Lucky for me, my husband had a conference in San Diego. I got to tag along and go exploring. We didn’t take the kids (because, hey, it was our little getaway) but after seeing how easy it was to get around and how much there was to enjoy for kids of all ages, I wish I’d brought them. We only had four days, including travel time, and no car, so I had to plan my time strategically to make the most of my days while my husband was in meetings.
When time is limited and you are without a car, here’s the itinerary I suggest to help you see the best of San Diego, understand its history and feeling like you experienced it fully!
Morning: Take a SEAL Tour, starting at 9am. You can get tickets at several stops but there happens to be one right across the street from the hotel. For $36 ($32.40 if you order online) for adults; $19 ($17.10) for children 4-12 and free under 4, you ride an amphibious vehicle that takes you on land past the airport, around the bay, onto Shelter Island and then INTO the water! From there, you get to see the many silly seals sunning themselves as you also go past the Point Loma Submarine Base and Navel Air Station on North Island. (San Diego is home to a major naval base and this trip lets you see it as up close and personal as is allowed).
Where the SEAL tour drops you off, spend a few hours at the Maritime Museum San Diego. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d be that interested in this museum comprised of historic ships, submarines and ferry but it was amazing.
Morning: The Old Town Trolley not only gives you the best lay of the land, it also serves as your transportation around town, letting you get on and off various stops. Each driver is a real character, full of knowledge but also fun. Take it all around one time, which takes approximately 1 ½-2 hours and you’ll have a much better feel for where everything is and also which areas you want to explore in depth later on. One of the main stops is to Balboa Park. That is where you’ll spend your afternoon.
Afternoon: Boalboa Park is a beautiful place with a brilliant design. There are more than a dozen museums including the San Diego Museum of Art and the San Diego Museum of Man as well as the famous San Diego Zoo , right there in the park. You could easily devote a whole day just to everything Balboa has to offer. Have lunch at the Sculpture Court Café, Giuseppe, a lovely open-air restaurant that feels like a work of art itself. Watch the time, because the Trolley stops coming around late afternoon and that’s your best way back into town, unless you hale one of the many taxis at the ready.
Tip: Purchase a two-day pass for the Old Town Trolley (free-$36.00) so that on the second day, you can explore some of the neighborhoods and also take in the beach.
Morning: Take the Old Town Trolley again and get off on Coronado Island. The Trolley takes you right up to the Hotel Del Coronado, a beautiful and historic place where the Marilyn Monroe film “Some Like It Hot” was filmed. Walk through the hotel and out the back and there is the Pacific Ocean! In what is considered more of an East Coast style beach, with lots of soft, white sand (I’m told La Jolla with its narrow beach and rocky shoreline is more true to CA), it’s all yours – and everyone else’s.
If you didn’t get enough sun and surf, you can always take the Ferry back over to Coronado and then a bus to the hotel and beach. But this is the most direct way to get to the beach.
Afternoon: Back on the Trolley, let it take you to Little Italy, one of the largest Italian neighborhoods in the country. On Saturdays, they have a wonderful, huge farmer’s market that lets you mingle with the locals and shop like one too. It’s easy to grab lunch and sit down for some people-watching. Have a gelato at Pappalecco Café.
With only a half a day left, (fortunately, the airport is SO close, you don’t have far to travel), take a Harbor Cruise www.hornblower.com boat tour to see what you’ve been seeing by land from a different perspective. Since you’ve already taken the SEAL tour which goes to the south, I recommend taking only the North Boat tour, a lovely, narrated, one hour tour that goes under the Coronado Bay Bridge you have now driven over twice and past Coronado Island. The skyline is impressive and the boats in the marinas are beautiful and enviable.
Where the boat docks, take a right toward Sea Port Village where there are charming, touristy shops and the “Unconditional Surrender” statue and a great public sculpture saluting Bob Hope and his USO shows complete with recordings of a real USO show.
San Diego feels like another world, with glimpses into the role of the ocean, its heritage, its people and all with beautiful weather to boot. Four action-packed days was wonderful but I would have loved more to explore further. Next time.