Between my trips to Paris, Colorado and Bali, I made a stop in my old hometown: San Diego, California. I spent a good 6 weeks visiting San Diego and 4 days visiting my friend in Los Angeles. Both cities I love deeply and I always love to encourage travelers to visit these two sunny Southern California spots. Here are my top favorite things to do in San Diego & Los Angeles!

Los Angeles

Griffith Park & Observatory

First things first, make sure to stop at Griffith Park and the Griffith Observatory at the top of the winding green roads. Entrance to the observatory is free (you can’t beat that!) and the spacious building is filled with pictures from space, information on space/planets/tides/stars/seasons/ and anything else you can find on the solar system and our planet earth. For the space nerd in me, I found it all rather fascinating. It’s also a really nice stroll along the grounds, with views of the Hollywood sign and the green slopes and hills in the distance. 

Venice Beach & Boardwalk

Oh man, Venice is all that you think it’s going to be. Venice Boardwalk is crazy. Filled with colorful characters, sketchy shops, rowdy bars, and tattoo parlors, it’s a total experience in itself, and one that you cannot miss if you visit L.A. I find Venice to be the best place for people-watching, and you’ll certainly never get bored from watching all the roller-skaters, basketball players, frisbee-throwers, and badass skaters at the skate park. I spent a solid hour watching the skateboarders, and they were so kickass and inspiring, I almost went out and bought a skateboard. Also, be sure to stop at this small and quaint Small World Books on the boardwalk; this independent bookshop has some of the best finds and quirky sections. (Their feminism and gender studies section is awesome.)

Santa Monica Pier

You can’t visit Los Angeles and skip the energetic and sunny Santa Monica Pier. From the minute you walk across the street from the Santa Monica Promenade and shopping center (a long street filled with luxurious shops and independent boutiques), the Santa Monica comes alive. Roller coaster screams, ferris wheel giggles and singing coming from the musicians and artists performing along the pier,  it’s a loud, busy and cheerful spot for a lemonade and some sun.

LACMA (or Los Angeles County Museum of Arts)

You may not have heard of LACMA, but I’m sure you’ve seen hundreds of pictures of those tall, white street lamps on Instagram. This is the Los Angeles County Museum of Arts…and it’s gigantic. I spent the day there recently and after finishing one building in what felt like 4 hours,I realized there were 3 other buildings that had MORE art. LACMA is a huge art museum, very similar to the MET in New York City, except that there is also modern and contemporary art, along with the classic paintings.

San Diego

La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove is part of San Diego’s Underwater Park Ecological Reserve. This beautiful seaside village is surrounded by rocky cliffs, an abundance of marine life, and is home to dolphins, sea lions, and pretty starfish in the natural tidal pools. I used to play along the rocky cliffs, looking into the pools where the starfish lived as a child while my mom photographed at the beach. I still play at La Jolla Cove when I’m in town, except now I’m the one with the camera photographing.

One of my favorite spots in San Diego North County is the relaxing and meditative spiritual gardens in Encinitas. Surrounded by lush palm trees and giant Middle Eastern-styled golden pillars, you’ll discover a small oasis where silence resides. Signs near the entrance to the gardens ask guests to turn their phones and cameras off – this is a place to reflect. I’ve spent many days meditating and looking out over the waves and sandy shores down below the rocky California cliffs. You can’t find a spot more quiet to relax and take it all in.  

Swamis Beach & Coronado Beach

Encinitas Spiritual Gardens

Oceanside Pier & Harbor

Laid-back Oceanside…this is the city to visit if you’re into surfing, sea food, fishing, and delicious Mexican food.

Oceanside is the town I grew up in as a teenager, and I definitely know some of the best spots to hit if you want the local experience. Head to Colimas Mexican food for an amazing Carne Asada burrito (be sure to snag the free carrots!), In N Out Burger for some fresh fries and a milkshake, and don’t miss out on strolling along the Oceanside Pier (the longest pier in So Cal) and spot the Brown Pelicans sitting alongside the fishermen.

The Oceanside Harbor is also a must to see. It’s a quiet walk around the docks, and you’ll find tons of fish & chips restaurants, the best seafood at Rockin’ Baja, and sea lions lounging and swimming in the waters below.

Balboa Park

Placed in 1935, Balboa Park is one of the oldest public spaces in San Diego. This massive park not only contains space areas, dog parks, rose + cactus gardens, and flowering walking paths, it also has tons of museums (some of which you can go to for free!), theaters, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. There are also a bunch of cafes, coffee shops and the yummy Prado Restaurant. My mom and I spent a lot of time here growing up, and we went to several museums for free of their Free Tuesday days for San Diego residents. You’ll find stunning Spanish architecture dotting along the park’s walkways, such as the Casa de Balboa, which is located along the main strip of the park. You definitely don’t want to leave Balboa Park off your list!

Torrey Pines State Reserve

If you’re into hiking, this is the hike for you! The endangered Torrey Pines tree is only located in two parts of the world: here and near Santa Barbara. There are 5 easy trails you can hike, and all of them give you stunning views of the cliffs and ocean below. Check out my full blog post of the trails here!

If you are ever visiting California, definitely do not leave beautiful San Diego and Los Angeles off your list. Both cities are filled with loads of unique charm, spectacular ocean views, and a relaxing energy that you’ll never want to leave. As a local, I can say I always appreciate San Diego every time I come back to visit, and if you plan on visiting San Diego, be sure to drop me a line and I’ll give you some more recommendations!

As Ron Burgandy would say, “Stay classy San Diego”

To read about the 9 things I learned living in San Diego, click here!

 

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Travel Guide to San Diego and Los Angeles

February 19, 2017

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I'm Helena! As a creative storyteller, I document magical moments through my lens and my pen. A lover of childhood, fairytales and natural light, I'm inspired to share the light around me. I'm the ultimate Disney nerd, and I'm obsessed with cats and expressing my love for the simple joys of slow, daily life.

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Helena Woods is a destination newborn and family photographer based in France and New England and travels worldwide. She is known for her natural light, modern classic, and emotive photography style.

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