Japanese Garden

San Diego has a lot to offer for individual or family travel. It is particularly family-friendly as it offers an eclectic mix of things to do for all types of family. You have SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Safari Park, Balboa Park, Museums, et al. Our most recent trip was to San Diego during the 2021 Holiday Season. This wasn’t a particularly long get-away, but nevertheless a much needed break from LA. We only stayed for 3 nights this time around. Keep in mind, it’s still the pandemic and we had to take the necessary precautions. Despite the pandemic, San Diego is an amazing city with much to offer to all travelers.


We stayed at The US Grant, a Luxury Collection Hotel, San Diego. If you have an American Express Platinum card, this hotel falls under their Hotel Collection so you will get the benefits of American Express with the $100 resort credit, complimentary upgrades to your room, early check-in & late check-out.

Located in the heart of Downtown San Diego, there are many reasons to appreciate this hotel. Hotel in Downtown. Nestled in San Diego’s historic and vibrant Gaslamp Quarter, the hotel provides an ideal location from which to explore the city. It should be noted that The US Grant is a historical landmark and was last renovated in 2014.

Here’s what we loved about The US Grant:

  • Concierge Service: We typically rely on the concierge to make meaningful recommendations based on our family size and travel preferences.
  • Location Location Location: We loved the location as it was near most venues. It was only 15 minutes from Sea World. In fact, we carelessly forgot the stroller at the hotel. My wife was able to return to the hotel and return within 45 minutes while I was on some of the rides with the kids. Balboa Park is also about a 15 minute drive. Of course you have the Gaslamp Quarter, which has plenty of eateries and dining options. Just click on this link to explore your options.
  • General Service: Customer Service was great. Despite some issues we had with the faucet and phone not working, management was very responsive. I would give them 5 stars.

Here’s what we didn’t love about The US Grant:

  • Rooms: We booked the Deluxe, Guest room, 2 Queen for a family of 5. The toddle sleeps with us, so we don’t need an additional room. However, the room did seem a bit small compared to other luxury hotels we’ve stayed at. Also, the room did appear a bit dated. Granted (no pun intended), it was renovated in 2014, but we did feel that the upgrades were not sufficient. There were some repair items and they were addressed by the hotel within hours which was great.
  • Grant Hill Restaurant: I would say the food was above average and the service was great. The cost not so much. Try orderingTea and Bread for a few people.
  • Valet: Valet was about $52/day. A bit pricey, but service was great. $52 plus tips is no chump change, but then again you are staying at a luxury hotel.


Our initial plan was to stay for 4 nights, but our toddler caught the bug and we figured it was best to return home early to ensure he got the rest and attention needed. So our trip to San Diego ended up being 3 days, but 2 full days of travel. Here we go!

Day 1: Drove from Los Angeles to San Diego. We drove directly to our hotel, The US Grant. Since our hotel was near the Gaslamp District, we took a stroll out to get a bite to eat. We are picky eaters and always try to find restaurants that serve quality food with sustainable ingredients. We came across Pushkin Russian Restaurant. Overall, the food was favorable and the ambiance was cozy. If you haven’t had Russian food, you will likely enjoy the dishes here. If you are a foodie and more critical than the average diner, it may not meet your standards. Oftentimes it just depends what you order. It is not an affordable restaurant if price is a factor. You will be splurging. Bon apetite.

2Pushkin Russian Restaurant

Day 2: The morning started with breakfast at the Grant Grill restaurant at the US Grant Hotel. Overall, it’s a great restaurant, but definitely pricey. Because of the American Express Platinum credit card, we get 2 complimentary breakfast daily. Not a bad incentive if you consider the cost of 2 meals daily for several days.

Breakfast at Grant Grill Restaurant at the US Grant Hotel

After breakfast, we ventured off to SeaWorld San Diego, only 15 minutes from our hotel. I have only positive things to say about SeaWorld. If you haven’t visited SeaWorld San Diego, you must go. There are slew of things to do. It’s great for the whole family and especially memorable during the holidays. Also, I recommend you download the SeaWorld app from the Apple or Google Store. A very well developed app that helps you easily navigate the park. It even tracks your whereabouts in the park so it’s easy to find family and friends who may be wandering the park on their own.

SeaWorld will take your entire day. Enjoy the park and return to your hotel or place of lodging and rest.

Day 3: One of the best attractions in San Diego is Balboa Park. It’s a massive playground with a variety of museums and entertainment. You can easily spend a couple of days just taking in the different elements based on your preference. We were limited on time and it did rain the latter part of the day. There is a bus that picks you up and drops you off at the various parking lots. Here’s our top attractions at Balboa Park.

  1. Japanese Friendship Garden – If you want to experience serenity, I recommend visiting this garden. The mission of the Japanese Friendship Garden Society of San Diego (JFG) is to educate, engage, and inspire people of diverse backgrounds about Japanese culture and community legacy.There is an entrance fee, but absolutely worthwhile. If you’ve actually visited Japan, this garden may not necessarily have the same impact as being in Japan, but it’s a massive garden and worth a visit with the kids. Our kids loved the garden. There is also a cafe managed by the garden that has authentic Japanese snacks and food.
Japanese Friendship Garden – 12/21

There are lots of amazing areas in the Garden to take memorable pictures with the family. Here are some with the family. Because of the holidays, there was an oversized bear posing as Santa Claus.

Japanese Friendship Garden – 12/21

2. Balboa Park– As I mentioned above, once you’re in Balboa Park, you can easily spend the entire day visiting the museums and galavanting in the park. I do recommend split the day in 2 parks. Visit this link and plan out your time. I don’t want to regurgitate all the great information already available. If you’re there at the right time, you can listen to some great music. We were fortunate to listen to JB Saxx on the Saxaphone.

You can also eat at Prado Restaurant in the park. It’s a Mexican restaurant with great outdoor seating. If the weather permits, sit outside.

Final Comments

San Diego has a lot to offer if you have more time. We had more planned, but we had to curtail our trip significantly. However, here are some additional attractions that we highly recommend:

You can visit the USS Midway Museum, University of California, San Diego, the San Diego Harbor, City of La Jolla, take a day trip to Tijuana Mexico, Whale Watch, visit the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park, and more. We love San Diego and make it a plan to visit since it’s only 2.5 hours south of Los Angeles. Enjoy and feel free to share you experiences below.

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