San Diego: The perfect weekend can be yours

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Photo by Bill Malcolm
Photo by Bill Malcolm

San Diego, the 8th largest city in America and the 2nd largest in California (at least according to LGBTQ+ Mayor Todd Gloria) is a city of interesting neighborhoods in valleys and mesas on the Pacific Ocean at the southern tip of California (on the border with Tijuana, Sonora, Mexico).

I had the pleasure of visiting during Pride weekend where over 55,000 persons attended the parade and festival held in Balboa Park, the iconic park just east of downtown which features the world-famous Zoo, Museums, and other attractions. Don't miss the Museum of Art.

San Diego has a perfect climate — very mild year-round with 10+ inches of rain so it is not as desolate nor as hot as nearby Phoenix or Las Vegas. And you are just a short drive to LA to take in big city attractions. However, the water temperature is cool (in the mid-60s) compared with east coast beaches.

What to do
Don't miss the Little Italy neighborhood which features the world's best farmers' market on Saturday. It is full of great restaurants like Ironside (try the salmon and finish it off with banana pudding). Or have desert at the Portland ice cream chain, Salt and Straw. The Little Italy Food Hall is also great with 7 food court options.

After that catch the light rail (known as the MTS Trolley) up to Old Town State Historic Park, site of California's first settlement (the birthplace of California). You will learn about the history of this interesting state. Don't miss the Casa de Estudillo. The area has several excellent Mexican restaurants.

Next head to Santa Fe Station and catch a bus up to Balboa Park, and then onto the gayborhood, Hillcrest (where the boys are). The Gaslamp Quarter just south of downtown is also worth a visit. You can also head out to Coronado Island and the one and only Hotel del Coronado. Then hit one of the beaches (Pacific Beach, La Jolla, Torrey Pines, and more). The beaches from Coronado south were polluted when I was there due to pollution from Tijuana. You don't need a car since they have a great transit system (

Speaking of Tijuana, although the light rail runs south to the border, friends discouraged a day trip. I was disappointed since I had some left-over pesos to spend from a previous Mexican vacation. Check when you arrive and make your own decision, but it is tempting.

Photo by Bill Malcolm  

Nightlife means the Hillcrest
Most of the bars are in the Hillcrest gayborhood which is just up the hill northeast of downtown. The Uptown Tavern is fun as is Gossip Girl. Try the iconic Flicks for dancing or great people watching (lots of cuties). Urban Mo has great food and drinks and is always packed. The Number One Fifth is another option as is the very festive as is the very popular Rich's. You will find them all on University Avenue in the Hillcrest. All feature outdoor seating or courtyards. Hillcrest is arguably the best gayborhood in North America.

Where to stay
I stayed at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina on Harbor Island. Just steps to the airport, there are great paths along the harbor, and it is a short hop to the gayborhood (Hillcrest) as well as Balboa Park, Old Town, and Little Italy. (Beware of resort fees though. I refuse to stay at hotels that charge them.)

There are many hotels downtown, but I could not find any in Hillcrest proper. I have also stayed at La Pensione Hotel in Little Italy which I liked. Rates for hotels have gone up dramatically so check the hotel rate before you book your flight. There were several conventions in town as well as Pride going on when I was there, and the hotels were quite expensive.

Getting there and getting around
The MTS Trolley and bus system is great. You can take Amtrak up to Los Angeles.

I took Southwest through Denver on the way out which was fine although they have no chargers for your phone in the seats. My 3-hour Denver wait became a 4 hour wait due to a delay.

I took United on the way back which was also nice except you must download your credit card before the flight to purchase a snack box or liquor which is a hassle. Other than that, I was surprised how pleasant the flight was — especially since we flew over the Grand Canyon, Utah National Parks, and the Rocky Mountains.

Alaska is my favorite airline and they also have a lot of flights to SAN. The nearby Tijuana Airport is another option and they have a new cross border connect option where you walk over a bridge to the airport to clear customs and catch cheaper flights to Mexico and other destinations.
San Diego airport, the largest single runway airport in the country, is close to downtown. Catch the MTS bus and save on UBER or Lyft fare. The bus is free all summer.

I could walk to my hotel, the Sheraton, which is across the street.

I loved watching the planes descend over Balboa Park into the airport. You can almost touch the tires. San Diego has one close in airport.
Note: Don't bother with a rental car. You won't need one to get around and they are very expensive these days.

One final tip: San Diego does not have a bike sharing system like most cities. So, leave your helmet at home.

For more info
Check out the LGBTQ news at LGBTQ San Diego County News (l or read the print edition. Rage Monthly is the Southern California LGBTQ magazine which covers San Diego.

The San Diego Reader is the alternative weekly. The Union Tribune is the daily.

Put San Diego down as an absolute must for your next vacation. Whatever the season, you won't be disappointed in this interesting and fun city. There is nowhere else like it.

Bill Malcolm is America's only syndicated LGBTQ+ value travel columnist. His column is now carried in LGBTQ+ publications in Toronto, Seattle, Chicago, and Washington D.C. His opinions are his own. He received no free meals, hotel stays, etc. during his trip making him one of America's truly independent and unbiased travel writers.