I grew up in San Diego's North County, and never get tired of visiting. Even though SF and San Diego aren't that far apart, I don't get to go home as much as I'd like. Work and life seem to get in the way. While San Diego is a well known vacation destination, and is always topping 'perfect weather' lists, there's more to this huge county than just the zoo, Legoland and sunshine. There are tons of locals only spots that are amazing and worth exploring for!
When I go back, I try to explore a new neighborhood or little beach town that I've never had a chance to spend time in. My parents live about an hour outside of Downtown San Diego, in a little place called Valley Center. I spent high school running around North County, so heading to Balboa Park, North Park, Pacific Beach or the Gaslamp are always fun little day trips.
North Park is probably my favorite neighborhood to explore right now. There's an amazing home and gift store called Pigment, a super cute used bookstore, yummy coffee, tons of locally owned business, and lots of great food including Urban Solace and Carnitas' Sanck Shack. There are some great spots to grab a local San Diego craft beer or a glass of wine, and the little 1920s-era bungalows are adorable!
If you're into plants and succulents, and find yourself in North County, you must check out Waterwise Botanicals. It's a nursery with a fantastic view that specializes in California native plants and drought resistant landscaping. There are picnic tables and a couple little ponds to sit by, so bring your lunch or a snack! This time, it was a bit drizzly and a storm was rolling in, but thanks to the wet weather everything was in bloom!
Winter and spring are the best times to catch wildflowers and all the desert plants in bloom. This year's El Nino didn't bring the deluge that was forecast, but did provide plants with enough water to put on a good show!
North County has some of the best beaches! Carlsbad State Beach is my fave beach to hang out at. This North County gem is only a 30 minute drive from my parent's house, and has great Mexican food (Cessy Taco Shop) and plenty of street parking. There's a paved walkway that runs along PCH and overlooks the beach. The beach itself has really nice powdery sand, a gentle break, and plenty of room to spread out. In high school I used to spend as much time as possible here, and it's nice to go back.
Del Mar is also really nice. There's a grassy area above the beach that's nice to hang out at. You can walk along the beach south at low tide for ages, and the there are even a series of caves to explore. The break here isn't bad, but the amount of sand varies dramatically depending on the time of year. Work up an appetite and head to the Americana Restaurant up the street. The food is good, and it's not stuffy like a lot of the other dining options nearby.
If you know any quilters, my mom's store Annie's Quilting Den is a great stop! They specialize in bright, colorful fabrics and modern quilts. They teach classes, and my mom offers professional machine quilting on her long arm.
If you're planing a visit of your own, keep in mind that nights are cool even when daytime temperatures are in the 90s. Watch out for May Grey and June Gloom--this is when the coast and beaches are socked in with low clouds and fog, and can last for days at a time. To combat cloudy skies you can normally head inland and find warm, sunny weather. In the fall, winter and early spring, there are hot sunny days that are perfect for the beach, but there are also cool rainy days. Our local mountains even get snow! It's not, in fact, always sunny in San Diego.
Pack close toed shoes if you're planning on hiking and watch out for rattle snakes and Poison Oak. Don't forget your passport if you're planning on crossing the border into Mexico! Finally, be sure to try some local San Diego craft beer while you're in town--there's a reason we're the craft beer capital of the world!