Just so very California
San Diego is every bit as fashionable as its big sister cities to the north
IT may not have the chutzpah of Hollywood or the iconic span of the Golden Gate Bridge but don’t be fooled into thinking that San Diego lives in the shadow of its more famous and showy big sisters to the north.
A world away from the cable car- clanging streets of San Francisco and star- spangled boulevards of Los Angeles, the official birthplace of California and eighth largest city in the US rightly basks in its own reflected glory.
When Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo berthed his trusty galleon in what is now San Diego Bay in 1542, it didn’t take him long to realise this brave new world was worth keeping and he claimed the area for Spain.
Today’s travellers see a modern metropolis with more than 100 vibrant neighbourhoods and a swag of world-class attractions and restaurants, all framed by more than 110km of Pacific Ocean coastline and drenched in almost year-round sunshine.
A beguiling blend of authentic Spanish, Mexican and US culture and architecture, San Diego offers a slice of old-style Southern California — or SoCal, as the locals call it — with a forward-thinking attitude that helps the city constantly reinvent itself. Best arrival: Most Australians fly to Los Angeles and onwards with a domestic airline for the 40-minute hop south to San Diego International Airport.
A fun alternative is to pick up a hire car in LA and drive the scenic 21/ 2- hour coastal route ( via Interstate 5), which winds along some of SoCal’s most famous beach communities. Best tip: Pick up a copy of Urbanist San Diego, a free pocket- sized listing of the hottest restaurants, wine and beer bars, night life, boutiques, galleries and other invogue venues. More: urbanistguide.com. Best transport: You don’t need a car if you’re keeping to the downtown area but it certainly helps if you want to explore farther afield.
San Diego’s 59- Mile Scenic Drive is a terrific way to spend a day exploring some of the city’s top attractions. Route maps are available at the visitor centre at 1140 North Harbor Drive, then follow the blue and yellow signs marked with a white seagull. More: sandiego.org. Best orientation: It might be touristy but the easiest way to get a handle on the city is on the hopon, hop-off Old Town Trolleys, which offer two-hour city circuits every 30 minutes, stopping at the Gaslamp Quarter, Coronado, Balboa Park, Little Italy, Old Town, Seaport Village and other prominent sights. Just be prepared for a goofy commentary. More: trolleytours.com. Best beaches: With 15 main beaches and an average 266 days of sunshine annually, San Diego has sand between its toes pretty much year round.
Two popular hangouts are Pacific and Mission beaches, connected by a long boardwalk that bustles with inline skaters, skateboarders, j oggers and cyclists. Historic Belmont Park (next to Mission Beach), with its vintage Giant Dipper and other classic amusements, is a weekend favourite for families. More: belmontpark.com. Best neighbourhood: La Jolla (pronounced la hoya) translates from Spanish as ‘‘the jewel’’, a fitting description for this strikingly beautiful oceanside and Mediterranean- style village an easy 20-minute drive from the city.
Leave the car at the conveniently located parking station in Prospect Place, then stroll the length of Coast Boulevard for spectacular ocean views.
Dine at George’s at the Cove in the first- rate dining room, the more casual bistro or on the rooftop Ocean Terrace overlooking La Jolla Cove, then shop in the high-end boutiques, art galleries and antiques stores on Prospect Street and Girard Avenue.
The scent in La Jolla Cove is more Eau de Guano than Givenchy, courtesy of the lolling sea lions, seals and pelicans, but the village is a super place to enjoy a sunny Sunday brunch or leisurely weekday lunch. More: lajollabythesea.com. Best walk: The historic Gaslamp Quarter in the heart of the city was the red-light district in the late 1800s (and still has a slightly seedy edge to it during the day) but has been reinvented as a dynamic restaurant, entertainment and shopping area. Every Saturday at 11am, the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation offers a guided walking tour detailing the neighbourhood’s colourful history, from Wyatt Earp’s haunts to raucous gambling halls. More: gaslampquarter.org. Best bike tour: Take the ferry from Broadway Pier or the Convention Centre to Coronado, a beautiful island peninsula across San Diego Bay. Rent a bike at the Coronado Ferry Landing and tour the island’s popular beaches, parklands and trails. More: hollandsbicycles.com. Best shopping: Occupying 15 blocks of downtown San Diego, Horton Plaza is a multi- level shopping and entertainment centre with 130 leading brand stores, restaurants and a cinema. With the Aussie dollar still so strong, there are bargains to be had and the whimsical pathways, bridges and staggered levels make for a fun SoCal retail experience. More: westfield.com/hortonplaza. Best attraction: Renowned for its groundbreaking conservation and research work, San Diego Zoo more than lives up to its reputation as one of the world’s best. The centrepiece of Balboa Park, the zoo is home to more than 4000 rare animals, many of which can be seen up close with a special backstage pass. A new Outback exhibit is being built this year to house the largest colony of koalas outside Australia. More: sandiegozoo.org. Best museum: The word ‘‘park’’ really doesn’t do Balboa Park justice because it’s so much more than a green public space. Of the 17 world-class museums nestled within this extraordinary nature and culture precinct, the Museum of Man is a standout, taking visitors on a mesmerising journey through the anthropology of the Americas and other parts of the world. The ornate Spanish colonial architecture and landmark California Tower create a beautiful backdrop to the core and visiting exhibitions. More: museumofman.org.
La Jolla offers high-end shopping, fine dining and great views