This is Part 2. In part 1 we talked about tide pools, weather, Mexico, wildlife, Dr. Seuss, architecture, and the history of San Diego.
San Diego, nicknamed “America’s Finest City”, tops the list of US cities for quality of life and has huge young professional communities (partly because of universities and military). We loved it for an easygoing atmosphere and endless recreational opportunities.
Table of contents
- What makes San Diego alive
- San Diego natural wonders: La Jolla caves and underwater park
- Coronado Island: beaches, movies, and military
- San Diego Appartments
- List of favorite places and things to do in San Diego
- What we didn’t like in San Diego
San Diego’s Key Industries
San Diego is a multicultural city located on the U.S.-Mexico border and on the Pacific Rim. The key industries in San Diego are tourism and military; international trade and biotech companies.
San Diego is home to the second-largest naval base in the US and some impressive giants like Hospital Ship USNS Mercy (below). As for the international trade – tens of millions of bananas arrive monthly at Port of San Diego 🙂
San Diego Natural Wonders
San Diego is rich in outdoor recreational opportunities, most accessible year-round. Two of them won my heart – La Jolla Underwater Park and Sea Caves:
La Jolla Underwater Park
La Jolla Cove is the most popular place among locals.
It’s more than a beach. The Cove is a part of a marine reserve, very rich in marine life: seals, sea lions, sea turtles, stingrays, leopard sharks, stingrays, eels, California lobster, and much more! Not as diverse as Hawaii, but very close.
Kayaking, snorkeling, swimming, and diving are very popular at La Jolla Cove. Keep in mind, the water is cold, go with a guide when doing it for the first time.
The Underwater Park in San Diego was created 50 years ago and consists of two parts: the Ecological Reserve and the Marine Life Refuge.
The park is an ocean wonderland and consists of four distinct habitats: rocky reef, kelp bed, sand flats, and canyon (500ft/150m deep). Waves are minimal because of the reefs at La Jolla, making this a popular entry point for divers and snorkelers.
There are lots of great short videos about snorkeling and diving at La Jolla Cove at scubadiversgirls:
San Diego Sea Caves
La Jolla is home to seven sea caves. But the only one, Sunny Jim, is accessible by land via the dug-by-hand tunnel (the other 6 can be viewed by kayaking):
Another famous natural wonder in San Diego is an open ceiling cave in Sunset Cliffs. The cave is accessible during low tide (be careful when the tide is coming back so you won’t be strapped inside, it is dangerous):
Global warming and rising sea levels are affecting the beautiful California coastline. Despite huge efforts, rapid beach erosion continues to crumble the fragile coastline. Nobody knows how much longer those natural wonders will be accessible and exist.
Coronado Island: Fine Beaches, Movie Sites, and Military
Coronado is an unusual place. Located across the San Diego Bay from San Diego, more than half of the island is occupied by the Naval Air Station. NAS is the home port of several aircraft carriers of the US Navy and part of the largest aerospace-industrial complex – the Naval Base Coronado.
An average traveler sees only “resort half” of Coronado, welcoming and easygoing. Our friends lived there for a year with three little children and loved it, but renting/buying property on the island is expensive.
There are many places like this on the island: sandy beaches, shallow waters, walking paths, and grassy areas:
And tons of places to have a meal, from fine-dine restaurants to quick bites and fresh baked goods. Fresh dessert with rose petals? Sure thing!
Hotel del Coronado or “The Del and Hotel Del”
Hotel del Coronado or “The Del and Hotel Del” is a wooden Victorian beach resort in Coronado. It was opened in 1888 and is the second-largest surviving wooden structure in the United States:
Coronado Beach, right in front of Hotel del Coronado is a great place to enjoy the sunset in San Diego.
Coronado Sand Dunes and the Beach
The very first thing you notice approaching the beach and the hotel are the dunes – a huge eye-catching place of endless fun for kids and adults:
I was fascinated by them and their size and would never have guessed they are actually an enormous sand sculptures, over 30 old:
There is an interesting story behind the creation of the Coronado Dunes. In winter of 1988, one of the City of Coronado employees, Armando Moreno, was asked to clean up the massive heaps of kelp, washed to the beach during high tide. Armando decided to bury kelp in the sand and add plants on top to create gigantic letters spelling “Coronado”.
San Diego Appartments
Our trip to San Diego was to check out “what it would be to move and live in California”, so we explored the local apartments market too. After our obsession with La Jolla and all it has to offer, we have narrowed the search to less than 15 minutes of driving time from the beach; with assigned public schools rated “8” and above.
Despite the southern exterior design and plants, all of them looked pretty ordinary inside: open floor plans, carpets, old-school short (8ft/2.4m) ceilings, and a fireplace:
Prices: 1BR/1BA starting from $1900 and 2BR/2BA from $2200 and above. Expensive, but considering the “premium” location and good schools – there’s no surprise in that.
Our Top List of Activities in San Diego
Don’t leave the city until you try some of these!
- Exploring La Jolla tide pools (check the schedule)
- Watching seals/sea lions: from La Jolla Children’s Pool to La Jolla Cove
- Kayaking at La Jolla to see the caves
- Diving, snorkeling, and swimming at La Jolla underwater park
- Safari Park Zipline/ La Jolla Zip Zoom in San Diego County
- Exploring Point Loma
- Visit the Old Town of San Diego
- San Diego manmade gem: Balboa Park (plan to spend at least a day)
- Dr. Seuss in San Diego
- Hike at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
- Coronado Dunes: play hide and seek; watch the sunset at Hotel Del Coronado
What We Did Not Like in San Diego
Not too much! Overall, San Diego felt very safe and pleasant.
We’ve checked out all major cities in California (multiple trips) and San Diego was the only one where we would consider moving to raise a family. We liked it a lot. As much as San Diego, we liked only Santa Barbara, but I can’t imagine living there for multiple reasons.
The only place I wanted to turn back and run away in San Diego was the Gaslamp Quarter in the Downtown area. It must be lively at night, but on a weekday morning, it was deserted except for mentally ill homeless people. Being pregnant at the moment, I just could not tolerate the screams and how people acted on the streets there.
Overall, the Downtown area is very nice:
The ocean surprised us a lot, bursting with wildlife and bitterly cold water (around 57F in January). After talking to locals at the beach, we figured out it isn’t going to feel like the tropics during the summer either (around 68F). After living for many years in New Jersey, it was strange to be much more south but not be able to swim in the ocean, because it was so cold.
Parking is difficult at La Jolla. Both locals and tourists adore the place, so be prepared for some walking and try to come early.
My favorite sight from California, heartwarming and cozy – cute old houses surrounded by orange trees:
Thanks for reading!
San Diego: Part 1. Weather, history, architecture, tide pools, marine life, and more – all the best about San Diego.
Death Valley National Park: Giant Sand Dunes sledding; Star Wars Canyon, Salt Flat, etc. 2-day adventure
Washington’s 13 natural wonders: volcanoes, caves, waterfalls, and National Parks.
Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Bryce, and Zion National Parks: 6 days road trip during winter; why we loved it so much.