Just so very Cal­i­for­nia

San Diego is ev­ery bit as fash­ion­able as its big sis­ter cities to the north

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - AN­DREW CON­WAY

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

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