San Diego's Herb and Wood restaurant.
San Diego's Herb and Wood restaurant. (photo: Sam Wells )

24 Hours in San Diego

The perfect summer day in this California beach town

San Diego's Herb and Wood restaurant.

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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.

(Julian-Sebastian Gerdes/Eyeem/Ge)

7 a.m. 

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. 

8:30 a.m. 

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.

10:30 a.m.

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. 

(Courtesy of Puesto)

11:30 a.m.

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. 

(Jay Reilly/Aurora)

1 p.m.

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. 

(Courtesy of Bottlecraft)

3 p.m.

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.

5 p.m.

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. 

(Lyudmila Zotova/Herb and Wood)

7 p.m.

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. 

(Jarnard Sutton/False Idol)

10 p.m.

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. 

1 a.m. 

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.

From Outside Magazine, August 2017 Lead photo: Sam Wells