5 Places You Must See on Your San Diego Vacation

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In beautiful mid-October, I traded in my ankle booties for sandals (definitely do not call them flip flops) and headed to the West Coast for the first time. And though I’m not rushing to give up my East Coast home, I definitely loved the California weather and scenery. Here are (IMHO) five places you simply must see when you Go San Diego!

1. Coronado

The beautiful, tiny island is where we spent most of our time. Over the glittering bridge from the mainland sits the charming hub of culture and charm that is Coronado. You must rent a bike and take one of the paths for a spin and get a real look at the Crown City. We rode for hours and were stoked to see the unique housing stock. Coronado looks like 100 people from 100 different cities moved there… and took their houses with them. We saw Malibu bungalows next to Victorian manors and super modern structures. And did I mention everything is within a block of the ocean (and a golf course, and a yacht club if we’re being honest)?

While you’re there you absolutely have to see the Hotel del Coronado. This massive work of architecture is one of the oldest hotels on the West Coast. Nestled on a private beach, The Del brings you back to days of Hollywood splendor, when the likes of Dean Martin and Sophia Loren could be seen lounging by the pool. Just a peek inside at the ole’ lift is worth the drive. Thankfully we got to see a lot more than that since this was the site of Jake’s beautiful cousin Colleen and her now husband James’ garden ceremony and bubbling brunch reception. (We all know I LOVE brunch.)

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We stayed at the Marriott Coronado Island Resort and wow. If you can’t stay there, take a walk on the boardwalk and just eat breakfast there. You’ll likely be joined by local birds who stop by for a taste of your jam. Best part of this place? The hammocks with ocean breezes. I could have stayed forever.

2. La Jolla

I know you remember that name from your middle school days of Hollister Co. sweatshirts. Everyone talks about La Jolla (pronounced la-hoy-ya), and for good reason. The town of major Hispanic influence is worth a stop. There is an awesome shop to rent gear for snorkeling and surfing. It was too cold for us to go in without wetsuits but the waves made the trip worthwhile for Jake.

Side note: There is nothing like a pier off a California beach. I felt like I was inside the dramatic scene where they jump in “Aquamarine.”

Take time to stop at Galaxy Taco when you’re done your day of adventures. The owner brings in fresh blue corn every day from Mexico for the homemade street tacos’ base. Yum!

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3. Seaport Village

A few minutes Uber outside downtown is the Seaport Village, home to artisanal and souvenir shops for all of your touristy needs. Be sure to stop for a cupcake at Frost Me! They don’t have a huge selection of flavors but the Nutella centers are so rich you won’t care.

Definitely stop into Hot Licks, the most expansive hot sauce shop I’ve ever seen. The husband and wife team carries a lot of authentic Mexican sauces, as well as their own line.

Funny story: A friend asked the owner of the shop to let him try the hottest sauce he had. The man gave him a toothpick with a speck of sauce out of a bottle in the back ie. danger zone of the case. One lick and I was racing off to Starbucks to buy him two kiddie cartons of milk. His mouth went numb and he sounded like a little kid with his tongue stuck to a frozen telephone pole. (And yes, I have video proof.)

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4. Balboa Park

San Diego is a fairly new city and that means it had a little more sophisticated urban planning than say, Philly. Needless to say, all the cultural centers are together in an area outside downtown called Balboa Park.

From Japanese tranquility gardens to vintage car museums, there is something for everyone at Balboa. In fact, you could spend a whole weekend there alone. My favorite part of Balboa Park deserves its own number though. The one, the only…

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5. San Diego Zoo

One of the premier zoos in the world, San Diego is more of an experience. I don’t think we got through more than half of the exhibits in the day we spent there but we had a really good time. You’re admitted with a fancy, collectible ticket and board a double decker tour bus that takes you around the whole zoo.

This zoo has EVERYTHING. Sculptures, great food, an IMAX theatre, and the most amazing habitats I’ve ever seen. The animals can be viewed from so many angles and their enclosures are so open, natural and big that I can’t imagine they even know people are watching.

This post can’t even begin to scratch the surface of the amazing trip we had. From the awesome food at Harbor Breakfast where we sat at the counter with locals (and their pooches) to the mall at Westfield Horton Plaza that looks like it popped out of a Dreamworks film. To the chic Burger King with an outdoor patio and me finally buying my very own Rainbows!

The best part of the trip really was getting to spend time with amazing family and celebrating a brand new marriage. It was the trip of a lifetime and really gave me the itch to order new luggage and keep on track with Mint so I can go out and travel more.

Are you from San Diego? What awesome places didn’t make my list? Tell me in the comments below. 

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Vacations under $500: Montreal, Canada

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My next journey is in the works and it is to *drumroll please*…Montreal! In reality, I would love to go France this year but neither my budget nor my schedule will allow it until next summer. Montreal is much closer to home, takes less travel time, and costs a lot less so it is the next best option.

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Montreal is a large French-speaking colony in southeastern Canada, less than two hours from the US border. With its culture and tiny streets, it feels like Europe. Being close to home has its perks: English speakers aplenty, similar currency rates, and a short flight.

As far as attractions go, the city has enough to keep someone as active as myself busy for a solid three to four days. I am not one to sleep-in during vacations in cities as culturally rich as Montreal- naps are for the Bahamas.

National Geographic had some great recommendations for free or low cost activities:

  • Musee de Lachine: outdoor sculpture museum along the canal
  • City Hall
  • Notre Dame Basilica: free if you go to a service
  • Musee de la Banque de Montreal: the city’s oldest bank which is now a museum
  • Parc du Mont Royal (which offers bus and hiking tours to the Belvedere observatory lookout spot) & the historic Smith House
  • McGill University’s Redpath National History Museum
  • Parc Maisonneuve area: Botanical Gardens, Insectarium, Olympic Stadium, Science Center (fees apply)
  • Marche Jean-Talon & Atwater: open air farmers’ markets

Continuing into food, I hear I must try poutine, basically fries with cheese and gravy on them. Also, local beer, honey, and smoked meat sandwiches. And surprise- bagels?! I will live to see and eat these Montrealian bagels. For around $50 you can even take a food tour of the Plateau neighborhood which is apparently the hipster center of the city.

There is also great shopping to be had down various main streets and there is a huge underground mall. You know you are in a cold, snowy climate when it was more economical to build an entire mall underground than to clear and salt the roads for the season.

The Old Port area also has culture to be explored, including small BYOBs, tiny boutiques, and the Grevin Wax Museum. Add that in with the downtown area’s jumping club scene and I see the recipe for an awesome long weekend.

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Cost

*passport not included

$50 in bus/cab/uber fare

+ $270 flight (nonstop from NYC)

+ $66 AirBNB (3 nights)

+ $50 food tour

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That brings us to a grand total of $436! Make sure to consider money for food and souvenirs. I tend to be on the low end of that because my favorite souvenirs are memories, pictures, and postcards. Plus, I enjoy buying at local markets and cooking.

When it comes to flights, I fly nonstop whenever possible. It’s more comfortable and generally takes less time. When booking flights, I try to leave early and arrive early and do the opposite on the way back, flying home late in the day. This allows the most time in the city. (Stay tuned for a packing tutorial and never pay to check a bag again.)

As far as AirBNB, I like having a home instead of a hotel. You get a lot more for your money and the guides are generally more than happy to help with directions, suggestions, and sometimes even family dinners or rides to the airport (score!) For my own reassurance, I choose to travel with friends, rent an entire apartment (not a room), and I only go with “Superhosts” (preferred hosts, screened through AirBNB) whenever possible.

If anyone has been to the land of the Maples or is a current ‘Trealiar, please comment below with suggestions!

Au revoir,

BGB

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