Before I moved to Southern California, I asked some natives advice on where to live. They told me pros and cons of the major cities, but no one had anything bad to say about San Diego. The more time I spend there, I see why.
There’s a lot to do in this quintessential coastal city, and plenty to recommend it, whether you are looking for a place to land for a short time, or forever. As an LA denizen, I have taken the approximate three-hour road trip to San Diego many times to explore this laid back metropolis that calls itself America’s Finest City, and here are some of my favorite places to stay and dine.
An Island of its Own
While Coronado is not within the city limits of San Diego, this quaint resort island, located across the San Diego Bay, is definitely worth a side trip. Coronado owes its enduring appeal to the forethought of its founders who zoned the shoreline to restrict commercial businesses, such as taco shops or souvenir stands. While there was debate among residents when the 1.5-mile bridge that connects San Diego to the island opened the city to tourism, the island remains carefully developed and has avoided the rampant commercialism of many other Southern California beach resorts.
The In-Del-ible Resort
One of the main attractions of Coronado is The Hotel Del Coronado, a grand Victoria hotel built in 1887 which has been designated a California Historical Landmark. Renowned for its iconic red-shingled spires and the charm of its original all-wooden construction, this elegant and old-school luxury hotel has hosted generations of families, who come back year after year to celebrate its family friendly traditions.
Its most famous attractions, besides its five-star restaurants, Olympic-sized pool and ocean front location, include an antique elevator with an operator in uniform, an enormous Christmas tree in the lobby during the winter holidays, along with an ice rink over the courtyard, and bonfires and s’mores on the beach year-round. The property was recently acquired by Hilton, but for purists who liked The Del just like its been for the last 130 years, everything has pretty much stayed the same, except for a few 2.0 upgrades, like the video wall behind the check-in desks and the swanky lounge music piped into the lobby.
Also on the island is the Glorietta Bay Inn, across the street from The Del and overlooking the marina on the back side of the island. This hidden-in-plain-site gem offers a similar historical mystique to its more famous neighbor and in fact once served as the residence of the Del’s owner, John Spreckels, an ambitious and inspiring mogul of steamboats, ocean liners and railways.
Spreckels left an indelible legacy with the masterpiece resort he built, and the Glorietta pays homage to him by preserving the original elegance of his home. The inn features a presidential suite, with its own elevator, that sits atop the original building with panoramic views of the bay, featuring a vista of swaying palm trees by day and the twinkling lights of the marina at night. While the historic touches are maintained, the rooms feature modern technology, such as a charging bank with multiple USB ports as well as an awesome hi-fi Wi-Fi Bluetooth speaker combo alarm clock.
While the ultra-luxurious beds and other amenities offer visitors the comforts of home, the Glorietta is set apart from its competition by its small-hotel hospitality, such as the refreshing lemonade offered at check-in, a complimentary breakfast each morning to be enjoyed in the sunny courtyard, a kids’ game room and other communal sitting rooms, along with warm cookies and milk served nightly.
Dining across San Diego
One thing there is no shortage of in San Diego is restaurants. Driving through the quarters of the city, there seems to be an endless collection of eateries of every persuasion. No matter what your tastes are, you can find a restaurant to suit your appetite.
If beach casual is your thing, the OB Surf Lodge, located on the corner of Santa Monica Avenue and Abbott Street in Ocean Beach, offers everything you’d expect from a casual beach bar and restaurant. For starters, there’s the spectacular view. The dining room features large open windows overlooking the beach across the street, so diners feel more like they on a patio than sitting indoors. Some nights, the restaurant becomes front row to a free street show of fire dancers and Cirque-du-Soleil-like AcroYoga performers.
Despite the primo real estate, the restaurant does not rely on the draw of the sunsets to bring in patrons but also features a terrific menu of plenty of strong drinks and good food.
They are famous for their Swell Times Mai Tai, topped with a froth of guava foam. The hanger steak and grilled romaine salad are also popular, and for a big finish, the Chef’s Bread Pudding ‘Du Jour” is a regularly changing recipe.
JSix Degrees of Delicious
Named for its location at the corner of J Street and Sixth streets in the East Village, JSix features California Cuisine with Filipino influences from Executive Chef Anthony Sinsay. The modern, lofty space with vaulted ceilings and original brick walls lend a cool yet relaxed vibe, with a bar where the drinks are hip, fun and flirty, like the Designated Drinker cocktail of Greenmark vodka, aperol, lemon, vanilla, berries, and mint.
Chef Sinsay has created a menu of many of his favorite personal dishes like Lumpia Shanghai, Filipino crispy spring rolls served with a garlic chili vinegar – served on a homey floral “grandma plate,” wrapped in aluminum foil, in the fashion of street vendors in the Philippines. The chef makes food into works of epicurean art, like the local melon and prosciutto, decorated with tiny edible floral garnishes and farmer’s market melons, with speck, burrata and espelette.
Sinsay says he is writing a book about his culinary arc, from first believing that his Filipino culinary heritage was not “good enough.” Luckily, Sinsay didn’t get discouraged and continued to hone his Filipino recipies, adding his flair and attitude, to create a dining experience one does not have to travel half the world to enjoy.
San Diego Attractions
A major attraction of San Diego is its hospitable climate, making the city and its surrounding area ideal for all manner of outdoor recreation. Visitors who want to take full advantage of the year-round moderate temperatures and sunshine can enjoy a plethora of activities, including whale watching and sailing; bike, kayak and other adventure tours; yacht cruises; nearby theme parks including Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, Disneyland in Anaheim, LEGOLAND California in Carlsbad, and SeaWorld (which I have forsworn because of the animal shows, but they do have some great rides); a hot new adrenaline park; pick-your-own strawberry fields; horse racing at the nearby Del Mar racetrack; museums and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park at Balboa Park; and shopping at Seaport Village. The city makes the best of its natural amenities, providing a fine way of life for those call it home and offering visitors many fine options for adventure, earning the city its deserved moniker as one of California’s (and one of the nation’s) finest.
Forget everything you know about Indian food when you step into Tumbi. On a trendy stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard, where a common Indian restaurant would not survive the what’s-next Westsider crowd, this upscale craft Indian kitchen is bustling, even on a typically slow week night. Certainly, the food itself is an allure, but the cool ambiance and outstanding service at this Santa Monica Indian eatery round out an excellent dining experience.
Chef Imran Ali Mookhi’s modern twist on Indian faire is inventive and daring, but of course first you must figure out what to order on a menu that seems exotic even to Indian food fans. Luckily, the serving staff is eager to help.
As our server was quick to note, Tumbi is unlike any other Indian restaurant. The menu is a mix of Indian gourmet foods and traditional street food, organized in categories equivalent to appetizers, entrees, and sides, listed as Start, Street, Tandoor, Dosa, Pot, and Side. With a quick primer, we learned that on average people order about five different items from the menu to share.
Even for someone like myself who is intimidated by Indian food, due to my lack of knowledge about it, the server’s enthusiasm and warm manner was inviting, and her descriptions of the food and its preparation made the menu intriguing yet accessible. When the chef learned I was a newcomer to Indian cuisine, he came out to give his recommendations.
We started with a bursting-with-freshness heirloom tomato and caramelized pineapple salad with turmeric yogurt and mustard oil. This we enjoyed with a side of garlic naan. Our server relayed that the nanna bread here is known as “phenomenal,” in varieties of traditional, garlic, and malai.
We followed with a signature dish called Butter Chicken, figuring you can’t go wrong with any dish with both ‘butter’ and ‘chicken’ in the name. The savory boneless leg meat is simmered for 10 hours in a in mildly spicy tomato curry sauce, which adds to the rich vegetable flavor. The laborious process to cook this dish was well worth trouble.
Next we had Apricot Curry Patagonian Toothfish Masala – a soft and flakey seabass steak, which was cooked in the tandoor Indian clay oven. This method cooks the fish at a high heat, with the fat dripping onto the coals at temperatures of up to 900 degrees Fahrenheit, preserving the juices and sealing in the flavor. Again, the means were worth the end result. This fish steak was delectable.
From the Street category, we munched on the Vada Pav & Ildi Fries, which are spiced potato patties with gun-powder seared pav bread, along with rice fries, which are sticks of steamed rice that is breaded and deep fried into satisfyingly crispy treats.
We wrapped up our meal with a delicious crunchy empanada-style dessert, a hard-shelled pastry filled with sweets and nuts and drizzled in chocolate and served with a small dollop of barfi Indian ice cream.
All the courses were presented with artistry that matched the extravagant flavors and spices, inspired by tastes from Rajasthan, New Delhi, Goa, Chennai, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Tumbi is a hot mix of authentic street food with Indian haute cuisine, with a laid-back chic vibe that makes an Indian food newbie’s epicurean journey across India an inviting experience. If Tumbi – named after an Indian musical instrument – is the music of Indian food, play on.
Many of my fondest childhood memories are from summer camp — minus the time a huge hairy spider jumped onto my sleeping bag. That traumatizing incident aside, I loved camping as a kid; but as I have gotten older, and dare I say more delicate, my favorite thing about camping has been coming home and taking a real shower and sleeping in the clean sheets of my own bed.
Now that I have a child of my own, I didn’t want to deprive him of the wonders of camping, but just the thought of sleeping on the ground makes my back hurt. Thankfully, I learned about the compromise of communing with nature by day but slumbering comfortably in a cozy bed at night through an experience called “glamping.”
There’s no room service, though glamping resorts are designed for those who love nature but also crave creative comforts. If five-star accommodations under the stars sounds like your sort of outdoor adventure, here are some SoCal campsites to check out.
At the recently revamped Ventura Ranch, the camping experience includes deluxe cabins featuring indoor bathrooms, kitchens, AC and heat, and other hotel-like amenities, all surrounded by Mother Nature. Guests can rise from their comfy accommodations, walk out onto their private deck and gaze upon a sunrise over a mountain range of greenery, and perhaps be greeted by one of the many colorful peacocks that roam the property.
KOA’s Ventura Ranch’s glamour camping is the best of both worlds for the whole family. While parents relax at the climate-controlled cabin, the kids have plenty to do, from swimming at the site’s new huge pool; ziplining across the camp; bouncing on an enormous trampoline-like Jumping Pillow; tie-dying T-shirts, painting planter pots, launching home-made rockets or otherwise getting creative at one of the camp’s organized crafting sessions; or just running wild or hanging out on the grounds and hiking trails.
The camp and programs were designed with families in mind, with daily opportunities for kids and parents to participate together and have fun as a family, many of which are complementary, such as BYO-blanket outdoor movie nights and a flashlight-guided Big Foot tour.
Though you may be off the grid in spirit, KOS features Wi-Fi at most campgrounds, and even an app that lets you find a campground easily filter by amenities and location and make reservations on-the-go.
El Capitan Canyon
The scenic El Capitan Canyon on Santa Barbara’s coast has sunsets to relish nature abounding all around. It’s the perfect setting to rock climb, hike, swim and enjoy a multitude of outdoor adventures; but for those who want to get dirty all day but clean up and retreat into their own comfy cabin at night, El Capitan Canyon has just the accommodations, from fully furnished yurts to luxurious cabins, with all the comforts of home.
They may be called cabins, but most folks could live in the little cedar home structures at El Capitan Canyon. There are cabins to suit ever taste with features including front porches, vaulted ceilings, master bedrooms with a vanity and separate entry, full baths, ample closet space, luxury bed linens, kitchenettes with a microwave oven, mini-fridge, wet bar sink and coffeemaker. Some cabins offer upstairs lofts accessible by a ladder – where kids love to “camp in.” Upgraded cabins feature a skylight, dual sinks, large indoor shower and access to a unique outdoor shower.
Catering to the glamping crowd, El Capitan offers a number of packages to suit their clientele, with amenities such as cabins with an indoor gas fireplace, a large soaking bathtub. Their packages also include items such as marinated tri-tip delivered to your cabin for a DIY fireside dinner, paired with a bottle of Santa Barbara wine along with wine glasses, a bundle of firewood and a throw blanket, for enjoying a romantic night of stargazing.
Other options include aromatherapy or hot stone massage with essential oils blended from the Canyon Spa Garden. For the kids, there are s’mores kits, mugs of hot chocolate and throw blankets to cuddle up by the campfire telling stories.
And don’t worry, you don’t have to pack all the cookware and supplies that can make camping a hassle. With the fireside meal package, beverages, tableware, and the grilling tools and firewood needed to cook over the fire pit. Or if you prefer you can enjoy gourmet meals prepared at the Canyon Market and Deli.
And unlike camping experiences where a good night’s sleep is something you have to return home to get, at El Capitan Canyon quiet time is enforced as of 10 pm each evening until 9 am, so you can turn in early and sleep in if you wish. It’s just like the Ritz, though you wake each morning to the sweet sound of birds singing.
From first blush I liked North Italia. And yes, that is an allusion to the fine list of vino, but first, let’s talk atmosphere. On a Friday night, the place was bustling. The vibe was lively and friendly. Like a hot night club, there was a line out front door, and the patio and bar were full of stylish people. Luckily, we had reservations, and the hostess escorted us to our table pronto.
While there’s a shiny polish to this restaurant – represented by our party being greeted and seated right away, the ambiance and attitude is casual and genuinely warm. Our server was cheerful and sincerely seemed enjoy getting to know the patrons; in fact, she was so interested in my work as a blogger she sat down with us a while to chat about it.
Despite her taking a bit of extra time at our table, this diversion didn’t impede with the flow at this restaurant, which is a well-oiled machine. Perhaps the orderly management owes to the fact that North Italia is not a concept that’s just off the boat. North Italia has 17 locations, four in California (Santa Monica, El Segundo, Irvine and soon San Diego), though the management doesn’t like the term “chain,” because they don’t feel like one. Unlike many concept restaurants that feel manufactured and generic, Norte Italia feels fresh and genuine.
There were so many appetizers it was hard to choose. We started with the Zucca chips, which were delicately thin sliced and served heaping in a bowl, warm and salty. We also had the Chef’s Board with prosciutto di parma, artisan cheeses, marinated eggplant, roasted pepper, castelverano olives and Marcona almonds. Since three is a charm, we also had the crispy calamari, which was very lightly breaded and grilled and served on a bed of arugula and lemon vinaigrette, making it almost like a salad.
Next came choosing entrees, for which we relied upon recommendations of our server. She advised we must try the house specialty of Bolognese – made by a ranch in Bologna – served with a traditional meat sauce, tagliatelle noodles and grana Padano cheese. After the big build-up on this dish, we were not disappointed. It was zesty, hearty and highly satisfying.
The manager had her own favorite dish to recommend, so we tried that too – the Short Rib Radiatori, served with parmesan cream, fresh horseradish, wilted arugula and herbed breadcrumbs. From the main dishes we chose the diver scallops, served with sweet corn risotto, asparagus, crispy shallots and a pancetta gremolata.
The seasonal vegetable salad was also a must-try, clementine, golden raisins, quinoa, goat cheese, roasted cauliflower and kale, tossed with a spicy Sherry vinaigrette that balanced out the sweetness. Lastly, because the restaurant is well known for their pizzas, particularly their margarita pizza, we had to try at least one, which was the daily special, a delicious variety featuring eggplant thinly sliced on top.
The menu is complemented by a terrific wine list with great Italian wines, from which we chose a bottle of Sangiovese, Il Poggione “Brancato,” from Tuscany.
In addition to the wines, the restaurant offers a full array of designer libations, such as the popular Julietta, made with ginger-infused Smirnoff, with homemade vanilla, fiorente elderflower, lime and prosecco, and served with a beautiful orchid flower that you could even eat if you wanted.
And for true Italianos, they offer a delicious limoncello for sipping. For the nondrinkers at the table, they also had a delicious strawberry lemonade infused with real strawberries and lemons.
While it seemed we ordered half the menu, there was much more to try, which due to limitations in appetite during a single sitting, will have to wait for another timer. Our table was rather demanding, posing many questions about the menu, which our very professional, apparently indefatigable and extremely accommodating staff answered astutely. At the end of the evening, our server boxed up our leftovers with a smile, sending us home with the next night’s dinner and a great feeling to last until the next visit to North Italia.
When you need a gift for the guy in your life, but you just don’t know what to get your boyfriend-husband-dad-brother-uncle-nephew-best man, etc, that he can really use, look no further than this list of things that guys love and probably don’t already have.
Do Blow It
Even if your guy has a shed full of power tools, he could have more, especially if its Canless Air ($149.95). This powerful spray-can sized blower will blast the dust or sand out of crevices where no guy wants it – his keyboard, electronics, car vents – wherever tiny bits if stuff accumulates where it shouldn’t. Unlike those old-fashioned cans of compressed air, Canless Air utilizes green technology to blow over 260 mph of natural air, safely and cost-effectively, with one unit replacing 1,000 cans of traditional canned air. Check out the video on how it works.
The only thing a guy likes better than a cold frothy beer is a cold frothy beer poured from his very own vat, a la a GrowlerWerks uKeg. This pressurized mini-keg keeps draft beer fresh and carbonated for two weeks or more, and it can travel from the brewery to the BBQ, campfire, duck blind, fishing boat, or wherever he wants to take it, with a tap lock to prevent leakage and a durable insulated stainless-steel construction engineered to last. The uKeg features an easy-to-use regulator cap that provides a vacuum seal with the help of a C02 cartridge, and its stylish design is attractive enough that it can be seated at the dining room table.
You know what they say about big boots? Big feet! But no matter what the size of your man’s hooves, he will love sliding them into Timberland boots, like the classic Waterproof Chukka Boots ($135). These rugged work boots look great against backyard grass and asphalt sidewalks, and the soft leather lining of the footbed and shaft and breathable, moisture-wicking fabric of the toe box and forefoot will keep his feet comfy and dry in all kinds of weather.
Most boys hate getting clothes as presents, but as men, they live for them, because that means they don’t have to go shopping themselves, and they will really love them if they are Mountain Khakis. This Jackson-Hole-mountain-town-inspired apparel brand makes clothes that men like to wear, in styles that travel from trail to tavern, like the Men’s Camber 107 pant ($74.95), the work horse stretch canvas pants that look sharp, feel good and perform like a champ; the Ranger Chamois shirt ($74.95), the velvety brushed chamois looks sharp and feels good to touch; or the Men’s Ranch Shearling Vest ($114.95), made with the same stretchy canvas as the Camber pants but with shearling pile to fend off pre-dawn chill, as he sits watching the sunrise, yellow dog at his side, black coffee in his hand.
Visiting Southern California’s Hotel Del Coronado on Coronado Island is like a step back in time, with all the amenities of modern life, in surroundings that remind you that others came before you — epochs before — to enjoy this same, timeless fresh sea air.
The Del, as it known locally, has expanded and renovated over the years, since 1888 when it was first built, to a vast property of contemporary guest rooms, villas, restaurants and meeting spaces, but the original Victorian wooden building is the place to stay to experience the energy and aura of the true Hotel Del.
The rooms smell old, in a nostalgic way, with a sea smell that harkens back to the days when families threw wide their shutters and opened their rooms to the ocean breeze for a shore vacation, to which they took a long arduous journey to arrive.
Yesterday meets the digital age
Throughout the hotel, the old meets the new, such as Toto toilets in bathrooms with 130-year-old 12-foot-tall floor-to-ceiling vented wooden doors, and a state-of-the-art gym featuring an aerobics and spin studio, which overlooks a bamboo garden and Japanese Zen fountain at the spa, just below a hand-laid red brick patio that is over a century old.
At an outdoor restaurant by the beach, stylish white wicker chairs with a nod to midcentury design sit underneath a veranda across from an herb garden mixed with succulents. Hotel Del keeps pace with its discerning Southern Californian clientele and their demands for eco-conscious hospitality yet delivers an authentic feeling historical experience.
The bright wide corridors, easily twice as wide and high as typical hotel halls, leads guests to bright white wooden doors to the rooms. Electronic key cards have replaced the old locksets, and furnishings that are fresh styled yet complementary of the architecture create a comfortable environment that respectfully appreciates the antique tongue-in-groove construction that surrounds them.
While the interior of The Del, with its opulent chandeliers and glorious wood-paneled walls, is filled with discovery, the grounds around the hotel provide equal wonderment. Just in front of the hotel, before guests reach the sand, is an enormous grassy plaza that is one of the centerpieces of the hotel. In summertime, the lawn is a place for children to run, or it is the setting of an enchanted wedding, gatherings of families, or corporate events — for business people lucky enough to hold conventions at the resort. In the winter, the hotel places an ice rink at the site, decorated with millions of holiday lights, transforming the hotel into a true winter wonderland by the sea.
A family tradition
Each time I have visited Hotel Del, it is a lively place, with families of all generations visiting together, many returning your after year, in some cases decade after decade, to this place that guests often describe as “magical.”
For kids and adults alike, the intrigue and mystery of the turret at the top of the hotel adds to the mystique. Is it occupied? Could it be haunted even? Is it a place where only monarchs, Presidents or heads-of-state – who indeed are frequent visitors — are allowed to go?
It is the place one never wants to leave. A place that feels like not just an escape from the nearby cities of San Diego or Los Angeles, but a departure from the stresses of modern life. It is a way to step out of time and into the 1900 House, but in this case a grand hotel, with fine dining, yoga on the beach, Wi-Fi and its own InDelible electronic magazine.
For luxury seekers, the service is impeccable — the same as you would experience at any spanking-new five-star hotel, where the front desk personal and phone operators speak to you with a polished formality that makes you feel like royalty.
Old-school history lesson
As a native of Virginia, I always chuckle at the joke: “How many Virginians does it take to change a light bulb?” Answer: “Five, one to change the bulb and four to talk about how good the old one was.” I see the same love of tradition in Hotel Del as in my home state of the Old Dominion. The Hotel Del appreciates the honor it has of preserving antiquity. It understands that the squeaks of the wood stairs, the unevenness of the floor boards, and the worn wood columns covered with thick paint from years of polishing up this gem by the sea are part of its glory.
They say that the third time is a charm, and this third visit in my lifetime to Hotel Del, its history has never been as charming and appreciated by me. Maybe it is because I have ripened as a person, that I truly cherish the history with in its walls. Maybe in my own age of a half century, I have genuinely come to know, that some things do indeed get better with age.