Mary Steele is an avid cruiser and writer hailing from the Port of Boston. She primarily covers cruise port destinations and helps her readers decide what to see, what to do, and best of all – what to avoid.
What can be said about a perpetually sunny destination – other than fabulous? San Diego is a departure point for many cruising to the Mexican Riveria ports of Mazatlan, Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta, but it is a destination in its own right. If you only have a day to spend (like we did), choosing what to see and do can be tricky. Depending on what you are in the mood for, here are some of my top recommendations:
Bistros, Boutiques and Baseball: San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter
If you want to stay in the heart of the action, look for hotels in the Gaslamp Quarter. The area is eight city blocks long and home to more than 100 bars, coffee shops and restaurants. All the major hotel brands have properties in the area, and prices can run high. There’s also a convention center nearby, and rooms fill quite quickly when a convention heads this way. So, book your hotel rooms early.
For sports fans, Petco Park is home to the San Diego Padres baseball team. Opened in 2004, the stadium is within walking distance of the Gaslamp Quarter. You have a full view of the field from the city street, which is a very unusual design. It’s also in an up-and-coming residential area, home to million-dollar condos that overlook the stadium.
If shop ‘til you drop is more your style, be sure to swing through Horton Plaza. It’s a multilevel mall representing all the major retailers, guaranteed to satisfy your inner fashionista.
Sun and Sand: San Diego Beaches
Once you’ve checked in, the most obvious choice is to head to San Diego’s world-renowned beaches. Mission Beach with its boardwalk offers much more than sea and sand. You can skateboard, rollerblade or bike, all with equipment you can rent nearby for the day or the hour. Or take a ride on one of the last remaining wooden roller coasters. If you just want to watch the scenery–people or sea–arrive early; parking spots fill up fast.
A bit farther up the coast is swanky La Jolla. The hilly seaside community offers a scenic village, dramatic cliffs and secluded coves. The posh village has upscale restaurants, boutiques and art galleries.
Pandas and Polar Bears: San Diego Zoo
Another must-see attraction is the world-famous San Diego Zoo, less than five miles from downtown San Diego. Commit the entire day to this activity — you won’t regret it. The zoo covers 100 acres of lushly landscaped exhibits, and is home to more than 4,000 animals in mostly moated, “cageless” exhibits. Be sure to take in the polar bears swimming in their own viewable pool and the pandas, which were a gift to the zoo from China. You can even check back on your newfound friends via live webcam when you return home. Trams or gondolas will take you around the park when you get weary from walking, and you will.
For young kids, SeaWorld is close by as well. But don’t try to do both in one day—both are far too large.
The San Diego Airport is a mere 10 minutes from downtown San Diego. The cruise port terminal is about the same distance. This translates into about a $10-$15 cab ride to either destination. Renting a car is fairly economical, but gasoline is very expensive here. San Diego gas prices are about 25% more than the average U.S. price. Keep that fact in mind if you plan on driving up to Napa or Sonoma in California’s wine country.
Vineyard Day Trips
Numerous local wineries offer a quick escape from the city. While Napa and Sonoma require a real time commitment due to the traffic, Temecula, California, doesn’t. It’s about 60 miles from San Diego and home to 22 wineries, most of which offer daily tours and tastings for a small fee.