You can’t beat America’s Finest City at the end of October. The weather has hit the ideal sunny and 75 degrees, setting the stage for a perfect marathon event in Southern California. With the start line beginning in the city’s famed Balboa Park and the finish line ending up down by the bay, it’s no wonder this race is one of the year’s most popular.
For San Diego first timers, there is an endless amount of activity available that keeps this city as one of the nation’s top destinations. But even if the Rock 'n' Roll Running Series San Diego tops your race list year after year, you’ll find that the city is also ever-changing, meaning there’s always something new to discover.
Race weekend can fly by, especially since nearly one full day will be dedicated to the race. However, make the most of your 48 hours in the palm-tree landscape of SoCal by fitting a few of these “must dos” into your schedule.
6:00pm — Normal Heights/North Park
San Diego is home to a few culinary elite; several Top Chef and Master Chef contestants and winners have started their restaurants here. Find out what makes it a hotspot for good eats by making a pit stop in the Normal Heights neighborhood. Local eatery, Blind Lady Alehouse (or BLAH), is where Anchorman Will Ferrell has been spotted on more than one occasion to show his appreciation for the city. The restaurant is known for its inventive pizzas, but it’d be a shame to pass up an order of their Belgian Frites when there as well.
Adams Avenue in Normal Heights is also home to Dark Horse Coffee Roasters, a neighborhood favorite with some of the best coffee and vegan donuts in the city. As you reach the crossroads of 30th St. and Adams Avenue, you have the option to head south down 30th, where you’ll trickle into North Park and be introduced to one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in San Diego.
Along this popular street, you’ll come across vegan, sushi, Mexican, Thai, Italian, and homemade sausage options just to name a few. Whatever you’re in the mood for, these neighborhoods will certainly steer you in the right direction.
10:30am — Downtown San Diego
Day one of the Health & Fitness Expo opens at 12:00 p.m., so it’s the perfect time to head downtown for brunch and a short walk to the San Diego Convention Center to peruse the expo floor. The historic Gaslamp Quarter is lined with street after street of restaurants, hotels, as well as an outdoor park in the middle of the city where you can listen to live music for free.
Brunch is a big deal in San Diego, so it’s best to make a reservation for your first meal of the day. Stella Public House in East Village has a spacious, indoor/outdoor dining area with brunch items that include stuffed French toast, their sought-after avocado toast topped withcaviar, and a caprese frittata made with house made mozzarella. If you decide to stick closer to Gaslamp, secure a table on the rooftop at Rustic Root. Its menu includes breakfast favorites like biscuits and gravy, eggs benedict, and scramble skillets.
Walk off your food coma at the Expo and then, walk down the bayfront and take in the ocean breeze on the way to Seaport Village where you’ll find local shops, sidewalk entertainers, and some of the best views of the city. Feeling extra ambitious? Continue the walk around to the USS Midway Museum. A stop here will take you at least a few hours to navigate through, but it’s worth a visit, if you have the time.
Gaslamp Quarter is also home to a piano bar, nightclubs, and multiple, live music venues. Start your rock ‘n’ roll spirit early and get your musical fix.
4:00pm — Old Town
After your self-tour of San Diego’s bayfront, which also is near Waterfront Park, where the race will end, switch directions and head into Old Town. This historic state park is rich with culture and shows visitors a little bit of what San Diego was like in its early years. On one side of the neighborhood is park area with old-time storefronts where you can make your own candles, get free samples of fudge, and take a walking history tour.
Ghost lovers will be drawn to The Whaley House, which is deemed as one of the most haunted places in America. Sign up for a tour and learn why the old home holds so many ghosts. After you’ve had a chance to explore a bit, it’s likely your hunger will be back after your big brunch.
The smell of freshly made tortillas can be intoxicating and the ladies making them fresh will hand them over topped with butter or salsa. The toughest part about this area is choosing which restaurant to eat at, but if you like Mexican food, this is the neighborhood for you. Bonus: mariachi bands will serenade you as you eat, making dining here musically festive.
9:00am — Gaslamp Quarter/Little Italy
The expo floor opens a couple hours earlier today, so make sure to grab any swag you missed the first time around and stock up on race necessities before the big day. Then, come lunch, it’s time to carbo load and there’s no better place to do that than Little Italy.
It’s in (longer) walking distance from downtown, but you can also call on “Fred” or the free-ride-everywhere-downtown street vehicle that picks up and drops off in and around central downtown. Once in Little Italy, head to India Street, the main road for restaurants with cuisine from all parts of Italy.
Hometown favorite, Filippi’s, often has a line out the door, but the Italian shop inside is a place to look around while you wait for their delicious meatball sub and classic pizza and pasta dishes. New kid on the block, Barbusa, will take you to Sicily with its flavorful dishes and house made pasta. Don’t leave without trying the squash blossoms, sausage polenta, and margherita pizza.
1:30 pm — Beach Time
After you’ve indulged in all things carbs, what’s a trip to San Diego without a day at the beach? There are several to choose from and each has its own vibe. Ocean Beach is a laid-back, surfer community where the waves have been to known to clear the top of the pier. The boardwalk of Mission Beach is one of the most popular in the country and it’s a prime spot for wave watching and putting your toes in the sand.
For a day trip, head over the bridge to idyllic Coronado and the famed Coronado beach, set behind the historic Hotel Del. The pristine sands and beautiful views are just what you need to relax before your race. Don’t forget the sunscreen and end with a good night’s sleep, because Sunday starts bright and early.
Race Time — Balboa Park
Runners of the Rock 'n' Roll Running Series San Diego start in Balboa Park, which is home to museums, gardens, and acres of greenery. This picture-worthy place is worth a day of exploration by itself. While it might be harder to take it all in, since you’ll be there before the sun comes up, it’s not a bad idea to swing back over after the race.
As you wind your way through the course, neighborhood spectators will be lining the streets to cheer you on and joining you by the water for the post-race concert. What better way to spend a summer weekend than cruising into the finish line with a panoramic view of the ocean? Fun fact: San Diego was the birthplace of the original Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon.
2:00pm — Hillcrest
After you crush the marathon or half marathon, head to Fabulous Hillcrest to celebrate your accomplishment! There is never a dull moment in Hillcrest and plenty of great local restaurants, including Hash House a Go Go, Snooze and Fig Tree Café, to suite your celebratory brunch needs. Looking for variety? Stroll through the Hillcrest Farmers Market — they also celebrated their 20th anniversary this year — and pick up some locally grown produce and flowers, drink freshly made juice, visit the food stalls, or sample artisan cheeses and pastries.
Lace up your sneakers and find your way to the start line. See you in San Diego!
Tag(s): San Diego