San Diego often gets overlooked in favour of Los Angeles, but if you’re looking for somewhere more relaxed and not requiring long drives to get around then this is the place to be.
For those flying into LAX, San Diego is a just a two-hour Amtrak train ride away, or for those landing direct to the city’s airport it’s merely a 10-minutes in a taxi to the downtown area.
So, if you’re got 48 hours to spare on your next trip to California, here’s a few tips for doing San Diego in style…
California boasts miles of sun-drenched coastline. In the morning, book a kayak tour with Everyday California. The water sports outfitter in La Jolla – a 25-minute taxi ride from downtown San Diego – has a range of different excursions and I went for a grey whale watching tour which lasted for two hours.
After getting decked out in a wet suit, helmet and life jacket I headed down to the beach to meet our guide Aidan.
It was great to be out on the water and it filled me with a sense of peace. Unusually, it was a foggy day in San Diego but the swirling clouds of mist on the rugged shores made for dramatic scenery.
While we didn’t see any whales on the morning we went out, we saw dozens of cheeky sea lions and felt on a real high when we got back to the shore. Everyday California also offers great deals on surf board hire and other excursions after you book with them, so it proves to be great value for money. Check out their clothing and homeware ranges too for a knickknack to remember your ocean adventures by.
After working off all that energy, re-fuel with the biggest burger you’ve every laid your eyes on at Hodad’s in downtown San Diego.
The surf-inspired restaurant is brimming with character, with diner-style booths and concrete interiors wallpapered with glossy stickers.
Tuck into a triple stacked burger – guaranteed to give you jaw ache – and wash it all down with a colossal milkshake. Take a partner in crime to help you tackle the beast feast.
If you’re looking for somewhere super relaxed and suitable for all the family, consider the Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa.
The old-school luxury hotel, built in 1958, is set within lush Polynesian-inspired gardens, with ducks, parrots and butterflies swanning around.
If you can, check into one of the bay view rooms, which look out on to the sands of Mission Bay.
The Catamaran resort is just a 20-minute taxi ride from downtown San Diego and in the heart of the Pacific Beach community, which is bustling with shops, restaurants and bars.
The Oceana Coastal Kitchen at the Catamaran resort is worth checking out.
We managed to nab a table outside, which looked out on the bay and had a lovely romantic feel as the sun slowly gave way to candle light.
The menu features a fine spread of seafood and to start I went for three oysters, each daily specials, while my partner opted for a spicy tuna roll.
For mains, the Sea of Cortez scallops and cut of mahi-mahi reeled us in.
Another highlight was the soft, fresh-baked bread and the punchy cocktails, with the Barrel-aged Rum Mojito coming highly recommended.
The service ran like clockwork and we rounded everything of with a deliciously creamy Grand Marnier creme brûlée.
Taking another stab at spotting some whales, we booked on to a morning excursion with Hornblower Cruises.
The 3.5-hour cruise is a great way of seeing the San Diego skyline and you will also pass by the naval base where Top Gun was famously filmed.
Alas, the weather wasn’t in our favour and a bout of fog forced us to head back into the bay but we were given a really informative tour of the multi-million dollar battle ships parked up on San Diego’s shores. The intimidating looking vessels looked almost unreal as we glided by, with giant machines guns jutting out and too many radar systems to count.
We were also given free tickets for another Hornblower tour as this is the company’s policy if you don’t spot any whales or dolphins on your initial outing.
For a relaxed bite to eat – think gooey croque madames and wholesome soups – along with some expertly poured coffee, head to Copa Vida in San Diego’s east village district.
The place has open air windows, which are perfect for a sunny day (most of the year round in San Diego) and right next to the Petco Park stadium so you can catch a glimpse of the baseball arena after refuelling.
In the afternoon, take a stroll or short taxi ride to Balboa park where the famous San Diego Zoo is located along with more than 17 museums.
The Botanical Gardens are worth checking out and free to enter on certain days of the week. The giant domed atrium is home to dozens of towering tree ferns, colourful orchids and other natural wonders.
Another must is a tour of the California Tower which was built in 1914 for the Panama-California Exposition. The much-anticipated event held in San Diego was put on in a bid to encourage people to set up home there before it became such a fashionable hub.
Make sure you purchase tickets for the tower tour early as they sell like hot cakes and we were luckily able to book on to a 4:20pm tour.
It proved to be the perfect time of day, as we were treated to magnificent views while watching the sun get lost in the shroud of a pink sky.
For an extra special San Diego dining experience head to the Grant Grill at the U.S. Grant Hotel – the oldest hotel in town.
The shiny wood-panelled bar, boasting double-height ceilings and eye-catching chandeliers, serves up stellar cocktails with some pretty unusual libations on the menu.
I opted for a deconstructed negroni which featured a vermouth sorbet with Campari crystals, a sprig of rosemary and a bubbling glug of Bols Genever (a precursor to English gins). This punchy mix was followed up by a swanky Aristocrat Sazerac – a blend of Remy Marti 1738, Peychaud’s Bitters and Absinthe – which came with an equally swanky price tag at $35.
Our evening meal at the Grant Grill was a real treat, with faultless service and artfully-styled food leaving us speechless.
The garlic-infused focaccia – made to the chef’s secret family recipe – left us salivating and our server revealed that the staff regularly squabble over offcuts to take home after shift.
The menu changes weekly but hopefully you will be able to catch the salmon dish to start, a creation of gravadlax, caviar and oozing egg yolk, which has won various awards in the past.
For mains, the succulent bison tenderloin from Wyoming and steamed California spiny lobster kept us very happily engrossed.
With just enough room for a scoop of dessert we opted for a sweet creme caramel, washed down with a glass of Hungarian Tokaji dessert wine.
You can opt to enjoy cocktails with dinner or dip into the extensive wine list, with very knowledgeable staff on hand to help. A glass of the Trefethen red, from Napa Valley, is a great option if you decide on a meatier dish.
If you have time, take a stroll on the beach or dip in the pool before bidding a fond farewell to San Diego and the Catamaran resort.
In 48 hours place is guaranteed to get you yearning for more sun, sea and mouth-watering culinary sensations. We’ll be back for sure!
Flights from London Gatwick to Los Angeles start from as little as £115 with Norwegian. Visit www.norwegian.com to check prices.