It is one of the biggest cities in the United States, but in many ways it feels like a small town – just with more cars and people.
Nestled on one of the West Coast’s most beautiful bays, the city is blessed with friendly locals rightly proud of their town culture, a great independent art scene, major-league spectator sports as well as abundant participatory activities, waitresses that are paid to have attitude, and a climate that’s nicer than just about anywhere.
Peak season in California’s most southerly city – it’s around 30 minutes to Mexico – is July, when the enormous and somewhat defining event of the San Diego calendar unfolds: the aforementioned trade fair, Comic-Con International.
Each July for the past 40-odd years, the Nerd Herd has turned the city into a bigger party than it can be on any other weekend, and in the last decade or so, Hollywood types have figured out the value that CCI buzz can inject into box-office receipts and television ratings. For that weekend, San Diego becomes a star-watching spot akin to LA.
But there’s far more to San Diego than its status as geek Mecca. It’s Pacific Coast location makes it a sailing hub, and it’s a few hours from the state’s prime wine regions at Napa and Sonoma, with some less-known wine mini-regions much closer.
San Diego is served by most major hotel chains, but it does have a handful of boutiques all its own. A good place to root yourself, say on a Thursday, is Se San Diego, located at the top end of the historic Gaslamp.
Friday is a casual day, so if San Diego’s major tourist attractions are on the card, this is a good day to do it. The zoo and Balboa Park are well worth a trip, but it’s easy to sit back and let the city’s low-key atmosphere wash over you. A diverse range of outstanding Mexican food dots the culinary landscape, and a day of zoo-ing will work up an appetite.
San Diego’s food scene gave the world the taquito, and you can try one at El Indio, the city’s oldest Mexican diner. For the evening, the adventurous and chatty should make a trip to the Gaslamp’s Dick’s Last Resort, on 4th Avenue, a must for an end-of-week wind-down.
Down to earth and occasionally raucous, Dick’s is the kind of place that has long communal tables where the stranger you’re sitting beside will at least be an acquaintance after a few hours.
For Saturday, try a more elegant day out starting with any of the independent art galleries.
Finally, perhaps the best way to get a good overview of the city is from its gorgeous harbor; sailboat and yacht charters are easy to come by. A Sunday afternoon cruise around the bay can be as long or as short, as open or as intimate as your budget demands.
San Diego’s low-key, attitude-free chic makes for a perfect weekend getaway if you are on a West Coast vacation.
In the middle of a bright, sunny day with endless blue sky and barely a hint of humidity, a stroll up San Diego’s 5th Avenue in the Gaslamp District ends in a run-in with a local.
It’s hard to figure out if she’s the neighborhood crazy, the neighborhood drunk, or just a friendly denizen checking up to make sure visitors hit the hot spots. A whiskey-roughened voice rings out from a doorway.
“You here for Comic-Con?”
“Yes and to visit as well. First time.”
“Liking San Diego so far?”
“Yes, very much.”
“Going to the House of Blues?” Clearly, the live music club is a personal favorite of the mystery woman.
It’s the “nice” that seals the deal and makes the encounter a memorable one. Without any further fanfare, she bids farewell and takes the next left.
That’s a little bit of San Diego in a nutshell. In many ways San Diego is similar to Sapporo or Chicago. Its laid-back residents are not the types to feel threatened by glitzier cousins like Tokyo and Los Angeles.
If they wanted to live in those cities, they would. And it’s easy to understand why they choose not to relocate. If you’re in the area and are looking for a four-day urban getaway, you can’t do much better than San Diego.