A Pocket Guide to San Diego, California

With its sunny countenance and village-like appeal, San Diego is constantly reinventing itself through a bubbling art scene and evolving food culture. From the sandy sidewalks of La Jolla to the Old Town stalls serving up Filipino bowls, here’s our guide to the best of the southern Californian border town’s sun-soaked streets.

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There's something about border towns: they hold a different kind of energy - kinetic and free-flowing. San Diego is pumped full of it, the endless movement in the "City in Motion" adding a diversity of culture you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere else in the US.

Sun-dappled beaches and sandy-haired surfers take centre stage in California's most southern city, but beyond the wave-pounded coastlines of La Jolla and the scenic Embarcadero, San Diego nurtures numerous neighbourhoods bristling with world-class dining opportunities, an exciting brew culture and a dynamic, inclusive art scene.

It's a big city, with communities spilling out along the coast, looping from the beachy enclaves of La Jolla, Encinitas and Carlsbad down and around San Ysidro's border edge. It feels like a collection of villages, each individual in its personality. Head to Old Town's state park for regular exhibitions celebrating Kumeyaay Nation culture, stroll Little Italy to browse jam-packed farmers' markets, explore the electric streets of the historic Mexican district, Barrio Logan, the nightlife hub that is the Gaslamp Quarter (a Californian New Orleans in miniature) and breeze your way to the city's LGBTQ+ mecca in Hillcrest for mom-and-pop Vietnamese joints squeezed between thrift stores and brunch spots. There's a strong Japanese culture at play here, too, which makes itself visible through the many sake, sushi and ramen joints. And that's not even mentioning the city's sandy extremes and polished suburbs.

Need a breather? At San Diego's heart sits the cultural hub of Balboa Park - a vast green space dotted with museums, Spanish-style architecture and San Diego Zoo. The fun of San Diego is it's rambling excess - you'll need more than a few days blocked out on your road-trip itinerary to unravel it and, even then, this sunny border town might surprise you. Set the sat nav due south - a world of wonders awaits.

hotel

The Pearl Hotel

San Diego, United States

Tucked between the blonde curves of La Jolla Cove and charming Little Italy, this 23-room local landmark brings 1970s Palm Springs to the Point Loma neighbourhood. Following a recent revamp, guests can expect an oasis of mid-century cool just two blocks from the bay. Intimate bedrooms come dressed in muted hues, and the only hint of classic-motel mojo is the original 1960s oyster-shaped pool. Otherwise, it’s all soft-washed bed linens, handmade ceramics and acacia-wood writing desks that invite you to sit down, uncap your pen and release your inner Didion.

Address

1410 Rosecrans St, CA 92106

hotel

La Valencia Hotel and Spa

La Jolla’s grande dame “pink lady” lords it over San Diego’s outer beach district from a clifftop perch offering prime views of the rolling Pacific waves. Dressed up in peachy stucco, this coastal beacon sees old-school Hollywood meet modern Med chic – all terracotta roof tiles and classic furnishings in elegant ocean-view rooms. Contemporary design geeks might find its style a little heavy-going, but a stay here is all about history. Some of Tinseltown’s greatest have walked these burnished wooden floors, including Gregory Peck, Ginger Rogers and Raymond Chandler, to name just a few. Meander along shady paths under rambling bougainvillea and blousy geranium blooms to reach the palm-lined pool, then head to the opulently tiled La Sala Lounge lobby bar for a signature Pink Lady cocktail, best enjoyed while gazing out across the waves (sunset photos very much encouraged).

Address

1132 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA 92037

hotel

Twelve Senses Retreat

Experience the low-fi energy of San Diego’s nearest surf town at this boutique B&B in soulful Encinitas. Just a 20-minute drive down Highway 101 from the city centre, the sustainable micro-retreat moulds your stay to the learnings of 19th-century philosopher Rudolf Steiner. Owner Anke Bodack has built a retreat to soothe and salve the human senses against a backdrop of windswept beach landscapes. Spend your days paddleboarding, surfing and canyon-walking with local goats (yes, really), then unwind with sound bowl healing, yoga and theta meditation practice back at the house. End the night on the roof terrace with a craft mezcal, watching the sun sink gloriously to the horizon, before slinking back to your suite – a stylish cocoon decked out in furnishings made using sustainable wool, cork and recycled leather.

Address

1004 Nardo Rd, Encinitas, CA 92024