The reasons for hitting up San Diego for a relaxing summer weekend are countless. For starters, from June through August, the weather peaks in the 70s with lows in the 50s on average. And whether you’re interested in outdoor activities, shopping, or great dining, it’s all readily accessible and set against a beautiful Southern California backdrop to boot. What’s more, if you don’t feel like flying or driving, Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner can you get there from anywhere between San Diego and San Luis Obispo.
Here, we’ve rounded up three of our favorite neighborhoods in the city with affordable options for what to do and where to eat. Depending on how much time you have and how ambitious you are, feel free to pick and choose — or add them all to your itinerary this season.
Gaslamp & Middletown
Just a few miles from the airport, Gaslamp — the city’s epicenter for dining, bars, and nightlife — is a convenient base for a weekend trip. From there, the San Diego Zoo, Ocean Beach, and Point Loma are all a quick drive. Take in beautiful views at Sunset Cliffs, fish at Osprey Point, and surf at Sunset Cliffs Park — or go tidepooling, snorkeling, and scuba diving. (For rentals, try Fox Rent a Car by the airport.)
To fuel up for all the active fun, start the day with a hearty and affordable breakfast at SoCal chain The Broken Yolk Cafe. The large selection and down home feel is highly popular, so arrive early to avoid the crowds. If you want to splurge on one special vacation meal, make reservations at the just-opened Juniper & Ivy, where Top Chef‘s Richard Blaise delivers on the foodie hype with creative flavor combinations like Berkshire pork and summer squash. Alternatively, Eddie V’s specializes in seafood and steaks in both the restaurant and its V Lounge, where patrons can also enjoy live music. The chef’s selection includes parmesan crusted lemon sole, filet mignon, and Pacific ahi tuna tartare.
Mission Bay & Mission Beach
Just a few miles north of Gaslamp is Mission Bay and Mission Beach, where delights of the sand and sea await. Walk along the strand, take a dip, and test your surfing skills at one of the beachfront wave machines. You won’t run out of dining options along Mission Boulevard and Garnet Avenue, either. Our top picks include affordable and healthy Latino American eats at The Mission and fresh Japanese fare at Sushi Ota. (Don’t let the strip mall location of the latter establishment fool you; reservations are a must at this very crowded spot.)
La Jolla & Del Mar
Even further north, La Jolla and Del Mar are coastal towns that offer a taste of upscale, idyllic life. Because hotels are more sparse and expensive in the area, we recommend staying in Mission Bay and making the 15- to 20-minute drive for a day trip. You can simply spend your time meandering the main boulevards’ boutique shops and art galleries, then settle into a café to relax and people watch — Bird Rock Coffee Roasters is a local favorite, serving up award-winning beans from farms around the world with a special brewing process.
Beyond the main streets, the Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography adds an educational but fun element to the vacation with a mix of marine life and informational exhibits. For a more lively outing, Torrey Pines State Reserve is home to scenic hiking trails with fantastic ocean views along the cliffs, and horse races at the Del Mar Race Track kick off July 17 for the summer season. To end the trip on a memorable note, The Belly Up in nearby Solana Beach hosts local live music and great vibes.
For eats, La Jolla fixture Don Bravo Grill cooks up tasty Mexican cuisine in a casual setting. The fish and calamari tacos come highly recommended for an affordable lunch. Later in the day, Enoteca Del Fornaio wine bar provides another great sunset vantage point with ocean views, while the family-run restaurant Zel’s boasts continental cuisine, happy hour specials, and, on weekends, live music.