Many tourists will know San Diego for Legoland (which is actually in Carlsbad) and the SeaWorld. At least the only other time I visited San Diego before was to visit SeaWorld. This time, with one day layover in the city, I was able to explore parts of the downtown and even a little bit of the suburbs. First notes on arrival was the nice new airport which is very close to the downtown, probably a 5 minute drive to reach the edges of downtown? I took about 15 minutes to jog from the hotel to be able to see the runway and that just goes to show how close it is to town. This is very convenient for the tired traveller and for aviation enthusiasts.
Staying at the Gaslamp Quarter on a weekend night also shows the ‘party’ nature of this city, and you can probably notice the SoCal culture here very prominently. Laid-back and the most relaxed amongst large cities in California (think LA and SF), this probably has got to do with the fact that San Diego really is not much of a business and financial centre. Thus there is less crowds here, and the city does not feel as distant or spread out. But I have been told the city comes truly alive during the annual Comic Con which is held in the convention centre by the waterfront. The Gaslamp Quarter is in between the convention centre and downtown.
The Gaslamp Quarter is a beautiful district with lots of heritage buildings that is full of bars and pubs that comes really alive at night but it also has a lot of cafes and theatres where visitors can really spend the whole day in. Being the entertainment center of San Diego, numerous hotels can be found here including the Andaz. But when it comes to hotels, the most famous in the city would have to be the U.S. Grant Hotel which is a Luxury Collection property managed by SPG. This was a hotel built by Ulysses S. Grant Jr. and so named to honour his father, the 18th President of the United States.
Public transport in downtown San Diego is also very convenient by using the city’s tramways (or the San Diego Trolley) with 3 major lines that cross the downtown. One major intersection is the Santa Fe Depot near the America Plaza located at the end of Broadway. From here, one can conveniently access all 3 tramlines and walk over to the harbourfront promenade where many of San Diego’s attractions can be found. One point of interest is perhaps the USS Midway, an aircraft carrier that has been decommissioned and placed in San Diego’s harbour as a museum.
The Santa Fe Depot, also known as the Union Station, is a major intersection for the trolleys but also allows tourists to transfer to the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner service which connects San Diego to Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. The terminal and the outdoor fountain courtyard is a nice place to stroll around in especially with the shade provided by the trees and surrounding skyscrapers in the summertime.
With no real destination in mind, I just boarded one of the trolley for a ride and tourists can get a day pass from the vending machines at many of the trolley stations. The ride on the trolley takes me to Fashion Valley Mall in the north where I decided to alight to get some refreshments. At first glance it looks like any suburban mall but it was actually full of tourists and locals on a weekend afternoon. Not only were there food court, but the mall’s tenant includes some high-end designer brands like Prada and Louis Vuitton. It was indeed strange to find them in a somewhat ‘suburban-looking’ mall.
With the short excursion to the fringes of San Diego, it was time to return to the hotel and I alighted at the Convention Centre station before taking a leisurely walk back to the Andaz. Back at the hotel I still had the time to take a breather and lounge at the rooftop to admire the sunset over the city that I had enjoyed during my one night layover. In fact, this little side trip would probably mean I need to plan a longer stay here the next time.