1. Where to Stay
The modern and ecoconscious Kimpton-owned Hotel Solamar (from $249) is located near the Gaslamp Quarter and its accompanying nightlife. Spend a tranquil day getting a mud facial and perfecting the downward dog before going up to the fourth-floor roof deck for drinks at J6Bar.
Amenities are sparse at La Pensione (from $79.99), but that’s why its rooms are cheap. Still, expect quality — the rooms are unpretentious but comfortable, and many look out on a sweet tiled courtyard below or have a view of the San Diego Bay. The hotel’s Little Italy location gives you several bakery options for breakfast and easy access to downtown, the marina, Balboa Park’s green spaces and museums, as well as the airport.
Preeminent local architect Graham Downes designed the neo-modernist glass façade of Tower 23 Hotel (from $209) and named it after the lifeguard stand outside. The in-house restaurant JRDN serves fancy surf and turf — both traditional (the lobster club sandwich) and creative (their signature dish, a tataki beef–wrapped lobster roll with avocado and black Japanese caviar, is divine).
The Surfer Beach Hotel (from $129) gives you someplace clean and welcoming to sleep when you’re not on your board, but little else. Go because it’s right on the sand — you’re a quick paddle from some of the best waves in the country.
Take the ferry or the San Diego-Coronado Bridge out to the island-cum-peninsula on which the Hotel Del Coronado rests (from $300). A Victorian classic, the hotel was the backdrop to Some Like It Hot. You’ll pay more for a room with an ocean view.
2. Where to Eat
The mahimahi tacos at Pokéz are authentic and addictive, despite the sketchy service.
Get your meat the way you like it by cooking it yourself at Gaslamp Strip Club. Before you sidle up to the communal grill, pick out a bottle of wine from the self-service cellar.
Hodad’s (5010 Newport Ave.; 619-224-4623) has served burgers and shakes ($8 to $10) to the hippie community of Ocean Beach since 1969. The bacon cheeseburger is deliciously messy, and the shakes, made from real ice cream, easily serve four people.
Woo a date at Bertrand at Mister A’s, where you’ll gorge on lobster and beef tenderloin ($35 to $39) and view downtown through floor-to-ceiling windows. The wine list is impeccable; take a glass out to the balcony that wraps three sides of the building.
3. What to Do
Learn to surf at the San Diego Surfing Academy at South Carlsbad State Beach. Group, semi-private, and private lessons are available for children and adults. Owner Pat Weber can teach you to get up in about an hour. If you’re on your own, rent a longboard from Star Surfing Company ($5 for an hour or $20 for 24 hours), a small shop with more soul than local chains like Sun Diego. Swap saltwater for beer at Pacific Beach’s Beachcomber Bar (858-488-2644) — Friday has 75-cent pints from 8 to 10 p.m. — before meandering down the sand to Canes Bar & Grill, a popular music venue that showcases both famous and local indie-rock, hip-hop, and cover bands.
4. Insider’s Tip
Sunset Cliffs and Black’s Beach are for veteran shredders. Though the practice is officially frowned upon, some immodest souls still try to sunbathe in the nude on the north end of Black’s. That’s if they can get to it — high cliffs and old staircases keep most people away. Learn to stand up on your board at first-timer-friendly La Jolla Shores.
5. An Oddball Day
You and a friend can dogfight in a pair of Varga VG-21 airplanes out of Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, about an hour away from San Diego. An Incredible Adventures pilot sits next to you, but you do much of the flying. The prop planes won’t make you feel like you’re in Top Gun, but for $596 for the two of you, it’s close enough.
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