San Diego is a thriving coastal city in the southern tip of California. It has deep Spanish and Mexican roots that intrigue visitors with its stunning architecture, beautiful beaches and delicious foods. Known for its year-round sunshine and balmy temperatures, San Diego is a great place to relax and explore. It is also home to many of the states top tourist attractions such as the famed San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, Legoland, and SeaWorld, attracting over 14 million visitors a year.
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In the city of San Diego one of the most popular sights is the world-class San Diego Zoo. It is one of the largest and most impressive zoos in the world. It is currently home to a few of the rare Chinese Giant Panda Bears, as well as 4000 other animals that live in habitats simulating their natural environments. We recommend first taking the guided bus tour for an overview of the very extensive park and then walk around at your leisure. For an extra treat, try the aerial tramway for an exciting bird's-eye view of the park.
Balboa Park and Museums is also a must while in the downtown area. It is a 1200-acre recreation and cultural center, filled with spectacular Spanish architecture, including the California Building and the Casa del Prado. There are over a dozen different types of museums in the park as well, including the Museum of Art, Natural History Museum, Aerospace Museum, Museum of Photographic Arts, Automotive Museum, Hall of Champions Sports Museum and the Museum of Man. Inside the park there is also a science center with an IMAX theater, botanical gardens, a wonderful children's antique carousel ride, and (our favorite) a miniature train for parents and their children to ride.
Also in the Downtown area is the famed Gaslamp Quarter. Known for its exciting nightlife, this is a great area to stay for a night on the town. There are over 35 nightclubs in the area, many featuring Jazz music. Close by the area is Horton Plaza, a gorgeous indoor shopping center with many fine shops. There also several nice hotel chains in the area, some of the high-rise hotels are right on the bay and offer stunning views.
Northwest of Downtown San Diego is the Mission Bay area. It is located right by the ocean and has two islands as well as many coves and inlets. It is a great place to stay with many wonderful hotels, especially if you like water sports and boating. In the Mission Bay area is SeaWorld. It is a 189-acre adventure park with shows, rides and, of course, Shamu the killer whale. This is a great place to take the kids.
If you would like to experience some of the city's Hispanic history, take a walk around Old Town, just north of downtown. This historic park is a California settlement depicting the Mexican and early American years of the city between 1821-1872. There are adobe homes and historic buildings. There are many authentic Mexican shops and restaurants to choose from. You can shop in the Bazaar del Mundo, or just sit back and enjoy the mariachi bands and folk dancers while having a Mexican libation. There are even Trolley Cars that can take you from Old Town to many places around the city such as Balboa Park, the Zoo, Gaslamp Quarter and Coronado.
San Diego Bay is home to the U.S. Coast Guard Base, Marine Corps Recruiting Depot and the Naval Air Station. Here you can visit the Maritime Museum of San Diego on the Embarcadero. There you will find 3 historic vessels: the Star of India 1863 tall ship; the Berkeley, an 1898 ferry; and the Medea, the 1904 steam yacht. Inside there are many maritime and nautical exhibits to look at as well.
Located on a peninsula between San Diego Bay and the ocean is a wonderful beach resort named Coronado. It is home to the famous Coronado hotel built in 1888. "The Del" as the hotel is commonly referred to is a landmark resort with Victorian turrets, a spectacular restaurant and a luxurious pool. It is rumored by some to be "haunted." You can take a drive over the stunning Coronado Bay Bridge to get there. There is also a ferry that runs between Coronado and San Diego. Visitors like to rent bikes and small boats, especially in the summertime. There is also wonderful surfing and swimming in the area.
A little north of San Diego, in the City of Carlsbad, is Legoland California. This is an amusement park for the age 12 and under crowd, with over 50 rides, shows and attractions, set on 128 acres. Many of the structures are made from colorful LEGOS. Kids can ride the new Knights' Tournament Adventure or race to hose down a burning building at Funtown Fire Academy. Kids can dig for fossils at Dig Those Dinos or drive a miniature electric car at Volvo Drive School. Whatever the kids choose to do, it is a great place to visit and enjoy for the entire day.
Two resort towns worth visiting just north of Downtown San Diego are La Jolla, Del Mar. These quaint towns are located right on the ocean and offer excellent hotels, restaurants, shops and galleries. They are a nice get-away for the bigger city of San Diego and are perfect for a romantic stay. La Jolla's exclusive Prospect Street near the water's edge is filled with high-end art galleries and seafood restaurants with ocean views. Just up the coastline in Del Mar you will find a wonderful town filled with boutique shops, as well as the famous Del Mar Race Track.
While in the coastal area, a visit to Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography is well worthwhile in Torrey Pines. It is located on a hillside above UC San Diego. The aquarium features marine life from the Pacific Ocean. There are terrific interactive exhibits and changing displays that explore the latest in oceanography.