Lonely Planet Writer

Just back from: San Diego

Guier-desert-headshot Cindy, braving high temperatures for stunning desert landscapes © Cindy Guier

Cindy Guier, Copy Editor for Lonely Planet’s US magazine, is just back from a family vacation to San Diego, California.

Tell us more… My husband, son and I spent nine days vacationing in the San Diego area. We had an ambitious agenda: check out downtown and the historic Gaslamp Quarter; visit the world-famous San Diego Zoo; relax on the beach in nearby La Jolla; take a day trip to the desert; spend a day at Legoland in Carlsbad; and explore seaside communities on a drive up the coast to Dana Point. We managed to do it all and more.

Biggest surprise? Unexpectedly, one of the things we enjoyed most was our trip to the desert. Who goes to the California desert in the middle of summer, when high temperatures average 107°F and can reach up to 125°F? Practically no one. But we wanted to experience the desert, so we drove to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California’s largest state park, about 100 miles east of San Diego.

From badlands to rugged mountain peaks, there was plenty of scenery to enjoy. We stopped in the small desert town of Borrego Springs on the valley floor, found the park visitor center closed (naturally, because who visits the desert in the summer?), bought cold drinks and souvenirs, and vowed that next time we would visit in the winter, like sensible people, for hiking and stargazing – Borrego Springs is one of just a handful of International Dark Sky Communities in the US. It was a memorable, if not particularly comfortable, day.

Guier-SanDiego-Desert-1 Why not venture into the scorching-hot California desert? © Cindy Guier

Don’t miss… The sunset! Every afternoon, all along the coast, people begin gathering at prime spots in preparation for one of Mother Nature’s finest moments. One evening before sundown we made our way to the iconic Sunset Cliffs, a 68-acre park between Ocean Beach and Point Loma, known for dramatic cliffs and expansive ocean views. It’s a must-see. The sunsets were equally stunning from our hotel on the long, sandy beach of La Jolla Shores, about 12 miles north of San Diego.

Favorite activities? We all enjoyed watching wildlife at the Children’s Pool and exploring the tide pools near downtown La Jolla. The Children’s Pool is a small cove formed by a concrete wall that was created in 1932 as a children’s swimming area. It’s now more of a hangout for seals and sea lions, though some people still venture into the water.

My seven-year-old son also especially enjoyed touring the USS Midway aircraft carrier museum in downtown San Diego. I was glad that I had the forethought to buy a Go San Diego card, which offered admission discounts and allowed us to bypass long lines there and at other attractions.

Guier-SanDiego-Family Cindy's husband and son spotting seals near the Children's Pool © Cindy Guier

Defining moment? Quite simply, the weather: day after day of perfect weather. I’ve often heard that San Diego has the best climate in the US, and one of the best in the world, with summer high temperatures in the mid-70s and lows in the 60s (Fahrenheit). Coming from hot and unbearably humid Nashville, Tennessee, where the summer heat index has been topping 100°F, San Diego’s weather sounded irresistible. And it was amazing.

Final thoughts? I would be remiss if I didn’t talk more about the fabulous San Diego Zoo, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. The 100-acre zoo is home to more than 3700 animals representing more than 650 species, and is known for its naturalistic habitats. My favorite experiences there were visiting giant pandas Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu, and having an up-close moment of Zen with western lowland gorillas.