SAN DIEGO COUNTY
Beauty, intelligence and excitement come together in the quintessential beach city
134 San Diego Zoo & Safari Park
California has no shortage of beach towns, but San Diego is its only “beach city,” where the state’s second-largest population enjoys 70 miles of scenic coastline and 70-degree temperatures. Outdoor fun and family-oriented attractions are the main lures, but San Diego takes the “city” part seriously, too. Artistic and intellectual pursuits enjoy deep support here. Writers, artists, musicians and scientists find inspiration while surfing at La Jolla Shores or jogging in Mission Bay Park. The Tony-winning Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse send plays to Broadway frequently. Scientific landmarks including the Salk Institute and Scripps Institute of Oceanography are magnets for some of the world’s brightest minds.
Downtown’s diversions alone could easily fill a week. New, exciting restaurants, clubs and shops pop up in trendy neighborhoods, creating a constant buzz. The Embarcadero tracing San Diego Bay’s edge offers access to the USS Midway aircraft carrier; the Maritime Museum with its landmark Star of India and new San Salvador, a replica of Spanish explorers’ ships; the expansive Waterfront Park; and the San Diego Convention Center.
Cruise ships berth at the foot of Broadway and passengers into San Diego International Airport fly over high-rise towers to land just north of downtown. Hotels of every description and hip-quotient are scattered throughout the city’s core, making it a desirable place to stay.
A Bridge to Coronado
The swooping San Diego-coronado Bridge connects downtown to Coronado, a genteel city with an active Navy base and one of the world’s loveliest beaches. Its “island” actually is a peninsula tethered to the mainland by the Silver Strand, a narrow strip of road and sand running past Navy installations and pristine
beaches to the south county. The red turrets atop the Victorian Hotel del Coronado peek above the city’s modest skyline. Coronado’s pleasures include shopping and dining on Orange Avenue, visiting the Coronado Museum of History & Art, ogling the San Diego skyline from Tidelands Park and teeing off at Coronado Municipal Golf Course.
San Diego’s century-old cultural heart occupies 1,200 acres of hills and canyons just east of downtown. It hosts 17 museums and The Old Globe theater, winner of multiple Tony Awards. Its most famous tenant, the justly renowned San Diego Zoo, celebrated its Centennial in 2016 and opens a huge new Africa Rocks exhibit in 2017.
The coast between the Mexican border (18 miles south of downtown) and Oceanside is lined with beach towns. Each has a unique character, from Ocean Beach’s hippie vibe to classy La Jolla’s Mediterranean ambience. Beloved by surfers and escapists with sufficient wherewithal, a series of small communities line the coast north of La Jolla’s Torrey Pines State Reserve.
City & Town
San Diego’s cosmopolitan downtown encompasses several hip neighborhoods. The historic Gaslamp Quarter’s picturesque streets are packed with classy restaurants and clubs in restored 19th-century Victorian, Baroque and Frontier buildings. Petco Park, downtown’s baseball stadium, anchors the East Village filled with condo complexes, cafés and a stunning Central Library. Little Italy managed to hold on to some venerable pizza parlors, bakeries and bars while evolving from a simple Italian community into an urban enclave with modernist condo complexes, trendy shops and gourmet restaurants helmed by top chefs. As the hub of San Diego’s sophisticated nightlife scene, the entire downtown now pulses with energy day and night.
The urban core continues uptown through Bankers Hill and Hillcrest, the lively heart of the LGBT community. Over the past decade, the former Naval Training Center, now called Liberty Station, has evolved into a mini-town with stores, offices, galleries, schools and the Liberty Public Market occupying the base’s Spanish Colonial-style former commissary building. Abundant open space makes Liberty Station the perfect spot for art shows, family gatherings and special events.
The Great Outdoors
Surfers, swimmers, boaters and anglers all play in and on the Pacific Ocean, from Imperial Beach near the Mexican border north to Oceanside and the Marine base at Camp Pendleton. Snorkeling is especially good at La Jolla Cove, while surfers prefer
Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach and dozens of small patches of sand with gnarly waves just offshore.
East and north of the city center, the landscape gives way to rolling foothills and canyons. Lakes and reservoirs offer freshwater fishing and tranquility. The vast Anza-borrego Desert State Park, home of “California’s Grand Canyon” at Fonts Point, provides hiking trails through palm canyons, fields of cacti and dazzling wildflower displays.
Heritage & Culture
Explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo spotted San Diego Bay in 1542 but quickly sailed on north, leaving the Kumeyaay Indians to their warm, bountiful home. San Diego County’s 18 tribes represent the largest concentration in the country, and more than half benefit from casinos in east and north counties.
Cabrillo’s brief stay is commemorated at Cabrillo National Monument at the tip of Point Loma overlooking the bay. European settlers who returned in 1769 built a fort and mission church at Presidio Hill, a gorgeous swath of lawns above Old Town State Historic Park, which contains many of San Diego’s oldest buildings.
Adults and children alike relish the San Diego Zoo and its separate Safari Park, LEGOLAND California and Seaworld San Diego. Downtown’s New Children’s Museum is an eco-friendly playground for all ages, with multicultural, bilingual exhibits that make learning fun, and its adjacent one-acre park allows kids to burn energy. Teens flock to fighter planes and flight simulators at the USS Midway Museum. Top choices for inexpensive entertainment: Bicycling at Mission Bay and Coronado, fishing off piers in Imperial Beach and Ocean Beach and stargazing from Mount Palomar.
SAN DIEGO BAY and the city skyline, opposite; Coronado Bridge, above.
SAN DIEGO’S SPANISH COLONIAL Revival railway station opened in March 1915 as the Santa Fe Depot, right; strolling along the Point Loma hillside at the Cabrillo National Monument, opposite top; the Unconditional Surrender statue at the USS Midway, opposite below.