San Diego’s Pacific Beach has a split personality. On the ocean side, the energy is as pumped up as the surf during a southwest swell. Play in the waves, wander Crystal Pier or join the cyclists, skaters and pedestrians who cruise the three-mile stretch of boardwalk linking Pacific Beach and Mission Beach. But cross Mission Boulevard, the main drag, to Mission Bay, and it’s a different story. Crowds are sparse, and the mood is as calm as the water. Take a leisurely bike ride on the uncrowded path that circles the bay, rent a kayak or bliss out in a paddleboard yoga class. My husband, daughter and I enjoyed both sides of Pacific Beach in the fall. The tab: $800 for a two-night stay at Tower 23 Hotel and about $250 for meals.
Tower 23 brought splurge-worthy modern luxury to the boardwalk when it opened in 2005. Our bright and airy ocean-view room overlooked a rooftop patio with chaise longues, a wading pool and fire pit. At night, the surf lulled us to sleep, and in the morning we watched surfers compete for waves off the pier while sipping coffee on our balcony. Complimentary beach cruisers made getting around fun and easy.
Tower 23’s JRDN, which got a fresh look and menu shortly after our stay, is one of the swankiest restaurants on the boardwalk. But casual eateries — many with a lively, beach-party vibe — rule here. Our quest for a quieter, low-key dinner led us a couple of blocks inland to the Fishery, a local favorite for fresh seafood. My fish and chips — a house specialty — lived up to its reputation, and my husband loved his seasonal lobster served with rice, beans and tortillas. For breakfast, we skipped the long line at Kono’s Cafe, a popular spot at the foot of the pier, and headed to Isabel’s Cantina for delicious Latin-Asian comfort food. Don’t miss the breakfast tamales.
At Belmont Park, adrenaline junkies can ride the historic Giant Dipper, one of two remaining wooden roller coasters on the West Coast. If shopping gets your heart thumping, Pangaea Outpost has an eclectic array of jewelry, clothing and knickknacks from indie merchants.
THE LESSON LEARNED
Pacific Beach has numerous hotels and vacation rentals for a range of tastes and budgets. They include the charming retro cottages at Crystal Pier Hotel. Book early if you want to score one.
Tower 23 Hotel, 723 Felspar St., San Diego; (858) 270-2323. Rooms from about $230. Two wheelchair-accessible rooms.
The Fishery, 5040 Cass St., San Diego; (858) 272-9985. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.Wheelchair-accessible.
Isabel’s Cantina, 966 Felspar St., San Diego; (858) 272-8400. Open 8 a.m.-3 p.m. daily for breakfast and lunch; 5-10 p.m. for dinner Thursdays-Saturdays. Wheelchair-accessible.
The city of San Diego provides free manual or power beach wheelchairs at Mission Bay and Mission Beach. San Diego Beach Wheelchair Line, (619) 525-8247
The Pacific Beach lifeguard tower, 700 Ocean Blvd., provides wheelchair mats for easy access to the beach.