Spend a weekend in America's fittest city.

By By Maribeth Mellin
January 17, 2006
Douglas Merriam

November 2004

Autumn is a subtle season in the border city of San Diego. Thetemperature hovers in the 60s, and skies are quintessentially blue,making it a great time to kayak the bays, bike through historicneighborhoods, or claim fire rings at the beach. Rates are also lowthis time of year, so spending a weekend soaking up sunshine in oneof dozens of parks and admiring the rich cultural heritage evidentin the city's architecture is easy on the wallet. Even the finestrestaurants, of which there are plenty, accept last-minutereservations (or none at all), and with weather so inviting, casualdining outdoors is still a pleasant experience. Spend a few days inthe city that has been cited as one of America's fittest because ofits access to healthful activities. Start planning your trip withthe following three-day itinerary.

Day One: Cruise the Coast

Driving along the coast is an integral part of the Californiaexperience, especially if you have access to a convertible. On yourfirst day, drive to Ocean Beach (or OB, as the locals call it), andwatch surfers ride waves beneath the OB Pier. Do your own workoutby walking the length of the pier and back, and if you repeat threetimes while admiring sun and sea, you�ll rack up athree-mile mind-and-body workout. Fuel up with lobster tacos at theultracasual South Beach Bar and Grill (5059 Newport Ave.; 619-226-4577).Nab a stool at the window counter for some great people watching,then check out the many vintage clothing and antiques shops thatline Newport Avenue.

After lunch, take a ride up Highway 101 through laid-backcoastal communities. If you're up for more shopping, thetrendsetting boutiques in the Cedros Design District (South Cedros Avenue, Solana Beach)display the accoutrements of stylish seaside living. Quench yourthirst with a cool lemonade at Café Zinc (132 S. Cedros Ave.; 858-793-5436), thenpoint the Thunderbird (or whatever you�re driving)east on Lomas Santa Fe Drive. Eucalyptus groves give way to horsefarms and multimillion-dollar estates on the road to Rancho SantaFe, where you can check out Chino Farm (6123 Calzada del Bosque, Rancho Santa Fe;858-756-3184). The Chino family has grown produce here for twogenerations. Alice Waters is a fan, as is Wolfgang Puck. Chef CarlSchroeder of Arterra (11966 El Camino Real, Del Mar; 858-369-6032) baseshis daily menus on Chino's produce, pairing purple tomatoes withpink shrimp and Brussels sprouts petals with pork. Start thinkingabout dinner as you sniff the herbs.

By midafternoon, trees cast shadows on Encinitas Boulevardleading back to the beach and the Self-Realization Fellowship Temple (939 Second St.,Encinitas; 760-436-7220, open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m.to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., closed Monday), hometo Yogi Paramahansa Yogananda, author of Way of the Yogi. Take a break in the temple's tropicalmeditation gardens. Round out your day with a return trip downHighway 101 to Del Mar and dinner at Arterra. Diners dress up a bithere, so be sure to smooth your windblown hair before requestingyour table.

Day Two: Two-Wheeling in Coronado

The narrow island of Coronado, actually a peninsula about 15minutes southwest from downtown San Diego, is the ultimate southernCalifornia biking community. Its broad, flat streets are lined withjaw-dropping homes and bike stands as common (or more so) asparking meters. Bikes and Beyond (Ferry Landing, 1201 First St.;619-435-7180) rents beach cruisers with baskets and supplies a mapto keep you off busy streets.

Pedal along First Street, with views of downtown San Diegoacross the bay, then cut across the island to the Glorietta Bay Innfor walking tour guide Nancy Cobb's wry yet amusing take on theneighborhood. (You can secure your bike at the hotel.) Her Coronado Walking Tours' (619-435-5993; Tuesday, Thursday,and Saturday at 11 a.m.) 90-minute stroll takes in Star Park, whereauthor L. Frank Baum wintered in an early 19th-century cottage.Although he had finished writing The Wizard of Oz before visiting Coronado, some of theisland's shops make the most of his name with retro Dorothy postersand other memorabilia. Follow Cobb down the road to the oceanfront Hotel del Coronado (1500 Orange Ave.; 619-435-6611, www.hoteldel.com). Her anecdotalisland history hits full stride at Est. 1888 Market, a gourmet deliand gallery located in the hotel's original basement cistern. Thephotos of Tent City, a Coronado resort in the 1800s, will captureyour imagination, and the selection of imported cheeses and meatsis perfect for a post-tour picnic on the beach.

Retrieve your bike, and ride along Glorietta Bay about 4.5 milesto Silver Strand State Beach, named for the silvery seashellscast and crumbled on the sand. Cruise through the campground, andwatch anglers catch halibut or perch on the beach. The ride back totown is an excellent workout; you'll be riding into the wind mostof the way. It takes much less effort to stroll along OrangeAvenue, recipient of a Great American Main Street award from theNational Trust for Historic Preservation. Stop at the Coronado Museum of History and Art (1100 Orange Ave.;619-435-7242) for an exhibit dedicated to early aviation onneighboring North Island. Museum visit complete, mount your bikeand wind through the island's back streets, where historic beachbungalows stand proud alongside gabled Victorian houses and modernmansions.

Once you return your bike, ask for a window seat at the Coronado Boathouse (1701 Strand Way; 619-435-0155), awaterfront restaurant that dates back to 1887. Sip a mai tai andsample fresh ahi sashimi while watching the illuminatingsunset.

Day Three: Strolling in La Jolla

Mediterranean in appearance and attitude, La Jolla, about 15minutes northwest of downtown San Diego, is both chic and staid.White villas swathed in bougainvillea lead the way to ProspectStreet and Girard Avenue, both peppered with upscale boutiques andgalleries. Browsing is the preferred form of exercise here;shopping is just the reward. Pull on a polo shirt and shorts, andstart your day with breakfast burritos and papas locas at Mission Coffee Cup Café (1109 Wall Street;858-454-2819). Walk it off window-shopping on nearby Girard Avenue.La Jolla is a bookworm's warren; Raymond Chandler and Dr. Seussboth found the rarefied air inspiring. Visiting authors happilysign their latest tomes at Warwick's (7812 Girard Ave.; 858-454-0347), a family-ownedbookstore since 1896.

Once the shopping urge is satisfied, head west to Ellen Browning Scripps Park, where a carpet of velvet greengrass borders a rocky coastline and scenic coves. Here, a colony ofharbor seals dozes on the sand beside the Children's Pool. You may be enchanted by these aquaticpinnipeds, but they've taken over the village's best beach, anddebates over the rights of seals versus humans are all the ragehere. A paved pathway runs along the park to La Jolla Cove, which features rocky pools that harbor suchsea life as yellow starfish and fluttering white anemones.

When your body demands sustenance, take it to George's at the Cove Ocean Terrace Bistro (1250 ProspectSt.; 858-454-4244), and be seated at any of the tables overlookingthe shore. Quell your hunger with a grilled vegetable salad and anicy, salt-tinged margarita, then shake off impending drowsinesswith a stroll to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (700 Prospect St.;858-454-3541). You'll find the architecture is as stunning as theinstallations.

Wind down your afternoon with a drive to La Jolla Shores, a mile-long stretch of sand and sea thatappeals to runners, body surfers, and nudists (north at Black'sBeach). Shoes in hand, dodge the waves along the water's edge, andsearch for hermit crabs hiding in the rocks. If you can make it tothe classy Marine Room (2000 Spindrift Dr.; 858-459-7222) before 6p.m., your day-in-the-sun outfit is welcome. Nurse a La JollaRoyale (kir and champagne) with a goat cheese brûlé asthe sun sets beyond the restaurant's windows.

Once cocktail hour is over, the restaurant Zenbu (7660 Fay Ave.; 858-454-4540) is an informalneighborhood favorite. Sit at the sushi counter, and ask theamiable chefs what the owners' fishing boat brought for the day. Ifraw fish isn't your style, order the Lobster Dynamite, featuringlocal Pacific spiny lobster, or the delicious, miso-glazed lambchops. Be sure to chat with the locals on adjacent stools; they'resure to divulge enough insider tips to make you want to visitagain.

Where to Stay

The Glorietta Bay Inn (1630 Glorietta Blvd., Coronado;800-283-9383, www.gloriettabayinn.com)was the home of sugar baron J.D. Spreckels, who showed considerablerestraint with the design of his 1908 Italian Renaissance mansion.The original bedrooms are now gracious suites. Rates start at $160for a standard room and $245 for a suite.

The Crystal Pier Hotel (4500 Ocean Blvd., Pacific Beach;800-748-5894, www.crystalpier.com) sitsabove the waves on a wooden pier in Pacific Beach. The lull of thesurf serves as a lullaby for guests who reside in blue and whitecottages with kitchens and open decks. Rates start at $225.

The Bed and Breakfast Inn at La Jolla (7753 Draper Ave.;800-582-2466, www.innlajolla.com) wasdesigned in 1913 by Irving Gill in his much-loved cubist style.Wood-burning fireplaces, bathtubs for two, sherry decanters, andpeaceful gardens equal pure romance. Rates start at $189.

Maribeth Mellin is the author of Insider's Guide to San Diegoand the Unofficial Guide to Mexico's Beach Resorts.