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San Diego...By the Sea, By the Sea

by Elaine Sosa

San Diego is the sixth largest city in the United States. That's amazing. In my mind, it's still a serendipitous little beach town where you can laze away the days and have romantic tete-a-tetes at night. Maybe that's why I always seek out the sea when I'm in San Diego. There's plenty of it here, and it's possible to make a splash, literally, morning, noon and night. Whether it's the roaring Pacific or placid San Diego Bay, water is the way to go in San Diego.

Sleeping by the Sea

Lulled to sleep by the waves. A water view from your balcony. There's nothing like sleeping by the sea. In San Diego, you have countless options. My favorites? For urban animals, head over to the Hyatt Regency on the waterfront. This slender beige tower looks out onto a busy marina, San Diego Bay and Coronado Island. Turn your head a bit and you get a view of the growing San Diego skyline. The rooms are tastefully Hyatt, and if you're feeling flush, spring for a Regency Club room. These are on the upper floors of the hotel (that's pretty high), are extra-roomy and offer "club" perks like a generous continental breakfast and evening hors d'ouevres. Break away from the clubby atmosphere and take a jog out the hotel's back door. A series of paths link the Embarcadero Marina Parks right behind the hotel, and you can follow this scenic pathway along Seaport Village and out to the big ships, many of which are open to the public. Returning to the Hyatt, there's no shortage of things to do. You can visit the health club and heated outdoor pool on the third floor, rent a sailboat, go deep-sea fishing, rollerblade, do wheelies on a bicycle built for two or have cocktails at the Top of the Hyatt (40 floors Hy). The bustling Gaslamp Quarter is within walking distance, and the trolley to Tijuana is right across the street. The hotel's top table, Sally's, features exquisite Meditteranean fare. At the end of the day, you get to return to your room and take in the view. Lucky you. Hyatt Regency (619) 232-1234 Rates are $235-$250 during the week, special weekend rates available; Regency Club an extra $35 per night.

If you want a more secluded getaway, Coronado Island is the place to be. Coronado is said to be one of the safest towns in America, and I think Ozzie and Harriet would have approved of this slice of small-town USA in the heart of San Diego Bay. If you take the Silver Strand Highway past the venerable Hotel Del Coronado and keep on going, you'll wind up at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort, which is located on its own private peninsula. Here you'll morph from Ozzie Nelson to Commodore Vanderbilt. Now that's living! You're surrounded by water outside and elegance inside while at the Loews. The hotel pool is a semicircle of water plopped right in the middle of the property and is surrounded by spas, fountains and an ample sundeck. Even your room has an oversized bathtub where you can paddle away in solitude. Loews designed this resort with activity in mind, which is why you can choose to rent a sailboat from their 80-slip marina, hop on a waverunner (or paddleboat or kayak), play tennis, take a tour of the herb garden (over forty varieties on hand), indulge in a massage or stroll along Silver Strand State Beach right across the street. Drop the kids off at the Commodore Kids Club and have a romantic dinner a deux at Azzura Point, where you'll look out at the twinkling lights of the Coronado Bridge while you savor chef Ron Tolle's ultra-creative food. Your pillows will be kissed (thanks to Hershey's) when you return for some soothing slumber. Loews Coronado Bay Resort (619) 424-4000 or 800.815.6397. Rates are $235-$325 per night; suites are $450 and up.

Head back toward town, Toto, and make your way to the red-turreted roof. You're now at the Hotel del Coronado, which is where L. Frank Baum got his inspiration for the land of Oz. Trust me, Dorothy would have never pined for Kansas if she had seen The Del first. A couple of gents by the name of Story and Babcock set out to build a hotel which would be "the talk of the Western world" over a century ago. I'd say they nailed it, because The Del is a Victorian beauty inside and out. The oceanfront setting is grand, but the hotel's aura is even grander. The Prince of Whales is speculated to have met a certain "lady" at the bar in 1920 and Marilyn Monroe filmed "Some Like It Hot" right on the beach. So what if you're a mere mortal -- you're still at The Del. Start off with some hijinks on the wide stretch of soft, sandy beach. Take a dip in the sea, have a workout at the fitness center or walk over to Orange Avenue to do some window-shopping. Back at The Del, walking through the elegant mahogany lobby is pleasure enough, but you can also stop for a spot of tea or sherry at the Palm Court or sip a beverage al fresco on the Sun Deck. Dinner has to be at the stunning 1500 OCEAN, but don't fill up, because you'll want to brunch the next morning in the cavernous Crown Room. Kings and queens, rejoice!

The Del has completed a $55 million restoration which has resulted in brand new oceanfront dining, redesigned and airconditioned Victorian rooms, a new bar and retail venues. A grand lawn now reconnects the beach and ocean to the Victorian Building.

You're at The Del. Hotel del Coronado (800) HOTEL DEL. Rates are $295-$1575 per night, depending on the season.

Food with a View

Meals should be a multi-sensory experience. The smell of the seasonings, the taste on your palate, the textures and presentation on your plate. Your surroundings are important, too, both inside and out. Tables with a view make a good meal memorable. Where to go? The most inspired choice in the San Diego area is Azzura Point. Look out the window and you'll see the bay, the Coronado Bridge and the city skyline. Look at your plate and you'll see some of the most artfully presented and delectable fare in town. Azzura Point, Loews Coronado Bay Resort (619) 424-4000

The Fish Market, along the waterfront in downtown San Diego, is an unassuming spot. It has simple wooden tables with comfortable windsor chairs, and the tables are topped with white paper placemats, although management was kind enough to provide red linen napkins. Many of the walls are decked out with assorted nautical regalia along with a smattering of old photos of guys who caught "the big one." The decor doesn't need to say much since the restaurant's back wall is a sheet of glass which looks out onto San Diego Bay. Watch a sunset here and your life will never be the same. Along with the breathtaking view, you'll get some of the freshest seafood in town. Begin your fish fest with a fresh Oregon dungeness crab cocktail and an order of peel and eat shrimp. The fresh fish selections change daily, and there are usually a minimum of fifteen to choose from. Pacific mahi-mahi and California swordfish are good choices if they're available. Retreat to the bar after dinner and press your nose against the window if you want to. They'll understand. The Fish Market, 750 N. Harbor Drive (619) 232-FISH.

More worthy waterfront views can be found at George's at the Cove, where the creative California cuisine is served in a stylish setting overlooking La Jolla Cove, and at the Prince of Wales Room at the Hotel Del Coronado, where the elegant dining room and grilled fare compete with the mighty Pacific for your attention. Also worth a mention is a view of a different sort. What you'll see at Karen Krasne's Extraordinary Desserts are some of the most beautiful desserts in San Diego, or anywhere for that matter. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that she went to college in Hawaii (no shortage of views there), but her desserts are paradise, graced with flower petals and touches of gold along with swirls of ribbon and whirls of chocolate and cream. Have a taste -- the view is only the half of it.

Play by the Bay

Wanna go fly a kite? sail a catamaran? work on your tan? Rather than riding all over town, head directly to Mission Bay Park, a 4,600 acre aquatic playground which is a little bit of everything to San Diegans. Mission Bay is nestled between Interstate 5 and the beach, and within this bay are a series of small islands, coves, beaches and greenbelts which equal a sportman's (or playgirl's) paradise. Your first stop should be at the Visitor Information Center, where you'll get lots of information on rentals and hot spots, and pick up a trusty map. The map may be mere formality, because unless you're a rocket scientist with a compass for a brain, you will get lost in this sprawl of a park. Look at it this way -- while you try to find your way around, you'll learn that much more about what the park has to offer. A few ideas to make your play by the bay a day to remember: pay a visit to Sea World. It's not as corny as you might think. You'll get to see penguins (pretty hip these days thanks to that car commercial), sharks and killer whales doing the macarena. If you want to do some aquatic gymnastics of your own, head over to the Mission Bay SportCenter. These folks can set you up with kayaks, canoes, windsurfers and just about anything else that will get you wet. When you're ready for terra firma, pay a visit to Rent A Bike, located behind the San Diego Hilton. Everything from kiddie to mountain bikes is there for the asking. If what you need is some real action, hop onto W. Mission Bay Drive and follow it to the beach. Directly in front of you will be the Belmont Park roller coaster. There are some tamer attractions in the park, but go for the big kahuna. You won't regret it. Three rides are probably enough, though, at which point I suggest...

Sand Between Your Toes

One of the best reasons to come to San Diego is, of course, the beach. There are more sunny days in San Diego than almost anywhere else in the U.S., and it's also generally humidity-free. Pack the sunblock and a juicy paperback and head for the sea. One of the prettiest beaches in the area has to be Silver Strand State Beach on Coronado Island. This seven-and-a-half mile stretch of white sand flecked with bits of seashells seems to sparkle in the sunlight. No wonder it's called the "silver" strand. Run along the shore and observe the various seabirds, or just plop down on your towel and do a 180 every fifteen minutes. The beach also has a campground for RV's, plenty of parking and a snack bar at the main tower. Back on the mainland, head north to La Jolla and stop in at Windansea Beach, a notorious surfer hangout in the 60's and still the place to go for some serious waves. Farther up the coast is La Jolla Shores, an expansive stretch of shoreline where you need to watch the tides and the currents. Cautious beach bums will have a ball. Tucked away in the Torrey Pines State Reserve between La Jolla and Del Mar is Torrey Pines State Beach, which is private (or so it feels), pristine and utterly pleasureable. Yep, life is a beach.

Sailing Away...

Assorted odds and ends to make your seaside sojourn a memorable one...stop in at Seaport Village along the downtown waterfront, where cobbled footpaths meander through a collection of shops, cafes and restaurants. You might not buy anything, but the view is hard to beat. On second thought, betcha the view will inspire you to pick up a postcard or two for the folks back home...admire the vista from the Cabrillo National Monument at the tip of Point Loma. This land's end stretch 400 feet above sea level affords a panoramic view of both bay and sea. While you're at the monument, pay a visit to the sandstone statue of conquistador Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who got here first, hence his name on the monument...although it's an E-ticket ride over the Coronado bridge, you might want to consider the Coronado ferry. It's a short mile ride each way, and the view in both directions is worth the price of $2 (each way). The Old Ferry Landing on the Coronado side is the busier port of call...take the trolley from the Coronado ferry landing to the shops of Orange Avenue. A must-stop is Cafe 1134, where the cinnamon roll is a perfect 10, and the coffee ain't too shabby, either...do some selective shopping in La Jolla. It's easy to be overwhelmed by all the jewelry stores, so focus on bookstores, surprisingly good in this hotbed of the rich and famous. D. G. Wills Books sells both old and new, and the musty smell will remind you of the library in grade school. The White Rabbit is a treasure trove of children's books as well as cards and assorted other feel-good finds. Wind down with some tasty hot chocolate at The Living Room Coffeehouse, where a plump red couch awaits you in this home-away-from-home. Serious shoppers might need an attitude adjustment courtesy of Jose's Court Room, where the drafts are ice-cold and the tequilas are red-hot.

So what are you waiting for? Sail on, silver bird.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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