From its chilled surfer culture to its sleek urban hotspots, San Diego ticks all the boxes

A sprawling Californian metropolis on the shimmering Pacific Coast, San Diego bills itself “America’s Finest City”. Which would probably sound big-headed if they didn’t have the proof to back it up. Take a wander along its laid-back streets and you’ll get what they mean, because San Diego really does embody the best of everything – from sophisticated city pleasures like fine dining and art museums, to coastal bliss on the celebrated beaches. Unlike other big cities, it also has a refreshingly relaxed vibe to it, perhaps thanks to the countless surfers who call it home.

Downtown is a good district to start your explorations. It’s a hub of bars, restaurants and nightclubs, as well as some of the breweries for which San Diego is so renowned. In fact, many regard San Diego as the craft beer capital of the United States, and you can go on guided tasting tours of some of the best beer-makers. Downtown San Diego isn’t just about gleaming buildings and art galleries – it also encompasses a slice of the waterfront, where you’ll find the USS Midway museum, dedicated to this iconic aircraft carrier which served in Vietnam and the first Gulf War. You can wander the flight deck, descend into the fascinating world which so many sailors called home, and take a ride on the exhilarating flight simulators. Whether you’re a military buff, a history lover, or just want to show your kids something really exciting, this is the place to be in central San Diego.

Then there’s the other big district: Old Town. This has been dubbed the birthplace of California, and is a haven for Mexican food fanatics. There are numerous colourful restaurants to feast on authentic grub from across the border, along with vibrant shops selling Californian keepsakes, as well as restored buildings from the very earliest days of the state. Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is where you’ll discover and take snaps of plenty of picturesque, heritage buildings. One place you have to check out is the Whaley House Museum, which has a certain eerie notoriety as one of America’s most haunted abodes.

For vibes of a less spooky variety, hit the beach. Now this is where you’re really spoilt for choice, because San Diego has more coastal hotspots than you waggle a surf board at. Mission Beach is a must, with its miles of scenic boardwalk and the traditional rides of Belmont Park amusement park – including the Giant Dipper, a rollercoaster dating back to 1925. Kids will love hopping on the various rides, while grown-ups will relish a realm of sands and sunsets.

 

Ocean Beach, meanwhile, is an idyllic seafront community which is garlanded with yet more beaches ideal for surfing, basking or letting dogs frolic with abandon. This region has a deliciously laid-back, SoCal air, scattered with surf shacks, antique shops and restaurants buzzing with locals. It’s ideal for people-watching and making new friends.

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