In November 2020, global travel authority Lonely Planet unveiled its prestigious Best in Travel picks for 2021, reflecting an unprecedented year of disruption in the travel industry. Amid this reimagining, San Diego was singled out as one of the destinations transforming travel for 2021. The Best in Travel list was refocused to showcase transformative travel, which encourages travelers to find authentic and mindful moments during their journeys. In 2021, Lonely Planet was looking at the important changes taking place globally, from sustainability to diversity, and shining a light on the individuals shaping the future of travel. San Diego was recognized as the only city to earn “Best in Travel” in the category of Cultural Diversity.
Judges for Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel awards were drawn to the ways in which different cultures, traditions and voices manifest themselves around San Diego to create a unique destination. From the strong Kumeyaay heritage to the 17 different museums in Balboa Park, the cultural districts of Barrio Logan and Little Saigon, and restaurants representing everywhere from Italy to Ethiopia, Lonely Planet’s experts found new and different ways to explore and connect with every turn in San Diego in 2021.
Attractions and Events
The new Sanford Children’s Zoo at the world-famous San Diego Zoo is slated to open in late 2021. Families will be able to venture through four ecosystems—Desert Dunes, Wild Woods, Marsh Meadows, and Rainforest—and explore communities of wildlife that have unique adaptations for their environment. The remodeled exhibit will provide kids greater opportunities to discover the natural world through play. It is also designed to help children awaken their senses, inspire their creativity, and enhance their empathy for wildlife.
In 2021, families and children of all ages can escape to the streets of Bricksburg at The LEGO Movie World, the newest attraction at LEGOLAND California Resort in Carlsbad. The fun-filled attraction is based on the blockbuster films The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. On the flagship ride, Emmet’s Flying Adventure, guests can hop aboard Emmet’s triple decker flying couch for a thrill-seeking adventure. They can also enjoy the rush of falling from Unikitty’s Disco Drop, explore Benny’s Play Ship, ride a fully reimagined carousel, and meet Emmet and friends in Emmet’s Super Suite apartment.
In 2021, thrill seekers can dangle and drop more than 90 degrees into a dive plunge when riding Emperor, SeaWorld San Diego’s all-new coaster. Soaring more than 60 mph, Emperor is the first, tallest and fastest floorless dive coaster in California. On the hair-raising ride, guests dangle and drop more than 150 feet before plunging 90 degrees into exhilarating loops, a tribute to the Emperor penguins’ journey from chilly, frosted cliffs to their deep dive into the depths of the ocean.
The Breeders’ Cup World Championships returns to the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club on November 5-6, 2021. The Breeders’ Cup is the year-end international championship of horse racing and attracts the best horses and jockeys from around the world. The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, referred to as “Where the Turf Meets the Surf,” is one of the world’s most iconic racing venues, located in Del Mar along San Diego’s scenic North County coastline. The Breeders’ Cup made its successful debut in 2017 in San Diego.
The new Monsaraz hotel will open March 2021 in Point Loma, just steps away from Fisherman’s Landing and San Diego’s vibrant sportfishing industry. Part of the Tapestry Collection by Hilton, the 92-room property’s design is influenced by midcentury modern architecture combined with the unique attributes of Point Loma’s historic Portuguese heritage. Guests can enjoy Westerly Public House serving Australian-Californian cuisine and Barista Bar featuring local Dark Horse Coffee. The Monsaraz offers 4,870 square-feet of meeting space. Amenities include an outdoor interior courtyard, overlook bar and fitness center.
The Westin San Diego Gaslamp Quarter in downtown completed a $17 million refresh in late 2020. The hotel’s 442 rooms and 8 suites boast a fresh, new look with features that include the Westin Heavenly Bed 2.0, 55” TV and a dining table for two, perfect for enjoying local takeout. The new lobby reflects a resort-style aesthetic with an open concept layout into the new Pinzimini Restaurant and Bar serving Southern California cuisine with a hint of Baja influence. For outdoor recreation, the rooftop pool was revitalized with new furnishings and artwork, and a new Sun Deck opened on the rooftop Garden Terrace with outdoor games including yard pong, chess, table tennis, and more.
Arts and Culture
The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) La Jolla campus is slated to reopen in fall 2021 after completing a major expansion project. MCASD La Jolla recently announced its first special exhibition, Niki de Saint Phalle in the 1960s, opening spring 2022. The exhibition is the first to focus on the experimental and prolific work of French American artist Niki de Saint Phalle (1930–2002) during this pivotal decade, from the artist’s shooting paintings to the exuberant sculptures of women known as Nanas. The exhibition will feature numerous works from European collections, many seen in the U.S. for the first time. Niki de Saint Phalle in the 1960s will be on view at the Menil Collection in Houston before traveling to San Diego. Saint Phalle has a notable and personal relationship with San Diego. Today, Saint Phalle’s work can be seen in various San Diego museums and public spaces including the Mingei International Museum, the U.C.S.D. Stuart Collection, the San Diego Convention Center, Balboa Park, San Diego Waterfront Park and Queen Califia’s Magical Circle in Escondido, her only major sculpture garden in the U.S.
In 2021, guests will find a variety of exciting new offerings in Balboa Park, the 1,200-acre cultural heart of San Diego and a National Historic Landmark. The historic Balboa Park Carousel, which has delighted children of all ages since arriving to Balboa Park around 1922, received a full makeover to return the popular family ride to its original glory. The 1910 Herschell-Spillman menagerie carousel is one of a few in the world still offering the brass ring game for everyone taking the 5-minute ride. The House of Pacific Relations International Cottages is adding five new structures to house nine more cultural groups including Chamorro, India, Korea, Mexico, Palestine, Panama, Peru, Philippines, and Turkey. Housed in historic cottages built for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition, the House of Pacific Relations represents 32 countries around the globe and promotes multicultural goodwill and understanding through educational and cultural programs throughout the year.
A new observation platform was installed around the historic Moreton Bay Fig tree, located between the Spanish Village Art Center and San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park. The iconic tree is the largest of the Ficus macrophylla represented in the park and one of the three largest Moreton Bay Fig trees found in California. A native of east Australia, the tree was planted as a small tree in a garden of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and has grown into a magnificent giant over the past 105 years. The observation platform is free and open to the public. Located near the new Comic-Con Museum (opening summer 2021) at the southwestern end of Balboa Park, the Palisades area has been renewed into a new pedestrian-friendly plaza and green space. The plaza features seating and tables, grassy lawns and a central space for a proposed future water feature that will reflect the Palisade’s original look when it was first developed for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition.
Restaurants, Breweries and Bars
In late 2020, the eco-friendly “Acre of Awesome,” a 40,000 square-foot multi-concept dining and imbibing destination, debuted in San Diego’s vibrant Barrio Logan neighborhood. Set in the historic Fraser’s Boiler Service building, the sustainability-driven project, which includes the existing award-winning Thorn Brewing Co., launched with the opening of ReBru Spirits, a micro-distillery producing small-batch vodka, gin and whiskey exclusively derived from excess craft beer. Also opened in the venue was Sideyard BBQ by HottMess, an all-outdoor restaurant serving up authentic Texas-style smoked BBQ and craft cocktails. HottMess Woodfired Pizza is slated to open in April 2021 and will offer wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizza featuring a proprietary dough recipe that incorporates spent grain from Thorn Brewing Co. Additional concepts are also planned within the space.
Opened January 2021, La Taverna is a new Italian restaurant in trendy Hillcrest. The restaurant is inspired by native Italians from Rome and Sicily who share a passion for telling their artisanal Italian food story with the perfect wine or beer pairing. Guests can enjoy a selection of house made pastas, dishes made from scratch, woodfire brick oven pizzas, desserts, and more, all made with organic ingredients. There are also vegan and gluten-free options on the menu. La Taverna is open daily.
Under the helm of celebrated San Diego chef and James Beard Award semifinalist Claudette Zepeda, VAGA Restaurant & Bar will open in March 2021 in the new Alila Marea Beach Resort Encinitas. Named after Zepeda’s childhood nickname, VAGA will invite guests to experience the convergence of San Diego’s rich and diverse cultures through Zepeda’s vibrant cuisine. Her commitment to responsible sourcing will be revealed through a menu that showcases the simplicity of California cooking. The beverage program will maintain seasonality and integrate ingredients from the dining menu, featuring rotating signature cocktails, local microbrewers and a wine list carefully curated with thoughtful selections of natural wines utilizing grapes from low intervention/biodynamic vineyards.
Ember & Rye is a new dining venue opening in spring 2021 in the Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad. Under the helm of acclaimed chef, restauranteur, author, and television personality Richard Blais, the new culinary experience will specialize in vintage steaks and fresh seafood. Playful and colorful décor will give the space a modern-day country club feel, while a mix of vibrant colors and quirky, bold patterns will create a sense of west coast nostalgia.
Southern-style eatery Louisiana Charlies is slated to open in spring 2021 in Seaport Village along downtown’s scenic Embarcadero. The new venue will serve up mouth-watering barbecue and authentic Creole and Cajun dishes like Jambalaya, Gumbo and PoBoy sandwiches along with many seafood options including oysters, crab legs, jumbo shrimp, clams, and more. Louisiana Charlie’s will provide indoor and outdoor dining with a unique Mardi Gras-themed atmosphere.
Mike Hess Brewing, one of San Diego’s popular craft breweries, and beloved taqueria collective, City Tacos, are partnering to bring local craft beers and innovative, delicious Mexican bites to Seaport Village. Slated to open in spring 2021, the 20-tap tasting room and full-service restaurant will boast plenty of outdoor patio seating along downtown’s scenic Embarcadero.
Renowned hot pot restaurant Haidilao will open in summer 2021 at Westfield UTC in La Jolla. Haidilao is known for its traditional Chinese hot pot originating from China’s Sichuan Province and offers fresh ingredients along with an extensive bar of condiments to create your own dipping sauce.
San Diego International Airport – Flights, Art and Accolades
San Diego International Airport (SAN) added daily, non-stop service to New York via John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) on Alaska Airlines beginning April 4, 2021. Alaska Airlines joins three other airlines that also provide non-stop service to JFK.
San Diego International Airport (SAN) is adding non-stop service to Missoula, Montana via Missoula International Airport (MSO) on Alaska Airlines beginning March 11, 2021.
San Diego International Airport (SAN) added non-stop service to Fort Lauderdale, Florida via Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport (FLL) on Alaska Airlines starting November 21, 2020. Flights operate three times weekly.
San Diego International Airport (SAN) added daily non-stop service to Honolulu, Hawaii via Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) on Southwest Airlines starting November 4, 2020. This is the first time Southwest has provided daily, non-stop service from SAN to Hawaii.
San Diego International Airport (SAN) added winter seasonal non-stop service to Cancun, Mexico via Cancun International Airport (CUN) on Alaska Airlines starting November 21, 2020. Flights operate four times weekly through April 12, 2021.
San Diego International Airport (SAN) announced the return of the non-stop flights to Tokyo, Japan via Narita International Airport (NRT) on Japan Airlines starting March 2, 2021. Flights operate threetimes weekly and were suspended in April 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of the San Diego International Airport (SAN) Arts Program, passengers and guests can enjoy the latest work of art by local artist Aaron Glasson in its Admiral Boland Way mural series, Plein Air Port. The 144-foot-long piece by Glasson combines imagery of San Diego’s varied landscape and unique airport architecture, blended with bold abstraction. The work is scheduled to remain on display through 2021 and is accessible to the public from SAN’s interior roadway, Admiral Boland Way.
San Diego International Airport (SAN) has achieved Airports Council International’s (ACI) World’s Airport Health Accreditation for its “Let’s Go Safely” program which prioritizes the health and safety of passengers, employees and the community through a number of modifications and improvements at the airport. Since March 2020, SAN has implemented several health and safety modifications throughout the terminals, Rental Car Center, Parking Plaza, and Airport Authority administration building. The modifications and protocols include increased cleaning of high touch points, electrostatic spraying, signage on preventive health measures, floor decals and seat separation signage to queue six-foot social distance, hand sanitizer stations, Plexiglas sneeze guards in certain public spaces, and facial coverings required on all airport property.
Happiness is calling you back to San Diego. For more information on San Diego’s offerings, including exciting vacation packages and valuable coupons for attractions, restaurants and more, visit the San Diego Tourism Authority’s website at www.sandiego.org. For safe, healthy travel while in our destination, we encourage you to follow the guidance of our Safe Traveler Pledge.