As the recession continues and airfares add more and more fees, budget-savvy travelers can take comfort knowing that a stay in scenic San Diego doesn’t require a lot of money. With a little research and great offers from local businesses, savings-savvy travelers can stay in great hotels, dine in trendy eateries and enjoy the region’s many family friendly attractions without breaking the bank.
Hotel rates drop considerably after Labor Day, but with temperatures that stay warm through November, San Diego is the perfect fall getaway for travelers looking to enjoy a summer-like experience without paying peak season prices.
Even during peak season, the following hotels offer great rates that belie their beautiful properties and prime locations.
The 75-room La Pensione in colorful Little Italy offers simple accommodations and a great location. All guest rooms feature hairdryers, refrigerators, TVs, phones and private bathrooms. Rates start at $75 per night.
Built in 1926, the modern and stylish 212-room Sofia Hotel features a fine dining restaurant and spa-inspired amenities, including a 24-hour fitness center and yoga studio. With very affordable rates and location in the heart of downtown, it's a great choice for younger, stylish travelers on a budget.
Villa Capri by the Sea in Coronado is located directly across from the famous Hotel del Coronado and the Pacific Ocean. Its 14 charming units are clustered around a sun-drenched patio and heated swimming pool, where continental breakfast is served daily. Guests are within walking distance to Coronado’s fine restaurants and shops. Rates start at $159 per night.
Located just 10 minutes from downtown San Diego in Pacific Beach on one of the city’s most popular beaches, the recently renovated Surfer Beach Hotel offers pet-friendly accommodations and retro-chic rooms, many with ocean view balconies. Rates start at $120 per night.
The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma offers 23 vintage-modern rooms with custom floor-to-ceiling mosaic artwork, king- and queen-sized platform beds, wall-hanging fishbowls with tropical fish, 32-inch LCD televisions, designer light fixtures, and vintage lamps. The Pearl boasts a courtyard saltwater swimming pool and poolside lounge featuring an outdoor theater area with a 10-foot projection screen used for ‘dive-in’ movies. Rates start at $99 per night.
Mission Valley: Mission Valley is one of San Diego’s most affordable neighborhoods that offers easy access to San Diego’s most popular sights due to the nearby Interstate 5 and Interstate 8. Located just minutes from both downtown San Diego and Mission Bay, the area boasts many family-friendly budget hotels and easy access to all of the region’s major attractions. Popular hotels in the area include the Town and Country Resort & Convention Center, the Handlery Hotel & Resort, and the AAA Three Diamond Comfort Suites Mission Valley.
Many San Diego hotels offer special seasonal deals with savings of up to 35% off already low room rates. Visitors can learn more about these offers and make reservations online at www.sandiego.org.
San Diego’s dining scene has exploded in the last 10 years with dozens of new, fashionable dining hotspots, but diners on a budget can look to some long-time local hangouts for the best deals on authentic San Diego dining.
El Indio, located near downtown San Diego, has been serving diners since 1940. Famous for their house-made tortilla chips and rolled tacos with guacamole, this road-side taco shop was featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” series for its San Diego classics like the California burrito stuffed with carne asada, fries and guacamole. Visitors order at the counter and then eat inside or on the open-air patio, located across the street.
Located in Ocean Beach, South Beach Bar & Grill serves up fresh fish tacos that earned recognition from Bon Appetit magazine in 2007 as among “America’s Best.” Their top seller, the marinated and grilled mahi mahi taco served on a petit flour tortilla, paired with an icy local brew and spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean behind the bar is beach food at its best.
Located across the city’s 100 colorful neighborhoods, San Diego’s farmers markets offer fresh picked fruits, crisp heirloom vegetables, regional cheeses, locally baked breads and desserts and a unique window on life in this sun-kissed Southern California paradise. Plus, many local restaurants and food vendors offer up their tasty creations streetside, from the unusual flavor combinations of Viva Pops to the indulgent cookies from The Cravory. Some of the most popular markets include the Little Italy Mercato on Saturday mornings and t the Hillcrest Farmers Market on Sunday mornings.
Diners looking to for a posh nosh don’t have to break the bank with the happy hour specials offered at some of San Diego’s chicest hotels. Andaz San Diego in the heart of Gaslamp Quarter offers happy hour specials from 5-8 p.m. (Mon.-Fri.) in three hotel venues: Quarter Kitchen, Ivy Rooftop, and the Ivy Wine Lounge. Specialty cocktails, usually priced at $15, go for $5. Handcrafted seasonal cocktails and delicious small bites are half-off at the US GRANT’s Grant Grill during two happy hours, one from 4-7 p.m. and one for night owls from 10 p.m. to close.
30th on 30th is a monthly celebration of all things edible along the 30th Street corridor, San Diego’s hottest up-and-coming area for dining; more than 20 restaurants and bars offer special discounted menu items on the 30th day of each month (or the 28th, if the month is February). Recent specials included $2 pomegranate glazed duck wings at Café 21 and $3 sangria and $2 wines by the glass at Mosaic Wine Bar.
San Diego Restaurant Week returns for one week in mid-January and one week in mid-September, and now includes a two-course lunch option for $10, $15 or $20 at participating restaurants. Now, it’s even more affordable for visitors to sample the signature dishes, service and style that makes San Diego’s dining scene one of the region’s top attractions. During the event, participating restaurants offer diners an amazing deal — three-course prix fixe dinner menus at many of the region’s top restaurants for just $20, $30 or $40 per person. More than 150 restaurants throughout the county are expected to participate, providing diners the chance to experience everything from classic crowd-pleasers, to landmark restaurants, to the newest, hottest bastions of haute cuisine.
From the luxurious dining in La Jolla to the rustic apple pie in Julian to the hot spots of downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter, visitors can explore the culinary offerings of San Diego’s diverse neighborhoods at the more than three dozen “Taste of” events offered throughout the year. Highlights include the “Taste of Little Italy” in May, “Taste of Adams Avenue” in June and “Taste of Del Mar” in October.
VALUE PACKAGES AND DISCOUNT TICKETS
Guests can take advantage of special discounts and package deals that offer up to 50 percent in savings at many San Diego attractions. Plus, visitors can always find special offers and cost-saving coupons at www.sandiego.org.
For half-price ‘day of’ performance tickets to San Diego theater, music and dance performances, guests can visit the convenient ARTS TIX booth located at The Lyceum Theater downtown in San Diego's Horton Plaza. ARTS TIX is a public service of the San Diego Performing Arts League.
Valid for seven consecutive days, the Passport to Balboa Park provides visitors with admission to 13 museums in Balboa Park including the San Diego Natural History Museum, the San Diego Museum for Art, Museum of Photographic Arts, Reuben H. Fleet Science Center and more. The Passport costs $53 for adults and $29 for children. The Zoo/Passport Combo pairs the Passport to Balboa Park with one-day “best value” admission to the San Diego Zoo including a 50-minute bus tour and Skyfari tram ride. The Zoo/Passport Combo costs $89 for adults and $52 for children. The Stay for the Day excursion pass for adults allows visits to five museums for $43.
With the Go San Diego Card, visitors can enjoy more than 55 San Diego attractions, activities and tours, including the San Diego Zoo, LEGOLAND California, Birch Aquarium at Scripps, a PETCO Park tour, San Diego Harbor Excursion cruise, bike and boogie board rentals and a wine tasting at the San Diego Wine and Culinary Center in downtown San Diego. Prices start at $77 for a one-day card, with lower per-day rates for children and multi-day cards.
The Southern California CityPass allows travelers to visit many of the major attractions in Southern California with considerable savings. Guests can enjoy admission into SeaWorld San Diego, the San Diego Zoo or its Safari Park, Universal Studios Hollywood, Disneyland and Disneyland’s California Adventure Park. The CityPass is valid for 14 consecutive days and costs $319 for adults (a $423 value) and $279 for children (a $391 value).
San Diego offers a variety of affordable and entertaining transportation options to visit and tour the region.
Many of San Diego’s favorite places can be reached easily and inexpensively by riding a San Diego MTS Bus. One-way fares are $2.50 per passenger, and kids ages 5 and under ride free every day. On Family Weekends, every Saturday and Sunday, two children ages 12 and under ride free with any paying passenger over the age of 18.
The red San Diego MTS Trolley is a fun and cost-effective way for travelers to get around town. The trolley travels to destinations around the County, including the international border, downtown San Diego, Mission Valley and Fashion Valley shopping centers, Little Italy, Old Town and select East County communities. Day Tripper passes allow for unlimited use on the trolley and the region’s buses for as little as $5 per day.
Old Town Trolley Tours offers full-day tours, featuring a running narration of San Diego history along with entertaining anecdotes. A discount is available if you purchase tickets online. For the cost of a $36 per adult ($32.40 online) and $18 per child ($16.20 online), guests can enjoy on- and off-privileges at 10 different stops, including Old Town, the USS Midway Museum, Seaport Village, Coronado, San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park and more. For guests not getting off at any stop, the tour lasts two hours. A new tour of San Diego’s popular beaches is available Thursday-Monday, excluding Labor Day weekend.
FUN AND FREE ACTIVITIES
Having fun in San Diego doesn’t require a lot of money; in fact, many things to see and do in San Diego are absolutely free. For a complete list of free activities, visit www.sandiego.org/50FreeThings
Arts and Culture
Visitors can relive early California history for free in Old Town State Historic Park, the first Spanish settlement on the U.S. West Coast, and stroll through its many historic buildings, including San Diego’s first schoolhouse.
In Balboa Park, the largest urban cultural park in the country, the Timken Museum of Art is always free, and several of the park’s other museums offer free admission on Tuesdays. Free Balboa Park tours include ranger-led general tours every Tuesday and Saturday, architectural history tours on the first Wednesday of the month and botanical tours every Saturday. Except for the Japanese Friendship Garden, all of the park’s stunning gardens free as are the Botanical Building and the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages.
Guests can take a self-guided walking tour of the extensive outdoor sculpture installations by top-name contemporary artists included in the Stuart Collection, located on the campus of the University of California San Diego in La Jolla.
Explore San Diego’s dazzling displays of public art from both local and internationally known artists.
At Chicano Park, visitors can experience the Chicano Park Murals, established by activists in 1970. This cultural park has received international recognition as a major public art site for its commanding mural paintings; some of the murals narrate the history of Barrio Logan where the park is located.
In 2010, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego commissioned renowned street artists including Shepard Fairey and Invader to leave their mark on the city with dazzling murals hidden throughout San Diego’s downtown neighborhoods.
Known for his organic structures steeped in nature, local artist James Hubbell’s eight fantastical structures can be viewed at his 40-acre artists complex in East county, and several other stunning Hubbell sculptural works are sprinkled throughout San Diego County.
Whether hippie or hipster, San Diego's artists, locals and visitors converge on the second Saturday every month for the Ray at Night art walk. In addition to nearly two-dozen North Park galleries adjacent to Ray Street that extend their hours late into the night for this free event, Ray at Night often features performance art ranging from DJs to fire dancers. The event is San Diego's biggest monthly art walk, and the people watching can be just as good as anything on display at the participating galleries. www.rayatnightartwalk.com
Free, guided nature walks are available at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday mornings at the Torrey Pines State Reserve in La Jolla. Guests can feast their eyes on the dramatic cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, as well as the deep valleys and majestic pine trees in this scenic 1,000-acre wilderness playground.
Cruising San Diego’s historic highways is a great way to soak up local color. Historic Route 101 along the stunning North County coastline begins in La Jolla and runs up to Oceanside. The 25-mile route meanders along the lush Torrey Pines State Preserve and through the charming vintage surf culture of the Del Mar, Encinitas, and Leucadia neighborhoods. Recently declared a California state historic route, Highway 94 is a 50-mile, tree-lined winding mountain road which runs through San Diego’s backcountry. Visitors can find a number of beautiful campgrounds, parks, museums, quaint diners and other hidden treasures, including the Potrero General Store which dates back to the stagecoach era of the mid-1800s and the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum built in 1917, offering scenic one-hour train rides daily and displays dozens of antique locomotives, passenger cars, freight cars and cabooses from the 1880s.
At Mission Trails Regional Park, guests can explore the cultural and ecological history of San Diego free of charge. The Park’s Visitor’s Center boasts a 94-seat theater where you can learn about the wonders of nature and the people who once lived on the land. The park also offers 40 miles of natural and developed hiking and biking trails to explore year-round.
San Diego’s 70 miles of beautiful beaches are all open to the public and have free nearby parking. Here, beach lovers can swim, surf, build sandcastles, collect seashells and just bask in the golden sun.
Happiness is calling in San Diego. For more information on San Diego’s offerings, including exciting vacation packages and valuable coupons for attractions, restaurants and more, visit the San Diego Tourism Authority's website at www.sandiego.org or call 619-236-1212.
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“Funded in part by the San Diego Tourism Marketing District with City of San Diego Tourism Marketing District Assessment Funds.”