Check out these nine quirky and memorable places in the greater San Diego area while you’re in town for the festival this year
Next month, Team dRiFFt will be visiting Del Mar for a week to cover KAABOO Del Mar music festival. The fifth installation of their luxury beachfront festival, it’s a guaranteed ahhh-mazing weekend (“aaahh” as in “dang, I’m so relaxed right now”). It’s also a great reason to add a couple of days to your trip and really make a vacation out of it. The greater San Diego area is an incredible place to visit and home to many tried-and-true tourist destinations. But if you’re anything like us, you tend to shun the big-box tourist attractions in favor of something a little less plastic. Those lesser-known spots that are quirky, more authentically San Diego, and ultimately… a lot more fun. They’re the thing’s you’ll write home about (or, if you’re like us… write a blog about). Here are the nine San Diego secrets we’ll be checking out while we’re in town for KAABOO.
1) Hike the Secret Surf Trail at Black’s Beach to check out an incredible secluded surf spot and watch the hang-gliders soaring off the bluffs at Torrey Pines Gliderport. With a secret trail head tucked away on a quiet La Jolla residential street, this scenic and challenging trail takes you over questionable bridges, across incredibly scenic bluffs, down through a narrow sandstone ravine (can we say “Insta-worthy”?) and finally down to the local’s surf mecca, Black’s Beach. You can hang out and watch the gliders (or try hang-gliding yourself if you’re the adventurous type) and then head south down the beach toward Scripp’s Reserve and Sumner Canyon to take the slightly-less-taxing La Jolla Trail back to the top. If you have time, pack a picnic and spend some quality time on a less-touristy beach.
2) Like scary bridges? Check out the Spruce Street Suspension bridge for a super-instagrammable spot, a bit of an adrenaline rush and a unique green forested ravine that’s actually not so far removed from civilization. While we’re at it, there’s also a musical bridge -slash art installation, the 25th Street Musical Bridge. Created by artist Roman de Salvo, the bridge railings are actually a series of chromatic bells. So bring a pipe or stick, cross that bridge and make some music!
3) Don’t forget to see the Safari Park or the San Diego Zoo if you haven’t seen them before. Okay, so this one really isn’t a lesser-known attraction, but it’s still a must-see. If you’re like me, it’s a must-see-every-couple-of-years because as an animal and nature-lover, the San Diego Zoo Institution for Conservation Research has done this place justice, and by visiting, you’re supporting a very important international cause. There’s a reason this zoo has been voted #1 in the world – it’s beautiful, relaxing and a wonderful day trip.
4) Dinner & Drinks in the Gaslamp Quarter. This may still be a slightly touristy option, but trust us, it’s worth it. There are too many amazing bar and restaurant options to even mention in one article. Our picks? Dinner: Biga. Think artisanal, hearty farm-to-table Italian; pizza, pasta and charcuterie. Brunch: The Morning After. Crafty, indulgent, delicious breakfast and lunch offerings and flights of mimosas or bloody marys. Bar: Noble Experiment. Just trust us.
5) Swami’s State Beach – grab a coffee to go from Philz or Surfdog’s Java Hut and head down for a morning of carefree tidepooling with your pup by your side. This laid-back dog-friendly beach is always at the top of our list for when a nature fix is needed. The tidepools are so impressive that it’s frequently a hangout for Biology students. You’ll find sea urchins, brittle stars and even the occasional octopus. Bring sturdy water shoes at low tide so you can (carefully) trek over the exposed tidepools and find flora and fauna galore. Check tides out on this handy site. Just don’t move, damage or otherwise harm anything in the tidepools, and as always – enjoy what nature has to offer and leave no trace.
6) Lucha Libre Taco Shop. There’s taco shops and then there’s Lucha Libre. If you want a side of quirky with your carnitas, you’ve found it. There’s a gold “Champions Booth” offering full service with reservations and the place is chock-full of an incredible array of Mexican wrestling paraphernalia. You’ll leave with a happy belly, and we guarantee you won’t soon forget this taco stop.
7) Space Invaders Scavenger hunt. This is no joke! Spend a few hours in search of Space Invaders on a quirky modern-day Scavenger Hunt in downtown San Diego. What began as an exhibit from the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art in 2010 has become a modern-day scavenger hunt for 1980s gaming fans and treasure hunters. The “Viva la Revolucion: A Dialogue with the Urban Landscape,” art exhibition incorporated the work of a number of street artists to place 21 character tiles “hidden in plain sight” in downtown spaces on sides of buildings. Can you find them all? Here’s a site that will give you some clues without giving it all away!
8) Spreckel’s Organ Pavilion – the most unlikely, unique thing you “just can’t NOT check out” on our list. This larger-than life, fully functioning outdoor organ is actually the largest outdoor pipe organ in the world, and it lives in a century-old pavilion in the middle of Balboa Park. The pipes range from 32 feet high to the size of a pencil, and you can actually catch a free Sunday concert by San Diego’s civic organist (who even knew that was a job?). Who doesn’t want to go home claiming they’ve see the world’s largest pipe organ?
9) Mission Bay and Fiesta Island Park. This is our favorite picnic pick, and it’s a neat spot – not for the nearby attractions (cough, Seaworld happens to be right across the way..) and crazy hotels, restaurants and beaches close by, but for a really chill, laid-back spot where you can take the dog or the family for a picnic near the water and catch people swimming with their horses. This is one of the few places you can still trailer horses in, so San Diego’s equestrians take full advantage of it. Take a beachfront stroll past the ponies, or you can even reach out to local trail riding companies and partake in a swim with the horses yourself!
We also asked Team KAABOO and their friends at the Del Mar Village Association for some recommendations and top picks.
Del Mar is the perfect place to enjoy before, during and after a local festival like Kaaboo with its amazing beaches, ocean views, along with its renown culinary and libation options.
- Top Beach Spots in Del Mar: Seagrove and Powerhouse Beach. An easily walkable 2-mile beach divided by two parks – the northern half is easy to access, allows dogs at Dog Beach and offers “primo swimming.” The southern expanse is quieter, backed by bluffs and solitude. DMVA recommends: “Bring a blanket to sit on the grassy cliff-side, order a bite to eat “to-go” at many of the local Village restaurants and head over for an evening picnic” or stop at the waterfront patio and sunset drinks at Poseidon on the Beach.
- Coolest place to stay in Del Mar:
- For an upscale experience: L’Auberge Del Mar offers an intimate resort experience reminiscent of a private seaside estate. Featuring 121 guest rooms & suites, refreshing dining options, a full service European-style 5,000-square-foot spa, a private path for easy beach access, tennis courts, a 24-hour fitness center and a peaceful pool area with leisure, lap, and whirlpools.
- Or, live like a local at the Del Mar Bungalow luxuriously renovated and close to the beautiful sandy beach; entertain friends or just simply relax and enjoy drinks and a barbecue on the patio.
For more Del Mar accommodation ideas: https://visitdelmarvillage.com/stay/
- Most Instagrammable spots: Sunset Seat The southernmost coastal point in Del Mar off highway 101 is one of the best spots to catch a sunset and check out the amazing art carved from a preserved Torrey Pine tree.
Best Cocktail Spot:
- Jake’s Del Mar for an beach-appropriate Mai Tai on the sand in a tiki glass, what more could you really want? Happy Hour starts at 3pm. You’re welcome.
- Bleu Bar at L’Auberge for a “Mango Me Crazy,” for incredible ocean views to complement that mango-jalapeno-infused treat
- En Fuego Cantina & Grill – grab your friends and grab a Casa Amigos Cantarito – it’s a specialty drink served in a traditional clay cantarito.
- SHIMBASHI Izakaya. If you’re a fan of sake, this spot has several offerings that perfectly complement a spicy dish. And why not stick around for some sushi or seasonal tapas after that? With that view, you’ve got no reason to leave so quickly.
Best foodie Spot:
- Beeside Balcony offers New American flavors with a unique fusion of Mediterranean and California cuisine to compliment your view of the golden sky and natural Torrey Pine trees.
- At Il Fornaio, you can sit back with a glass of wine, authentic Italian dishes, and views of the ocean.
- Viewpoint Brewing Co. also provides beautiful sunset views over the San Dieguito Lagoon and Del Mar Racetrack with outdoor seating and lawn games.
- The Brigantine Del Mar serves up locally world famous ranch and cheddar-topped fish tacos with Del Mar’s stunning views.
- Coya Peruvian Secret. Known for their Peruvian family recipes and fresh local ingredients, there are menu options for everyone! Local Favorite: Baked Empanadas and Aji De Gallina. An authentic Peruvian dish with pulled chicken breast, and creamy aji sauce: walnuts, aji & Parmesan.
- Board & Brew, established in 1979, has been an icon and absolute favorite for locals and visitors alike for the perfect post-beach bite. Try the Local Favorite: Tom’s Choice. Freshly baked roast beef, turkey breast, cheddar cheese and sweet-sour dressing on a French baguette. Never forget the Secret Sauce.