San Diego Vacations
If you want to wet your feet and soak up the SoCal beach scene in style, catch a wave to San Diego. Its superb coastline, near-perfect climate and Mediterranean facade make it the quintessential Southern California beach city, but there's no chance to develop ennui. The smorgasbord of museums, zoos, animal parks and beaches will have you wondering which way to run next.
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What To Do
Getting active in San Diego is pretty much all about the water. There's good surfing and windsurfing and there's some great scuba-diving through the giant kelp forests and the deep blue of La Jolla Canyon.
What To See
San Diego Zoo
This justifiably famous zoo is one of SoCal's biggest attractions, showing more than 3000 animals representing over 800 species in a beautifully landscaped setting, typically in enclosures that replicate their natural habitats. Its sister park is San Diego Zoo Safari Park in northern San Diego County.
The zoo is located in the northern part of Balboa Park. Arrive early, as many of the animals are most active in the morning – though many perk up again in the afternoon. The guided double-decker bus tour gives a good overview of the zoo with informative commentary: sitting downstairs puts you closer to the animals. Once you’ve made the loop, your ticket remains good for an express bus service in the park, a big help if you’re unable to walk far. The Skyfari cable car goes right across the park and can save you some walking time, though there may be a line to get on it.
Museum of Contemporary Art
Adjacent to and across from a San Diego Trolley stop, this museum has brought innovative artwork to San Diegans since the 1960s in the La Jolla branch; check local listings for exhibits.
Old Point Loma Lighthouse
The 1854 Old Point Loma Lighthouse, dramatically built at the top of the hill, was so prone to fog-in that a new, lower lighthouse took over duty 36 years later. On the ocean side of the point, you can drive or walk down to the tide pools to look for anemones, starfish, crabs, limpets and 'dead man's fingers'.
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Between N Torrey Pines Rd and the ocean, and from the Torrey Pines Gliderport to Del Mar, this reserve preserves the last mainland stands of the Torrey pine (Pinus torreyana), a species adapted to sparse rainfall and sandy, stony soils. Steep sandstone gullies have eroded into wonderfully textured surfaces, and the views over the ocean and north are superb.
Rangers lead nature walks from here at 10am and 2pm on weekends and holidays. Several walking trails wind through the reserve and down to the beach.
Torrey Pines State Reserve and La Jolla Cove are also good spots for whale watching.
There are three distinct levels at this historic Gaslamp building that's been turned into an atmospheric watering hole: the main floor with its long mahogany bar, the lounge-like 'Nest' (thought to be the site of a former brothel), and the brick-walled 'Underground' with a dance floor and live music acts.
There's more to the scene in San Diego than sunshine and surf. The Ocean Beach Kiwanis Kite Festival makes the most of the wind, with kite making, decorating and flying competitions in March. American Indian Cultural Days held in Balboa Park in May include Native American dancing, music and art exhibits while things can get a little more raunchy at the Pacific Beach Block Party held on Garnet Ave the same month.
The Ocean Beach Street Fair and Chili Cook-Off is a popular two-day street bash in June. It's accompanied that month by the three-week Del Mar Fair, a huge county fair held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, with headline musical acts and carnival rides.
The Harbor Parade of Lights in December goes one better than a Christmas tree, with dozens of decorated illuminated boats floating in San Diego's harbor.
Food and Drink
OB's legendary burger joint serves great shakes, massive baskets of onion rings and succulent hamburgers wrapped in paper. The walls are covered in license plates, grunge/surf-rock plays (loud!) and your bearded, tattooed server might sidle in to your booth to take your order. No shirt, no shoes, no problem.
Downtown’s favorite breakfast place serves renowned pumpkin waffles, buttermilk, orange-pecan or granola pancakes, and eggs in scrambles or benedicts. They also sell lunchtime sandwiches and salads, but we always go for breakfast (available until closing).