A spectacular Pacific Ocean setting, 33 beaches, a happening arts and dining scene—and in September it’s Fleet Week, too! San Diego has emerged as a buzzworthy SoCal destination in its own right, with cultural and historical surprises at every turn. www.sandiego.org
SEE: Downtown San Diego is in the midst of a great renaissance, with the Gaslamp Quarter the center of it all. Visitors who in years past would land and then hop the ferry or bridge to Coronado Island (still a glorious sun-surf destination) are now lingering in the city itself. The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego has an impressive lineup of established and emerging art and sculpture, and both the San Diego Natural History Museum and San Diego Museum of Man are worthy of a stop. Stroll the oceanside promenade, and rest up for some of the most exciting nightlife in California, period. Carve out some time, too, for Sea World—more fun than you’d imagine.
STAY: The venerable US Grant, right downtown and a block from all the nightlife of the Gaslamp Quarter, has been refurbished with original contemporary art in each room and a new chef at the helm of The Grill (the place for movers and shakers at lunch, and romance at dinner). Elegant and fun, it’s right in the center of the city’s heart and action.DINE: The Jade Theater is a tri-level restaurant and lounge combining an ambitious Asian menu and Zen chic. Don’t miss the catfish tacos at South Beach Bar & Grill, the scene at Nobu, the lobster pot pie at the Quarter Kitchen and the duck confit at The 3rd Corner wine bar. Gourmands must dine at The Linkery, named one of the best “farm to table” restaurants in America by Gourmet.SHOP: Downtown is where it’s at. Seaport Village has 54 specialty merchants on 14 acres (the San Diego City Store sells old street signs, stadium seats and artifacts as well as souvenirs). And bring all your credit cards to Westfield Horton Plaza, with 140 shops spread out over six hip city blocks. —Mary Alice Kellogg
INSIDERS’ TIP: No time to visit all of San Diego’s 38 wineries? No problem: The San Diego Wine & Culinary Center has a fantastic tasting bar and a happy hour replete with live piano. Santé!