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Offering more than just surf and sand, San Diego is one of the nation’s most biodiverse areas, with mountains, deserts, lakes and bays all within county lines — and, yes, more than 70 miles of beautiful beaches. Perhaps that’s why San Diego, the county seat, is known as America’s Finest City. Locals and visitors alike enjoy the finer things in life: adventure, connection, wonder and joy, all woven organically into the city’s fabric. Everything seems more accessible here, and not just the outdoors. Dine at Michelin-awarded restaurants without waiting months for a reservation; enjoy free, green public transportation; and reconnect with the simple pleasures that come from truly easy living.
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When to visit San Diego
San Diego is mild and temperate year-round, but the summer months are high season, when tourism and prices spike. Aim for travel in September and October to capture picture-perfect weather without the crowds and heightened costs. Alternatively, late winter (January and February) is sunny and serene, with daytime temps in the 50s and 60s.
How to prepare for your trip
Depending on the length of your visit, root yourself in one hotel, then take day trips to different neighborhoods and areas. But check with restaurants first — many are closed on Mondays. San Diego is generally fairly casual, and many stroll the sidewalks and sit for dinner in the same flip-flops they wore to the beach, regardless of the season. Overall, wear what makes you comfortable.
How to get to San Diego
Fly into San Diego International Airport (SAN), and use the trolley system to get around downtown or the Coaster commuter train for trips to coastal communities to the north. The usual ride-hailing services (Uber and Lyft) are available throughout the county, though a one-day Old Town Trolley Tour pass ($46.55) grants unlimited rides between 11 popular spots across the greater downtown area, as well as entrance to 10 museums. In the downtown area (Little Italy down to Seaport Village and across to East Village and up to Cortez Hill, bordering Balboa Park), there’s also the free, totally electric Fred shuttle, which offers on-demand rides, much like Uber and Lyft, but for the price of a tip. Most communities have a rental shop for e-bikes, or electric bikes, that give you an extra push — a popular, exciting option for getting around that alleviates the strain of pedaling uphill.
Where to stay
Inn at the Park
This moderately priced property is a short drive from the airport yet within walking distance of Balboa Park and its suite of amenities (museums, the Old Globe Theatre, restaurants). Inn at the Park offers creature comforts throughout its suites — complete with kitchenettes — at very low cost, given the prime location. The downside? There’s a surcharge for Wi-Fi, and parking can be scant unless you opt for the $20/day valet.
Harborview Inn & Suites
What the affordable Harborview lacks in style (the furnishings are simple and somewhat outdated) it makes up for in price and location. Just two blocks from the food hub of Little Italy, and within walking distance of the Embarcadero and waterfront, the location can’t be beat. Plus, there’s complimentary, though limited, on-site parking. Accessible rooms are available on the ground floor.
La Jolla Shores Hotel
Perched on one of San Diego’s premier beaches, La Jolla Shores Hotel offers guests direct access to a wide, flat beach and mellow, shallow waters that are perfect for exploring at leisure. Just ask the beach concierge to set you up with a complimentary umbrella, towel and chair. If the water temperature doesn’t suit you, head to the outdoor heated pool.
The Seabird Resort
Wake up to the sound of crashing waves when you stay at The Seabird, Oceanside’s pet-friendly coastal luxury resort. The rooms are light and airy, featuring works curated by the Oceanside Museum of Art, while commissioned works from local artists add character to common spaces. There’s also an outdoor pool with lounge seating and a hot tub if the Pacific Ocean, just across the street, is simply too far away. At ground level, nestled into The Seabird’s sister property, is what’s affectionately known as the Top Gun House, an 1888 Victorian home featured in the original Top Gun film as the home of Tom Cruise’s love interest, Charlie. After being all but abandoned for decades, the house was masterfully restored, carefully moved and reopened as a pie shop.