A Day Outside in San Diego | RTX Traveler Magazine

With your home base in Carlsbad for your southern California vacation, it’s easy to drive north or south along the coast to explore beach towns like Oceanside, Encinitas, Solana Beach and Del Mar. The city of San Diego is also a big draw from Carlsbad, at less than 40 miles south. You could easily spend a day trip – or several – exploring all that San Diego has to offer while returning to the quiet beach town of Carlsbad each night.

North County COASTER -Courtesy SanDiego_webIf you prefer not to drive (you’re on vacation after all!) then the NCTD COASTER Rail is the perfect solution. The COASTER starts in Oceanside and stops in Carlsbad, Encinitas, Solana Beach, Sorrento Valley, Old Town San Diego and finishes its route at the Santa Fe station in San Diego. There are two stations in Carlsbad, one in the heart of the historic village, and one a bit further south.

Tickets can be purchased from kiosks at the station, and the Region Plus Day Pass is a great value at $12, which covers the round trip train ride as well as public transportation within San Diego. The trip from Carlsbad Village to Old Town San Diego is less than an hour, and if you grab a set on the top level of the coaster on the west-facing side, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the beach and the ocean during the trip. There is free parking available at the Carlsbad Village Station.

With so much to see and do in San Diego, it’s impossible to cover everything in just one day. However, with good planning and a few inside tips, you can certainly maximize your time based on what you want to see and do. Here we’ve provided a sample itinerary of a day in San Diego as well as a few alternatives or additional sites if you are able to visit the city more than once during your Carlsbad vacation.

2775 State St.
Carlsbad, CA 92008
Hours of Operation
Departure times vary depending on day of the week and time of day.
Please visit the web site for schedule details.





Old Town San Diego

Authentic Mexican Shopping -Courtesy Bazaar del Mundo Shops_webThe logical place to start your San Diego adventure is in Old Town San Diego, in the northernmost part of the city. If you’ve taken one of the early trains and are looking for breakfast to fuel the family for the day, look no further than Perry’s Cafe. This large diner just a block from the COASTER station is fast-paced and busy, mostly filled with regulars and locals. The diner manages to pair a casual atmosphere and down-home service with a professional open kitchen where the chefs’ white hats gleam as they make homemade corn tortillas and three-egg omelets at an incredibly efficient pace. The extensive menu has a section devoted to Mexican breakfasts, and the pancakes and waffles are hugely popular as well. Once you’ve seen the portions, you won’t believe the price. At Perry’s, you are sure to get the best bang for your buck as well as a delicious breakfast that will keep you going for hours.

With a full belly, a walk around Old Town will be welcome. This unique slice of the past is more than an historic town; it is an official State Historic Park. The settlement dates back to 1769 when the first mission was built, and is known as the birthplace of California. Among the museums, unique retail shops and restaurants are five original adobe structures from the mid-1800s, as well as several reconstructed sites and more recent buildings designed in the same mode as the originals.

Old Town begins to come to life around 10 a.m. each day. Several of the buildings house museums which are free to guests, and many of the shops offer a glimpse at commerce as it would have been in the 1800s, with candle making, taffy pulling and the colorful village market selling a variety of Mexican crafts and art. Free guided tours are available from the visitors’ center, which is located in an historic building that was once a private residence that also housed the local newspaper, railroad offices and other offices. Throughout the day, performers entertain with traditional live music and dancing.

 Perry’s Cafe
4610 Pacific Hwy
San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 291-7121
Hours of Operation
Daily from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m.
Old Town
4002 Wallace St.
San Diego, CA, 92110
Parking and entrance to the park are free, located adjacent to the Old Town Transit Center, with Coaster, Trolley and MTS Bus service.
Hours of Operation
Visitor Center & Museums are open daily and offer free admission.
Oct – Apr, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
May – Sep, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.


San Diego Trolley Tour

Old Town is the best place to begin the Old Town Trolley Tour, a hop-on, hop-off guided tour that hits most of the major hot spots throughout San Diego. This tour is a great way to learn about the city’s history and attractions while being able to get off and spend time in areas of your choice. Trolleys stop at designated places every half hour, so you can allow as much or little time as you like to explore each of the 11 stops.

From Old Town, the trolley travels to San Diego Harbor, Seaport Village, the Marina, Horton Plaza, the Gaslamp Quarter and the Bayfront before heading over the Coronado Bridge, where on clear days you can see all the way to the Mexican border, 13 miles away. After two stops in Coronado, the trolley heads to Balboa Park before stopping in Little Italy on and completing the loop back to Old Town. If you were to get off at every stop, the trolley tour itself could take an entire day, and could be a great way to see the city with its reliable transportation and the bonus of a tour guide.

Old Town San Diego Trolley Tour
Old Town Market
4010 Twiggs St.
San Diego, CA 92110
(888) 910-8687(TOUR)






GaoGao the Panda -Courtesy San Diego Zoo Global_webSan Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo is one of the most well-known and popular zoos in the country, if not the world. Covering 100 acres within Balboa Park, it’s easy to forget that you are actually in the middle of a city while walking along jungle-like pathways, into aviaries and through different climate zones to view the more than 4,000 animals and 800 species who call the zoo home.

Just about every animal imaginable can be found at the zoo. Polar bears, brown bears, black bears and the ever so popular panda bears can be seen swimming, sunning or sleeping throughout the Urban Junge, Asian Passage and Northern Frontier. The second largest population of Koalas in the world after Australia lives here, and these shy and sleepy marsupials can be seen curled up and lounging in trees throughout the Outback exhibit. The Elephant Odyssey and Africa Rocks exhibits offer interactive learning experiences with the big grey giants as well as up close views of lions, cheetahs, camels and more.

Leave the desert climate for the rainforest and spy tropical birds and plenty of monkeys in the treetops, gorillas eyeing spectators, hippos cooling off in the water and tigers pacing waiting for lunch. Watch out for turtles, alligators and more through the Reptile Walk and make your way to the petting zoo for up close encounters with furry friends.

There’s so much more to see; the biggest question is how to do so. Seeing the zoo by foot is surely a unique and immersive experience, but if your time is limited and your feet are tired, consider purchasing the 1-Day Pass ticket, which includes unlimited use of the guided bus tour, Express Bus and Safari Aerial Tram.

The 35-minute guided bus tour covers the majority of the zoo, with information provided by the tour guide driver that you may not otherwise get. The top level of the double-decker bus is great for birds-eye views of the animal exhibits, but the lower level provides a bit more protection from the sun. There may be a bit of a wait for the tour, but if you make sure it’s your first stop when visiting the zoo, you’ll be able to take note of what exhibits to return to and which are best seen from the bus.

Once the tour is complete, you can also take the Express Bus to five different points of interest on the map that cover about half of the park (the hilliest half). For a stunning view of the zoo as well as Balboa Park and the San Diego skyline, take the Safari Aerial Tram from the Northern Frontier back to the park’s entrance area.

The zoo map provided at the entrance has information on the various streets and trails for walking the zoo, including approximate time, difficulty level and what you’ll see. The map also has a schedule of daily events like the sea lion show, animal encounters, keeper talks and live entertainment. A wide variety of dining options will make the whole family happy when growling bellies are mistaken for a lion’s roar.

Once you’ve completed your zoo adventure, see the sights in Balboa Park or catch a bus to the Gaslamp District for shopping, dining or perhaps take a guided tour to explore even more of San Diego.

San Diego Zoo
2920 Zoo Drive
Balboa Park
San Diego, CA
(619) 231-1515
Hours of Operation
The zoo is open at 9 a.m. 365 days a year.
Closing hours vary depending on season.
Please check website for details.






A155829510_webnother Side of San Diego Tours

A city such as San Diego is bound to have a number of guided tours, but a provider that stands above the rest for its variety of tour options as well as positive member reviews is Another Side of San Diego. Take your pick of walking, bicycling, Segway®, vehicle, boating, horseback riding, helicopter or hot air balloon tours that last anywhere from one and a half hours to nearly a full day.

If you only have a limited amount of time to see the city, a driving, bicycling or Segway® tour of about two hours will cover the most ground and give you the best overview of the city. The Segway® tours are the most popular among visitors and if you’ve never experienced one before, a tour with Another Side of San Diego is a great first time adventure.

Navigate the historical Gaslamp Quarter, cruise around Coronado Island, glide through Balboa Park, explore the Embarcadero or traverse Mission Beach. Take a private VIP tour with just your family or join a mall group for a semi-private tour. Whichever experience you choose, the knowledgeable and fun guides will ensure you get the most from your tour.

First timers should have no fear, as everyone watches a safety video prior to navigating the Segway®. Once the video is complete, tour guides give hands-on instructions and ensure that all guests are comfortable with getting on, starting, stopping, steering and getting off of their Segway® as well as navigating small bumps and inclines.

Once everyone is comfortable, the tour departs. You’ll love the feeling of being outside in the ideal San Diego weather while navigating the city in the open air and on wheels. The tour guides have an extensive knowledge of all things San Diego, from history and trivia to the best places to shop and dine. They are genuinely hospitable and will take the tour from a level of great to unforgettable.

Another Side of San Diego Tours
308 G St.
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 239-2111
Hours of Operation
Tour days and times vary.
Call or visit the website for details.





Midway Memorial -Courtesy Joanne Dibona_web

Balboa Park

Balboa Park is in many ways the center of San Diego. You can experience it through the Old Town Trolley Tour, a visit to the San Diego Zoo, a tour with Another Side of San Diego, taking a guided tour offered by the park’s many cultural centers or simply spending time exploring it on your own. However you decide to choose to see it, there are a few things worth noting.

The 1,200 acre park is the nation’s largest urban cultural park and is home to 15 major museums, 19 gardens, and several performing arts venues, recreation centers and additional attractions. Most of the cultural institutions, architecture and landscaping are a legacy of both the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition and the 1935-36 California Pacific International Exposition.

The park’s museums offer something for everyone. Kids and adults will love the interactive aspects and “cool” factor of the science center, air and space museum, the automotive museum, the sports museum and the model railroad museum. The Museum of Art, Museum of Man and Natural History Museum all showcase stellar collections and exhibitions that are worth seeing. To see the creation of art firsthand, visit the Spanish Village Art Center where working artists create and sell their pieces while interacting with visitors. Many of the museums offer free admission.

The lush gardens and variety of plants and vegetation in the park can largely be credited to Kate Sessions, a botanist who became known as the “Mother of Balboa Park” for her dedication to bringing plants and trees from around the world to what once was barren desert landscape. The unique vegetation in the Old Cactus Garden is known for inspiring many of the whimsical characters and images created by Dr. Suess, and the nearby rose garden is one of the top public rose gardens in the world, with hybrid varieties that can’t be found anywhere else. The Botanical Building is one of the most popular attractions in the park, as the unique lath structure built in 1915 houses more than 2,000 plants.

The Japanese Friendship Garden is an attraction in itself with its design guided by the original principles of the Japanese garden, while incorporating the local regional landscape and climate. With exhibitions, classes and performances to complement the natural beauty and harmony of the bonsai trees, Koi ponds and landscaping, the gardens are a place to find peace and tranquility as well as cultural education. An expansion of this garden is currently underway and will be completed in January 2015. The nearby Spreckels Organ Pavilion features one of the largest outdoor organs in the world, and the public can still enjoy free weekly concerts as has been the tradition since 1917.

Other attractions from a carousel and play areas for kids to a puppet theater and lawn bowling club could keep you coming back to Balboa Park for days, or even weeks, to see all the sites. Rather than trying to pack it all into one visit, start planning your return trip and have something to daydream about for your next vacation.

Balboa Park
1549 El Prado
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 239-0512
Hours of Operation
The park’s grounds are open 24 hours a day, and admission is free.
Admission and hours for museums and attractions vary.





Downtown Gaslamp Quarter Flag -Courtesy Joanne DiBona_webGaslamp Quarter

With a colorful history dating back to the second half of the 1800s and a mindset for historic preservation which began in the mid-1970s, the Gaslamp Quarter has become a jewel in San Diego’s downtown crown. A favorite destination for locals and visitors alike, the Gaslamp Quarter is home to over 200 restaurants, bars, nightclubs and lounges and countless boutiques, art galleries and shops. This historic district hosts street festivals for Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween as well as local music, film and food festivals, and gets packed with Padres fans on game days at Petco Park, just one block away.

Outdoor dining, particularly during happy hour, is a great way to enjoy life in the Gaslamp. For a pint of craft brews, check out Rock Bottom Brewery for happy hour prices from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. and again after 10 p.m. all week long, making this a great stop to begin or end the evening. La Puerta is a favorite for Mexican food with plenty of patio seating ideal for people watching. Everything on both the food and drink menus is made fresh daily, and the fresh, bold flavors offer plenty of proof. If you love small plates and a friendly, social environment, Café 21 has a variety of tapas inspired by cuisines from around the world made from fresh local organic produce. The seasonal sangria flight is the perfect beverage to pair with the tasty small plates, and happy hour prices make this spot a sure bet for a bargain.

After happy hour in the Gaslamp Quarter, it’s an easy stroll to the Santa Fe Depot station to catch the last COASTER train back to Carlsbad. Plan you day in San Diego early in your Carlsbad stay as you may find yourself wanting to return once, or maybe more, during your vacation.


Gaslamp Quarter
Rock Bottom Brewery
401 G St.
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 231-7000
Hours of Operation
Sun – Thu, 11:30 a.m. – 12 midnight
Fri – Sat, 11:30 a.m. – 2 a.m.
Happy hour from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. until closing, seven days a week.
La Puerta
560 4th Ave.
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 696-3466
Mon – Fri, 11 a.m. – 2 a.m.
Sat – Sun, 10 a.m. – 2 a.m.
Happy hour from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m., seven days a week.
Café 21
750 Fifth Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 795-0721
Sun – Thu, 8 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Fri – Sat, 8 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Happy hour from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m., seven days a week.












Photos courtesy of the San Diego Tourism Authority at www.sandiego.org.

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