With its waterfront convention centre and downtown airport, ranks of corporate hotels and position among California's cool ideas and hot markets, San Diego is all business. But it also beckons you to come out and play, from its coastal setting, idyllic climate and burgeoning craft-beer industry to iconic attractions and theatres presenting Broadway's best.
Plan your after-work activities in stages and across different neighbourhoods. Start with where you'll take in the sunset, whether that's watching surfers catching the final waves along Pacific Beach, sailing on a sunset harbour cruise or taking in the glow from the bar atop the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, the tallest waterfront hotel on the West Coast. Next, hit a museum or gallery, many of which have late hours, or attend a concert or show at one of myriad halls and theatres. Dining options range from the bustling Gaslamp Quarter to the eponymous cuisine of Little Italy and the simple Hispanic eateries of Barrio Logan. Finally, the bars of the hipster North Park and the vibrant East Village neighbourhoods are open until 2 a.m. for a nightcap and a game of pool.
San Diego wasn't always such a rich draw for the business traveller, as a sleepy military port-of-call with a derelict downtown. As the homeport of the Pacific Fleet, it remains the largest naval base on the U.S. West Coast, but revitalization efforts over the last three decades have brought people to visit, stay and even live.
Canadian business people are especially drawn to year-round temperatures (between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius) that keep a lot of action out-of-doors and are perfect for walking. If you want to rest your feet or go a little farther, take a trolley tour or hop on the San Diego Trolley, the modern transit system that criss-crosses the city.
The Gaslamp Quarter is in the middle of the action, an entertainment hub with Victorian charm that offers some 100 restaurants and 40 nightclubs and bars. This was once San Diego's red-light district and home to three gambling halls run by Wyatt Earp. One of the cornerstones of the area's revitalization is Croce's, a jazz restaurant established in 1985 by Ingrid Croce as a tribute to her husband, singer/songwriter Jim Croce ( Bad Bad Leroy Brown).
For the younger crowd, there's North Park with its craft beer scene, coffee houses and the Birch North Park Theatre, home of the Lyric Opera. Hillcrest, the hub of the city's Lesbian and Gay community, has chic boutiques, hopping nightlife and interesting bistros, such as Mama Testa Taqueria, one of many taco eateries in San Diego, home of the fish taco. One of the most popular food sensations in the city, they can be stuffed with everything from battered fried fish to grilled mahi-mahi, lobster chunks and even caviar.
Balboa Park, the largest urban park in the U.S., groans with cultural and recreational attractions, including the San Diego Air & Space Museum, Old Globe theatre and the spectacular Botanical Building, built for the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition. It is also home to the classic San Diego Zoo.
If you have time for an excursion, don't miss La Jolla, about 20 minutes away by taxi, just within the northern city limits of San Diego. With opulent precincts reminiscent of Beverly Hills (complete with its own Rodeo Drive for high-end shopping,) La Jolla also has oceanside cliffs that rival the Riviera and forest reserves that make it perfect for walking. You'll also find fine dining and a thriving cultural scene, with the La Jolla Playhouse featuring shows on their way to Broadway. The Canadian hit production of Jesus Christ Superstar, currently playing at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, will open at the playhouse for six weeks beginning Nov. 18, and heads to Broadway in the spring.
San Diego's a great beer town, with a number of breweries that offer free tours and tastings. You or your group can arrange or create your own brewery crawl, with a free, downloadable map and guide from the San Diego Brewer's Guild (www.sandiegobrewersguild.org), or concierges can also help you figure out which breweries to hit.
So, there is a lot to do in San Diego, before, after, even during your workday. It might be hard to remember that you're here on business.
An evening out
5:15 p.m. Put on your walking shoes and explore one of San Diego's charismatic neighbourhoods or outdoor idylls, such as the Embarcadero, the marina area that borders downtown and rings San Diego Bay, with sights and sounds from playful public art to swooping gulls. (www.walksandiego.org)
6 p.m. See what's brewing in San Diego's thriving craft beer scene, with dozens of breweries, restaurants and pubs as well as special events, including San Diego Beer Week, which in 2011 will be held from Nov. 4 to 13. (www.sandiegoisbrewing.com)
6:45 Take in some culture at Balboa Park, the nation's largest urban park, with an amazing range of museums, attractions, gardens, recreation and performing arts centres. The annual Balboa Park December Nights, (in 2011 it will be held on Dec. 2 and 3), is San Diego's largest free community festival, with food, music and entertainment from around the world and museums opening their doors gratis from 5-9 pm both evenings. (www.balboapark.org)
8 p.m. Head to La Jolla, the "jewel" of San Diego, with its stunning ocean-side vistas, luxury shopping, high-end dining, award-winning golf and cultural attractions, including Broadway-bound productions running at the La Jolla Playhouse. (www.lajollabythesea.com)
9:30 p.m. Head to the Gaslamp Quarter to finish off the night with a nightcap (you can go earlier for a meal or to shop). Croce's, established by Ingrid Croce as a tribute to her husband, singer/songwriter Jim Croce, is a local jazz and food landmark. (www.gaslamp.org, www.croces.com)
Special to The Globe and Mail