The #1 Thing to do in San Diego…is a Bunch of Things

10 Feb
2012
Posted in: California
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When you have an out-of-town visitor, what’s the number one thing you want to show them in your city/town? When I can manage to remember, I’m planning to ask random people this question and hopefully discover the people’s guide to the best things to do in a city. 

I’m brushing my hair in the bathroom at Dos Picos County Park, chatting with a woman, Patricia, who is on her annual California trip, spending a few months visiting family and friends. She grew up in southern California, loves it, but can’t stand to live here — she tried — there’s just too much traffic and stress. When she retired, she and her boyfriend traveled the west, looking for a place to settle. They finally decided on a small Oregon town an hour from the beach — as far as they can stand to be from the ocean. They almost settled in Utah, but finally decided against it: “We just couldn’t be from Utah.” I love Utah, but I totally understand the sentiment.

I remember to ask Patricia what we should do in San Diego. Her eyes light up and she says, “Balboa Park! You can’t miss that. You should also explore La Jolla and the Sunset Cliffs.”

I also ask a few friends for recommendations. Balboa Park comes up again from Denise, who grew up in San Diego but now lives in Minnesota. She also suggests Sea World, but I don’t think I can do it, and not just because of PETA. Mostly because of the screaming kids. I have kid-phobia (unless they’re relatives, of course!). One of Denise’s friends also suggests the Gaslamp Quarter, an area near downtown with lots of bars, shops, and restaurants.

Ellen, who recently moved from the San Diego area to LA (but grew up in Wisconsin — the typical direction of migration), says, “My initial response was Torrey Pines State Park. Then I thought, hmm, or maybe the harbor. I think I’m sticking with TPSP, though. There’s a trail there you can start from a point on the beach. You walk down the beach and then climb up into the bluffs (this sounds more intense than it is) and then walk/hike back along the top of the bluffs. It’s one of the first things I did in San Diego that made me say to myself, ‘I think I can live here.’ I did see dolphins and a pod of whales from the bluff that day, but it’s a pretty awesome trail even without all of that.”

And the beach. The beach was an unanimous suggestion.

We visited all these places and more and definitely agreed with the recommendations — we’ll share some stories and pics over the next few days. I’d add one more required stop, though: make the trip out to Point Loma and Cabrillo National Monument. This is the location where the first European (Cabrillo, naturally) set foot on the west coast of the US. There are tidepools, an old lighthouse, and incredible views of San Diego, Tijuana, and the ocean. You can typically see whales off the coast at this time of year, but they hadn’t been making any appearances for the last few days. On the way out to the park, you can drive along the Sunset Cliffs and see some fearless surfers and more gorgeous views.

That’s the best part about exploration — it’s good to get tips to make sure you’re not missing anything big, but it’s amazing to find things on your own, too.

Sunset cliffs, looking north.

Sunset cliffs, looking north.

Sunset cliffs, looking south.

Sunset cliffs, looking south.

From Cabrillo National Monument -- that's Tijuana in the background.

From Cabrillo National Monument -- that's the city of Tijuana in the background.

Pretty sweet spot for a lunch date.

Pretty sweet spot for a lunch date.

Some tidepool creatures.

Some tidepool creatures.

The tidepool area.

The tidepool area.

We loved seeing the coast in its natural state.

We loved seeing the coast in its natural state.

Possibly the best men's room in the world -- the old lighthouse assistant's cottage.

Possibly the best men's room in the world -- the old lighthouse assistant's cottage.

The old lighthouse.

The old lighthouse. Paul: "What can we do to live the lighthouse lifestyle today?"