Sun Kissed Shores

by Country Inns & Suites
Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sunglasses are a necessity on a drive along the Southern California coast, where the rays blanket the blue Pacific with shimmering flecks of light. Skip the air conditioning, though. Just roll down a window, stick out your hand and feel those balmy breezes rush between your fingers. The year-round Mediterranean climate sparks romance, just one of the reasons why cheerful San Diegans are always boasting about the weather.

On Saturday, experience San Diego’s beach culture at Mission Beach. Start the day early with the sound of breaking waves in the background while you enjoy a breakfast of eggs and bagels at North Shore Café for $7 to $10. It’s right on a boardwalk that parallels the ocean and is a great spot to watch the parade of swimmers, skaters and beach bums passing by. The café is adjacent to the Belmont Park amusement park, and you can choose to rent bicycles and cruise the boardwalk, or, if you dare, cuddle close and scream on the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, one of two original oceanfront roller coasters operating on the West Coast ($6 per person).

Spend the afternoon at SeaWorld (admission $69, $59 children 3–9 and children under 3 free; parking $12), just 15 minutes away, and feed fun-loving bottle-nosed dolphins or slide your hands over the slick surface of a California bat ray. Be sure to see “Believe,” a show in which trainers interact with magnificent killer whales.

At the end of the day, the two of you can sip margaritas and watch the sun set from the Ocean Terrace at George’s at the Cove. This romantic La Jolla restaurant is famous for specialties such as garlic roasted shrimp and Asian marinated skirt steak with garlic spinach and buttermilk onion rings (entrees $16.50–$25). Stroll down tree-lined Prospect Street after dinner and explore the fine art galleries and specialty shops that stay open late.

Start Sunday downtown at homey Hob Nob Hill. Locals have enjoyed hearty breakfasts here since 1944. Mimosas are made with fresh-squeezed orange juice, and the made-on-the-premises cinnamon rolls are a sweet start before a corned beef omelet or a waffle sprinkled with pecans ($1.95–$15.25).

After breakfast, head for Balboa Park, where the San Diego Zoo ($26–$35) and more than a dozen museums are situated on 1,200 verdant acres abundant with floral gardens, and towering palm and eucalyptus trees.

The zoo houses approximately 4,000 animals, and besides lions, tigers and bears (oh, my!), you’ll find many endangered species and the largest number of giant pandas in the United States. Steal a kiss on the Skyfari Aerial Tram, an airborne shortcut that sails over the whole park ($4 each way). Once you’ve toured the zoo, head over to Balboa Park’s Botanical Building to view the exotic orchids before a light lunch at The Prado. Sample the tortilla soup ($6.95) and chopped salad with mango and grilled chicken ($9.95-$14.95), then drive down Broadway to the Gaslamp Quarter.

Don’t miss Westfield Horton Plaza, an open-air shopping complex that looks like a fantasyland, with turrets, domes and twisting stairways in sherbet shades of strawberry, grape and orange. Use the handy parking garage, then search for souvenirs at the kiosks, where you’ll find everything from shell necklaces to straw hats. Dine at Beach City Market, a gourmet market specializing in fresh and healthy food that is owned by Culinary Institute of America graduate, Brian Jackson. Afterward, walk a few blocks to Croce’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar and end the evening with a sweet, slow dance.

If you have another day, stop by Old Town San Diego, the first European settlement in California. The nine-square-block area has historic buildings, and plenty of shopping and fine dining.

Though romance may come and go, Marcia Manna is happy to report that her secret love affair with San Diego and all of its hot spots remains an enduring passion.