Semi-tropical San Diego, with its mean temperature of 70 degrees F, Mediterranean-like white-washed stucco buildings and strong cultural influences from sunny Mexico, is as close to visiting a foreign country as visitors could get and yet, is as American as apple pie.
The heart of this bustling city lies at the foot of the harbor just minutes by car from
Less than three miles from the airport is downtown proper. This thriving commercial area with its active waterfront is a bustling, colorful combination of major hotels, convention facilities, restaurants, nightclubs and shopping venues. Its focal point is
Due west of the city proper is the Embarcadero, a fun daytime location where visitors can take in leisurely views of the bay, hop aboard a harbor cruise or enjoy seafood at its finest. For shopping, visit
No visit to San Diego would be complete without a trip to
For a taste of what San Diego was like in its earliest years, take in the sights and sounds of this colorful settlement, now preserved as a state historic park. Famous as the first European settlement in California, this area is also well known for its glorious year-round gardens, mouth-watering Mexican dishes, lilting Mariachi music and free-flowing margaritas. Be sure to spend a little time browsing through
Within easy walking distance from the center of Old Town is the
A short drive up the coast takes visitors to La Jolla ("the jewel" in Spanish), and truly a jewel it is. Despite its dense population, the people of this affluent city have somehow managed to maintain its beautiful natural setting. Cliffs along the main streets overlook the beaches and coves along the Pacific Ocean; tropical vegetation creeps and climbs across red-tiled roofs and verandas; and sunsets at La Jolla Shores are simply spectacular. Beyond breathtaking oceanfront scenery, this seaside community is home to the
Travel a few miles further north along the coastal drive to reach Del Mar, another fine beach community. Famous for its
Moving inland, the city of Escondido is a quieter, more rural version of San Diego, replete with avocado and livestock ranches, vineyards and granite-strewn hillsides. The community hosts the San Diego Zoo's 2,200-acre
Visitors would be remiss if they never traveled south from the city proper into the area referred to as the South Bay. The main city in this area is Chula Vista, home to one of San Diego's greatest music and entertainment venues, the
While each district of San Diego has an original flair, the various sections blend seamlessly into a thriving, cosmopolitan city. From the North County beaches to the downtown shopping districts, San Diego's first-class attractions consistently please tourists and locals alike.
As if the glorious weather alone were not enough of a reason, San Diego boasts several world-renowned attractions that keep tourists coming to this California metropolis. From sunny Balboa Park to the historic sites of the Gaslamp Quarter and the Old Town, a tour of San Diego is filled with possibilities.
Balboa Park The 1,200-acre Balboa Park is the cultural and tourist center of San Diego with numerous museums and theaters, a sporting complex, beautiful gardens, an open-air pipe organ, and the San Diego Zooon its premises. The famous Laurel Restaurant & Bar is nearby. It also houses the Museum of Man, an anthropological museum documenting the Southwestern and Mexican cultures. Next to the museum is the venerable Old Globe Theatre and the San Diego Museum of Art and the Timken Museum of Art.
Downtown The world's oldest floating merchant ship, the Star of India is located in the dock at the corner of Ash Street and North Harbor Drive. The ship is part of the San Diego Maritime Museum, while the San Diego Aerospace Museum is not far away. Also located along the Embarcadero is the New England-style Seaport Village.
Gaslamp Quarter Slightly east of Seaport Village, the historic Gaslamp Quarter, highlighted by gas street lamps and Victorian-style buildings, draws countless tourists and locals. Westfield Horton Plaza is a sprawling outdoor mall in this area. The San Diego Convention Center and PETCO Park sit on the waterfront, right around the corner from the Edgewater Grill.
Coronado After visiting the downtown San Diego attractions, take the ferry from Broadway Pier or drive across the arching, 2.2 mile-long San Diego-Coronado Bridge to Coronado Island, a beautiful resort community boasting some of the most exclusive homes, boutiques and restaurants in San Diego. If you take the ferry, you will disembark at the Ferry Landing Marketplace. From here catch a shuttle bus that will take you to the town's main tourist drag, Orange Avenue, where you'll find the Coronado Historical Association Museum of History and Art. Up the road is the Coronado Brewing Company, a popular pub and restaurant.
Old Town A slice of historic life has been preserved and re-created in the Old Town neighborhood at the Old Town State Historic Park, a kind of dusty Mexican theme park complete with restored haciendas, costumed characters and serenading mariachis. Start your visit at the Seeley Stables where volunteers give free daily tours. The haunted Thomas Whaley Museum is a must-see attraction in Old Town, as is the Presidio Park and the Presidio/Junipero Serra Museum. With historic museums, affluent boutiques, adventurous water sports and breathtaking ocean views, San Diego boasts a variety of sites for any tourist. So, choose a tour that piques your interest and enjoy the first-class attractions offered by this bustling city.
Walking Tours Walkabout International (+1 619 231 7463) Gaslamp Quarter Walking Tours (+1 619 233 4692)
Boat Tours Hornblower Cruises & Events (+1 619 686 8700 / http://www.hornblower.com) San Diego Harbor Tours (+1 619 234 4111 / http://www.sdhe.com) San Diego Scenic Tours (+1 858 273 8687 / http://www.sandiegoscenictours.com)
Bus Tours San Diego Scenic Tours (+1 858 273 8687 / http://www.sandiegoscenictours.com) Gray Line San Diego (+1 800 331 5077 / http://www.sandiegograyline.com) Tour Coupes (+1 619 232 6873 / http://www.tourcoupes.com) Day Tripper Tours (+1 619 299 5777 / http://www.daytripper.com)
Balloon Tours Panorama Balloon Tours (+1 760 271 3467 / +1 800 455 3592 / http://www.gohotair.com) Balloon Flights LLC (+1 858 756 6967 / +1 800 558 5828)
Pedicab Tours Gaslamp Bicycle & Pedicab (+1 619 595 0211) VIP Pedicab (+1 619 228 3632 / http://www.vippedicab.com/services.htm) Pedalpusher Pedicabs (+1 619 384 BIKE / http://www.pedalpusherpedicabs.com)
Bike Tours Bike Tours San Diego (+1 619 238 2444 / http://www.bike-tours.com) San Diego Bike and Kayak Tours (+1 858 454 1010 / http://www.sandiegobikeandkayaktours.com/downtown_bike_tour_san_diego.html)
Jeep Tours Desert Jeep Tours (+1 888 295 3377 / http://www.desertjeeptours.com)
Sports Tours Big League Tours (+1 866 619 1748 / +1 317 534 2475 / http://bigleaguetours.com)
Although San Diego may be better known for sun, sand and surf, the city actually boasts a vibrant and flourishing arts and entertainment scene. From world-class theaters and magnificent museums to cool cafes and hole-in-the-wall nightclubs, there is something here for every entertainment taste.
If you should tire of admiring San Diego's magnificent natural scenery, the city has a number of art museums that offer eye-candy of a different kind. Balboa Park offers many of these treasures, including the San Diego Museum of Art, which offers an impressive collection of Renaissance, Dutch, Spanish Baroque, Impressionist, Southeast Asian and Contemporary Californian works. Also located at Balboa Park, the Timken Museum of Art showcases an extensive collection of Russian icons and 14th Century religious paintings, while the Mingei International Museum has a delightful collection of pottery, textiles, ceremonial and daily-use objects from around the globe. The work of some of the world's best photographers is displayed at the Museum of Photographic Arts. Meanwhile, Spanish Village Art Center offers visitors a chance to watch painters, glassblowers, sculptors and woodcarvers at work. Those with more modern sensibilities may prefer the Museum of Contemporary Art, headquartered in La Jolla with a smaller branch downtown.
San Diego boasts a remarkably healthy theater scene with not one, but two Tony-award-winning theaters. The consistently excellent La Jolla Playhouse often originates innovative and provocative dramas and musicals. Meanwhile, the oldest professional theater in California, Old Globe Theatre, performs classic, Shakespearean and contemporary works on three stages in Balboa Park. In addition, several smaller companies, such as the San Diego Repertory Theatre and the Lamb's Players Theatre, stage year-round performances of contemporary works.
With giant multiplexes like the Gaslamp Stadium 15 Pacific Theatres and AMC Mission Valley 20, San Diego's cinemas offer plenty of mass, if not exactly highbrow, fare. Meanwhile, independent, art-house and foreign films are shown at the Hillcrest Cinema or the Ken Cinema, the latter specializing in revivals and cutting edge independent film.
First-time visitors to San Diego are often surprised by the variety of museums found here. The Museum of Man is an anthropological museum focusing on Native American, Southwestern, Mexican and South American cultures. In addition, the Junipero Serra Museum houses Native American and Spanish artifacts from the early days of the missionaries. Those not easily spooked should brave the Thomas Whaley Museum in Old Town, known for being haunted, a fact authenticated by no less than the United States Department of Commerce. Caveat Emptor, of course.
With a nod to San Diego's once prominent status as a commercial seaport, the delightful San Diego Maritime Museum offers visitors a chance to tour three historic vessels. Furthermore, the Birch Aquarium boasts the largest oceanographic exhibit in the country.
Nature lovers can indulge themselves at the San Diego Natural History Museum, which highlights the desert ecology of Southern California and Mexico. Meanwhile, science and technology buffs will enjoy the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center & Space Theater, which showcases a 3D tour of the ocean depths, rainforests and even outer space, all courtesy of IMAX.
Options for classical music fanatics range from large concerts by the San Diego Symphony at Copley Symphony Hall to more intimate recitals by the San Diego Chamber Orchestra. The San Diego Opera season runs from January-May and consists of five operas performed at the Civic Theatre.
For those with slightly less rarefied musical tastes, San Diego offers an array of choices in rock, pop, jazz, folk, country, blues, hip-hop and alternative music. Serious rockers head to the ultra-sleek Coors Amphitheatre, which seats up to 20,000 and has become a "must-play" venue for top musicians. The 14,000-seat ipayOne Center also hosts big-name concerts. Smaller venues for upbeat tunes include Humphrey's By The Bay.
As far as baseball goes, the San Diego Padres have been the pride of the city. Playing in the National Football League AFC Western Conference, the San Diego Chargers have had a checkered record, but still manage to draw fans to Qualcomm Stadium between August and December.
Other prime spectator sports include horse racing and golf. From late June to early September, San Diegans place bets on their favorite thoroughbreds at the Del Mar Racetrack. This venue attracts some of the best jockeys and horses in the country. Meanwhile, the world's top golfers also visit San Diego several times each year at the Mercedes Championship at the La Costa Resort & Spa in January, and the Buick Invitational at the Torrey Pines Golf Course in February.
Whether your preference is for trendy nightclubs or traditional theater performances, San Diego has entertainment venues to please all tastes. Add sunny skies and ocean views to these top-notch attractions and it is no wonder why San Diego draws countless tourists every year.
Sunny San Diego revels in its reputation as a visitor's paradise. Downtown has picked up, and the refurbishing of a slightly shabby area into the thriving Gaslamp District has brought with it a number of first-rate hotels, most clustered along the bay by the San Diego Convention Center. Meanwhile, the North County region offers deluxe accommodations, Meanwhile, the North County region offers deluxe accomodations, perfect for a weekend getaway. The moneyed, beautiful villages of La Jolla and Coronado Island are great walking towns and inspire loyal visitors. Looking for something a bit more lively? Head to the beaches, particularly Mission Beach and Pacific Beach for an upbeat, and sometimes raucous, twenty-something environment. Whatever your preference, you will easily find accommodations to meet your wishes in the diverse community of San Diego.
The US Grant Hotel is the city's oldest and most stylish hotel, offering unexpected old-world decor in a streamlined late 1960s shell. Pricey, but with a cadre of loyal visitors who would not stay anywhere else, this establishment is close to Horton Plaza, the San Diego Convention Center, Seaport Village and Balboa Park.
Along the bayside edges of downtown, the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego features a fantastic bar with floor-to-ceiling windows and several pleasant restaurants. The hotel, within walking distance of Seaport Village and the San Diego Convention Center, is popular among both business and leisure travelers. Next door, Sheraton Suites offers great service and plenty of amenities.
Hotels abound along Shelter and Harbor Islands as well. These two man-made islands were dredged from San Diego Bay back in the 1960s and designed primarily as stages for deluxe hotels, with little else on them. Shelter Island has more of the pseudo-Hawaiian theme and boasts Humphrey's Half Moon Inn & Suites. Near the airport, virtually every room in every hotel offers a bayside view; savvy visitors will ask for a room with a view of North Island or downtown San Diego.
Pacific Beach offers a few seaside motels and a handful of less desirable ones, with dozens of inexpensive dining options primarily along Grand and the Pacific Coast Highway (often abbreviated PCH).
Mission Beach is seaside rental paradise, with loads of properties on offer for summer, as well as a year-round roller coaster and amusement arcade. The location is young and noisy and has popular accommodations, including the Catamaran Resort & Hotel.
Luxury hotels ring this popular water recreation center. The five-star Hilton San Diego Resort is a tourist favorite, featuring easy access to SeaWorld and the bay, while being a terrific spot for water-skiing, jet-skiing and other water sports. In addition, the family-friendly Bahia Resort Hotel is also located along Mission Bay. Guests at this establishment enjoy luxury accommodations and free cruises on board the Bahia Belle.
Home of "Hotel Circle," this section of town offers motels and hotels from most major chains, including San Diego Mission Valley Hilton, San Diego Marriott Mission Valley, Days Inn and many others. Views tend to be of the hotels on the other side of the valley or the overdeveloped interior of the valley itself. All of the inns are close to shopping centers, restaurants and transportation, including the San Diego Trolley.
The island of Coronado is mainly residential, yet still popular among tourists. The island of Coronado is mainly residential, yet still popular among tourists. Ideal for on-foot exploration, the island offers a nearly one mile-long sandy beach, boutique shopping, picture-perfect streets and an array of fine restaurants. The top attraction is the Hotel del Coronado, the largest all-wooden structure in the United States. Even if you do not stay at the hotel, it is worth a visit to enjoy the architecture. The tower add-ons are modern, while the original rooms are quaintly Victorian.
Coronado also has several independent motels and two competing luxury hotels, the family-friendly Loews Coronado Bay Resort and the four-star Coronado Island Marriott Resort.
A deluxe retreat for decades, La Jolla is known for attracting artists, Hollywood stars, and, in general, the rich, famous and fashionable. The landmark La Valencia Hotel offers romantic Spanish-flavored charm, as well as close proximity to notable art galleries and restaurants. Also located in downtown La Jolla, The Grande Colonial is a long-standing favorite in this seaside community. The historic building, which has been renovated many times since its opening in 1913, features incredible ocean views and is conveniently located near the fine dining and galleries of La Jolla Village.
Inland from La Jolla, the Golden Triangle is a modern, deluxe business area. The area hosts several major hotels including the four-star Hyatt Regency La Jolla, where guests enjoy countless business services, and the Residence Inn La Jolla, which serves business travelers for extended stays.
The beautiful open country of North County is San Diego's commuter getaway, with hundreds of new homes constructed every year. While there are some attractions, such as LEGOLAND California, the Wild Animal Park, Carlsbad Flower Fields and great surfing, most visitors to this area will be headed to one of the major resorts for recharging rather than avid sightseeing. La Costa Resort & Spa offers a pair of golf courses, three types of tennis courts and fine restaurants, while the Four Seasons Resort Aviara coddles clients with another golf course and abundant meeting space.
In Del Mar, not far from the Del Mar Fairgrounds & Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, L' Auberge Del Mar offers French-styled buildings in the heart of Del Mar Village, with beach and shopping only steps away.
Whether your preference is for a sleek, modern hotel or a romantic, seaside getaway, you will easily find accommodations to meet your desires in San Diego. From quiet North County retreats to historic downtown accommodations, San Diego's hotels consistently please even the most discriminating world-class tourists.