California Road Trip: Day 5 in Laguna Beach & San Diego

Happy Friday everyone!
I hope you all have something fun on tap for the weekend. We have a marathon day of tile shopping for our upcoming bathroom renovation on the agenda. For some reason don’t sound nearly as exciting as our road trip to southern California. Oh how I wish I had a time machine! Read on though, as Day 5 we left Santa Monica, passed through the gorgeous Laguna Beach and finally arrived in San Diego – our final destination.

But first, in case you missed the recap of our first through fourth days driving down the Pacific Coast Highway, I’ve linked them here. That you can catch up before reading about our day five adventures, which were so fun:

Day 1 in San Jose, Santa Cruz & Monterey

Day 2 in Monterey, Big Sur & Pismo Beach

Day 3 in Pismo Beach & Santa Barbara

Day 4 in LA, Venice & Santa Monica

We took this road trip prior to COVID-19 so the hotels, restaurants and attractions featured in my post may not currently be open, or they may be offering limited service. If you use this post to plan your own trip, please verify these important details directly. Also, for those traveling now or planning a getaway in the very near future, please wear a mask to protect the locals and fellow travelers. We’ll get through this pandemic together!

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Day 5: Santa Monica, Laguna Beach & San Diego

Santa Monica

We woke up in Santa Monica super excited to arrive at our final destination on our road trip to southern California – San Diego! I convinced myself years ago that I was meant to live in this city – despite never stepping foot there. Ha! Anyone else have one of those places??? Now after visiting, it turns out that my hunch was right! We grabbed a few items from the Hampton’s continental breakfast, then made a quick pit-stop at Philz Coffee before leaving Santa Monica. I love this little coffee chain, which was founded in my brother’s home city of San Francisco. They have many blends to suit all tastes. What sets them apart is the fact that they grind the beans, then immediately brew your single cup of coffee. It really doesn’t get any fresher! The employees are always super friendly as well.

Laguna Beach

The drive along Rt. 1 through Huntington Beach and Newport Beach was absolutely beautiful. After passing through those towns, we made a stop in Laguna Beach. Laguna is roughly the halfway point between Santa Monica and San Diego so it was a good place to stretch our legs. The downtown area is super cute and is dotted with some great restaurants, art galleries and shops. We easily found a metered parking spot on the street by Main Beach and took in the views. If we had more time, I would have loved to stroll through Heisler Park and do some shopping.

Stretched our legs at "Main Beach" in Laguna Beach, one of the stops on our road trip to southern California.
“Main Beach” in the town of Laguna Beach

San Diego

About an hour and a half later, we arrived in San Diego. As luck would have it, our room at the Manchester Grand Hyatt was ready. By far our favorite hotel of the trip, we had an ocean view room on the 22nd floor overlooking the pool and San Diego Bay. The location can’t be beat. It’s located right along the San Diego Bay Walk, an amazing walking path that runs right along the bay. Seaport Village, a collection of shops, restaurants, and art galleries is also right outside the Hyatt’s doorstep. After checking out our room, we headed out to explore the area. 

After getting our fill of the shops at Seaport Village (you’ll find everything from resort wear to hot sauce here), we meandered along the San Diego Bay Walk. We eventually stopped for an appetizer at the San Diego Pier Cafe, which had a beautiful view of the water.

We had seen tons of people on scooters and Josh had been trying hard to convince me to rent a couple. As you would guess, I eventually gave in. I swear, your 90-year old Nana could have beat me in a scooter race. After some heckling from my sweet husband (ha!), I would like to make it known that I did pick up my pace. 🙂 It was a ton of fun zipping (err, crawling) up the Bay Walk and we stopped to take in the sight of the USS Midway. I have to say that it was incredibly impressive. We didn’t go inside the museum but my grandfather was in the Navy during WWII so I always find the sheer size of these ships to be impressive.

USS Midway, San Diego
USS Midway, San Diego
Every road trip to southern California should include riding scooters on the San Diego Bay Walk. It was so much fun!
Riding scooters on the San Diego Bay Walk – so much fun!

We zipped around the waterfront for a little longer and then wandered through the city for a bit. On our walk, we came across the Gaslamp Quarter, which we knew we wanted to check out after dinner. From here, we headed back to our hotel room to clean up.

Your road trip to southern California should not end without a night im San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter.
Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego

We had about an hour before our dinner reservation so we finally had a chance to explore the Hyatt a bit. The property is seriously massive! We ended our little self-tour at Brew 30, located right off of the lobby. They feature a selection of thirty rotating local craft beers, and we each got a flight of samples. That we could try a bunch of different beers that were completely new to us.

Josh and I by the Manchester Grand Hyatt's pool. One of my favorite photos from our road trip to southern California.
Josh and I by the Manchester Grand Hyatt’s pool
Beer flights at Brew 30, San Diego
Beer flights at Brew 30, San Diego

Dinner was right next door to the Hyatt at Puesto at the Headquarters. I’d highly recommend this Mexican restaurant. From the food and drinks to the ambiance and the friendly service, everything was on point. Puesto really made for a memorable first night in San Diego. We ordered the classic guacamole, and I will warn you that it includes chile habaneros, so it was super spicy. But hey, to be expected in San Diego, right? I did ask if we could get the guacamole without the habaneros but was told that they make it in large batches throughout the night. So keep that in mind if you have kids with you, or don’t tolerate spice. I loved that you could mix and match the tacos here – our favorites were the filet mignon, carnitas and quesabirria tacos. We’ll definitely return to San Diego and Puesto will quite possibly be my first order of business.
After dinner we took another walk over to the Gaslamp Quarter, which is known for it’s nightlife. The streets in this neighborhood are lined with pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes. We found everyone to be very friendly and there were tons of pedicabs passing through the streets playing music which made for a fun night. We didn’t stay out too late as we had a lot to see and do tomorrow on our final day of our trip – and once you’re in your late 30’s, a wild and crazy night means staying out until 11:30pm. Ha!

Nighttime view from our room at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego
Nighttime view from our room at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego

Be on the lookout for tomorrow’s final post, where I recap day six and day seven of our road trip to southern California. Here we explored more of San Diego and checked out the gorgeous resort city of Coronado, which is just across the bay. I’ll also share my thoughts on the duration of our trip, to help you with your own planning.

Drop any questions or comments below so that I can help you with your own trip planning!

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California Road Trip: Day 5 in Laguna Beach & San Diego