Temperatures below 70 degrees have been known to evoke wanderlust for warmer destinations. And it is comforting to know that one of the country’s most desirable winter-weather locations is only a 45-minute flight from McCarran International Airport. If eating, drinking, basking in the sun and exploring a different flavor of nightlife are on your agenda, downtown San Diego is the perfect weekend getaway. Expect to run into some Vegas friends; it’s unavoidable in a place that shares our party ethos.
How to get there
There’s always the option of a five-hour drive on Interstate 15. However, Southwest and Spirit offer low-cost flights that are almost too good to pass up.
Where to stay
The Manchester Grand Hyatt (shown above) is a luxurious behemoth, with two massive towers affording ocean and city-view rooms. The 40th-floor lounge is the place to snap a panoramic with one of the best views in the area. The Andaz, Hyatt’s brand for the chic and savvy traveler, is located in the Gaslamp’s epicenter on F Street. The boutique hotel has a roof deck that booms on Friday and Saturday nights. Worth the splurge is the king guest room that features an observation shower separating the bedroom from the bathroom.
A La Jolla legend, La Valencia hotel opened in 1926, also known as “The Pink Lady,” recently received an extra dose of star power in the form of a new luxury suite, the Icon Sky. Occupying the 10th floor with panoramic ocean views, Sky measures 800 square feet and has one bedroom, as well as retractable windows in the living room, which make soaking in the ocean air a breeze, literally. If the Sky is just a bit too much space, there are 113 other guest rooms to enjoy, classified in four types: , The culinary spaces Café La Rue The Med and the great/room patio area called La Sala, helmed by Michael Mina alum James Montejano, serve meals from morning until night. Café La Rue is casual bistro fare while seafood dominates The Med’s menu. Formerly the Whaling Bar & Grill and a La Jolla institution, Café La Rue has a charming outside patio ideal for people watching while enjoying a cocktail. La Valencia is pure old California charm on the outside and modern seaside luxe on the inside. Bonus point: Perhaps one of the best features of this hotel is that it affords almost direct access to the ocean via a door below the pool level.
Where to dine
San Diego is overrun with delicious dining options. Top Chef alum Richard Blais’ Little Italy spot the Crack Shack is the hottest newcomer on the scene for all things chicken and eggs. The outdoor venue even has a bocce ball court. It serves a mean chicken sandwich such as the Coup de Ville (drenched in slaw and pickles). And you won’t say “hold the taters” when they come in the form of Mexican poutine.
A meal at chef Javier Plascencia’s Bracero Cocina de Raiz will undoubtedly open the eyes of many diners to another side of Mexican cuisine. Open afternoon to evening and with a bustling bar scene and located on a prime corner in Little Italy, Bracero’s menu celebrates the virtues of the traditional Baja kitchen: passionately cultivated ingredients from the land complemented by creative approaches to seafood. The bi-level restaurant, adorned in metal, wood, glass and leather, represents a rustic yet modern palette that mirrors Plascencia’s approach to the menu. The guacamole is dressed in beluga lentils, chickpeas and blackbean hummus, the albacore is stacked with eggplant and served two ways—seared and tartare and the TJ-style fish ceviche is as simple as the name suggests. The taco selection offers items that can’t be found elsewhere. A highlight: the Mexiterranean, a gyro-style adobada with jalapeno tzatziki and olla beans. Mezcal is the perfect spiritual match for this type of food so don’t leave without trying the Czech Yourself, which gives the agave-based liquor a tropical variation thanks to the addition Falernum (the key ingredient in a Mai Tai), citrus flavors like pineapple and lime, Orgeat, cinnamon and Absinthe.
Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant is the perfect spot for appetizers and drinks before a night out on the town. Pork belly bruschetta and barbecue braised pork tacos delight those who love the other white meat. The Cobra Clutch mezcal cocktail and the fig-infused bourbon-based Fig Poppa demonstrate just how ingrained San Diego is in its drinking culture.
Head 13 miles up the coast to La Jolla and dine at Brian Malarkey’s seafood palace Herringbone. Housed in an abandoned auto shop, the restaurant’s design is something to behold, with reclaimed metal chandeliers, lush olive trees adorned in charming white lights, a giant whale skeleton and lobster traps filled with blowfish. Order the albacore poke and the whole-fish ceviche for presentations as ornate as the décor. Herringbone will make its Vegas debut in Aria in December.
In the mood for a boozy brunch with a French twist? Bleu Bohème keeps the vibe cosmopolitan with an impressive selection of benedicts, savory waffles and a croque for every palate. In the evening from 5 to 6 p.m., this Kensington eatery (about 6 miles east of the Gaslamp) keeps the vibe alive with its social hour offering seven different preparations of Moules Frites at $10.95 each and half price on a selection of wine, Champagne, beer and martinis. Honestly, what sounds better than a meal of mussels, Champagne and pomme frites in the midst of a laidback San Diego Sunday? Nothing, really.
What to do
Balboa Park is an experience that cannot be had in Vegas. The lush, 1,200-acre cultural park is home to the San Diego Museum of Art (celebrating its 100th anniversary), as well as many other museums, theaters and the zoo, and a new beer bar and restaurant, Panama 66. Enjoy works from Frank Stella and Georgia O’Keefe and then sample local craft brews while overlooking the May S. Marcy Sculpture Garden and listening to live music.
Las Vegas-style nightlife has infiltrated the Gaslamp Quarter over the last year. The three-level Omnia San Diego is a smaller version of its sister location in Caesars Palace, and while the signature kinetic chandelier didn’t carry over, outrageous bottle presentations and many DJs on the Vegas circuit including Chainsmokers, Dash Berlin and DJ Ruckus are present.
A night at Parq Restaurant and Nightclub is an adventure from start to finish, starting in the garden-themed restaurant with menu items such as house-made burrata and chilled watermelon with ricotta and balsamic, complemented by a cocktail program led by beverage director Nicholas David and mixologist Jeremy LeBlanc. A great guest amenity is the ladies’ room, which features its own bar and makeup stations with professional artists giving touchups. In the club, expect to see residents DJ Ikon and Shift performing as aerialists twist and turn above the crowd.
If you need a vacation from your vacation, tack on an extra day and escape the bustle of the Gaslamp by heading 30 minutes north to Rancho Santa Fe’s all-casita resort, Rancho Valencia. The property recently underwent a $30 million renovation, and its bar and restaurant the Pony Room and Veladora help guests fully immerse in a luxury culinary and beverage experience. Once you check in, there is no reason to leave. This resort is a favorite of President Barak Obama and it promotes wellness with a full schedule of yoga (sessions are held in a stunning pavilion surrounded by tranquil water), pilates, bar, sculpt and foam roller classes as well as 18 tennis courts.