The past four decades have transformed this sunny city of 1.4 million from a lonely military hub into one of the world’s greatest coastal playgrounds. Beyond the 25 miles of beautiful beaches and killer surf, visitors can peruse an eclectic mix of colorful neighborhoods, hip eateries, and more than 114 craft breweries and brewpubs. Here’s how to make time for sand, sun, and the freshest fish tacos you’ve ever tasted.
Head to Kono’s Café in Pacific Beach early for the best chance at beating the hangover line, then pile your plate with scrambled eggs, bacon, and a big fluffy pancake.
Explore 1,750-acre Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. “It’s an easy, classic San Diego hike,” says Jené Shaw, a local Ironman triathlete and travel editor. “All the trails have epic views and lead down to the water.” If you’re up for it, make the 300-foot descent to the ocean and back.
Pick your thrill—paragliding or hang gliding—at the Torrey Pines Gliderport. A 25-minute tandem flight over the cliffs will run you $175 or $225, respectively, and land you right back in the grassy field where you started.
At Puesto restaurant, near Ruocco Park, be sure to try the Zucchini and Cactus, a veggie taco loaded with corn, tomatillo, and melted cheese. “All of Puesto’s tacos have some twist,” Shaw says. Other varieties come with chile-marinated pork, braised lamb, filet mignon, chicken, lobster, and, of course, market fish.
Book an hour lesson with Surf Diva at La Jolla Shores ($85). The water in August averages a cool 71 degrees, so plunk down $6 for a wetsuit.
Just east of Ocean Beach, the rustic-chic Liberty Public Market is the city’s newest hot spot. Head to Bottlecraft, where you’ll find 24 beers on tap. Start off with a San Diego classic: Ballast Point’s Grapefruit Sculpin.
Check in to your digs. USA Hostel (from $90) is a fan favorite for its 1880s architecture and proximity to nightlife in the Gaslamp Quarter.
Little Italy has been dubbed Top Chef Alley, thanks to stars from the popular Bravo show who’ve launched ventures here, starting with Brian Malarkey’s Herb and Wood. Try the gnocchi with oxtail and horseradish.
Time to hit up Analog, a food-centric lounge with the vibe of a recording studio. Go crazy on the collection of vintage video games while you sip a Black Sail, made with rum, Kahlúa, fruit juice, and cinnamon.
Crash. Luckily, you’ll wake up 3.6 miles from the airport and around the corner from an Amtrak station, so it’ll be easy to head home—or to your next adventure.