The word “excited” does not even begin to describe how we feel about the fact that the NAA Education Conference is happening in San Diego this year! Welcome to our home turf, people! Please don’t spend your entire trip networking with the movers and shakers of the multifamily industry; remember to get out there and explore America’s Finest City. It’s our nation’s “finest” for countless reasons, so keep reading to figure out your post-NAA game plan!
Stating the obvious…
1. Balboa Park
Balboa Park is truly one of our city’s best bragging rights. The Spreckels Organ Pavilion alone is breathtaking with over 5,000 pipes reaching up to 32 feet high, and if you can get there on Sunday, you’ll catch a free performance by San Diego’s civic organist. Then wander through the serene Japanese Friendship Garden featuring koi ponds and zen gardens surrounded by traditional Japanese architecture. If you love to learn, you should explore the San Diego Air & Space Museum, the San Diego Natural History Museum, and the San Diego Museum of Man. So far we haven’t even scraped the surface of everything Balboa Park has to offer, so you will just have to go and check it out for yourself!
2. San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo is a must for all animal enthusiasts. And speaking of Balboa Park, the world famous San Diego Zoo is nestled right inside! Tickets are only $54, which includes the Guided Bus Tour, Kangaroo Express Bus, Skyfari aerial tram, and all regularly scheduled shows. Although all of the zoo’s inhabitants are impressive and adorable, you can’t leave without walking through the Panda Bear exhibit! They currently have three giant pandas who clumsily eat, sleep and play right in front of your eyes. If for some reason you can’t make it, they actually have a Panda Cam online, so you can scope all of the cuteness on your own time!
3. Hotel del Coronado
Whether or not you know the rich history of the infamous Hotel del Coronado, you should definitely add this iconic spot to your itinerary! A quick ride over the picturesque Coronado Bridge takes you to this National Historic Landmark, built in 1888, and visited by legends such as President William Taft, Charlie Chaplin, Charles Lindbergh, President Franklin Roosevelt, Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like It Hot,” President Richard Nixon, President Jimmy Carter, and many more. Go there for the history, stay for the gorgeous beach, the tranquil Seaside Spa, and libations at the Sunset Bar with stunning views of the water.
SeaWorld San Diego has completely revamped its mission, and a portion of every visit goes toward animal conservation and rescue efforts. Single day tickets are $70, which includes animal encounters, new and exciting rides and roller coasters, and educational/entertaining performances. Plus, if you visit on or after June 16th you’ll get to experience Electric Ocean, SeaWorld’s summer night celebration with dazzling lights, glowing water-jetpack acrobats, EDM, and live performers in neon sea-inspired costumes.
5. The Gaslamp
Spanning 16 blocks of downtown San Diego, The Gaslamp Quarter includes almost 100 Victorian Era historic buildings with beautifully preserved exteriors and uniquely renovated interiors to keep up with the demand for new, innovative restaurants and bars. Charming gaslamps line the streets of this once considered “red-light district” which is now the thriving heartbeat of the city. The Gaslamp is right across the street from the Convention Center, so go for a stroll down 5th Ave when you need a break from the trade show floor. On Saturday, June 16th check out the 24th Annual Taste of Gaslamp, San Diego’s original culinary tour! General Admission tickets are $35 pre-sale ($45 day-of) and allow you to sample cuisine from 24 of downtown’s staple restaurants from 1:00 to 4:00 PM on a self-guided walking tour complete with a beer garden, of course. Keep reading for more specific rooftop bar and restaurant suggestions in the Gaslamp.
The “touristy” spots that are totally worth it…
6. Old Town
San Diego’s historic Mexican mecca, Old Town, is only six stops north if you hop on the trolley at the Convention Center and take the green line. You’re definitely going to want to get some authentic Mexican cuisine while you’re there (we’re talking fresh handmade-to-order tortillas and guacamole). You can’t go wrong with the Old Town Mexican Cafe, Cafe Coyote, or Fred’s Mexican Cafe. If you stick around on June 16th and 17th, Harney Street in the Heart of Old Town holds San Diego’s largest weekly Artisan Market featuring local handmade jewelry, photography, pottery, clothing, paintings, hand painted glass, and more. It is free to access on Saturday and Sunday from 10 AM – 4:30 PM.
7. USS Midway
The USS Midway was the longest-serving aircraft carrier in the 20th century. Built in 1945, it became the first American carrier to operate in the midwinter sub-Arctic. It served with the Atlantic Fleet for ten years before its first combat deployment in Vietnam. It has been a beloved addition to San Diego’s list of attractions since 2004, so don’t miss your chance to visit and experience how this incredible aircraft carrier functioned during its heyday.
8. La Jolla Cove
The iconic La Jolla Cove boasts breathtaking sunsets, playfully noisy sea lions, seaside restaurants, and a perfect shallow beach to explore. It is a great area for snorkeling, and safe for the kids if you’re turning your NAA trip into a family getaway. At PayLease, we are huge fans of George’s at the Cove! If you can make it to their Ocean Terrace before sunset for a glass of wine, some apps, and the best view of the sunset on the water, we promise you won’t regret it.
9. The Star of India
Built in 1863, the Star of India is ‘the world’s oldest active sailing ship’ and is now permanently docked in the Little Italy area of downtown San Diego about 2 miles northwest of the Convention Center. Explore the interior of the ship during the day, or simply stroll by it at night to see it beautifully lit.
10. Seaport Village
Seaport Village is only a 10 minute walk from the Convention Center, and it is cute as a button! It is exactly what you would picture when you imagine an idyllic seaside village. There are hat shops, candle shops, delis, and candy, cookie, and ice cream shops along the Embarcadero. When you have a bit of time to spare and you don’t want to go too far, just wander through this sweet little tourist spot and grab a souvenir for a loved one.
The hidden gems…
11. Mt. Soledad
At the top of La Jolla, the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial has arguably the best 360 degree view of San Diego. As you walk around the giant white cross, pay your respects to the hundreds of military men and women whose pictures and bios are featured on plaques along the walkway. Parking is free, and there is plenty of it. Otherwise, if you want a bit of exercise, walk or bike from downtown La Jolla and earn that epic view at the top as your reward.
12. Potato Chip Rock
Potato Chip Rock AKA the Mt. Woodson Hiking Trail is probably the most popular hiking trail in San Diego because of its unique thin free-floating rock formation at the peak, which makes for a pretty awesome photo-op. But be warned, this hike is not for beginners. It will take you at least three hours round trip, it can get pretty steep, and there is very little shade. It’s also a 45 minute drive just to get to the trailhead in Poway from downtown, so we would really only recommend this adventure to you brave, outdoorsy folks.
NOM NOM NOM…
If you’re more of an eater than a hiker, Hillcrest has what you need. For brunch, order a house hash and a waffle tower from Hash House A Go Go, or scarf down a half-benny and a pancake flight at Snooze. If you’re a ramen lover, Tajima Ramen is the best SD has to offer. If you’re craving some Pad Thai or Panang, Amarin Thai is calling your name. Another quick note about Hillcrest, if you believe love is love and that the traditional idea of marriage is outdated, then you may want to check out the nightlife at Mo’s, Rich’s, and Flicks.
14. Rooftop Bars
I know we’ve already talked about some spectacular views, but since the weather is always perfect here, you’ve got to get yourself up to a few rooftop bars for a martini with a view. Do yourself a favor and check out The Nolen, The Rooftop by STK, and Rustic Root. All of the above (pun intended) are located in the Gaslamp district, a few blocks from the Convention Center, and serve delicious apps to accompany their elevated craft cocktails.
15. Mister A’s
If you want to impress someone with a super fancy spread, there’s no better choice than Mister A’s (a PayLease Executive favorite). The service is exceptional, the food is divine, and the view is unbeatable. Word to the wise, it will cost you a pretty penny to wine and dine at this high-class joint.
16. Harbor Island
Restaurants Coasterra and Island Prime are both located on Harbor Island, which is a 15 to 20 minute drive from downtown. Enjoy modern Mexican cuisine, or fresh local fish on the patio, and watch the sun set over the water as the San Diego skyline comes to life.
17. Local Breweries
Take yourself on a brewery tour! We have some of the very best handcrafted beer here in San Diego. You would be remiss to head home without tasting some of our best brews. Most of the original breweries are located 20 miles north of downtown, near PayLease HQ as a matter of fact… (coincidence?), but many of them also have tasting rooms downtown. So here’s what you do: from the Convention Center walk about 4 blocks to get to the Stone Brewing Tap Room adjacent to Petco Park, order a flight, and then walk or take a pedicab about 8 blocks to Mission Brewery. Now you’re probably feeling a bit buzzed, so you’ll want to call an Uber/Lyft to get you over to the Karl Strauss tasting room, and then finally grab one more ride over to the Ballast Point Brewing tasting room in Little Italy. By this point you should be hopped up and happy, you’re welcome.
For locals only…
18. Black’s Beach
Black’s beach in La Jolla is a bit of a hike to get down to, and it’s limited accessibility is likely due to the dress code. Black’s is San Diego’s one and only nude beach. Keep in mind it is not strictly occupied by Victoria’s Secret and Calvin Klein models lounging around in their birthday suits. The population here definitely ranges in shapes, sizes, ages, and gender. But you’ll never find it crowded, and out of the few people who are there, only one or two brave souls will be completely in the buff. Locals frequent Black’s because surfers say it has the best breaks, and sunbathers find it to be the most calm, quiet, secluded, and dare we say it… bare.
19. Ocean Beach (OB)
The Haight-Ashbury of San Diego is definitely Ocean Beach (OB). You’ll find local hippie street art, craft boutiques, smoke shops, and the faint smell of incense and sea-salt wafting through the air. Listen up burger lovers! In 1969, Hodad’s opened, gained popularity with the locals, and then secured its reputation as the best burger joint in San Diego when it appeared on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives in 2007. I can tell you from experience, there are two deliciously greasy contenders for “the best burger in San Diego” and Hodad’s double bacon cheeseburger is one of them. When you want to wash down that burger with a beer and a shot, Wonderland Ocean Pub is everything you’ve ever wanted in a local beach bar. They have delicious drinks, pool tables, shuffleboard, a wall of windows with a view of the pier, and every day at sunset they ring a big bell prompting the whole bar to toast to another glorious day in America’s finest.
San Diego Magazine
20. Pacific Beach (PB)
Pacific Beach (PB) is primarily occupied by SDSU’s senior class greek-life who have one final year to party and pub-crawl by the beach before they graduate and make their best attempt at a successful adulthood. Whilst exploring the bars on Garnet Ave, you will hear fraternity brethren endearingly and aggressively refer to each other as ”bro” as they pound local beer and Redbull-Vodka Slushies (yes, that’s a real thing that exists). We’re really only suggesting you go out in PB if you are a single, 22 year old intern for a property management company, who got dragged to NAA by your boss, and need a drunken escape. In which case, we recommend FIREHOUSE (for the rooftop), PB Ale House (for the beer), Shore Club (for the dangerous Redbull-Vodka slushy), Waterbar (for it’s new and classy vibe), and El Prez (for the debauchery). However, if you are a respectable (and hungry) adult over the age of 25, Rocky’s Crown Pub is the other contender for “the best burger in San Diego.” It has a local dive bar feel, and probably hasn’t changed it’s burger recipe or decor much in the 40 years it has been open. Also, if you need a giant breakfast burrito to get your day going, may we suggest Kono’s Cafe? Your taste buds will thank you.
OK, I know we said “the 20 best,” but technically Tijuana is in Mexico, not San Diego. We’re tacking it to the end of this list because it’s so close that you can see it from many of the aforementioned rooftop/hilltop excursions. If a quick visit to the land of tacos and tequila intrigues you (why wouldn’t it?), the best way to get there is to use the wonderful new CBX (Cross Border Xpress). It’s a safe, enclosed pedestrian walkway that costs $16 to cross. It is hands down your best bet, because driving across the border means you’ll likely have to wait in a 4 hour line of traffic on your way back into the U.S. This article from Thrillist offers a few great suggestions for enjoying your time in TJ. All we’ll say is don’t leave without indulging a street taco or two, or 10 because they’re like, a dollar each.
We’ve covered a lot of ground, and we hope you can do the same when you’re here for NAA! If you have the freedom to go out and explore, absolutely do it! San Diego just has too much to offer. However, if you’re stuck inside at NAA, the number one spot to check out is booth #213! That’s where all of us PayLeasers will be waiting to meet with you! Any of us can give you more tips on where to go and what to see, or how you can streamline your business with utility expense management, resident billing, and online payments.
You stay classy, NAA.