San Diego City Guide


©2006 Joanne DiBona/San Diego CVB San Diego's coastal terrain includes rugged cliffs, like these at Torrey Pines. See more pictures of beaches.

Everyone already knows a few things about San Diego -- the picture-postcard beaches, the world-class surfing, the calorie-laden Mexican food, and Shamu. Yes, San Diegans definitely know how to appreciate bikinis, long boards, and a good fish taco, but a visit to this coastal metropolis is about more than just a day at the beach.

For every expectation, San Diego throws you a curve. Just when you think it's entrenched in conservatism, along comes liberal, crunchy Ocean Beach, complete with llamas and a vegan co-op. Just when the masses of plastic-surgery ads have you convinced of the town's superficiality, along comes the Deepak Chopra Center, the Self-Realization Fellowship Ashram, and the deeply spiritual culture of soul-surfing.

This is a city defined by its literal position on the edge. Forget what you think you know, because San Diego never ceases to surprise.

Beautiful Beaches Image Gallery

The Best of San Diego

Recent decades have seen San Diego's downtown transformed into a highly-trafficked entertainment mecca, with giant dance clubs, low-key lounges, and see-and-be-seen bars, plus restaurant after restaurant serving every cuisine imaginable, not to mention a brand-new park for the city's baseball team, the San Diego Padres.

Year-round amazing weather makes San Diego one of the country's best places for outdoor recreation, including surfing at clothing-optional Black's Beach and kayaking around the caves at La Jolla Cove. San Diego is also home to the largest urban cultural park in the United States -- Balboa Park.

San Diego fosters a vital arts and cultural scene, with dozens of museums and theaters, plus grown-up pursuits like classical music and opera. Kids get to keep busy while splashing around with dolphins at SeaWorld San Diego, hanging with blockheads at Legoland, and exploring the microcosms of sea life in endlessly fascinating tide pools.

And the coast, as always, remains; some of the world's most beautiful sunsets can, and should, be enjoyed here. But there's more to San Diego than surf, sunshine, and sand. You just have to know where to look.

©2006 Edward O'Connor The San Diego Padres play baseball at state-of-the-art Petco Park.

Fast Facts & Information

Fast Facts & Information

Geography and landscape: Situated on the southwest corner of California, San Diego is the southernmost big city in the state, bounded loosely by mountain ranges and deserts to the east and by the Mexican border to the south. Like Los Angeles, San Diego is a sprawling mass of suburbs and neighborhoods.

Central San Diego is full of hills and valleys, and the city's 70 miles of coastal terrain ranges from the wide, flat, sandy swaths at places like Pacific Beach and La Jolla Shores to the rugged cliffs of Ocean Beach and Torrey Pines. Mission Bay swirls inland from the Pacific, isolating a skinny strip of sand known as Mission Beach, while the larger San Diego Bay separates downtown from the "island" of Coronado (which is actually a peninsula).

There are also neighboring cities that make up the San Diego metropolitan area, including Chula Vista, El Cajon, La Mesa, Encinitas, Carlsbad, Oceanside, and Escondido, plus dozens of smaller towns in between.

©2006 PDPhoto.org La Jolla has one of the most gorgeous beaches in the San Diego area.

General orientation: San Diego's downtown area is located on the shores of San Diego Bay across from Coronado, with popular beach areas like La Jolla, Pacific Beach (or PB) and Mission Beach situated a few miles north near the city's smaller Mission Bay. Much of the action occurs west of Interstate 5, the artery that runs north/south through the city and perpendicular to Interstate 8, which runs through Mission Valley and connects the beaches to suburban areas farther east.

San Diego's uptown neighborhoods (like Hillcrest, University Heights, and North Park) are located in the elevated area above downtown, on the north side of Balboa Park.

Safety: San Diego may be the sixth-safest big city in the United States, according to city police officials, but crime is no stranger to these polished, well-manicured streets. Vigilance will serve you well when walking alone at night through certain neighborhoods, especially those to the south and east of downtown, and on the beaches after dark. The roads can also be treacherous, with heavy traffic and a complicated freeway system (plus, San Diego's not known for having the world's best drivers). In nightlife areas, like Pacific Beach and the Gaslamp Quarter, keep an extra eye out for drunken drivers.

Population: San Diego has a population of 1.2 million, making it the second-largest city in the state of California.

Climate/weather: Average daily temperatures hover around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and almost three quarters of days are sunny, which means the weather is generally so perfectly mild that you don't even think about it. Winter averages dip to about 65 degrees Fahrenheit, so going to the beach isn't out of the question even at Christmas (though a light jacket is probably a good idea). August, meanwhile, has the warmest days, with an average temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit.

A couple things to watch for, though, especially if you're planning a late spring/early summer visit: San Diego's beach areas are plagued by a phenomenon that weathercasters call "May Gray" and "June Gloom," in which a thick layer of marine stratus descends on the coast. The coastal clouds may remain all day but sometimes give way to some hazy afternoon sunshine.

Whether you're planning to fly into San Diego International Airport or drive to the city, be sure you have a map to help you get around. Before embarking on your trip, you'll also want to read the San Diego transportation primer on the following page.

Getting In, Getting Around San Diego

©2006 Joanne DiBona/San Diego CVB San Diego's trolley is an above-ground system that has three lines.

You have several options for getting around San Diego, including buses, trolleys, and the "Coaster" train system. Driving in this city can be a bit of a challenge -- if you're planning to drive, you'll want to watch out for heavy traffic. The following San Diego transportation primer won't ease the traffic, but it might make it a little easier to work your way around it.

From the Airport

Rental car: All car rental agencies are located off-site, so you won't find any service counters at the San Diego International Airport, which is sometimes called Lindbergh Field. You can, however, use the car rental reservations boards and courtesy phones located near the baggage claim areas in Terminals 1 and 2. Free shuttles operate every few minutes from the airport's Transportation Plazas to off-site rental offices for most major companies (Avis, Alamo, Hertz, Enterprise, Thrifty, etc.).

Taxi: If you need a taxi at San Diego International Airport, simply follow the signs leading to the airport's Transportation Plaza, where a coordinator will place you in the first available taxi unless you specify a particular taxi company.

The airport is centrally located near the center of downtown, making it a fairly inexpensive cab ride to wherever you're going. Cab fares may vary but generally start with a $2.20 flag-drop charge and an additional $2.30 per mile. Most cabs have a limit of four passengers. The average cab fare from the airport to the Gaslamp Quarter is about $10.

Public transportation: If you're bent on taking public transit from the airport, you can catch a bus called the MTS Flyer Route 992 to connect to the trolley, Amtrak, or the Coaster rail services at the Santa Fe Depot downtown. The Flyer costs $2.25 and runs every 10 minutes between 5 am and 12:50 am.

The bad news is that not many public transportation options are available between the airport and downtown San Diego, so your only other option is to use a courtesy van (check to see if your hotel operates its own free shuttle).

Driving In

Rush hour: If you're new to San Diego and you're planning on driving, make sure your glove box is stocked with a map -- it'll help you navigate the city's knot of freeways. Though major landmarks are generally well marked and freeway signs are usually easy to find and follow in the downtown and beach areas, if you venture beyond the central core it's easy to get turned around. Know this: in most cases, even-numbered freeways run east-west, odd numbered ones go north-south. And several neighborhoods follow an alphabetized city plan, with streets in one area named according to some theme -- trees, birds, gemstones -- and proceeding in alphabetical order.

You'll find fairly heavy traffic on southbound and westbound freeways in the morning (7 to 9 am), and northbound and eastbound routes after work (4:30 to 6 pm). The narrow Highway 163 leading into downtown gets very slow on days when the San Diego Padres play home games at downtown's Petco Park.

Rules of the road: To put it delicately: San Diegans won't be winning any "World's Best Driver" awards anytime soon. Speeding, fender-benders and sudden, unannounced six-lane changes are all entirely too common. Be vigilant and brush up on those defensive driving skills before getting behind the wheel in San Diego.

Getting Around Town

Public transportation: The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System consists of the San Diego Trolley, the San Diego Coast Express Rail also called Coaster, and a network of buses.

The Trolley is actually an above-ground rail line with three routes: the Blue Line (Qualcomm Stadium to San Ysidro Transit Center), the Orange Line (downtown to El Cajon), and the Green Line (Old Town to Santee via San Diego State University). Fares are $1.25 to $3 each way, depending how far you go.

The Coaster is a train that runs from Oceanside to downtown San Diego. Fares cost $4 to $5.50 each way depending on the distance traveled.

Buses run throughout the city and fares cost $1.75 to $2.25; the best way to figure out routes, stops, and schedules is to call the Metropolitan Transit System at (800) 266-6883 or use the online trip-planner feature.

The Coronado Ferry runs between downtown's Broadway Pier and the Ferry Landing in Coronado every hour on the hour from 9 am to 9 pm (later on Friday and Saturday nights), and costs $2 each way. For ferry info, call (619) 234-4111.

Water taxis also operate on the San Diego Bay at a rate of $7 per person for a one-way trip. Call (619) 235-TAXI to reserve a seat.

Taxis, on foot, or by bike: Cabs are available to pick you up and take you anywhere, but outside of downtown they don't really patrol a regular route, so you'll have to call for one. And since the city is so spread out, biking and walking aren't a good idea unless you plan to stay in one specific area. Cab rates can vary but generally start with a $2.20 flag-drop and an additional $2.30 per mile thereafter. Most cabs have a limit of four passengers, though you can request a larger taxi van.

Downtown, the waterfront, and certain neighborhoods like Pacific Beach, La Jolla, and Hillcrest are pedestrian-friendly, with lots of restaurants, bars, and shops making them well-suited for strolling. And for a scenic stroll in the city, Balboa Park's grassy expanses are rivaled only perhaps by the picturesque downtown skyline as seen while meandering unhurriedly down the waterfront.

The long paved boardwalk that runs the length of Mission Beach and circles Mission Bay is ideal for biking, rollerblading, or skateboarding. Just be sure to pay attention to the signs painted on the pavement indicating which lane to be in (there are different lanes and speeds for bikes and pedestrians) and which direction traffic is flowing.

Once you get your bearings, you can begin to enjoy this wonderful city. San Diego has year-round entertainment, professional sports, live music, and lots of outdoor recreation. On the next page, we'll explore the special events and attractions in San Diego.

San Diego Special Events & Attractions

©2006 PDPhoto.org The San Diego Zoo features more than 4,200 rare and exotic animals representing 800 species, many of which can be seen in natural habitats.

San Diego truly is the land of the endless summer. The constant sunshine makes every weekend a good one for being outside, be it at a neighborhood celebration, a sports event, or a concert.

San Diego shines in the summertime, when baseball season is in full swing, the ponies are running at Del Mar Race Track, the Street Scene music festival brings top rock and hip-hop talent to town, and the weather's right for outdoor recreation. The area's beach and reef breaks make it a surfer's paradise, while both Mission and San Diego Bays are popular for sailing, kayaking, and power boating. Farther north, adventurous types can try their hand at hang-gliding, hot air ballooning, and more sky-high activities. And there are the 90-plus golf courses in the area, just begging to be played.

But there's plenty to do the rest of the year as well, like visiting top attractions: kid-friendly SeaWorld San Diego and Legoland, the world-famous San Diego Zoo, Birch Aquarium, and the Wild Animal Park, where the beasts roam freely.

Insider's Guide: The Best of Special Events & Attractions in San Diego

Insider's Guide: The Best of Special Events & Attractions in San Diego

San Diego's crown jewel is Balboa Park (1549 El Prado, Balboa Park), an environmental and cultural oasis and one of the largest urban parks in the country. Aside from its many museums and theaters, the park is also home to the Spreckels Organ, the world's largest outdoor musical instrument, and several gardens, including the Japanese Friendship Garden and Tea Pavilion. Also in the park: the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages, which were built for the 1935 Exposition, but really come alive during the annual December Nights holiday festivities, when each serves its country's best cuisine -- everything from Swedish meatballs to goulash.

SeaWorld San Diego (500 Sea World Dr) is a 190-acre marine park on Mission Bay with four different shows, four rides, and more than 20 exhibits and attractions. You can be face to face with beluga whales, polar bears, and walruses, or sit and watch Shamu and other whales perform astonishing tricks.

Legoland (1 Legoland Dr, Carlsbad) is a 128-acre park entirely made of Legos and designed to amuse children ages 2 to 12. A bright red dinosaur named Bronte -- 9 feet tall, 34 feet long, and made entirely of Legos -- greets guests entering the park. Inside, you'll find life-size fairy-tale characters and safari animals built of Lego bricks. Dino Island includes a Coastersaurus that will speed up to 21 mph around a prehistoric jungle of animated and life-size Lego brick dinosaurs. The park's centerpiece is Miniland USA, which replicates seven areas of the United States with 20 million Lego bricks in 1:20 scale.

San Diego Zoo (2920 Zoo Drive, Balboa Park) features more than 4,200 rare and exotic animals representing 800 species, many of which can be seen in natural habitats like the Polar Bear Plunge, Tiger River, Sun Bear Forest, Flamingo Lagoon, and Reptile Mesa. The children's zoo has a petting paddock, animal nursery, and animal exhibits at kid's eye level.

Birch Aquarium (2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla) presents undersea creatures -- like sharks, fish, and jellies -- in realistic habitats and allows visitors to experience the frontiers of marine science through interactive museum exhibits. The aquarium's entrance has two whale statues leaping out of a fountain and another in mid-dive with water dripping from its tale.

Wild Animal Park (15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd) is a 1,800-acre wildlife preserve where you can see herds of exotic animals as they might be seen in their natural habitat. Make sure to visit the Lion Camp, Elephant Overlook, Condor Ridge, Kilimanjaro Safari Walk, and African Aviary.

San Diego loves its baseball team, the National League San Diego Padres (100 Park Blvd), who have a shiny new home in downtown's Petco Park. Tickets can be purchased at the box office and via Ticketmaster, but you might also try the Padres Ticket Marketplace (online at www.padres.com), where season ticket holders post their unused seats for resale. Alternately, $5 gets you into the stadium's many bars as well as the Park at the Park, a grassy area behind the stadium with partial field views where you can watch the game on the Jumbotron.

Not to be outdone, the San Diego Chargers (9449 Friars Rd) -- or Bolts as they're known, thanks to their lightning-bolt logo, attract a loyal fan base that takes its tailgating seriously, descending on Petco Stadium sometimes several hours before the kickoff to drink, grill, and talk sports. Whether or not sports are your thing, watch for traffic in Mission Valley on Sundays during football season (September to December).

San Diego has museums devoted to just about every topic imaginable, along with theaters, the symphony, and the opera. On the next page, we'll tell you how to best enjoy the arts and culture in San Diego.

San Diego Arts & Culture

©2006 PDPhoto.org Every first Thursday, San Diego's Museum of Contemporary Art hosts its Thursday Night Thing (TNT), with a gallery walk, live bands, or DJs.

Balboa Park is the visual art center of San Diego, with a seemingly endless array of museums suited for all types, from sports fans (Hall of Champions) to archaeology buffs (Natural History Museum), science nuts (Reuben H. Fleet Science Center), to Impressionism devotees (San Diego Museum of Art). Small, edgy galleries and theaters are scattered between downtown, uptown, La Jolla, and other neighborhoods, while the mainstream cultural offerings (symphony, opera, etc.) are clustered around C Street downtown.

The city's vibrant ethnic neighborhoods are many and varied as well, from rough-around-the-edges North Park, with its cornucopia of ethnic restaurants and small galleries, to pristine, design-conscious Little Italy.

Insider's Guide: The Best of Arts & Culture in San Diego

Insider's Guide: The Best of Arts & Culture in San Diego

Balboa Park (1549 El Prado) offers free admission on Tuesdays to select museums on its grounds, but the special price is available on a rotating schedule. Most museums also offer half-price admission during February's Museum Month. Also, in the summertime the park is a haven for outdoor movie screenings and concerts.

Spreckels Organ Concerts (Spreckels Organ Pavilion, Pan American Way) is a treat not to be missed at Balboa Park. The organ, nestled in its ornate pavilion in the heart of the park, has 4,446 individual pipes ranging from less than 1/2 inch to more than 32 feet in length. Free hour-long concerts are held at 2 pm Sundays, with seating accommodating up to 2,400 people.

The San Diego Museum of Art (1450 El Prado) features European and American Paintings and decorative arts; Japanese, Chinese, and other Asian art; and contemporary sculpture.

An uber-hip crowd turns out for back-to-back arts events happening the first week of each month. Every first Thursday, downtown's Museum of Contemporary Art (1001 Kettner Blvd) hosts its Thursday Night Thing, better known as TNT, with a gallery walk, live bands, or DJs.

On first Fridays, Voice 1156 Gallery (1156 7th Ave) has receptions with edgy artwork, DJs, and a great cheese tray.

The San Diego Opera (202 B St) has the reputation as one of the most respected opera companies in the country. Between January and May, the company presents five grand opera productions and several special concerts and special recitals. Don't be surprised if some if its performers are internationally known opera stars.

The San Diego Symphony (750 B St, Copley Music Hall) offers a wide range of concert experiences and hosts more than 100 concerts each season. It does a good job presenting traditional pieces like Tchaikovsky, Brahms, and Bach, but its offerings can be hip, too. Past performances have included vocalist Randy Jackson collaborating with the symphony and a high-powered rock band to present The Music of Led Zeppelin.

The Old Globe Theatre (1363 Old Globe Way) is a 581-seat venue frequently used for pre-Broadway tryouts in Balboa Park, behind the Museum of Man. The building also houses the 225-seat Cassius Carter Centre Stage and the 612-seat open air Lowell Davies Festival Theatre. Between these three venues, visitors can choose between 15 plays, from musicals to contemporary drama, year-round.

Other outstanding repertory theaters around include the Lamb's Players Theatre (1142 Orange Ave) in Coronado and the La Jolla Playhouse (2910 La Jolla Village Dr). Lamb's is one of Southern California's leading nonprofit performing arts companies and has a regular season of five productions from February through November with an additional Christmas show. The La Jolla Playhouse is located on the University of California San Diego campus and produces six main productions each year.

They don't call it Hollywood South for nothing. San Diego has an ever-expanding buffet of film festivals each year; the glitziest being the San Diego Film Festival held in September in the Gaslamp Quarter, often with celebrity guests.

The city's Jewish, Latino, and Asian festivals are also impeccably programmed. Summertime is rife with al fresco film screenings held wherever a projector screen can be erected -- on a lawn such as Screen on the Green at Balboa Park, outside of a hair salon such as Cinema Under the Stars (4040 Goldfinch St, Mission Hills), even on the sail of an antique ship, such as Movies Before the Mast (1492 North Harbor Drive).

San Diego doesn't have quite the literary scene that it should, but book buffs shouldn't overlook the happenings at La Jolla's independent bookseller, D.G. Wills (7461 Girard Ave). The stacks here have that mystical vibe that's the diametric opposite of Borders, with engaging, helpful shopkeepers and a steady program of fascinating author-talks. Gore Vidal, Oliver Stone, Jim Belushi, and Norman Mailer have all visited.

Many buildings in San Diego date back to the time of early Spanish missionaries in the area. The city also has its share of Old West saloons and late 19th-century homes and buildings. Go to the next page to learn more about San Diego's architecture and landmarks.

San Diego Architecture & Landmarks

San Diego's long and colorful history is evident in its architecture. Though the area's native residents left little permanent trace on the city, the structures built by Spanish missionaries still remain, most notably in Old Town and at Mission San Diego de Alcala. The past also persists in the form of landmarks like Cabrillo National Monument at Point Loma.

The city's historic Gaslamp Quarter dates back to the Wild West saloon days of Wyatt Earp, and still retains much late-19th-century character in its architecture. Even modern buildings pay tribute to the city's stormy past: the newish downtown nightclub Stingaree cribbed its moniker from the name of San Diego's red-light district circa 1900.

Suburban areas uptown bear the mark of the development eras, with breathtaking Victorians still occupying much of Golden Hill (and honored in the eight-acre Heritage Park, which includes several late-19th-century homes and San Diego's first synagogue, Temple Beth Israel). Woodsy Craftsman homes, meanwhile, line the streets of nearby North Park. More recently, gentrifying areas boast new condominiums, which are either fascinating examples of modern design or "architorture," depending on your perspective.

Insider's Guide: The Best of Architecture & Landmarks in San Diego

Insider's Guide: The Best of Architecture & Landmarks in San Diego

The Gaslamp Quarter (bounded by 4th Avenue, 6th Avenue, Broadway, and L Street) is a 16 1/2-block national historic district filled with renowned Victorian-era architecture. The Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation conducts guided walking tours at 11 am every Saturday. You can also wander yourself, starting with the William Heath Davis Historic House Museum (410 Island Ave). Its structure has remained unchanged for 120 years and is an excellent example of historic, prefabricated saltbox family home, which is a small, square house with two stories in front and one in back.

The Backesto Building (614 5th Ave) was one of the first buildings in the Gaslamp District to be restored and features Classical Revival architecture. The Ingle Building (801 4th Ave) features a 25-foot stained-glass dome, and its original lion sculpture near the entrance reflects the building's old use as the Golden Lion Tavern.

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala (10818 San Diego Mission Rd) is California's first church and the first of 21 great missions. Its adobe walls and tile roof made it difficult for Native American Indians to destroy. This remarkable shrine, still an active Catholic parish, provides an interesting look into San Diego's Spanish heritage. The San Diego Trolley makes a stop just one block from the mission.

First Church of Christ Scientist (2444 Second Ave) was a unique creation of architect Irving Gill, who lined up the pews in a long horizontal axis instead of a vertical axis like other churches. It's considered his most famous church design and is now on the National Historic Landmark list.

The Marston House (3525 Seventh Ave) is an early example of San Diego architects William Hebbard and Irving Gill in the style of the American Arts and Crafts Movement of the early 20th century. The interior design is simple and it landscaped grounds are a blend of English Romantic themes and California influences.

The University of California San Diego offers some original architecture of its own, with architect William Pereira's spacecraft-like Geisel Library (9500 Gillman Dr). This eight-story, concrete structure is located at the head of a canyon near the campus's center. The two lower floors form a pedestal for the six-story stepped tower.

The California Tower (El Prado at Park Blvd) was built for the Panama-California Exposition of 1915-16 celebrating the completion of the Panama Canal. Its 200-foot tower is part of the San Diego Museum of Man, and its 100-bell carillon chimes every 15 minutes.

The Serra Museum (2727 Presidio Dr) is a striking mission-style building constructed in 1929 and showcases Spanish and Mexican periods of Sand Diego's history. The building stands on top of the hill recognized as the site where California's first mission and presidio were established in 1769.

The Mount Soledad Cross (6905 La Jolla Scenic Dr S, La Jolla) and war memorial sits atop a peak in La Jolla, on a site offering 360-degree views stretching from the eastern valleys to La Jolla Shores and all the way to downtown and Coronado on clear days. The monument, which also includes hundreds of plaques dedicated to fallen US soldiers, is the subject of much debate among residents, who disagree over whether or not public land should display religious symbols. Whatever side of the argument you take, there's no denying this coastal perch is a magical place to visit.

The San Diego Historical Society maintains an excellent archive of information and photographs dating back to the city's earliest settlers. Even if you don't get a chance to visit the exhibitions at the Museum of San Diego History (Casa de Balboa, 1649 El Prado) in Balboa Park, take some time to browse the wealth of historical info available on the group's Web site.

Get the heebie-jeebies at Old Town's Casa de Estudillo (4001 Mason St) is a good example of a one-story adobe townhouse. Captain Jose Maria de Estudillo built the building in 1829 and it's rumored to be haunted, with staffers reporting apparitions of ghosts dancing, floating down hallways, and appearing in mirrors. Casa de Estudillo is now a museum complete with furnished rooms, a courtyard and a working kitchen.

Whether you're looking for discount shops or upscale boutiques, you'll find them in San Diego's shopping districts. On the next page, we'll take a look at the best spots to get in some retail therapy while visiting San Diego.

San Diego Shopping

©2006 Joanne DiBona/San Diego CVB San Diego's Horton Plaza is a shopping mall with walkways modeled after those found in European marketplaces.

From malls and bayside swap meets to chi-chi boutiques and border-town outlet centers, San Diego's shopping districts are many and varied.

Aside from all the standard shopping centers, San Diego's got a wealth of stores in its more walkable neighborhoods: Hillcrest is a haven for lovers of retro and vintage, while the affordable (and disposable) tanks and bikinis sold in the beach shops around Pacific and Mission Beach seem geared toward the largely college-aged crowds that swarm there.

University Heights is an antique lover's paradise, and record collectors will find so many great options beyond the generic megachain, like M-Theory (2234 30th St and 915 W Washington), Cow (5029 Newport Ave), and Lou's (434 N Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas).

Insider's Guide: The Best of Shopping in San Diego

Fashion Valley Mall (7007 Friars Rd) is a two-level outdoor mall with upscale stores. Among its anchors are Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany, and Lord & Taylor. It also includes well-known specialty chains and unique, one-of-a-kind boutiques. For easy parking in plenty of spots, you should head to the south side parking structure.

Westfield Horton Plaza (324 Horton Plaza) is a multilevel shopping mall with 140 specialty shops, department stores, and several sit-down restaurants. Its black concrete and narrow walkways are patterned after those found in European marketplaces. Numerous merchants display their goods on carts. The building is covered with 1 million, 1-inch tiles laid individually by hand. When you purchase an item, make sure to ask the clerk to validate your parking ticket for two free hours.

Few people have the cash for a Mariah Carey-sized wardrobe (let alone the closet space), but budget-conscious fashionistas know they don't have to sacrifice style for savings. The smart ones head for the factory outlets. The Shops at Las Americas (4211 Camino De La Plaza, San Ysidro) is a sprawling complex with Latin themed architecture and more than 75 stores. You'll find designer stores like Neiman Marcus, Kenneth Cole, and Polo.

Viejas Outlet Center (5000 Willows Rd, Alpine) is the country's first of the dressed-up outlet centers. Its Native American theme with walkways, gardens, and water makes it a serene haven for shopoholics, and it even has an interactive fountain in which children must wear rubber-soled shoes to play in. Its shops include Eddie Bauer, Tommy Hilfiger, and Nike.

Carlsbad Premium Outlets (5620 Paseo del Notre, Carlsbad) has 90 stores that feature such designer names as Barneys New York, Kenneth Cole, and Polo Ralph Lauren, and the complex is located in an attractive setting next to the Carlsbad Flower Fields.

With its crunchy, granola vibe and progressive politics, Ocean Beach, or OB, takes its share of flak from San Diego's more conservative residents, but nobody can say that its residents, lovingly called Obeceans, don't know how to party. Just witness the Wednesday afternoon at the Ocean Beach Farmer's Market (4900 block of Newport Ave), which not only fills the town's main drag with dozens of fresh fruit, produce, and specialty goods vendors, it also offers live music and llama rides for the kids.

Started in 1976 with just 200 shoppers, Kobey's Swap Meet (3500 Sports Arena Blvd) has ballooned into the third-largest, open-air flea market in on the West Coast, drawing more than 30,000 people to its Mission Bay site every weekend. Its hours are 7 am to 3 pm Friday through Sunday.

San Diego's nightlife is teeming with trendy clubs, pool halls, sports bars, and even bowling alleys -- something for everyone. Keep reading to learn more about the after-hours scene in San Diego.

San Diego Nightlife & Entertainment

©2006 Luigi Anzivino San Diego's nightlife scene includes trendy bars, sports clubs, pool halls, and corner dives.

Sure, the sunshine might seem like the main event in San Diego, but the fun truly begins when the sun goes down and the beautiful people come out in all their Saturday night finery.

The bar and club scene is the major draw in nightlife hubs like the tourist-friendly Gaslamp District and college-friendly Pacific and Mission Beach, while in more residential neighborhoods bowling alleys, pool halls, sports bars, and corner dives rule the night.

And should you find the scene too alcohol-centric, the town has several movie theaters screening everything from the latest blockbuster to obscure Hungarian documentaries to "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

Though woefully short on after-hours options, San Diego's got enough going on, from piano bars to Indian casinos, that you just might be ready to call it a night when the bartenders announce last call near 2 am.

Insider's Guide: The Best of San Diego's Nightlife & Entertainment

Insider's Guide: The Best of San Diego's Nightlife & Entertainment

Lately San Diego's been following in Floridian footsteps with several bars and clubs copping South Beach's white-walled vibe. Stingaree (454 6th Ave) is a lounge/dance club in a three-story building with a floor-to-ceiling waterfall, fire pit, VIP lounge, and hopping music. The rooftop cabana is a nice retreat and very Miami-like. Deco's (731 5th Ave) is a nightclub with a 1920s Art Deco facade and South Beach Miami style. The 12,000-square-foot nightclub opens at 9 pm Thursday through Saturday, and features indoor and outdoor dancing areas, two full-service bars, and a great light and sound system.

San Diego's got a great, straight-friendly gay bar scene, mostly centered on the uptown neighborhoods. Try Rich's (1051 University Ave) in Hillcrest and Bourbon Street (4612 Park Blvd) in University Heights.

For some quality jazz, head to Mobil Two-Star Croce's Jazz Bar and Restaurant (802 5th Ave) for traditional, contemporary, and Latin styles of jazz. The place is named after singer-songwriter Jim Croce. The restaurant portion of the building also has some fine American cuisine and is operated by his wife, Ingrid. The spicy Jamaican marinated pork tenderloin or grilled swordfish are tops.

For some quality sports bar atmosphere, you can go to Blue Haven (618 E St, Chula Vista), which has DJs Wednesday through Sunday and 15-plus TVs to watch all the sports games, or Poppy's Sports Club (986 Armour St), which has 22 TVs and seven satellites to catch any game you can possibly imagine.

A bit of trivia: former Bachelor Andrew Firestone co-owns downtown's Confidential (901 4th Ave), which is worth mentioning not just for the C-list celebrity factor but because the lounge's tapas are actually quite excellent. The bar also serves innovative cocktails and Firestone wines, naturally.

If microbrews are your preferred drink, then you should try the distinctive selection of crafted brewed and specialty beers at LaJolla Brewhouse (7536 Fay Ave), which has Hefewizzen (flavors of banana clove and apple in a German style beer), Milk Stout (smooth roast with licorice and maple undertones) or Double IPA (golden ale with with smooth malt finish). Callahan's Pub and Brewery (8111 Mira Mesa Blvd) serves 25-plus beers on tap and their own handcrafted microbrews like Blueberry Wheat, Bernardo Bitter, and Callahans Red.

The wine-bar craze hit San Diego at max velocity, with dozens of joints opening up within just a few months. A popular local happy hour happens at Wine Steals (1243 University Ave) in Hillcrest, where the prices really are a steal and the appetizers are so very Euro. Another favorite discovery is 57 Degrees (1330 G St), a cheery, dog-friendly spot located along an otherwise sketchy stretch of G Street in the East Village. Their wine cellar, which can hold 110,000 bottles, is kept at a constant 57 degrees Fahrenheit.

San Diego's comedy scene isn't what it should be, but there is at least one place to yuk it up: the La Jolla Comedy Store (916 Pearl St). Owned by Pauly Shore's mom, who also owns the Hollywood Comedy Store, the club books mostly local comics and second-tier national acts.

You can also enjoy some laughs at the National Comedy Theatre (3717 India St), where two teams of comedians/performers create a show based on audience suggestions on Friday and Saturday nights.

Few cities are better suited for taking it easy than San Diego -- after all, it has beaches, golf courses, and fantastic weather. Keep reading to learn about all the relaxation opportunities you'll find while visiting San Diego.

Relaxing & Unwinding in San Diego

©2006 Eric Gorski Lake Cuyamaca is a 110-acre lake filled with 440,00 pounds of fish.

Is it any wonder that so many baby boomers are discovering that San Diego is the new Florida when it comes time to retire? Not to say that you have to be a senior citizen to relax, but the amount and variety of leisure activities available in San Diego make it an ideal place for anyone looking to slow down and soak in the luxuries of life. The tranquil coastlines beckon and invite thoughtful meditation, while the city's numerous golf courses and open space preserves make staying indoors seem like a downright nutty idea.

Insider's Guide: The Best of Relaxing & Unwinding in San Diego

Insider's Guide: The Best of Relaxing & Unwinding in San Diego

Sunset watchers are constantly debating the existence of the so-called Green Flash, the optical illusion created just after the sun goes down. Can you spot it? Try your luck at any of a handful of beachfront restaurants and bars like World Famous (711 Pacific Beach Dr) in Pacific Beach, or the aptly named Green Flash (701 Thomas Ave) just down the way. Or save a few bucks by packing a blanket and your own booze (alcohol's legal on San Diego beaches until 8 pm as long as it's not in a glass container) and just bury your toes in the sand.

Those golden domes rising up from behind tall white walls alongside Highway 101 in Encinitas indicate your arrival at the Self-Realization Fellowship (215 K St, Encinitas), which was built in 1937 for founder Paramahansa Yogananda and offers yoga and meditation retreats, not to mention beautiful, serene gardens. Yogananda, a member of the Swami Order, inspired the naming of the famous surf break nearby, Swami's, as well as the awesome smoothie and breakfast joint across the street. Yogananda passed away in 1952, but the room where he wrote his legendary "Autobiography of a Yogi" remains preserved as a shrine to this day.

When the bustle of central San Diego becomes too frenzied to bear, head to the town of Julian (about 60 miles northeast of San Diego), where you'll discover a time warp to the 19th century. The gold-mining town has a quaint, historic downtown that transports visitors to a simpler time. Don't even try to leave without sampling a slice of pie made from signature Julian apples at the Julian Pie Company (2225 Main St, Julian; 760-765-2449).

And if you really want to let it all hang out, San Diego's even got a place for that: clothing-optional Black's Beach in La Jolla (about 8.5 miles north of San Diego). It's a two-mile long, sandy strip as wide as 60 feet at the base of the cliffs up to 300 feet high. There's even a group of naturists that host a nude surf event there each summer. Just make sure to check the posted signs before stripping to ensure you're on the right part of the beach. If you're in a "nudity prohibited" area on the south end in the city-owned portion of the beach, you may get cited $135 fine for indecent exposure.

One of the area's most prestigious green links around is the Torrey Pines Golf Course (11480 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla), which hosts PGA Tour big boys like Tiger Woods and Davis Love III when the Buick Invitational comes to down each year in January, and boasts weekday greens fees above $100.

The Balboa Park Golf Course (2600 Golf Course Dr) is an 18-hole golf course near downtown San Diego in the heart of Balboa Park. The course recently underwent an extensive redesign. If you go, remember that short yardage makes this course look easier than it really is; it's a good course for young golfers and straight hitters, and a challenge for those who are novice iron players.

Lake Cuyamaca (Interstate 8 East to State Hwy 79) is a 110-acre lake filled with 440,00 pounds of fish -- Florida bass, channel catfish, bluegill, and sturgeon to name a few. It's also the only lake in San Diego allowed to stock trout all year long.

Given everything there is to see in San Diego, it might seem a daunting to strike out on your own. If you want to try an organized tour, see our suggestions on the following page.

San Diego Organized Tours Overview

©2006 PDPhoto.org A Seal Tour in and around the San Diego Bay provides lovely views of Point Loma and the harbor.

An organized tour can be a convenient, fun, and informative way to see San Diego. If you're looking to pack a week's worth of sightseeing and a history lesson into a single afternoon, try the Old Town Trolley Tour (619-298-8687), which runs daily for two hours with on-and-off privileges and stops at a variety of major landmarks, including Old Town State Park, Seaport Village, the Gaslamp District, Coronado, Balboa Park, and the San Diego Zoo.

Or take to the water by boarding an amphibious "Hydra Terra" (like a boat with wheels) for the Seal Tour (619-298-8687), a 90-minute trip around (and in) the San Diego Bay, providing picturesque views of Point Loma and the harbor.

San Diego's whale watching season runs from mid-December to mid- to late-March. For about $25-$30 per person, you can board a whale watching tour, with many companies even offering a money-back guarantee of whale sightings. H&M Landing (619-222-1144) and Islandia (619-222-1164) both offer boat tours, while Biplane, Air Combat & Warbird Adventures give airborne tours for about $219-$439 (760-930-0903).

If you want to see the city by bus, try San Diego Scenic Tours (858-273-8687), whose air-conditioned coaches tour top sites like La Jolla Cove and village, Old Town, Balboa Park, Coronado, Mission Bay, the Embarcadero, the Gaslamp Quarter, Seaport Village, and more.

Whether you want to stay in downtown San Diego or on the waterfront, you'll be able to find suitable accommodations. On the next page, we provide a guide to San Diego's hotels.

San Diego Hotels Guide

©2006 The Lodge at Torrey Pines The Mobil Four-Star Lodge at Torrey Pines is located on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Conventioneers traditionally stay at the big, ritzy hotels along the waterfront, like the Mobil Three-Star Marriott San Diego Hotel and Marina (333 W Harbor Dr) and Mobil Three-Star Hyatt Regency Islandia (1441 Quivira Rd), but recently hipper accommodations have opened up downtown, including the Omni Hotel San Diego (675 L St) and the boutique property Hotel Solamar (453 6th Ave), both of which have rooms or rooftop areas that look into the ballpark.

If you are interested in some luxurious surroundings, head to the Mobil Four-Star Lodge at Torrey Pines (11480 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla), which is located on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and has well-tended golf courses. The Mobil Four-Star Four Seasons Resort Aviara (7100 Four Seasons Point, Carlsbad) is only 30 minutes outside San Diego and offers championship golf courses and unpretentious elegance inside its rooms.

Budget-conscious travelers have options ranging from generic (chain properties on Hotel Circle) to quaint (Little Italy's adorable, affordable, and often-booked Pensione) to just plain cheap (simple motel-style crash pads near the beach). International travelers and students have it even better, with a variety of fun, clean, hip hostels in enviable locations, plus many places to pitch a tent if you're camping.

San Diego's a year-round destination, so be sure to make your reservations in advance regardless of when you travel, but especially in the summertime. Many hotels have free parking, except in the downtown area, where overnight parking rates can run as high as $35 per night.

San Diego restaurants are a diverse and varied lot, with everything from authentic Mexican food to fresh sushi and seafood. Keep reading for our guide to San Diego dining.

San Diego Restaurants Guide

©2006 Joanne DiBona/San Diego CVB Buon Appetito, in San Diego's Little Italy, serves sophisticated Italian food.

Being so close to the border, it's natural that San Diego would be known for its excellent Mexican food; and it's true that there's a taqueria on most every corner. For example, the El Zarape Mexican Restaurant (4642 Park Blvd, 619-692-1652) serves a sinfully good scallop burrito.

But don't think this town's culinary panache stops with pico de gallo. Several sushi spots and other restaurants take good advantage of the fresh catches coming in from the Pacific each morning. Zenbu Sushi Bar and Restaurant (7660 Fay Ave) serves a great house roll and whatever sashimi's the freshest. The Oceanaire Seafood Room (400 J St) serves a halibut that's superb any way they prepare it.

Most every neighborhood has an annual food event during which area restaurants offer tasting samples. Downtown is known for its many Italian joints, like the gorgonzola-pesto gnocchi at De Medici's (815 5th Ave) is some of the best in town. Try the Branzino sea bass in morel mushroom sauce at Buon Appetito (1609 India St).

The Hillcrest area remains a mecca for Thai lovers. The budget-conscious shouldn't miss the lunch specials and creamy, coconut Tom Kah soup at Amarin (3843 Richmond St).

North Park boasts cuisine ranging from Russian to Lebanese as long as you fit in a trip to the gym, you can't go wrong with beef stroganoff from Pomegranate (2302 El Cajon Blvd).

Vegetarians and vegans are well served in San Diego, especially in hippyish Ocean Beach, where the People's Organic Co-Op (4765 Voltaire St) and Ranchos Cocina (1830 Sunset Cliffs Blvd, 619-226-7619) serve up lots of delicious options like soyrizo burritos and spicy tempeh. Elsewhere, Pokez Mexican Restaurant (947 E St), Jyoti-Bihanga (3351 Adams Ave) and Spread The Restaurant (2879 University Ave) also make meatless magic. As a rule, true foodies should avoid the fancy waterfront joints in La Jolla and downtown, where you pay for the view, not the grub.

If budget is a concern, take advantage of the amazing deals offered during San Diego Restaurant Week (held in January), when the town's toniest bistros offer affordable prix fixe menus featuring their signature dishes.

Tipping in San Diego is technically the same as elsewhere in the country, meaning 15 to 20 percent. Stay closer to 20 percent if your service was decent; it'll go a long way toward helping your server recoup a little bit of that "sunshine tax."

There's so much to do in San Diego, but how will you fit everything into your trip? We provide the answer on the next page, with a series of suggested itineraries.

Suggested Itineraries for Visiting San Diego

©2006 Eric Gorski At San Diego's Birch Aquarium, you can watch sharks, fish, and other marine animals in realistic aquatic habitats.

There are an amazing number of things to do in San Diego, from visiting great museums to lounging on sunny beaches. In order to help you hit the best spots during your visit to San Diego, we've put together several suggested itineraries that apply to various areas of interest -- including special events and attractions, arts and culture, architecture and landmarks, shopping, nightlife and entertainment, and relaxing and unwinding.

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Special Events & Attractions in San Diego

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Special Events & Attractions in San Diego

Whether you sightsee by land or by sea, you'll meet up with plenty of great special events and must-see attractions in San Diego. Use these suggested itineraries to sort out your options.

1 day: Take in San Diego's picture-postcard skyline from its greatest vantage point: the Big Bay. Tool around on a rented sailboat, or hop the ferry to Coronado (an adjacent peninsula) and spend the day strolling the quaint village streets, browsing shops, and playing on the sand. The "island" has one of the area's three dog-friendly beaches.

Cross back over to the mainland for an early dinner in the historic Gaslamp Quarter, a 161/2 block historic district in San Diego's downtown near the waterfront. When it's time for lunch, don't miss the spicy popcorn shrimp at Mobil Two-Star Croce's Restaurant (813 5th Ave), a jazz club/lounge/restaurant run by Jim Croce's widow, Ingrid.

Continue the marine theme by heading over to Birch Aquarium (2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla) to watch the sharks, fish, and other marine animals in realistic aquatic museum habitats. While there, explore the outdoor tide-pool plaza and take a ride on the simulator to feel what it's like to be a dolphin frolicking in the surf.

Then make your way to SeaWorld San Diego (500 Sea World Dr) to witness the polar bears and walruses in their special settings, or catch Shamu's tricks during a special show. Make sure your wardrobe is waterproof before taking a seat in the "Soak Zone."

For dinner, grab a table at Mobil Three-Star Nick's at the Beach (809 Thomas Ave). You can order the best catch of the day, but popular dishes include the salmon baked with spiced rum pepper glaze and ahi rolled in sesame seeds and served with oriental citrus vinaigrette.

2 days: Step back into old-school Southern California (SoCal) with a drive down coastal Highway 101, which connects a string of quaint, historic beach communities that seem lifted right out of a Beach Boys song.

Start your trip in Oceanside and head south, where 101 doubles as the main drag in low-key Encinitas and upscale Del Mar before becoming Torrey Pines Road in La Jolla.

Make your way south to Mission Beach's Belmont Park (3146 Mission Blvd), home to the Giant Dipper, one of only two original oceanfront roller coasters still in operation on the West Coast, and The Plunge, a public pool dating back to 1925, where Tarzan's Johnny Weissmuller and Esther Williams once splashed. Try your luck riding one of two endless-wave simulators: the mellower FlowRider, or its bigger, badder cousin, Bruticus Maximus, which can generate barrels (waves) up to 10 feet high.

Then take a stroll down the Mission Beach Boardwalk (runs the length of the beach from South Mission Jetty to Crystal Pier) and gawk at all the eye candy -- and maybe catch a glimpse of Flash, the festively and scantily-attired Mission Beach staple, who can often be found Rollerblading through the neighborhood.

You can head to the Aerospace Museum and Hall of Fame (2001 Pan American Plaza) to learn about the extraordinary accomplishments of the world's leading aviation pioneers. More than 50 aircrafts hang from the rafters, and several galleries showcase milestones in aviation history. Don't miss "Wings," a motion simulator ride that takes on different planes through time.

For dinner, a good neighborhood choice is the Mobil Two-Star Panda Inn (506 Horton Plaza), which has several dining rooms with pandas depicted on stained-glass windows and Chinese art on the walls. A Mandarin and Szechuan menu is served, and you should try the Panda Shrimp or Peking duck.

3 days: Spend a day getting acquainted with San Diego's wildlife. First, pay a visit to the San Diego Zoo (2920 Zoo Drive, Balboa Park), which has extended summertime hours and after-dark activities, exhibits, live music, and performances.

Take a break at nearby Rimel's (1030 Torrey Pines Rd), which has a kid-friendly patio and the most addictively tasty rotisserie chicken and green chile salsa in town.

Then drive 35 miles north of the San Diego Zoo to the Wild Animal Park (15500 San Pasqual Valley Road, Escondido) and climb aboard the Wgasa Bush Line Railway, a 45-minute train tour of the park's cage-free open spaces and the rhinos, elephants, giraffes, zebras, and other animals that roam there. It's even more thrilling during Park at Dark, when the park has extended summer hours.

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Arts & Culture in San Diego

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Arts & Culture in San Diego

San Diego has a wide array of museums. And if you're more interested in the performing arts, there are plenty of theater groups and music organizations from which to choose. If you follow these suggested itineraries, you won't miss a thing.

1 day: Spend the day in Balboa Park (1549 El Prado) visiting its less-traditional museums, like the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum (featuring multi-sport memorabilia of the city's sporting legacy), Centro Cultural de la Raza (dedicated to Latino and Chicano art and culture), and the World Beat Center (dedicated to promoting African-American art, music, dance, etc), which is housed in a former water tower now painted with an eye-catching mural. In the summer, hear organist Carol Williams work her magic on the 4,446 pipes of the Spreckels Organ, or pay homage to the Bard at the Old Globe Theatre, a replica of Shakespeare's original.

In the evening, take in a happy hour at Mobil Two-Star The Prado (1549 El Prado), Balboa Park's culinary crown jewel and the place to go on a date. Make sure you try the Brazilian Caipirinha, made with real cachaca, and chili-lime calamari or panko-crusted jumbo lump crab cakes.

Or grab a glass of wine in nearby Hillcrest before catching a play at the tiny, cutting-edge, Sixth at Penn Theatre (3704 6th Ave).

2 days: While San Diego is rich in racial and cultural diversity, you wouldn't know it considering the level of homogenization in certain neighborhoods. Take a day to get acquainted with the history of the many ethnic enclaves that give San Diego its character; start with a morning ristretto at Caffe Italia (1704 India St) in Little Italy, whose main drag, India Street, is packed with quaint bistros, wine bars, boutiques and delis.

You can then head to the Chinese Historical Museum (404 3rd Ave) in downtown, where you can visit the tranquil on-site garden or join a walking tour of the Asian Pacific Historic District and Old Chinatown.

Next, stop in at the lobby of the Gaslamp Plaza Suites Hotel (520 E St) in downtown, where the Black Historical Society's weekly Harlem of the West tours will get you acquainted with legendary jazz sites in San Diego. These places hosted talents like Louie Armstrong and Billie Holiday.

Finally, drive to Barrio Logan to pay a visit to the murals in Chicano Park (Interstate 5, exit Cesar Chavez Parkway), including one that was painted by elementary school students at nearby Lowell School. While you're in the neighborhood, indulge in a chorizo burrito at Las Cuatros Milpas (1857 Logan Ave).

3 days: Go on a visual art tour of the San Diego area, starting way up north at the Oceanside Museum of Art (704 Pier View Way), housed in a 1930s-era building designed by Irving Gill, which is a work of art in itself. Its permanent exhibits showcase some of the finest art of regional and international artists. You will see classical landscape paintings, studio furniture, art quilts, and architectural glass made into art.

Head south to La Jolla's Museum of Contemporary Art (700 Prospect St, La Jolla), whose galleries overlook the Pacific Ocean through giant floor-to-ceiling windows. You'll see some of the best contemporary paintings, sculpture, photography, and architecture around.

Remember to include the University of California San Diego (9500 Gilman Dr, La Jolla) on your agenda. Check out Terry Allen's singing "Trees," along with the many other sculptures regaling the campus as part of the university's Stuart Collection, which specializes in site-specific art by contemporary artists.

Wind down your La Jolla art tour with a visit to Mobil Three-Star Roppongi Restaurant and Sushi Bar (875 Prospect St). This tranquil setting of wooden tables, modern lights, and elegant decorations serves Asian cuisine with an all-you-can-eat sushi bar. Try the Mongolian chopped duck salad with vegetables and crisp won tons followed with a lemon creme brulee with lemon cookies.

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Architecture & Landmarks in San Diego

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Architecture & Landmarks in San Diego

Architecture in San Diego dates back to Spanish missionaries, but you'll find some landmark modern buildings, too. Here are three days worth of suggestions for viewing the architecture and landmarks in San Diego.

1 day: Take a tour of San Diego's historic hotels, beginning downtown with a visit to the rooftop of the St. James (830 6th Ave, now a Ramada), which at 11 stories tall claimed to be San Diego's first "high-rise luxury hotel" when it was built in 1919.

Take high tea at the elegant, grandiose U.S. Grant Hotel (326 Broadway) and stroll by Mobil Two-Star Horton Grand Hotel (311 Island Ave), which is actually comprised of two 1886 Victorian hotels that were dismantled brick by brick and reformed in 1986.

Have lunch across the bay at one of the many restaurants and lounges at the Mobil Three-Star Hotel Del Coronado ("The Del," to locals, 1500 Orange Ave), whose unmistakable red roof has sheltered everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Madonna.

Finish the evening with dinner at the intimate Mobil Three-Star Sky Room at Mobil Three-Star La Valencia (1132 Prospect St, La Jolla), a 1920s luxury property that was once popular with the Marx Brothers.

2 days: Spend a day touring the sights of Mission-era San Diego, working westward from your starting point at Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala (10818 San Diego Mission Rd). California's first mission, Mission San Diego dates back to 1769 and is still an active church.

A few miles down Interstate 8 in Old Town State Park (4002 Wallace St), you'll find the Casa de Estudillo, a preserved pueblo of Mexican adobes dating back to the 1820s.

Next, head up the hill toward Balboa Park (1549 El Prado), whose museums were mainly built in the Spanish Colonial Revival style around 1915.

©2006 San Diego CVB The Cabrillo National Monument commemorates Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo's arrival in San Diego in 1542.

Wind down the tour by taking in the sweeping ocean views off Point Loma at Cabrillo National Monument (1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr), which commemorates Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo's arrival in San Diego in 1542, marking the first visit of a European explorer to the West Coast.

3 days: Southern California's beach communities will probably fight over rights to the name Surf City, USA, but there's no disputing that San Diego's in the running for the title. Spend a day hanging out at the town's historic piers and surfing landmarks.

Start with breakfast at The Tin Fish (170 6th Ave) near Imperial Beach Pier in San Diego's South County before strolling down the pier in Ocean Beach (off Interstate 8 and Sunset Cliffs Blvd). In Pacific Beach (off Interstate 5 at Garnett Ave), you'll find Crystal Pier, which also houses a few dozen over-water bungalows occupied by guests of the Crystal Pier Hotel.

Up the road in La Jolla is the shack at Windansea Beach (6800 Neptune Place), where Tom Wolfe found inspiration for his book, The Pumphouse Gang. End the day with a stroll down Oceanside Pier, which at 1,940 feet is the longest wooden pier in Southern California. While you're in Oceanside, stop at the California Surfing Museum (223 N Coast Highway).

Finish up the day with some chicken fried steak at Oceanside's oldest diner, 101 Cafe (631 S Coast Highway), which opened in 1928 and still serves breakfast all day.

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Shopping in San Diego

San Diego's shopping neighborhoods, like La Jolla and Del Mar, will help you get your retail fix. Plan your shopping excursions in San Diego by following these itneraries.

1 day: Spend most of your day looking at anchors and specialty chains at the Fashion Valley Mall (7007 Friars Rd), a two-level outdoor mall with upscale stores. Among its anchors are Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany, and Lord & Taylor.

Continue looking for quality retail items at Westfield Horton Plaza (324 Horton Plaza), a multilevel shopping mall with 140 specialty shops, department stores, and several sit-down restaurants. Check out how the building is covered with 1 million, 1-inch tiles laid individually by hand. From the Fruits and Vegetables parking garage ("Honey, did we park on Avocado or Carrot?") to the MC Escher-esque walkways connecting the two sides of the split-level shopping center, Horton Plaza feels like it might've been designed by an architect with an extensive imagination.

For lunch, grab a table at the Samba Grill (Store 514 inside the Horton Plaza). This Brazilian Steakhouse is a good place to grab a salad, sandwich, or (if you've really worked up an appetite) a steak.

To unwind from your day of shopping, grab a bag of popcorn at the Regal United Artists 14 (located on Level 4 of Horton Plaza). This theater has 14 screens, but is the only screen in San Diego equipped to show movies in the Real D 3D format. For a listing of latest movies, check the theater's Web site.

2 days: San Diego is beginning to have an eye for design; for proof, look no further than Little Italy and the nearby Kettner Arts and Design District (Kettner between Laurel and B Sts and surrounding area). The district is home to several trendy stores like Mixture (2210 Kettner Blvd), which specializes in modern furniture, Cathedral (611 W Fir St), which has chic rugs and retro pottery, and Igloo (640 W Beech St), which carries a lot of inventory by independent designers. Keep your eyes open for once-a-quarter open houses called Kettner Nights, when local businesses stay open late with wine, appetizers, and socializing.

The Indigo Grill (1536 India St) is a great place to find West Coast cuisine in the Little Italy neighborhood. The alder-grilled salmon with squid ink pasta is one of the popular and aromatic dishes. The Vercruz maize tamale stuffed with shrimp, white cheddar, and garlic sauce is another crowd pleaser.

Spend some time searching for designer goods at The Shops at Las Americas (4211 Camino De La Plaza, San Ysidro), a sprawling complex with more than 75 stores like Neiman Marcus, Kenneth Cole, and Polo.

If you have time, swing over to Viejas Outlet Center (5000 Willows Rd, Alpine), the country's first of the dressed up outlet centers with shops like Eddie Bauer, Tommy Hilfiger, and Nike.

3 days: The glitzy, sparkling neighborhood of La Jolla has long been a haven for the world's monied elite, so it's no surprise to see high-end retailers and boutiques clustered in the village's downtown, mostly along Girard Avenue and Prospect Street. Panache (7636 Girard Ave) features elegant items for the home, including fine linens, china, and silverware. Gallery Eight (7464 Girard Ave at Pearl St) has contemporary crafts, ceramics, jewelry, and clothing.

©2006 Joanne DiBona/San Diego CVB You'll find some of San Diego's ritziest shopping in Del Mar.

The same goes for the quaint community of Del Mar (Highway 101 between Del Mar Heights Road and Jimmy Durante Parkway) to the north, which is a great place to blow a thousand bucks on half an outfit, but not so nice for those prone to sticker shock. The Del Mar Plaza features more than 20 shops and boutiques in a relaxing backdrop of the Pacific. You'll find upscale apparel, fine jewelry and more.

A few more affordable boutiques have sprung up in the Bird Rock neighborhood (just south of La Jolla village on La Jolla Boulevard), where shoppers can find anything from shoes and French lingerie to imported bath products.

If it's all too much to take, there are also more traditional malls to shop, like sprawling Mission Valley Mall (1640 Camino del Rio North) and Fashion Valley (7007 Friars Rd), which has the usual suspects (Nordstrom's, Macy's, Banana Republic, etc.) plus a movie theater.

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Nightlife & Entertainment in San Diego

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Nightlife & Entertainment in San Diego

Things really get going in San Diego after the sun sets. These suggested itineraries will guide you to the hottest of the hotspots.

1 day: If you're only in San Diego for a day, you'll probably want to experience all that the Gaslamp Quarter has to offer, which, while touristy, is substantial. Start your evening with dinner at intimate Candelas (416 3rd Ave), which serves Nuevo Latino cuisine a few blocks away from the Fourth and Fifth Avenue madness.

©2006 San Diego CVB You can take salsa lessons and dance the night away at Cafe Sevilla.

Take a stroll up Fifth Street until you find a bar you like; there are tons, ranging from Irish pubs to supper clubs to sports bars, and then pick a place to go dancing. Megaclubs like On Broadway (615 Broadway), Stingaree (454 6th Ave) and Belo (919 4th Ave) all come complete with long lines, bouncers, and expensive drinks. Cafe Sevilla (555 4th Ave) is the place to go for salsa dancing, so show up early for lessons.

End the evening with a nightcap at Altitude (660 K St), the 22nd-floor bar atop The San Diego Marriott Gaslamp Quarter, which features a cozy fire pit and views into Petco Park.

2 days: If you like the amps turned up to 11, head for San Diego's best small-venue rock club, The Casbah (2501 Kettner Blvd), which is ground zero for all the best up-and-coming indie rock and hip-hop bands, as well as the town's considerable local talent.

Join the scenesters after the show at neighborhood bars like LiveWire (2103 El Cajon Blvd), Landlord Jim's (1546 Broadway) or The Whistle Stop (2236 Fern St).

North County's pristine-sounding Belly Up Tavern (143 S Cedros Ave, Solana Beach) books reggae and jam bands for an older-skewing crowd that likes to get rowdy, and the post-show at the nearby Surf & Saddle (123 W Plaza St, Solana Beach) caters to a mix of customers of all ages. Their roster of entertainment appeals to retirees and tourists during the day and to the younger crowd at night.

Looking for a quieter night out with the kids? Check out the all-ages Dizzy's (344 7th Ave), San Diego's main true jazz club, and Lestat's (3343 Adams Ave), a singer/songwriter haunt known for having the best sound in town -- but no liquor; for that you'll have to go down the street to the Ould Sod (3373 Adams Ave).

3 days: After a long day of surfside revelry, carry on the debauchery in one of the countless beach bars in Pacific and Mission Beach. Liar's Club (3844 Mission Blvd) has stellar onion rings and the best jukebox in town, while the bleach-blond co-eds stand in lines snaking around the block for Taco Tuesdays at Pacific Beach Bar and Grill (860 Garnet Ave). Never mind that the tacos have usually run out by the time you get to the front of the line. Mullet-rocking cover band Metal Skool is a longtime tradition Wednesdays at Typhoon Saloon (1165 Garnet Ave).

If you'd rather keep the college crowd at arm's length, indulge in some legalized gambling at one of San Diego's many nearby Indian casinos. Slots and tables games are in no short supply at places like Sycuan (5469 Casino Way, El Cajon) and Viejas (5000 Willows Rd, Alpine), which has recently opened a 48,000-square-foot expansion that includes the swanky new V Lounge aimed at attracting a younger, hipper crowd.

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Relaxing & Unwinding in San Diego

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Relaxing & Unwinding in San Diego

When you're visiting a town with such great weather, you just have to take advantage of its many outdoor activities. These itineraries will help you get into a relaxation mode.

1 day: San Diego is home to almost 100 golf courses, so you might as well take advantage of at least one while you're in town. One of the area's most prestigious courses is Torrey Pines (11480 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla), which hosts PGA Tour big boys like Tiger Woods and Davis Love III when the Buick Invitational comes to down each year in January. Toast to a game well played with a glass of wine and five courses of excellent California cuisine via the "Mercy of the Chef" menu at Nine-Ten in La Jolla (910 Prospect St).

More affordable golfing and easier-to-book tee times can be had at the Mission Bay Golf Resort (2702 N Mission Bay Dr), one of the city's only night-lit courses. It also happens to be located less than a mile from understated Sushi Ota (4529 Mission Bay Dr), a strip-mall sushi restaurant roundly considered one of the best in town.

2 days: Spend a day working on your tan, without those telling tan lines, by lounging at clothing-optional Black's Beach in La Jolla (about 8.5 miles north of San Diego). It's a two-mile long, sandy strip as wide as 60 feet at the base of the cliffs up to 300 feet high. If you get tired of just sitting on the sand, you can take advantage of surfing, snorkeling, tide pooling near Mussel Rock, or swimming.

Since you're in La Jolla, head over to La Jolla Cove (1100 Coast Blvd), an ecologically protected area. The tiny beach, with its sand and extraordinary beauty, is a great place to watch harbor seals or take photos of plants and sea animals within caves, reefs, and kelp forests. More experienced divers can explore the submarine canyons.

When you get hungry, grab a table at Mobil Three-Star Top O' The Cove (1216 Prospect Pl), which overlooks the marina. Some favorites are the seared diver scallop appetizer with cream cheese mashed potatoes and roasted bananas in a Thai green curry sauce. After enjoying the fine food, you can sit back, watch the scenic cove, and try a Cuban cigar from their walk-in humidor.

3 days: It's no Napa or Sonoma, but San Diego does have its very own winemaking region in Temecula, which has dozens of wineries within an hour's drive of San Diego.

You can make up your own itinerary with stops at places like Frangipani Estate (39750 De Portola Rd), Thornton (32575 Rancho California Rd) and Wilson Creek (35960 Rancho California Rd), which makes an affordable almond champagne ideal for that sweet tooth. Or sign up with a company offering organized tours, complete with bus transportation to and from the wine country (handy for anyone that doesn't spit out those tasting samples like you're supposed to, and let's be honest, who does?).

Or make a night of it with a stay at the Inn at Churon (33233 Rancho California Rd). The Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival, which features the somewhat dubious pairing of alcohol and flaming, flying wicker baskets -- er, hot air balloons -- takes place over a weekend in June.

Now you know about everything San Diego has to offer. It's time to pack up and hit the beaches!

©Publications International, Ltd.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Maya Kroth's wanderlust has recently led her down dusty roads in rural Alabama in search of the South's best barbecue and through dimly lit corridors of West Coast rock clubs on a quest for good music. She currently lives and writes in La Jolla, California, where she prides herself on knowing the best places in town to get a dirty martini, a carne asada burrito, and a Brazilian wax (not necessarily at the same time).

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