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San Diego is a beautiful mix of tropical and desert, which greatly appeals to our Arizona-living, Hawaii-loving hearts. We recently took a road trip there to celebrate my “golden birthday.” Since this wasn’t our first time in San Diego, we were craving a fairly relaxed trip with just the right balance of both nostalgic and new experiences. If you’re looking for things to do other than the typical San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld, here’s a breakdown of our itinerary, which you should comfortably be able to do over a weekend.
~ Saturday ~
11:15am – Liberty Public Market
Liberty Public Market is located within Liberty Station, a former Naval Training Center. The area is now home to a bustling market with food and beverage stalls reminiscent of Pike Place, as well as an abundance of large outdoor areas for sunning and picnicking.
11:45am – Lunch at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens
This impressive brewery has a grand indoor restaurant and a lush outdoor seating area. We happened to visit during the “Cookies on Tap” event, where we got to try a flight of beer paired with individual Girl Scout cookies. That’s right- craft beer and Girl Scout cookies. What more could you ask for to start off your vacation?
1:30pm – Scripp’s Beach and Pier
It’s obvious when you step under the massive pier and look down the long hall of pillars why photographers love this spot. The beach was pretty empty, and the perfect spot to take off our shoes and enjoy our first dip of the trip.
2:00pm – Birch Aquarium
Don’t let the small size of this aquarium fool you- it houses quite a few colorful creatures and a massive kelp forest. If you can, try to arrive in time for the daily Kelp Forest Dive Show.
4:00pm – Kona Kai Resort
Shelter Island is a neighborhood on a narrow strip of land that jets into San Diego Bay. It’s home to several tropical-themed resorts, yacht retailers, and marinas. We stayed at the Kona Kai Resort and were lucky enough to have this gorgeous view from our balcony.
5:00pm – Happy Hour at The Vessel
The Vessel is an American restaurant at Kona Kai with spectacular views and an awesome happy hour. Look out for industrial billionaire Dennis Washington- he frequents the Kona Kona Marina, and you may just see him land his helicopter on his private yacht, the Atessa.
Evening – Campfire on the beach at Kona Kai Marina
~ Sunday ~
9:00am – Breakfast at Le Parfait Paris
Le Parfait Paris has several locations in San Diego, one of which we visited the previous day at Liberty Public Market. We were so impressed with their almond croissants that we decided to eat at their downtown location for the full experience. Needless to say, we were not disappointed.
10:00am – Japanese Friendship Garden
A favorite spot of ours in San Diego, the Japanese Garden boasts a large collection of bonsai trees, several waterfalls, and a small forest of cherry blossom trees that were just starting to bloom. Take your time here, and be sure to stop and sit on a few of the benches throughout the garden- they are placed strategically for your viewing pleasure.
11:30am – Balboa Park
You could spend an entire day exploring Balboa Park alone. Take a stroll through the area to admire the ornate Spanish Colonial buildings, breathe in the fresh air from the thousands of plants inside the Botanical Building (for free!), and explore the numerous gardens and fountains sprinkled throughout.
1:30pm – Shelter Island Shoreline Park
We were craving a quick lunch with a view, so we picked up a couple of California burritos from Roberto’s and sat on a bench right along the water near our resort.
2:30pm – Back to Kona Kai Resort
5:15pm – La Jolla Children’s Pool
After a quick nap and a change of clothes, we left for our night out. On our way to dinner in La Jolla, we stopped at the “Children’s Pool”- home to numerous seals, whose wiggles and snuggles we just couldn’t get enough of.
6:00pm – Dinner at Brockton Villa
Set on a cliff overlooking La Jolla Cove, Brockton Villa was the perfect setting for dinner at sunset. Thank you to the hubby for surprising me with this special birthday dinner!
8:00pm – Noble Experiment
If you love craft cocktails and unique experiences, make sure to visit Noble Experiment. This small but glamorous prohibition-era speakeasy is hidden behind a wall of kegs inside a restaurant called Neighborhood in downtown San Diego. Be sure to make a reservation, as it fills up quickly and is usually fully booked.
~ Monday ~
10:00am – Coffee & almond croissants at Better Buzz Coffee
Although the almond croissants were not quite as decadent as the ones from Le Parfait Paris, Better Buzz Coffee gave us the boost of energy we needed with its lively modern cafe vibe, pretty patio, and abundance of puns.
10:30am – Pacific Beach and Crystal Pier
Mission Beach and Pacific Beach are connected by a long boardwalk with shops, restaurants, and plenty of people-watching opportunities. We stuck to Pacific Beach and walked out onto Crystal Pier to watch surfers and take in our last deep breaths of the fresh sea air before driving home.
If you’d like to take a peek at our detailed hour-by-hour plans with notes and addresses and other nerdy info, click here to see a PDF of our “48 Hours in San Diego Itinerary.”
Happy planning and safe travels! Comment below or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions, or if you want to tell us what you did with our advice! We’d love to hear from you 🙂