48 Hours in San Diego

by Gray Cargill on November 1, 2011

San Diego Waterfront

San Diego Waterfront

How much can you really do in 48 hours in San Diego? It depends on your energy levels, your interests, whether or not you rent a car, and whether or not you need to sleep. I spent almost exactly 48 hours in San Diego in September. About 16 of those hours were spent sleeping, so that meant I had just 32 hours to enjoy a new destination. My travel day from Vermont to San Diego is long, because we have no direct flights. In order to get to San Diego around 11am, I had to get up at 3am, walk to the airport in the dark at 4:20am (even with a flashlight, bad idea, it was very creepy), leave at 6am, and change planes in New York. Plus I was on the verge of exhaustion from my day job, which has gone from 0 to 60 over the course of the summer. In all honesty, I would have liked to just plunk myself down in a lounger at the hotel pool and stay there the whole weekend. But I’d never been to San Diego before! There was so much to see and do! So off I went. What was I able to do in my 32 waking hours?

Embarcadero Marina Park

Embarcadero Marina Park

The Embarcadero

The Embarcadero is a stretch of waterfront along San Diego consisting of a boardwalk, Seaport Village, marina, a couple of small park areas, the USS Midway, and the Maritime Museum. I walked the length of it from my hotel up to the Maritime Museum (and lesser distances more than once), but there are pedicabs offering $5 rides if you just can’t walk any more.

Seaport Village

Seaport Village

Seaport Village

I spent quite a bit of time in this cute little touristy waterfront shopping, retail and entertainment area located right next door to my hotel, the Manchester Grand Hyatt. It was handy to grab meals there and just wander around in the sunshine, people-watching and being close to the water. I loved it. There’s an old-fashioned carousel here, some Spanish plazas with fountains, and terrific views of the harbor.

USS Midway

View of the USS Midway from my hotel room

The USS Midway

I toured the Midway, and am so glad I did. What a remarkable learning experience this was for me. I’ve always wondered what life is really like aboard a ship or a submarine. Let’s just say it’s not exactly a cruise ship. It never hurts to be reminded of the sacrifices made on our behalf by the military.


Classic sailing vessel at Maritime Museum

The Maritime Museum

I walked up here to see the Star of India and the other classic sailing vessels, but there was a little street fair with booths that blocked my ability to take full-on photos, and by this time, my energy was starting to plummet, so I didn’t pay the entrance fee to walk around on the ships. Maybe next time.

Botanical Building and Lily Pond at Balboa Park

Botanical Building and Lily Pond at Balboa Park

Balboa Park

I spent several hours in Balboa Park, which is just the coolest park I think I’ve ever seen. It felt more like its own small city than a park. There are a number of museums there, the San Diego Zoo, of course, and the Spanish Village Art Center. There are fountains and plazas and the landscaping is just beautiful. So much to look at and photograph, so little time. I didn’t have time to actually go in to any of the museums or the Zoo, but would love to on a future trip.

Gaslamp Quarter

Gaslamp Quarter

The Gaslamp Quarter

This historic quarter is now known as the city’s dining and entertainment district. I spent a morning there wandering the streets.


I had completely forgotten before my trip that Kristen Elise lives in San Diego until I posted a photo on my Facebook page and she responded to it. We made plans to meet up to chat at the Top of the Hyatt on Saturday night, and I’m so glad I was finally able to meet her in person!

Busters Crab Cakes

Crab Cakes at Busters….Mmmm

Had some great meals

I didn’t have a lot of time to sample the food of San Diego, but I did my best. I had moist and delicious crab cakes at Busters at Seaport Village, fresh fish at the San Diego Pier Cafe, strawberry shortcake waffles in the Gaslamp Quarter, and a scrumptious paneer tikka masala at Royal India. So many great places to eat, so little time.

Sailboat, San Diego

Sailboat, San Diego

Enjoyed the weather and the views

The real stars of San Diego are its perfect weather and its gorgeous location on the Pacific Ocean. I know, I know, nothing is “perfect.” And okay, I didn’t have a single good hair day because of the wind off the water. But it was worth it. The temperatures were exactly in the range I like them to be (70s), it was sunny almost the whole time, and I soaked that right up. Having my hotel located so close to the water was a bonus, and the views from my room and other public areas of the hotel of the water were superb.

But of course, eventually, I ran out of time and steam. I wasn’t able to visit Old Town San Diego, Sea World, La Jolla, or Coronado. I wound up not taking a walking or ghost tour of the Gaslamp Quarter, nor did I go out to hear a live band at night. And I never did have time to plunk myself down in a lounge chair by the pool or get a massage.

Trolley and pedicabs

Public transport in San Diego

The main thing I did right about this trip was stay at a hotel that is centrally located  and within walking distance to many of the tourist attractions I wanted to see. The Manchester Grand Hyatt was super convenient in that regard. The main thing I did wrong was that I didn’t rent a car. I tend not to when I travel, because they’re an added expense, and I don’t care for the stress that comes with driving in strange places. I thought public transportation would be sufficient, as it usually is. But it just didn’t feel convenient in the moment. After seeing what the traffic was really like (not bad at all, actually, especially for a holiday weekend), I would definitely do things differently next time. A car would have saved me time (and stress–cab drivers here drive like maniacs!) and allowed me to go further afield.

On the bright side, this trip just whet my appetite for San Diego. There’s still so much left for me to see and do there. That’s exactly what a great destination should do: Leave you wanting more. San Diego did that.

Disclaimer: I was hosted by the Manchester Grand Hyatt for my stay in San Diego. My thanks to the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau for suggesting them to me.

Kris June 12, 2013 at 4:20 pm

Ha! Gray, I just noticed this post for the first time. Yep, it’s a great city. I love it here. And I giggled at your hair comment. Truth be told, I had to change my entire hairstyle when I moved to Southern California. What were “relaxed waves” in another part of the state turned to “struck-by-lightning frizz” once I moved next to the ocean. So now what I have are genuine curls that use the San Diego weather here to their advantage, rather than trying to fight it. So now I have bad hair days whenever I travel elsewhere.

Gray Cargill June 12, 2013 at 5:24 pm

Thank God I’m not the only one who has to worry about bad hair days when I travel, Kris! I’ve never thought much about how we have to adapt our hairstyles to the climate we live in. Fascinating. I wonder what I would have to do if I lived in San Diego full-time?

Gray November 3, 2011 at 8:33 pm

Are you referring to the Gaslamp Quarter at midnight? I kid, I kid! 🙂 I like safari parks, too. My favorite, though, has to be Disney World.

JoAnn November 3, 2011 at 8:22 pm

San Diego is a great city. While I liked the zoo, I loved the Wild Animal park. I would suggest that for your next trip.

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