Jared Whitlock is a freelance health reporter. His work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, WIRED and Voice of San Diego.
San Diego’s Calling
Take time away from the conference to discover the city’s hidden gems. Here are five ideas to get you started.
November 8, 2021
Your visit to San Diego couldn’t be better timed. San Diegans call fall “locals’ summer”: Crowds thin out, but the weather remains conducive to sandcastles and flip-flops. In the spirit of doing as the locals do, those attending the REALTORS® Conference & Expo can check out these hidden gems scattered across San Diego’s varied neighborhoods.
1. Ferry to Coronado Island
With its quaint main street, white-sand beaches, and seaside restaurants, Coronado Island unfolds at a more leisurely pace than downtown San Diego. Sabrina Covington, a managing broker with Covington & Associates, describes the area as “Disneyland for adults.”
While access is easy via the landmark San Diego–Coronado Bridge—to sound like a local, just say “the Coronado bridge”—Covington recommends getting to the area via a convenient, lesser-known means: The Coronado Ferry Landing (coronadoferrylanding.com, 619-435-8895). The ferry departs from downtown San Diego at Broadway Pier and travels to and from The Coronado Ferry Landing. Along the way, take in the sights of San Diego Bay.
For an up-close experience on the bay, rent a standup paddleboard at SUP Coronado (www.supcoronado.com, 619-888-7686). Experienced paddlers can opt for an ocean lesson.
Hop on a bike and pedal along a 5-mile loop of the island, starting at the ferry landing or downtown Coronado. Holland’s Bicycles rents bikes at both spots (hollandsbicycles.com, 619-435-7180).
While not a hidden spot, Hotel del Coronado—San Diego’s most iconic property—merits a stop. Opened in 1888, the hotel combines Victorian architecture, ocean views, and award-winning cuisine. Recently, the site underwent a $200 million upgrade and expansion (hoteldel.com, 619-435-6611).
2. The Mystical Appeal of Swami’s Beach
Up for venturing north? On the outskirts of downtown Encinitas, golden spires welcome visitors to Swami’s Self-Realization Fellowship, an oceanside hermitage built in 1937 (encinitastemple.org/visiting, 760-436-7220). The mysticism attracts more than monks.
The property’s meditation gardens, which are open to the public, offer expansive views of the Pacific Ocean. At Swami’s Beach below, surfers ride waves that peel along a point break—and beachgoers gander at marine life in rocky tide pools visible during low tide. Less-ambitious folks relax on the wide, sandy beach.
A mile south, snap a picture with the Cardiff Kook, a statue so named for the awkward pose the bronze surfer strikes. So, it’s no surprise that pranksters regularly adorn the figure in costumes, from Peter Pan to prom dresses. Once, the jaws of a paper mache shark encircled the Kook.
A stone’s throw east, grab a couple of fish tacos at Fish 101 Cardiff, where the menu centers on locally caught seafood (fish101restaurant.com, 760-230-1021). Then grab a blueberry buttermilk or chocolate old-fashioned doughnut at VG Donut & Bakery (vgbakery.com, 760-753-2400). Afterward, you’ll slip into a transcendental state.
3. Tacos, Suds, and Art in Barrio Logan
When it comes to eating and drinking, San Diego is known for two things: beer and tacos. Get both in Barrio Logan, a focal point for Mexican American culture, bordering downtown San Diego. At La Fachada, order carnitas street tacos—and rinse them down with aguas frescas, drinks made from fresh fruits (la-fachada.cafes-world.com, 619-236-8566).
Next, walk to Mujeres Brew House, a brewery entirely operated by women, which serves up a variety of beers, all delicious (mujeresbrewhouse.com, 619-213-4340). The brewery also runs Mujeres Brew Club, to teach folks—particularly women of color—the basics of craft beer.
After a beer or two, you might need a jolt. Mixed Grounds Coffee serves up tasty Vietnamese coffee (mixedgrounds.com, 619-782-9004). Earlier this year, the coffee shop reopened as an arts and community hub, joining Barrio Logan’s stellar art scene.
Keep walking and you’ll hit Bread and Salt, a former bread factory and now an art and music studio (breadandsaltsandiego.com, 619-851-4083). At Chicano Park, more than 70 murals adorn walls and concrete pillars.
4. Take a Hike
San Diego is teeming with hiking spots—hopefully, you packed more than dress shoes and flip-flops. Torrey Pines State Park, one of the more popular hikes, borders the ocean. A path ascends, descends, and winds along sheer cliffs, the landscape dotted with the U.S.’s rarest pine tree. You might even see a dolphin or two in the distance.
Maybe you’re seeking a less-traveled path. The Torrey Pines Gliderport, which offers tandem paragliding, also acts as the starting point for another hike (flytorrey.com, 858-452-9858). There, a trail descends to Black’s Beach, where the clothing-optional policy usually keeps the crowds away. That is, except for surfers smitten by the big waves, the result of swells traveling through a submarine canyon and bending toward the coast.
For longer treks, go inland. The 6-mile stroll through Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve culminates in a waterfall. Want a tougher hike? Take the steep 8-mile path to Potato Chip Rock, named after the thin, climbable rock resembling a Pringle at the peak. Yes, the rock makes for a great photo, but be prepared to wait in line.
5. Rooftop Bars and Lush Views
In recent years, the rooftop bar trend has rolled into many cities. But San Diego’s pleasant year-round weather makes the region one of the better places to sip a cocktail while kissing the sky.
“It’s the perfect way to get to know San Diego,” says Vernice Ross, a real estate broker and owner of Ross & Ross Realty.
On the 22nd story, Altitude Sky Lounge, in the Gaslamp district, counts as the region’s highest rooftop bar (altitudeskylounge.com/sandiego, 619-446-6024). From the bar, glimpse the Coronado bridge, the ocean, and Petco Park, where the San Diego Padres play.
Looking for a rooftop bar with a pool? Check out Upper East Bar, also in Gaslamp (hotelsolamar.com/dining/upper-east, 619- 819-9770). The adjoining Normal Heights neighborhood is home to SKA Bar (619-230-5038), where you can find Asian fusion and spirit-forward cocktails.
In La Jolla, an area replete with tide pools nestled in the curving, rocky coastline, George’s at the Cove (georgesatthecove.com, 858-454-4244) has panoramic ocean views. Likewise for nearby Eddie V’s Prime Seafood and Steaks (eddiev.com, 858-459-5500). “I love watching the sun set there,” Ross says.