The Essential Itinerary: San Diego, California

Your three-day cultural tour of ‘America’s Finest City’

  • Aug 16, 2019
  • 759 words
  • 4 minutes
The shoreline in La Jolla, an upscale beachfront village in San Diego, Calif. (Photo: George's At The Cove)
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From the pristine beachfront community of La Jolla to the Mexican heritage of Old Town, San Diego is both vibrant urban centre and calm coastline escape. Here’s an essential itinerary for a cultural journey through America’s finest city, which celebrates the 250th anniversary of its founding this year.

Day 1

The sun sets over the ocean terrace at George's at the Cove in La Jolla. (Photo: George's At The Cove)
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Soak up the sun | 1 p.m. 

Enjoy a leisurely first day in La Jolla, a village just north of San Diego best known for sweeping ocean views and one-of-a-kind restaurants and boutiques. Frolic on the white sand beaches at La Jolla Shores park or play a round at the 36-hole Torrey Pines Golf Course overlooking the Pacific. 

Sunset supper | 6 p.m.

Watch the sunset while sampling modern California cuisine on the ocean terrace at George’s at the Cove, voted one of the top restaurants in the world by Fodor’s Travel Guide. Dig into tart scallop ceviche and local yellowtail served with summer squash, Romano beans and saffron-marinated tomatoes, and wash it all down with a Baja bramble cocktail, featuring fresh berries doused in chocolate chili bitters and Espolon blanco tequila. 

Catch a show | 8 p.m. 

Finish off your day at the La Jolla Playhouse, a 10-minute drive north of George’s. Watch a Tony Award-winning performance or catch a local show in one of the playhouse’s four theatres, where many Broadway sensations have debuted before finding their way to New York City — including the Canadian play Come From Away

Day 2

Flamenco dancers at San Diego's Liberty Station Arts District. (Photo: Andrew Waltz/Liberty Station)
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Breakfast in the arts district | 10 a.m.

Set in a former naval training centre, the Liberty Station Arts District in west San Diego, 15 minutes from downtown, has transformed old barracks into an artistic haven for theatre groups, dance companies, museums, galleries and artists’ studio spaces. Stop by Breakfast Republic for the crab and clawfish cake eggs Benedict before exploring the museums and studios. 

Balboa Park | 1 p.m. 

At nearly five square kilometres, Balboa Park dominates central San Diego, earning it the distinction of America’s largest urban cultural park. Built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, Balboa Park is a dizzying mix of preserved Spanish Colonial-style buildings, 17 museums, the San Diego Zoo, performing arts spaces, botanical gardens and recreation trails. 

Slow food | 7:30 p.m. 

Under the direction of Top Chef Brian Malarkey, Herb & Wood, in San Diego’s food-centric Little Italy, delivers a Californian take on Mediterranean small plates. Order a few dishes for the table and take your time nibbling on wood-fired chorizo and taleggio pizza, roasted branzino (European sea bass) and summer squash with tahini and Middle Eastern spices while sipping house-made craft cocktails such as the mezcal & flowers with aloe liqueur. 

Day 3

The Junípero Serra Museum in Presidio Park. (Photo: Courtesy
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Morning hike | 10 a.m.

Seize the day in San Diego’s historic Old Town neighbourhood with an easy hike up the Old Presidio Historic Trail in Presidio Park, where California’s first mission and the first permanent European settlement was founded in 1769. Learn about the settlement’s history at the Junípero Serra Museum at the top of the hill, which is launching a new exhibition in September 2019 to celebrate the city’s 250th anniversary. 

San Diego’s roots | 2 p.m.

Continue your exploration of the city’s roots at the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, showcasing the city’s first downtown district from 1821-1872, at the base of Presidio Hill. Visitors can walk through preserved adobe buildings in the reconstructed village that highlights San Diego’s Mexican and early American history.

Oaxacan feast | 8 p.m. 

Cap off your tour of Old Town with a taste of San Diego’s Mexican heritage at Tahona, a candle-lit restaurant and mezcal bar serving Oaxacan-inspired fare. Order the flavourful and complex mole, slow cooked and aged to bring out the flavours of chocolate, chili and other spices. Then, pair fish, spicy shrimp or squash blossom tacos with a flight of mezcal, an agave-based spirit, for a true Oaxacan experience. 

Where to Stay

The living room in one of the InterContinental San Diego's corner suites with floor-to-ceiling windows. (Photo: InterContinental San Diego)
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The 400-room InterContinental San Diego — one of the latest additions to the city’s waterfront — blends modern luxury and contemporary west-coast décor with floor-to-ceiling views of San Diego Bay. Head to the third floor for a snack and a nightcap at the Vistal Bar + Restaurant, where chefs Amy DiBiase and Paul McCabe fuse Baja flavours into international dishes like chili-orange blackened prawns and pork barbacoa flatbread. 


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