New book calls PB’s Crystal Pier Hotel one of the ‘100 Things to Do in San Diego Before You Die’

Sunset at Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach.

When travel writer and San Diego native David Swanson sat down to write the second edition of “100 Things to Do in San Diego Before You Die,” a flood of places came to mind. Some familiar, like the San Diego Zoo; some known only to a select few, like where to sail on a yacht that was used in the America’s Cup race.

While part of the intent of the book is to encourage readers to look beyond San Diego’s weather, its coastal amenities could not be left out. As such, several locations in and around Pacific Beach are included.

“I’m a lifelong San Diego resident; my mother lives in the house she was born in, believe it or not,” Swanson said. “It’s a city I have come to appreciate, having traveled the world and lived in other places. I have learned to appreciate the city in ways I didn’t growing up.

“The city has also grown tremendously in terms of its culture and diversity. It’s hard when you have a city with weather as wonderful as we have to not have that be a calling card for us. But the city has grown as new voices have come in. It’s developed an identity that goes well beyond the weather.”

There are two audiences for the book: those who have never been here and are looking to spend a vacation, and those who live here and want to take a closer look.

“There are many of us, and I will use myself as an example, who take the city for granted,” Swanson said. “It’s easy to overlook some of its unique aspects. How many San Diegans know one of the greatest architectural masterpieces is in La Jolla? It’s at the Salk Institute and designed by Louis Kahn. ... I love to find things that many San Diego residents don’t know about.”

Here are some Pacific Beach-area locales that “100 Things to Do in San Diego Before You Die” highlights, and Swanson’s comments about them:

Belmont Park: “I just had to include it,” Swanson said of the historic Mission Beach amusement park built in 1925. It features the only all-wood roller coaster in San Diego, The Giant Dipper.

Crystal Pier Hotel: “I don’t know if there is another place like it,” Swanson said. “I cannot think of a more peaceful place to be. ... PB can be raucous at times, but the pier is a nice, peaceful respite. I don’t list many hotels, but I list that one.”

Over-the-Line Tournament: The Old Mission Beach Athletic Club’s 67-year tradition — canceled this year due to COVID-19 — offers a unique spin on softball. It’s known for its “colorful” names that often aren’t suitable for print. “The names of some teams had to be cut for cleanliness,” Swanson said.

Wreck Alley: “There was an old 366-foot ship [and three others] that went down and now there is a series of carcasses and shipwrecks lying 100 feet underwater. It’s some of the best diving in San Diego,” Swanson said.

“I’ve written other guidebooks and stories for other outlets, and it’s easy to live in a city like this and write about just the tourist attractions,” Swanson said. “But to bring out some of its lesser-known qualities is something I really enjoy. I don’t think San Diego has been given its proper due. People think of it as an outdoor city with a great climate but don’t give us credit for arts and culture. We have an opera and a symphony. We have a restaurant scene that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. So I love shining the light on my hometown.”

The book was published in May and is available online and at bookstores. Learn more at