Really, there is nothing quite like touching down in 75-degree weather when the rest of the country is experiencing a cold spell, even in Miami (24 degrees?!). And after staring down from your plane window at miles and miles of white squares across the whole country, it’s no wonder that southern California has its share of tanned airheads – no cold front to bring them back down to earth, even for a short winter.
Not that I’m complaining, as we were thrilled to arrive even into a 50-degree evening into LAX. We took our rental car down the next day to San Diego to visit my friend Josh, who recently moved near La Jolla (the posh part of town). San Diego is an incredibly beachy town, and the residents move there to surf and play beach volleyball, or because they’re stationed at Camp Pendleton, or because they are doing their residency at UCSD medical school. But visitors come for more than just the beach. Because I haven’t frequented San Diego enough, there’s always something new to see or do in this beautiful weather and town to make a daytrip worthwhile.
Sea World/ San Diego Zoo/ Wild Animal Park. These are San Diego’s staples (next to the beach), good ways to pass an entire day and spend $70 in one place, especially if you have little ones. Sea World is even more interesting just because it has aquatic creatures and you’re near the ocean, so if you’ve never been, it may be worth the visit. Kiddos 3-9 are only $59! The Zoo costs less – $37 for adults, $27 for kids 3-11, and you can get a $70 pass to both Zoo and Wild Animal Park ($50 for kids) or even a combination Zoo-Wild-Sea for $121 ($99). The Wild Animal Park allows you to wander among the animals and pet giraffes who roam freely, while the zoo houses the famous and adorable pandas.
Torrey Pines State Reserve. For some easy and incredibly scenic hikes along the cliffs above the ocean (beware of crashing cliffs!), head to Torrey Pines State Park. Dramatic cliffs, caves and erosion that makes it look like Bryce Canyon line this coastal area, where softball-sized seaweed and smooth rocks dot the beach. The beach is also packed down enough for runners to have a long length of running course. It’s $10 to park inside, but if you park your car in the lot right outside the entrance, you can walk on in for free.
Watching harbor seals on the beach. At Casa Beach in La Jolla, many friendly seals ork their way onto the sandy shores to tan in the sunshine. This area can be roped off in winter when the pups are born, but still visible.
Gas Lamp Quarter. Now here is a wonderful example of a city really pushing its revitalization efforts (San Antonio’s Riverwalk; Culver City, Calif; downtown St. Louis, Missouri). Fortunately, it’s a little less Disney-like than what some other cities have done. A walkable, slightly touristy, slightly trendy historic neighborhood lets you park your car and roam through the restaurants, bars and shopping scene. There are plenty of fine dining options, but I’d like to plug Acqua Al 2 (322 5th Ave, 619-230-0382) which is famous for its blueberry steak. I have actually only been to its other location in Florence, Italy, and if the food is anything as phenomenal as it was there, then you’re in for a tremendous culinary experience.
Las Americas outlet shopping. It’s home to all your favorite outlet stores, and includes one of few Neiman Marcus Last Call outlets (anyone want a pair of Jimmy Choo for $100?). But what’s mostly fun about this place is its proximity to the Mexican border, where you can see the Mexican flag waving large and proud on the other side.
Wavehouse. Okay, so the ocean is right across the street, but there’s the Wavehouse at Belmont Park in Mission Beach, featuring the Flow Rider. It’s a wave machine on which you ride either a boogie board or a little skateboard without wheels. There’s also an outdoor bar and dining scene surrounding the Flow Riders, and occasional concerts and parties. I’ve experienced riding one during my days as editor of Aquatics International, and was pretty terrible at it. While you’ll probably wipe out endless times before you get the hang of it, it sure beats riding that rickety wooden roller coaster next door which left me bruised and very sore.