Grown-Up San Diego

the Hillcrest neighbourhood, part of my grown-up San Diego itinerary

Almost everyone knows about the kid and family-friendly side of San Diego, but what if you end up there for a conference? Is it worth adding a business trip bonus day to your itinerary? On a recent trip, I had about a day and a half of free time. I found enough grown-up San Diego diversions to conclude it was worth extending my stay.

Waterfront hot spots

Since my conference was at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, I started off exploring the area right out the back door on the day I arrived. Seaport Village is an outdoor shopping and restaurant complex. Some of the restaurants are mediocre tourist joints, but there are gems in the mix. Top of the Market (literally above the fish market) had fabulously fresh seafood and the Greek Island Cafe served up excellent souvlaki takeout to eat on the patio. We had a filling and tasty brunch with a view at Buster’s Beach House.

I also found lots of unique boutiques selling beachy and crafty items. Buskers roamed and artists sold their creations from small tables. I loved the expansive views along the seafront. Overall the area was a pleasant place to stroll, browse, snack and people watch.

Crossing the Bay

The dramatic and impossibly soaring bridge stretching across the bay to the south is called the Coronado Bay Bridge. It connects San Diego to Coronado Island, and the act of crossing it can be a thrill. I felt it as I took a cab across, speeding along over the 2-mile-long span with the window rolled down. Wheeeee!

Sea bird and sand castle on the beach

I walked through the elegant lobby of the historic Victorian Hotel Del Coronado to the tiered sun decks at the back of the property. I took a set of wooden stairs down to a broad beach with fine golden sand. On my short oceanfront walk, I stumbled across the most elaborate sand castle I’ve ever seen. The artist was nowhere in sight. Onlookers told me he’d created it as a surprise for his wife for their anniversary. He was on his way to bring her to the beach for the big reveal.

For a different experience on my return trip to the city, I caught the Coronado Ferry. The ferry stop was on the other side of the island, a 10-minute cab ride from the hotel. The boat was a refreshing way to travel, with welcome cooling breezes and views of the city skyline.

The ferry’s landing point was The Embarcadero, another waterfront shopping complex. If you’re interested in ships and/or the military, the USS Midway and its museum is also there.

Coronado Bay Bridget over the water and San Diego coastline viewed from the Bay

Lunch & shopping

My next chunk of free time was an afternoon and evening at the end of my conference, and a friend had joined me to see some of the sights. We wanted to do some shopping, so we made our way to the funky neighbourhood of Hillcrest, centered around University Avenue.

After some delicious fish tacos at Oscar’s Mexican Seafood, we had fun poking around the eclectic boutiques. Mint had stylish fashion sneakers and Babette Schwartz offered an abundant selection of kitchsy gift and souvenir items. The Village Hat Shop was a festival of head gear of all kinds for both men and women.

view of the ocean from hotel rooftop bar

Drinks, dinner, more drinks

Since  it was getting close to sunset, we made a beeline back to the hotel. I had read that the rooftop bar at the Hyatt was a great place to watch the sun go down, so we zipped up the elevator to the sleek, modern space. The sunset was indeed beautiful, but it was incredibly short-lived and the drinks were overpriced. I’m not sure it was completely worth it for the fleeting colourful sky scenes alone, but people watching among the well-heeled crowd certainly added to the entertainment.

Cocktails drained, we walked over to the Gaslamp Quarter for our dinner reservations at Searsucker Restaurant. The historic quarter was hopping, with people everywhere strolling between dozens of bars and restaurants. We were more than happy with our dining choice, enjoying fresh fish dishes and a tasty giant crab cake appetizer. The place was loud, and it had one of those really happening bars off to the side, with beautiful people galore sipping on Prosecco and martinis.

Rather than shell out for more overpriced booze, we headed out to the street in search of a cheaper nightcap. We found a spot blaring 80’s music with no lineup and dove right in. I can’t actually remember the name of the place; it was just one of many, many nightspots in the neighbourhood. Who knew San Diego was such a hot spot of evening entertainments?!

For next time

I could have filled another day easily. If I ever find myself back in San Diego, these items will be in the plan:

  • Balboa Park, including at least one of its museums – this alone could fill a day or more
  • La Jolla – a beachfront neighbourhood to the north
  • Mission Bay for some beach time and/or kayaking
  • Considering a car rental. The LRT wasn’t as comprehensive as expected, so with the number of cabs we ended up taking, a car rental would have made sense.

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