6 Reasons to Visit San Diego Now

San Diego reveals its secret identity as a trendsetting superhero.

Nena Farrell
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The Spirits Scene

San Diego’s take-no-prisoners IPAs are legendary, and at last count, roughly 90 craft breweries resided within city limits. But there are signs that happy hour is finding a softer side. For example, in 2017, Laura Johnson’s 2,300-square-foot You & Yours Distilling Co. opened in East Village. It’s a stunning showpiece for the exploding local spirits world. Served in etched glass vessels and garnished with flowers and herbs, the tasting room’s grownup punch bowls are in sync with the mosaic bar, soaring windows, and mid-century-style armchairs. Enjoy as you like, knowing there’s no shame in favoring juniper over hops.

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Comic Culture

You don’t have to be a trekkie or have a favorite Avenger to appreciate the area’s penchant for the fantastical, though catching up on the latest Marvel blockbuster isn’t a bad way to prep for a trip. The obsession with superheroes and graphic novels comes by way of San Diego Comic-Con, the massive pop culture convention that brings celebrity sightings and geek-approved events galore downtown every summer, drawing more than 135,000 fans.

Seriously, it’s a big deal, which is why even though this year’s crowds have returned home, the buzz over the future Comic-Con museum and entertainment complex remains strong. Spoiler alert: The Balboa Park newcomer is talking about screening films in addition to its exhibits starting in 2019. In the meantime, fill the void at the recently revamped San Diego Comic Art Gallery, where local publisher IDW presents blown-up pages, making-of videos, and tons of free comics in a converted military barracks in Liberty Station.

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The Best (Indoor) Camp Eats

This city’s passion for the outdoors extends from its sea-cliff trails to its boulder-strewn inland hills (all told, there are more than 42,000 acres of parks and preserves). That affection has started crossing into the great indoors, thanks to playful spaces that serve upscale meals with campfire style. At One Door North, near the expansive Balboa Park, antler chandeliers, a hearty cheese-and-charcuterie picnic board, and canvas tents pitched over some of the tables blur the line between restaurant and “glampground.” Just south of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in coastal La Jolla, Farmer & The Seahorse has gone as far as placing a bookable Airstream in the middle of the space—though you don’t have to reserve that private dining room to enjoy the earthy plancha-seared baby beets during a weekday happy hour. Meanwhile, at the Bivouac Ciderworks taproom in the heart of North Park, the outdoorsy can geek out over the decorative climbing, sailing, and fishing knots hanging from the walls; more urbane folks can be found at the bar with tingly glasses of cider and maybe some pan-roasted trout.

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Legit Pop-Ups

The hottest ticket in town is Wonderspaces, a roving collection of immersive, often high-tech art installations that debuted in 2017 and returned in June 2018. Our favorites among the 15 pieces? Nonotak Studio’s Hoshi, a display of fluorescent tubes and standing mirrors that feels like a sci-fi movie set. There’s also the 8,000 suspended spherical lights in Squidsoup’s Submergence (below) that evoke LED-lit computer circuitry, while TadaoCern’s Black Balloons fuses minimalist sculpture with childhood daydreams. Now that’s what we call the light fantastic. ($24/adult)
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Adventure-Central Rooms

From the bustle of downtown to the north county’s chill coastline, inspired hotels are your gateway to the action. Explore up-and-coming neighborhoods from the gorgeous urban base camp Pendry San Diego (from $315), a modernist NYC-meets- SD landmark that takes up an entire block in the Gaslamp Quarter. Or, go for a laid-back boutique motel near Beacon's Beach in Encinitas at Surfhouse (from $225). Rent surf gear on-site or take a lesson from one of the water-loving staff. If you're traveling with the kids, stay in an actual castle in Carlsbad, the Legoland Castle Hotel (from $189), for rooms with bunk beds and Lego-building stations, and an outdoor Royal Courtyard with a pool, play areas, a movie screen, and a tented stage for live shows.

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A Day in the Neighborhood

In North Park, about 7 miles inland from the beach, historic commercial buildings that once served a sleepy neighborhood have been reimagined, drawing crowds to the city’s newest epicenter of cool.

  • 11 A.M. Start off with a honey-and-lavender latte from Communal Coffee. Inside, you’ll also find Native Poppy, an adorable pocket-size flower shop. 12 P.M. Hit up the carefully curated boutiques near the intersection of University Avenue and 30th Street, starting with Pigment for Unison camp mugs, geometric jewelry, and an in-store terrarium bar. Then try Artelexia for vibrant Mexican art and decor, from vivid textiles to quirky piñatas.
  • 1:30 P.M. Order a meaty (or vegan!) bowl of pho at newcomer Shank & Bone, where the dining  room pops with floor-to-ceiling murals and bold primary colors.
  • 3 P.M. Yep, North Park has parks! On the south side of the hood, head into the 30-acre Switzer Canyon, an open-space preserve shaded by towering eucalyptus and smaller native trees.
  • 5 P.M. Head back up north to Tribute Pizza for a chile relleno–topped pie whisked from their blue-tiled wood-burning oven. Once a post office, the spacious restaurant still sports classic USPS signage outside.
  • 8 P.M. It’s time to kick things up a bit. The Observatory North Park puts on stellar rock, electronic, and hip-hop shows in an ornate 1929 theater. Otherwise, swing by Coin-Op Game Room, a trendy bar-slash-arcade with Ms. Pac-Man and sophisticated cocktails. Play on, SD.