Any time's the perfect time to catch a wave, tuck into tuna or linger on the sidewalk in San Diego, says Julie Watson
With an average of 250 days of sunshine a year, any time is good to visit San Diego, but summer means the chilly Pacific waters are warm enough to surf without a wetsuit. It's also when this navy port goes wild over fireworks shows and beach fire pits. Here's the latest.
A nine-storey public library and its signature dome that opened in downtown San Diego a couple of years ago and nearby Petco Park baseball stadium have revived the downtown neighbourhood, bringing in shops and cafes. Among them, Comun Kitchen & Tavern features Mexican food with a modern twist, like smoked ahi tuna and chicharron — or pork skin — with apples, pea and mint tostadas.
The library is an architectural gem with the glass-and-steel building flowing seamlessly between indoor and outdoor spaces. A three-storey reading room with giant windows gives a sweeping view of Coronado Bridge spanning the bay.
Another new attraction on the nearby waterfront is an open-air fish market held on a pier in Seaport Village every Saturday from 8am to 1pm. Get there early to buy the catch of the day — such as yellowfin tuna and sea urchins — straight from the fishermen. Even if you don't buy, it's worth checking out to see the industry that once earned San Diego the title "Tuna Capital of the World".
It's a bit of a drive, albeit a gorgeous one, up the coast along Highway 101 to Encinitas, where the home town of professional skateboarder Tony Hawk inaugurated the mother lode of skate parks this year.
The Encinitas Skate Plaza shows how far the sport has come from its rebel beginnings in the hulls of drained, backyard swimming pools. The Tony Hawk Foundation helped design the 1200sq m skate park, where world-class skateboarders from ages 8 to 48 do their flips and turns.
If Andy Griffith's Mayberry had a beach twin, it would be Coronado.
The bike-friendly peninsula that feels like a postcard from the 1950s is anchored by the iconic Hotel Del Coronado, which was featured in Marilyn Monroe's 1958 film Some Like It Hot. Built in 1888, the red-roofed hotel is the last of California's Victorian seaside resorts. It looks on to 2.4km of pristine coast with a beach that sparkles with the mineral mica.
Another bucket-list attraction is Balboa Park. The 485ha city park rivals New York's Central Park and is home to yet another bucket-list item — the San Diego Zoo.
The park is celebrating its 100th anniversary, marking when its cluster of Spanish Renaissance-style buildings were erected in 1915 for a world fair to commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal.
San Diego's coast boasts world-class surfing but also decent waves for the novice. There are a slew of surf schools.
Best bet is to look online or head to neighbourhoods such as Mission Beach or Pacific Beach. Or grab a local craft beer and nachos at the WaveHouse on Mission Beach that hosts competitions of surfers flipping in the air off its machine-churned pool waves, with a view of the real thing in the Pacific.
Unless you've got a lot of time and patience, you'll definitely need a car to navigate the sprawling city, the eighth-largest in the nation. Parking downtown means paying at either a meter or parking garage, but in most other parts of the city, street parking is free.
Al fresco dining is a must-do in this city. For a cheap breakfast or lunch, visit a farmer's market.
San Diego's Little Italy section is a prime spot for enjoying a good espresso and a bit of people watching. The hilly, picturesque downtown neighbourhood was where Italian fishermen and boat builders lived in the 19th century through the 1970s when San Diego was the hub of the tuna industry.
Today the area is a hip, bustling mecca of shops, art galleries and cafes. You'll hear plenty of Italian spoken by young Italians who have opened up businesses or come to work here in recent years.
On Saturdays, the neighbourhood has one of the city's best farmers' markets, known by its Italian name "mercato". And on any given weekend, there seems to be some kind of festival, most Italian-themed, from chalk art contests to bocce ball tournaments.
Getting there: Air New Zealand flies direct daily from Auckland to Los Angeles. San Diego can be reached by a regular two-hour shuttle service.