L.A. Escape: San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter

10/08/2017 04:33 pm ET

It’s a mere 120 miles or so from Los Angeles to San Diego, but if you’ve ever made the trek, you know it’s not about spatial distance, it’s about temporal distance. That is to say, it’s all about traffic. But if you time it right, you can be in downtown San Diego in roughly two hours. And the Gaslamp Quarter is the reason why you should.

Photo by Gina Hall

There’s nothing else anywhere in Southern California quite like this historic district, full of restaurants, bars, shops, hotels, even a baseball stadium. It’s everything a downtown should be.

Where to Stay

Located at the upper end of Fifth Street, overlooking the entire district, including views of the mountains to the east and the bay to the west, The Palomar Hotel is an ideal home base in the Gaslamp.

Palomar Hotel - an ideal home base in the Gaslamp
Photo by Gina Hall
Palomar Hotel - an ideal home base in the Gaslamp

My room offered a panoramic vista in which I could see the iconic Hotel del Coronado on the island across the bay. What I most appreciate about the Palomar is that it’s a fun social environment that’s dog-friendly in more than just name. If you prefer a boutique experience to a corporate one, this is your kind of place. They always have friendly patrons and a great restaurant, which leads me to my next piece of advice…

Where to Eat

If you’re like me, you like to walk to (and especially from) dinner. In keeping with San Diego’s great Mexican food tradition, Curadero is authentic cantina dining with an upscale flair that includes a sustainable ceviche bar and street tacos served in house-made corn tortillas with house-made hot sauce. Meats are braised overnight here, to be at their tender, juicy best. In fact, I’ve never had better carnitas anywhere. The rice and beans, oft-overlooked staples, are made with thoughtful care, rather than as afterthoughts.

Curadero is authentic cantina dining with an upscale flair
Photo by Gina Hall
Curadero is authentic cantina dining with an upscale flair

And if I were to include a “Where to Drink” section, Curadero easily makes the list despite the many drinking establishments for which this district is renowned. The signature cocktails include Mexican takes on the classics -- think tequila instead of bourbon in an old-fashioned, or mezcal rather than gin in your negroni, and garnished accordingly.

There’s a lot to do in San Diego, but the Gaslamp Quarter is really about pub-crawling. With that in mind, you’re going to want a place to find a substantial and hearty breakfast, along with a good eye-opener. I recommend Maryjane’s, at the lower end of the district, and around the corner from Petco Park. The retro diner offers a variety of hangover foods, including a one-of-a-kind breakfast burrito, as well as a darn good Bloody Mary.

What to Do

Again, this part of town is all about good food and drink. You could, of course, stroll down and do some shopping at nearby Seaport Village, where you could catch a ferry over to Coronado Island, or, if you don’t like baseball, you could take in a Padres game at Petco (go Dodgers!). Balboa Park, meanwhile, is a short distance away, as is the world-famous San Diego Zoo. Or, you could just hang out by the pool and order another margarita. Salud!

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