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|Semi-tropical San Diego, with its mean temperature of 70
degrees F, swaying palm trees, 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.
On most days upon arrival visitors are treated to a sparkling-clear panoramic view of San Diegos modern downtown buildings, the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge and the hundreds of pleasure and commercial craft bobbing in the San Diego Bay.
The heart of this clean city lies at the foot of the harbor just minutes by cab or rental car from Lindbergh Field, where most travelers debark. Modern San Diego has become much more than just a harborside city. Spanning from the North County beach areas of La Jolla and Del Mar to the inland cities of Escondido and Poway, to the South Bay cities of Chula and San Ysidro, San Diego is now the sixth largest city 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 Diegos 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, shopping venues and boats of every shape and size. Its focal point is Horton Plaza, an architectural masterpiece built during the mid-70s which 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. At any hour of the day or night, visitors and locals flock to this area to dine, dance, and to see and be seen. 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, located just south of the Embarcadero.
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 building were raised on the site in the early '30s, this time incorporating the look and feel of the Mayan civilization and Californias early indigenous peoples. The blend of the structural styles in Balboa Park, and the maturation of meticulously cared for gardens now serves as the backdrop for many of the citys cultural events. Within the confines of the park, visitors can enjoy scores of museums and art galleries including the San Diego Museum of Man, the San Diego Museum of Art, the Timken Museum of Art, the Botanical Gardens and the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.
For a taste of what San Diego was like in its earliest years, be sure to 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 (there are numerous preserved homes and working buildings on premises and several museums to study the early inhabitants), this area is also famed 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 an 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. After the sun goes down, the streets come alive with live music, sumptuous dining and trendy boutique shoppers. One of the most highly desirable places to live in Southern California, this community lives up to its high standards yet its residents still welcome visitors with friendly smiles.
Travel a few miles further north along the coastal drive to reach Del Mar, another fine beach community. Famous for its race track, founded by Bing Crosby and fellow Hollywood cronies during the '40s, (racing season runs from late July through Labor Day) this seaside town offers as much to families as it does to racing aficionados. Beaches here are easily accessible (although parking can be atrocious in the summer months), 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 (acres of blooming Ranuculus in springtime) and the recently opened LEGOLAND California, great for those with young children in tow.
A major inland city of 80,000 inhabitants in San Diego County, this city is a quieter, more rural version of San Diego, replete with avocado and livestock ranches, vineyards and granite-strewn hillsides. Site of the San Diego Zoos 2,200-acre Wild Animal Park at the eastern edge of Escondido in San Pasqual Valley, an extension of the citys world-famous zoo providing visitors a look at wildlife in the wild. Zebra, antelope, big cats, hippos and elephants roam seemingly at will; the Wgasa Bushline monorail affords visitors a 50-minute overview of the park. Dusk is the favored time to take the tour; both animals and humans seek shade in the middle of the day as this valley often sees extremely high daytime temperatures.
Chula Vista/San Ysidro
Visitors would be remiss if they never traveled south from the city proper into the area referred to as the South Bay. Fine stretches of sand like Imperial lures surfers and swimmers; fine shopping and rural living abounds in Bonita; and commerce and industry flourish in National City. The main city in this area is Chula Vista, home to one of San Diegos newest music and entertainment venues, the Coors Amphitheater. Top acts (from Jimmy Buffet and his flock of Parrotheads, to Grammy Award winning Carlos Santana, to the Boston Philharmonic) book shows here to packed houses. Completed in 1996, 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 and frolic in the watery fun at Knotts Soak City U.S.A (open June-Sept.). Just a stones throw away from the Mexican border is San Ysidro, a colorful combination of street vendors, insurance brokers and casual restaurants featuring South-of-the-border favorites. Visitors planning to cross into Mexico can park their vehicles safely in San Ysidro and walk across the pedestrian bridge that spans the two countries or hail a cab into downtown Tiajuana.