Filled with hundreds of stunning species of plant life — from eucalyptus trees to cacti and roses — Balboa Park’s award-winning gardens and distinctive Spanish Renaissance architecture will introduce you to the splendor you’ll experience while driving through Southern California. Inside the park, explore the world-famous San Diego Zoo and some of the city’s most beloved museums, like the Air & Space Museum. Or attend one of the diverse outdoor festivals Balboa hosts throughout the year, such as the popular December Nights, which lights up the park for the holidays and fills it with seasonal treats, décor and dance performances.
Once you’ve cruised around the park — including the historic Cabrillo Bridge — head 1 ½ miles west on Laurel Street into Little Italy, a hip enclave just southwest of the park. Peruse unique boutique shops that line the streets of this neighborhood, such as Architectural Salvage, with its wide array of period building materials like vintage doorknobs, as well as fine art galleries, like the contemporary Subtext Gallery.
Take a cocktail break at San Diego’s oldest tavern, the Waterfront Bar & Grill, and then bite into an authentic Italian meal at the popular Filippi’s Pizza Grotto on India Street. Order an entire pie for the family or meatball lasagna just for you. Adjacent to the restaurant, you’ll also find a take-home market. Here, you can purchase items to practice cooking your own Italian cuisine.
Tour 2: Make It a Beach Day and Cruise Along the Coastline
Looking for some beach action? Drive less than 15 miles north of downtown to La Jolla to begin your self-driving tour along California’s coastline. Start your day with phenomenal surf-breaking shore views served up with an order of Giuseppe’s French toast, the prime smoked salmon presentation or a hearty helping of eggs at Caroline’s Seaside Cafe, one of the tastiest breakfast joints in the area. Tip: Try to arrive before 9 a.m. on the weekends. It’s first come, first served, and the line can get long quickly.
For those who prefer a later start, head to downtown La Jolla and grab a quick picnic lunch from Deli-icious. Then drive just a few minutes down to the Children’s Pool to watch the sea lions frolic before making your way to the world-famous Sunny Jim Sea Cave, the only one of seven ocean-carved caves accessible by land.
When you are ready to hit the road again, cruise Pacific Coast Highway through Pacific Beach and Mission Beach, two of San Diego’s quintessential beach communities, before heading into bohemian Ocean Beach, where you can catch the sunset at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. What’s for dinner? None other than what many consider San Diego’s best fish tacos at South Beach Bar and Grille, located at the end of Ocean Beach’s famed Newport Avenue.