San Diego – An Inside Look at a Tourist Favorite
By: Inna Shamis
Known worldwide as one of the best tourist destinations and voted best year-round weather in the world, San Diego is California’s second largest city. With an idyllic climate that’s never too hot or too cold, the blue skies here keep watch on the 70 miles of beaches. Which seem never-ending! The area is also bordered by Mexico, the Pacific Ocean, the Anza-Borrego Desert and the Laguna Mountains.
With so much beachfront and plenty of cultural diversity spanning a variety of neighborhoods, you’ll find everything from alternative and casual Pacific Beach to glitzy La Jolla; trendsetting Downtown Gaslamp Quarter to the “laid back” come-as-you-are Mission Beach district.
journeyPod recently visited this favored city and here’s just a little bit of our experience and favorites:
Tower 23 – San Diego’s first luxury oceanfront hotel, Tower 23 is located just three short miles from the exclusive resort community of La Jolla in Pacific Beach (at 4551 Ocean Blvd.). Boasting a name derived from Lifeguard Tower 23 positioned on the beach in front of the hotel , Tower 23 features minimalistic and contemporary design and decor, oceanfront rooms, a gorgeous Tower deck with captivating views of the Pacific, a Zen garden and fire pit – its no surprise that this boutique property attracts a sophisticated and trendy crowd. The accommodations range from rooms with a balcony and private cabana patio (Sky Pad) to ones with a floating whirlpool tub that give the illusion of water falling from the sky (Sanctuary Suite). However, all 38 guestrooms feature custom handcrafted furnishing, hi-def TV’s, signature beds with memory foam mattresses (so comfy, you’ll forget where you are!), Egyptian cotton linens, down bedding, chenille bathrobes and minibars.
The property also boasts one of the area’s most celebrated restaurants, Jordan – which offers a modern blend of luxury and hop-factor – and easily one who’s food is just as delicious as the eye candy (perfect for those people-watchers with a sophisticated palette. For more on Jordan, check our San Diego Destination Guide. With a hotel motto of “Life Is Better at the Beach” – this place is definitely not to be missed!
The Ivy – Located in the trendy Gaslamp Quarter (at 630 F Street), The Ivy goes above and beyond traditional luxury with its astounding decor, services and amenities. “As you wish” should be the tag line at this beautiful boutique hotel – since the staff do their best to accommodate each and every single need. From dedicated butler service to an Escalade being delivered to the hotel doorstep within minutes – at the Ivy you cant help but feel important and pampered. Enjoy fresh seasonal dishes at the Quarter Kitchen, as Celebrity Chef Damon Gordon perfects each plate night after night (see more on the restaurant below). With a number of enticing “All Inclusive” packages, we especially recommend the “Arouse” package for those in need of exactly that!
The Keating – Boasting simple, yet extravagant Italian design, the Keating is truly a happening place to stay. The color red jumps out in every room giving the hotel a very passionate and sexy ambiance. Enjoy a cocktail in the lounge and experience true VIP service as the bartender shakes your martini at your side. After a merry time at the bar, make sure to retreat back to your stanza (Italian for guest room), get into your designer robe and snuggle below the goose feather blanket to enjoy a deep and well deserved sleep. The Keating is located at 432 F Street.
Rancho Bernardo Inn – Located just 30 short miles outside of downtown San Diego (and nestled amidst 265 acres), the beautiful Rancho Bernardo Inn & Spa will make you feel like you’re in the Tuscan countryside. Boasting Mediterranean architecture, complete with a “loggia” that connects the lobby/reception area to the sleeping rooms, you’ll find gorgeous gardens and fountains (some of which were shipped over from Italy) sprinkled throughout the property. Outside many of the rooms are cozy “outdoor living areas” complete with comfy chairs and wood burning fireplaces – the perfect place to unwind after dinner with a glass of vino.
Additionally, three pools occupy the premise – all heated to a comfy 82 degrees. The cabana-lined saline pool (that means non-chlorine pool is dedicated to those enjoying spa treatments. Talk about exclusive! And speaking of the Spa – its heavenly and not to be missed! journeyPod has the chance to check out the “Made-To-Order Body Polish” – a personalized and revitalizing 90-minute experience that’s both peaceful and refreshing. The treatment incorporates the use of all-natural ingredients that most of us already have in our kitchen pantry (cranberry juice and brown sugar). Shhh… we event snatched up a recipe to take home! Rancho Bernardo Inn at 17550 Bernardo Oaks Drive.
Located on the Pacific Ocean and with close proximity to Mexico, San Diego’s restaurants are often recognized for and boast some of the West Coast’s finest. As with many other major cities, San Diego too has spots where the tables are always booked and the chefs are “the best”. But more important are the restaurants that feature great service and delicious food. JourneyPod recently had the chance to check out some new spots and we’re sure you’ll enjoy one of our favorites listed here:
El Bizcocho – Located at Rancho Bernardo Inn, expect white glove service at El Bizcocho and a first-class experience at this place. A perfect complement to the Inn itself, the restaurant is one of the few fine dining establishments that actually still enforces a strict policy of “no jeans, no sneakers; jackets and ties please”. For those who love to dress up every once again, this place give you the chance! journeyPod enjoyed a small tasting from the chef’s special menu. We sampled a beet salad and a mushroom risotto. Our favorite tasting was the Belgian endive salad. Who knew endive could be so luxurious, right?! Top it with some walnuts, pears, and yummy black truffle vinaigrette. …and there you have a fine dining experience.
Quarter Kitchen (Downtown/Gaslamp) – One of the city’s newest hotspots housed inside the area’s newest hotel (Ivy), the Quarter Kitchen draws people for more reasons than just its sleek n’ sexy decor and see-and-be-scene crowd. Having worked with such culinary masters as Alain Ducasse and Jeffrey Chodorow, Executive Chef Damon Gordon does not disappoint with his fine dining and exotic cuisine (fusing together Continental and Japanese). The interior of Quarter Kitchen features a plush dining area with restaurant guests nibbling on dishes like Caviar Tacos, Crab Ravioli, Lobster Risotto and Kobe Carpaccio. And, get ready to rub elbows with a celeb (or two) when you check it out! Quarter Kitchen is located at 630 F Street.
Gringos Cantina (Pacific Beach) – Not your average Mexican spot or Taco pit, this local favorite features lunch, dinner and a late-night tapas menu (prefect for night owls) and offers authentic fare that blends together flavors from Mexico, Spain and the US. At this place, you’ll find great architecture, handcrafted furnishings and award-winning margaritas and other creative drink concoctions (go for the pomegranate margarita or the premium “Tequila Flight”) – alongside the awesome fare (we loved the carnitas)! If you can, try to snatch a table on the outside patio (with a great fire pit). Gringos Cantina is located at 4474 Mission Blvd.
LaVache (Hillcrest) – A casual French bistro, LaVache serves everything from breakfast and dinner, to lunch and brunch in between. Expect a simple, but elegant atmosphere and an excellent selection of French and regional wines. Renowned for its seafood entrees and delicious French sauces, our favorites included the Provencal omelette (filled with shallots, garlic, fresh tomatoes, capers, black olives & mushrooms) and the traditional Cassoulet (a delicious mix of sausage, veal and lamb served in a provencal sauce). With a menu that also features signature salads and homemade soups, this is a great spot to visit after a day of shopping in the neighborhood. LaVache is located at 20 Robinson Avenue.
Ono Sushi (Hillcrest) – Voted one of San Diego’s best sushi spots, Ono (which translates to “delicious” in Hawaiian) has an atmosphere as exciting as its menu selections! Come prepared to choose – Ono’s menu goes on for days (and ranges from sushi to tapas and traditional entrees). We particularly loved the restaurant’s Sashimi Sampler, the signature Baja and Ono Rolls and the delicious Lobster Ravioli. If you still have room for some dessert, go for the plum wine ice cream. Expect a trendy vibe (from the staff to the diners), along with a hip dining and bar area – and a wait for a table. Ono is located at 1236 University Ave.
St. Tropez Bakery & Bistro – Got a sweet tooth? This is the place for you! With four destinations throughout San Diego, there’s no excuse not to hit up this sweet spot during your visit. With decadent French-inspired choices that range from pastries and tarts, to cookies and cakes, St. Tropez does not disappoint. Don’t want anything too self-indulgent, go for one of the croissant choices (we loved the Almond Croissant). St Tropez also serves a nice selection of panini sandwiches, salads and crepes.
The San Diego nightlife scene includes a number of different options… from bars and lounges to traditional dance clubs. This destinations also draws some of the world’s best DJ, and has never been as vibrant, including clubs, bars, and lounges, has never been as cosmopolitan and happening as today. But before you venture out, check out some of our picks on the scene:
Eden Rooftop Bar – Overlooking San Diego’s high rises, the Eden Bar (on the rooftop at The Ivy) is the largest rooftop space in the downtown district. Reminiscent of a swanky South Beach rooftop bar, guests sunbathe, nibble on light dishes and let the bartender create something truly special. Another trendy hotspot, Eden is a great place to start the night off - before retreating downstairs to the Envy.
Envy – Like its name suggests, Envy is the “envy” of all other San Diego nightclubs. A new trendsetting hangout, Envy promises (and delivers) a night you wont soon forget. This scalding hotspot has become the adult playground of the Gaslamp district, situated within the luxury Ivy Hotel (at 630 F Street). The city’s finest spread out on the plush velvet sofa beds and mingle over dirty martinis. Oh, and hotel guests receive exclusive VIP entrance to the club – so it pays to stay the night in comfort after a long night of dancing.
The Firehouse Brewing Company – Ever wonder what the difference between a lager and a beer is? Have any clue what makes up a pale ale or what hops are for? At Firehouse Brewing Company, not only will you have these questions answered but you’ll see (firsthand) how a beer is made. The knowledgeable brew masters demonstrate and educate beer enthusiasts Monday through Friday between the hours of 9 and 5. Locals and tourists alike enjoy the Hefenweisen and Pale Ale selections, which are also the signature choice at the Firehouse Brewing Company.