Balmy San Diego is the perfect escape hatch, particularly at this time of year when even the toniest hotels are offering deals.
TRAVEL ADVISORY| Admit it fellow workers: a monitor tan is not a real tan. Office coffee is no substitute for a pink drink with an umbrella in it. A promotion cannot take the place of a vacation—especially one in a place where the sun always shines, and we can play lighthearted tourist for at least a long weekend.
Perpetually balmy San Diego is the perfect decompression chamber. As California’s second-largest municipality, it offers a rare combination: the casual feeling and friendliness of a small city with big city attractions. Tops among them is Balboa Park, home of 17 museums and quite possibly the world’s finest zoo (their panda pictured above).
HERE’S WHAT TO DO
But man-made diversions are not the chief reason I find San Diego so interesting. For my money the most fun thing to do in these parts is to explore the local beach culture. San Diego County’s dozen-plus seaside communities from Coronado Island just west of downtown to Oceanside, 40 miles north on Interstate 5, define the tail end of Southern Cal’s grand coast.
It’s a common mistake to think of beach towns as generic, the same saltwater blur of surf shops, taco stands and scary beach art. In fact, around here, they all have distinct personalities. Just seven miles north from the heart of the city is Pacific Beach, the regions hippest beach community. “P.B.” has three miles of boardwalk and wide-open powdery-sand beach that overflows with vibrant humanity. The cool, the bad and the exotic all hang out here. P.B. also has a surfing-exclusive beach, Tourmaline Surfing Park. Unlike a lot of places to surf up and down the coastline, this one is not “territorial,” which means there are plenty of trim, suntanned surfer dudes around to teach anyone of any age (even you) how to pop up on a surfboard.
Seven miles north of P.B. is the village of La Jolla, with its cave riddled cliffs, and moneyed, ocean-view main streets. The La Jolla scene is less boisterous than Pacific Beach’s. You can sense it the instant you step onto the palm-lined promenade at Ellen Browning Scripts Park or stroll through any of the fashionable shops. A favourite with the Hollywood crowd since the 1930s, La Jolla has been glamorous for a long time. And so has the beach community of Coronado Island, where rambling old Hotel del Coronado (pictured above) is the one building everyone sees in their mind’s eye when they picture San Diego.
If you have the time, it’s worth expanding your itinerary to include three more stops: Carlsbad, home to Legoland; Del Mar, with it’s famous racetrack founded by Bing Crosby and Jimmy Durante; and Oceanside, with it crew-cut army recruits from nearby Camp Pendleton and its California Surf Museum.
HERE’S WHERE TO STAY
Tablethotels.com is one of my favourite websites for drooling over fantastic images of fabulous hotels, most of which I will never stay at. This week they featured the most stylish hotels in San Diego (like the Hotel Palomar pictured above) at tempting rates (CLICK HERE to see what they are offering). But before I jumped on these offers, I would still call the hotels directly to see whether or not I could negotiate an even lower rate (CLICK HERE for our story on how to do this). —C. Rule