Off course in San Diego: An 18-point golfer's guide

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

One of North America's most beautiful cities, San Diego is also renowned for its golf - especially gems like Torrey Pines and nearby La Costa Resort. But when you're not on the golf courses, this Southern California town will keep you busy with great dining and entertainment options.

San Diego - La Jolla - Ocean
Getting close to the ocean in La Jolla is better than the vaunted San Diego Zoo.
San Diego - La Jolla - OceanLa Jolla - San Diego - TripTorrey Pines - San Diego Golf
If you go

SAN DIEGO, Calif. - Sometimes it seems like everyone wants to live here - or at least in one of the beach communities like La Jolla that sit near the biggest city in this Southern California wonderland. There's surfing, great golf, postcard views and even that much-hyped zoo.

It's ultra expensive to move in though, so if you only have a matter of days in San Diego, you're going to need to make some tough decisions on what's worthy and what's not. The golf might actually provide some of the easier choices. You have to play Torrey Pines. You'll want to check out La Costa, to the north. And just for unique thrills, you should get in a round on Coronado Island and its un-muni muni.

The hours you're not chasing after a little white ball will not be so clear-cut. Here's your guide to steering through the San Diego golf vacation clutter.

San Diego hotels

Place to stay with Trump money: Lodge at Torrey Pines - Just to tell other rich people you have. It's overrated as a hotel, but still the best address to impress. It also guarantees you a tee time on the course.

Place to stay for a real escape: La Costa Resort & Spa - Still one of the most distinct stays in the San Diego area, La Costa is a world of its own. At night you'll see stars, not drunk college kids in the Gaslamp district. The PGA Tour may not appreciate the golf courses anymore, but you will.

Place to stay with a date: Britt Scripps Inn - This 120-year-old mini mansion in the heart of downtown boasts its own butler and only nine rooms. It practically screams snuggling.

Place to stay with the family: Hotel Del Coronado - It's on its own island. The beach is steps from the rooms. And there's a kids day camp so you can forget you're a parent for a few blissful hours.

Place to stay on a budget: Best Western Seven Seas - All the blind-eye guide books will tell you that La Pensione Hotel is the cheap choice and the Little Italy spot's not bad for charm. But Best Western gives you a pool and a spa as well. How often do you hear that in budget?

Most underrated hotel: San Diego Marriott DelMar - You'll have to drive everywhere but a recent renovation gives what's often the lowest priced Marriott in the region plenty of comfort. The restaurant's no typical throwaway hotel restaurant, either. The downside is it's only open till 9:30, even on a Saturday night.

San Diego dining

Single best dining experience: Fish taco from Petco Park concession stand - Truth is San Diego's fine dining just doesn't measure up to other major cities and those fish tacos are damn tasty. Watching Jake Peavy rack up strikeouts beats an ocean view too.

Cheesy spot that's actually good: Pasquale on Prospect - It looks like the classic tourist trap on La Jolla's main drag. There's even often a guy out front trying to call passersby into the restaurant. Yet the pasta's super fresh. Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods don't come here just because it's open late.

If you're going to propose: Candelas - It's candlelight only. The better to hide your shame if she says no.

When you're running out of cash: La Posta - The place to go after a night of bar hopping for crispy tacos that will make you ashamed you ever stooped to Taco Bell.

Most overrated: George's at the Cove - If it wasn't for the ocean views this place would just be ordinary food at extraordinary prices. Save yourself some cash and walk up to the ocean.

Sunday brunch not to miss: Ocean House - Forget any visions of a $60 Las Vegas buffet. At Ocean House you get an ornate brunch complete with champagne for under $25.

San Diego sightseeing & nightlife

Over hyped attraction to avoid: San Diego Zoo - Yes, it's world famous. Yes, people will think you're crazy for going to San Diego and not seeing it. No, it's not close to worth the time.

Animal show not to miss: The seals on La Jolla beach - It sounds corny, but it's cool. More than 10-year-olds will appreciate seeing the seals go head diving. It's better than the zoo and free.

Where to relive the college years: Gaslamp Quarter - There's no doubt this section of downtown buzzes at an hour when the beach communities are dozing. Bonus: See 45-year-olds act as dumb as 20-year-olds.

To please your inner geek: San Diego Railroad Museum - You'll feel like Bobby Bacala from The Sopranos. Only you won't get whacked. In and out in less than 40 minutes.

Getting your groove on: Belly Up Tavern - It's been called one of the hottest clubs on the entire West Coast by Rolling Stone magazine. With bands performing at least five nights a week, Belly Up will make you forever banish any thought of going to a Hard Rock Café.

Hanging Buds with surfers: Silver Fox - Forget watching the Padres on TV in this "sports" bar. You'll see surfing competitions instead and the real guys taking the walk to the beach with their boards.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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