Let’s say you want to experience a city by the seat of your pants, which entails seeing as much as you can, in as little time as possible, you’re going to need a game plan. Whirlwind trips are not for wanderers. Or slow-moving people for that matter. The trick to making this a success, is by spending as little time traveling as possible. San Diego, albeit a beautiful destination, is rarely on the way to something else. It is not a drive through area, because it is at the very end of the country. But since it is a huge navy town, we do get a lot of sailors who are in town for any length of time, and since this fun idea came to me recently, I decided to see what you could do in a single day.
9 a.m. Arrive. Step one is always arriving on time, and early. If you are coming from the east, you will definitely have the clock on your side.
Café 1134 in Coronado is the perfect place to start your day. Their patio seating with a well-made latte is going to be a refreshing wake-up to start your adventure.
Head to the Hotel Del, it is only a couple blocks south of Cafe 1134, so you wont have to re-park. Walk through the Del, enjoy the ambiance and architecture, and make your way to the beach. Coronado beach is big, beautiful, and famous. There’s a reason the Travel Channel voted it #1 beach in the country.
11 a.m. Time for brunch! Head to Coronado ferry landing for a light brunch at Bay Beach Cafe, or grab a lighter fair and bring it with you onto the Ferry. Take the Ferry to downtown San Diego, and take a moment to enjoy the view. If the Ferry is out of commission take the 901 Bus to Downtown.
Noon Arriving in downtown can be really overwhelming, tons of shopping and restaurants everywhere! If you are starving, now would be a great time to eat. If you would rather wait to eat, hop the 7 Bus up to Balboa Park.
2 p.m. Hopefully you didn’t arrive too late to enjoy the museums. Since you only have a single day here, I highly recommend choosing one. The Japanese Friendship Garden, Museum of Man, or Reuben H. Fleet Science Center are some of my favorite. Not to mention walking the length of Balboa Park is practically a museum onto itself. If you haven’t eaten, you might consider venturing into the El Prado restaurant, or for a light snack, look for the soft-serve ice cream next to the Casa Del Prado theatre.
5 p.m. Venturing on foot out of the park can be tricky, so don’t be afraid to stop at the visitor’s bureau. Head across the Laurel Street Bridge or in the opposite direction to the Cactus Garden, and take the bus up towards Hillcrest (away from Downtown). Hillcrest is a fun and vibrant area of San Diego, it is also gay friendly. Stop in at City Deli for an amazing sandwich at 535 University Ave.
7 p.m. Nighttime Zoo! Back at Balboa Park, you can find the world-famous San Diego Zoo. During the summer it has later hours of operation, which is prefect for the weary traveler. There is certainly a lot to see at the zoo, but if you are fast-a-foot you’ll be able to see most of it efficiently.
9 p.m. 12 hours are up! Still alive? Here are two ways to end the night. Either head back down to Downtown. If you have a car, and would prefer a quieter evening, drive up to La Jolla.
Downtown plan: Like any good city there’s plenty to do at night. And if you are young, excitable, and have nothing better to do with your life, go out and party! You will find almost every option a good one. I recommend avoiding places you’ve heard of (like Hard Rock) and places that are just strange. Otherwise, you’re good to go. The Old Spaghetti Factory is a great staple, if you are afraid to venture out. Dick’s Last Resort is fun-filled, though not for vegetarians. And new hotspots have opened up like Stingaree. Your best bet is to stay within ten blocks of the ballpark.
La Jolla plan: It is possible to get here via bus, but likely a car is better. Take the La Jolla Village Drive exit off the 5 and head to water! There will be lots of shops and restaurants, and breathtaking views of cliff side ocean. If this is summertime, you may have some light left, but otherwise you’ll notice the street lights do a nice job of illuminating where the modern world meets the ocean. This is certainly a more mature and relaxed evening. Definitely date material. But don’t worry, I wont call you old if you decide on this option.
2 a.m. Still awake? While it’s certainly past the whirlwind curfew, you can return to the safe haven of Coronado island. Either go to the Little Club or Night and Day Cafe. The only two places in town open past all night long. Certainly less alarming than staying in Downtown til all hours of the night, and not a shabby way to wind down.