You stay classy, San Diego.
– Ron Burgundy
San Diego had class, style and surprises around every corner. To me, it felt like a piece of Australia in the United States and I don’t know if there is any place like it in America. At least I didn’t see anywhere with a similar laid-back, beach culture. Here is a look at the best of San Diego via my Instagram feed, which should help you in planning your own trip to the seaside city. San Diego was just too photogenic for me.
The best of Ocean Beach Hostel
Now, I know there are a couple of hostels in downtown San Diego, but if you prefer to be by the water then head to Ocean Beach Hostel. Your room is less than two blocks from the beach = winning! I stayed in the 6-person female dorm, which was quite small and man were the top bunks high. It was such a bloody effort getting up and down that I am pretty sure it was the best cardio workout of my trip. Also the showers were a little odd in that you had to pull a cord for the water. Very economical?
Nonetheless you get free breakfast, the front desk staff are super helpful and I did meet some stellar backpackers, including Grace who I then met up with in San Francisco and we travelled onward together to Portland and Seattle. We bonded over our top bunk situation. One night there was five of us in the kitchen from five different countries: America, Australia, Switzerland, Sweden and Scotland. This is why I love hostels.
The best of Ocean Beach
I loved Ocean Beach. I arrived in San Diego via Greyhound from Las Vegas at about 4:00 pm. As soon as I had checked into the hostel I dumped my luggage in a locker, grabbed my camera and went straight down to the water to walk along the Ocean Beach Pier and capture the sunset. We all know how much I love a West Coast sunset, am I right? And this one certainly didn’t disappoint me.
Read more: My favourite sunset photos
The pier I walked on was a little unusual, in that it sloped down and had a dip in the middle. I felt like if a surfer came close whilst riding a wave in I could have given them a high-five from the walkway. I can imagine this area flooding regularly when there is a king tide too, but I guess this is where the old adage applies: If it isn’t broken don’t fix it.
I had an early dinner at the cafe on the pier, which was literally on top of the water so I had 180° views of the rolling waves. I loved being able to sit and watch the ocean and the changing sky surrounding it.
I enjoyed the Ocean Beach area in San Diego because it made me nostalgic by reminding me of home more than anywhere else in the world, with its friendly locals and relaxed atmosphere. It seemed most residents in this neighbourhood used either a bike or a skateboard to get from A to B and didn’t bother wearing shirts when they had flawless golden tans instead. Meanwhile, if I could tan like that I would probably show it off too. But alas, that will never happen.
I sat in the local Starbucks one evening and watched the palm trees sway outside and the sky turn gold, pink and purple from the setting sun. I could have been in Australia.
As a side note, how cute are the street lights? I loved the palm trees.
The best of downtown San Diego
San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter is filled to capacity with bars and restaurants. The area definitely comes alive at night when it seems most locals come out to play. During my walk through one morning I was stopped by a guy from Save the Children who wanted to sell me a sponsorship. Being a tourist I couldn’t sign up but I got a hug instead. I guess that’s a solo travel win. There is an outdoors Westfield beside the quarter, which is kind of hard to navigate but nonetheless has the usual chain stores for all to enjoy.
Next I walked north to Little Italy. I loved the entrance at India Street (yep, that’s the name of the main street) with purple bougainvilleas greeting you at either side. I stopped at one of the many restaurants for lunch and treated myself to a pepperoni calzone: my first but definitely not my last. Most of the stores were decorated in red and green so you could imagine (and perhaps hope) you were in actual Italy.
From here I continued west to the water for a seaside walk, passing a submarine, a large navy vessel and pirate ships. They may or may not have been inhabited by pirates but that’s what they looked like. There is a footpath that stretches all the way along, so make sure you take some time to have a wander when in town.
The best of the Old Town
I was surprised to discover this little gem after a friend from the hostel recommended paying it a visit. Old Town San Diego Historic State Park is said to be the birthplace of California as it is the site of of the first European settlement in the state. It did feel like you were stepping back in time upon entry. I could have been in a western if someone came out with spurs on their boots and a holstered gun on their hip.
The area consists of old buildings being used for cafes, banks, museums, art galleries and gift stores. During my visit there were school groups occupying the grassed area in the middle, probably learning about the area’s history. I wish my history lessons included field trips like this in my day!
The marketplace had fantastic jewellery and handmade pieces with a definite Spanish influence. If I wasn’t on my way to Mexico that afternoon I probably would have purchase a couple of souvenirs. The Old Town is easily accessible by public transit as a lot of buses and a train line begins and ends here.
The best of Balboa Park
The jewel in San Diego’s crown some might say,has so many amazing museums, attractions, exhibitions and gardens it is definitely hard to decide what to visit during your stay. The park is 1,200 acres of greenery not far from the city centre. My recommendations? San Diego Zoo because I love animals; the Museum of Photographic Arts because of the exhibits; and the Australian Garden because I love our native fauna.
Visit this website to see all that is on offer in the pristine park.
I really enjoyed San Diego. It has the best of both worlds: the seemingly endless choices of food and drinks in the downtown area and the beach on your doorstep. Plus, you can be in Mexico in under an hour, but more on that later.
What would you include in your own best of San Diego?
For more inspiration around the States: