San Diego is known for water adventures, recreational activities, and very consistent weather. Yes, it is all that, but it is a lot more. San Diego has upped the ante on the convention business, and the winner is you when you visit because that has spurred some hotel, restaurant and attraction options.
Unlike a lot of other towns, staying downtown is a good option, whether or not you are going to a convention. At the edge of the convention center and Harbor Drive is the Hard Rock San Diego. This is one fun hotel where you are the rock star from start to finish. The rooms boast incredible sound systems and televisions, you can even get a guitar to play the riffs in your room. The rooftop bar and pool is great fun at Twilight. Unlike many hotels, their Mary Jane restaurant is open all the time, with much better than average fare. In the mood for Asian food? Then Nobu right in the hotel sports a great happy hour and renowned Asian food.
Sights and activities abound all around San Diego. You can stroll down the shops and restaurants to the Midway, and see a complete history of the U.S. Navy and aviation with interesting historical lectures and get up close a personal with the aircraft. If something a little more mammalian is on the list, then a whale watching tour with Hornblower Cruises gives you a set of trained naturalists on board to get the most out of your marine viewing.
Hop the trolley down south to get the real Cali-Baja experience with Turista Libre. You can be a free tourist by getting to the border, getting across and then jumping on the special Turista Libre bus. Lead by Derrik Chinn, a resident of Tijuana, you board a re-fitted school bus, and then get carted to the best Tijuana has to offer – bars, shopping, dining, museums, attractions and more.
Dining in San Diego can simply be defined as “Cali-Baja” which means something like California good with some Mexican influence and local ingredients. Some high-octane culinary whizzes have made their way to San Diego, and dining here might be the best-kept secret in California.
Not to be overlooked is the Liberty Public Market proximal to Point Loma. This unique re-do of a former navy station features shops, art and a unique food court that lets you stroll and munch. Two of the highlights are Wicked Maine Lobster and Local Greens.
The Carnitas Snack Shack is an outdoor restaurant ideally located right on the pier from the Midway and the Hornblower Cruises. The theme is pork and more pork. The environment is like being in a nifty outdoor bar with a huge roof that oozes habanero fun. If a gastro-pub with local craft beer will shiver your timbers, then Encontro in North Park offers interesting food with beer pairings. How about Portobello fries with an IPA?
Little Italy, about five minutes from the convention center is now a competitive dining hub. Bracero Cocina is the pinnacle of Cali-Baja cuisine, with dishes like the wood-grilled octopus in red chile and meyer lemon with crispy garbanzo. If basic cuisine done to perfection is more your style, then it is off to Pacific Standard Coastal Kitchen. This is rustic and hearty food you can eat every day like the short rib with polenta and chard.
If local shopping and history are on the list, the Old Town is a unique set of historically preserved buildings with quite a few dining options as well. The original San Diego in the 1860s, the now state park has plenty of history to go around. Stop for a cigar at Racine & Laramie, on the property since 1868. Get a hearty Mexican meal and the rocket-powerful margarita at Casa Guadalajara.
If you want something a little quieter and laid back in California, head about 25 minutes northeast of downtown to the Rancho Bernardo Inn. This elegant hotel is almost boutique in approach, and with two restaurants, bars, its’ golf course, and a secluded spa, is a nice getaway.
Golf in the San Diego area is defined by the specific geography of the course (some are more desert, some are more forest and river), but they are playable year round. While Torrey Pines gets almost all the press, the other courses are the gems you can get on without having to camp overnight or miss a mortgage payment.
If you just get off the plane and have to shake the rust off, hit the 9-hole Loma Club, where an easy walk on the par 3 is close to downtown. The Rancho Bernardo Inn offers discount fees to guests, but can be played even if not staying at the hotel. Maderas is a stunning hill and canyon course east of Miramar. Riverwalk, close to Old Town, is a great track that meanders through former wetland areas with hills and twists. Carlton Oaks is about 20 minutes east of downtown and twists through creeks, lakes, and trees for an exciting experience. Get into the northeast section of San Diego with Mt. Woodson, with just about every hole being a selfie-experience.
What would La Jolla be without five-star dining? Get your taco on with Galaxy Taco, with their casual atmosphere but seriously good take on Cali-Baja items, with a stunner of a grilled Octopus Tostada. If real Mexican influence combined with a seaside view and a chef who uses inspiration from every corner of the globe is the focus, head to The Hake. The best fish choice is the seasonal whitefish with peanuts and seaweed. Go coastal Italian with Catania, where just about everything is made on the premises, they do farm to table because they have their own farm, and the focus is on the classic cuisine of the region.
It’s likely to be cold when you leave Denver, warm in San Diego and a blizzard on your return. The best parking option by DIA is Canopy Airport Parking, with their indoor valet service. Unload in the heated garage, and upon arrival, have your car warmed and ready to go in the same location. Additional services include a car wash, detailing, and basic auto service.