Beauty, in­tel­li­gence and ex­cite­ment come to­gether in the quin­tes­sen­tial beach city

Travel Guide to California - - CONTENTS - BY MARIBETH MELLIN

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.

Bal­boa Park

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.

Beach Towns

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.

Fam­ily Fun

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’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,...

SAN DIEGO BAY and the city sky­line, op­po­site; Coron­ado Bridge, above.

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