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 Lindbergh Field , where most travelers debark. Yet, modern San Diego has become much more than just a harborside city. Spanning from the North County beach areas to the South Bay cities along the Mexican border, San Diego is one of the top ten largest cities in the United States. While all these areas fall under the San Diego umbrella, each individual community maintains its own personality, geography and identity. Truly, in San Diego's case, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
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 Horton Plaza , an architectural masterpiece that holds trendy shops, lively restaurants, a theatre and even an ice rink during the holiday season. Just east of Horton Plaza is the Gaslamp District, a 16-block source of civic pride. Once slated for destruction, this area has been reclaimed by the people of San Diego thanks to the 1970s Redevelopment Plan. Where once dilapidated warehouses and run-down Victorian houses stood, and where no one dared to enter after dark, the Gaslamp District has now become the pulse of the city.
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 Seaport Village , a 14-acre shopping and dining complex designed to emulate early California-style architecture.
No visit to San Diego would be complete without a trip to Balboa Park . Home to the world-famous San Diego Zoo , the park is much more than a beautiful place to see exotic animals. Gardens and grounds in Balboa Park were established as a city park for the people in 1868. In preparation for hosting the Panama-California Exposition of 1915, a celebration of the opening of the Panama Canal, founding fathers, architects and master gardeners collaborated to create the fine Spanish Colonial Revival-style buildings and gardens that still grace the grounds today. Additional buildings were raised on the site in the early 1930s, this time incorporating the look and feel of the Mayan civilization and California's early indigenous peoples. Within the confines of the park, visitors can enjoy scores of museums and art galleries including the Museum of Man , San Diego Museum of Art , Timken Museum of Art and Spreckel's Organ Pavilion .
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 Bazaar del Mundo , truly a marketplace of the world.
Within easy walking distance from the center of Old Town is the Presidio , a must-see while in San Diego. This structure, now a historic landmark, is where Junipero Serra established the first of the Spanish missions in California.
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 Birch Aquarium , which features the largest oceanographic display in the United States.
Travel a few miles further north along the coastal drive to reach Del Mar, another fine beach community. Famous for its racetrack , founded by Bing Crosby and fellow Hollywood cronies during the 1940s, this seaside town offers as much to families as it does to racing aficionados. Beaches here are clean and family friendly. Boutiques and open-air restaurants line the main street, giving it a Riviera-like quality. Just north of this city, visitors can find the renown Carlsbad Flower Fields and LEGOLAND California , great for those with young children in tow.
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 Wild Animal Park , an extension of the city's world-famous zoo providing visitors a look at animals in the wild.
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 Coors Amphitheatre . This entertainment complex provides state-of-the-art acoustics, VIP tables complete with cocktail table service, stadium seating and picnic seating on grassy knolls. Adjacent to the amphitheater, visitors (and especially their children) can cool off in the watery fun at Knott's Soak City U.S.A. .
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.
San Diego is striving to become the culinary capital of California, with its wide assortment of restaurants and bars offering an array of cuisine to suit any taste. Known for fresh Mexican dishes and exceptional seafood, San Diego has some of the best dining in all of Southern California. Boasting an average temperature of 70 degrees, the city offers outdoor patio dining and breathtaking ocean views year round.
Featuring over 16 square blocks of restaurants, bars and nightclubs, the historical Gaslamp Quarter is affectionately known as the entertainment hub of San Diego. Catch a glimpse of local street entertainers, watch the crowds or simply hang out with friends in this popular downtown district, which is frequently compared to the French Quarter of New Orleans.
Numerous dining choices exist within the Gaslamp Quarter. For delicious seafood, try Blue Point Coastal Cuisine , an elegantly appointed restaurant. Meanwhile, Irish delicacies are offered at The Field , while desserts such as chocolates, ice cream floats and shakes are found at the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop .
Popular bars also hold a prominent spot in the Gaslamp District. Visit The Bitter End , home of the Black Martini, and enjoy the upscale ambience of this tri-level club. If it is Sangria you crave, Ole Madrid is the place for you. This Spanish-style restaurant/nightclub is very popular among locals. Dick's Last Resort is one of the most memorable downtown nighttime venues. Crushed beer bottles and trash cover the floor at this spot so be sure to watch your step, but don't worry about spilling your drink.
For those who desire a dining experience without all the hustle and bustle of the Gaslamp Quarter, visit the outlying sections of downtown. Harbor Drive is home to Anthony's Star of the Sea , a traditional seafood restaurant appealing to a mature clientele.
Old Town is where San Diego began. Romance and charm fill the air and dozens of historical buildings, transformed into shops and restaurants, line the streets. Enter the Bazaar del Mundo and dine at one of the festive eateries. Stroll down San Diego Avenue and experience the wonder of a real fiesta at the Old Town Mexican Cafe , where servers are dressed in traditional garb and tortillas are made fresh, right before your eyes. Meanwhile, Cafe Coyote Bar and Grill boasts an incredible selection of tequila.
San Diego's beach towns feature an abundance of bars and restaurants catering to a young crowd. In downtown Pacific Beach, Garnet Avenue hosts the Pacific Beach Bar and Grill , an American restaurant known for scrumptious burgers and sandwiches. Also located in the beach cities, Moondoggie's and Moose McGillycuddy's are both traditional American sport bars, jammed with locals on weekend nights.
A few miles shy of East San Diego lies one of the city's oldest and most charming communities, University Heights. There's never a shortage of places to satisfy the palate here. If it's coffee and live music you crave, Twiggs Tea and Coffee on Park Boulevard is always a good bet. With their decadent desserts and relaxing atmosphere, you'll never want to leave. If you prefer beer to tea, the world-famous Toronado boasts dozens and dozens of draft offerings, and even more in the bottle. Tried-and-true dive bar more your speed? Then head over to the Live Wire , a popular spot locals love raving about. Walk a block down and satisfy those hunger pangs at Harar Ethiopian Restaurant , a great place to munch on savory East African dishes without burning a hole in your pocket.
Mission and Fashion Valley
Beyond downtown San Diego, popular eateries are also splashed throughout an area of town known to locals as "The Valley." Seau's Restaurant , owned by San Diego Charger Junior Seau, is frequented by celebrities and athletes. Prego's Ristorante is perfect for upscale gatherings with good friends, while Pat & Oscar's is a casual restaurant famous for its breadsticks, assorted pizzas and salads.
Across San Diego Bay and just minutes from downtown is Coronado Island, a conservative community with dozens of fine dining choices. Take the ferry from Harbor Drive and disembark right in front of Peohe's , a tropical paradise famous for its Crunchy Coconut Shrimp platter. Just next door to Peohe's, Bay Beach Cafe is an ideal spot for a traditional dinner. Travel further to the interior of the island and dine in royal elegance at The Crown Room , located in the historic Hotel del Coronado .
Just north of San Diego, the city of La Jolla is affectionately known as "the jewel" of the Pacific shoreline. In this city, tourists find world-class restaurants with memorable ocean views. Magnificent, yet traditional, California style culinary creations are served at George's At The Cove . This renowned seaside restaurant has a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean. Meanwhile, French restaurants are common in this city of love and fantasy, including The Marine Room and Top of the Cove.
Located in downtown La Jolla, Roppongi has earned a reputation as a favorite among locals. This popular venue combines cuisine from countries such as Thailand, China and Korea into an innovative fare known as "Asian Fusion."
Just north of La Jolla, the seaside community of Del Mar continually draws locals and tourists with its upscale dining venues. Epazote features Southwestern style food that is deliciously creative, while Il Fornaio (meaning "The Baker") serves delectable Italian feasts. Pacifica Del Mar accents the "foods of the sea" with innovative seasonings and spices.
In the city of Encinitas, locals rave about When In Rome , a stylish family-owned eatery that excels in the creation of traditional Italian cuisine. The city of Carlsbad features Neimans , a Victorian mansion offering dual restaurants for casual and fine dining.
Regardless of the restaurant you choose there are many palate-pleasing treasures to be found in San Diego, so bring an appetite and explore the culinary creations of this seaside city.
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 Zoo on 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.
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