How to Spend 1 Day in San Diego: Coast Highway 101

Going South on Coast Highway looking towards Torrey Pines State Beach & Reserve

Going South on Coast Highway looking towards Torrey Pines State Beach & Reserve

I’ve been a contributor to the San Diego Travel Forum on TripAdvisor. One frequently asked questions is how to spend one day in San Diego.  Assuming that the starting point is Downtown San Diego, renting a car and enjoying the Coast Highway 101 drive is one way to spend your day without having to participate in a “Hop on, Hop Off” Trolley Tour.

Here’s how:

1. After picking up the rental car, take Interstate 5 North and Exit Carlsbad Village Drive. This will take about 30 minutes. Go west to South Coast Highway 101/Carlsbad Blvd.

2. During your journey south on Coast Highway, you’ll pass through the following beach neighborhoods (I’ve also included suggestions on things to do and places to eat):

  • Encinitas
  1. Stop at Swami’s (a famous surf spot) for photo opportunities of surfers, meditation garden, and the coastal landscape. If you’re up for it, take a 2 hour surf lesson at Moonlight Beach.
  2. Enjoy breakfast, lunch, or brunch at Swami’s Café or Mexican Food at Juanita’s Taco Shop
  3. Treat yourself to Gelato at Bubby’s
  • Cardiff by the Sea
  1. Grab a smoothie from Sambazon
  2. Indulge your sweet tooth at VGs Donuts
  3. Have lunch or dinner at Pacific Coast Grill
  • Solana Beach
  1. Down a few micro-brews, beer buddies, and pizzas from Pizza Port
  2. Have a healthy lunch at Naked Café
  3. Make a stop in the Cedros District
  • Del Mar
  1. Shop at Del Mar Plaza or along Camino del Mar (Coast Highway).
  2. Take scenic photos near Powerhouse Park off 15th Street
  3. Enjoy sandwiches from Board & Brew

The Coast Highway continues on to Torrey Pines State Beach and State Reserve then ends at N. Torrey Pines Road where it meets University of California, San Diego. If you decide to finish your mini trip down the coast, just take Interstate 5 South to Downtown. However, I recommend spending some time in La Jolla (The Village & The Cove) before returning to the Downtown area. Allow at least 2 hours for your journey along the Coast Highway if you plan on driving through without stopping. Otherwise, enjoy your day getting a taste of San Diego.

P.S. Be sure to get back on the road to Downtown around 3:00PM or after 6:00PM, so you miss traffic.

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