From craft brews to horse racing, San Diego offers much more than the usual tourist traps.-By Jason Sanford
San Diego has it good; boasting all the benefits of Southern California and then some—world-class cuisine, a wide variety of cultural attractions, the incredible outdoors and near-perfect weather. But it’s easy to fall into a particular touristy rut when you head down to California’s southernmost gem, and it’s a huge mistake to think that there’s nothing more than Legos and killer whales to see in town.
Here’s how to skip the lines and turnstiles and do San Diego in style.
Soak up the Suds
On your way down the Interstate 5, make sure you start by heading east on Route 78 to get your share of some of the country’s most acclaimed beer at local craft brew icon, Stone Brewing Co. It’s the beer that turned microbrewing on its head by creating unforgettable, hop-laden creations like Arrogant Bastard Ale and Stone IPA, which will linger on your palate—and your favorites list—for just about forever after you’ve tried them. Stone Brewing makes plenty of other styles and varieties of beers as well, from the approachable to the absurd and everything in between. If you’re cruising around San Diego and thinking to yourself, “Why in the heck are there so many microbreweries down here?” you can thank Stone Brewing for starting the sudsy local revolution. (1999 Citracado Pkwy., Escondido; 760-471-4999; stonebrew.com)
Some other great places to soak in the hops include: Ballast Point Brewing Co. (10051 Old Grove Rd., San Diego; 858-695-2739; ballastpoint.com); Green Flash Brewing Co. (6550 Mira Mesa Blvd., San Diego; 858-62-0085; greenflashbrew.com); Coronado Brewing Co. (170 Orange Ave., Coronado; 619-437-4452; coronadobrewingcompany.com); AleSmith Brewing Co. (9368 Cabot Dr., San Diego; 858-549-9888; alesmith.com); and Mission Brewery (1441 L St., San Diego; 619-544-0555; missionbrewery.com)
Del Mar is the finest racetrack around, and much of it has to do with its unparalleled location and superb race-day environment. Big hats and even bigger bets are the norm at this delight by the sea, “where the turf meets the surf” and history is alive, well and well-preserved—this is, after all, the house that Bing Crosby built. But Bing wasn’t the only big bopper to bounce into the grandstand, Del Mar has been a Hollywood favorite since its opening in 1937.
And no need to fret if you don’t know an exacta from a trifecta—just throw on your oversized hat, grab a cold (local) beer and settle in to enjoy the first-rate people watching. The season begins July 15 and ends Sept 5. (2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar; 858-755-1141; dmtc.com)
Rest and Relaxation
When you’re done betting the ponies, slide over to the L’Auberge Del Mar, where the 120 guest rooms at the AAA Four Diamond resort include access to the spa, shimmering pool, adjoining cabanas and a chance to work on your backhand at the on-site tennis courts. The hotel is so close to the beach that it features a paved, landscaped and—most importantly—private footpath to the beach, so the sand is never out of reach. (1540 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar; 858-259-1515; laubergedelmar.com)
Carlsbad is known for its beaches and shopping, but it doesn’t get much nicer or more relaxing than the elegant Park Hyatt Aviara Resort. Just a few miles up the hill and overlooking the shining Batiquitos Lagoon, the AAA Five Diamond award-winning resort boasts 329 well-appointed guest rooms, an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course and a full-service spa. For those seeking a great meal, visit the resort’s Argyle Steakhouse, where fine cuts of Wagyu steaks will have you licking the plate. (7100 Aviara Resort Dr., Carlsbad; 760-448-1234; parkaviara.hyatt.com)
If you haven’t caught a Padres game at the beautiful PETCO Park in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter, then make sure it’s on the to-do list before October. And there is no better place to stay in the Gaslamp than the Omni San Diego, just a long toss from the ballpark and a few steps from the waterfront and convention center. The AAA Four Diamond winner offers 511 comfortable guest rooms and suites in a 100 percent smoke-free environment, so you can breathe easier knowing you’ll have a great stay. (675 L St., San Diego; 619-231-6664; omnihotels.com)
There’s no shortage of fun to be had all around the Gaslamp and nearby super-hip East Village. Live music, cold drinks and the city’s best food options await—it’s a lot like Bourbon Street with its shirt (mostly) on. Circle the culinary globe on your plate, try a few of San Diego’s favorite (aforementioned) beers and shop till you drop. The Gaslamp can easily satisfy any experience you’re looking for in town, with its unique combination of grungy bars, chic lounges, high-end boutiques and exceptional people watching, all within a few lively city blocks.
If there’s one property that screams classic San Diego at the top of its lungs, it’s the daunting wooden red spires of the Hotel del Coronado. “The Del” or “Hotel Del,” as it’s known by most within 100 miles of the resort, is a National Historic Landmark and has hosted the biggest names from across the celebrity board, from Babe Ruth and Charlie Chaplin to FDR and Bill Clinton. The seaside property continues to beautifully defy time and grow more enchanting by the day, with recent renovations adding more room and updated beauty to an already stunning Victorian gem—just as the ghostly stories of Kate Morgan add even more lore to this unparalleled California icon. (1500 Orange Ave., Coronado; 619-435-6611; hoteldel.com)
While on the other side of the bridge in Coronado, check out what’s on tap at Coronado Brewing, walk the long, bucolic beachfront of Silver Strand State Park and (discreetly) collect some of its namesake silver-hued seashells or head just a little further south and borrow a longboard to carve up the waves at Imperial Beach by the pier—just make sure you’ve got your passport in the car, should you accidentally miss your offramp. LBM