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San Diego

National Parks

San Diego, California

Museum of Man - Balboa Park Public Domain
Balboa Park can occupy several days of sightseeing in the numerous museums and the world-renown Zoo.

San Diego is in southern California near the Mexican border

San Diego lies along the southern coast of California near the Mexican border. It is 125 miles (200 km) south of Los Angeles and about 600 miles (1.000 km) south of San Francisco. It is situated along the shores of a large bay sheltered behind several low-lying peninsulas. This great natural harbor enticed the Spanish missionary Father Junipero Serra to found the first of his series of 21 missions here in 1769. During the Second World War, the US Navy established its primary Pacific naval base and naval airfield at San Diego.

San Diego offers a very pleasant climate and relaxed atmosphere

Today, San Diego is the second largest city in California. It is a large modern metropolitan center, a year-around tourist resort and a thriving commercial seaport with a large naval base. Despite its size, San Diego seems less congested and frenzied than Los Angeles. It has a very hospitable climate with comfortable temperatures in all seasons. During the winter, days are usually warm and sunny and the nights are cool. In the summer, a pleasant breeze off of the Pacific Ocean moderates the heat from the tropical sun. It does not suffer from the problems of air pollution, which plague Los Angeles.

San Diego has spread north and south along the coast and eastward into the foothills of the mountains and now encompasses several distinct communities. Downtown San Diego is a combination of high-rise hotels, modern office buildings and a restored "Gas Lamp Quarter". Here, you will find a large convention center alongside an extensive yacht basin, several unique shopping centers and a wide assortment of restaurants, bars and clubs. Balboa Park, on the eastern hills skirting downtown, offers a wide assortment of museums, cultural attractions and one of the best zoos in the USA. San Diego International Airport is located near the downtown section of the city.

Coronado Peninsula beaches provide a resort across the harbors

Coronado Peninsula stretches across the harbor from downtown. It is a beach resort community that offers a wide assortment of recreational activities like swimming, boating and fishing and many resort hotels. Mission Bay, just north of downtown, has an extensive shorefront park with two family amusement facilities: Sea World and Belmont Park. The "Old Town" section of San Diego to the northeast includes six square blocks of historic buildings restored to their colonial splendor. There are a lot of restaurants, clubs, boutiques and souvenir shops in the Old Town area. A bit further north along the shore lies the beautiful seaside community of La Jolla with its up-scale shops and exclusive hillside homes.


The San Diego metropolitan area is smaller and less congested than Los Angeles, so it is easier to find a wide variety of accommodations that are within easy access of downtown and the major attractions.

What to see in San Diego

Any trip to San Diego should include a visit to the beaches on Coronado Peninsula and a stroll through the historic Coronado hotel. Balboa Park can occupy several days of sightseeing in the numerous museums and the world-renown Zoo. A trip to old town San Diego including a tour of the Junipero Serra museum and the reconstructed Mission San Diego will occupy another day. Add a boat excursion around the harbor, a stroll along the embarcadero, and a walking tour of the Gas Lamp Quarter, and you will have spent an enjoyable week touring beautiful San Diego. For the more adventuresome, there are fishing excursions, hot air balloon rides, and even air-combat experiences.

La Jolla Beach © Corel
A bit further north along the shore lies the beautiful seaside community of La Jolla with its up-scale shops and exclusive hillside homes.

The main shopping district in downtown centers around the architecturally unique Horton Plaza Shopping Center and the Gas Lamp Quarter. Small shops and boutiques are also found along the Embarcadero especially at the Fisherman's Village. There are numerous small shops in the Old Town district. The more serious bargain hunters will wish to visit the suburban Mission Valley Shopping Center and Fashion Valley Shopping center in Mission Valley, the Grossmont Center in La Mesa or the La Jolla Village Square.

Tijuana, Mexico is the real bargain shopping center

The Mexican City of Tijuana is just ten miles south of downtown San Diego. It is famous for its bargain shopping and wild nightlife. Many native handicrafts, especially leather goods, silver jewelry, pottery and hand woven textiles are available in numerous shops and from thousands of street vendors. Bargain-priced alcoholic beverages, Cuban cigars and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals are also readily available. Be sure to check the US customs restrictions before you attempt to bring such items back across the border into the USA.

When driving into Mexico, you may be required to purchase additional auto insurance and the traffic delays at the border crossing can sometimes be quite long. It is easier to take the tram from downtown San Diego to the border and walk across to Tijuana. You can also drive to the border and park your car in one of the large parking lots on the US side, then take a bus to downtown Tijuana. Be careful when purchasing food and drink from street vendors as the standards of cleanliness are sometimes far less than you may expect.

Attractions near San Diego

About two hours drive north of San Diego brings you to Los Angeles, the largest city in California and a sprawling metropolitan center that includes Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Long Beach and dozens of other communities. One hours drive to the east takes you up into the Santa Rosa Mountains with cooler temperatures, vineyards, cattle ranches and vast forests. About two hours drive to the east brings you back down to the arid desert valley of Palm Springs and the Salton Sea. Here you will find eternal sunshine, hot temperatures and affluent oases with golf courses and luxury winter resorts. Another half-hours drive and you reach Joshua Tree National Park with its bizarre high altitude desert landscape and ecology.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © San Diego Conventions and Visitors Bureau
Photo Description: San Diego Bay