Content originally written for the Let’s Go: USA & Canada Guide by our researcher-writer, Graham Bishai.
300 Mission Blvd.; Belmont Park open S-Th 11am-11pm, F-Sa 11am-midnight
Take a stroll down the Mission Beach Ocean Front Walk to experience the classic boardwalk beach San Diego-style, complete with ice cream, volleyball nets, an amusement park, and lots of sand and waves. Zip on a rental scooter or bike down the promenade alongside families and surfer dudes here for the sun. At Belmont Park, do the classic beachfront amusement park thing: ride the rollercoaster, rock climb, play mini golf, or win big at the arcade. It is a beach, after all, so grab those trunks and get in the waves that lazily roll into the sand. Or you can be lazy, and bask in the laidback, happy contentment of the San Diego coast. Watch surfers catch waves as the sun dips down below the Pacific horizon, leaving behind a grapefruit sky.
4th to 6th Ave. between Broadway and Harbor Dr.; https://www.gaslamp.org/; establishment hours vary
In the center of downtown San Diego lies the heart of the city’s nightlife, food, and arts life. These sixteen-odd neighborhood blocks are filled with Victorian-era architecture that today houses sleek boutiques and bistros. This place is fun sunup and sundown—during the day, many of the best nightlife spots masquerade as cafés and restaurants, popping with hungry crowds. You’ll hear a chorus of chatter can be heard all day until late into the night, as friends laugh over drinks and strut the streets in style. Such a sophisticated cosmopolitan stretch might seem out of place in this notoriously chill Californian beach town, but the San Diego vibe is still there, from the friendliness to the food. Just swap out the typical taco truck grub and canned beer for bougie tacos on a plate with a craft cocktail, and there you have it.
Establishment hours vary
San Diego Zoo
2920 Zoo Dr.; (619) 231-1515; zoo.sandiegozoo.org; open daily 9am-6pm, check website for hours up to three months in advance
With over 650 species at the San Diego Zoo, you’ll really have the lion’s share of creatures to see here. It’s one of the most famous zoos in the world, and you will see why when you revel in the commanding yet endearing presence of the elephants, or laugh at the fact that flamingos are a thing. Learn about rhino conservation, resist the urge to bear hug the pandas, and experience the giraffes’ graceful gait. There’s lots of attractions beyond just looking at animal exhibits—take the aerial tram for a bird’s eye view from one end of the zoo to the other. Learn about a species at the Keeper Talks, or pet a pygmy goat at the Petting Paddock. There’s more to take in here than one could reasonably do in one visit, so don’t go on a wild goose chase trying to see everything.
Admission $54; guided bus tours throughout the day; wheelchair accessible
Graham left behind the stressed-out chaos of Cambridge for the laid back life on the West Coast. A refreshing change of pace, he assumed, until the line for coffee on his first morning took 2 mins longer than he’s used to, and the Northeast nasty jumped out. Starting in Vancouver, Graham meandered south, toning his calves being a pedestrian on San Francisco’s hills and by navigating the monstrosity that is Los Angeles using just his feet and public transit (only resorting to Uber twice!) Graham’s love for the West Coast life only increased as he sat by the Puget Sound in Seattle, sipped kombucha in the crunchy cafes of Portland, climbed into a waterfall in Yosemite and stayed in an abandoned opera house in Death Valley. By the time he hit upper 80s sun of San Diego, buff calves and sun tanned, the words “West Coast, Best Coast,” almost slipped out of his mouth. Identity crisis looming, he figured it was time to go home.