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This weekend list (Saturday to Monday) is perfect for any first time visitors to San Diego relying primarily on public transportation. Highlight event of the trip is the annual "Festa" in Little Italy on the Sunday before Columbus Day.
Day 1, Saturday:Arrive at the San Diego Airport by noon. San Diego is one of the lucky cities where the airport is less than a 10 minute drive from city!
Stay at the Hampton Inn Downtown. The hotel is clean, well-located and offers free airport shuttle--contact the hotel for the shuttle as soon as you arrive. You are within walking distance to the San Diego Harbor and major trolley and bus lines.
Just across the bay is the town of Coronado (also known as Coronado Island). Walk to Broadway Pier and take the scenic 30 minute ferry to the island. Plan to be spend about 3 to 4 hours hanging out in this bayside city.
After spending some time at the Coronado Ferry Landing, stop by the Brewing Company for lunch. Try the fish tacos!
Just across the street from the Coronado Brewing Company is Boney's Bayside Market. Think of Boney's as Coronado's locally owned and operated "whole foods market". Peruse the aisles for ideas of provisions to take back to the hotel or be tempted by the sights and smells of the bakery.
A straight shot down the road from the Brewing Company is the infamous Hotel de Coronado, or "The Del." A leisurely 30 minute walk from the Brewery or a quick bus ride will get here. Stroll the grounds of this ostentatious resort lodging. Some say this place is haunted.
Take the ferry back to the mainland as evening draws near. Grab a bite to eat at local burger chain--the Burger Lounge, located in Little Italy. Great shakes here, as well. The vegetarian-friendly quinoa burger is delicious!
Day 2, Sunday: Start the morning off by taking the bus to the Farmer's market in Hillcrest, one of San Diego's distinctive neighborhoods. A true international market, you can find a wide range of foods and produce. I tried some unusual but delicious baked goods--cookies made with rosemary and cookies made with bacon! You never know what you will find at the Hillcrest farmer's market.
With horchata in hand, walk about 30 minutes down to one of the country's largest urban cultural park. Feel as if you are transported to Spain as you walk around the Museo del Prado. So much to see! wonderful architecture. Nature trails. Open Air artist markets are common.
If you keep walking and cross over a pedestrian bridge out into the city, you'll stumble upon the Marston House Museum. Maintained by the San Diego Historical Society, the Marston House tells the story of George Marston--a pioneering visionary and urban planner for the city.
After walking many miles around Balboa Park, I suggest catching a bus to Little Italy to experience the sights, sounds and smells of the Columbus Day Festa. This annual event is a big community event. Lots of foods and vendors and music. Highlights include a gesso sidewalk art competition, stick ball game and bocce ball competition.
Walk off the carbs from the Festa and head to Seaport Village--San Diego's answer to Fisherman's Wharf. Check out the knickknack shops or simply sit on the grassy knoll and gaze out to the embarcardero
Day 3: Last Day. Start out early and catch the bus to La Jolla, roughly 30 to 40 minutes ride. La Jolla is a lovely part of San Diego with great views of the coast and upscale shopping.
Have breakfast at Cody's. Grab a seat outside for relaxing views of the cove.
After breakfast, take a walk along the Cove. See the seals! Get your feet wet, tiptoe along the sand and tide.
La Jolla's answer to the Getty! Be sure to check out the outdoor sculpture garden--grab a seat and start writing your postcards. Fun items in the museum's gift shop.
Without a car it is difficult to get to the vast beach of La Jolla; plus if you have a red eye flight--you don't want to miss the bus back to the city. So hop a bus heading toward UCSD and ride the loop to get a glimpse of the beach.
If you are really good on time (or are more of an aquarium-goer than Museum-goer) the same bus can drop you right off at the Scripps Aquarium.
Catch the bus back to the hotel. Gather your things, drop off your post cards in the nearest mailbox, and take the shuttle back to the airport for your red eye. Congratulations on exploring such a wonderful city!