I am a frequent visitor to the San Diego area. But, I mainly go to meditate and hike at the beach. I typically spend a lot of time in Encinitas, La Jolla, and Old Town, but not so much time downtown. Downtown San Diego is similar to other downtown areas in other metros. There are a higher concentration of French restaurants and steak houses than in other areas.
Dining and art downtown!
During my last visit to downtown San Diego about a year ago, I found that parking was not so easy to find unless you were willing to pay for it. I spent $10 to park for about two hours in a paid lot. I researched places to eat ahead of time. I browsed through the names of the restaurants. Nothing seemed to tempt me like the Tapas place. So, I went there. I enjoyed a tapas meal at Sevilla that consisted of many smaller dishes including a lamb empanada, meatballs, seafood tacos, wine and a few other dishes. They seem to have changed their menu, so the dishes I had no longer exist. But, as a general rule, Paella Valenciana is the most traditional dish that is a “must try”. After my enjoyable meal, I strolled down the street and enjoyed many very unusual art galleries. There is also wine tasting downtown. I didn’t do any, but if you plan ahead, you can research where to go and what to try!
Balboa Park: Museums, Gardens, Parks, and more!
San Diego has a wonderful part of town where there are parks, museums, and their world famous zoo. This is roughly a mile and a half North of the Financial District downtown. Parking here can be a nightmare, so come when nobody else wants to come or after they leave! If you just want to go for a nice two hour stroll, there are many choices for places to walk. You can walk around the gardens near the museums, and you can also go on the other side of the road to where there are jogging trails in the dirt.
I am a huge fan of gardens, and enjoyed strolling through the rose gardens. There is also the Alcazar garden, Palm Canyon, Desert Gardens, Old Cactus Garden (behind the recital hall), the Japanese friendship garden, and Australian Garden, and a Lily Pond. These gardens are not aligned in an organized fashion, so you might have to walk around a bit to find them all. Good luck!
The “cultural area” near the United Nations Association has mini houses from different countries in the world. If you go at the prescribed time (sorry, I don’t know when that is), you can eat foods from those countries, see some art, and get other information. It is fun, but not a very thorough way to “see the world”.
First of all, the traditional Spanish architecture of the museums is so amazing, that people come from all over to savor its beauty. Marriages take place in the parks near the museum almost daily since it is so breathtaking there. You can enjoy the Air and Space museum, Automotive museum, Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego History Center, Timken Museum of Art, The San Diego Museum of Art, Mingei International Museum, San Diego Art Institute, San Diego Natural History Museum, The Reuben H Fleet Science Center, San Diego Museum of Man, a variety of Theatres,
I enjoyed several very pleasant meals at Prado. They have a nice selection of wines by the glass, innovative desserts and many interesting dishes on the menu. The patio in the back is huge, and is a very relaxing place to have a meal with family, friends, or dining solo.
Spanish Village Art Center
No visit to Balboa park is complete without strolling through all the dozens of galleries at the Spanish Village Art Center! There are many galleries with Spanish themes, San Diego themes, as well as many that work with glass. Enjoy!
To sum it up, visiting downtown San Diego is fun, but parking is a nightmare. Sea World and the San Diego Zoo are famous, and you should visit both. But, there are many other parts of San Diego County worth visiting too, so don’t neglect the other magical activities you could do.