Fun and Sun in San Diego
It seems as though the sun always shines in San Diego, along with the ever-present blue skies, sparkling waters, and the lure to be outside. San Diego is a great playground.
In 1542, the Spanish claimed the region. In 1821, it became part of Mexico, and in 1850, part of California and the United States. Today, San Diego mixes history with ethnic diversity, beautiful parkland, enticing waters and hot neighborhoods and restaurants.
My husband and I stayed in downtown as well as at Torrey Pines (about 15 minutes north). We succeeded at our goal: to have fun in the sun.
The US Grant Hotel opened to great fanfare in 1910. Ulysses S. Grant, Jr., son of the 18th US president built the hotel, a National Landmark, which maintains its grandeur with a marble staircase, bold columns, sparkling chandeliers, interesting fabrics, historic photos, and original rooms.
The works of multiple artists are displayed throughout the hotel as well as strikingly integrated into the headboard in each guest room. Our lux room had warm colors, crown moldings, a large bathroom, and views of downtown. Water conservation efforts include low-flow showerheads and toilets and only running full loads in the kitchen and laundry washers as well as giving guests the option to reuse linens/towels.
The Grant Grill, opened in the hotel in 1951, is the site of the 1969 “Grant Grill Invasion,” when women forced the establishment to accept them as clientele throughout the day. Today, it’s a light-filled, modern restaurant with mahogany walls and comfortable banquettes. At breakfast, we savored warm breads and pastries along with farm eggs, chicken sausage, and signature potatoes. Later in the day, the sleek Grant Grill Lounge is a great place for artisan cocktails including the bar’s own barrel-aged Manhattan.
The Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines borders the world-renown municipal Torrey Pines Golf Course. The hotel is designed with the lobby and many guestrooms facing the Pacific to provide sweeping views of the ocean and the course. In addition, our first-floor room had sliding doors leading to a small patio.
If you’re at the Hilton Torrey Pines during happy hour, drop by the Torreyana Bar & Lounge. With beautiful views of the setting sun, sip a refreshing cucumber basil mojito and snack on shrimp and crab nachos.
The Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is just north of the Hilton with eight miles of hiking and biking trails. Find more than 2,000 acres of mostly untouched land with a beautiful lagoon, miles of beaches and sand dunes, lush natural habitat, and of course, the rare Torrey pine trees.
Golf at Torrey Pines is most remembered for the dramatic 2008 US Open (returning in 2021). There are two superb courses (North and South)—both offer great golf.
Located at the luxurious Lodge at Torrey Pines, the Spa at Torrey Pines is an oasis for mind, body, and spirit. With ample room for relaxing, enjoy the Jacuzzi, steam and sauna, and the lounge before a treatment. Choose from facials, scrubs, wraps, and massages that use products from marine and plant life reflective of the lodge’s surroundings.
Named for the artist whose works are on display, AR Valentien is the award-winning restaurant in the Lodge at Torrey Pines. Lunch on the terrace, overlooking the pool and the golf course beyond, is stunning. The food is meticulously and exquisitely executed, notably the butter poached Maine lobster with celery root, fennel, and celery heart salad with a tarragon crème fraîche. Also worthy: luscious melted eggplant, with prosciutto and cannellini bean purée. For dessert we had Meyer lemon chiffon cake with Meyer lemon panna cotta. Pair with Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut and it’s heaven.
Once downtown, the best way to see the city is by Segway, so we hopped on a tour run by Another Side of San Diego. We zipped along the waterfront area, past the Broadway Pier, Martin Luther King Promenade, and the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market. On the way to Balboa Park, we cruised by Little Italy (once filled with Italian fishermen, now a mecca for great restaurants, boutiques, and cafés). We also rolled through the historic Gaslamp Quarter (formerly teeming with adult businesses and pawn shops, it was placed on the National Historic Registry in 1980). There’s been massive redevelopment there; today the area boasts shopping, dining, and entertainment.
Balboa Park consists of 1,200 acres incorporating museums, gardens (including a botanical and Japanese garden), the popular zoo, restaurants, and a Wonder Morgan organ where people gather for free concerts. Established as a reserve in 1835, the park is one of the oldest public recreational sites in the country. Several buildings from international expositions held there in the early 1900s are National Historic Landmarks.
Another fun way to enjoy the city is to join one of the Speedboat Adventure Tours and zoom across San Diego Harbor. Once the throttle kicks up, these two-seaters fly. Navy vessels, aircraft carriers, Coronado Bridge, the downtown skyline, and marine mammal are up close and personal.
Horton Plaza is a whimsically designed shopping mall adjacent to the US Grant. Its bright colors and creative architecture make it an interesting place to visit and shop.
Find a slice of Paris at Café Chloe in the East Village. Open all day serving classic French dishes, the café is a seductive spot with outdoor seating and a cozy interior. At lunch we enjoyed the bistro salad with pancetta, poached egg, brioche croutons, and frisée and the moules frites made with Spanish chorizo and white wine. The lavender lemonade is amazing.
An abandoned warehouse has become Juniper & Ivy, the hot restaurant of “Top Chef” Richard Blais. With its industrial chic interior, creative cuisine is front and center including deviled eggs served in egg white meringue and buttermilk biscuits with smoked butter. Also great are the scallop casino with pork belly and the fig toast with burrata and fermented honey. Cocktails and wine abound—try the 2013 Kloof Street Swartland red blend.
Patty Burness can be found on Twitter at @pattygb.