Travel Guide | North America

#UKLizi Living Like a Local in Sunny Sandy-ego

Lizi continues her American Roadtrip San Diego Style

By Lizi Woolgar, University of Bristol

So good people, if you have – by any miniscule chance – been following my articles on the US of A and waiting each week with baited breath for your next fix, I am afraid I have bad news. This is it. After this article, we shall part. No no, it’s not you, it’s me. I quite simply didn’t visit any more places. But don’t worry, I’ll be writing about other bits and bobs from here forwards if you fancy taking a looksee.

Our final destination was San Diego, the second largest city in California, still growing at an alarming rate. Must be because the sun seems to literally always shine there (of course, all the fun tingz to see too). Prior to 1850, San Diego was actually part of Mexico and this is a recognisable undertone of the city, which made it feel totally different from other parts of the west coast we had seen.

Image of Dolphins at Seaworld

I bet we were a sight arriving at Lucky D’s hostel. Terribly miserable that this was our last stop, combined with early-morning-grumpiness really can’t have been easy on the eyes. Population of San Diego, I offer my sincere apology (that’s 1,322,553 apologies, since you asked). However, we snapped out of our childish sulk as soon as we made it up those (steep) stairs to reception.

San Diego Harbour image

San Diego Harbour

We were immediately presented with a map detailing which bus we needed to get pretty much anywhere, which would have been SO useful to have had everywhere else! They even let us put our bags inside our room straight away. What a luxury, right? Lucky D’s hostel was the perfect mix of quirky artwork, feel-good music and, actually, excellent facilities. The communal kitchen had a really friendly, homely feel and we felt settled immediately. One member of staff was even cooking everyone breakfast when we arrived, and – when she found out I’ve never eaten a waffle – immediately insisted she would cook me the best first waffles ever. These perks continued throughout our stay. Breakfast was provided every morning and every few days even a mass dinner was cooked. With entertainment provided most nights (not that we actually joined in with any), this hostel would be perfect if you’re travelling alone/in a pair and super keen to meet new people.

The hostel is in the Gaslamp Quarter, which is the renowned historic area of the city. There were gas lamps lining the streets, paying homage to the lamps that were common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries here. It used to be the red light district of San Diego with one particular restaurant (Madam Cora’s, formerly The Golden Poppy Saloon) renowned for tricking policemen each obligatory raid so it stayed open longer than any other brothels in the district. Madam Cora’s actually served great food and I liked that it had a bit of a story behind it. I would also recommend the Broken Yolk Café for breakfast/brunch. But be quick: it closes at 3! But anyway, the Gaslamp Quarter is now the centre of downtown nightlife, and is packed with tonnes of bars, restaurants and shops (that’s stores for y’all).

Rollercoaster and  image of Flamingos at Seaworld


Just a few blocks away from the Quarter is San Diego Harbor (ahem, Harbour). It’s impossible to read that without an American accent…harborrr. Centre/center I can just about deal with. It’s really beautiful down there, a sort of mini community in itself. It’s lined with everything guaranteed to take you back to your childhood. Face-painters, henna tattoo artists and balloon animals galore, I was tempted to spend oh-so-irresponsibly that day. Luckily, I remembered I had no money, so watched the free clown show instead (#ihateclowns). For those of you who have actually accepted adulthood, there’s plenty for you guys too, in the forms of artwork, souvenirs, fortune tellers and tie-dye goods.

San Diego used to be centered on the Old Town (pretty self-explanatory name, there) which is defs worth a visit. The Mexican vibes really came into their own there. Designed almost like a live museum with distinctly Western vibes (complete with a play dress-up Saloon), every little shop and stall seemed to stock Mexican merchandise. My favourites were the Day of the Dead hand-painted skulls which were reasonably priced and a cute little memento (I’ve got a mini skull key ring on ma backpack now!). If you’re keen to grab some gifts, this is where you’ve got to go.

Old Town image San Diego

Old Town

Old Town image, San Diego

Old Town

As we wandered past two Mexican fellas serenading an unsuspecting café victim – Mexican vihuelas and all – we hopped on a trolley to Ocean Beach. Yes, trams there are called trollies. Kinda puts a funny little image in your head of a giant trolley full to the brim with passengers. Nope, just me?

So San Diego, with 17 miles of coastline, is obviously famed for its golden-sandy beaches. Ocean Beach did not disappoint. There’s a café just opposite the beach (which my small pea-brain cannot seem to recall the name of, yet I can stupidly remember it’s Wi-Fi password) but it had a delightful selection of coffees and smoothies, including dairy-free options (if you are that way inclined). We stayed to watch the sun set with plenty of surfers making the most of the final hours of daylight. Ah, how romantic.

Ocean Beach Image, San Diego

Ocean Beach

We spent our final day reminiscing about our trip, considering how we had grown emotionally and developed as people into mature, fully-fledged adults. Nah I’m kiddin’. We gone an’ went SeaWorld dint we.

From Lucky D’s, we purchased the $70 tickets to the most fun place on Earth (if you’re about 7) and were on our way. Grab a $5 roundtrip ticket at your nearest trolley station, then take the green line to Old Town, followed by the no. 9 bus to be dropped directly at SeaWorld. Great value travel-wise, shame our entire journey fare cost the same as an ice cream there!

Enough of the negatives though, SeaWorld was genuinely such an enjoyable day out. With rides, animal shows throughout the day, a gondola viewing opportunity and your typical amusement park games, it’s so easy to fill a day here. Definitely watch the dolphin show. I think it was the happiest moment of my entire life. The Shamu show was kind of a just a slightly worse, lazier version of the dolphin show, to be honest. But I do have to raise the point that it was possibly because the whales were less willing. By nature, dolphins are supposedly show-offs, but I couldn’t help feeling like the killer whales just wanted to mind their own business. This is something that unsettled me a little through the day; many large animals were cooped up in enclosures so small in comparison with their natural geographical expanse. I know it’s a tricky one, as SeaWorld works to assist animal welfare programmes (for instance, most of their sea lions were rescued and would be illegal to release them back into the wild) but I can’t help think that Mr. polar bear pacing ferociously back and forth in his enclosure would be much happier elsewhere. Hypocritical I know, considering I (literally) bought into the whole ordeal, but, just worth a thought I guess.

SeaWorld image

SeaWorld. Found my lost child…

So, that was San Diego. I’ve really only scratched at the surface, as there is so much more to do there. With its year-round climate adequate for any sun-basking lizard, it’s a perfect location for a few chilled days of browsing and beaching.

Dolphins at SeaWorld image

Lizi Woolgar

University of Bristol | 40 stories

Graduate of University of Bristol. Having spent my first two years of University writing for the student newspaper, epigram and Brighton-based Spindle Magazine, I then went on to edit the Style section of Epigram 2012-2013. Now keen to pursue a career in journalism/editorial work, I look forward to writing my weekly column for The College Tourist, all the while seeing where my writing and travel will take me.

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