Everybody dreams of California. Whether you're mesmerized by the rolling vineyards of Sonoma or the starry lights of Los Angeles, there's something for everyone on the West Coast. My recent Cali adventure took me way down to San Diego, just 20 miles north of the Mexican border. More than just surfers and sunshine—although there's an endless supply of both—California's second-largest city knows just how good it has it (read: sunshine), and the residents sure do a good job living up to that easy-going, outdoor lifestyle we New Yorkers crave. Read on for the eateries, shops, and natural wonders you have to check out next time you find yourself cruising south down the Pacific Coast Highway to the end of the road. Cue the O.C. theme song.
DO: HIKE TORREY PINES
Surrounded by both mountains and the Pacific Ocean, San Diego has a natural beauty that's impossible to ignore. There's no better way to start the day than with a brisk jaunt up one of the city's many hiking paths. Not a seasoned hiker? No worries. The Torrey Pines State Natural Preserve is the perfect beginner's spot, with awesome views of the Pacific.
EAT: nomad DONUTS
When your sweet tooth starts talking, Nomad Donuts is the answer. Located in the hipster-friendly neighborhood of North Park, the sweet shop offers rare donut treats like vegan raspberry-lavender and sweet potato cake with chipotle carmel. #nofilterontheseflavors
Just down the street from Nomad Donuts is the coolest boutique in North Park. Pigment is your one-stop shop for everything from stationery goods and small leather accessories to boho home furnishings. They even have a plant lab for customers who want to build their own succulent terrariums.
drink: the waterfront
Credited as the oldest tavern in San Diego, The Waterfront is a must-visit for a quick, cold pint. Established in 1933, the downtown watering hole has a casual, unpretentious vibe. While the rest of the bar is covered in sports memorabilia and vintage-framed black-and-white photographs, the bathrooms are covered in a cool, retro decoupage wallcovering that's just begging to be 'grammed.
eat: oscars mexican seafood
Two words: fish tacos. When in North Pacific Beach, hit up Oscars Mexican Seafood for their surf and turf street taco and shrimp ceviche. It's cheap, it's fresh, and it's delicious—what more could you want after a day at the beach?
SHOP: d.g. wills BOOKS
Who can resist the nostalgia of an old bookshop? With maze-like aisles of paper- and hardback tomes piled high, D.G. Wills Books has been a La Jolla institution for the last 35 years. If you love the smell of old books and can peruse the spines of rare volumes for hours on end, this place is for you.
STAY: LA VALENCIA HOTEL
San Diego's many cool enclaves make it hard to settle on just one neighborhood in which to spend the night. If you're looking for a real coastal retreat, opt for the quaint village of La Jolla, where La Valencia Hotel stands as a regal gem on the coastline. The Spanish-style compound is nestled in a thicket of tropical palms and bougainvillea overlooking the Pacific, and evokes a glamorous, bygone era.
EAT: the MAD BEET
You cannot—I repeat—cannot leave this SoCal city without trying one of their infamous açaí bowls. To quickly become acquainted with the culture of 'the bowl' and all its antioxidant goodness, head over to The Mad Beet in Pacific Beach, where they offer up refreshing and healthy fruit concoctions with punny names such as the Beyoncai bowl (featuring a healthy serving of peanut butter) and the Granolling Stones.