Budget Travel is a series devoted to inexpensive travel ideas and recommendations based on my first hand experience. Last week, I enjoyed three fantastic days in San Diego, California.
We rented a car at LAX and drove down to San Diego stopping at Del Mar, CA for lunch (about 30 minutes north of Downtown San Diego).
After enjoying a casual, inexpensive meal, with a spectacular ocean view at Pacifica Breeze Café, we strolled through the small village shops and boutiques where I picked up a few, fun Christmas gifts.
On our way back to the car, we spotted a small park atop the cliffs overlooking the ocean. We sat and watched as the surfers took on the waves and the sun set over the Pacific.
Wound up being a perfect location (10 minutes from everything) and a better deal than anything I could find on airbn’b.
That night we decided to check out the Gaslamp District for dinner.
Essentially, it’s just a street with a lot of overpriced restaurants on it. Though rated as a top attraction in San Diego, I’d say you can probably skip it. Not to mention, parking was a nightmare, we wound up having to spend $12 just to park for two hours. Not worth it.
The following morning we woke up to unusually blustery weather. Our Whale Watching Cruise, which I found on Groupon, was cancelled due to rough conditions 🙁 After a bit of back and forth I was able to get the Groupon refunded, phew.
Instead, we took the ferry to Coronado Island.
For some reason, the ferry drop off is on the opposite side of everything else on the island. Everything else, being the sights we planned to visit.
Maybe rent a bike for the day so you can get around easier? You can take the bikes on the ferry. We saved money by walking, but we also wasted a lot of time going in circles and getting lost (not in the good way).
After finally navigating to the main street, Orange Ave, we picked up lunch at Leroy’s Kitchen and Lounge.
Then went on to visit the famed Coronado Hotel and Beach, both of which were quite beautiful and easy to enjoy without spending any money.
Once the rain set in, we ran back to the other side of the island to catch our ferry. From the boat we enjoyed skyline views of downtown San Diego and a glimpse of the many naval ships and ports.
By this point the rain was really coming down so we raced through the Embarcadero (the downtown waterfront walkway). Though, if you had rented a bike for the day, that would be another nice route.
For dinner, we used a quick yelp search and found a wonderful restaurant in Mission Hills called The Red Door – a perfect spot for a nice/splurge meal.
While entrees ran about $20 each, we didn’t have to pay for parking in the area, so that helped. Not only was the restaurant itself charming, but the fresh, farm-to-table style food was worth every penny. I love when a splurge is worthwhile!
We started out our final day in San Diego with a trip to Balboa Park, home of many museums, the Old Globe Theatre, and the San Diego Zoo. While all of those require admission, we enjoyed the park without spending a dime – strolling the grounds, which included a rose and cactus garden, several open art/sculpture exhibitions, and a small botanical garden.
We then visited Torrey Pines State Park, my favorite part of the trip.
After parking along road/beach for free, we walked into the park, following the main road to the top of the hill, then wound our way back down to the beach through the cliffs, via the Beach Trail. In my opinion, this is a MUST DO for anyone visiting the area. Seriously, DO IT!
We followed our hike with my second favorite part of the trip, sunset at Scripps Park in La Jolla. Sea lions were everywhere! I even spotted a few swimming alongside some brave swimmers in the cove.
Rather than braving the waters of the Pacific in December, I stuck to the rocks, exploring tide pools and searching for more wildlife along the coastline.
After a wonderful afternoon on the water, we went into the village of La Jolla for happy hour/dinner, enjoying some drink specials at José’s while looking out over the ocean.
La Jolla is also home to several art galleries and boutique-like shops that are great for window-shopping, though maybe not actual shopping (it’s a “bougie” town).
For our last evening, I was able to score some $25, “under 30” tickets, to see “Sideshow” at La Jolla Playhouse, a nationally recognized regional theatre minutes from Downtown San Diego.
Overall, I had a wonderful time in San Diego; I think I’m actually a little bit in love.
Have you ever been to San Diego? What are your must dos? Any insider savings tips?