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This lovely city by the sea is California's second largest city, San Diego is a favorite among travelers. Located about 120 miles south of LA on the very southern end of California, San Diego is a sprawling landscape of suburbs, beach cities, inland valleys and a bustling downtown district.
San Diego is a great destination for families looking to entertain children. Home of SeaWorld, the famous San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Wild Animal Park, LEGOLAND and of course beaches, San Diego makes for a great getaway for kids. Beyond the amusement parks, San Diego has a vibrant downtown with many districts perfect for strolling and discovering fun shops and restaurants, especially the charming Gaslamp Quarter and the waterfront. San Diego's Mission Bay as well as the beaches on the Pacific Ocean play host to a variety of water sports like surfing, sailing, kayaking and simply playing in the waves. Other must-see areas of San Diego include posh La Jolla with its high-end boutiques and Balboa Park, an extensive area that includes the San Diego Zoo and a multitude of museums, parks and attractions.
San Diego is a great place to discover more of Southern California beyond the city itself, including neighboring Orange County with Disneyland and other family-friendly attractions. And Eastern San Diego county, featuring a beautiful wine country, providing a great day trip diversion. Travelers of all types can come to San Diego and enjoy the Mediterranean-like climate, some of California's best historical landmarks, a bevy of beaches and first-rate family attractions.
Year-round temperatures range from 57-72° F but in late summer and early autumn, temperatures can get as high as 90° F
San Diego, California, is sunny and mild—not just in weather, but in personality, as well. This is a place where the people are friendly and the sun shines more than 300 days a year. To top it off, San Diego is blessed with considerable natural beauty: broad, gorgeous beaches on its west side, creviced canyons in the east, and sweet-smelling tropical flowers everywhere.
A quintessential U.S. Navy town, San Diego has also boomed in recent years. The trendy downtown and Gaslamp Quarter, plus such nearby attractions as Balboa Park, continue to pull in locals and tourists alike.
North of downtown San Diego, in La Jolla, prestigious research institutes with names such as Salk and Scripps attract top researchers, while the glorious beaches draw surfers and sun-worshippers in droves. Unfortunately, this growth has brought traffic—San Diego highway congestion can rival Los Angeles during morning and evening rush hours.
The greater San Diego area is actually a series of individual towns, each with its own personality. La Jolla is San Diego's answer to Beverly Hills. Coronado, a pristine stretch of land connected to downtown by the Coronado Bay Bridge, has the palatial Hotel del Coronado and broad avenues running past Victorian homes; it is also home to several aircraft carriers.
Then there are San Diego's beaches: Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, La Jolla Beach, La Jolla Shores, Del Mar and many more.
Sights—Endangered species at the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park; multitudes of sea creatures at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps; the Spanish influence and historical buildings in Old Town; Cabrillo National Monument; the historic Hotel del Coronado.
Museums—The San Diego Museum of Art; Maritime Museum of San Diego; San Diego Air & Space Museum; Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego; Museum of Photographic Arts; California Surf Museum; USS Midway Museum; San Diego Museum of Man.
Memorable Meals—Seasonal menu that changes daily at Market Restaurant + Bar in Del Mar; oceanfront French dining at the Marine Room in La Jolla; alfresco dining at Asti Ristorante in the Gaslamp Quarter; fresh Italian at Bencotto Italian Kitchen in Little Italy.
Late Night—A live music performance at the Casbah; the Pacific Beach nightlife and local craft beer at the Duck Dive; DJ-spun beats at Omnia or country music at In Cahoots Dance Hall and Saloon.
Walks—Easy hiking on the bluffs at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve (don't miss the Guy Fleming Trail for its incomparable Pacific Ocean views); wide-open spaces and riparian landscape at Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve; casual strolling through Balboa Park; a walking tour through the historic Gaslamp Quarter; sunset ambles on the beach at Coronado or La Jolla Shores.
Breweries—Beer tasting and brewery tours at one of San Diego's more than 100 craft breweries.
Especially for Kids—Sand-castle construction and other beach play; LEGOLAND California Resort; a variety of marine life at SeaWorld; San Diego Model Railroad Museum (for kids of any age); interactive exhibits at Fleet Science Center; the merry-go-rounds at Seaport Village and Balboa Park.
The heart of downtown San Diego lies 16 mi/26 km north of the U.S.-Mexico border. The 16-block historic Gaslamp Quarter and the multilevel, postmodern Horton Plaza shopping complex mark the city center, with the San Diego Convention Center, PETCO Park, Embarcadero and Seaport Village all within walking distance.
San Diego Bay, Coronado and the Pacific Ocean stretch to the west. The massive Balboa Park, full of museums and attractions, occupies a huge area northeast of downtown. North of downtown are historic Old Town, gay-friendly Hillcrest, the recreational paradise of Mission Bay and the upscale seaside community of La Jolla (la-HOY-yuh), actually a part of the city of San Diego.
Farther north are Del Mar (home of the county's horse racetrack and fairgrounds), the low-key beach cities with coastal North County's downtown villages, inland North County with its rolling hills and the Marine Corps' sprawling Camp Pendleton. To the south is San Ysidro, the southernmost neighborhood of San Diego, and immediately south of that is the border with Mexico.
Interstates 5 and 15, running north and south, and Interstate 8, running east and west, are the city's major arteries. Highway 163, connecting with both I-5 and I-8 and running from downtown to the northeast, makes Balboa Park and Mission Valley easily accessible. East-west Highway 52 serves as a connector route from Santee to La Jolla. Highway 125 runs north and south, relieving traffic from South Bay to East County. Highway 56 is the east-west connector between I-5 and I-15, providing convenient access between the inland communities and the coast. (Locals often put "the" in front of the highway number when speaking; for example, "the 5 to the 15.")
According to anthropologists, humans first settled along the San Diego coast as early as 20,000 years ago and moved east into the desert areas about 12,000 years ago. When the first Europeans, led by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, landed on the Point Loma section of San Diego Bay in 1542, several hunting-gathering tribes had already inhabited the area for thousands of years.
In 1769, Father Junipero Serra built a mission at the top of Presidio Hill, overlooking San Diego Bay, to convert the Kumeyaay people, a small hunting-and-gathering society, to Christianity. The mission was moved in 1774 to its present site near a Diegueno village. As the site of California's first Spanish mission, San Diego played an important role in the state's history.
Some of the adobe and wood buildings at the bottom of Presidio Hill, in what is now Old Town, date from the 1800s. Most of the settlers built homes there in the 1820s and '30s. As Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, the area is now a tourist district that houses restaurants, museums and shops.
In 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain, and a few years later, San Diego became the unofficial capital of Alta and Baja California. It was governed under Mexico for about 25 years, until California came under U.S. jurisdiction after the Mexican-American War in 1850.
The city grew at a snail's pace for almost two centuries (notwithstanding a minor gold boom 1872-74) until 1907, when the U.S. Navy established a base, boosting San Diego's fortunes. By the 1930s it had grown sufficiently large enough to have hosted two world's fairs, leaving the legacy of Balboa Park and popularizing both the Mission and Spanish-revival styles in the area.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the U.S. Pacific Fleet moved its headquarters to San Diego. Military bases began to pop up, and industry and scientific research centers followed.
The city's downtown had declined after the 1960s, but the construction of Horton Plaza and a revitalization of the Gaslamp Quarter in the 1980s breathed new life to the area. Gentrification spread from downtown to Little Italy and Hillcrest, then extended to Balboa Park, North Park and City Heights in the 1990s. Today, San Diego is the eighth-largest city in the U.S. and the second-largest in California.
The Spirit of St. Louis was built in San Diego for Charles Lindbergh's 1927 trans-Atlantic flight. The San Diego International Airport is now nicknamed Lindbergh Field.
The movie classic Some Like It Hot—starring Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis—was filmed at "The Del" (the Hotel del Coronado) in 1959.
Large flocks of non-native parrots live in Ocean Beach. The feral populations are thought to be the offspring of domesticated parrots that escaped and bred.
Theodor Seuss Geisel—better known to his readers and fans as Dr. Seuss—lived in La Jolla from 1948 until his death at age 87 in 1991. He used to sit at his desk and watch the whales swim by.
The late Gregory Peck was born in La Jolla in 1916. The actor was one of the founders of the La Jolla Playhouse, which has been the world-premiere site of many Broadway-bound musicals.
At LEGOLAND, Miniland USA re-creates eight different cities within the U.S. with a collection of more than 1,200 buildings and famous landmarks built to 1:20 scale using more than 24 million LEGO bricks.
Black's Beach (just south of Torrey Pines Beach) is famous for some of its nudist regulars. The anti-nudity law is enforced on the city-owned section, but the state-owned section has been unofficially "swimsuit optional" for decades.
The world's largest outdoor pipe organ is set in the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park. The organ, with its ornate architecture and extraordinary sound, was played at the opening of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and became the first great outdoor organ of its kind in the U.S.
The San Diego Yacht Club has defended the prestigious America's Cup three times.
Passengers arriving by ship pass the tip of Point Loma and the city's first lighthouse before entering San Diego Bay, with its panorama of sailboats, yachts and Navy battleships backed by the mirrored towers of downtown.
White sails soar skyward from the roof of the San Diego Convention Center, just south of the cruise-ship terminal. Farther south is the sweeping arch of the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge.
Cruise-ship captains and crew rave about San Diego's port: It's both scenic and convenient. San Diego Bay was dredged long ago to accommodate military craft, so even the largest cruise ships can dock right at the terminal (also known as the B Street Pier). An auxiliary cruise ship terminal known as Port Pavilion is located next to B Street. The terminal is in the center of downtown's waterfront, within walking distance of many attractions, and taxis are available.
The cruise terminal has a gift shop, free Wi-Fi, a bar and limited food service. Just outside the pastel-colored warehouse-like terminal, visitors will find an information booth (open when ships are in port) with brochures, maps, and bus and trolley schedules. The spacious terminal has public phones, large restrooms, a few comfortable chairs and several benches. The International Visitor Information Center is located in front of the B Street Cruise Ship Terminal.
Many attractions are easy to walk to from the port area. Seaport Village is just to the south; downtown and the Gaslamp Quarter are straight inland to the east; and just to the north are great seafood restaurants and the majestic 19th-century Star of India, as well as other historic ships.
Public buses run along Harbor Drive in front of the ship terminal and connect to routes serving outlying tourist spots, but they are not recommended for casual visitors. The routes tend to be long and circuitous. Some attractions (including Horton Plaza and Seaport Village) may provide shuttles from the ship terminal when a ship is in port. Ask about them at the terminal's information desk.
The bright-red San Diego Trolley may be all the transportation needed for visitors only spending a short time in the city. It is the fastest way to get to Tijuana. There are also two trolley lines that go eastward to the communities of Barrio Logan, Mountain View, Encanto, and the cities of Lemon Grove, La Mesa, El Cajon and Santee.
A trolley stop is ideally located about two blocks from the cruise terminal at the Santa Fe train station. Visitors can also take a pedicab ride to a close destination. Look for drivers holding signs near the terminal and access the cabs a few steps away. Always negotiate a rate up front.
For those who want to walk, it's 10 short blocks from the cruise-ship terminal up Broadway to Fifth Avenue, where there is a bus that travels up a slight hill to Laurel Street, one of the entrances to Balboa Park and its museums and zoo. From downtown San Diego going north on Fifth, all the cross streets (starting with Ash) are named after trees and are in alphabetical order. Walnut—the last tree street—is just four blocks from Hillcrest.
A rental car is recommended for visits of more than one day in San Diego. Several rental companies have offices at the airport. It isn't possible to rent a car at the cruise-ship terminal, but visitors can reserve one in advance and a rental car van can provide transportation to a nearby pick-up station. Be aware that rental cars can be hard to get when there's a big convention in town, so it's best to reserve in advance.
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