Shark Diving and More Highlights of San Diego, California Vacation

California is full of adventure, what seems like constant sunshine due to its proximity to the Equator giving it a Mediterranean-like climate, stunning natural landscapes and wildlife.

Although there is plenty to do in the San Diego area before and after this excursion that we’ll mention, the thing that originally pulled me in was that there are only four places in the entire world where you’re guaranteed to see great whites and one of them is with a company based out of San Diego, California, Shark Diver (1451 Rosecrans St, San Diego).


Getting ready to swim with sharks in California
Getting ready to swim with sharks in California (Photo via Jessica Kelly)

An adventure like this does start with a fairly in-depth planning process that they guide you through, involving paperwork, special insurance, and any preparation to getting on the boat and heading into Mexico. The team at Shark Diver is incredible. I worked with Cindy and she guided me through the process flawlessly and was very responsive whenever I had random questions. Be sure to check into the Covid protocols at the time of your trip.

For our group, a Covid test (it could be rapid) was needed within a week of getting on the boat, and the entire group was tested again when we arrived at Hotel Coral Y Marina (Carr. Tijuana-Ensenada Km.103-#3421, Zona Playitas, 22860 Ensenada, B.C., Mexico).

The day you leave for the excursion, you will meet at The Monsaraz San Diego, Tapestry Collection by Hilton (1451 Rosecrans St, San Diego). Once the group gathers and gets acquainted with each other, you’ll split up into two vans and head about two hours over the Mexican border where you’ll go through customs, scan your bags, and have your passport stamped. After about a two hour drive, the group will reconvene at a hotel in Mexico at Hotel Coral Y Marina where everyone will have a safe place to store their luggage so you can grab something to eat, get a glass of local wine, walk around near the marina, and get to know the rest of the group.

You will most likely be there for a couple of hours because they like to accommodate for any holdups at the border. Once everything‘s ready and all the Covid test results are back, they will tag and bring your luggage onto the boat for you so all you have to do is get excited and head to the pier! Once on the boat, you’ll meet the staff at Nautilus Dive Adventures (who greeted us with champagne, cheese, and freshly made sushi) including the chef on board, the deckhands, the stewardesses, and the captain.

It takes nearly 20 hours to get to Guadalupe Island where the great white sharks are, so they’ll let you get a good night’s sleep after introductions and a light snack. The following day, while you’re still sailing out to the island, is filled with safety procedures, cage diving protocols, and relaxing on the boat before arriving to the island at around dinner time (generally around 5 or 6 PM).

Early in the morning, generally around 5:45 AM, the deckhands perform what they’ve named “the great tuna massacre” where they take out a chainsaw and cut up huge tunas to use as bait to attract the sharks in the area to our boat. After that, cages open up at 6:30 AM and stay open until around 6 PM. for the 3 days we’re anchored at the island.

To say this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience is a complete understatement. I’m fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to swim with blue sharks off the coast of Narragansett, Rhode Island with Snappa Fishing & Diving, and bull and silky sharks off the coast of Jupiter, Florida with Florida Shark Diving. Although those experiences were magnificent, nothing could’ve prepared me for the breathtaking size of these great whites, peering into the cage at us close enough to touch.

With some coming in at around 16 feet in length and thick, size is just incredible to witness, let alone seeing them interact with each other, breach, and bite at the bait, getting a close up view of their shark teeth. We would come out of the cage blue because it was too easy to lose track of time down there watching these amazing animals. If you’re dive certified (you don’t need to be for this trip), you’ll even have the opportunity to go in a submerged cage, observing the sharks swimming below.

Shark diving off the coast of California
Shark diving off the coast of California (Photo via Jessica Kelly)

Not only was actually watching the sharks spectacular, but the Nautilus staff created an experience like no other. You get out of the water, freezing in your wetsuit, pop the respirator out of your mouth and your goggles off and they would be there immediately to greet you with a piping hot cup of coffee or hot chocolate. All of the meals prepared by the chef were absolutely spectacular with delicious salmon dishes, ribeye steak, a taco night party with this incredible poblano cheese sauce that I need the recipe for, and so much more. They even had a continental and a hot breakfast available daily depending on your preferences with snacks, soft drinks, water, tea, coffee, and cocoa available throughout the day. They were so attentive, friendly, energetic and fun!

If you’re fortunate enough to go on a trip that has a Marine Conservation Science Institute researcher on the trip, do yourself a favor and grab a spot on that excursion. We were lucky to have Nicole Nasby-Lucas on board, who would go over the sharks that we saw each night, their names, how to identify the differences between each shark so we knew what we were seeing, and we even had the opportunity to make a donation and name a new male or female shark seen this year.

Your time here will absolutely fly by, so be sure to soak in all of the special memories that come with this trip. We were all at different stages in life, some were solo travelers, some were couples, and some were family. It was just amazing to be around a group of people who love to feed their adventurous souls. It’s truly, I can’t say this enough, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The Lodge at Torrey Pines
The Lodge at Torrey Pines (Photo via Jessica Kelly)

The Lodge at Torrey Pines

11480 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla;

While in San Diego, Torrey Pines is the perfect place to stay, with stunning views of the Pacific. The AAA Five Diamond, award-winning luxury resort has a golf course, an outdoor pool, a beautiful hot tub, and views of the coast. Be sure to have a meal onsite at A.R. Valentien (11480 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla) where you can enjoy Ahi Tuna Carpaccio and Roman Style Liberty Duck Breast and Confit Leg. Nearby you can take a guided hike through the Torrey Pines Natural Reserve (12600 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla) above the state beach with beautiful landscapes and wildlife. They’re also right near the Torrey Pines Gliderport (2800 Torrey Pines Scenic Dr, La Jolla), where you can experience a tandem paragliding experience, weather permitting.

Hotel Solamar

435 Sixth Ave, San Diego;

With the Shark Diving experience, it’s good to spend a few days in San Diego before and after the trip, to experience the area but also to be safe timewise. This being said, try a different hotel after the trip like Hotel Solamar. In the East Village Gaslamp Quarter, the Hotel Solamar gives off urban vibes and is nearby some of the best nightlife and restaurants. The night I arrived, I popped the window open and heard salsa music from their rooftop bar where I could see couples dancing and enjoying the music.

Parakeet Café La Jolla
Parakeet Café La Jolla (Photo via Jessica Kelly)

Civico by the Park

2550 Fifth Ave UNIT 120, San Diego;

Civico’s fresh and authentic Italian food was to die for, with homemade pasta, short ribs, and even some light vegan and gluten-free options, prioritizing sustainability. They pull a lot of seasonal and locally grown ingredients into their food whenever possible and even have aperol spritz on tap. My kind of place!

The Med

1132 Prospect St, La Jolla;

The Med, inside La Valencia Hotel, has a smaller menu with all of the right things. The steak was perfectly cooked, accompanied by these amazing cheesy potatoes filled with locally sourced fresh ingredients. Definitely save room for dessert here, anything chocolate, like their orange chocolate tart, is phenomenal especially when paired with their frothy espresso martini for a little pick-me-up.

Parakeet Café La Jolla

927 Silverado St, La Jolla;

The Parakeet Café was just another level when it comes to taste, and quite frankly I hate to be so basic, but it’s just so Instagramable. From the interior design, to the blue mint drinks and lavender lattes, to the beet cured salmon and freshly baked bread, they have something for everyone. Whether you have restrictions, follow a specific diet like vegan, keto, paleo, gluten-free, or you eat anything, they have a variety of options for you.

Puesto at The Headquarters

789 W Harbor Dr Suite 155, San Diego;

If you love margaritas and tacos, this place is a must. Their margaritas included freshly squeezed juices like the mango, pineapple, watermelon, cucumber juice in their Fruit Cart margarita with Patrón blanco tequila, chamoy, and a Tajín rim. Pair that with some of their specialty tacos like the Quesabirria with crispy melted cheese, braised short rib, Jalisco salsa, pickled radish, and classic guacamole, the Lobster Taco, and the Baja Fish taco with crispy Puesto beer-battered local line-caught fish, shredded cabbage, classic guacamole, crema, and Morita salsa.

Breakfast Republic

707 G St, San Diego;

This definitely isn’t a place you want to go if you’re on a diet because their breakfast is rich and sweet. Their coffee is over the top in the best way, like their Salted Caramel Latte, and they even have pancakes and french toast flights. You can choose three, I went with the pancakes, like the Upside Down Pineapple Pancake, the Cinnamon Bun Pancake, and the Lemon Coconut Pancake. Definitely save room for their Jurassic Pork, one of their specialties, including some seriously thick-cut bacon. It was certainly heavy and rich, but a delicious treat.

In-N-Out Burger

While in town, especially if you’re from the East Coast like me, In-N-Out Burger is a must try. Definitely just stick with a traditional order if it’s your first time, like their Classic Burger and Animal Style Fries. Add a Strawberry Shake for a little something sweet to go with all that salty, and you’ll have a great meal.

George’s at the Cove

1250 Prospect St, La Jolla;

Georges at the Cove has a beautiful interior vibe, with absolutely stunning views of La Jolla Cove, overlooking the pelicans and the seals swimming while you’re dining. Not only is the view worth it alone, but the food is incredible. Some of the best gazpacho I’ve ever had and you really can’t beat those views of the Pacific Ocean and the wildlife.

Flightline Safari at San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Flightline Safari at San Diego Zoo Safari Park (Photo via Jessica Kelly)

Experience Flightline Safari at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd, Escondido;

In addition to paragliding mentioned under Torrey Pines, be sure to check out the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. It’s separate from the actual San Diego Zoo, but I was so impressed by the exhibit size and experiences, one being the Flightline Safari where guests can zipline over rhinos, giraffes, antelope and more 130 feet in the air. On the safari, there’s really no hiking or intense skill involved. Even on the actual zipline, it’s designed so you’re practically sitting in a seat, so you can just observe and enjoy.

Explore the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

After the Flightline Safari experience, be sure to explore the rest of the park. It’s huge and easy to spend hours here. The Africa Exhibit has a free trolley that you can take to view the giraffes, rhinos, and other animals up close from below. I love the huge exhibits these animals get to coexist in. Too often, these sizable animals end up in compact spaces at zoos and although it’s fun to see the animals, at times it can be a little depressing. Here they have acres and acres to roam around in. You can see them at the watering holes, eating out of trees, and walking around, exploring. The rest of the park has some really amazing exhibits, too, like elephants and a platypus exhibit in the Australian Walkabout. You can even go into this section of the Australian Walkabout where you’re coexisting with wallabies, kangaroos, and birds. Obviously you don’t want to touch them, but they’re free-roaming around while you’re walking on the path. These animals have so much space, and that alone was incredible to see.

Explore Balboa Park

1549 El Prado, San Diego;

When I was going to explore Balboa Park, I expected to see just that, a park with greenery, maybe some gardens. This park is filled with live music, street vendors selling everything from crafts and guided meditations, to churros and tamales. There were street performers, museums, huge beautiful fountains, and so much to explore and look at while walking around, including the stunning architecture that will transport you to Spain.

Everyday California

2261 Avenida De La Playa, La Jolla;

The guided kayaking cave tour by Everyday California is an incredible way to see the seven sea caves up close and personal. We were there on a bit of a rough day, so it was hard to get close, but on calm days you can actually go right up to the caves and sometimes go inside. On the trip, kayakers can see seals and other animals up close, sometimes swimming right around the boats, or relaxing on the rocks. Your guide will take you along the coast, stopping to share stories behind various buildings and caves along the shore and fun facts about the city like that Dr. Seuss lived in La Jolla. Not only that, but the nature and experiences he had there inspired many of his books like a specific tree nearby leading to “The Lorex.” Our guide also mentioned that the pelicans in the area inspired the design of the pterodactyls in Jurassic Park III! After the tour, on particularly wavy days, the guide will teach you how to kayak surf back to the beach.

The Cave Store

1325 Coast Blvd, La Jolla

After kayaking, be sure to check out the spiral staircase that leads down the back of The Cave Store, into Bootleggers Tunnel where you’ll see the waves crashing in the opening of the cave. Afterwards, walk along the path to view the seals relaxing on the rocks and pelicans scooping up fish along the cove.

See’s Candies

A trip to the area wouldn’t be complete without hunting down a See’s Candies to purchase some chocolate. With a few locations throughout the city, find the one closest to you and create a box of chocolates to snack on while flying home. Definitely don’t miss out on their amazing suckers that are great for the plane like the cinnamon, caramel apple, or butterscotch.