California Cities

If I Had Only One Day in California, I Would Spend it in San Diego: Part 2

San Diego activities for the entire family and for older kids/daring souls; what we didn’t like in San Diego; San Diego caves and underwater park; what is so special about Coronado island; local apartments

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

A typical sight at La Jolla

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 🙂

USNS Mercy, based in San Diego. photo credit: Don Bray

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.

La Jolla Cove

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):

One of the 7 caves at La Jolla, Sunny Jim’s Cave. photo credit: Photos By Clark

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):

Sunset Cliffs Cave. photo credit: Unsplash

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:

Centennial Park, Coronado
Centennial Park, Coronado

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!

Fresh pastry from nearby bakery at Centennial Park, Coronado
Fresh pastry from nearby bakery at Centennial Park, Coronado

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:

Hotel del Coronado has been featured in at least 12 movies, including Some Like It Hot, starring Marilyn Monroe.

photo credit: Wayne Hsieh

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:

Coronado Sand Dunes in San Diego
Coronado Sand Dunes in San Diego

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.

Below: Avana, La Jolla Gardens and Westwood apartments:

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!

Balboa Park
Balboa Park. photo credit: Angi English

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!

Make sure to check hours, fees, conditions, and tide schedules before you go

Read next:

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.

By Mrs. Grazy Goat

I am Ira, the author behind Grazy Goat. My husband and I run this blog and share our experiences about thrilling places and cultures. Our son Artem recently joined us and helps with editing.

We are very happy to have YOU here 😻

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