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San Diego: The ultimate visitors’ guide

San Diego. Home of the super chilled, tousle-haired, and perennially tanned. Here, it’s always summer, and even if the weather isn’t quite on point, which is rare, the sunny local attitude is infectious.

Take on legendary surf

There are two simple steps to living the So-Cal dream: 1) grab a board, and 2) head to the sea. Californians spend so much time in the water, it won’t be long until the locals evolve fins – but with one of the world’s most gorgeous coastlines, who can blame them?

If you’re a newbie, keen to give San Diego’s favorite hobby a try, check out Ocean Beach Pier. The ‘surfing only’ break just north of the pier is a surf paradise for rookies – with plenty of other holidaymakers unsteady on their boards and a perfect mid height swell. If you’re visiting in low season, dodge the remaining smatterings of crowds at Pacific Beach: the crystal clear waters and generally slow waves are home to breaks to suit every level of wave riders. Experienced surfers should head to the more secluded breaks at Black’s Beach and Sunset Cliffs.

Or try paddle boarding

Trust the breezy Californians to have invented an even more chilled way to take to the water. If you suck at surfing (I know I do), then stand up paddle boarding (or SUP, as the cool kids abbreviate it!) might be for you. If you’ve never seen anyone’s summer holiday Instagram feed, then paddle boarding is basically standing up on a larger-than-life surfboard, while using a paddle to leisurely propel yourself across calm beaches.

The residents of Mission Bay have taken to it like a fish to water, so head to its Santa Barbra Bay to drift through a secluded cove and keep your eyes open – you’re in with a chance of spotting people fishing off their SUPs and undertaking group paddleboard yoga classes. Yeah, that’s a THING.

Try the locals’ fave dish

There’s no need to wonder how you should round off a day at the beach – the locals have got the answer to that, too. You’re probably pretty hungry from all that surfing and sun-worshipping, and nowhere else in the world seems quite as obsessed with fish tacos as San Diego. So heed the old saying ‘If you can’t beat them, join them!’ and head to your nearest eatery.

Just a stone’s throw from the water at Pacific Beach, Fat Fish draws the crowds for its legendary hand-made fish tacos and specialty margarita menu, pairing perfectly with its classic laid-back Southern Californian vibe. If you ever forgot that Mexico was almost visible on the horizon, then La Puerta, in downtown San Diego, will remind your taste buds with their menu, inspired by Cali’s southern neighbors. From mouth-watering fish tacos to bulging burritos, you’re in for some of the best Mexican food outside of, well, Mexico.

Check out the wildlife

San Diego is home to Tripadvisor’s #1 zoo in the world. Take a sky safari and fly over the park, meet the cheetahs and koalas, or be the first in to greet the baby panda cubs in the early morning. But don’t overlook the local residents –there’s a ton of awesome wildlife living outside the walls of the zoo, too.

Head a little north up the coast to La Jolla to meet San Diego’s most famous residents: claiming the secluded La Jolla Children’s Pool bay for their own, you’ll find up to 200 Pacific Harbour Seals lounging around on the rocks and basking in the sun. If you can, try to visit between December and May when the impossibly cute pups are born. For a sighting of something a little bigger, you’ll have to take to the water yourself: head out into the Pacific Ocean and join a whale-watching tour. The Californian coast is where blue, gray, and humpback whales feed and raise calves before embarking on their long annual migrations. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins and sea lions, too – the warm waters are so full of life that you’ll definitely want to pack a camera.

Soak up the sweeping vistas

Trade your surfboard and flip-flops for sneakers, even if it’s just for an afternoon: it’s time for you to catch a little culture, not just waves. Haul your beach bod up to Point Loma for insane, Instagram-worthy views of the whole San Diego bay area. Point Loma is believed to be where the first-ever European, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, landed in modern day California, so this hilly peninsula is loved as the birthplace of the state. You’ll find a pretty old lighthouse perched up on high, complete with the Cabrillo National Monument and a viewing platform wrapping around the stunning rocky headland.

You’ll also have a cracking view of Coronado Island, and that’s the next place on your tour: not what you’d typically expect from its name, this ‘island’ jutting out into San Diego Bay is actually still attached to the city by a long strip of land. From here, you can gaze out across the water at downtown San-D, for example. But the by far most spectacular view comes from driving over the San Diego-Coronado Bridge, whose long legs rise up from the seabed and carry the road high above the bay.

Watch the sunset at a beach bar

If you’re surfing around Ocean Beach, then make sure you stick around for the evening – you’ve got the best seats in the house for a spectacular sunset silhouetting the pier. Then, it’s time to follow the other saltwater-haired water babies to the South Beach Bar and Grille to wash down tacos with their daily drinks deals – you had me at ‘bottomless mimosas’!

Complete with an extensive menu of handcrafted specialty beverages and an irresistible snack menu, the recently renovated Tavern at Pacific Beach is the perfect place to kick back and relax with friends after hard day – or week – at the beach.

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