Sizzling Surprises and Oneophile Delights: A Foodie's Guide to San Diego
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A table at the San Diego Food and Wine Festival


Why Go

There are the places that wow travelers, and then there are those that lull them into bliss. San Diego is one of the latter, mostly thanks to its stunning climate. No matter the month that travelers find themselves visiting, it's possible to pick up some gourmet treats from a farmer's market and go have a picnic--or even to go swim in the ocean. The same cannot be said for many other places in the state, let alone the country. And all of this sun and fun means contented residents and an overall upbeat energy to what has become a quickly-thriving city. 

In addition to all of the sun-worshipping, biking, hiking, surfing, exploring Balboa Park, and golfing, San Diego offers travelers the chance to take in its ever-expanding cultural offerings. Like so many other major California cities, San Diego boasts a delightful food scene, one that includes bustling cafes, low-key pizzerias packed with college kids, and stunning locales with celebrity chefs. And the best part is so many green spaces around the city makes working off calories obtained while in town that much easier. 


Bustling downtown San Diego


Insider Tips

  • Those who want to see all the sights might consider a Go San Diego Card, which gives discounted access to many attractions in the city, including the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld San Diego, Legoland California, and the USS Midway Museum.
  • As with the rest of California, San Diego is largely a car town. Those who do not plan on renting a car can take advantage of San Diego's extensive public transportation. You can choose between a bus or a trolley, or even opt for renting a bicycle, meaning less time spent looking for parking. 
  • If you are flying into the city and planning to rent a car, making reservations online can save a lot of time and stress in the airport, especially considering the fact that there are often so many conventions in town, which can mean cars are unavailable.
  • While the city's temperate climate makes it a nice place to go no matter the time of year, there's something particularly nice about San Diego in spring and summer, where there are many special events and things to do and to see around the city.
  • If you plan to spend a lot of time outside while in town, do not forget to bring sunscreen lotion. 
  • If you have time and want to escape from town, you can make a quick trip to Tijuana, Mexico. Those who didn't rent cars can check with the public transportation options that will take them to the border. 
  • If you are visiting the city with your family, do not skip such fun attractions as SeaWorld, Legoland California, the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park.
  • There are many food-related festivals held in the city. Don’t miss the Asian Cultural Festival of San Diego, the San Diego Festival of Beer, or the Great Stomp and Harvest Festival.
  • For people with a sweet tooth, the Chocolate Festival is the must-attend event in town. Here, one can satisfy a hunger for chocolate with a wide range of sweets and desserts like toffee, chocolate dipped strawberries, handmade truffles, cupcakes, cheesecakes on a stick, or even orchids covered in chocolate. You can learn how to make a certain dessert by yourself, or you can simply enjoy the chocolate fountain.
  • If you are a party person looking for a vibrant part of town for some drinks or clubbing, be sure to visit the Gaslamp Quarter. Here, there is a large concentration of venues designed to attract students, locals, and out-of-towners alike.
  • For some truly stunning nature, getting away to Torrey Pines State Reserve, just a short drive north of the city, means some of those incredible bluff views that people dream of experiencing in person.


Great views at Torrey Pines State Reserve, San Diego


Where to Stay

For stunning 5-star elegance, the Grand del Mar is always an excellent choice. Tucked into a tranquil and picturesque canyon preserve, rooms here sometimes feel as though they are eons away from the bustle of city life in more bustling parts of San Diego. With gourmet dining options just steps from one's perfectly-decorated and contemporary yet regal room, it's also a nice choice for foodies who are counting on a reliably delicious on-site restaurant wherever they happen to stay. 


The presidential suite at the Gran del Mar, San Diego


A beach resort since 1888, Hotel Del Coronado is definitely a presence all of its own. With a snow-white building and rich and elaborate interior woodwork, it's quite a striking place to call home temporarily. The light from the crystal chandeliers makes it look like you just entered a castle, while lush bouquets of flowers add a sense of coziness. With guest rooms and suites to choose from, there is something for everyone, though travelers should try their best to book a room or suite with views of the Pacific Ocean. Foodies heading to San Diego as a family will find the hotel's options quite appealing, too. Children will have the time of their lives at the on-site Kidtopia Camp and Crafts or Vibz Teen Lounge, and everyone can go to the beach to swim, play volleyball, surf, jet ski, or water ski. 


The famous Hotel Del Coronado, San Diego


Travelers who want to save much of their budget for dining out can still enjoy a lovely setting. An excellent 3-star option, The Pearl boasts exciting decor, chic touches like chess sets and funky lamps, and a fabulous swimming pool. It's like taking a step back in time to the 1950s, only in the best decorated way possible. It's definitely the hotel of choice for stylish hipsters of all ages. 


A room at The Pearl, San Diego


Where to Eat

Sushi at Nobu, San DiegoSome of the most popular spots in San Diego come with the celebrity names, and the city's most famous spot is no exception.  Co-owned by Robert de Niro, Nobu implements style and elegance. From the moment you step inside, you find yourself surrounded by simple yet exquisite touches. The interior is very polished with extremely elegant and sophisticated décor. The food served here represents the best of Japanese cuisine. The dish you order impresses you from first sight, and this masterpiece on a plate tastes as good as it looks. The best chefs create such dishes as Oysters with Nobu Sauce, Ceviche Nobu Style, and Lobster Salad with Spicy Lemon Dressing. This restaurant is a mecca for seafood connoisseurs, with a menu that consists of dishes made with yellowtail, salmon, Tasmanian trout, whitefish, squid, octopus, king crab and many others. If you are not a seafood eater, you will find many other dishes to satisfy your cravings. You can order organic chicken or beef tenderloin, duck breast, or Colorado Lamb. Don’t forget to check out their dessert list which includes such succulent items as Bento Box, coconut rice pudding and many others.

Another great and popular San Diego restaurant is actually located right at the Hotel Del Coronado. Called 1500 Ocean, this award-winning restaurant comes with a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean. The design of the restaurant is very clean, light and fresh, and the food prepared by some of the best chefs and makes you forget about everything and enjoy every bite. The food is accompanied by a great selection of wines that bring out the best flavors in the dishes. The extensive offerings for mains means it's really difficult to make a choice between the homemade pasta and risotto, Alaskan Halibut and Diver Scallops, Lobster Stuffed Young Chicken, and California Natural Angus New York Steak. Those who aren't sure how to narrow things down can take advantage of the restaurant's tasting menu, which lets you pick four dishes.  


The atmosphere at 1500 Ocean, San Diego


Sometimes on a trip, you don't have time to dress up or to make a reservation; all you want is to have a good slice of pizza at a decent price. You are willing to sacrifice atmosphere and decent silverware for a taste of mouthwatering pie. Places like Bronx Pizza and Pizzeria Luigi have what you need: hand-tossed pizzas with fresh ingredients made with love. Bronx Pizza offers a number of pizzas that are all 18” pies.  Besides New York style pizza, they serve delicious calzones. The menu at Pizzeria Luigi features pizzas with such names as Mona Lisa, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raffaello. If you are vegan, you will have no problems satisfying your hunger for good pizza here, either. Their pizzas are real food with fresh ingredients, savory taste and a little bit of grease. The Luigi pizza is so incredibly good that your whole attention is paid and all your senses are directed to the pie and such things as paper plates and plastic silverware don’t bother you at all. 


A pie at Pizzeria Luigi, San Diego

With its convenient location right on the border, San Diego features hundreds of places that serve various types of Mexican cuisine. A reliable bet is Ponce’s , with its generous portions, delicious beans, and savory spices. For those who enjoy down-home and unpretentious Mexican restaurants, there are so many to choose from, that it would definitely be possible to just eat Mexican food one's whole trip! One spot that's very popular with locals and tourists alike is Café Coyote, which puts a bit more of a Tex-Mex spin on things. You won’t find too many high-end Mexican restaurants, but you will definitely find good, simple, and tasty food served all over the city. 

For affordable and incredible Mexican food, the best hole-in-the-wall in town is El Indio. This place doesn’t come with elegant atmosphere, it is not decorated with antique furniture, and you have no waiters. But foodies of all stripes come for the out-of-this-world enchiladas and chimichangas. In fact, people stand in long lines to taste their tamales and tacos. Their fresh homemade tortilla chips with either red or green salsa serve as a great appetizer, and you'll likely be experiencing cravings for the rest of your trip. 


The sought-after taco enchilada at El Indio, San Diego


What to See and to Do

San Diego is a paradise for tourists, as there are a lot of things going on all the time. If you are tired of lazy days on the beach, go to the museums, theaters, or theme parks. Families will also find a plethora of options for children of all ages. But no matter what the purpose of your trip to this city is, do yourself a favor and visit Balboa Park. It will truly change your view of the city. This park will make you long to come back, as it is the city’s heart and soul. You can walk for hours finding beauty in everything you glance at. It is a peaceful place even, when it is crowded. It's also home to some of San Diego's main attractions, including the world-famous San Diego Zoo. 


Green space at Balboa Park, San Diego


There are many museums located within the park that are worth exploring, too. Enjoy nature's wonders at the San Diego Natural History Museum, or focus on the creative and get a fix of paintings and sculpture at the San Diego Museum of Art. Shakespeare lovers can visit the park's Old Globe theater to see one of his plays on stage, and special concerts are always a possibility, so check the park's website to see what's scheduled for your visit. 

Of course, Balboa Park is also great for those who don't have a particular activity in mind. Take a walk along El Prado and enjoy the architecture of the buildings on both sides of the street. You will have the feeling you are walking on the streets of some old Spanish city, and it's quite a lovely way to spend an afternoon. Stop and spend some time around the park's Botanic Building and don’t forget to take pictures of the Lily Pond, which is very famous among visitors. There's enough to explore here that coming back to visit a couple of days during one's trip is recommended. 


El Prado Fountain, San Diego


A true culinary gem and foodie institution in San Diego is Little Italy Mercado. It is the place where you can find local farmers selling organic food, and the shopping at the market can’t be compared with your weekly routine at your grocery store. The market also boasts those essential Italian delicacy items that particular chefs go crazy for. For more Italian culture, be sure to plan one's travels during the Sicilian Festival held annually in San Diego. Besides learning about the ancient culture and traditions, enjoying Sicilian music and dancing, and shopping for some goodies, you will be able to taste Sicilian and Italian food and wine. You will have a chance to try delicious pasta dishes, pizzas, sandwiches, and desserts like tiramisu served by restaurants from Little Italy in San Diego.

As one of the most popular stops for locavores and foodies alike, Hillcrest Famers’ Market is a must-see spectacle. This place is all about food, fun, and good times. You can wander among the aisles filled with goodies like fresh fruit and vegetables, jams, fresh seafood, cheeses, and even flowers. The best part of visiting is, depending on who you ask, the live music or the free samples. It's the best place in town to get fruits and vegetables when they are in season.


Beautiful cherries at Hillside Farmers' Market, San Diego


One of the best culinary events in San Diego is The San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival. A more sophisticated and elaborate event for food gourmands, this festival also comes with a relaxing atmosphere and a lot of fun and excitement. This is the event that features the best food from the best chefs alongside the best wines from the finest area vineyards. If you are passionate about the food you eat and about your wine, you will be thrilled to find yourself tasting the newest creations from the top chefs of the city. There are also auctions and tasting classes held for those who are truly serious about gourmet culture.


Fabulous oysters at The San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival


If you want to spend an unforgettable time with someone very close to you while enjoying the view, fresh air, sea breeze and your food, make a reservation for one of the dining cruises offered by Hornblower CruisesNo matter which cruise you choose for yourself--the Nightly San Diego Dinner Cruise, Sunday Champaign Brunch Cruise, Full Moon Dinner Cruise or any other--you will be served with some freshly-made mouthwatering dishes. Their menu includes a filet mignon grilled with tender crimini mushrooms and cognac, roasted chicken breast which preserves the hint of its citrus marinade, fresh seasonal vegetables and decadent desserts like cheesecake, best strawberry parfait, chocolate fantasea or crème brulee with whipped cream.

Photo credit: Hotel Gran del Mar, The Pearl, Fast Forward Event Productions, silver marquis, The Hotel Coronado, El Indio, Vasenka, Pizzeria Luigi, Nan Palermo, beeron2003

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