San Diego Baby
For this year’s winter escape, get a hit of culture, history and, of course, warmth, by heading to the birthplace of California: San Diego. Despite the fact that it has roughly 3.2 million people milling about, the city has a chill pace to it. San Diego is both relaxed and relaxing.
I traveled with my 10-year-old daughter and we scored the perfect balance of activities for her and me. Here are a few ideas to get you started on exploring San Diego.
Check out the Hip ‘Hoods
San Diego has some funky neighbourhoods. North Park (craft beer fans will love this area), South Park (eclectic and hip) and Hillcrest (LGBT neighbourhood) all have fantastic vibes, coffee houses, bars and unique shops. They are very SoCal. Visit some of them if you want to soak up the hipness. Nearby Shelter Island has a boating community feel with a marina and shops. It’s a great place to walk around and soak up the sun.
Downtown, there is the Embarcadero, the area along the waterfront that’s been rejuvenated and provides a great running area, cycling space and fantastic walking path.
The Old Town has historical value and La Jolla, a suburb of the city, has stunning views of the ocean. The fact is, San Diego has a lot of amazing neighbourhoods, each will its own unique character.
100-year-old Balboa Park is America’s largest urban cultural park, with fifteen museums within the beautiful area. There are art galleries (San Diego Museum of Art, Museum of Photographic Arts), a Natural History Museum, an Air and Space Museum and even a Science Center. If you go before January, be sure to visit the exhibit on Dr. Seuss in the San Diego History Center. He hung his hat in La Jolla.
Take Me to the Zoo
The San Diego Zoo, adjacent to Balboa Park, is world renowned for very good reason. The 100-acre space is a not-for-profit conservation organization. The Zoo has lush, naturalistic habitats and unique animal encounters. It is home to more than 3,700 rare and endangered animals representing approximately 660 species and subspecies and a prominent botanical collection with more than 700,000 plants. The year 2016 marks its 100th birthday and plans are underway for some spectacular celebrations.
History and Beauty
A visit to Cabrillo National Monument and National Park is a must. Give yourself at least three hours to do it justice. The drive up to Cabrillo is moving as you pass by military cemeteries that overlook the ocean. At the top, there is a monument dedicated to Juan Cabrillo, the first European to set foot on the U.S. West Coast (in 1542) and from there you get a beautiful, panoramic view of the city.
However, it is the intertidal ecosystem that really blew us away. Cabrillo is one of the area’s best protected systems and it is breathtaking. You can hike along a path or go right down to the tide pools and see them up close.
Salute to the Marines
Navy buffs will love San Diego. It is a key homeport for the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet and is home to over fifty ships. Hornblower Cruises offers a great excursion to see the military port with its massive, docked ships.
Be sure to visit the aircraft carrier museum USS Midway. Literally a floating city, Midway was in service from 1945 until 1992. The flight deck alone holds at least a dozen aircraft, not to mention the ones below. It is an impressive monstrosity that will blow you away.
For a step back in ship history, visit the Maritime Museum of San Diego down the road from the Midway. It has historic sea vessels, including the Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship and a Russian B-39 Submarine.
San Diego is also a prime destination for whale watching from December until April. Grey whale, dolphin and sea lion sightings are common. If you are lucky, you may spot a blue whale, earth’s largest animal, but usually blue whales are around in the summer. Flagship Cruises offers a fantastic trip to check out the harbour, it’s worth the trip even if you don’t see any whales.
If an evening dinner cruise interests you, Hornblower Cruises also offers options.
Saving Sea Mammals
Instead of watching whales and dolphins do tricks, the main Sea World attraction should be the fact that it serves as a rescue for over 750 sea creatures per year. You can take a behind-the-scenes tour of the rescue area and see the incredible work Sea World does. That is worth every second and is the real educational value of the place.
Being so close to Mexico, it’s no surprise that San Diego has authentic Mexican food. If you are into tequila, hit Cafe Coyote y Cantina in Old Town. It is one of two certified “tequila houses” in the States (by the respected Mexican Academia del tequila) and has 100 types of tequila.
For a taste of modern American cuisine, head to the Kona Kai Resort (on Shelter Island). The Vessel Restaurant has a relaxed ambience in a chic environment with exceptional food. Be sure to indulge in the truffle fries. The seafood, as you would expect, is also top notch. As you munch down, make sure not to miss the mesmerizing art installation on the wall.
Puesto Restaurant, located in the Headquarters complex, close to downtown, is the spot for tacos and ceviche and its guacamole is equally fabulous. Have a sweet tooth? After traipsing around San Diego with my daughter on the hunt for the best cupcake, a kid activity that satisfied both of us, Cute Cakes came out on top (located in the Gas Lamp District).
Sleep…Ay perchance to Dream
Speaking of kids, if you are travelling with little ones, all you need is a comfortable bed, clean hotel with amenities and an incredible view and balcony on the waterfront. You get all of that with a stay at the Wyndham San Diego Bayside. It is perfectly located and close to everywhere you want to go.
San Diego has endless opportunities for fun and this is even before you factor in surfing, beach visits or world-class golf (Torrey Pines in La Jolla). Be sure to rent a car though, as you’ll need it to explore. Carpe Momentum in San Diego.