From Surfing to Art Galleries: Five of the Best Things to Do in San Diego | What if… in California
San Diego’s year-round sun and surf make it the perfect stopover for water babies, though there’s plenty to discover beyond shore. With a wide array of neighborhoods, from historic Old Town and bustling Little Italy to the quaint seaside area of La Jolla, a visit to San Diego can easily feel like multiple vacations in one.
Bordering Mexico, the city’s cuisine is heavily influenced by its neighbor, offering some of the most authentic Mexican dishes in all of the United States – a cross-border mix locally called Cali-Baja cuisine. However, with an ever-changing culinary scene, there is something to be found for all types of foodies.
1 Taste award-winning Mexican cuisine at Café Coyote
Nestled in historic Old Town, Cafe Coyote has been a San Diego staple since 1989, when husband and wife duo Ritch and Lehn Goetz decided to move into the building they lived in at the time.
Offering traditional Mexican cuisine and a festive atmosphere to locals and tourists alike, their story perfectly captures the hypothetical spirit of California. “Thirty years ago, our part of the old town wasn’t as lively as it is today and it kind of needed a restaurant,” says Lehn. “I had worked in restaurants while at university, but I hadn’t been in the restaurant business, so it was more circumstantial than a big project – although it did happen. turned out to be great now.”
With 200 employees, Lehn credits the restaurant staff with much of their success and longevity in San Diego. “We have people who started with us, when we only had 20 employees, who are still with us,” she says. “It was difficult at first; we lived in the building and the restaurant was very small, but we were tenacious and determined to make it work.
Lehn recommends all visitors indulge in Cafe Coyote’s famous handmade tortillas with carnitas, which is the house specialty. “It’s a pork dish, which is absolutely delicious and goes great with tortillas, and Ritch and I traveled all over Mexico to get the specific recipe. You should try it with one of our great margaritas.
The couple, while still focusing on Cafe Coyote, now also run their own Rancho Coyote winery in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. “Ritch and I have always had a passion for wine too,” says Lehn. “We are making a very dry and simple wine that goes very well with Mexican cuisine. Now it is also part of the restaurant. cafecoyoteoldtown.com
2 Catch a wave with Surf Diva
No California road trip would be complete without at least trying some surfing, and even complete beginners can enjoy the waves of San Diego with a little help from Surf Diva. Founded by twin sisters Izzy and Coco Tihanyi, Surf Diva began as an all-female surf school, but has grown over the past 20 years to offer lessons for everyone. “In 1996, we were known as the original girls’ surf school,” explains Coco. “Six years later, we opened our surf lessons to boys and men. Our school now caters to everyone, of all ages and levels.
Operating from their award-winning store on Avenida De La Playa, just off La Jolla Shores Beach, Surf Diva is a dream come true for San Diego locals. “We are so grateful to have grown up in San Diego… Every day was spent either in the ocean, or in the pool, or studying at the beach,” says Izzy. “We learned to surf as kids at La Jolla Shores beach with our father, a former swimmer and water polo player. Our first jobs were in companies on the same street where we are now located and we dreamed of one day owning our own surf shop here.
“Every day at our office is, in fact, a day at the beach,” adds Coco.
Private Surf Diva lessons can be booked for one or two hours at a time. The company also offers stand-up paddle lessons if that’s more your speed, as well as week-long surf camps for kids and teens. surfdiva.com
3 Mike Hess Brewery
Nothing completes a day at the beach better than a good beer and Mike Hess Brewing has plenty of that. While Hess opened its first Miramar spot in 2010, the boom in business has led to four more locations, with the North Park Brewery and Tasting Room providing an experience not to be missed.
“Our North Park site, located near the famous San Diego Zoo, is the mothership of the Mike Hess experience,” says the man himself. “We have built a beautiful showcase brewery where customers, on entering, can see, touch and smell the beer being made. The walkway, which literally crosses the vats of the brewery, allows guests to interact with our brewers and to be safely among the vats. It leads to the tasting room where we have between 20 and 25 different options on our menu; we suggest guests take a flight – a five-beer sampler – to begin their journey and sample a range of beer flavors and styles.
The production facility is almost as impressive as the Mike Hess story. Born on the coast of San Francisco, Hess attended the University of Colorado where his love of craft beer began. “I started drinking craft beer during my college days, when craft was just called microbrewing,” he explains. “Five or six years later, I got a homebrew kit and started making my own batches in my kitchen. The hobby grew and grew.
“San Diego was already beginning to build a reputation as the world’s premier beer city. I figured if I could stand out in the San Diego beer scene, we would really be on to something and have a brand that could go a long way. mikehessbrewing.com
4 Treat yourself to a little joy of living at Wolfie’s Carousel Bar
If you like your cocktails with a whimsical edge, look no further than Wolfie’s Carousel Bar in Little Italy. One of only two operating carousel bars in the United States, Wolfie’s opened in August 2021 and quickly rose to fame on TikTok thanks to its playful design and delicious drinks.
“Depending on the dimensions of the space we needed to work with, we searched for months across the country to find an existing carousel that we could modify to fit the location,” says co-owner and designer Mauricio Dressmaker. “After being unable to find a proper fit, we decided to build our own with the intention of paying homage to the classic carousels of the past with our own twist.”
Mauricio and his wife, Gillian, are well known in San Diego for designing and operating fantastic venues like Bang Bang, Voyeur and Airport Lounge. For Wolfie’s Carousel, they teamed up with co-owner and multimedia artist Abe Aguilar to help bring the vision to life.
“I love that at Wolfie’s you can be in the heart of San Diego and be transported to another space and another time for the evening,” says Aguilar. “Nothing makes me happier than seeing people enjoying the space we’ve worked so hard on for a few years.”
Serving a menu of classic French dishes, accompanied by refreshing cocktails and plenty of wine and beer, you can easily make a night of your Wolfie’s visit. Ask for carousel seats when making your reservation for the full experience, although there are also plenty of tables throughout the restaurant. wolfiescarrousel.com
5 Cultivate yourself at Balboa Park
Balboa Park is something of a one-stop-shop for experiencing San Diego’s history, natural beauty, and community. Home to 17 museums, including the Automobile Museum and the Natural History Museum, there really is something for everyone in Balboa Park. Be sure to visit gems such as the newly renovated Mingei International Museum and the anthropology-focused Museum of Us. The park is also home to the San Diego Museum of Art.
“We are very grateful to be located in the heart of Balboa Park – a true gem in San Diego offering visitors an assortment of cultural and scientific institutions,” said Roxana Velásquez, Executive Director of Maruja Baldwin and General Manager of the San Diego Museum of Art. . She emphasizes the importance of the park and its museums and says her role there has helped her pursue and pass on her passion for art. “I got involved in the arts through all the wonderful museum visits with my parents throughout my childhood. I learned that art is a right for everyone and that exposure to different cultural and artistic languages would make us better as a society… I knew the arts were the only way for me and I wanted to share it with a wider audience.
The San Diego Museum of Art is home to works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Claude Monet, and Diego Rivera, to name a few, providing visitors with a truly eclectic experience – much like Balboa Park itself. Every day you might stumble upon an outdoor concert at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, home to the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ, or you might find yourself transfixed by the koi ponds of the Japanese Friendship Garden. The possibilities are limitless. balboapark.org
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