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From balmy beaches with a laid-back attitude to a gleaming modern image, San Diego offers much for the tourist to enjoy. Situated on the Southern California seacoast, San Diego is the second largest city in the state, with 1.3 million residents, and has long attracted travelers for its ideal climate, miles of beaches, and location on the Mexican border right across from Tijuana. But there's much more here than surfer culture and a quick hop across the border. A rich maritime and military heritage lives on in San Diego, which is home to the Pacific Fleet of the United States Navy. The city has also become known for its part in the wildlife conservation movement, owing to the presence of the world-renowned San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, the Birch Aquarium, and a SeaWorld theme park. Natural scenery abounds from rocky tidepools and seaside cliffs to desert hills and canyons inland. San Diego is a proud city that never seems to cease growing, and though the city has a strong identity many of its residents are newcomers, joining in the flood of immigrants to this city. With this has come the problems associated with Southern California cities, such as traffic jams and air pollution. And yet, though large itself, San Diego is also a place where many come to escape the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, some 100 miles to the northwest. (less...) (more...)
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Points of Interest in San Diego
See San Diego with children for travelers with children.
A couple of discount passes offer admission to a number of places:
- Go San Diego Card. – This enables free admission and express entry to over 50 attractions, including Sea World, Legoland, San Diego Zoo, Universal, and all Balboa Park museums.
- Southern California CityPass. – Gives you one day each at SeaWorld San Diego and the San Diego Zoo, another day at Universal Studios Hollywood, and a 3 day park hopper ticket for Disneyland.
These are just the most significant sights. More specific information may be found under the individual District articles.
- Balboa Park – Here you'll find an expansive campus of museums, parks, gardens and arboretums. Neo-classical Spanish architecture, flowering gardens, a beautiful clock tower and intriguing museums make visiting Balboa Park a must.
- San Diego Zoo. – Located in Balboa Park. Possibly the premier zoo in North America, the San Diego Zoo encompasses over 100 acres of displays and habitats. Animal shows run constantly, and there are creatures here that aren't visible in any other zoo on the planet. Definitely worth a visit, but you need a full day to really do it justice.
- San Diego Zoo Safari Park (previously Wild Animal Park). – The sister park to the San Diego Zoo. The park covers 1800 acres and is located about 30 miles north of San Diego near Escondido, in the San Pasqual Valley.
- Sea World. – Home of Shamu. Sea World San Diego allows visitors a chance to interact with captive aquatic animals in an exciting way. Through shows, displays and enclosures people can learn about the worlds oceans and the creatures that inhabit them. See the Mission Beach article.
- La Jolla – An upscale coastal community of San Diego, La Jolla includes secluded coves, beaches and ocean cliffs to explore. There are dozens of coffee shops, restaurants and high-end shopping outlets to be explored in La Jolla.
- Harbor seals, Children's Cove. Originally a small beach built for children, this scenic little spot has become a breeding ground for harbor seals.
- Birch Aquarium – Fantastic exhibits include physical oceanography, standard aquarium fish, and a massive kelp tank.
- Point Loma Lighthouse, Cabrillo National Monument – From the high vantage point of Point Loma visitors can get a panoramic view of the Naval Air Station, downtown San Diego, the Coronado Bridge and the distant mountains. The lighthouse is a short walk and allows stunning sunset views of the Pacific Ocean and off-shore islands. Cabrillo National Monument commemorates the landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo's expedition for Spain of California in 1542.
- Old Town – This area includes preserved buildings and icons of the Spanish heritage of San Diego and the Old West, from 19th century cannons to the haunted Whaley House. Shopping and restaurants dot this historic district and living history performances regularly take place.
- Downtown – The urban center of the city, with plenty of restaurants, shopping, and nightlife.
- San Diego Maritime Museum – Home to a collection of 19th century sailing ships including the Star of India, the world's oldest active sailing ship, as well as a steam ferryboat and a former Soviet Union attack submarine.
- USS Midway Museum – A former aircraft carrier of the US Navy, it is now open for tours and home to a collection of former naval aircraft housed on her expansive flight deck. Guided tours and displays offer the public a unique look into the life aboard a powerful, old warhorse.
- Mission San Diego de Alcala. – Located in Mission Valley, Mission San Diego is the oldest of the California missions, founded in 1769 by Junipero Serra.
- Hotel Del Coronado. – Located in Coronado, this gorgeous hotel was constructed in the late 1800's and is located at the beach. Offers high class shops and service on one of San Diego's most beautiful and clean beaches.
About San Diego
The area was long inhabited by the native Kumeyaay people (also known as the Diegueño by the later Spanish settlers), who lived off the land and created a proud culture. The first time a European visited the region was in 1542, when Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, sailing under the Spanish Flag, claimed the bay for the Spanish Empire and named the site San Miguel. In November of 1602, Sebastián Vizcaíno was sent to map the California coast. Arriving with his flagship "San Diego", Vizcaíno surveyed the harbor and what is now Mission Bay and Point Loma, renaming the area for the Spanish Catholic Saint, St. Didacus (more commonly known as San Diego).
San Diego was established in 1769 as the first European settlement and Spanish mission in California, at the present site of Old Town. However, due to the poor nature of soils in the Old Town area, the mission was eventually relocated about five miles up river in Mission Valley. The mission had a troubled history, seeing bloodshed between the Spanish missionaries and natives resisting conversion, and the settlement didn't grow far beyond a few hundred people owing to the fact that it was too far from navigable water.
In the 19th century, San Diego passed from Spanish to Mexican to American hands. In 1850, a few years after the United States gained control of California, San Diego was officially designated a city. But with much of the westward expansion to California centered on the gold rush around San Francisco, American influences were initially slow to come to San Diego. Eventually they did, however, and in the 1860s Downtown was established on the shores of the bay, soon exploding in growth when the railroad arrived in the 1880s and developing into a major port. The city celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal in the 1910s with a huge exposition touting San Diego's prominence and history; the fairgrounds, buildings, and exhibits of that expo formed the basis for today's Balboa Park.
The U.S. Navy discovered San Diego in the early 20th century, and constructed a coaling station on Point Loma in 1907. Ten years later, the Naval Air Station on Coronado island was established, and in later years the military would take on an increasingly important role in the city's economy, peaking with World War II, when the city's ship building yards and naval base made San Diego one of the busiest ports on the west coast. Today, San Diego is still home to the Navy's Pacific Fleet and is a favorite leave location for many sailors.
In recent decades, growth in San Diego has exploded and the economy has shifted away from its maritime and military roots. The defense industry still plays a big role here, but it is now rivaled by tourism, trade, and research, with many corporations moving their headquarters here amid the huge influx of residents. Today, San Diego is a favorite destination for retirees and tourists, drawn by the balmy weather and the many attractions the city has to offer.
The San Diego area can be an incredible place to visit almost any time of the year. With coastal temperatures around 75 degrees (24°C) most of the time, the weather is ideal. The climate of Southern California is rather complex, however, and temperatures change rapidly as one travels from the coast eastward. In the summer during the day, the temperature might increase as much as one degree Fahrenheit for each mile going east. In the winter, especially at night, eastern areas are usually relatively cooler. Some valleys and other areas have significantly different weather due to terrain and other factors. These are often referred to as "micro-climates".
If you're coming to San Diego expecting sunny weather, avoid coming in May or June, when San Diego is covered in clouds most days, a phenomenon referred to by the locals as "May Grey" or "June Gloom". September is usually the hottest month of the year in the daytime. Mid-September through October are labeled as the most at-risk months for wildfires, because of the long absence of any substantial rainfall. Along the beach during the warmer half of the year, it can get surprisingly cool after dark, even when it's not too cold a short distance inland. The months of March and April typically see the strongest winds. Along the coast, fog is most common September through April; it is not uncommon to experience 3-7 foggy days per month.
During the late summer and fall there is a reversal of the usual climate conditions, when hot, dry air blows from the desert to the coast. These winds are called the Santa Ana winds. Milder Santa Ana winds can result in excellent dry air conditions, but powerful ones can last days on end, significantly raising temperatures, creating tremendous fire danger, and making the outdoors unpleasant.
- Beaches – Along San Diego's coast one can find miles of beaches for swimming, surfing, and general beach-going. In the San Diego area, one can find good beaches at Imperial Beach south of San Diego, Coronado, the beach towns of Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, La Jolla, and up the coast of Northern San Diego County. Each beach is unique, ranging from popular white sand beaches to harsh surf spots to the clothing-optional Black's Beach in La Jolla.
- Surfing – San Diego's miles of beaches provide excellent opportunities for surfing. Conditions vary by beach. There are also numerous surf schools throughout the San Diego area.
- Sailing – Mission Bay and San Diego Bay are excellent places for sailing, windsurfing, and jet skiing.
- Boating - San Diego Bay offers amble opportunities for sailors to enjoy the water, with plenty of anchorages and marinas catering to all boaters (see Point Loma, Downtown, Coronado and Chula Vista for specific places). Boat launch ramps are located at Shelter Island (Point Loma), Coronado, National City and Chula Vista. Some anchorages require a permit, while others do not. If a permit is required, it can be obtained at the Shelter Island Harbor Police Facility, 1401 Shelter Island Drive (Point Loma), +1 619 686-6272. There are also several moorings located throughout the Harbor for vessels ranging from two to 65 feet in length. See the SD Mooring Company Office, 2040 N. Harbor Island Drive (Point Loma), +1 619 291-0916, for a mooring application.
- Whale-watching – California gray whales migrate south along the coast each February. There are some great places along the coast to view the migration, such as the overlook in Cabrillo National Monument (in Point Loma), and several private companies offer sailing tours during the migration season that bring you much closer to the whales.
- Scuba diving – San Diego features some great dives including the Yukon, Ruby E and others in Wreck Alley. You'll see kelp beds and much more. In addition, several dive boat operators have regular runs to the Coronados Islands off the Mexican coast where you can dive with sea lions. Please be aware that diving here is usually considered cold water diving and the visibility is not always the greatest.
- Hang gliding – At the edge of cliffs towering above the Pacific Ocean, the Torrey Pines Glider Port in La Jolla allows anyone to soar over one of the most pristine sections of coastline in southern California. Training and tandem glides with an expert are offered.
- Golfing – There are many public and private golf courses scattered throughout San Diego that suit nearly every budget. The Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla hosts the PGA Tour Buick Invitational annually in Jan or Feb.
- Hiking & biking - San Diego’s near perfect climate, unique landscape, and low-crime rate make it one of the most pleasant places in the country to enjoy outdoor exercise. Because of this, visitors and locals alike will have no trouble finding a biking, hiking, or walking trail to suit their needs. There are numerous hiking trails and bike paths to choose from - big and small, highly visible or hidden. Information on some of the most popular individual trails can be found in the district articles.
- Rock climbing - San Diego offers some unique opportunities for rock climbing both outdoor and indoor. Although San Diego is rarely considered a destination climbing area, specialist climbing companies offer guided rock climbing from professional climbers for the beginner to the experienced climber. All the climbing companies provide all the required equipment such as helmets, shoes and harnesses, and usually require an orientation meeting the week of the climb for all participants. Most good climbing spots are located either in North San Diego or Inland San Diego County.
- Kayaking - San Diego Co. has numerous areas to kayak including Mission Bay, Sunset Beach, Kearny Mesa, Oceanside and La Jolla. Kayaking La Jolla Shores is great for all ages. You can see leopard sharks, dolphins, sea turtles, sea lions and pelicans. The area is famous for its seven caves and overall beauty.
- San Diego Chargers – Qualcomm Stadium (in Mission Valley is near the intersection of I-15 and I-8). San Diego's professional football team has recently proven to be a fierce competitor.
- San Diego Padres – PETCO Park (in Downtown, near the Gaslamp district). See the Major League Baseball Padres play at the brand new PETCO Park in downtown.
- San Diego State University Aztecs – Viejas Arena (formerly Cox Arena, in Mid-City; exit I-8 at College Avenue and turn right on Canyon Crest Drive). The college basketball team plays their home games at the Viejas Arena in the SDSU campus. The Aztecs college baseball team plays at Tony Gwynn Stadium (also on the SDSU campus) and the college football team plays at Qualcomm Stadium.
- University of San Diego Toreros – Jenny Craig Pavilion (in Mission Valley; exit I-8 at Morena Blvd and turn right on Linda Vista Road). The Toreros have college basketball, baseball, and football teams which play at facilities located on the USD campus.
The district sections of San Diego offer more details on local places to eat. Food representing almost every world cuisine can be found somewhere in the city.
Like other large metropolitan areas, San Diego carries a wide variety of national and international food. Major restaurant chains are found in almost every district.
Bars and clubs can stay open past 2AM but are not permitted to sell alcohol after this time. Expect beer bars to be open until midnight and bars and clubs to call last call around 1:30-1:50AM A medium-sized beer generally costs $4-5 in a restaurant. The best bar scenes in San Diego are in the Gaslamp Quarter area of Downtown and in Pacific Beach.
San Diego is well-known for its craft-brewing scene, with an emphasis on highly-hopped beers. Local brewers of distinction include AleSmith Brewing Company, Stone Brewing Company, Green Flash Brewing Company, Coronado Brewing Company, Ballast Point Brewing Company, and Port Brewing Company. Craft beer can generally be found at nearly every bar in San Diego. In addition, many specialty craft beer bars are scattered throughout San Diego, boasting some of the best and most unique selections of beer in the country.
Happy hour specials are very popular in San Diego offering some of the best and cheapest deals on food and drink in the city. The Pacific Beach and Downtown areas are particularly known for their numerous bars and restaurants offering significant deals during happy hour.
San Diego is dotted with major shopping centers and upscale boutiques catering to nearly every style of dress and expression. The most well-known shopping centers in the area are Horton Plaza in Downtown, Fashion Valley and Westfield Mission Valley in Mission Valley and Westfield UTC near La Jolla. In addition to these, one can find numerous other malls and outlet centers across the city.
If you're more interested in smaller shops and more local businesses than you'd ordinarily find in your average mall, Downtown, Hillcrest, and the beach neighborhoods (Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach, La Jolla, etc.) offer a slightly more unique shopping scene. San Diego county has some unique antique markets, with a treasure trove of high end stores, as well as a host of second hand shops, bric a brac, and vintage stores.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article San Diego on Wikivoyage.