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San Diego Travel Guide

About San Diego

Life in SoCal’s second city, San Diego, has a more laid-back edge than its frenetic northern neighbour. Shake up historic neighbourhoods, terrific eateries and the Pacific Ocean, and you have an irresistible cocktail of urban hip and beachside utopia.

Surfboard-wielding dudes, skinny-jeaned hipsters and Gucci-wearing stylistas converge on the southern-most corner of California's coastline to enjoy never-ending sunshine, unspoilt beaches and a lifestyle most people only dream of.

Downtown’s distinctive neighbourhoods are the epicentre for all that's cool and hip in San Diego. You can amble around the shops and cafés of the historic Gaslamp Quarter, pick up one-of-a-kind artworks and coffee in Little Italy, or climb aboard historic ships in the Embarcadero District. Across the bridge from Downtown, the island of Coronado has small-town charm by the bucket load, with glittering beaches, the iconic Hotel del Coronado, and a beachfront boardwalk for two-wheeled coasting. Hillcrest, meanwhile, is San Diego’s LGBT hub, a walkable neighbourhood crammed with indie restaurants, vintage stores and wine bars.

But what most people come for is San Diego’s 110km (70 miles) of coastline. Upmarket La Jolla (think: luxury hotels, fine dining and championship golf courses) attracts surfers in droves to its phenomenal beaches. At Mission Beach, you’re more likely to spot crowds of youngsters flaunting their stuff on the boardwalk, or windsurfers, kayakers and waterskiers whizzing across Mission Bay.

San Diego isn’t short of stellar attractions away from the beach either. Balboa Park is super close to Downtown and home to 15 museums and a clutch of performing arts venues amid 500 hectares (1,200 acres) of beautifully landscaped gardens. Whether you’re into space, natural history, art or cars, this park has it covered. Also in the park is the fabulous San Diego Zoo, where you can tuck into breakfast with the koalas in the Australian Outback or encounter cheetahs and rhinos in the Urban Jungle.

Thirsty? San Diego is churning out new craft breweries at a lip-smackingly delicious rate, so grab yourself a hoppy ale and plot a way to stay here for good.

Key facts

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Featured Hotels


La Valencia

Beauty, elegance, and charm live inside the pink stucco walls of this property, known locally as La V. Stunning views of La Jolla Cove and the ocean act as backdrops in the richly appointed La Sala room (where martinis and tapas are served in the evening) and many of the 100-plus original guest rooms and 15 villas, each boasting a whirlpool tub, king-size bed, and personalised butler service. The hotel's exclusive =Sky Room , with just a dozen or so tables and a small bar, is one of the most elegant restaurants in San Diego. The sidewalk level Whaling Bar is a La Jolla institution where local nabobs mingle over steaks and martinis.

Gaslamp Plaza Suites

The Gaslamp Plaza Suites is a European-style, San Diego hotel built in 1913, with many elements of the original décor intact such as the sculpted Corinthian marble, Australian gumwood carpentry, hand-cut mosaic tiles and bronze and brass embellishments which can be seen throughout the hotel. The location is as central as it could get - in the heart of the Gaslamp District. Complimentary continental breakfast is served daily on the rooftop terrace overlooking the beautiful Downtown area of the city.

Sofia Hotel

One of the oldest hotels in San Diego's Downtown has been transformed into a chic boutique inn with 212 rooms that have the feel of urban studios with efficient Wi-Fi and access to Currant, one of lower downtown's most happening cafes. Some rooms are dark and noisy - ask to see a few before unpacking.

Hard Rock Hotel San Diego

Set smack at the foot of Fifth Avenue, across the street from the San Diego Convention Center at the edge of the Gaslamp Quarter, the 12-story Hard Rock attracts awe-struck sightseers ogling The Rock Shop (collectable Hard Rock gear), Nobu (chef Nobu Matsuhisa's entree into the SoCal dining scene), Maryjane's diner-style coffee shop and the Sweetwater Saloon - a sidewalk bar by day and happening dance club at night. Guests in the 420 rooms and suites are greeted with their choice of music drifting from speakers on the flat screen HDTVs. Red leather chairs and low white couches, swirly patterned rugs and square showerheads in the ceilings set a fun-loving mood, enhanced by Sleep Like a Rock beds.

Tower 23

Named for the lifeguard tower it faces, this ultra-hip Pacific Beach hotel has 44 slick rooms with rain showers, Egyptian cotton bedding, LCD screen TVs and H2O toiletries. Some suites overlook the boardwalk and beach and have private balconies. Wi-Fi is available throughout the property - checking your e-mail from a cafe table by the sand is just about as SoCal techie as you can get. The hotel's JRDN restaurant serves the freshest regional seafood and produce in a casual setting.

Town and Country Resort

The resort features 1,000 guestrooms, four swimming pools and whirlpool, five restaurants and three lounges, in addition to 16 hectares (40 acres) of beautifully landscaped grounds. There is also a spa, salon and fitness centre. The 27-hole Riverwalk Golf Club and Mission Valley Regional Conference Center are adjacent. Premier shopping is also available nearby.