Travel

Actually Cool Things You Can (Still) Do in San Diego Right Now

Even locals love this stuff.

Normally, we’d remind you about San Diego’s practically perfect weather, the miles and miles of spectacular shoreline and world-class beaches, the best breweries, the best tacos, the fact that it’s just an hour’s drive (and a passport) away from a friendly neighboring country with its own amazing places to visit

But these are different times. The COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily shut down a ton of small businesses and put a lot of our favorite activities on pause. However, nearly all beaches are back open for certain activities, with more parks and trails getting greenlit everyday and restaurants have quickly pivoted to patio dining and takeout. Of course, be safe, wear a mask, and maintain social distance while you enjoy both virtual and in-person activities in America’s Finest City. Here’s our guide to the coolest things to still eat, see, and do in San Diego.

Go to an old fashioned drive-in movie

$
Nestor
Fully digital and presenting the brightest picture quality available on three 100-foot screens, these double-feature play every day, year round at South Bay Drive-in Theatre. A bargain at $9 for adults and just $1 for kids 5 to 9 years old, they even have email coupons for food discounts at the snack bar (just be sure to have masks on and socially distance when you aren’t inside your car). Cash only. 

Or see a flick on a rooftop deck

$$
Mission Hills
Movie night returns to rooftop theater Cinema Under the Stars, with classic movies every Thursday through Sunday. Relax in safely distant single or double zero gravity recliners, loveseat cabanas or deck chairs while you watch a 20-foot screen with HD projection and surround sound. Reserve your seats online or get them in person at the box office. Note: Your credit card only reserves your seat online. Cash only will be accepted at the door as payment. Masks must be worn at all times in the theater, unless you’re in your seat.

Taste The Yodel at Juniper and Ivy

$
Little Italy
Far and away the most popular dessert item on Juniper and Ivy’s menu, The Yodel is a sexy, decadent cylinder of dark chocolate filled with chocolate pudding, hazelnut brittle, chocolate pearls, and chocolate cake atop coffee crumbles and strawberries. Warm milk chocolate ganache is dramatically poured over, melting the shell so that the treasures hidden inside tumble out. As beloved as the chocolate version is, Executive Chef Anthony Wells has boldly introduced exhilarating seasonal tweaks. Last fall he debuted an apple cider edition, followed by a frozen eggnog winter confection, a springtime release in strawberry shortcake/red velvet, and this summer’s inspiration: frozen marshmallow cream inside a dark chocolate shell atop house-made graham cracker crumble, ready for a pour of smoked milk chocolate ganache.

Take the ferry to Coronado

$
Coronado
Board the Coronado Ferry at either the Broadway Pier or the Convention Center for a quick, 15 minute ride across San Diego Bay to Coronado Ferry Landing, where shopping, dining and activities ranging from biking to stand up paddleboarding can be found within walking distance. Fares are a mere $5 one-way, and you can bring your bicycle for free.

Bike the Silver Strand

Free-$$
Coronado
Beginning at Coronado Ferry Landing, the Silver Strand Bikeway is an 18-mile flat, paved loop that takes you along the sandy tombolo all the way to Imperial Beach. Perfect for riders of all levels, you’ll be treated to views of the Pacific Ocean on one side and the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge on the other. Don’t miss a stop at Silver Strand Beach for a quick swim or a walk along the sand. Bike rentals are available at the ferry landing if you haven’t brought your own.

Eat a Cali burrito at Mike's Taco Club

$
Ocean Beach
We take our Cali burritos, that splendid combination of carne asada, French fries, guac, salsa and sour cream, all wrapped up in a warm flour tortilla, quite seriously here in San Diego. OB favorite Mike’s Taco Club serves up regular, surf-and-turf and breakfast Calis daily for takeout (the taco spot is steps from the beach) or sit on their dog-friendly patio.

Pay a virtual visit the Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas

Free-$
Encinitas
Paramahansa Yogananda was the founder of modern yoga and the first major teacher of the practice to spend most of his life in the West. At his old digs just north of Swami’s beach there’s a meditation garden with ocean vistas, a temple, a retreat center and the hermitage where he wrote his critically and commercially successful Autobiography of a Yogi. The fellowship is currently closed to the public, but you can visit their Online Meditation Center for a full calendar of meditations and study groups.

Swim with sharks

Free-$
La Jolla
During the warmer months, scores of leopard sharks swarm to the shallow waters of La Jolla Shores Beach, drawing snorkelers from all over the world to swim with them. Typically hanging out in under ten feet of water near The Marine Room Restaurant and off the La Jolla Tennis Club, groups of sharks can range in number from a few to hundreds. Although leopard sharks can reach five feet in length, there’s no need to be intimidated -- they have tiny mouths and don’t attack humans. If you don’t have snorkeling equipment of your own, there are several shops within easy walking distance where you can rent them.

Take a yoga class at Riffs Studios

$-$$
Online
The Bird Rock studio’s dreamy patio has reopened for in-person classes, and you can still perfect your King Pigeon pose with Riffs’ online classes. The video library features 68 classes of varying lengths, ranging from peaceful restorative to vigorous vinyasa that can be either rented or purchased by the class or monthly membership, and live Zoom classes take place daily.  

Tour Balboa Park, virtually

Free
Online
San Diego Zoo, The Old Globe Theatre, and the museums of Balboa Park are closed to the public for now, but you’ll still be able to tour most of the park with the launch of Balboa Park TV. Wander the galleries at the San Diego Museum of Art by downloading its #Virtual SDMA app for 360-degree views. Listen to behind-the-scenes stories about the artists and styles via video, custom audio tours and augmented reality. Access the podcast Masterpiece Minute, attend virtual lectures and explore the collection’s most inspired pieces on their YouTube channel.

Explore a new cuisine

$-$$$
Mira Mesa
Tacos in all their glorious diversity rule the food scene here with good reason, but it’s nice to try some flavors outside your culinary comfort zone once in a while. Explore fresh Indian vegetarian dishes, chaats, snacks, and sweets at Surati Farsan Mart in Mira Mesa, feast on Russian and Georgian comfort food at Pomegranate or scoop up bites of University Heights’ Muzita Abyssinian Bistro’s warmly spiced Eritrean/Ethiopian stews with soft pieces of injera, a spongy sourdough teff crêpe that serves as both your plate and your fork.

Surf at Black’s Beach

Free
La Jolla
Most San Diego beaches are open, and if you live near La Jolla Shores, you have access to one of the best surf breaks in the city, beginning with its thrilling hike down to the beach. Of course, the other thing Black’s Beach is famous for it being a gay nude beach, and if you’re so inclined, feel free to bare it all. Just remember, the beaches are only open for walking, running, surfing, or sunbathing alone or with household members, no partying or gathering in groups or for sports. Check out all the latest guidelines as well as other beaches and parks that are close to home.

...or hit up one of San Diego’s other great beaches

Free
Non-nudists and non-surfers have plenty of other waterfront stretches to satisfy their inner sun worshipper. Windansea Beach’s rocks and cliffs, Coronado Beach and the historic hotel that dominates its landscape or miles and miles of other oceanside escapes are there to entice you for a walk or a paddleboard out into the waves. We’ve got the best of them right here for you, but keep in mind that parking lots are still closed at city parks and beaches, so you’ll want to stick to one within walking distance or a bike ride from home. 

Support our local farms

Free-$$
Many of San Diego’s farmers’ markets have reopened selling essential grocery products under strict new guidelines -- pets aren’t permitted (that’s actually always been the case, but now it’ll be enforced), one family member is allowed to enter the market, and the farmer will bag the  goods you point out for you. A number of local farmers are selling direct-to-consumer from their farms as well -- pick up meat, poultry, produce, eggs, honey, CSA boxes, and more. The how-tos vary from market to market so check with your local market manager for details, such as pre-ordering and cashless options.

Have a fish taco at Mitch’s Seafood

$$
Fleetridge
Fish tacos are a rite of passage in San Diego, and Mitch’s Seafood is the place to have two or six, what with its extensive menu and water’s edge location. Call ahead and order or walk in -- you can sit at the dining area on the dock, or walk along the harbor and enjoy the view while you savor your meal.

Visit Tuna Harbor Dockside Market on Saturdays

Free-$$$
Tuna Harbor Dockside Market has added an online store to its website, which allows you to preorder fresh spot prawn, ahi tuna, sea urchin, rock crab and more every week from 5pm Thursday until 5pm Friday, ready for curbside pickup on Saturday from 11am-1pm at the end of the Tuna Harbor parking lot. The open air dockside market is still open from 8am-1pm Saturdays as well, with additional seafood not necessarily available in the online store.

Tour the U.S.S. Midway

Free
Embarcadero
Attracting more than 1.4 million visitors each year, with almost 30% coming from outside the United States, the U.S.S. Midway is not only one of San Diego’s most popular attractions, but it’s also the most visited historic naval ship museum in the world. Tickets for a tour must be made online.

Wrench & Rodent
Wrench & Rodent | Lucid Impressions Photography

Try one of the best restaurants in San Diego

$-$$$
Various locations
Have weeks of shelter in place gotten you into a fast food rut? Now’s the time to hit up some of the best eateries in town -- while a number are closed for the duration, more and more are offering at least limited menus for patio dining, when available, as well as curbside pickup, takeout or delivery. Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub has fresher-than-fresh sushi, sashimi and rolls available Wednesday through Sunday from 4-9pm, StreetCar Merchants will have Southern style, Nashville hot, buttery maple or honey dipped fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits and six-layer coconut cake on your plate in a flash and Lola 55’s squash blossom rellenos, barbacoa family meals and double margaritas can be ready and waiting with your online order. Check out our other pickup, takeout, and delivery choices ranging from brunch to global eats.

Check out a dispensary

$$
Cannabis dispensaries have been deemed an essential service, so you can still easily and legally toke up in the privacy of your home. Choosing between flowers, edibles, concentrates, vapes, and tinctures can be confusing, so we’ve gathered a list of our favorite dispensaries, updated with the latest COVD-19 protocols, where you can get expert advice on the best delivery system for you. If you’re a cannabis newbie, take some time to acquaint yourself with all the whys and how-tos.

Have a Dirty Flat Top at The Friendly


University Heights, North Park
It may not be pretty, but it’s damn near the best burger you’ll ever have. The Friendly’s Dirty Flat Top burger starts with a plain, prefab white bun, buttered and toasted golden brown, two thin patties, smashed and caramelized on the grill, topped with a melted slice of American cheese, garlic aioli, and softly sauteed onions. You can get gussied up versions at the North Park location or a side slice of pizza at University Heights, but whatever you do, don’t ask for ketchup. Check Instagram for its popular and random specials. Available for pickup only. 

Sign up here for our daily San Diego email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.

Mary Beth Abate is a San Diego-based freelance writer by way of Chicago and Los Angeles. Her hobbies include yoga, pickling and fermenting various vegetables and beverages, reading cookbooks and traveling through Mexico. Keep up with her experiments @MaryBeth_Abate.