Are you “Wild” enough to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Photo courtesy of Jeff Turner
Lots of weekend hikers who’ve read Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild, – or have seen the just-out movie starring Reese Witherspoon – have been inspired to hike at least a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.
San Diego is the place to do it. The 2,650-mile-long PCT runs from Mexico to Canada – and its first 133 miles meander through San Diego’s backyard.
The Pacific Crest Trail begins in Campo, at the U.S./Mexico border fence, about 50 miles east of downtown San Diego. From there it traverses a range of topography and climate zones – from the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (to be avoided in summer) to the mountains of the Cleveland National Forest, where trails can sometimes be snowbound in winter.
Dozens of Day-Hike Trails
There are dozens of sections of the trail accessible to day-hikers. Get great views of the desert floor and 17 surrounding peaks from the Mount Laguna section of the trail near Foster Point. Follow the trail as it wends its way along golden hillsides studded with live oak and chaparral south of Warner Springs. (You’ll see the 100-mile PCT trail marker here.) The trail crosses into Riverside County at mile 133, north of Warner Springs.
Please note, some light displays and events are weather dependent.
Here are just a few of San Diego’s Christmas Lights highlights:
San Diego Bay Parade of Lights
View more than 80 decorated boats at the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights!
More than 80 lavishly decorated boats will sail over the calm waters of the Big Bay during the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights. The parade starts at Shelter Island and makes it way down to the Ferry Landing on Coronado. Make sure to arrive early at one of the viewing spots that include: Harbor Island, Shelter Island, the Embarcadero, Seaport Village and along the pathway on Coronado.
Dozens of vessels will take to the waters of Mission Bay with decorations and lights aboard. Arrive early to secure a good viewing spot on Crown Point, the east side of Vacation Island or the west side of Fiesta Island.
Boats of all sizes get decked out with holiday lights and circle Oceanside Harbor
Fishing boats, sailboats, yachts, kayaks and dingys dressed up in holiday swag and circle the Oceanside Harbor to enchant onlookers at the harbor, restaurants and beach. Many of the boats feature people dressed up like Santa waving to the crowd. One of the best viewing spots is along the side of the Oceanside Harbor near the fishing dock and police station. From this vantage point, you can see the parade twice!
Lights, flowers and s’mores – what more could you ask for? (photo by by John Bryant)
At night, the San Diego Botanic Garden is transformed into a winter wonderland with over 100,000 lights, live music, horse drawn wagon rides, warm beverages and snow (on certain days, make sure to check in advance). Just make sure to bring a sled (no metal runners please).
A labor of love by two parents for their two sons with autism, the Schimka family has been lighting up Belardo Drive for the past seven years while raising money for the National Foundation for Autism Research. The display, which is synchronized to the music on 106.1 FM, has grown tremendously over the years and this year will include a new animated snowman and an improved spiral mega tree!
Popular San Diego Neighborhoods with Christmas Lights
There are plenty of San Diego neighborhoods who collectively get into the holiday spirit with entire blocks lit up with Christmas lights. San Diego Family Magazine has collected all the locations on one printout you can download via the link below.
The Kidvasion has begun! The 3rd annual Kids Free San Diego month kicks off today and continues through Halloween. Kids are sure to get a kick out of being VIPs (or should we say, VIKs – Very Important Kids 😉 ) all month long.
As you and your family are in town exploring the sights or planning a fun-filled fall visit to San Diego, be sure to check out these kids free deals in Mission Valley, conveniently located in the middle of it all just minutes from many major attractions.
Enjoy the sound of the San Diego river rushing through the Old Mission Dam with a free hike through Mission Trails
Mission Trails Regional Park, one of the nation’s largest urban natural parks, is free for the whole family to explore, bike and hike 42 miles of scenic trails, including paths to the historic Old Mission Dam/San Diego River and to the top of Cowles Mountain, famous for its spectacular 360-degre views. The interactive Visitor Center is cool too, as are free guided nature walks every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 9:30 AM.
Mission San Diego de Alcala
Take a trip back in time at Mission San Diego
Take a trip back to the time of the Spanish explorers and Franciscan friars who discovered San Diego at Mission San Diego de Alcala, the first mission in California (founded in 1769 and relocated to its present site in 1774). Children under 6 are free to tour the little museum (kids 6 to 12 are only $2). The Mission church and grounds, including a cool excavation site out back, are free for all to explore.
Junipero Serra Museum
Junipero Serra Museum on Presidio Hill
Kids under 6 are also free at Junipero Serra Museum on Presidio Hill overlooking Mission Valley and Old Town. It was here in 1769 that the Spanish friar Junípero Serra and a group of soldiers built California’s first mission and a fort (called “presidio” in Spanish). The original buildings are gone, but an impressive Spanish-style museum sits on the site today.
Lots of restaurants in Mission Valley’s hotels and resorts are rolling out the red carpet for children 12 and under. Kids eat free (with purchase of an adult entrée) at:
Kids eat free at the tiki-tastic Crowne Plaza Hotel!
Just in case you haven’t heard, there are two things that define San Diego: the beach and beer. Magic happens when these two come together. Such is the case withDraft, the newestrestaurant at historicBelmont Parkon Mission Beach. Draft recently opened its doors on the boardwalk overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean. So, in the spirit of research, and a much-needed drink, I stopped by with the mission to draft you a picture.
Beer labels dress the tables and rails of Draft
I visited during lunch time and sat inside near the patio to enjoy the beautiful ocean view. The décor can be labeled as exactly that: labels. Beer labels cover the tables and rails, over by the bar you can see the more than 69 beer taps that make this place so special. Next to the bar adjacent to two pool tables, you can’t miss the wall-sized 31.5-ft television screen displaying scenic images of San Diego and local brewing companies. Draft shows major sporting events and has become quite the hot spot to watch sports. On the other side of the bar, tucked away in a glass room, you can see all the kegs being pumped to keep the beer flowing.
The pistachio crusted salmon sandwich was the perfect choice for a nice lunch near the beach
Looking at the menu, it was hard to make a decision. I went for the pistachio crusted salmon sandwich (with meyer lemon aioli, arugula and fennel) and a side of fries, of course. My burger-looking-sandwich is one of the best I’ve had, so many graceful flavors twirling on my taste buds. I could barely taste the pistachio, which was perfect because I was afraid it would be overwhelming. The fries where perfect too, thick and crispy – a must in my book.
Draft offers 69 beers on tap and 50 bottles from local, national and international breweries
Drinks? Obviously by the name, this is beer paradise, offering a true representation of San Diego’s IPAs, Porters, Stouts and beyond. With more than 60 options on tap and 50 bottles that rotate seasonally, it really comes down to picking your poison, or should I say passion? If you are not sure what to order, ask the staff, they will happily guide you to the right choice.
Close the deal with a lemon meringue milkshake or the churro bites
When dessert time came, I couldn’t say no. I’ve heard so much about the lemon meringue milkshake (with toasted meringue and lemon curd) that I had to have it. I also ordered the churro bites (cardamom, lemon and horchata anglaise) since I grew up eating churros and am always curious to try different versions. When the desserts came, the milkshake took the spotlight, even the table next to me asked what it was. The best way I could describe the flavor is: lemony, but not too lemony, sweet, but not too sweet. It was good! I was so full by the time I finished my milkshake that I couldn’t eat much of the churros bites. They were very soft, but not too sweet, with more of a subtle taste.
If you love beer, the beach and great food, give Draft a go. It’s a delicious addition to the Mission Beach scene and to America’s finest and hoppiest city.
Good to know:
They have a kids menu.
Happy Hour is served Monday – Friday from 4 to 6pm.
Brunch is served Saturday – Sunday from 9am to 4pm.
Parking is free at Belmont Park, but might be difficult to find during summer and weekends. If you can’t find parking on the three lots adjacent to Belmont Park, you can try the lot across the street from the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster.
What else to order:
Slacker jack popcorn
Pork belly corn dogs with truffled mustard
Mac n’ cheese with English peas, thyme, mushrooms, chives and smoky cheese
Draft is located at 3105 Ocean Front Walk, San Diego, CA 92109
Open Monday – Friday from 11am to 2am and Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 2am
Let your four-legged best friend run free at one of the dog beaches in San Diego
If you are a dog owner like me, you know the heart-breaking sad look your pup gives you when you are about to leave him home alone. Luckily, San Diego is a city that loves our furry friends and offers many dog friendly places to enjoy the city. Among those you can find many great dog beaches to play on the sand and swim in the ocean.
Dog Beach – Ocean Beach
Off Leash 24 hours
Located in laidback community of Ocean Beach, you can find the Original Dog Beach. This is the mother of all dog beaches, considered one of the first official leash-free beaches in the United States. Frequented by surfers and boogie boarders, this popular dog beach offers free parking, nearby restrooms, showers and a dual-level drinking fountain for canines and humans. The dog beach area is not only easy to find, but it’s set between a marina and jetty, which prevents adventuresome dogs from sprinting into the sunset. You can find shallow waters, ideal for smaller pups, and sturdier waves, for intrepid ones. If your dog loves mingling with other pooches, playing with the waves, then this is the place to go.
North Beach – Coronado
Off Leash 24 hours
Just a few miles north from the legendary Hotel del Coronado and adjacent to the Naval Air Station, Coronado North Beach is a little piece of doggie paradise. This white sandy dog beach offers strong waves, nearby amenities and a beautiful view. Driving there will give you and your companion the opportunity to dribble at the sight of Coronado’s elegant homes and mansions. Parking is off-street and might be difficult to find during weekends, so unless you get there early or in the evening you might have to walk a couple of blocks. Be ready to bump into many happy wet noses, this is definitely the perfect place if your dog likes to socialize and you don’t mind being randomly greeted by curious pups. A few of the perks that I personally enjoy are the nearby bathrooms, free dog littler bags and showers for canines.
Jeremy loves to play fetch in the waves at San Diego’s Dog Beaches
Fiesta Island’s Dog Run – Mission Beach
Off Leash 24 hours
If your four-legged friend prefers calmer waters and less crowded areas, this is the place for you. Located in Mission Bay, facing SeaWorld, Fiesta Island is home to the San Diego Youth Aquatic Center and a popular location for recreational water sports. Driving towards the end of the island, recognizable by the fenced area, you will find Dog Run. This is one of San Diego’s largest off-leash areas for dogs with lots of greenery areas, very calm waters and plenty of sand. There are no restrooms available, except for the occasional scattered port-a -potties. Visiting the island you will encounter many families that spend the whole day there either camping or on their jet skis. The dog area is calmer, bliss for the doggies who love to swim and play fletch.
Dog Beach in Del Mar – Del Mar
Off Leash from September 15 – June 15
North Beach, affectionately called Dog Beach, is the middle point between stunning million dollar houses and the Pacific Coastline. The off-leash season is September 15 through June 15, otherwise leashes are required. You can find the dog beach area on the border of Del Mar and Solana Beach, adjacent to the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Parking might be challenging, since most parking spots are metered, so make sure to bring plenty of change if you don’t want to get a ticket. Free parking can be found south of the river, but that area can get crowded on the weekends. Just like in Fiesta Island, port-a-potties are provided along the beach area. When the tides are low, Fido or Fifí can find plenty of room to run about. One of the pluses is the beautiful scenery, which you can enjoy while your pal splashes along the water chasing the waves.
Other Available Dog Beaches
Cardiff State Beach – Located one mile south of Cardiff on Old Highway 101
Dogs are allowed here on leash only
Imperial Beach – Located north of Palm Avenue and south of Imperial Beach Blvd
Dogs are allowed here on leash only
La Jolla Shores Beach – Located along Camino Del Oro
Dogs are allowed on leash here and at the adjacent Kellogg Park from 6:00 PM to 9:00 AM
I’m on a “mission” (pun intended 😉 ) to find the most affordable sights, bites and places to stay in Mission Valley and share them with you for when you visit San Diego.
Find out how to win a stay in San Diego when you finish reading this post!
Mission San Diego de Alcala
Mission San Diego de Alcala in Mission Valley
Mission San Diego de Alcala, the first in a chain of 21 Alta California missions, is our first stop. For only $3 you can visit a small museum brimming with artifacts from the mission’s early years. It’s pretty cool and surreal being able to step back into time to the 1770s – especially with so much modern development in the valley now. Also be sure to check out the quaint chapel, padre’s quarters and stroll through the beautiful gardens, including a cool archeological dig!
Just down the road is Mission Trails Regional Park, one of the nation’s largest urban natural parks covering over 6,005 acres and featuring 42 miles of scenic trails for hiking, mountain biking, birding and rock climbing. Best of all: it’s Free – everything! – including free guided nature walks every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 9:30 AM. Stop by the Visitor Center to get the lay of the land.
A fantastic view from the top of Cowles Mountain
My favorite spots are the historic Old Mission Dam on the San Diego River and Cowles Mountain where you’ll be rewarded with spectacular 360 degree views of all of San Diego from its 1,592 foot peak!
The San Diego River
San Diego River flowing through Mission Valley
Running through Mission Valley is the picturesque San Diego River. It’s sometimes hard to find through all the condos and shopping centers, but it’s there. Pedestrian/bicycling paths can be found along the Mission Valley Greenway between Texas Street and Hazard Center. There’s also urban kayaking, for the more adventuresome!
Mission Valley Eats
If you’ve worked up an appetite, at Mission Valley Center the popular new Broken Yolk Café is perfect for breakfast or brunch (recommend the eggs benedict and hash browns). Nearby Pho’ Cali serves up some of the tastiest Vietnamese beef noodle soups. And for dinner, local favorite Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza is yummy, as is Oki Ton Japanese Bistro, one of the best sushi bars in town!
Tiki Oasis in the Heart of San Diego
Tiki Oasis art at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Mission Valley
If you’re looking for a place to rest your head at night, look no further than Hotel Circle North and South dotted with numerous affordable motels, hotels and resorts. My personal fav is the tiki oasis known as Crowne Plaza Hotel (formerly the Hanalei).
Back in the day it was much more tiki-fied, but remnants remain and it’s a hoot to spot Polynesian artifacts in the lobby and pool areas. The Crowne Plaza, BTW, is the site of 14th annual Tiki Oasis festival on August 14-17. I’ll be there! 🙂
Tip: To see all of Mission Valley in one fell swoop, catch a ride on the San Diego Trolley’s scenic Green Line which hugs the San Diego River. It only costs $2.50 ($5 for a day pass), with convenient stops at Mission Valley Center and Mission San Diego.
See you in Mission Valley – in the middle of it all!
Mission Possible: Stay and Play in San Diego Sweepstakes
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to stay and play in the heart of San Diego.
Just steps from the San Diego Marriott Mission Valley’s central location, the Rio Vista Trolley Station makes it a breeze to visit some of the best of San Diego offerings including Petco Park, Old Town, Gaslamp Quarter and the Embarcadero.
The entry page will self destruct on Monday, 9 June 2014, at 10:00 AM.
See music in the making on a tour of Taylor Guitars’ factory floor
Bet you didn’t know that three of the world’s most renowned musical instrument companies are headquartered in San Diego’s picturesque East County – in the cities of El Cajon and Spring Valley and small town of Mount Laguna.
Join me for a fine tuned tour of East County to discover where world-class guitars, banjos and harps are made:
Taylor Guitar Company
Rockin’! Taylor Guitars Factory Tour in El Cajon
Our first stop is Taylor Guitar Company in El Cajon, a world-famous designer of top-line acoustic and electric guitars celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Taylor Guitars are played by some of the top musicians in rock and country music, including Neil Young and San Diego’s very own Jason Mraz. Visitors can take a free guided tour of the Taylor factory Monday through Friday at 1:00 PM.
Did you know: Taylor made 130,000 guitars in 2013!
Nearby Spring Valley is home to Deering – The Great American Banjo Company, played by contemporary musicians like Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Mumford & Sons and even Steve Martin (who’s collaborating with Edie Brickell BTW on the world-premiere musical “Bright Star” at The Old Globe theater in Balboa Park). Deering is the largest banjo manufacturer in the U.S., producing 10,000 of the sweet twanged musical instruments last year. Visitors can take a free Deering factory tour Tuesday through Friday at 1:00 PM. Call/email in advance to schedule a tour date: 1.800.845.7791, email@example.com.
Did you know: Deering produces more than 80 banjo models, including their basic Goodtime banjo that sells for $499.
Tucked away, high atop East County’s Mount Laguna – popular for hiking, camping and frolicking in the snow during the winter – is a world-renowned music marvel most San Diegans don’t know about: Robinson’s Harp Shop. Since 1967 this harp string manufacturer, housed in a cabin near the town’s general store, has been sending custom-made strings to loyal customers around the world. There aren’t any visitor tours, as it’s a low-profile, five-person operation that makes the most of its time to produce 150,000 handmade harp strings per year. But Laguna is lovely to visit any time of year…Check out my camping blog, featuring Laguna’s pristine alpine wilderness.
Did you know: Robinson’s is one of only four such harp shops in the U.S., and three of those are related to each other!
With all the beautiful beaches and great hiking trails, it can be easy for visitors to San Diego to forget that the city is also home to incredible art museums and up-and-coming galleries. Fortunately, for locals and visitors alike, you don’t have to head indoors to find great art – it’s all around you in San Diego!
Murals of La Jolla
A mural by Fred Tomaselli is just one of the Murals of La Jolla
Since 2010, more than a dozen artists have transformed the coastal seaside village of La Jolla into an outdoor contemporary art gallery. The Murals of La Jolla feature massive painted and photographic works by local artists as well as international contemporary art stars.
Writerz Blok, a project of the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation
Started as a community initiative to prevent vandalism, Writerz Blok in southeast San Diego offers one of the most unexpected and extraordinary art experiences in San Diego. Young San Diego street artists continually make over the park’s 10,000 sq. ft., which is covered inch for inch with graffiti art.
Galleta Meadows Dragon sculpture!
Surrounded by the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and citrus groves, Galleta Meadows features 40 fantastic metal sculptures of dinosaurs, mammoths, saber-tooth tigers, sloths and other ancient former residents, as well as life-size animals of the non-prehistoric kind: camels, tortoises and wild stallions. Created by artist Ricardo Breceda, his “Sky Art” project tells the tale of San Diego’s fascinating and fossilized past one free standing, steel-welded sculpture at a time.
Outdoor Art Comes Indoors: Art Alive at the San Diego Museum of Art
Bella Meyer’s moss angel for Art Alive 2013. What will this year’s design look like?
In April, the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park blossoms during Art Alive, an enchanting spring exhibition. Transforming the museum into a colorful display of art and flowers, 120 floral designers take inspiration from the museum’s renowned art collection and create floral renditions of famous paintings and sculptures.
However, the most spectacular part of Art Alive is always the museum’s atrium. Each year, one designer is picked to create and enormous floral design that fills the rotunda from top to bottom. This year’s designer, Carlos Franco of Green Fresh Florals, was inspired by the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain. Expect to see a design composed of 175 hanging pots, 120 bunches of roses, 300 boxwood bunches, 200 bunches of yellow china and white china mums, 8 date palms, 16 conical cypress trees, and 10 rose trees.
Volunteers prep hundreds of plants and flowers for Art Alive at the San Diego Museum of Art.
Still looking for more places to find art in unexpected places? Check out the Los Angeles Times‘ suggestions for finding outdoor art in San Diego, or watch our video tour or art in usual places:
Spring is here and there’s no better time to make a splash on San Diego Bay – also called the “Big Bay” – with its treasure trove of attractions, tours, events and cool points of interest.
Following are my top 5 to Try:
1. The Port of San Diego’s Annual Day at the Docks
Spend a day with the kids fishing.
The Port of San Diego’s Day at the Docks celebration in April is the West Coast’s largest public sportfishing celebration – and the official start of Southern California’s popular spring saltwater fishing season. Festivities at American’s Cup Harbor include over 200 maritime exhibits, live entertainment, a casting competition, captains’ dunk tank, free fishing and kids art areas. It’s fun and free!
2. The San Salvador
Rendering of how the San Salvador ship will look when completed.
Did you know: in 1542 European explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed aboard his ship, the San Salvador, and reached “a very good enclosed port” naming it “San Miguel.” Today we call it San Diego Bay and visitors can step back in time to check out the Maritime Museum of San Diego’s building of a full-sized, fully functional, historically accurate replica of Cabrillo’s flagship, the San Salvador. The framing is nearly complete and it’s easy to imagine the ship that she will become. Ahoy!
3. The Living Coast Discovery Center
See sea turtles up close at Living Coast Discovery Center.
The South Bay city of Chula Vista is home to one of my favorite attractions for up-close animal encounters: the Living Coast Discovery Center. You can see endangered green sea turtles (tip: go during feeding time!), leopard sharks, friendly stingrays (minus the stingers so you can pet them!) and magnificent birds like falcons and burrowing owls. The observation tower and hiking trails afford picturesque views of the surrounding wetlands and bay.
4. Seeing the Big Bay…While on the Big Bay
Speed across San Diego’s Big Bay aboard a jet powered boat like Flagship’s Patriot
Foodies and shoppers are in for a treat at the new Headquarters at Seaport District, located in San Diego’s former Spanish-style police headquarters (pose for pix in an actual jail cell). Nosh on gourmet tacos at Puesto or grab a slice at Pizzeria Mozza, Chef Mario Batali’s first foray into San Diego’s dining scene. Shop-portunties include local surf photographer Aaron Chang’s Ocean Art Gallery and Kitson, a celebrity hot spot and go-to fashion boutique dedicated to pop culture.
Pick your own adventure and discover the many wonders of San Diego’s Big Bay this spring! 🙂
Meet a few of the over 10,000 butterflies in the Butterfly Jungle
Each spring the Safari Park’s Hidden Jungle exhibit is filled with amazing and delightful exotic butterflies of all colors and sizes, and guests can walk among them, take photos, and enjoy pointing out different species using a butterfly identification guide provided by the park. There’s something for everyone, from fun kids’ activities to special presentations to fascinating facts about these wonderful winged insects.
Swirl and savor more than 200 handcrafted wines at VinDiego
VinDiego is about people coming together to celebrate a shared passion; a passion for great wine and mouth-watering gourmet food. Come sip, swirl and savor a selection of over 200 handcrafted wines from top-tier wineries. There will also be a fantastic variety of wonderful local restaurants offering delicious culinary samples.
It’s a full weekend of roddin’ at the beach in ol’ Del Mar.
It’s a full weekend of roddin’ at the beach in ol’ Del Mar featuring a giant show and shine with 1972 and earlier, rods, customs, classics, muscle cars and trucks. Watch the crowning of the Goodguys March Performance Street Rod d’Elegance and a Super Sunday Get-Together for late-model American made or powered cars on Sunday. See more than 3,000 cars, indoor and outdoor car shows, plus vendor exhibits, swap meet and car corral, Goodguys AutoCross, nightly parties, special woody exhibit, live music, model car show and much more!
In the magical world of Don Quixote’s Spain, the eccentric knight pursues his impossible dream of capturing the heart of Dulcinea, his idealized woman, who sends him on a quest to recover her stolen necklace. With his loyal sidekick Sancho, he tilts at giant windmills, confronts bandits, and is nearly killed, but achieves his goal. However, when he returns with the prize, he is mocked, scorned and rejected. In one of the most emotional scenes in opera, the delirious Quixote dies believing he hears Dulcinea’s voice calling to him from a distant star.
Enjoy craft beer from 10 local breweries paired with small bites from 10 local restaurants, including Green Flash Brewing, Lost Abbey, Societe Brewing, Urbn Street and Alchemy Cultural Fare. In addition to local craft beer and delicious food, SILO will host a variety of interactive games including bocce ball, ping-pong, beanbag toss and life-sized Jenga. Local makers will also be on-hand displaying and talking with guests about custom menswear, murals, silk-screening and home brewing.