For Julian’s birthday, I wanted to do something really special. Julian always takes me on the most amazing trips — from my 26th birthday trip to Istanbul to our trip to Colorado and Costa Rica last winter — and I wanted to return the favor. San Diego had been on both of our bucket lists for a couple of reasons: 1) It’s proximity to Mexico City. 2) We have a few friends living there, and 3) We’d heard amazing things and wanted to experience it for ourselves. When we found out America (one of our favorite bands from the 70s) was playing there the weekend before Julian’s birthday, it seemed like a sign. That very night I booked our tickets and began planning our trip to sunny San Diego!
When researching where to stay in San Diego, I was confronted with an overwhelming number of options both in the city and surrounding county. While Julian and I wanted to see the city, we were most interested in a relaxing beach weekend. We also wanted to explore San Diego’s state parks and see our friends. The Hotel del Coronado, with its iconic reputation and oceanfront location, seemed like the ideal option to fit our needs.
DwD Tip: If you’re visiting San Diego for the first time, keep in mind that it is very spread out with many neighborhoods to choose from. Check out this neighborhood guide to help you decide what area is right for you. Then choose accommodations accordingly. If you’re just going for the weekend, accept that you won’t be able to do it all and focus on your must-dos.
Coronado Island is located just across the bridge from San Diego and yet it feels like a whole different world. It has a laid back, family-friendly vibe with a charming main street, grand old homes, and wide sandy beaches. Staying at Hotel del Coronado allowed us to have the best of both worlds — easy access to the city with the peace and quiet of a beach town.
Getting There: Mexico City to San Diego
From Mexico City, San Diego is a great three-day weekend destination. At around $150 USD, flying to Tijuana International Airport was less than half the price of flying to San Diego International Airport. It was also much more convenient as there are many non-stop flights to Tijuana (whereas there aren’t any to San Diego).
Crossing the Border
Crossing the border into the US from Tijuana International Airport is an absolute breeze. In fact, you cross the border into the US while still in the airport. All you have to do is buy Cross Border Xpress (CBX) upon arrival. It costs $15 per crossing, regardless of nationality.
*Note to Americans without an FM2 or FM3: On the way back into Mexico, the immigration officer told me I’d need to buy a visa if I was staying longer than a week. I was initially confused because I’ve never needed a visa before when entering Mexico. The immigration officer explained that there are special regulations when crossing the border via land. If you travel beyond the 22 miles/35 km “free zone” after crossing into Mexico you will need to pay around $22 USD for a Mexico Visitor’s Permit (FMM).
When we exited the airport, we were officially on US territory. From there we ordered an Uber and in a little over 30 minutes we’d arrived at the Hotel del Coronado.
Hotel del Coronado
Hotel del Coronado, or “The Del” for short, is an American treasure and a California icon. When it opened in 1888, it was the largest resort hotel in the world. Today, it is the second largest wooden structure in the US and one of the few surviving examples of the Victorian beach resort. Over the years, it has hosted celebrities, royalty, US Presidents, and, now, Julian and I!
The Del offers rooms and suites in the original Victorian building, the contemporary Ocean Towers, or beachfront cottages. If you want to get the authentic experience, I’d definitely recommend staying in the original Victorian building. After all, that’s half of the fun!
While our room didn’t have an ocean view, we did have a lovely view of the interior courtyard. The courtyard has a perfectly maintained garden that’s ideal for strolls or lounging in the grass. I loved waking up to a view of the courtyard’s magnificent Ceiba trees from our balcony.
One of the best things about The Del is its oceanfront location. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as warm as we had hoped but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the beach. Growing up on the East Coast, I’m used to much narrower (and ever shrinking) beaches. The beaches of Coronado go on for ages and, thanks to the mineral Mica, literally sparkle.
Hotel del Coronado Activities
Our weekend in San Diego was so packed that we weren’t able to take advantage of all of the fun activities at the Hotel del Coronado. However, we made sure to schedule in time for their famous brunch and a bike ride around Coronado Island.
*Disclosure: The Del generously treated us to the brunch and bike rentals but all opinions expressed are my own.
The Del’s Famous Brunch
If you know me, you know I’m a huge fan of brunch. The concept of brunch doesn’t really exist in Mexico (shocking, I know). So whenever I’m in the states I make it a point to treat myself to a stellar brunch. I couldn’t believe my luck when I heard The Del has a legendary brunch.
The Del’s lavish Sunday brunch takes place in the Crown Room and features a chilled seafood bar, Bloody Mary bar, omelette and carving stations, and tables upon tables of decadent desserts. It’s also bottomless, meaning that all drinks are included and the waiters keep them coming. Needless to say, I was in absolute heaven.
Biking around Coronado
Unsurprisingly, Julian and I left brunch in a full-on food coma. Luckily, a bike ride around Coronado was the perfect remedy. There’s a little bike rental shop on the boardwalk with a variety of bikes to choose from. Julian and I chose two beach cruisers and set off to explore the island.
We biked along the boardwalk and, when it ended, began cruising through the neighborhoods of Coronado. I loved the different styles of houses, from Victorian-style mansions, to modern residences, and quaint beach cottages. At one point, we stopped at a park on the bay to enjoy the spectacular view of the city.
If you stay in Coronado, I guarantee you won’t get bored. There are countless things to do on the island itself, across the bridge in San Diego, and in the surrounding county. Three days wasn’t nearly enough time to see everything we wanted to, but we did get to check two things off our list: hiking Torrey Pines State Reserve and experiencing the nightlife in the Gaslamp District.
Torrey Pines State Reserve
Torrey Pines State Reserve is a 1,750 acre reserve dedicated to preserving its namesake, the Torrey Pine tree and other indigenous wildlife. It’s about a 30 minute drive from Coronado so I would recommend renting a car for the day. DwD Tip: Reserve a car at least a few days in advance. We rented one the day of and got the last car in San Diego!
As far as parking at Torrey Pines, there are spots available right before the park entrance which are free of charge. However, these are hard to come by, especially during weekends. If you can’t find a spot, you’ll have to park in one of the parking lots of the reserve. This will set you back $10-25, depending on the day and time of year.
If you’re feeling lazy, you can drive to the top. But, if you’re physically able to, I’d definitely recommend hiking up. It’s a rather easy, and very enjoyable, hike to the top. Once you reach the summit, take some time to breathe in the fragrance of the pines and soak up the gorgeous views of the Pacific.
San Diego’s Gaslamp District
The Gaslamp District is a historic neighborhood in downtown San Diego. It’s the epicenter of San Diego’s nightlife with numerous nightclubs, bars, and restaurants. It’s also the cultural heart of the city with theaters, art galleries, symphony halls, concert venues and museums.
I was determined to experience this vibrant part of town and what better way than on the weekend? Friday night, our local friends took us to Vin de Syrah, a whimsical, hidden cocktail lounge in the center of the Gaslamp District. It becomes a club on the weekends and we had a great time dancing the night away in this quirky, Alice & Wonderland themed bar.
Saturday night, I booked dinner for us at Rustic Root, a restaurant and rooftop bar in the center of the action. If you want to get a taste of San Diego’s nightlife without actually going out, have a late dinner or drinks at Rustic Root. We sat at the high-top tables near the street and watched the hoards of partygoers pass by as we dined. It was truly first-rate entertainment.
The highlight of the night, however, was when the San Diego lowriders came cruising through town. It was towards the end of our dinner when brightly-painted cars driven extremely low to the ground began bouncing down San Diego’s 5th Avenue. A crowd quickly gathered to watch them and snap videos with their phones. The drivers put on a show, driving to the side with their wheels in the air and using special hydraulics to bounce up and down the street. I had never seen anything like it!
I later found out that lowrider culture began in California in the 1950s and 60s. Young Chicanos created the lowrider car style to express the pride and playfulness of Mexican American culture. The guiding principle here was bajito y suavecito: low and slow. It’s awesome that lowrider culture is still thriving today and was so fun to have found ourselves right in the midst of it all.
Our three-day weekend in San Diego passed all too quickly and there was so much we didn’t get to do. But by staying at The Del we feel we got a taste of it all — the laidback beach town of Coronado, the vibrant city of San Diego, and the beautiful California coast. Now that San Diego is on our radar, we’re already planning another trip in the New Year.
Until next time… Stay classy, San Diego!
P.S. The Del is celebrating their 130th Anniversary this year and is offering a $130 resort credit with any two-night stay in 2018. So now is the time to go!
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