The one-time sleepy community of San Diego is now the second-largest city in California, with a population of about 1.3 million people. The year-round playground and thriving metropolis is set against a sunny backdrop of sandy beaches and natural beauty.
Often considered the birthplace of the state, San Diego's roots date back to the 1769 settling of the area by Spanish explorers and missionaries. That early history is on display at The Old Town San Diego Historic Park. In recent decades , the city has grown beyond its reputation as a Navy town to become a thriving community known for its animal theme parks and excellent weather. Downtown's Gaslamp Quarter has also become a major draw, with its mix of Victorian storefronts and modern architecture, as well as an array of nightclubs, restaurants and music venues.
San Diego's centerpiece is Balboa Park, 1,200 acres of rolling hills and mesas that hold some of the city's most notable cultural landmarks, and provide recreational fields and facilities. More than a dozen museums fill the park.
However, the park is best known as the home of the world-famous San Diego Zoo, which has developed a successful breeding program for rare giant pandas (the newest baby panda, born in July, is visible on the Zoo's online "Panda Cam"). San Diego's man-made Mission Bay offers access to water recreation, from kayaking and windsurfing to jetskiing. There are also scenic bike paths for landlubbers. SeaWorld, one of San Diego's three famed animal attractions is also here. The marine-life showplace features performing dolphins, seals and the popular orca named Shamu. Thirty minutes from San Diego, in the community of Escondido is where you'll find the San Diego Zoo's Safari Park, a uniquely memorable experience. Originally, a "backcountry" breeding facility for the zoo, the Safari Park features more than 2,600 animals roaming in vast enclosures that allow herds to mingle with other species as they would in the wild. Trams, Jeep tours and special pedestrian walkways help visitors get good views of the animals.
The greater San Diego area, like all of California, offers a variety of fun so explore your surroundings. Just be sure to allow some time to enjoy the history of the area, the natural beauty of a beach or mountain sunset and a leisurely dinner that features the local cuisine.
~Stephanie Avnet Yates