The city of San Diego conjures up visions of palm trees, long sand beaches, and endless sunny days. But San Diego is more than just iconic California sunshine. Filled with history and fortunate to have a year-round temperate climate, the city makes for a great, relaxing vacation destination in any season. With so much to do in San Diego, one could easily spend a couple of weeks and not see everything the area has to offer. San Diego has the unique appeal of having a little something for everyone. From beaches to theme parks to a vibrant downtown, everyone can find something to enjoy in the far southwest corner of the United States….
If you’re looking for a fun beach area just 10 minutes from downtown San Diego, or just want to experience how the other half lives, take a drive across the Coronado Bay Bridge to Coronado Island. While not technically an island (Coronado is connected to the mainland by a thin strip of land known as the “Silver Strand”), Coronado is known as one of the wealthiest communities in the United States and its beaches are often recognized as some of the best in the world. For a quiet afternoon, wander around the Ferry Landing, where you will find quaint shops, cafes, restaurants, and plentiful views of San Diego Bay. The cupcakes at Coronado Cupcakery make for a delicious afternoon treat!
A short drive from the Ferry Landing is the infamous Hotel Del Coronado. Built in 1888 and referred to as simply “The Del”, this historic hotel is easily recognizable and is a local landmark. With its bright red roofs and solid white exterior, the Del contrasts nicely with its surroundings on the beach. Even if you’re not staying at the Del, it’s worth an hour or two of your time to simply wander the grounds and shops. Having a sunset cocktail on the patio overlooking the beach is somewhat of a local tradition. From the white sands in front of the hotel, one can see Point Loma rising to the west, and the city of Tijuana, Mexico to the south. Notable guests at the Hotel Del have included Thomas Edison, Babe Ruth, Oprah Winfrey, and no fewer than 16 US presidents. You’ll be in good company if you choose to spend the night!
THE SAN DIEGO ZOO
No visit to San Diego is complete without a trip to the San Diego Zoo. Here you can see camels, tortoises, snakes, elephants, lizards, and everything in between. There’s something for every animal lover to enjoy at the Zoo. Begin your day early (as close to the zoo’s opening as possible) in order to make the most of your visit. Early morning is feeding time for many of the animals, so you may get to see animals enjoying their breakfast if you arrive early enough. From just inside the entrance, visitors can take a double-decker bus tour of the Zoo, which is a good introduction to the zoo’s layout and provides an overview of the animals. The 35 minute tour circles around the main attractions, and provides some background narration about the various animals you will see. Be sure to pick up a map on your way in so you can find your way back to the areas that interest you the most. Also check to see when any animals you are especially interested in seeing will be on exhibit. (The young panda – 6 months old in February 2013 – is only out in public for a few hours each day.) There is an “express bus” that makes limited stops throughout the zoo; it’s an easy way to get from one part of the zoo to another without having to walk (the zoo has over 5 miles of paved walkways!). Also during your visit, plan to take a trip on the Zoo’s Skyfari tram – it travels high over the treetops and gives you a different perspective on the animal and plant life below.
Balboa Park, home to the San Diego Zoo, is one of the largest urban parks in the country. Situated on 1,200 acres near downtown San Diego, this urban and cultural oasis is truly one of a kind. The main attractions line El Prado, a pedestrian promenade, and include the Old Globe Theater, the San Diego Museum of Man, the Japanese Friendship Garden, and the San Diego Botanical Building. During the month of February, you can pick up a coupon book at San Diego County Macy’s stores, granting you 50% off admission to many of the museums in Balboa Park. Street performers and food vendors can be seen lining El Prado on the weekends. Another gem in Balboa Park is the Spanish Village Art Center, which houses 37 working studios/galleries for both local and national artists. Strolling through Balboa Park, with its Spanish architecture and world-class cultural attractions, is a must-do while visiting San Diego.
POINT LOMA AND CABRILLO NATIONAL MONUMENT
Where can you find the most visited National Monument in the United States? You may be surprised to learn it lies just west of downtown San Diego. Cabrillo National Monument was named for Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, who landed in San Diego Bay in September, 1542. This was the first European landing on the west coast of what is now the United States. Today, visitors flock to Cabrillo National Monument (located at the southern tip of Point Loma) to enjoy its panoramic views of San Diego Bay, to watch for migrating Pacific whales, and to explore the park’s many tidepools. A visitor’s center houses informational displays as well as a small theater which shows films about the area several times a day. A short walk from the visitor’s center is the statue of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo. From this vantage point, visitors have a clear view of San Diego Bay, Coronado Island, and distant views of Tijuana, Mexico and the Coronado Islands off the coast of Baja California.
The highest point of land in the National Monument is home to the old Point Loma Lighthouse. Though the lighthouse is no longer an active light station, visitors can climb the spiral staircase in the house to visit the keeper’s quarters and tour the adjacent museum to learn more about this historical lighthouse. A short distance past the lighthouse is the Whale Overlook, where visitors can often spot migrating whales from January through March (there are many whale watch tours available in San Diego for those who want a closer look).
Drive down the winding road to the Point Loma tidepools, and you’ll be treated to an entirely different view of Cabrillo National Monument. Here the attraction is under the water’s surface. At low tide, crowds head to the coastline here to catch a glimpse of tidepool life. Sea anemones, sea stars, and other underwater creatures take the stage in the tidepools along the coast. Volunteers and rangers are readily available to help you make the most of your tidepooling experience.
Hotels and restaurants abound in San Diego, so there is sure to be something to fit everyone’s budget. Be aware that many downtown hotels charge a parking fee each day, so be sure to include that in your budget. In recent years, San Diego has become known for its many craft breweries. Many of the breweries also have brewpubs, featuring usual pub fare to complement their homebrews. For a unique breakfast experience, head to Snooze (on Fifth Avenue in the Hillcrest district), where the chefs are always concocting new and innovative breakfast combinations (you can even order a “pancake flight” if you’re having trouble making a decision).
No matter your budget or interests, you are guaranteed to have a relaxing, fun-filled vacation in San Diego!