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Sun, surf, and rainbows in San Diego

by Heather Cassell

Visitors walk under the Hillcrest sign in San Diego's gayborhood. Photo: San Diego Travel Blog/SanDiego.org
Visitors walk under the Hillcrest sign in San Diego's gayborhood. Photo: San Diego Travel Blog/SanDiego.org  (Source:San Diego Travel Blog/SanDiego.org)

It goes without saying - you can get that lovin' feeling in San Diego. It's fun, sun, and playing in the sand in America's Finest City.

My girlfriend and I felt it when we landed in San Diego recently for a quick weekend getaway.

We quickly discovered that one of the wonderful things about San Diego is that it offers something for everyone. With nearly 150 sunny days a year, on average, the city is a great urban vacation destination that also offers a wide variety of outdoor activities, especially beach and watersports.

San Diego is many things. It remains a military town, a port city, a border city to Mexico, a historical city in the founding of California, a college town, a surf city, the setting for the movie "Top Gun," and world-famous SeaWorld San Diego.

One of the most famous scenes from the famous 1980s flyboy movie starring celesbian Kelly McGillis, who played Charlie, and Tom Cruise, who played Maverick, was set at Kansas City Barbeque. The sports bar is where Cruise and Anthony Edwards, who played Goose, serenaded McGillis' character with the Righteous Brothers hit, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'." The bar pays homage to the classic movie with a dedicated corner filled with memorabilia.

This summer SeaWorld will unveil its "next generation of sea-life experience" that promises to be the largest attraction premiere in the park's history, Dave Koontz, director of communications at SeaWorld Aquatica, told the Bay Area Reporter.

The park will have three unique experiences: Ocean Explorer, Submarine Quest, and Orca Encounter. The attractions will use the latest technology as visitors experience the underwater world in the deep-sea and a live documentary with the park's famed orcas and a new infinity screen that depicts the killer whale's natural habitat while guests learn about these unique mammals. Orca Encounter takes the place of the live orca shows that SeaWorld ended earlier this year after pressure from animal rights activists.

SeaWorld hasn't announced when the attractions will actually open.

San Diego has more than 50 neighborhoods to explore from the Gaslamp Quarter in the heart of the city to Coronado Island across the San Diego Bay to beachside communities La Jolla and Mission Beach, among others. There is of course the gayborhood, Hillcrest, and neighboring North Park that touch on Balboa Park, the 1,200-acre historic park that houses 17 museums and cultural attractions, including the San Diego Zoo, and plays host to many events, including San Diego Pride.

Where to eat
More recently, San Diego added a thriving food, wine, and craft beer scene to its attractions.

We started off our culinary and imbibing adventures cruising over to Coronado Island to check out Coronado Brewing Company. That was followed by lunch at Ballast Point Brewing and we ended our self-guided hop fest at Hillcrest Brewing Company, popular with LGBT locals.

We opted to guide ourselves on our hop adventures around San Diego, but the city also offers a guided tour around the Gaslamp Quarter, Shady Ladies and Hop Heads Tour.

My girlfriend and I fueled our days at Swami's Café and Baja Betty's. Swami's is an American-style diner with several locations around San Diego. It's a local favorite and fills up quickly around 10 a.m. Baja Betty's is also very popular, offering diners a gay Southwestern style brunch in a fun atmosphere. It fills up quickly after 11 a.m.

We also enjoyed our lunch experience at Rustic Root, also located in the Gaslamp.

In the evening, we switched to vino for a pre-dinner cocktail at Chocolat-Hillcrest, a charming corner restaurant offering full courses, desserts, coffees, and wines.

For dinner we dined in style in the Gaslamp at Greystone Prime Steakhouse and Seafood, one of San Diego's finest steakhouses. It was well worth the experience. No one seemed to mind the tight seating arrangements throughout the restaurant as everyone was engaged with their own plates and conversations.

San Diego offers a variety of gastronomical festivities. This summer the food and wine festivals kickoff in June with Taste of Gaslamp, The Vine Affair Taste of Baja Food and Wine Festival, Oceanside Harbor Wine Cruise, and more.

The city also knows how to party. Every weekend the streets are closed off in the Gaslamp and it's packed with well-heeled women and clean-shaven men - straight and gay - dressed up for a night of dining and dancing.

San Diego Pride celebrates with a wild week of fun in the sun with block and pool parties, music festivals, a Pride 5K, and, of course, a huge parade and celebration. The festivities kick off with SheFest July 8 and wrap up with a parade July 15 that marches into the celebration at Balboa Park. Pridegoers not ready for the party to end can stay for the Post-San Diego Pride Pool Party July 17.

Much of the Pride weekend action, which launches July 14, is centered at the historic Lafayette Hotel in the North Park neighborhood near Hillcrest.

The gay party can also be found at Urban Mo's Bar and Grill. The block-long bar and nightclub located at the top of the hill in Hillcrest is the place to be and be seen, as it seemed like the entire community packed the bar.

The bar is a part of Mo's Universe, which also owns Baja Betty's, lesbian bar Gossip Grill, and the Hillcrest Brewing Company.

What to do
The city offers a wide variety of ways to work off the good food and alcohol, mostly in the water. Water adventurers will enjoy the women surfers' event and festival, Supergirl Pro, in July. For the first time in years, boaters will be able to feel the rush with the Extreme Sailing Series in October.

San Diego offers a variety of shopping opportunities from the Hillcrest Farmers Market to Liberty Station in the Point Loma neighborhood.

Parking can be slightly challenging around the Hillcrest Farmers Market, which offers free parking and a trolley for locals and visitors.

One of the best farmers markets in the city, it attracts an eclectic variety of arts and crafts vendors mixed between the meats, produce, and food carts, all with the nearby rainbow flag waving in the wind.

Creative adventurers will enjoy Comic-Con International: San Diego in July and Artwalk San Diego in August.

Families will enjoy many of the summer's events at the San Diego Children's Museum that include a summer concert series that launches in June and Imperial Beach Sun and Sea Festival, which features world-class sand sculptures, in July.

Where to sleep
My girlfriend and I checked into the historic Sofia Hotel in San Diego's Gaslamp district. The hotel is charming, offering historical tours of downtown San Diego, yoga, and welcomes your pooch with water and treats in the lobby. While the rooms were small, to be expected in historic hotels, they were nicely appointed and I enjoyed reading about the history of the hotel, which was seen in sepia photographs on the lampshades down the hallways.

To escape the crowds and have a luxurious stay in San Diego, travelers can check into the historic Hotel Del Coronado on Coronado, an upscale island across from downtown San Diego. Guests relax on the beach or shop and dine along posh Orange Avenue between First and 10th streets.

Getting around
We were able to drop our car with the valet at our hotel and walk around downtown or take the trolley. It was actually easier to get around that way in the Gaslamp and downtown. However, San Diego is spread out. Once we left the confines of downtown a car was necessary to get out to the Coronado Island, to surf spots in Del Mar, La Jolla, and Mission Beach where our nephew, a true California boy, catches waves; and up to University Avenue into Hillcrest where the rainbow flags wave proudly.

Contact the author at heather@heathercassell.com .

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