Who doesn’t love to feel like they’re flying?
It’s such an odd sensation to look out across the horizon feeling like you have wings but your feet are still on the ground.
San Diego has lots of opportunities, both natural and man-made, with a new addition that just re-opened in time for the Balboa Park Centennial Celebration. This is the first post featuring urban viewpoints and most serve alcohol. Family option: Visit them during the daylight hours when you’re looking for what to see in San Diego.
What to see in San Diego: Skyscraper, Tower and Rooftop Views
There’s a bit of a rivalry on the downtown waterfront with two hotel rooftop lounges considering themselves tops. Numbers are hard to dispute but for the best view, it’s a matter of what you’re looking for.
1. Altitude Sky Lounge: At the top of the San Diego Marriott in the Gaslamp Quarter, 22 stories above street level, the Altitude Sky Lounge offers full views of downtown, the San Diego Bay and Petco park. It’s been named as one of the “Top 50 Bars” in the world by Conde Nast Magazine and the “#1 Rooftop Bar” in the Western United States by Sunset Magazine. A swanky environment for the cocktail crowd there are happy hour specials Monday through Friday and all day Sunday.
2. Top of the Hyatt: At 40 stories high there’s little to argue about being the tallest waterfront hotel in the region. The Manchester Grand Hyatt hosts the Top of the Hyatt bar with views that stun you the moment the elevator opens. It’s a quieter atmosphere than the Altitude Sky Lounge and the drinks are pricey. Get a table near the window and marvel that you’re still technically on the ground. I’ve been there for a birthday cocktail and another time with my teenage son for the view and a soda with friendly service and unparalleled vistas.
3. Bertrand’s at Mister A’s: When you climb up from downtown to Bankers Hill you’re in a completely different atmosphere. The classic service at Bertand’s at Mister A’s is a treat for lunch or dinner. During the day from this 12th floor you can survey all of the San Diego Harbor but the greatest rush is watching airplanes swooping low as they come in from the East to land at Lindberg Field. It’s not every day you’re eye level with a flying jet. No wonder it was recently featured by Gayot.com for MSN as one of the Top 10 Penthouse Restaurants in the United States and Open Dinners chose it as the 2009 Best Scenic View.
4. California Tower at the San Diego Museum of Man (Balboa Park): For the first time since 1935 visitors are welcomed to climb 200 feet, 125 steps (8 stories!) to see spectacular views. From the tower you can look across the treetops of Balboa Park in every direction. Tickets are necessary for a scheduled 40 minute tour and climb. There’s also a safety waiver to sign and a safety briefing but its worth the opportunity to spend 10 – 15 minutes at the top. As the Tower has just re-opened in January 2015 be sure to reserve in advance, especially on weekends.
5. Porta Vista Hotel: Head north to Little Italy and up the hill to admire the Marina view from the Glass Door Restaurant. Just off the tourist path, the Porta Vista Hotel is set on the hillside with expansive window views that seem much loftier than their four stories. Parking can be a hard to find in the neighborhood but use the hotel garage for two hours with free validation. Above the restaurant is a large deck for guests and special events, although there’s often a TGIF happy hour weekly. SanDiego.com recognizes the Porto Vista Hotel as an Editor’s Choice downtown Little Italy San Diego urban hotel.
6.. Hotel La Jolla: Perched on the hill north of the crowds in La Jolla Village is the recently refurbished Kimpton Hotel La Jolla. The mid-century rectangular slab style shouldn’t deter a visit as the interiors are urban fresh and it’s a pet friendly space. The view magic waits on the top floor in the Cusp bar and restaurant. Watch the sunset while sipping or enjoy white table cloth dining. The Ladies room view makes washing your hands an artful experience too!
7. La Valencia Hotel: Set along the Prospect Road line up of art galleries, designer clothing stores and restaurants is the Spanish Colonial La Valencia Hotel. Step into the ‘Pink Lady’ and through the lobby to the La Sala Lounge where small tables and couches wait near a grand piano (it springs to life most weeknights around 6:30 and if you’re lucky a baritone will treat you to arias and show tunes.) Get there well before sunset to settle in and admire the view across the La Jolla Bay.
Perhaps you’ve visited San Diego and found a few other rooftop views to enjoy? Share your list of what to see in San Diego. Comments welcomed.
Next week: What to see in San Diego – Natural highs and hikes.
Great idea for a blog post, Elaine! I’ve been to the California Tower, and that was quite enjoyable. I’m always looking for a great view, so I’ll have to check out some of these. One you didn’t mention is the views from the relatively new library in downtown San Diego, close to the baseball stadium.
Great idea, Tami, to include the new library. I think that I wrote this while looking for rooftop happy hours! Would love to sneak a flask into the tower or the library deck!!
I’ve never been to San Diego, but love the high perspective you have given us to visit. I’ve started exploring Boston from high buildings with rooftop access. It really gives you a different overview!
You’re fortunate to be in Boston too. I had a lovely cocktail at one of the highest hotels in Boston last year. San Diego views are shorter but still thrilling.
Thanks! Explore away. I love that too-across town or the world.
I love this post because I love being up high! Getting to a high area to see the city from above is the thing I have to do everywhere I travel.
I love the tall perspectives too. Hope you can visit San Diego soon & see for yourself.
I am so impressed with your creative spin on San Diego. Well done!!
Thanks, Marilyn, Your kind words are so appreciated.
What great suggestions for San Diego views! One of my favorite views in S.D. is from the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla, http://travelswithcarole.blogspot.com/2014/11/sights-to-see-museum-of-contemporary.html
I love that Museum too & looking across to Children’Pool.
These look like dreamy spots to take in some great bird’s eye views of San Diego :-). The Valencia Hotel sounds nice for some music to accompany the sunset…
The Valencia is one classy joint. Haven’t stayed there but I hear the rooms are lovely. Locals do like to stop by for the happy hour concerts.
Great blog, Elaine! As an SD native, Mister A’s and Top of the Hyatt were always my top places to take visiting friends for a bird’s eye glimpse of our beautiful city. I was so excited to read the California Tower is open for tours! To add San Diego North to the mix, my share is the rooftop pool at the SpringHill Suites by Marriott in Oceanside.
Hi Dana, So glad to see you here. I’m with you and can’t wait to visit the California Tower. When I get a North County view list together I’ll definitely check out the Marriott in Oceanside.
So cool to have a drone for pictures. I’ve loved seeing fireworks from that perspective last Fourth of July. It gives you so many new ways to explore. The rest of us will have to set vertigo aside and keep climbing.
Not rooftop, but I remember being at the northern edge of Little Italy directly under the approach to the airport- you could fill the wind from the plane in your hair. A bit daunting! Love SD! Great views from the Coronado Bridge!
You are so right about the Coronado Bridge and I considered adding it. There’s been talk of adding a walking platform which would make it easy to stop to take in the bay and city from that sweep over the water. I’ve been in that area of Little Italy too, where the planes cross just overhead, and it takes some getting used to!
Great info! I’m ashamed to say I’ve never visited San Diego before, but now I have a new place to add to my list! 🙂 It’s so nice to connect with you and we LOVE your blog!
Thanks so much! It’s great to be connected and your kind words make my day.
I love climbing and climbing for views. I’ll forward this to my San Diego niece. p.s. We just climbed the Duomo, the Bell Tower, Orsanmichele, and the Palazzo Vecchio tower in Florence. All unique views!
Kristin, Your adventures (and climbs) are just inspiring. Hope you can come visit San Diego sometime soon.
This looks like a fantastic city to visit. We would definitely be heading to the Sky Lounge – we seem to like taking photos of skylines so this would give us a perfect opportunity. 🙂
San Diego’s lovely in so many ways. Makes returning from my travels so much easier!
I was in San Diego in November 2013, but didn’t find any views quite as good as these. 🙂
Next time and I’ll keep hunting for new rooftop hangouts.
Have never been to the US but would love to one of these days..
I am always a fan on rooftop bars or places with great views of the city!
I hope you can visit one day and I’ll keep adding to the list.
What great views.
Thanks, Leigh, they are and fun too 😉
Cool idea to capture the SD rooftop scene! I stayed at the Gaslamp Marriott last year and thought Altitude was fun. Love the airplane shots… it’s always an interesting city to land in!
You’re right about it being an interesting city to land in. San Diego and landing in Ketchikan can be nailbiters.
These all look like great spots with great views. I’m not sure which one I’d pick if I only time for one grand view.
You’ll just have to spend more time when you return to San Diego, Donna!
Never thought of checking out the views from atop the buildings in San Diego. We certainly will next time, thanks.
I hope you get a chance to visit soon. Thanks.
Loved these photos. Seeing the airplanes approach through what looks to be the city (but is more about the optical illusion) is memorable the first time you do. San Diego has so many perfect things about it. 🙂
Watching the airplanes approach the runway is pretty startling anyplace in downtown San Diego. Darn right distracting when they fly over the freeway!
It sure is! Especially when they’re directly overhead.
Nice perspectives. A little north of SD, I love the cliff top view in La Jolla of Billionaire’s Row.
I’ve never heard of that cliff top view being called Billionaire’s Row but it’s the perfect monkier. Next week I’m including trails and hikes with lofty views and may use your title. Thanks!