While many spots seem like typical tourist destinations to anyone familiar with San Diego, add a local’s perspective and you’ll find another side to the looking glass - and discover why natives love it so much.
1. Balboa Park: Though the Balboa Park remains San Diego’s biggest tourist destination, it is very possible to enjoy the area without looking like a tourist. Home to the famous San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park’s rolling hills are also filled with museums, the Spreckels Organ Pavilionand the Globe Theater. If you want to save money, enjoy the simplicity of its luscious gardens, breathtaking architecture and people watch your way through a picnic in the park. Lawn areas are often filled with small parties, wedding receptions and more, making for a scrumptious and educational meal. Another pointer: if you make it on a Tuesday, take advantage of the free, rotating museum schedule.
2. Just a skip, hop and a jump across the water is Coronado, the city’s “island” that houses local boutiques, the Hotel Del and most importantly, the Navy base. Driving onto the island provides a quick view of the vast Navy vessels, while trekking through Coronado by foot or bike offers a more personal view. Colonial houses fill every neighborhood in this small section of San Diego. Following a walk through the Hotel Del, enjoy a quick cup of joe courtesy of Café 1134, where the locals embrace the tourists with friendly chatter.
3. Northpark is one of the region’s hidden gems; a renaissance area, this retro, southern city is now abuzz with activity thanks to off-the-wall boutiques, restaurants and bars (like the Beauty Bar, featuring salon style hair dryers), many of whom focus on the local. At night, bars lining every corner of 30th are filled with college students and professionals alike; stop at the Sea Rocket Bistro, where their family style dining offers “dinner and a movie” with projectors set up to view a film following dinner orders.
4. At the center of most visitors’ San Diego holiday is the Gaslamp district. Take advantage of validated parking at Horton Plaza and the small mall’s unique architecture, but venture out into the area’s landmark attractions - restaurants and chain boutiques line the alphabetical map. Venture into East Village for the San Diego staple, Pokez Mexican Restaurant and Vegetarian Cuisine, where locals chomp down on traditional Mexican fare with a tofu twist.
5. La Jolla Children’s Pool - Renamed “seal beach” by locals, the children’s pool still houses some of the area’s largest seal populations. Walk along the La Jolla landmark where at all hours of the day these barking beasts play music to unsuspecting passersby. Just a few short jaunts ahead is Windansea, the local surfing hot spot where everyone but experts gets pushed onto the rocky shores.