San Diego’s famous for Top Gun, Seaworld and the Zoo. But I found a few other things that are worth going out of your way for…
Three hours by train from Los Angeles down the Pacific coast sits San Diego – and here are six things I reckon you won’t want to miss:
1. Gaslamp Quarter is an historic neighbourhood of 16 blocks and 94 Victorian buildings built circa 1880. This is where you go for shopping, eating and a vibrant nightlife. It’s also near the Padres ballpark so fans congregate in one of the many bars, clad in their team strip, to down a few beers before (and after) the game. Its 100 shops open about 11am till late and with 145 restaurants and nightclubs with everything from tapas to Italian, dance floors to cocktail lounges, you’ll not be disappointed.
FYI: you’re a fan of the Chargers in football season, or the Padres during the baseball months.
2. Tour the USS Midway. This retired aircraft carrier will enthrall every male no matter his age, and doesn’t do too badly with females either. The $18 admission price gets you an audio tour on the supplied headset and off you’ll go, climbing up narrow ladders and through hallways, past crew sleeping quarters and onto the flight deck where the Skyhawk sits alongside the Top Gun F14 Tomcat.
Incidentally these Skyhawks are the jets we’re trying to sell in New Zealand. The US flew them pre Vietnam.
3. Visit Kansas City Barbecue, opposite the Hyatt. It’s the bar made famous in the 1986 hit movie Top Gun, where Meg Ryan and Goose sang Great Balls of Fire before her iconic line, “Goose! Take me to bed or lose me forever”. Today it’s filled with movie memorabilia as well as police patches from all over the US and beyond.
And as I was traveling with the Thin Blue Line, we added the New Zealand police shoulder flash to the wall. Prizes for anyone who can find it!
4. San Diego Zoo. Be prepared to walk your feet off at this enormous zoo. They have a hop on-hop off double-decker bus taking narrated tours around 75% of the park. There are two levels of walkways running this way and that for different views of the primates. Our fave was the big daddy orangutan, but we did feel sorry for the polar bear who was panting and eventually hid under a small shady cover as his white painted pool clearly didn’t look that inviting. The queue for the panda was so long and my feet felt like they’d been pulverized into stumps, so we only managed a sneaky peek over the heads of the exit line and made our own exit.
A highlight was discovering the Footsie Wootsie on the way out. Put your quarter in and two metal plates will vibrate the life back into your weary feet. Brilliant.
5. SeaWorld San Diego. UPDATE: After years of lower visitor numbers due to the cruelty of keeping orca whales in tanks, I’m thrilled to read SeaWorld is canceling it’s orca breeding program AND canceling Shamu shows. Here is my post on why I believe they had to, but also a very cool idea I think SeaWorld should adopt to keep Shamu Stadium alive and exciting.
6. Visit Old Town for the best Mexican food this side of the border. The winner of the 2010 San Diego Reader’s Choice for Mexican food is Café Coyote. It’s the busiest restaurant on the one street that makes up the tourist part of Old Town. Our server recommended his favourite dishes so we had the El Ray – carnitas carne asada (pork and beef) served with refried beans, rice, guacamole and sour cream to fold into fajitas. It was delicious. We also got chipotle camarones – a spicy dish of large shrimp sautéed in a chipotle cream sauce and served with refried beans and rice.
Their extensive tequila list runs to 135 different types sold by the glass. Although by no means the largest on the street, apparently.
Where to stay
Paradise Point – book a bayside bungalow with the sand literally at your front door. Light a fire in the fire pit in the evening and sit there with marshmallows on sticks you can buy from the hotel store.
Manchester Grand Hyatt – for great views of the bay and right beside Seaport Village for boutique shopping and outdoor dining. They also have a rooftop pool area with hot tubs and a children’s playground.
How to get there
Air Tahiti Nui have special deals from Auckland to Los Angeles via Tahiti where you can transit straight through or stop over for a few days of Pacific paradise. Air Tahiti Nui >>>