Your guide to sunny San Diego

Freezer doors lead the way past pineapples and shrunken heads to a hidden tiki bar

As I stood on the dock alongside San Diego Speed Boat Adventures, the one question going through my head was, “Travel writers and speed boats, what could go wrong?”

I still had my doubts as we each climbed aboard our own small boat and in a single file left the safety of the marina and headed to open water, where our guide immediately instructed us to hit the gas and keep up. His hope was we’d all remain in single file as he guided us between Coast Guard cutters, freighters, sports and fishing boats and the odd yacht, but if there was ever a better visual example of the phrase “herding cats,” I had yet to see it.

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But eventually, the majority of us got the hang of it and after racing across the bay, with the wind and salt water spray in our faces, we eventually slowed down for the return trip, during which our guide gave us a detailed history about the many boats and buildings we cruised past along the waterfront.

But if dodging large boats isn’t your scene, check out these ideas for a weekend, or a week, in San Diego.


Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institute of Oceanography


San Diego
The sea horse exhibit at Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institute of Oceanography is only one of the reasons you need to visit this popular attraction. Photo Sandra Thomas


Nicknamed the “Jewel of San Diego” the aquarium features more than 60 tanks of colourful marine life, including my favourite, the seahorses. It was Spring Break during our visit so the aquarium was packed with kids, parents, grandparents and caregivers, and it was obvious no matter what age, everyone was having a really good time, especially during the shark feeding demonstration.

Sunny Jim Cave

San Diego
You can only access the Sunny Jim Cave via a stairway that starts in the middle of the Cave gift shop. Photo Sandra Thomas

OK, this was weird. The only way to access this sea cave is through a kitschy little curio shop store fittingly called the Cave Store. In the middle of the store is a set of stairs consisting of 145 steps leading down a dark and damp tunnel that eventually opens up to a sea cave. The cave was named by Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz, because he thought the opening of the cave looked like a mascot for a British cereal also called Sunny Jim. This is an inexpensive attraction well worth the visit.

Cabrillo National Park

San Diego
Cabrillo National Park, which commemorates Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, is a beautiful space that includes a light house and vast views of the ocean. Photo Sandra Thomas

This park commemorates Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabillo, who when he discovered San Diego in 1542 was the first European to set foot on the west coast of America. We walked up to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse and took in the view from a popular whale watching overlook. We then drove down to visit the tide pools below, located in one of the most protected intertidal ecosystems in Southern California.

La Jolla Playhouse

San Diego
The stage and opening scene of Freaky Friday at the La Jolla Playhouse. Photo Sandra Thomas

We had so much fun checking out the new musical comedy Freaky Friday at the Tony Award winning La Jolla Playhouse. Highlights of the 2017-2018 season includes the world premier of Escape to Margaritaville, featuring both original songs and much-loved Jimmy Buffett classics. Another production sure to be a hit with the baby boomers is the Donna Summer Musical, a world-premiere musical that charts the incomparable life of Donna Summer — the undisputed Queen of Disco.

Liberty Public Market

San Diego
If you're looking for treasures like these hand-made hats created from pop cans, the Liberty Public Market is the place to be. Photo Sandra Thomas

The market, located within the historic Liberty Station, is another San Diego example of a space where art meets food. The market showcases craft-made foods, beer, wine, specialty cocktails, produce, fish, desserts and pastries, pastas, arts and crafts, a test kitchen, pop up dinners, and educational events.

Food and drink

Herb & Wood

San Diego
Herb & Wood is drawing huge crowds to check out chef Brian Malarkey's California meets Mediterranean-inspired menu. Photo Sandra Thomas


Consider yourself lucky if f you can snag a seat at this Little Italy hot spot, a collaboration between general manager Christopher Puffer and celebrity chef Brian Malarkey, who’s created a coastal California and Mediterranean-inspired menu with by a wood-fire stove as the star. Besides drool-worthy food, the decor, including leather booths and whimsical portraits by artist Johnny Lane, is a throwback to a time when going out for dinner was a big deal.

Galaxy Taco

San Diego
Galaxy Taco in La Jolla is almost as much about the art as it is great Cali-Baja-inspired food. Photo Sandra Thomas

Stepping into this popular La Jolla hole-in-the-wall is reminiscent of walking into a Mexican art gallery — should that gallery serve some of the best tacos in town.

The flavours of Mexico combined with local, fresh ingredients make Galaxy a great addition to the Cali-Baja food scene.

Catania Restaurant

San Diego
Fire roasted pizza at Catania Restaurant located on the top floor of La Plaza La Jolla. Photo Sandra Thomas

Located on the top floor of La Plaza La Jolla with a great view of the village, this popular eatery pays homage to Italian coastal cuisine under the direction of executive chef Vince Schofield.

Vessel at the Kona Kai Resort

San DiegoEnjoy s'mores around a beachfront bonfire at the Kona Kai Resort on Shelter Island in San Diego. Photo Sandra Thomas

New American cuisine served in a bright venue overlooking the Shelter Island Marina. The view alone is a reason to drop by, but once you try the food you’ll be glad you stayed.

False Idol tiki bar

San Diego
The False Idol tiki bar is one of San Diego's best kept secrets. Photo Sandra Thomas

OK, you didn’t hear this from me, but if you head into Craft & Commerce Restaurant and walk straight ahead to a set of refrigerator doors, then walk past a shelf holding pineapples and shrunken heads, to another set of refrigerator doors, you’ll gain entrance to False Idol. There’s no sign for the tiki bar, so it’s something of an insider scene, but with a tropical cocktail menu featuring more than 200 rare and vintage rums, it’s unlikely to stay a secret for long.


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