1 day in San Diego
What to do in 1 day in San Diego. A whole day dedicated to Southern California to discover the San Diego area. From Jolla Cove to the Gas Lamp Quarter, savoring the less famous California and more distant from the Hollywood spotlight!!
- Breakfast with view in Laguna Beach
- Orange County on the road
- Break at Dana Point
- Jolla Cove
- Coronado Island
- Coronado Central Beach
- SeaPort Village
- USS Midway
- Kissing Statue
- Modern San Diego
- Gas Lamp Quarter
- San Diego Padres
- Convention Center
Breakfast with view in Laguna Beach
During our 15-day itinerary in the US we spent a full day exploring Orange County and Southern California. We stay at the Pacific Edge Hotel (with an ocean view) and decide to make a soft start: we want to see a lots of things but… it’s still a holiday for us!!
Orange County on the road
Before heading to the San Diego area, we recommend a stop on the road on the South Coast Highway from Laguna Beach to San Diego. Do not follow the navigator, it will take you directly to take the Freeway, follow your instinct and feeling, going around the streets that inspire you the most in Laguna Beach and Orange County. What you will find is a city treated in detail, highly sought after in some ways and certainly very rich. The houses that are mostly Villas, typical of this area of the coast, all overlooking the Ocean and you can only imagine the view they enjoy !! On the side of the road, the boundary between the private gardens and the public flowerbeds of the streets is lost: there is an obsessive attention to order and cleanliness even for the common areas.
Break at Dana Point
Without even realizing it you will reach Dana Point and from the vantage point on the cliff overlooking the Dana Yacht Club, you will enjoy a truly breathtaking view. From this point you can see all the Heritage Park and the residential complex that was built inside. Dream houses with their lawns, all terraced houses at Desperate Hosewives. It is almost a shame to have to run away from this place and above all from the spectacular view that can be enjoyed from here!
Freeway to San Diego
From Dana Point the Freeway is a must. The next stop, La Jolla Cove, is still 1 hour and a half away and is just the first stop on the San Diego 1-day itinerary.
Take the San Diego Freeway and, like a child, you will be enchanted by everything you will encounter along the way: made in the USA trucks that have nothing to do with those that populate our highways; San Clemente and the residential area of the Presidential Heights covered with typically Californian villas and villas overlooking the Ocean; the San Onofre military base and the nuclear power plant right next to the Freeway; the naval and military base just outside Oceanside, the Legoland exits (yes, you know, there are a couple of Freeway exits dedicated to Legoland San Diego! On this day we can’t go, we’ll have to go back to San Diego to go to Legoland).
Take the Freeway exit directly on the Jolla and head towards Jolla Cove, famous for being the den of the Sea Lions living in this area.
If you follow the road to the ocean you cannot go wrong, as we get closer, you will understand that you are in the right place. The smell that you start to feel and that gets stronger and stronger is very typical: do you remember shells or hermit crabs when they are dry in the sun? Here is partly the idea of the smell that surrounds Jolla Cove.
Arriving at the end of the road, look for a parking lot in a hurry, in this area it’s not really easy, the destination is very popular. If you are lucky, as has happened to us, you will be able to invent a parking lot, which perhaps is not. Once parked, head down to the Jolla Cove beach, what you have in front of you is something that will surprise you!
Swimming with sea lions
The beach is free: anyone can go, lay his towel and enter the ocean to swim with the Sea Lions! There are hundreds of signs that explain what can and cannot be done; in any case the area is very controlled. Despite these recommendations, most people put on their swimsuits and jump into the water to swim with the Lions, who also seem to appreciate the company and are playing swimming very close to the people. The more reserved Sea Lions, without problems, change places and roam on the rocks to sunbathe.
The Kingdom of the Sea Lions
We took a tour of the cliff and we realized that the Sea Lions are many and have occupied most of the beaches and cliffs. They are all approaching without problems, but be careful because, if they suddenly want some space, they will not have problems “roaring” and making you understand that it’s time to go!
Spend half an hour at Jolla Cove, especially if you’ve left the car a little wildly! If you’re lucky, you’ll be back on the road and you’ll find the car without fines or jaws. Don’t try your luck and take the road back to San Diego.
San Diego – Coronado Island
Back on the Freeway in the direction of San Diego. The second stop on the 1-day itinerary in San Diego is Coronado Island!! On the way to San Diego, the Freeway passes exactly on the route of the planes arriving and departing for San Diego Airport. Nothing you will say! If only the airport was not exactly attached to the Freeway and the planes pass just a few dozen meters from the heads! The show is fascinating but being in the middle of a highway you can’t stop to take pictures or videos.
Travel through direct San Diego, without distractions, the goal is to go directly to Coronado Island and return to the city later. Pass over the Coronado Bridge, it almost seems to fly over the San Diego Bay and offers a breathtaking view of the Coronado Island from above. If you are careful not to distract yourself too much and not to create accidents you will finally arrive on the island!
Coronado Island reality or fiction?
Coronado is an island with a very strange appearance, we absolutely want to know what it did to you, leave us a comment! Everything is very nice, as we have understood all of California, and it gave us the impression of being on the set of a Hollywood movie. The houses all look new and some give the idea of being only sets, as if there is nothing behind the facade. Even the Hotel del Coronado is reminiscent of the magical Disney castle and has even been used for a few movies, almost confirming the idea we have of the Island.
Even if there is a lot of people there is room for everyone and it seems that everyone is there usually: you can’t understand the difference between tourists, locals and Californians on holiday.
It is very easy to find parking at the beginning of Coronado Central Beach (which a few years ago was even awarded the title of “Best Beach in the USA”).
Small break at Coronado Island
We advise you to avoid the tourist places that are on Orange Avenue and stop in a cafeteria with tables outside: Cafe 1134. I can’t tell you what struck us about this place but we decided to come in and get one Yogurt with fruit and a Latte. Luck meant that the tables outside, street side, were all occupied and we were invited by the guy behind the counter to sit in the tables that are at the back.
You guys will be tired or we can’t tell you what, but those few tables separated from the main road, a little secluded, in the shade, with painted courtyard walls … well they hit us! We were even more impressed by the people who were at these tables with us:
A boy who with the excuse of drinking something was obviously taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi,
A very quiet couple as we had chosen this quieter corner (maybe they have just chosen and there are no’ve come to like us !!)
A couple of friends … not flashy, seemingly dressed very casual but with some sophistication that came together in this place to… paint! I do not deny that we at home are full of Color Book of all types and sizes, but never thought we would take and go to color outside our walls at home !! They, on the other hand, very naturally, are here to color and to gossip about their friends.
Coronado Central Beach
The beach of Coronado Central Beach seems to be covered in golden dust, and it’s easy to start dreaming like gold diggers! But given the number of people who crowd it and don’t have a sieve in their hands, it’s easy to understand that maybe it’s not really gold!
Quokka Recommend: if you plan to do day trips in California, always bring your swimsuit and flip-flops! Sooner or later you will find a place that will make you want to stop and take a dip!
USS Navy Coronado Island
The stay on the beach is however disturbed every 5 minutes by helicopters. Yes you got it right, helicopters! We have not understood if they are doing some sort of exercise or if they are patrolling between the military base that is on the island and the near border with Mexico but every 5 minutes 1 helicopter goes to Mexico and 2 come back and vice versa. There at the same time it is also fascinating, but at the same time a little disturbing, because it seems to be in a war zone as far as we can know.
1 day in San Diego won us over
Don’t underestimate San Diego! Of the cities we have seen in California it ranks second after San Francisco. It is a fantastic city that surely has nothing to envy to Los Angeles, indeed! For what we have seen, it is more livable and better organized than the chaotic Los Angeles and that’s why we promoted it with flying colors.
San Diego – SeaPort Village
Retrace the Coronado Bridge and coming back, with this angle, you will see from above: the whole of San Diego, the Bay, the military port and the cruisers moored. We know that the city is famous for the base of the USS Navy and one of the most famous attractions is the Seaport Village which is the result of the redevelopment of a port area.
So the first stop that we recommend you do in San Diego is the Seaport Village. The navigator, set to “seaport village” takes you directly to the first parking lot (in the evening it is also free), next to the famous USS Midway, an aircraft carrier of the Second World War (IIWW). He is now retired and has been transformed into a military museum where numerous historical and modern military aircraft are exhibited.
Also in this part of the Seaport Village was the famous Kissing Statue (or Embrassing Statue) which was positioned to commemorate the victory and the end of the IIWW and takes a photo published in Life where a Sailor returns from the War during the celebrations for the victory in Times Square takes an unknown Nurse and kisses her! It was decided to put this commemorative statue right here in San Diego, near the USS Midway, in homage to the many settlements of the USS Navy that are present in this area of California.
If you are like Giugi you will not be able to stop yourself from taking a thousand pictures in this place that has a light that is certainly fascinating at this time of day (it will almost be sunset by now). Making you strong, you will finally be able to move away from the Kissing Statue, the next stop: Gas Lamp Quarter!
Get lost in San Diego
We advise you to walk from the Seaport Village to the Gas Lamp Quarter. The choice is certainly apt. You will be able to see crazy glimpses and appreciate the city, which as we said before, is on a human scale! Even if the part you are going through is that of the offices, it manages to fascinate and conquer. We love getting lost in the streets of the cities and even San Diego has not been denied. Perhaps taking the long tour to get to the Gas Lamp Quarter, you travel along West Broadway crossing the railroad tracks right next to the Santa Fe Depot which maintains the characteristics of Spanish colonial architecture.
Modern San Diego
Continuing on West Broadway you will be fascinated by the buildings around you, almost like New York: the US Bank skyscraper and then the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, the Hall of Justice, the Superior Court and the US District Court.
At Westfield Horton Plaza it turns onto 1st Avenue. We found it by chance, following our instincts and we recommend that you go to this well-kept square with lots of shops. We fell in love with San Diego, at every intersection we discovered new aspects and new views to photograph! One different from the other!
Arrival at the Gas Lamp Quarter
The map will tell you that you are at the doors of the Gas Lamp Quarter and will have to take 5th Avenue towards the sea. Another world yet! The modern skyscrapers and the sparkling shops seem very far away once you turn the corner on the 5th! Suddenly the buildings are all up to 3/4 floors and the Westfield shops have given way to a carpet of restaurants, pubs and clubs as far as the eye can see!
You can choose one of these places to have an aperitif or have dinner. We had dinner at Florent, nothing extremely memorable, but we suggest you try it at least for the atmosphere.
The Soul of the Gas Lamp Quarter
After dinner the hunt for the famous gas lamps of the Gas Lamp Quarter begins and we take the 5th Avenue in the direction of the sea. Along the way they have conquered passers-by, we are not sure if we have the magnet or if they are crowded in this area, but at every step we found some noteworthy characters that would take a whole Blog just to tell you about them: a boy dressed 30s that will not have 30 years! A pickup of those original US airbrushed, with a tow hook and a Cadillac Lowride on the cart, also this original USA, with the same colors. A little further on we seem to have returned to Thailand as TukTuk have appeared. Actually here they are a bit different: there are some guys who have these rickshaws full of lights and with the ball music carrying the most fearless tourists around, it seems more like a scene from Lloret de Mar than from San Diego!
Back to the past
Without realizing it you will arrive at the bottom of 5th Avenue and will finally be there in front of you: the Lanterns that you have been looking for so much! We were expecting something a little different, but they are still very fascinating. In essence, they have left some street lamps with historic gas, but they are hardly visible because obviously not enough light they are flanked by the most modern electric street lights. The most fascinating thing are some local in the area that have kept the gas lanterns also on the facades of their premises, which make their location even more romantic than the area!
Arriving at the bottom if you turn back, the eye-catcher will be very fascinating: the sign of the Gas Lamp Quarter that overlooks the illuminated street and a swarm of people for locals.
Arrived at the beginning of the Gas Lamp Quarter (in the end for us who took it backwards), a fortune happened to us that you will not find it easy to see if you only have 1 day in San Diego.
San Diego Padres
There is a river of people heading towards the station. We do not immediately understand what is happening, but since we are curious as children we decide to go exactly where all the people come from, attracted by the light that dominates the buildings.
After a few meters we understand that a San Diego Padres game, a home Baseball team, has just ended. The light we saw filtering through the buildings is none other than the Petco Park, home of the Padres!
We decided to go and see it up close and we were enchanted. Perhaps because of the light of the headlights used to illuminate the field that from outside create a kind of aura around the stadium. We approached one of the exits from which a river of people is coming out. The game must have ended recently. We tried to bribe a Steward to let us see the field against the tide! There was no way. The boy laughed because he understood that we are two escapes from home. This time our sympathy was not enough to convince him to let us in. We had to limit ourselves to taking the last photos next to him, from where the field can only be seen.
The atmosphere you breathe is almost magical even if the Padres have lost and you see faces that are a little pissed off.
San Diego Convention Center
From Petco Park take Harbor Drive in the direction of Seaport Village and you will see a part of San Diego still different and even more fascinating. The night has now arrived and San Diego lights up. The San Diego Convention Center looks like a Modern Art installation with staircases all lit up. Each hotel overlooking Harbor Drive sports a scenic entrance worthy of a Hollywood movie, with extravagant lighting and fountains.
In theory the way back to the car should be short. The reality is that you’ll be able to put in a lot of time because you can’t stop photographing everything you see, every building, every illuminated square!
Seaport Village part II – the Return
Arrived at the beginning of the Seaport Village you will discover a part that you had not seen in the first leg, which is actually the central part. A cluster of buildings that together create the commercial center of Seaport Village. In the evening most of the shops are closed, but it is still impressive to see how this complex was built while maintaining the Spanish colonial architecture.
Back at the parking lot, you will surely take a couple of photos at the Kissing Statue and the USS Midway.
With the lights of the night illuminating them, and you will return to your hotel after a very intense day in San Diego. Dreaming of the comfortable bed that awaits you on arrival.
1 thought on “1 day in San Diego”
I just happened to read your posts of your visits to Southern California (San Diego to Los Angeles), and I wanted to thank you for your appreciation and enthusiasm for my state. As a native I am always happy to know that visitors such as yourselves had an enjoyable experience here. Hopefully we will soon have an end to this pandemic and people will feel safe enough to come back and revisit to discover more that this state has to offer. Our doors will be open and you will always be welcome.