San Diego, California, is reputed to have the best year-round climate in the continental United States. It is also a major tourist destination because of its many attractions. As a result of its location in Southern California, it was part of Mexico for many years of its history, and some of that period has been carefully preserved. From Mission San Diego, the oldest mission in California, to the Old Town, one finds remnants of this Spanish influence.
The San Diego Zoo is one of the largest and most respected zoos in the world. Thousands of animals, many of them rare or endangered, are displayed in habitats which have been constructed to resemble their natural environments.
In the Zoo, check out Ituri Forest, an African rain forest environment, Polar Bear Plunge, a simulated arctic tundra, and the Panda Research Station, with pandas on loan from China. The Koala Bears are also extremely popular, because they are rarely seen outside of their native Australia. The zoo is huge but very pleasant to walk because of the many trees and flowers which line the walkways. If the hills are a concern there are trams available and even a sky ride from the entrance to the farthest corner of the property.
Balboa Park, which houses the zoo and many museums, as well as offering a peaceful respite from the bustling downtown nearby, is a gem of a city park. The architecture of its buildings is positively stunning and it is a major gathering place for locals and tourists alike. Note especially the California Tower and the Museum of Man with their striking Spanish architecture, as well as the Botanical Gardens, which are superb.
Being a coastal city, San Diego also offers beaches and other water sports. Drive over to Coronado Island (really a peninsula) and check out Coronado Beach, a perennial member of the “best beaches of the world” list and the famous Hotel del Coronado, a grand, old edifice, and a symbol of the city.
About an hour north of the city, along Interstate 5, is a worthwhile excursion to San Juan Capistrano, site of the famous mission to which the swallows return each March 19th. The mission is now in ruins (the result of an earthquake in 1812), but the ruins are extremely attractive and recall a simpler time in the history of California. The grounds are pleasant to stroll and explore. The nearby village of Laguna Beach is also attractive with its steep cliffs tumbling down to the Pacific Ocean below.
1. Just north of San Diego is the lovely community of La Jolla, which is very picturesque and home to several excellent restaurants.
2. For a great view of the city skyline framed by mountains, drive out to the Cabrillo National Monument, at Point Loma. This spot commemorates the discovery of San Diego by the Spanish explorer, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542.