to call it a night and head back towards my hotel. A quick note about my hotel: I stayed in the Downtown Courtyard Marriott, formerly a huge bank. The architecture and old vaults make for a unique hotel experience. I highly recommend staying here if you are looking for a great downtown location.
The next morning I woke up bright and early so I could pack as much as I could into my day. I started off at the Donut Bar, a heavenly little donut shop serving giant donuts and mimosas. Pure heaven. And well priced too! 4 large donuts, 1 mimosa, and 3 coffees ran me only $25.
After dropping the donuts and coffee off to my significant other and his coworkers, I hopped on a bus and headed towards Balboa Park. The public transportation buses in San Diego take either prepaid tickets or exact change. The bus ride cost me $2.25 so make sure you have your quarters. It’s a great alternative to Uber, which would have cost me about $10 for the trip. And it’s environmentally friendly! San Diego also offers electric scooters as another fun, environmentally friendly way to get around the city. Starting at $1, you can ride them just about anywhere and leave them wherever your trip ends. Download the LimeScooter app on your phone to get it started!
I spent a good bit of my time exploring Balboa Park. It’s huge! They have all kinds of museums, gardens, and restaurants. There is also a large homeless population living in the park. It’s quite the juxtaposition to see these ornate beautiful buildings with homeless people living outside of them. It’s a great reminder to not only be thankful for what you have but to be respectful of the spaces you’re in when traveling. To you, it’s a beautiful park waiting to be explored. To someone else, it’s home.
After spending almost 3 hours in the park, I was ready for lunch. Based on the recommendation of a coworker, I decided to head over to The Crack Shack, a fried chicken joint. I won’t lie to you, as soon as I saw the line wrapping around the block, I decided to ditch my idea of a fried chicken lunch. I don’t care how good the food is; I’m not standing around the corner to wait for it. Sorry, Crack Shack. I remembered seeing a brewery/food spot around the corner while in my Uber. I pivoted quickly and started walking.
Ballast Point brewery was amazing. It had so many beers on tap, it took my a solid 5 minutes to decide which 4 to choose for a flight. I also ordered pretzel bites with beer cheese. I highly recommend this spot if you’ve got a group whose tastes vary widely.
After lunch, I spent the afternoon just walking around by the water. I was close to the USS Midway museum and was able to see some of the amazing ships and boats scattered around the water. It was a lovely, peaceful afternoon. I wasn’t up for anything crazy that night as I hurt my knee in an accident. It was telling me to call it a day, so that’s exactly what I did.
The next morning, I woke up so excited for the day. Today was the day I was paragliding! I could not wait. This was something that had always been on my bucket list ever since I was 12. When I visited my Dad in Germany, he and I had agreed we would paraglide over the German Alps. My mom quickly shut that idea down once she found out our plans claiming that 12 was just too young to be doing such a thing. Ever since then, paragliding has been very high up on my list things I was dying to do.
Torrey Pines Gliderport is well known for their flights and is extremely popular for newbies and veterans alike. They do not take reservations because it is so dependent on the wind and weather conditions and these can change at any moment. The best way to do it is to give them a call the morning of, put your name on their list, and have them give you a call when they’re clear for flying.
If you don’t have a flying license, you will have to participate in the tandem version, which makes total sense. I had no intention of flying alone. Tandem paragliding is also not allowed as a tourist activity in the United States. The only loophole to this law is that you can paraglide as a “flying student.” Before flying, you essentially sign a contract saying that you are a student learning to paraglide from the tandem instructor. You also must sign multiple liability waivers as well as be filmed on video waiving your right to sue in case of injury or death. You accept that this activity can end very badly. As someone with anxiety, this part made me very nervous. But the instructors assured us that this was routing and that the flights are very safe.
Getting strapped in, the instructor walked through the steps of take off. Essentially you run against the wind off a cliff. From there, the parachute picks you up and the instructor controls the strings so you glide effortlessly over Torrey Pines. If you’ve ever ridden Disney’s Soarin’ attraction, it feels almost exactly the same but instead of a simulated version, it’s the real deal. Paragliding over the cliffs and water was one of the most amazing feelings I’ve ever experienced. If you ever have the chance to paraglide, it’s something I recommend over and over again. I did have to land on the beach and hike up the cliff due to rapidly changing winds, but still, it was beyond worth it.
After the insane hike that was climbing back up the cliff after landing, my friends and I decided it was time for a drink. My friend Lucas lives in San Diego and knew of a bunch of cool breweries we could try out, most of them located in the Ocean Beach area of San Diego. The first was Culture Brewery, a small but great brewery that allows dogs to freely roam. I made many dog friends that afternoon. After a quick bite at a delicious burrito spot, Sunnies, we quickly made our way over to Sunset Cliffs to catch the beautiful cotton candy sunset. We then headed for the second brewery, Kilowatt. This place is so cool. It’s covered in neon lights and is filled with all kinds of games, not to mention delicious beer.
All in all, my weekend in San Diego was nothing sort of amazing. The weather was phenomenal, the food was amazing, and it was beyond nice to be able to spend time with friends I’ve missed dearly. I wish I could have spent more time in this lovely city but I am grateful for the time I had. I can’t wait to go back!