Hops and History – An Overnight in San Diego
Pack a bag, grab some coffee and hit the road… this was the start of a Wednesday morning in November, as we headed south on the 405 to San Diego. It had been years since our last visit to one of America’s finest cities and we were looking forward to learning more about the craft beer culture that has grown over the past several years.
Timing is everything, so we left the South Bay at 10:15 AM just after the morning traffic rush-hour period and arrived in San Diego in under two hours, just in time for lunch.
Craving Mexican food, we stopped in Old Town; a charming historic ghost town area where the first Europeans settled. We found ample off-street parking at La Piñata – claims to be the oldest Mexican restaurant in Old Town San Diego – where we enjoyed carnitas, enchiladas and plenty of chips and salsa, washed down with a margarita. Happily stuffed, we strolled over to the marketplace for some live outdoor music and browsed in a cigar shop, an old-timey candy store, the Wells Fargo Bank museum – complete with a restored stagecoach – and did some shopping for some dia de los muertos themed gifts from Fiesta de Reyes.
Old Town features lots of historical buildings, information about the evolution of the area, plenty of shopping, and places to eat and drink. Plan at least an hour or two to walk through the shops and take in the historical places of interest. Tip: The Old Town Trolley Tours have a stop and pick up here, so you can start the tour in Old Town or hop off here on the route if you want to come back.
Our check-in at the Palomar Hotel downtown wasn’t until 4 PM, so our stop in Old Town on the way was perfect. At this time of day, it’s about a 15-minute drive from Old Town to the Palomar.
When we arrived at the Palomar, the valet service was extremely responsive and quickly helped us to the lobby with our bags and belongings right away. As we entered the hotel, the hustle and bustle of downtown was quickly subdued as we entered through the grand pivoting door and made our way to check in.
Our stay was part of the Palomar’s Beer Tour Package which includes two local brews at check-in, two tickets for the “Brothels, Bites and Booze” tour by SoDiego Tours, and access to the hotel’s Beer Concierge.
The Palomar Hotel is hip, zen and spa-like. This tranquil vibe is carried throughout the hotel from the restaurant/bar to the pool to the guest rooms. There’s a splash of cheekiness in this hotel as one of their restrooms upstairs from the lobby is unisex. It’s nothing kinky or weird. The areas for ladies or men are completely private with locking doors. It’s more of a common area to wash your hands. (Just think Allie McBeal but with more class.)
We were lucky to get one of the top floor guest rooms with a gorgeous view of the entire city and water front. The room was clean, modern, spacious and very comfortable with sumptuous leathery chairs and soft downy bedding. It really felt more like a luxury apartment that we were staying at for the night. The glass accordion doors to the balcony opened up and folded away to reveal nothing but a gorgeous panorama and seating for two to take in the eye candy of Coronado Island, the USS Midway and all of the attractions in the city blocks below.
As we watched the sunset (see time-lapse), we enjoyed our flight of local San Diego County craft brews from the hotel concierge that included a flight of the popular Pizza Port Chronic Ale (very light but tasty beer), Stone IPA, and a Blazing World hoppy dark amber, along with a charcuterie and cheese platter that was decadent. San Diego County is now home to over 100 licensed breweries and brewpubs and this whet our appetite to come back for more. Since one of us is more of a wine lover than a beer nut, she was quite surprised at the quality of the brews and has been on a bit of a craft beer kick since this trip to San Diego.
Ready for our evening of Brothels, Bites and Booze, we met up with our tour group under the Historic Gaslamp Quarter sign which was a nice ten-minute walk from the Palomar Hotel. On our way, we saw just how vibrant the downtown area is at night. There are lots of restaurants, bars, brewpubs and shops to enjoy here and they were all busy on a weeknight.
We met our guide, Stefan, who instantly helped our group connect and get to know each other. He knew a lot about the area and the people as he was often greeted by locals during the tour waving as our group walked by.
During the tour, we learned about many of the historic buildings that still remain in the Gaslamp Quarter and we built up our knowledge enough to try to guess which buildings were actual brothels back in 1880’s. Those buildings that once housed the ‘working women’ in the red light district started to seem more obvious based on their vast number of windows which served as a kind of preview of the women for hire.
In between visits to several other historical points on the map from Broadway to Harbor Drive, and from 4th to 6th Avenue, we stopped at several restaurants for a bite and a drink along the way, including Tin Fish, Meze Grill, Ciro’s Pizzeria, and the Melting Pot. We had samples of several local beers and some signature cocktails. This was a fun tour with a great sense of history and humor.
As we wound down for the evening, we were back at the Palomar for a nightcap in the bar that we took to our room and finished while enjoying our view, cozied up in our bathrobes. With the balcony doors wide open to the evening, we swore we could have been in New Orleans, as the sounds of an incredibly talented jazz band playing at one of the nearby pubs drifted up to our room.
Rising bright and early, we started our final day in San Diego on the Old Town Trolley Tour in Horton Square; a short two-block walk from the Palomar. This is a great way to explore San Diego as the tour is a hop-on/off ride through the main areas of San Diego which means you can leave the car behind and stop to enjoy many of the charming neighborhoods at your own pace (see time-lapse). We rode the trolley to Coronado for brunch at the Hotel Del Coronado. After a stroll, we caught the next trolley, rode through Balboa Park, and hopped off in Little Italy. As we walked through the charming little neighborhood, we noticed several older men sitting at a small café table on the sidewalk, all speaking very loud and passionately in Italian. With that, we just had to stop for an appetizer and a glass of wine at Trattoria Fantastica before going back to the Palomar to pick up the car and make the journey home.
San Diego offers a lot for visitors to enjoy. We visited during Beer Week, which is put on each year in November by the San Diego Brewers Guild. There are many breweries and pubs offering special tastings and entertainment all week throughout San Diego. You may want to book a couple of days here during this signature event to enjoy some of the local brews. It’s a great mid-week getaway, even if you only can stay for one night.